What is justification? Justification is God’s action in approving people according to His standard of righteousness. His righteousness is the standard, not ours. Although we think we are righteous, our righteousness is only a quarter inch high. Regardless of how righteous we are or how righteous we think we are, our righteousness is just a fraction of an inch high. How high is God’s righteousness? It is unlimited! Can you be approved by God according to your own righteousness? This is impossible. Although you may be right with everyone—with your parents, your children, and your friends—your righteousness will never justify you before God. You may justify yourself according to your standard of righteousness, but that does not enable you to be justified by God according to His standard. We need justification by faith. Justification by faith before God means we are approved by God according to the standard of His righteousness.
How can God do this? He can do it because our justification is based upon the redemption of Christ. When the redemption of Christ is applied to us, we are justified. If there were no such redemption, it would be impossible for us to be justified by God. Redemption is the basis of justification.
As we come to the subject of the redemption of Christ, we need to consider the atonement in the Old Testament (Lev. 16:34; 25:9).
The atonement in the Old Testament was an expiation (Lev. 25:9; Num. 5:8). Expiation means to appease God for us, to conciliate God by satisfying His righteous requirements.
The expiatory cover (rendered “mercy seat” by the King James Version) was the lid of the ark (Exo. 25:17-22; Lev. 16:14; Heb. 9:5). Under this cover was the law which was called the testimony of God (Exo. 25:21). Why was it called the testimony of God? Because the law testifies of what God is. God is fully testified and expressed by His law. Above the expiatory cover were the cherubim of glory, signifying the expression of God (Exo. 25:19-20; Heb. 9:5; Rom. 3:23). Therefore, under the cover was the testimony of God, showing what kind of God He is, and above the cover were the cherubim of glory, expressing the glory of God.
The expiatory cover was sprinkled with the expiatory blood (Lev. 16:14, cf. 18). On the day of atonement, or, as is better to say, the day of expiation, the blood of the expiatory sacrifice was shed, brought into the holiest of holy, and sprinkled upon the expiatory cover. That blood was a speaking blood. At that time, some problems existed between God and the people. Everyone had sinned against God and was short of God’s glory. Thus, two problems—the problem of sins and the problem of falling short of God’s glory—existed between God and the people, creating a separation between them. There was no way for them to come together. Although the people needed God’s grace, and although God had grace to dispense to them, there was no way for the two parties to approach one another. Expiation was the way. That was the way of atonement, of at-one-ment. In the Old Testament times, the way of atonement, that is of expiation, required a sacrifice in which blood was shed. This blood was brought into the holiest of holy and sprinkled upon the cover of the ark. As we have seen, under this cover was the law exposing and condemning the people as they approached God, and above the cover were the cherubim of glory observing everything. As the blood of atonement was sprinkled upon the cover of the ark, it satisfied the righteous requirements of God’s law and it fulfilled the demands of God’s glory. Therefore, upon the expiatory cover of the ark God could meet with man, speak to man, and fellowship with man in a lawful way without contradicting His righteousness or glory. It was in this place that God and man were made one. That was the atonement, the expiation.
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