Jeremy Sarber

What does it mean to be redeemed by God?

According to Paul in Ephesians 1:7, In him we have redemption through his blood.” The Bible uses several words to describe our salvation—redemption being one of them. Others include justification, forgiveness, adoption, and reconciliation. For the purpose of clarity, let me make a distinction between these terms.

In justification, we stand before God as guilty, but he declares us innocent. In forgiveness, we owe a debt, but God says the debt is canceled. In adoption, we are strangers and illegitimate children, but God makes us his sons and daughters. In reconciliation, enemies of God become his friends. In redemption, slaves are set free.

During the first century, slavery was big business in the Roman Empire. Millions of slaves were bought and sold year after year, so Paul is using a familiar analogy here. The Ephesians understood what it meant to redeem someone. If you wanted to grant someone freedom, you had to buy that person. You had to pay the going rate before you could give him a written certificate of freedom.

In the case of sinners, the price is incredibly steep. According to Paul in Romans 6, the wages of sin is death (Ro 6:23). To be clear, we all begin as slaves of sin. Jesus said, Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (Jn 8:34). According to Romans 8, all of creation is in bondage to corruption (Ro 8:21). Sin is our master, and the price which he demands for us is death. Either we pay it, or someone else does. Regardless, sin demands death.

Paul uses this language extensively in the book of Romans. More than once in Romans 6, he reminds us that we were slaves of sin or that we were set free from sin (Ro 6:17-18). To the Galatians, he wrote, Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law (Gal 3:13). In Colossians, he said, God has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption (Col 1:13-14). Hebrews tells us that through death Christ might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery (Heb 1:14-15).

The Bible paints a rather vivid picture. We are slaves bound by sin, destined for death. But Paul says, We have redemption through Christ’s blood (Eph 1:7). Unlike the typical slaves of the Roman Empire, our master requires a price that can’t be paid with any amount of money. Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Mark Zuckerberg combined could not afford to pay the price of redemption.

Peter said, You were ransomed not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ (1Pe 1:18-19). Why blood? Again, the wages of sin is death (Ro 6:23). Without death, without blood, there can be no redemption of sinners.

In the Old Testament, the blood of animal after animal was offered on the altars to make atonement for sin. During the annual Passover, the Jewish historian, Josephus, estimated that more than two million lambs were sacrificed in only two days. He described how the blood flowed from the temple like a red river down the hill into the Kidron Valley below. But for all that blood, not one person was redeemed from death and hell.

The problem with an animal sacrifice is that it’s not sufficient. The slave of sin is worth far more than all the dead sheep in the world. Attempting to redeem a sinner with the blood of goats and bulls is like trying to trade your Nissan Versa for a brand new Ashton Martin. There’s a significant value gap between the two.

Oh, but Christ, the Beloved Son of God, the only righteous, sinless man to ever exist—he is worth infinitely more than all the sinners in the world. Furthermore, he was willing to not only leave his glory in heaven, but also subject himself to the wrath of God against sin all while being mocked and tormented by the same vile people he came to save.

More to the point, he was successful to the end. He overcame all temptation during his life. He maintained his sinlessness. And his pure, innocent blood was able to pay for our freedom. We owed a debt that only God could afford, and he paid it with his own blood.

Today, redemption is a beautiful word to us as it should be, but it’s also a violent word. It’s a word that carries with it the reality of an innocent man crying out in torment, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46). You’ll notice that Jesus didn’t cry, My Father, my Father.” No, he felt forsaken because he was forsaken. At that moment, every ounce of God’s righteous anger against us was poured out on him. There was an utter separation between Jesus and his Heavenly Father. He couldn’t even bring himself to say, My Father, my Father.”

That mental image of Christ on the cross should be enough for every one of us to want nothing to do with sin ever again. It may supply us with fleeting moments of pleasure, but inevitably, it leads to misery, death, and hell. Don’t flirt with it. Don’t play with it. Remember that it once held us enslaved. It was our slavemaster. It killed our Lord and Savior. It laughed and danced around the hill of Calvary as Jesus’s blood poured from every open wound on his body. If Christ has made you free, leave sin alone and never look back.