Writing to the Corinthian church, Paul declares that ‘Christ is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption’ (1 Corinthians 1: 30). In the first of a series of articles by different contributors, we consider what it means that Christ is made ‘redemption’ to those who trust in him.
In Ephesians 1:7, Paul states that in Christ we have ‘redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins’. How frequently in our spiritual drowsiness we hear these words and remain unmoved. Yet, to some, the glory of redemption and its consequences have appeared so magnificent that they have inspired some of our best-loved hymns. What makes the difference? Above all, I would suggest, it is the sense and experience of liberty from bondage that excites the discerning believer. Imagine the plight of one convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Consider his sense of hopelessness, guilt and bondage. Then imagine his response to a free pardon, and the sense of deliverance and liberty which it brings. How much greater should be the gratitude and joy of those released from eternal condemnation by the saving work of Christ!
A ransom paid
To appreciate the redemption that is in Christ, it is necessary to realize something of the terrible bondage to sin in which, as human beings, we live this life. It is not just that we commit sins against the law of God, but rather that we have a sinful nature so that those who are ‘in the flesh cannot please God’ (Romans 8:8).
We are by nature fundamentally and eternally alienated from the God who created us, who sustains our lives in this world, and who will be our judge. We break his holy law in thought, word and deed, but even this is no more than the outward symptom of our condition. The disease lurks deeper. We are, says Scripture, ‘dead in trespasses and sins’ (Ephesians 2:1). As a dead man is totally bound by the constraints in which death holds him, so a sinner is totally in bondage to sin. And Scripture is clear that bondage to sin in this life culminates in a lost eternity, or hell.
But the bad news of bondage to sin is quickly followed by the good news, the gospel of redemption in Christ. The law of God pronounces a curse on sin and sinners alike (Deuteronomy 27, summarized in Galatians 3:10). But the gospel declares that ‘Christ has redeemed us’ – has paid the price of our release – ‘from the curse of the law’ by bearing that curse in our place (Galatians 3:13). For sinners to be released, an awesome ransom had to be paid, namely the perfect, sinless, life of Christ, a life poured out in blood upon the cross.
A key question
The key question concerns the identity of the ‘us’ in Galatians 3:13. Who has Christ redeemed, and are you and I included? This question is raised eloquently in Charles Wesley’s oft-sung hymn,’And can it be that I should gain an interest in the Saviour’s blood?’
Jesus said, ‘The Son of man came … to give his life a ransom for many’ (Mark 10:45). Just as a kidnap ransom has as its objective the release of the specific victim, so Christ paid a ransom to redeem a specific people, chosen in him, and given to him, by the Father before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4; John 17:6). Every Bible reference to redemption reinforces this, from the redemption of ‘Jacob’ in Jeremiah, to that of the 144,000 in Revelation, symbolizing the whole church of God in all ages (Jeremiah 31:11; Revelation 14:3). We are never told that Christ ransomed everyone. A ransom has been paid by Christ to secure the release of his elect people, not just make it possible. And what a glorious liberty he has obtained for them! ‘If the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed,’ he says in John 8:36. Believers in Christ are not on parole, not on probation, but free! Well might we sing, ‘My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth and followed Thee.’
You may have heard of people who ‘know the price of everything, but the value of nothing’. Redemption has both a price and a value. Liberty for sinners, though freely bestowed upon them through God’s grace, did not come free of charge. God could not simply forgive sin by ‘sweeping it under the carpet’ and remain just and holy. Paul reminds believers, ‘You are bought with a price’ (1 Corinthians 7:23). Peter tells us what it cost to redeem the elect of God; not the corruptible currency of this world; not its riches, status, power or reputation; but the precious blood of Christ as of a lamb without blemish (1 Peter 1:18-19).
Of course, he is referring to the Passover Lamb, the dying, bleeding, substitute for the first-born of Israel. The Passover speaks of the total substitution of the life of one for the life of others: ‘The life of the flesh is in the blood … and the blood makes atonement for the soul’ (Leviticus 17:11). The lamb was a substitute for the first-born, and because its life-blood had already drained from its body, the Angel of Death was obliged to pass over the homes of the Israelites. For the Egyptians, however, there was no substitute and no redemption.
The price paid for the liberty of Christ’s people was the blood of a perfect Redeemer, one in whom the Father was well pleased. Isaiah tells us, ‘Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows’, and, ‘It pleased the Lord to bruise him’ (Isaiah 53:4,10). But was his death enough to discharge the debt? The writer to the Hebrews replies, ‘By one offering he has perfected for ever those who are being sanctified’ (Hebrews 10:14). God the Father sees the sacrifice of Christ for his elect, and declares his justice satisfied (Romans 3:26). The sweet-smelling savour of that sacrifice rises to the Father and he is pleased (Ephesians 5:2). If, as a believer, you ever doubt whether your sins have been fully paid for, doubt no more. Has a rich man paid your debts? Do not even think of contributing your penny to the balance sheet. Why, then, should you question the sufficiency of Christ’s work on your behalf?
Forgiveness of sins
If the price of our redemption was the blood of Christ, what is the value of his redeeming work? It lies in the fact that God is able to declare his people justified by imputing to them the righteousness earned by Christ. ‘God made him who knew no sin, to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him’ (2 Corinthians 5:21). Those who have been made righteous have necessarily been forgiven their sins.
When a sinner begins to feel the weight of his sin and its terrible, eternal consequences, how he longs for forgiveness! Perhaps you have experienced the nagging guilt of knowing that you have deeply offended someone close to you. Above all else, you crave forgiveness, the knowledge that the offence has been erased, the clock turned back, and that you are counted innocent of the offence. How much more do those who perceive that their offence is against God crave forgiveness. ‘Against you, you only, have I sinned, and done this evil in your sight,’ lamented David (Psalm 51:4). This longed-for forgiveness is provided graciously in Christ. ‘Him has God exalted … to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins’ (Acts 5:31).
Those who partake of the redemption that is in Christ’s blood thus experience a truly liberating forgiveness of sins. This is a consistent theme of Scripture.
Again and again, God promises that the sins for which Christ suffered will never again be called to remembrance (Psalm 103:12; Isaiah 44:22; Jeremiah 31:34). Those sins will never again appear on the charge-sheet in the courts of divine justice. The hymn-writer, rejoicing in liberty from the guilt and condemnation of his sin, puts it thus,
‘My sin, O the bliss of this glorious thought,
My sin not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to his cross and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul.’
An eternal theme
This story of redemption is the oldest of stories, yet it is always new. It was formed in the mind of God before the beginning of time, for the Lamb was ‘slain from the foundation of the world’ (Revelation 13:8). It was enacted in types and pictures throughout Israel’s history and finally it was accomplished in Christ at the right time (Galatians 4:4). It holds an eternal fascination for the sinless angels of God (1 Peter 1:12), and in glory it will be the church’s constant theme of praise (Revelation 5:9,12). Those who were under condemnation are fitted for eternal glory (Romans 8:1). This is truly glorious and those whom Christ has redeemed are indeed blessed with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 1:3).
But we still have not addressed the question posed earlier about whether Christ’s redemption was for me. In Ephesians 1:13, Paul goes on to talk about his readers’ belief of the gospel: ‘In him you also trusted after you heard … the gospel of your salvation.’ You are in bondage to sin and its consequences, totally incapable of securing your own release. But one who is gracious has paid the price of your release; there is a free pardon, signed in the blood of a perfect Redeemer, and it bears your name. Can you see it? Do you not trust Christ? If you do, then you are redeemed. For the one who comes to Christ, believing, will not be turned away (John 6:37).