What Atonement Achieves
The Sub-Doctrine of Redemption
This book about Christian doctrines is like a puzzle where each chapter adds an additional piece in order to complete the picture.
So far, these are the pieces that we have in place:
- We are studying the major doctrines into which all the stories and teachings of the Bible can be fitted.
- We began with the doctrine of the inspiration of the Bible and the doctrine of the divinity of Christ. Next we studied:
- The doctrine of original goodness: God creates the world and man as good.
- The doctrine of the fall: Man willfully disobeys God and sets into motion the deterioration of himself and of the creation.
- The doctrine of reconciliation: God works throughout history in order to save and reconcile man back to Himself.
The bulk of our study has focused on this fifth major doctrine that has ten sub-doctrines which explain why, how and for what purpose God has reconciled man to Himself. We have looked at three of the sub-doctrines under reconciliation:
- Election: The doctrine that teaches us that God chose or elected Christ to be the One through whom He would save and reconcile mankind.
- Predestination: The doctrine that teaches that God knew in advance that His plan to reconcile man would work.
- Atonement: The doctrine that explains that the "method" God would use to achieve reconciliation would be the death of one in exchange for the life of another.
In this chapter we will study the fourth sub-doctrine, the doctrine of redemption.
Redemption: Word Meaning
A simple way to define the idea of redemption is to say that it is what Christ achieves with His atonement. Atonement is the act and redemption is the result.
The word in the Greek translated into the English word redemption means, "to be freed, liberated, ransomed, acquitted or released." The basic ideas represented by this word are:
- To buy back something that has been forfeited because one has failed to pay a debt. (For example, the bank seizes your car because you have not made the payments. You redeem your car and get it back by paying up all the back debts, interest and penalties.)
- To liberate or set free those either ruled by a higher authority or held captive by a stronger force. (For example, when American soldiers liberated/redeemed the prisoners in German labor and death camps after WWII.)
- To remove from grave danger or dire circumstances. (For example, rescuers would redeem/free people trapped in the rubble at the World Trade Centre in New York.)
- To acquit someone of a crime. (For example, O.J. Simpson was redeemed from the charge of murder when the jury found him not guilty. The jury's action freed him.)
The basic concept of redemption is that it describes the setting free of someone or something. The redemption theme runs throughout the Bible.
Old Testament Example of Redemption
God rescued/freed/liberated/redeemed the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. The way that God redeemed, or set them free, was through the mighty deeds He did through Moses (Exodus 3:2-10). This freedom or redemption meant three things:
- Actual freedom from physical slavery to the Egyptians.
- A new identity for them as people of God (Exodus 3:7).
- A new purpose in life which would be to "know God."
The idea of redemption is not just a New Testament concept. It appears throughout the Bible from the Garden of Eden to Christ. Every time God freed His people from danger, enslavement and sin He was reinforcing the idea that He was man's redeemer.
New Testament Example of Redemption
In the New Testament the idea of redemption is centered on God's work of freeing mankind, not from human slavery or physical threat, but rather from the enslavement of sin and the resulting penalty of death.
Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.
- John 8:34
Whoever sins is a slave of sin. Once we begin we cannot stop sinning. We can limit it, keep it down, but we cannot eliminate sin from our lives
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
- Romans 3:23
Everyone sins. There are no exceptions. Everyone is guilty and faces judgment and condemnation.
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
- Romans 6:23
The final outcome of sin is eternal separation from God. God deals with our enslavement to sin and the punishment we face by setting us free. He sets us free, or redeems us, through the atonement of Christ.
6For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. 8But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. 10For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. 11And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.
- Romans 5:6-11
We owe a moral debt to God because we disobey His laws. We cannot pay this moral debt because it requires something we do not have to offer: a sinless life. Jesus, therefore, pays our moral debt for us by offering His perfect life on the cross. This "atonement" pays our moral debt to God forever and permits Him to free us (redeem us) from the prison of guilt and condemnation.
We can express this idea in various ways: The atonement of Christ sets us free; it redeems us; it permits our redemption.
As in the case with the Israelites in the Old Testament, this new freedom/redemption means three very specific things for us.
11For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, 12instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, 13looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, 14who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.
- Titus 2:11-14
1. We are released from slavery
(verses 11; 14a)
Because we are forgiven and are under God's grace and possess the Holy Spirit, we no longer are slaves to sin. We are not perfect, but we are gaining many more victories over sin and are no longer worried about condemnation because we have been acquitted. Whether O.J. Simpson committed murder or not, the courts can no longer try and condemn him for this crime, he has been acquitted. We have the same experience; we can no longer be condemned for our sins because we have been redeemed/acquitted by the atoning cross of Christ.
2. We have a new identity (verse 14b)
We are no longer condemned sinners in God's eyes; we are a purified people, a people zealous to do God's will. Redemption transforms us into the people "of God."
3. We have a new purpose (verses 12-13)
Our purpose and direction is heavenward. Our purpose in life is to be ready for the return of Christ by living faithful lives and being busy in the Lord's service.
And so, redemption is the net result of Christ's atoning work on the cross.
Conditions of Our Freedom
This freedom or redemption Christ obtains for us has certain features also explained in the New Testament.
What are we free from?
Redemption frees us from specific things:
1. Freedom from the fear of death and the illusion that this world is all that there is, which seduces us to live only for the here and now.
14Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, 15and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.
- Hebrews 2:14-15
2. Freedom from the condemnation that results from judgment. Those who are redeemed are not judged but are acquitted, and so are not subject to condemnation and punishment.
Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
- Romans 8:1
3. Freedom from eternal death. Those who are redeemed will be fitted with a new body that will live forever.
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
- Romans 6:23
These are some of the things that we are freed or redeemed from through the atonement of Christ.
What are we not free from?
Redemption does not free us from every negative experience. For example, we are not freed from:
1. The physical effects of death that come upon everyone whether they are redeemed or not.
And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment,
- Hebrews 9:27
2. The general effect of sin in our lives, such as guilt, anguish, and regret. We are set free from the spiritual consequences of sin but not necessarily from the physical ones. The thief on the cross still died there. Paul the Apostle still felt anguish for his former persecution of the church.
It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.
- I Timothy 1:15
3. Temptation and failure. The redeemed still stumble and fall into sin, but they have protection and a promise that their souls are safe despite this.
8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
- I John 1:8-9
Redemption is a state that impacts our souls and guarantees our future with God even if our physical lives continue to experience the power and effect of sin.
When This Freedom Begins
There is a moment in time when our personal freedom takes effect. Just as the prisoner released from prison can tell you the date he was set free, the Bible describes the exact moment each soul experiences redemption.
The atonement of Christ was devised by God before time began, but it occurred as an historical event when Christ died on the cross. We can fix a day and time when the atonement took place: the cross. We can fix a day and time when God furnished proof that the atonement was valid, that it worked, that the sacrifice for sin was accepted: the resurrection.
In the same way, the Bible provides an exact moment when redemption happens for us: baptism.
The New Testament uses different words and images to express this, but it always makes the same point: man is free from sin and eternal death at the moment of baptism.
He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.
- Mark 16:16
Refers to freedom as being "saved."
Jesus answered and said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God."
- John 3:3
Refers to freedom as being "born again."
Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
- Acts 2:38
Describes redemption in terms of forgiveness and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.'
- Acts 22:16
Refers to this freedom as a cleansing from sin.
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.
- Galatians 3:26
Describes this phenomenon as putting on Christ.
Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
- I Peter 3:21
Says that redemption is an appeal and granting of a clear conscience.
The Bible uses many terms to describe this redemption, this freedom, this liberation, but uses the same moment and act to pinpoint when this redemption occurs: baptism.
When a person believes that Jesus is the Son of God and has died to atone for his sins; when a person acts on this belief by repenting of his sins and being buried in the water of baptism, at that very moment he or she has redemption. This happens only one time, and does not happen before or after, but only at baptism. You are never any more redeemed or free than on the day and the moment you are baptized.
What Are You Free to Do Now?
People freed from threats of death or prison usually go back to their old life or try to take new directions that will help them avoid being imprisoned again.
Peter explains the lifestyle of one who has experienced redemption and is now free as well as empowered to follow a godly lifestyle.
4For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. 5Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, 6and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, 7and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. 8For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. 10Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; 11for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.
- II Peter 1:4-11
This is the activity and direction of a spiritual life freed from sin by Christ. What Peter explains here is the substance of the "born again" life and what it actually looks like to the outside observer. This is what people do who have been redeemed by Christ's atonement.
We are freed from the prison of sin and now live like free men and women, not free to do as we want, but free and empowered to do what God wants us to do. This is the only true freedom.
Redemption is the doctrine that explains what man receives as a result of Christ's atoning sacrifice on the cross. In a word: freedom.
Ten words or less that describe the first four sub-doctrines of reconciliation (election, predestination, atonement, redemption): "God foreknew that the atonement of Christ would redeem believers."
- Explain the doctrines of atonement and redemption, and state their relationship.
- Explain the relationship between Israel's physical redemption from slavery in Egypt and spiritual redemption.
- Explain how the following scriptures show spiritual slavery and the resulting punishment.
- Read Titus 2:11-14 and explain what the three statements below mean to us as redeemed by God.
- How can you use this lesson to grow spiritually and help others come into a relationship with Jesus?