Here we finally have a reason to sigh in relief. Up until now we have seen clearly how everybody is in rebellion against the Creator of the Universe and headed for divine wrath (and we are again reminded of that fact clearly here in verse 23) but we also finally see that God has set up a means of rescue for us. Three awkward words explain how it all works:
Justification means that God has declared some people righteous—legally blameless. We do not have the capacity to make right what we have done, so God writes it off. Who gets the write off? Those who have faith. How is this possible?
Redemption means quite simply to buy back. God has arranged to pay the penalty that we have incurred through our sin. Since God is just, He cannot simply pretend that we have not sinned, but He has arranged for the punishment to be taken care of in a way that spares people who would otherwise be headed for some very bad reckoning. What does this payment consist of?
Propitiation means satisfaction, in a sacrificial sense. Jesus has accomplished the payment for sins by living a blameless life—therefore deserving no punishment—and standing in for us by facing the punishment we should have received.
The Law, therefore, does not help us by saving us. It instead makes us aware of our problem and our need for salvation. However, the Law and the Prophets also made God’s plan known, to anyone who was reading what it was saying. God’s plan was set in motion before time began so all those people who died before Jesus’ sacrifice could still benefit from it through trust in God.
That is the Gospel in a nutshell, but Paul is not finished explaining all the facets of this marvelous message…
Mere Fidelity: After Obergefell
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