We are, “justified freely by His grace” (Romans 3:24).
Paul uses the words “justified freely.” Justification is a legal term. If you went to court and were acquitted, you were justified. Two people went through school and university together and developed a close friendship. Life went on, and they both went their different ways and lost contact. One went on to become a judge, while the other one ended up a criminal. One day the criminal appeared before the judge. He had committed a crime to which he pleaded guilty. The judge recognized his old friend and faced a dilemma. He was a judge, so he had to be just; he couldn't let the man off. On the other hand, he didn't want to punish the man, because he loved him. So he told his friend that he would fine him the correct penalty for the offense. That is justice. Then he came down from his position as judge and wrote a check for the amount of the fine. He gave it to his friend, saying that he would pay the penalty for him. That is love.
This is an illustration of what God has done for us. In His justice, He judges us because we are guilty, but then, in His love, He came down in the person of His Son, the Lord Jesus, and paid the penalty for us. In this way, He is both ‘just' (in that He does not allow the guilty to go unpunished) and the one who justifies—Romans 3:26 (in that by taking the penalty Himself, in the person of His Son, He enables us to go free).
The illustration used is not an exact one for three reasons. First, our plight is much worse. The penalty that we are facing is not just a fine, but death, not only physical death but separation from the author of life—spiritual death—an eternity apart from God. Secondly, the relationship is closer. This is not just two friends: it is our Father in heaven who loves us more than any earthly parent loves his child. Thirdly, the cost was more significant: it cost God not money, but His one and only Son—who paid the penalty of sin. It is not an innocent third party but God Himself who saves us.
…that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them (2 Corinthians 5:19).
God has reconciled us to Himself and put our sins away from us if we receive His gift of love and grace. He has taken your place so that He can freely forgive you. Will you accept His free pardon?
In the year 1829, a Philadelphia man named George Wilson robbed the U.S. Mail Service, killing someone in the process. Wilson was arrested, brought to trial, found guilty, and sentenced to be hanged. Some friends intervened on his behalf and were finally able to obtain a pardon for him from President Andrew Jackson. But, when he was informed of this, George Wilson refused to accept the pardon! The sheriff was unwilling to enact the sentence—for how could he hang a pardoned man? An appeal was sent to President Jackson. The perplexed President turned to the United States Supreme Court to decide the case. Chief Justice Marshall ruled that a pardon is a piece of paper, the value of which depends on its acceptance by the person implicated. It is hardly to be supposed that a person under the sentence of death would refuse to accept a pardon, but if it is rejected, it is then not a pardon. George Wilson must be hanged. So, George Wilson was executed, even though his pardon lay on the sheriff's desk. What will you do with the full pardon offered to you by the Chief Justice—the God of the Universe?
What about you, dear reader, isn't it time for you to pray to the God who loves you and has made a way for you to be forgiven of your sin. Keith Thomas
This is a shortened version from the study, Why Did Jesus Die?
 1500 Illustrations for Biblical Preaching. Edited by Michael Green. Published by Baker Books. Page 317.