There is pow’r, pow’r, wonder-working pow’r
In the precious blood of the Lamb.
Happy memories flood my mind when I hear these words. We sang them often in church when I was young — bobbing up and down on our toes. The best church songs in the South were toe-bobbers. And my father seemed to love “Power in the Blood” most of all. I could tell he would sing louder than normal on this one, and I’d follow suit. I think the whole congregation sang with more gusto than usual, but I couldn’t hear them well with the two of us both raising our voices.
Christians of all stripes and leaning affirm there is indeed power in the bloodof Jesus. Word- and Spirit-shaped souls feel that intuitively, but have you ever paused to ask how? Is the magic blood? If there is power in his blood, how do we explain the reality? What truths operate under the surface when we celebrate, in shorthand, this wonder-working pow’r?
The New Testament epistle to the Hebrews builds the bridge from the Old Testament sacrificial system (and its blood) to the new covenant and Jesus’s once-for-all sacrifice (Hebrews 9:7, 12). Throughout the Bible, blood represents life (for instance, Genesis 9:4), and the spilling or shedding of blood, in turn, depicts death (Leviticus 17:11, 14; Deuteronomy 12:23). Because the just penalty of human sin against God is death (Romans 6:23), the death of sanctioned animal sacrifices, through the presentation of their blood, stood in temporarily for the requirement of death for sinners. Yet the high priest had to return year after year, “repeatedly” (Hebrews 9:7; 9:25), because “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). The repeated animal sacrifices were delaying the inevitable, waiting on God’s fullness of times. One day a final reckoning for sin must come.
Christians, of course, believe and celebrate that now in Christ, and under the terms of a new covenant, the reckoning has come. Jesus willingly “offered himself” (Hebrews 9:14) by “once for all” shedding “his own blood” (Hebrews 9:12), bringing to its intended completion the temporary covenant that came before (the old covenant) and inaugurating in its place an “eternal covenant,” (Hebrews 13:30), which we call the new covenant.
Hebrews celebrates some of the specific benefits Christians enjoy because of Jesus’s blood (Hebrews 10:19; 13:12), but it’s the apostle Paul, in particular, who celebrates the manifold grace that comes to us because of his blood. In one sense, we can connect to Jesus’s blood every divine grace that comes to us, but five times Paul makes the connection explicit, with both the mention of blood and a specific aspect of what Christ has secured for us with his death.
Romans 3:25 says Jesus is the one whom “God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” Because God is just, the sins of his people are no small obstacle. In his kindness and grace, he has chosen to love us, yet in his justice he cannot sweep our sins, which are acts of cosmic treason against him, under the rug of the universe. So, in his love, he devises a way to satisfy justice and still triumph with mercy.
God himself, in the person of his own Son, takes on human flesh and blood and offers himself in the place of sinful people, to receive the just wrath of God and pay our penalty in his death, all that we might live. His blood, then, signifying the sacrificial giving of his life in the place of those deserving death (and “received by faith”), propitiates his righteous wrath, upholds divine justice, and opens the floodgates of his mercy.
Romans 5:9 says “we have now been justified by his blood.” Justified is courtroom language. The prosecution and defense each present their case, and the judge or jury makes a declaration: either righteous or condemned. The defendant is either guilty as charged or declared to be in right standing with the law — justified.
The reason those who are united to Jesus by faith are justified is owing, in part, to his sacrificial and substitutionary death. He willingly shed his own blood not for his own sins (he had none), but for ours. The spilling of his blood to cover our sins made possible our sharing in his righteousness by joining us to him through faith. Without his blood, our unrighteousness would remain unaddressed. We could not stand with him at the final judgment and receive with him his Father’s declaration, “Righteous.”
Ephesians 1:7 says, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses.” To redeem means to buy back or secure the freedom of someone in bondage. Because of our sins, we all were (or continue to be) in spiritual captivity. Our violations of God’s law mean we deserve his omnipotent, righteous wrath. But in Christ, by the shedding of his blood, which forgives our sins before God, he purchases our freedom from justice and from the power of Satan. “Having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands” (Colossians 2:13–14), through his self-offering at the cross, Jesus “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame” (Colossians 2:15).
The decisive weapon the demons had against us was unforgiven sin, but when Jesus spilled his own blood in our place, to forgive our sins, he freed us from captivity. He redeemed us from Satan and the record of debt and legal demands against us.
These precious themes, of course, overlap. We’ve already seen the importance of forgiveness, but Ephesians 2:13 puts it at the fore: “now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” At the heart of this “bringing near” is the restoration of humanity with the divine. On the individual level, it’s the creation in Christ of personal access to and a relationship with God that we, born into sin, never could have secured. On the corporate level, it’s the restoration in Christ of the relationship with God for which we were made.
Our sin and rebellion against God has put distance between us and him. In his old-covenant grace, he drew near to his covenant people called Israel. But now, in the new covenant, he draws near not to a particular ethnic people, but to all who receive his Son in faith, no matter who they are or how far they had run. In fact, the phrase “brought near by the blood of Christ” gets at the heart of what each of these divine gifts in Jesus’s blood does for us: it brings us to God. There may be no better summary of what we’ve seen so far about the power of Jesus’s blood than 1 Peter 3:18: “Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.”
Finally, the God-centered aim of the effects of Jesus’s blood is confirmed in its peace-making between God and his people. In Christ, God reconciles his people “to himself . . . making peace by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:19–20). That he shed his blood on the cross has been implicit in each instance, but here Paul makes it plain. It is “the blood of his cross” that makes peace between God and man. He made peace with an instrument of intentional and horrific torture and execution.
Jesus did not shed his blood by accident. This was no random death. Tragic as it was, it was deliberate and voluntary. He was executed unjustly, and his blood was spilled on purpose at the cross, both by sinful men and the holy God-man. They took his life, and he gave it. In doing so, he absorbed the righteous wrath of God, granted us his full legal acceptance, purchased our true freedom, restored our most important relationship, and made peace for us with God himself. This is how, as Paul says elsewhere, he secured “the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).
Following the trial of blood in Paul’s letters, we begin to see an ocean of grace in that last line of the familiar chorus: There is pow’r, pow’r, wonder-working pow’r / In the precious blood of the Lamb. Precious, indeed.
That pairing of precious with Jesus’s blood comes from the apostle Peter:
You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (1 Peter 1:18–19)
It is fitting to sing of his blood and, in doing so, celebrate all the riches represented by it. When we add precious in that final line, we’re not just adding two additional syllables to make the cadence work with the tune. His blood is truly precious to us. Infinitely valuable. Because Christ himself, and God himself in him, is precious to us. And because the blood of Christ, more precious than any other means, fulfills our deepest aches and longings in God, not just temporarily but finally and forever.
David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor for desiringGod.org and pastor at Cities Churchin Minneapolis/St. Paul. He is a husband, father of four, and author of Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines.