What Is Redemption? The Important Meaning for Christians from the Bible
- Dr. Anthony Chute Professor
- 2018 31 Oct
So, how was your day today? Did you dread getting out of bed this morning? Were you irritated by traffic on the way to work? Are you facing unreasonable demands from your employer? Is there ongoing tension in your marriage? Do you find that your children are ever more appreciative of what you do on their behalf? Did the evening news cheer you at the end of the day? Are you simply tired of the same old routine, and longing for something new?
Chances are you feel burdened about one or more issues above. You are certainly not alone. In fact, the Bible states, “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now. Not only that but we ourselves who have the Spirit as the first fruits – we also groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:22-23). All of creation groans, longing for redemption.
The Definition of Redemption
The dictionary defines redemption as: 1. the action of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil. 2. the action of regaining or gaining possession of something in exchange for payment, or clearing a debt.
Romans 5:8-11 specifies,
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
Redemption is used in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. The Old Testament. In the Old Testament, redemption involves deliverance from bondage based on the payment of a price by a redeemer. The Hebrew root words used most often for the concept of redemption are pada, gaal, and kapar. The verb pada is a legal term concerning the substitution required for the person or animal delivered. The verb gaal is a legal term for the deliverance of some person, property, or right to which one had a previous claim through family relation or possession. The meaning of the third verb, kapar, is to cover.
Fundamental to the message of the New Testament is the announcement that Jesus of Nazareth is the fulfillment of Israel's messianic hope and that, in him, the long-awaited redemption has arrived. Deliverance of humankind from its state of alienation from God has been accomplished through the death and resurrection of Christ (Rom 4:25 ; 2 Cor 5:18-19). In the New Testament, redemption requires the payment of a price, but the plight that requires such a ransom is moral not material. Humankind is held in the captivity of sin from which only the atoning death of Jesus Christ can liberate. ("Entry for 'Redeem, Redemption'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology")
Redemption is Necessary
When life gets hard we tend to say that we need a break. What we really need, however, is redemption. Instead of gaining a momentary respite from the madness that surrounds us, redemption is the promise of God to deliver us from the power and presence of sin.
If this promise sounds too good to be true, consider the fact that the world used to work this way. Prior to their rebellion, Adam and Eve had unbroken fellowship with God, unparalleled intimacy with each other and undisturbed enjoyment in their Edenic environment. There has never been a time such as theirs when humans exercised biblical dominion over creation, complemented each other so completely and joyously lived every moment of every day under the rule of God. But there will be.
The Bible envisions a day when these broken relationships will be forever restored. God’s people will inherit a new earth that bears abundant food apart from the sweat of their brow and without the threat of thorns (Revelation 22:2). They will never feel pain or cause others to experience hurt of any kind as their tears have been eternally wiped away (Revelation 21:4). Death will no longer haunt the living as gentle lambs will rest side by side with formerly carnivorous wolves (Isaiah 11:6). Best of all, God will dwell with his people (Revelation 22:3). Nothing unclean will be allowed to enter the new creation. There will be no trees that trick or serpents that tempt. Worship, not worry, will characterize the family of God in a world without end. In a word, this fallen world will be redeemed.
Thus, the Christian worldview is premised on two realities: God’s good world spoiled by human sin (fall) and sinful humans made fit to enjoy God forever (redemption). In spite of the fall, the world continues to work – sort of. After the fall, Adam and Eve’s oldest son proved remarkably adept at navigating through life. Cain married a woman and loved their son (Genesis 4:17). The curse of the ground notwithstanding, Cain became a farmer and then a city builder (Genesis 4:3, 17). Even Cain’s descendants were known for their creative prowess, including advancements in shepherding livestock, playing musical instruments and developing sturdy weaponry (Genesis 4:20-22). Put simply, even fallen people in a fallen world somehow manage to contribute to human progress.
On the other hand, even morally upright people manage to confirm the human predicament. Noah is such a man who, in the midst of a moral sewer, managed to find favor in God’s eyes (Genesis 6:8). His craftsmanship is demonstrated through his ability to build an ark that withstood the most destructive storm ever. His attention to detail spared not only his life but that of his family and the entire animal kingdom (Genesis 6:14-22). Nevertheless, in spite of God’s grace towards him, Noah later became drunk and passed out naked in his tent (Genesis 9:20-21). When he awoke he cursed generations yet to be born (Genesis 9:24). This is hardly the behavior one would expect from the man God used to rescue the world but Noah’s life confirms that “there is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10).
Redemption is Already Accomplished but Not Yet Complete
Humans still retain the image of God, which accounts for any semblance of goodness and enables any sense of progress (Genesis 1:26-27; 9:6). However, life is not as it should be in this fallen world. Theologians have differed over the means by which Adam’s sin has been passed down to every person but the reality of death provides sufficient confirmation that no one is exempt (Romans 5:12). Though Charles Manson and Billy Graham took completely different paths with their lives, both are subject to the death sentence as are you and I. The Bible thus describes our common plight: we are “dead” in our “trespasses and sins” and we are “by nature children under wrath” (Ephesians 2:1,3).
Redemption is the reversal of the fall. In part, this reversal means that those who were spiritually dead are made alive (Ephesians 2:4) and those who were children of wrath are now children of God (1 John 3:1). Though the Bible recognizes that fallen people may make positive contributions to the world as whole, the Bible is quite clear that no one can contribute anything positive to their own redemption (Romans 3:23-28). The only person qualified to undo the effects of the fall is Jesus Christ who, as the eternal Son of God incarnate through the Virgin Mary, was exempted from inheriting Adam’s sin. This is not to say that he was not tempted as he lived in a fallen world and experienced genuine struggles that all humans face (Hebrews 2:14-18). However, the Bible unflinchingly states that Jesus never sinned (2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22) and thus focuses on him alone as the one who can make sinful humans fit to worship a holy God (Acts 4:12). Even the death of Jesus was not the result of any sin he committed but rather the most gracious act of love ever displayed, where he took upon himself the sins of the world so that all who believe in him will be saved (Romans 5:6-11).
The Big Picture of Redemption in the Bible
The doctrine of redemption extends even beyond the matter of individual salvation. During his lifetime, Jesus provided abundant proof of his ability to completely restore a fallen world. He demonstrated his lordship over heaven when he calmed the storms on the sea (Mark 4:35-41); he demonstrated his lordship over hell when he exorcised demons from a troubled man (Mark 5:1-20); he demonstrated his lordship over life when he healed a woman of her incurable disease (Mark 5:24-34); and he demonstrated his lordship over death when he raised a young girl from the dead (Mark 5:35-43). With these and countless other miracles (John 20:30-31; 21:25), Jesus provided ample reason for us to conclude that this troubled world is not our home. He himself will make all things new (Revelation 21:5).
The final book of the Bible is, therefore, a fitting end to the story of the fall with its triumphant declaration of full redemption: “Then he showed me the river of living water, sparkling like crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the broad street of the city. The tree of life was on both sides of the river, bearing 12 kinds of fruit, producing its fruit every month. The leaves of the trees are for healing the nations, and there will no longer be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His slaves will serve Him. They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. Night will no longer exist, and people will not need lamplight or sunlight, because the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:1-5).
Living in Light of Redemption
Living in a fallen world as Christians means we will experience trials and tribulations and will continue to struggle with our own temptations. We are forgiven, but God is not finished with us yet (Philippians 1:6). Consequently, longing for a better world, even a perfect world, is not a form of escapism. Rather, it is the Christian’s rightful anticipation of a promise made by the One who justly pronounced a curse on this world and then lovingly took that curse upon Himself in order to redeem people for His glory.
What are some practical steps that you can use to share the story of redemption with others?
Recognize that we are all products of the fall and in need of redemption. It’s easy to forget that people who bother us are often people just like us. We are all affected and afflicted by the fall. When we view people through the lens of being fallen (instead of expecting them to live as if they were fully redeemed), we can be more sympathetic. Thus, instead of bearing a grudge against them we should recognize the need to point them to their Redeemer. Jesus stated it this way: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:35-40).
Realize that the sufferings of this world are temporary. This is not to diminish the pain we feel when our bodies fail or when friends betray us. Pain is hurtful and we will feel it. Yet, the promise of redemption is that our pain and hurt is not final. We have hope because God Himself has promised to redeem all of creation. If we want others to share in our story of redemption, we do this best when we live in light our future redemption. 1 Corinthians 2:9 states, “But as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no human heart has conceived’ – God has prepared these things for those who love him.”
Respond to God’s grace in your life by offering grace to others. One of the joys we will experience in the new heavens and new earth is knowing that we are there because someone shared the good news of the gospel with us. How much more will our joy be to know that someone has been redeemed because we shared the story of redemption with them! We can do this with gentleness and kindness: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
To learn more about what the Bible says about redemption, spend time with the following passages:
Anthony L. Chute (PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is Associate Dean of the School of Christian Ministries and Professor of Church History at California Baptist University in Riverside, California, where he has served since 2003. Chute co-edited and contributed to Why We Belong: Evangelical Unity and Denominational Diversity (Crossway, 2013) and co-authored The Baptist Story: From English Sect to Global Movement (B&H Academic, 2015), now a standard textbook in Baptist history. He and his wife, Connie, have been married for 27 years and they have two children, Amos and Joelle.
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