Crossing Explainer: Redemption

This past weekend at The Crossing, someone stopped me before the class I was about to teach and said something to this effect: “Atonement. Redemption. I’ve heard these words a lot. But what do they mean?”

I’m glad he asked the question, because I’m convinced that this is a common experience in Christian contexts. We come across the words often enough, maybe in a worship service or a small group study, or even reading the Bible on our own. And we know they’re important. But we’re just not always sure what they mean.

In fact, this is to be expected. Almost any organization or particular field of study contains specialized language. And that language allows us to convey important concepts in a quick and concise manner. That is, as long as we know what that language means. If we don’t, understanding and appreciating what’s being communicated can be much more difficult.

Enter the Crossing Explainer: a short blog post defining a key term associated with the Christian faith. For the inaugural post, let’s look at one of the terms mentioned above: redemption. (And even if you think you’re familiar with the term, you may find it richer than you realized.)

Redemption is a word we use a lot in our culture. We attach it to athletes, public figures, characters in movies, and so on. And generally, we’re talking about people who’ve experienced some kind of success, vindication, or positive transformation following significant setbacks or failures.

In the biblical context, however, the word conveys something more specific. Redemption in the ancient world was a term that belonged to the area of commerce. As John Stott writes in his excellent The Cross of Christ: “At it’s most basic to ‘redeem’ is to buy or buy back, whether as a purchase or ransom.”

In fact, the Greek word lytron, which lies behind the English translations of “redeem” and “redemption” indicates “a ransom” or “price of release” and was, Stott adds, “almost a technical term in the ancient world for the purchase or manumission of a slave.”

So to redeem a slave was to ransom or buy that person out of slavery. And in the New Testament, the slavery that is most fundamentally at issue isn’t to an earthly master. Rather we find that apart from the grace of God all human beings are slaves to sin…and therefore deserving of death (see Romans 6). Further, we’re unable to ransom ourselves from our plight. We need someone to do it for us. And that, Jesus said, is exactly what he came to do: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

Jesus’ death on the cross is the cost it took to buy his people out of slavery and its terrible consequences. It comes without us having done anything to deserve it: “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24, emphasis mine).

To summarize then, biblical redemption has to do with much more than accomplishing something you once failed to do, or simply becoming a better person. It means being ransomed from slavery to sin—and the destruction and death that entails—through the gracious, costly death of Jesus on our behalf.

For further reading, see Romans 3:9-26, Romans 6, and Galatians 4:1-7.

2 Comments

  1. Clayton said:

    Excellent idea!. Rosetta Stone for Christianese.

  2. sarah Gilliam said:

    Good comments Nathan! Although, using the word manumission to define another concept is complicated!
    But I love it! Blessings

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