Biblical faith acknowledges the legal dimension of sin, recognizing that the just requirements of the law have to be satisfied. Yet it also perceives that sin is basically the sundering of a personal relationship between God and humanity and that the greatest need is not the payment of debt but reconciliation.
The deepest meaning of the cross is that God, out of His incomparable love, chose to identify Himself with our plight and affliction. The suffering of Christ was the suffering of vicarious love, and not simply a penal suffering canceling human debt. Salvation means that Christ's merits are transferred to the deficient sinner and also that God's forgiveness is extended to the undeserving sinner. Christ not only pays the penalty of sin, but He does more than the law requires: He accepts the sinner unto Himself, adopting that person into His family as a brother or sister. He gives sinner's a writ of pardon and embraces them as a shepherd who has found the lost sheep.
Just as sin is deeper than the infringement of law so love goes beyond the requirements of the law. The answer to sin is a forgiveness that was not conditional on Christ's sacrifice but one that was responsible for this sacrifice. God did not forgive because His law was satisfied; yet because He chose to forgive, He saw to it that the demands of His law were fulfilled.
Donald G. Bloesch
(excerpt from "The Portable Seminary" by David Horton)