Justification and Redemption

By Ernie and Mary Kroeger

Familiarity with the scriptures often causes us to overlook the meaning of the words that describe what God has done for us, and we begin to use them as cliches. Although we use them freely, their true meaning escapes us. We talk about redemption, reconciliation, salvation and justification without distinguishing a difference in meaning. We fail to realize that they all refer to different aspects of the wonderful salvation God has provided for us. In this study we want to look at the words justification and redemption, and bring greater depth of meaning to our understanding.

It is very sad that so many Christians live in agony and in doubt, and wonder whether they are really accepted by God. They do not understand the difference between the natural man and the new creation spiritual man, so they falsely think that God is remodeling the natural Adamic man, and the remodeling is running into problems. God is not in the business of remodeling us; He is making everything new!

A common explanation of justification is often condensed into the one sentence, "Just as if I never sinned." This explanation did not satisfy me, and I'm sure it does not satisfy you, for it implies that God is playing a pretend game with us - He is pretending that we never sinned. Because of Christ's great salvation, He now overlooks our sin, and pretends it never happened because Christ paid the penalty for our sins. Therefore He can now pronounce us blameless. This thinking produces questions in us. If a robber steals money, and a friend or relative of his repays the debt, does that mean the robber is guiltless? If someone commits a crime, and an innocent person pays the penalty for him, does that erase the crime? Does that change the criminal? No, it just frees him to commit more crimes. Yet many Christians claim that Christ, in His death on the cross, only paid the penalty for our sins. On the basis of this payment, they say that we are now justified and have a free ticket to heaven. Can you see the absurdity of this thinking?

Knowing that God is truth, and that He always builds on a foundation of truth, we can safely conclude that every statement He makes about us is true. When He says that we are justified by faith, He is building on a solid foundation. So let's begin our search for the answer to this mystery of justification by faith, and see that it is based on a solid foundation.

In our quest we need to come to grips with questions like, "Does God justify sinners?" How can a righteous and just God declare us not guilty of sin, when He knows that we have sinned? If a judge would declare a murderer innocent and just, we would be angry and indignant, because that would be an unjust verdict. It certainly is not just to declare an innocent person guilty, and the guilty person righteous! Yet many Christians accuse God of doing just that. They fail to see that God has to remain just in His justification!

Guilt is the result of having committed an unlawful act. In judicial court procedure, to be justified carries the meaning that the one who has been accused of a crime has now been proven innocent, and therefore free from any blame or guilt. Under the Law, we are all guilty of sin, and have come short of the glory of God. Zondervan states, "The verdict pronounced on every man by God's universal courtroom is, 'Every mouth may be closed (that is, if anyone protests God's decision), and the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.' (Rom. 3:19-20) A triple truth thus emerges regarding justification by works: Man, a sinner, cannot do sufficient good works to gain acquittal; man cannot render judgment on himself because he is always guilty; a just God cannot render him just by his works because he is a sinner by nature."

When we are justified it means that we are not guilty of ever having committed any sin! The punishment inflicted on anyone, or the lack of punishment, has nothing to do with making someone guilty or innocent. Forgiveness frees us from the deserved punishment for our sin, but it does not change us; it does not make us righteous. When an innocent man stands before the judge, and the judge determines his innocence and acquits him of having committed a crime, he is justified because he has not sinned.

So how can God declare us just, and still be righteous? Only God could think of a way of doing that! Jesus said, "You must be born again." (Jn. 3:3) Our new birth takes us into a new realm; it takes us out of the Adam man in whom all die, and puts us into Christ, the new man in whom all live, the man who has never sinned! In Christ there is no unrighteousness. We are baptized into His death TO sin, and are members of His body. This is not our work - it is the work of God in Christ!

The Adam man is the man of sin. He is the one who does the sinning. After we have been placed into Christ, we are no longer in the Adam man! 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us that the old things have passed away, and new things have come. That is how He justifies us!

God created nature in such a way that it would show us His divine nature and wisdom, and thus help us to understand spiritual realities. To help us get a better understanding of the new creation that we are in Christ, let's look at a butterfly that has emerged out of its cocoon. It has left its worm body, and is now a new creature. The old body no longer belongs to it. It came from the earth and was bound to the earth; the new creature is loosed from the earth, and can soar in the heavenly realm! Likewise, God does not declare the Adam man righteous; He declares the new creation man righteous!

At the moment we were born again we were made right with God. Because God did it, our righteousness is perfect. We are as right with God at this present time as any saint in heaven is. We can't add anything to the righteousness of Christ. Once God has declared us righteous, it is so perfect that it does not admit any growth. We will never be more right with God than we are right now - not even in heaven! This is a wonderful relief, isn't it?!

We cannot grow in our justification, but we can grow in Christ. Our minds need to be transformed! This takes place as we receive Christ's sense of being, for we now have the mind of Christ. Jesus said, "I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing." (John 15:5) What a beautiful illustration of our life in Christ! We have His life in us, it is flowing through us, and it is working in us to produce fruit! His life in us is perfect. We cannot improve on that life because there is no corruption in it. God's life in us unites us with Him, and as we abide in Him, fruit will emerge! This fruit contains the very same kind of seed that produced the vine.

God can truly say that He does not remember our sins and iniquities, because they belong to the Adam man; they do not belong to the new humanity that we are in Christ! God is not forgetful! He does not recall them because they do not belong to the new humanity. Paul wrote, " I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me." (Gal. 2:20) The wonder and the greatness of the redemption that we have in Christ is beyond human understanding! The righteousness by the works of the law could never, never achieve this!

Our justification is a gift from God! "Being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus." (Rom. 3:24) The word "redemption" has in it the connotation of the redemption of a slave. Everything a slave does, whether good or bad, is within the confines of slavery. He can do absolutely nothing to get himself out of slavery. Another must come and pay redemption money to get him out of slavery. Only in this way can he be set free.

The Hebrew word GOEL means kinsman redeemer, or relative redeemer. There is no English equivalent for this Hebrew word. According to Hebrew custom and law, it was the family's responsibility to get a family member out of debt. If the father had died, the firstborn-brother received this responsibility. That is why he received a double portion of the inheritance. If his younger brother got into debt and was sold into slavery because of it, the firstborn was responsible for bailing him out. He was his kinsman redeemer.

Redemption is associated with a payment of some kind. In 1 Peter 1:18-19 we read, "Knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ." Here we have an interesting concept. We have not been redeemed with something that is perishable, but with the imperishable, unblemished and spotless blood of Christ! Have you ever heard of anyone having blood that is not perishable? Was the blood that flowed through the veins of Jesus, different from our blood? The answer to this question can be found in the fact that Peter does not refer to the blood of Jesus, but to the blood of Christ. The word, "Christ" is not a name. Jesus Christ means Jesus the Anointed One or Jesus the Messiah. Does the anointing, the Holy Spirit, have blood? We know that spirit does not have blood, so we know Peter is bringing us a message in symbolism.

To help us to understand the symbolism, let's look at the correct translation of Leviticus 17:11. It tells us that the soul is in the blood. The popular translation saying that life is in the blood is an incorrect translation of the Hebrew word NEPHESH. Life is in the spirit! The soul symbolizes our sense of being - and our sense of being is derived from our mind, emotions and will. In symbolism the blood of Christ represents Christ's sense of being! His mind was always in agreement with God. He did not carry resentments or bitterness; He freely forgave His enemies, loved others, and was always willing to do the Father's will! He was secure in His Father's love, and trusted every aspect of God's plan for Him. As we receive Christ's sense of being we are redeemed from our old sense of being. We are freed from our bondage to sin and self, from condemnation, and works for righteousness! Christ's blood is His sense of being, and it very unusual, for it is not perishable, and it is the purchasing agent!

The price of our redemption was not paid to the devil. The price consisted of all the pain He suffered, not only in His horrible physical death on the cross, but also in His death to sin. In all His suffering He was submitted to the Father. He was not ruled by the law, but by truth and grace. Love and forgiveness reigned in His heart! In humility He accepted whatever was necessary for our redemption! . .

In the Old Testament God said that He is our redeemer. The marvel of marvels is that God entered our humanity in Jesus, and Christ became the firstborn among many brethren! He became our relative, our elder brother, and as such He redeemed us from our slavery to corruption. We are God's children because He has fathered us. We received His life when we were born of His Spirit. Christ is now our elder brother!

Before we were redeemed, we were slaves of our carnal nature. In Christ Jesus we are freed from that nature. He has freed us from the subjection to our carnal nature by putting us into Christ and giving us His nature, and pouring His Holy Spirit into our hearts.

Justification does not come to us on the basis of our works, but on the basis of God's grace through the redemption that is ours in Christ. "Whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." (Rom.3:25-26)

Again, questions come to us. How does God's justification of us demonstrate His righteousness, and how is God's righteousness manifested in His justification of us? How does He establish His righteousness by passing over the sins we have previously committed?

We need to recognize, as A. P. Adams points out, that "the atonement was not to satisfy God's justice, but to reveal His love. The justice of God is not against the sinner, demanding his condemnation, but for him, insuring his salvation. He did not die as our substitute, but as our companion and associate; not instead of man, but with him and for him. Christ did not die to save us from the penalty of sin, but from sin itself!!" His salvation consists of taking us out of the Adam man, the man of sin, and placing us into Christ, the man of righteousness! This man is free from condemnation, and can truly be pronounced righteous. So God is just in proclaiming us righteous!

This is very difficult for us to believe because we look at our failures, our selfishness and greed, and declare that this justification will only take place after we die. Instead of recognizing the truth of God's declaration, we uphold our own understanding and shelve God's word to us. In so doing we inadvertently place our natural thinking above God's word. Only by believing what God says can we be delivered from sin, depression and despair. When God says that we are justified, it means that we are just because we (the new creation that we are) have never sinned. In 1 John 3:9 we read, "No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in Him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God." Since there is no corruption in God, everything that is born of His incorruptible seed is also free of corruption!

Our righteousness from God pronounces us righteous at the very beginning of our life in the Lord. We are now free to enjoy walking in the will of God! We don't have to work for acceptance! Our righteousness does not depend on anything we have done; it depends on what God has done for us in Christ Jesus! God declares us righteous because His life in us brings us His righteousness! This brings us into peace! What a contrast to being under the law - under the pressure of accumulating brownie points, yet always fearing and experiencing failure! Then, after we have tried so hard, the law informs us that we missed a number of times, and therefore our efforts do not suffice! Instead of experiencing peace and joy, we experience fear and failure.

Let's remember that in Genesis 1 God created man in His image. Then in Genesis 2 God formed man out of existing material. This formed man was not yet in the spiritual image of God. He was a mixture of the earthy and the divine. Since there is no earthiness in God, a change had to take place before man could be created in the image of God. The process of being made into God's image comes in the New Testament, and takes place in the new creation man. When we place our faith in Jesus Christ, we are made righteous. This does not depend on man's doing, but on God's doing! He has justified us! We have been justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

This is the gospel - the glad news! This is what God has done! The work of God has made us righteous! We need to believe that we are a new creation. If we do not believe that, we will identify with the old man instead of the new man. If I am declared righteous, when in actuality I am not righteous, then God is lying. God declares us righteous because we are righteous. He wants us to know who we are when we are in Christ, and to identify with who we now are because we are now members of the second man, the corporate Christ!

As long as our identification is with Adam we will continue to live in the death that exists in the carnal mind. We will still call ourselves sinners, and think that we are justified by what we do instead of by what Christ has done for us! Christ has become our righteousness! We do not negate the fact that our carnal mind still resides alongside the mind of Christ that is now ours, and whenever we listen to that mind, sin comes into being. In Romans 7 Paul tells us that this sinning does not belong to the new creation man; it is the flesh, the carnal mind, that is the cause or root of this sin. This is a difficult concept for us to grasp. Our natural mind tells us this is a cop out. So do we believe God or do we believe our natural mind?

Our big battle in this life takes place in our mind because it is so difficult for us to overcome the lies and deceptions resident in the carnal mind. In order to overcome the lies that have become our truth, we have to believe what God says. We need to believe all the promises that God gives to the overcomers. We need to believe that the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life belong to those who are in Adam - not to those who are in Christ. We need to believe that the natural mind resides in death. We need to believe that we are a new creation in Christ. We need to believe what God says about Himself, and what He says about us. We need to believe that the power of Christ works in us mightily. We need to identify with who we are in Christ and believe that the victory is ours in Christ. He is our victory! He is our righteousness, sanctification, wisdom, our all in all! What glorious news! Let's walk in the joy of our great salvation, redemption and justification!

Return to the Insights into Living Articles Index