Free but not Cheap
Free but Not Cheap (Romans 3:24-26)
Every religion and ideology has a visual symbol. Buddhism has the lotus flower. Judaism uses the Star of David. Islam puts forth the crescent. The communists use the hammer and sickle, indicating the unity of factory and field in their revolution. We all know the sinister significance of the swastika. But among these, there stands out one above all—the cross. A humiliating instrument of terrible suffering and death, it is the symbol of Christianity. We all confess that centrality of the cross. But what happened on the cross? God both liberated us and satisfied His own justice on that cross.
God Provides for Us a Free Liberation
God gives us a right status with Himself in the cross. This is the greatest truth in Romans. This is justification. But how can God do anything that wonderful?
The manner of justification is altogether free. Paul underscores this with two terms. We are pronounced righteous "freely." It is a gift, gratis. To make that even clearer, it is "by his grace." The whole motivation and explanation is God's grace. Nothing in us predisposes God to pronounce us right with Himself. There is no merit involved of any kind.
The means of God's justification is the payment of a ransom to liberate us. Redemption signifies a ransom payment of price. This implies that we are prisoners, slaves to the power of darkness. Jesus stated, "The Son of man came, . . . to give his life a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45, KJV). Jesus understood His own death as the payment of a ransom price. Repeatedly the New Testament insists on this truth. "You are not your own; you were bought at a price" (1 Cor. 6:20); "Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men" (1 Tim. 2:5-6). This truth underscores our bondage and the provision of God's grace to release us from that bondage.
This ransom "came by Jesus Christ." His person and work is the embodiment of the ransom. It is not some impersonal thing done for you apart from Jesus Christ. To trust Him alone for salvation is to have the ransom, the liberation.
God Provides for Himself a Final Propitiation
We needed something from the cross—liberation. God needed something from the cross—propitiation. The cross not only did something for us, it also did something for God. God needed propitiation. God needed something to avert, absorb, or deflect His wrath against sin. Remember that the wrath of God is not an emotion like human anger. It is a settled disposition of His holy character against sin. The cross absorbed the wrath of God.
In the cross, God acted personally. The cross was God's initiative. That is, God appeased His own wrath in the Person of His own dear Son. God did not start to love us because Christ died; Christ died because God already loved us. Christ did not win over an angry God on the cross. What God demanded, He personally provided. This keeps the cross away from any pagan idea that a mere man bribed God to change His mind.
In the cross, God acted publicly. "God presented him [Jesus]" (Rom. 3:25). The emphasis rests on the public display made in the cross (Gal. 3:1). The cross stands for all time to demonstrate that the wrath of God against sin has been absorbed by His own Son.
Jesus Christ is the Person of propitiation. "He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins. . . . He [God] loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins" (1 John 2:2; 4:10). God directed against Himself in His Son the full weight of righteous wrath.
Jesus Christ is the place of propitiation. The word "propitiation" actually points to a specific place often mentioned in the Old Testament, the "mercy seat." The mercy seat was the lid of the ark of the covenant (Ex. 25:22; Lev. 16:13). It was the place where God manifested Himself in glory. It was the place where the high priest sprinkled the blood of an innocent sacrifice. Jesus Christ is the final and ultimate mercy seat. He is the place and the Person where God deals forever with human sin.
God Provides for Everyone a Divine Vindication
God had a problem, so to speak. God could not offer a cheap forgiveness. God could never forgive sin in a way that implied that moral evil did not matter. God must take sin seriously. To forgive sin without the cross would call into question the righteous character of God. It would say that sin did not matter after all. God presented the cross "to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus" (Rom. 3:26).
The cross vindicates God's righteousness. The suffering of Jesus on the cross shows God's abhorrence of sin. Does God take sin seriously? Look at the cross. No one less than His own dear Son suffered the cruelty of crucifixion to show that God takes sin seriously.
The cross demonstrates God's mercy. The cross solved your problems as well as God's. On the basis of that cross, God pronounces you "Not guilty." The cross is the final solution. God vindicated His holiness and demonstrated His mercy in the same cross. Hallelujah, what a Savior!