Foundations for a Christian Worldview: The Works of God (6)
“Therefore say to the children of Israel: ‘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. I will take you as My people, and I will be your God.’” Exodus 6.6, 7
The nature of redemption
As with other words in the vernacular of Christian faith and worldview, redemption can be used so often and with so little attention to its true meaning, that it can become easily misused and mistaken for other terms.
For example, in the minds of many Christians, redemption and salvation are virtually the same idea. One who is redeemed is also saved, and so salvation and redemption refer to the same condition.
Yet this is misleading. Equating redemption with salvation narrows the scope of salvation by compromising the true nature of redemption. Redemption is a work of God; salvation is a gift of God. It is because God has done the work of redemption that the gift of salvation comes to sinners who believe the Good News of Jesus.
To get at the true nature of salvation, therefore,we have to consider what God had in mind, and what He intended when He accomplished the work of redemption. His redemption is unto our salvation; and our salvation is, therefore, defined by His redemption, and not merely our experience or ideas.
The basic idea of the Biblical doctrine of redemption is to purchase at a cost, a price determined by the assessed value of the object to be redeemed. The Hebrew word, גָּאַל, (ga’al) means to redeem; act as a kinsman for (the natural love of brethren encourages redeeming another when needed); to redeem something by payment of the value assessed. Redemption involves securing something to oneself, usually in exchange for payment, to carry out a promise or pledge, “to buy back.”
Redemption as an act of God involves His purchasing a people for His own possession, a people who are of infinite value to Him, thus demanding an infinite price, a price higher than they – individually or altogether – could ever raise.
But why do God’s people need to be redeemed? And how is this work of redemption accomplished, so that they might be saved, and God might possess them for Himself?
The need for redemption
It is important to remember that all situations of redemption in the books of Moses are real but symbolicprimarily. They are real in that God really accomplished them; they are symbolic in that they are not the full work of God’s redemption, but point to it, and encourage faith in it.
Redemption becomes necessary because God’s people are not in the condition for which He originally intended them. They are fallen in sin, ensnared in lies and deceit, and doomed to die. Redemption comes as redress of this condition, albeit only partially during the period of Moses and the Law of God.
Thus, when God redeemed Adam and Eve by clothing them with the skin of sacrificed animals, He provided for them better garments than they were trusting in, garments acceptable to Him because they were His work, not theirs. But this act of covering with a sacrifice primarily points forward to a greater sacrifice, one of infinite worth, that would accomplish for Adam, Eve, and all God’s chosen people the purchase from helplessness and hopelessness which they can in no way accomplish for themselves.
So also when God redeemed Isaac from being sacrificed on Mt. Moriah. He really redeemed the lad, by supplying a ram in his place. But this is just the next marker in a forward-pointing story of a greater redemption to come.
The great event of Old Testament redemption is the deliverance of Israel from captivity in Egypt. When Israel became captive in Egypt, God came to redeem them. They could not free themselves from the oppression and misery which had become their condition in life. God came to do so, and He paid for the redemption of His people with the blood of Egypt’s first-born animals and men. Only when Israel’s captor – Pharaoh – saw the high cost of holding God’s people captive, a price paid by every Egyptian household, only then did he let God’s people go to meet with Him at Mt. Sinai. And, as if the death of every first-born were not quite sufficient, God also caused the payment of Egypt’s armies, which were drowned in the Red Sea.
The message here is clear: The cost of God’s redeeming His people from captivity is terrible, but it is not a cost they would have to pay.
All the various acts of redemption encoded in the Law of Moses – the sacrifices, offerings, purchasing previously sold lands or houses, and transfers of deeds, etc. – are of the same nature. An object is redeemed at cost, really and symbolically. It is not too much to say that daily life in ancient Israel was an ongoing experience of redemption, all of which had meaning and efficacy in their time, and all of which signaled to the people of God that a greater, more complete and transformative, work of redemption was yet to come.
The agent of redemption
Redemption being a work of God, it is necessarily a work of grace. God is not obliged to redeem anyone. He does so because He places infinite value on the lives of His people; He loves them in spite of themselves; He desires them as His own people, to know Him in a life of blessing and joy; and He alone is able to provide the infinite payment necessary for their full and final deliverance from sin to salvation, death to life, misery to joy, coffins in the earth to eternal bliss with Him.
Redemption is all of grace, and provides the gift of salvation which, while it is received by faith, is realized only by the ongoing work of God and His grace. God accomplishes redemption with a view to His previous intentions, that His people should be blessed in Him, should fill the earth and have dominion over it, and should be a blessing to all the nations of the world. Redemption is unto a great salvation (Heb. 2.3), and not merely unto ensuring transit to heaven for those who are saved.
God’s work of redemption means that the work of His saved people should be cosmicin scope and focused on renewing the goodness of God in all the earth, before all peoples, to the praise of His glorious grace.
Questions for reflection
1. How does the story of Noah show the redemption of God?
2. Moses himself was twice-redeemed before God called him to deliver His people from Egypt. Explain.
3. How should we expect to know God’s work of redemption as a daily experience?
Next steps – Transformation: God’s redemption is for your salvation in every area of your life, unto His goodness and glory. How does this lead you to think about your daily schedule? How should it guide you in praying for your day? Share your thoughts with a Christian friend.
T. M. Moore
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.
- T.M. Moore
- June 26, 2019
God's work leads to and defines God's gift.
Foundations for a Christian Worldview: The Works of God (6)
T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.