What is the biblical teaching of redemption? Why do we all need to be redeemed, and how should a redeemed person live? How should we respond to our Redeemer?
The following three scriptures paint a grim picture of the state of humanity:
- “Sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4, King James Version).
- “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
- “All have sinned” (Romans 3:23).
In other words, the 8 billion human beings who currently inhabit the earth—and the untold billions who have ever existed—have incurred the cruel debt of death because of their sins.
Every debtor will have to make one of two choices: either let his or her life be claimed as payment, or sorrowfully beg for forgiveness—for redemption.
We need to know what redemption means, how mankind came to need it and the personal responsibility that comes with redemption, which is seldom discussed.
What does redemption mean?
To “redeem” means to buy back. Redemption is about reclaiming something. Say you left your watch at a pawn shop in exchange for a loan. To redeem your watch, you would need to repay the loan plus interest, and then you could get your watch back. When ownership of an object is regained through payment, you can say the item has been redeemed.
Of course, when it comes to the debt we owe for our sins—death—we cannot redeem ourselves. We need a Redeemer.
The Bible also uses the related idea of paying a ransom (Hosea 13:14). This can mean to buy someone back from slavery or, as it is generally used today, from a kidnapper.
Applying that concept to God’s title as “Redeemer” (Psalm 78:35) reminds us of the historic event in the book of Exodus when God purchased His people from slavery. The Israelites experienced back-breaking slavery that caused them to cry for deliverance (Exodus 2:23).
God heard their groans and pleas.
“Therefore say to the children of Israel,” God instructed Moses, “I am the LORD; I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, I will rescue you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments” (Exodus 6:6).
As the following chapters point out, Pharaoh would not let them go, in spite of seeing God’s power in plague after plague, which culminated in the death of thousands of Egypt’s firstborn.
The nation of Egypt and its people were greatly punished as God redeemed Israel, and God wanted the steep cost of their freedom to continually remind them of what was necessary to buy them out of slavery.
Of course, their response to being redeemed should have been wholehearted loyalty to God. They should have been full of awe and gratitude, with a commitment to obey Him always. But, unfortunately, history documents their chronic forgetfulness of what God had done for them.
However, God wants us to understand the modern-day parallel to the Exodus story. One important takeaway from the Bible is that the Israelites’ bondage was only a type of the large-scale slavery currently taking place.
Today, literally billions of people are enslaved.
Why do we need redemption?
When the Pharisees of Jesus’ day heard Jesus offer His followers freedom, they snapped back, “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can You say, ‘You will be made free’?” (John 8:33).
In other words, “We have never been anyone’s slaves.”
But Jesus’ response holds the key: “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin” (verse 34, emphasis added throughout).
To that point, David observed, “The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God. They have all turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is none who does good, no, not one” (Psalm 14:2-3).
It’s not an overstatement to say that sin has enslaved all of mankind. The words “children of men,” “all” and “none” prove that man’s condition is something felt globally. It would, however, be incorrect to say that each person’s bondage to sin is displayed in the same way. Actually, the visible effects of slavery vary from individual to individual.
For example, sin draws some to commit fornication. Sin uses the appeal of euphoria to push hard drugs on vulnerable people, who then become hopelessly hooked. Sin influences some to drink excessively. Sin feeds the “I do what I want, when I want” ego that encourages people to view God’s law with animosity.
No matter what an individual may grapple with, the powerful message is there: all human beings are sold under sin, through breaking God’s commandments (Romans 3:9; 1 John 3:4). Therefore, everyone has earned the penalty, the incurred debt, which is death (Romans 6:23).
Mankind’s only hope for survival is being redeemed by God.
What is the redemption price for us?
No amount of money could pay for our death penalty. Not a million dollars or a billion dollars or even a trillion dollars.
And the redemption of mankind collectively requires paying the death penalty for every sin committed by every human being throughout all time.
The only payment that could satisfy that demand—the only thing valuable enough and precious enough—was the life of the morally perfect, totally innocent, completely sinless Son of God, Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ the Redeemer
Jesus told His disciples, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).
Jesus met the total indebtedness of mankind with one payment: His shed blood.
Reflecting on Old Testament sacrificial practices, the author of Hebrews reminds us, “Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He [Jesus] entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12).
The worth of His life far outweighed that of any other human being to the point of being impossible to quantify. But wanting to redeem mankind, He willingly gave His life as a ransom. Were it not for Him, every human being would have remained in bondage and died in bondage.
Is redemption the end of the story?
Many today claim they have been redeemed by Jesus’ sacrifice, but go on living the same sinful life they had before they “got saved.” (To learn more about our personal responsibility after redemption, read our article “Once Saved, Are You Always Saved?”)
Redemption from sin is not the end. Once our sins are paid for by the inestimable price of Jesus’ blood, God solemnly charges us not to return to sin. Reverting back to that lifestyle, God says, is like a dog who licks up his own vomit, or a “a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire” (2 Peter 2:22).
Redeemed Christians are not to return to a life of sin, any more than an ex-convict should return to the life of crime that landed him or her behind bars in the first place. The spiritual recidivism rate is high because many fail to grasp what it means to “walk in newness of life” and to seek God’s help to do it (Romans 6:4).
Paul encountered something similar back in his day.
Apparently, some thought sexual immorality wasn’t that bad or reasoned that it could be tolerated because of God’s grace.
But Paul decisively rejected the approach of redemption as a license to sin. “Flee sexual immorality,” or get away from sin, he chided them (1 Corinthians 6:18). “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit . . . and you are not your own?” (verse 19).
Why did he say they were not their own?
God has a plan of redemption for the whole world, and He is currently unfolding it, beginning with those whose eyes are opened to their own bondage.“For you were bought at a price,” he soberly reminded them (verse 20). In other words, you have become the sole property of God. It’s no longer an option to use your hands to steal, your mouth to lie, your eyes to covet or your body to commit fornication—you don’t belong to yourself anymore.
Instead, Paul told them to “glorify God in your body and your spirit, which are God’s” (verse 20).
Nothing in these words suggests that Paul supported a do-nothing Christianity. He was making the point that redemption comes with high expectations.
In Romans 6:13 Paul elaborated, “And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.”
Redemption includes an exchange of masters. God’s redeemed people are freed from slavery to sin, and with that freedom comes the responsibility to obey God’s laws. Simply put, we are to go from being law-breakers to being law-keepers.
As people who are no longer the property of sin and Satan the devil, we need to be totally submissive to God, who is our Redeemer and Master.
Is there a future aspect to redemption?
But suppose somebody has been redeemed and yields to God in every way until the day he or she dies—then what?
For the redeemed Christian who “overcomes” and keeps Jesus’ “works until the end,” there is God’s secure, unwavering promise of redemption from the grave (Revelation 2:26; Romans 6:22). Jesus called this “the resurrection of life,” which will take place at His second coming (John 5:29).
(To learn more about what this resurrection means, see our article “What Are the Resurrections?”)
Expressing complete confidence in this promise, the sons of Korah wrote, “But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave, for He shall receive me” (Psalm 49:15).
Job, who longed for the time his Redeemer would stand on the earth (Job 19:25), also said, “I will wait, till my change comes. You shall call, and I will answer You; You shall desire the work of your hands” (Job 14:14-15).
Paul was similarly convinced: “We ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body” (Romans 8:23).
Every true Christian who has been purchased by the blood of the Son of God keeps the hope of the resurrection—the final redemption—alive as he or she strives to overcome sin.
Redemption and the gospel
God has a plan of redemption for the whole world, and He is currently unfolding it, beginning with those whose eyes are opened to their own bondage.
Part of the gospel’s thrust is that God offers redemption. Upon heartfelt repentance, a person can have freedom from the power of sin and have his or her debt cleared through Christ’s blood. At that point, he or she is expected to submit to all of God’s laws until death. Then, in the first resurrection, he or she will finally be redeemed from death and given eternal life.
All of these components are included in what it means to be redeemed.
(If you want to learn more about how redemption for mankind is pictured by God’s annual festivals, see our booklet From Holidays to Holy Days: God’s Plan for You.)