Justification and Redemption

Justification and Redemption

Jul 22
Justification and Redemption

I recently received a question related to the difference between redemption and justification.  They are not the same thing, but I think many Christians treat them as being the same or similar.  Most of us probably have a decent grasp of justification.  Redemption, on the other hand, might be a little more challenging.

For something to be justified, we have to first acknowledge that the act or event was wrong.  Stealing is wrong.  Killing is wrong.  Both demand justice and punishment for the wrongful act.  Justification is the act of pardoning someone for something that deserved punishment.  For example, suppose you killed someone and were found guilty – you deserve punishment according to the law.  But then suppose that the judge says, “Even though you are guilty I am not going to punish you.”  That would be justification.

We allow for justification in the way that we execute laws.  We say that some things shouldn’t be punished, or should be punished less severely, due to the circumstances surrounding the situation.  For example, killing another person in self-defense is considered justified.  You are guilty of killing, but you did it for a reason that we consider acceptable, so we withhold punishment.

Where justification gets tricky is when we attempt to justify ourselves.  Consider the character Jean Valjean from Les Miserables.   He was sentenced to hard labor in prison because he stole some bread.  He was guilty of the crime.  However, Valjean justified the theft because he was stealing the bread for his sister’s starving children.  In Valjean’s mind, his theft was justified.  In the eyes of the law, it was not.  Valjean could not justify himself – only one with authority to pass judgment can justify.  We cannot justify ourselves, but we often act as if we can.  We behave as if we answer to no other authority but ourselves and because in our eyes an act was justified, we are outraged when we are punished for it.

I believe this is one of the greatest issues that our society has with Christians and with church.  Both are seen as unfairly passing judgment on things that others have justified for themselves.

Jesus called us to a different way of life.  The Good Life.  As part of His instructions on living the Good Life, Jesus explained just how far short we fall and how much we need justification.  He explained that not only should you not commit adultery, you shouldn’t even look at another person with lust or you are just as guilty.  He sets the bar at a height we cannot possibly achieve and yet He expects us to strive for it.  That’s just one example.  There are many.

We cannot possibly keep from failing.  We cannot possibly keep from coming up short.  In other words, every one of us is guilty.  Every one of us deserves punishment.

But because Jesus was perfect, because He had never – could never – fall short, He is the only one who can justify us.  It is only Jesus who can say, “You are guilty but I will take away your punishment.”

Redemption, on the other hand, is something different.  The concept of redemption is similar to that of paying a ransom.  Redemption means to buy something back or to re-purchase.  For example, imagine that you buy a new car.  You haven’t had the car very long before a thief steals it.  When you confront the thief, he refuses to give you back the car unless you pay him for it.  The idea of redemption means that you paid the thief and re-bought something which had already belonged to you.

Redemption is very much a foreign concept to most of us.  What kind of idiot would pay again for something that rightfully belonged to him in the first place?

God would.

In the beginning, we belonged to God.  We were His.  We had a perfect, beautiful relationship with Him.  Nothing separated us.  He made us to be perfect and to be part of His own perfection.  He custom-designed and built us for relationship with Him.  But we chose to have a relationship with things that are contrary to God.  Rather than stay true to our first love, we cheated on Him with another lover.

We were held hostage by sin.  We could not be free from it without a ransom being paid.  But God — who made us, who loved us, and to whom we already belonged – gave His own life as a ransom.  He bought us back.  He redeemed us.  He loved us so much that He was willing to buy back what was rightfully His.

So, justification means that the punishment is set aside but that there is still guilt.  Redemption means that a price is paid.

Perhaps an example would help.  Let’s say that you’re on vacation.  You’re driving to visit friends in the mountains.  You’re looking forward to your time with them, but it’s a long drive.  Several hours into the drive, fatigue overcomes you and you fall asleep at the wheel.  You cross several lanes of traffic and strike a car head-on going the opposite direction.  The driver of the other car was a young man who had borrowed his dad’s car to go to a concert.  He is killed in the crash.  You are guilty of manslaughter and are facing a prison sentence.  You also owe for damages to the other car, an expensive collector’s vehicle, which was totaled in the crash.

Justification is when the father of the young man you killed pleads on your behalf with the judge, convincing the judge not to send you to prison.  You walk away without serving a single day, even though you were guilty.

Redemption is when the father of the young man you killed pays for repairs to his own car and pays for his son’s funeral.  He paid the price for something that wasn’t his fault.  He paid the price that you rightfully owed for something you had done.

In other words, justification does not remove guilt.  It only removes the punishment.  The guilt remains.  Redemption makes everything right again.  It restores what was damaged, it replaces and repairs the harm that was done.

You have been justified through Jesus.  You have been released from punishment.

You have also been redeemed.  At this very moment, God is actively redeeming the story of your life.  He is making everything right.  He is repairing and restoring the damage.  He is paying the price for what you owe and cannot possibly repay.  It is through redemption that God takes our tragedies and turns them into magnificent stories of beauty and wonder.

We are not just forgiven.  God is making everything as if nothing wrong had ever happened.  That includes not only the wrongs we have done, but the wrongs that have been done to us.  God is redeeming it all.

It is truly the greatest story I’ve ever known.


  1. Joan Newman

    Your explanation of Justification and Redemption brought me to tears. Being a Bible student,I knew it the definition. Your explanation made me look again. I’m reading ‘The Shack’ hence the research.
    Thank you.

  2. Carrie DePass

    Thank you so much for such a simple explanation of justification and redemption. I am a senior in a bible class and now simple is so much easier.

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