According to Paul, justification is freely given (Romans 3:24). When something is freely given, it expresses an abundance of generosity extravagantly bestowed without cost to the recipient. It also demonstrates the willingness of the giver to present the gift. God doesn’t give the gift of justification begrudgingly. He lavishes it.
Similarly, justification is a gift of grace (Romans 3:24). The word grace communicates the free and unmerited nature of God’s favor. By using the words freely and grace together, even though they have similar meanings, Paul is emphasizing just how free God’s gift of justification is. Justification is free free. It is grace grace. We can’t earn it by the deeds of the law (Romans 3:20), and we can’t compel God to give it. He graciously gives it freely to those who have faith (Romans 3:24). He is a genuinely generous God who delights to give saving gifts to His children.
God gives this extravagant free gift of justification through the “redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). Redemption is the language used to describe the rescue of slaves from slavery, such as the time God redeemed Israel from Egyptian bondage (Exodus 6:6). Jesus redeems sinners from the enslaving power of sin and freely bestows upon them, by grace, the gift of justification. Many of the converts to Christianity were actual slaves in the Roman empire. This image of the work of Christ would have been particularly beautiful to those who knew firsthand the pain and trauma of slavery.
Justification and redemption are possible because of the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ (Romans 3:25). We don’t often use the word propitiation today, but it is an important word. At the most foundational level, the word means an instrument of regaining the favor of a deity. In the pagan Greek world of Paul, people would make offerings to their gods to propitiate them in the hope of regaining their favor. They thought that their propitiatory sacrifices would earn back the goodwill of the gods. Propitiation in Christianity is a radically different concept. In Christianity, we don’t propitiate God. God propitiated Himself by giving Himself in Christ for our sins (Romans 3:25; 2 Corinthians 5:19).
God freely gives us, by the gift of His grace, the verdict of justification. He did this by redeeming us from sin through Jesus’ death. By Jesus’ death, God propitiated Himself so that all who trust in Jesus have the promise now and in the final judgment they are righteous. Through the sacrifice of Christ, God’s favor is restored. We didn’t earn it, and we don’t deserve it. It is given freely by grace.
Sometimes Paul doesn’t seem very practical. He uses words like justification and propitiation that are not a significant part of most people’s vocabulary. His arguments are often highly involved. His teaching is intensely practical, however. All people face sin, shame, and guilt. Jesus’ death provides a truly liberating solution to these universal problems.