21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,
22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction;
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;
25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith
Something hit me the other day as I was preparing for a teaching. In this passage, Paul does not say that we are forgiven. Forgiveness is a squishy and difficult idea. The idea is that we have done some harm to someone, and in forgiving, they will endeavor not to hold it against us. It ends up being an unsatisfying solution, because in our conscience we know that it leaves our sin still sitting there unpunished and undealt with. Our lack of condemnation depends wholly on the strength of will of the one harmed, to continue to forget that we harmed them. We remain in their debt, they still hold a kind of power of extortion over us, even if they don’t want to.
Justification is different. It doesn’t say, you have done wrong, but I will try to forget it. It focuses on the wrong done, and says squarely, this was wrong. This was very wrong. It was unjust. Since justice is God’s love spread around to lots of sinners, our sin violated love. It needs to be publicly declared wrong, publicly punished, so that all will know that justice must be served for such a wrong done. Justification says, your sin was displayed publicly as worthy of condemnation and terrible punishment in Christ. When we say that we believe Christ died for our sins, we are not just forgiven, we are justified. In our conscience, as believers, we feel that we MUST say that justice has been served for our sins, because otherwise we make His terrible death on our behalf of no account.
This is the big difference between forgiveness and justification. Forgiveness leaves justice on the table, it leaves sin unpunished but unjustified. Among the brethren, we have something greater than forgiveness with one another. We have the understanding that their sin against us has been declared unjust and wrong with vengeance and violence. It has been abundantly addressed. I don’t have to think that I am just trying to forget what they have done to me or that they are trying to forget what I have done to them. Forgetting is not the issue or the power of attorney here. The blood of Jesus Christ is the power, and it is most certainly sufficient.
In the end, of ourselves, we can only forgive. We do not have the power to bear someone else’s punishment. As the psalmist says,
7 No man can by any means redeem his brother Or give to God a ransom for him–
8 For the redemption of his soul is costly, And he should cease trying forever–
9 That he should live on eternally, That he should not undergo decay.
So, we can and should forgive 70 times 7 a day, because what is coming or what is needed has come: a savior who can justify us, who can pay truly for the redemption of our souls. However, in forgiving, we must not make the error of thinking that we are their savior, that we hold the power of attorney over them. True forgiveness on our part acknowledges that their justification in Christ is sufficient, and I refuse to say otherwise. Forgiveness under Christ is stronger than mere forgetfulness, it is constantly putting the sins of those around us under the terrible wrath displayed publicly on the cross. Justification is stronger and more lasting and makes more sense than forgiveness, because it accounts for the vengeance that our soul knows must be visited upon our various sins. In Christ, our conscience is washed clean, and we are free indeed!