Theology Thursday: Redemption

Three crosses on a hillside By Brett A. Berger, ThM Posted on October 10, 2019  in  [ Theology & Ministry ]

In the Bible, salvation can be described and explained using a variety of images or metaphors. As we might admire a diamond by looking at it from different angles and under different light, the biblical writers draw on several different images to describe God’s great act of salvation. Earlier in our series, salvation was understood through the image of a law court through the term: justification. This week we look at salvation through a term used for slavery: redemption.

An Ugly Reality but a Beautiful Truth

Redemption in its most basic meaning is to ransom or purchase out of bondage or obligation. It is a term used of the slave trade to describe the purchase of a slave’s freedom. The Bible uses the image of an ugly reality to describe a beautiful truth. Where justification frames salvation in terms of the law court and guilt or innocence, redemption frames salvation in terms of an enslaving power. Here the Bible sees the world under the dominion or rule of darkness. Humanity “as is” is held captive as slaves to sin and sinful forces. God saves sinners by redeeming them from this slavery.

Paul describes it in Colossians: “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14).

God Pays the Ransom

It is important to note here that redemption implies a payment or ransom. An obligation is paid or satisfied. The redemption language in the Bible sets forth Christ’s sacrifice on the cross as this payment. Humanity suffered under the slavery of [capital S] Sin because of their sins and transgressions. Enslaved humanity has no power to free themselves. Humanity cannot pay the price or satisfy the debt that keeps them under sin’s rule. God, therefore, set forth Christ as the sacrifice to pay the ransom.

Paul again describes this in his letter to Titus: “[Christ], who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14).

Freed for a New Life of Service

The apostle Paul is careful to note that this redemption does not result in a new-found freedom to do whatever one pleases. Rather, he states that we have been redeemed for a new life of service to God. That is, we have not been freed to sin. Rather, we have been freed from the slavery of sin in order to live a new life.

The above passage to Titus begins with a call to holy living: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:11-12). Elsewhere, Paul writes to the Corinthians, calling them to turn from their immorality for, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So, glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

God’s salvation is wonderful and amazing. To expand our understanding of the depth and breadth of our salvation, the Scriptures cause us to look at it from different sides using different images. The beauty of the redemption language is that it moves us from thinking of sin as merely the forgiveness of sins. It is that! But, it is also a real freedom. We are freed from the enslaving power of sin. We are like slaves purchased from a cruel master into a new life of freedom. The Bible uses imagery from a brutal reality to help us understand a beautiful truth.

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Brett A. Berger, ThM

Brett was born and raised in Arizona. He completed an MDiv from Phoenix Seminary and a ThM from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. His academic interests include biblical theology and ethics.
Learn more about Brett A. Berger, ThM

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