Rev. John Campbell,
United Presbyterian Church, Oakdale
The discussion this month concerns: What is redemption?
I start with the belief that God is the Sovereign Creator of all that is. Part of my basic belief is that God is infinite in being and in knowledge, yet all that I need for faith and life is revealed in the words that God has given through human authors in the Bible. From this point I will be addressing this month’s question.
When I lived in California, I would redeem bottles and cans at a redemption center. This fits within two of the usages found in the dictionary. First is ‘the act of making something better or more acceptable’; and second is ‘the act of exchanging something for money, an award, etc.’ Another usage is ransom / liberate: in Judaism, redemption refers to God redeeming the people of Israel from their various exiles. Yet here we are talking about the usage of redemption in Christianity.
Redemption is a large subject, especially for this short column. The usages mentioned above can be seen in God’s dealing with humankind through Jesus Christ. An older writer in speaking of ‘the inestimable benefits of Christ’s death and passion’, stated that ‘a perfectly adequate expression in human language’ is not found. So what Scripture does is to approach the central truth from different quarters; to exhibit not only one side but many.
Three of the words are redemption, reconciliation, propitiation. Redemption used in terms of sin as slavery, and of sinners as slaves; so it has the idea of deliverance from sin as freedom, or cessation of bondage. In reconciliation God laid aside his holy anger against our sins, and received us into favor; thus reconciliation effected for us once for all by Christ upon the cross. In propitiation, or atonement, Jesus is seen as both the administrator of the sin-offering and the offering itself. In this way ‘the just anger of God against our sins was appeased,’ and God, without compromising his righteousness, enabled to show Himself propitious to us once more.
The use of redemption in the New Testament includes these ideas. God has taken the initiative to act compassionately on behalf of those who are powerless to help themselves. Every person is a slave to sin; only through the price Jesus paid on the cross is a sinful person redeemed from sin and death. Jesus was able to be the sacrifice because he was both man and God. It can be stated in this manner humankind is separated from God, and they are unable to bridge that separation by their own efforts. God through Jesus Christ provided the means for everyone to come back into that relationship with God.
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