The penalty for sin is death. Jesus, in His grace and mercy, paid that penalty for us when He died on the cross for our sins. In this way, we can say that His blood has covered and canceled our sin. (“Cancel” means to make of no effect.) Atonement, then, is God’s action – through Christ’s death – by which our fellowship is restored. We are made “at-one“ with God.
This refers to the holy character of God. He is ever “right” in thought, word and deed in attitudes and actions. He is right, good and true in all ways and in all things.
This is the “righteous” standard of the Law. Whatever is not righteous is wicked, evil and wrong – in short, sinful. For this reason, sinful man can never stand before a holy God. Righteousness and unrighteousness are forever against one another. There is no basis for fellowship.
For this reason, God sent His Son to “atone” for our sins. When we accept Christ into our hearts as our Savior, our sins are covered and canceled. God no longer sees us in our sins, but in the righteousness of His Son. Not only is He in us, but we are in Him.
This is called “imputed” righteousness. The word “impute” is a legal term. It means that something has been put to our account by another. What is theirs now also belongs to us. Their position and possession becomes our position and possession. It is a joint account. The righteousness of Jesus has become our righteousness. The position of Jesus at the Father’s right hand has become our position (see Ephesians 1:20-22; 2:4,5).
Besides “imputed” righteousness, which is our legal position, there is an “imparted” righteousness. “Impart” means to put something in. When we became Christians, something was “put into” our lives. Not only are we “in Christ” in the legal sense, but Christ is “in us” in a personal and practical sense.
In receiving Jesus, we also receive His holy, righteous nature. We have a new nature – a new source of inner power – by which we can now begin to live a “righteous” life. Our “old nature” died with Jesus on the cross, which gives us the right and freedom to express our “new nature” (see Romans Chapter 6).
To “justify” means to make right before the Law, and therefore make free from guilt or condemnation.
To “condemn” means to judge someone guilty before the Law. Sin is breaking the laws of God. Therefore all sinners are guilty before God. The penalty for our sin is death. The demands of the Law cannot be satisfied without the penalty for sin being paid “Justice” cannot overlook sin as if it didn’t happen.
In God’s plan of redemption, mercy and justice can join hands in only one way. And it is this: the Judge (God) not only passes the sentence, but also pays the penalty (Christ’s death) Himself! The guilty party is now “justified” and made right before the Law.