Transformed Living: Faith and Hope in Christ’s Redemption

There is a movement rising to put an end to modern slavery.  From entertainment, journalism, politics, religion, and business – leaders and activists are joining together to completely eliminate the scourge of global slavery.  It is admittedly an ambitious goal but one that is realistically possible and morally necessary.

It is hard for us, in our time, to imagine a world in which slavery not only existed but thrived as an ever-present part of society.  Yet that was the world of the New Testament.  Slavery, while considered tragic, was an assumed part of life.  Freedom was not considered an inherent right but a privilege that could be lost.  Due to one’s family of origin, a financial debt incurred, loss in war, or victimization through kidnapping – one could find themselves trapped in slavery.[1]  Such was the fate for millions throughout the Roman Empire.[2]

While slavery was considered a tragic possibility, redemption was a glimmer of hope that life could be wondrously restored.  It meant that with the payment of a great sum one could be released back to freedom again.  If another could only be found with both the tremendous resources and the necessary compassion, such a person could pay the ransom to release the one in bondage.[3]

To those familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures, the concept of redemption was already deeply embedded both as theological reality and a restorative element within society.  The Exodus from Egypt was the paradigmatic model of redemption, in which God delivered His enslaved people from the land of captivity (Deuteronomy 9:26).[4]  But also socially, when a person might sell themselves or their family property because of economic tragedy, a relative with the means could act in compassion to buy back on their behalf that which had been lost (Leviticus, 25:25-26, 47-49).[5]

Building on that theological foundation, the New Testament took the millions living in slavery, and used this reality to frame one of the most important pictures of salvation through Christ.  The three parts to the picture of redemption are people living helplessly in bondage, an insurmountable ransom price, and a compassionate Redeemer – that together paint a vividly rich and easily grasped picture of God’s grace to those who believe.

Asking the Practical Question

As I write these things my approach is not merely academic or exegetical, looking to define what Christ has done.  I also write as a pastor, who as a matter of vocation must constantly ask the question: “What difference does this make?”  To ordinary believers struggling to live holy lives in the midst of a culture encouraging them to do anything but – “What practical encouragement is found in redemption?” 

What I want to suggest is that New Testament redemption, properly understood, is the positive fuel for the hard work of transformed living which should be the hallmark of all who are in Christ Jesus.  It is the redemption of Christ, both looking back at the cross, and looking forward to the clouds, that should propel a people of faith enthusiastically toward a life of good works.

New Testament Redemption

The rich language of New Testament redemption is built primarily around two word groups, namely ἀγοράζω, and its derivatives and λυτρόω and its cognate forms.[6]  While there are other scriptural references to spiritual slavery and freedom, these two word groups give us the basic New Testament vocabulary for understanding redemption.

The first, ἀγοράζω, is a verb from the root ἀγορά (“a marketplace”) with the resulting sense “to buy or to purchase.”[7]  Though used primarily in the New Testament to describe commerce, it is also used along with the heightened form εξαγοράζω, “to buy back”[8] as a spiritual metaphor for believers.

The second word group is built around λυτρόω and relates to slavery in particular with the basic meaning of “to free by paying a ransom, redeem.”[9]  The Gospels, General Epistles, and especially Pauline literature draw upon this group of words (λυτρόω, λύτρον, ἀντίλυτρον, ἀπολύτρωσις, λύτρωσις) to draw out the rich implications of what has been accomplished for us through the death of Christ.[10]

While a complete lexical analysis is beyond the scope of this article, a careful study of all the New Testament usages clearly answer the underlying questions of the redemption metaphor:

  1. Who are the redeemed, and what are they set free from?
  2. Who is the Redeemer, and by what ransom price are they set free?
  3. What are they set free to?

Who Are the Redeemed?

The Bible declares that those who are living apart from Christ, though they may think themselves liberated, are actually in hopeless bondage.  Except for God’s gracious provision for their release, they are desperately trapped in an evil domain, bound in an existence of dark futility, under the condemnation of the Law and enslaved to sin.

Galatians 3-4 is an important passage, speaking of the sinner’s bondage under the Law, Christ’s redemption, and the profound blessings that are afforded through it.

“Christ redeemed (εξαγοράζω) us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (Galatians 3:13, ESV)[11].

We were bound under the curse of the Law that was effective only to condemn us in our sins but powerless to save us from them.  In this passage, Paul repeatedly uses the language of bondage to describe our condition before faith in Christ.

“But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.  Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming of faith would be revealed.” (3:22-23).

“In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.  But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law to redeem (εξαγοράζω) those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”  (4:3-5)

Elsewhere, our bondage prior to faith is described variously as slavery to sin (John 8:34), captivity in the dominion of darkness (Colossians 1:13), ensnarement by its ruler the devil (II Timothy 2:26), trapped in futile ways of living (I Peter 1:18) and within a body of sin and death (Romans 7:24, 8:10, 23).

While the bondage is not always described precisely the same, the message of the New Testament is clear:  Apart from faith in Christ mankind in general, and every person in particular, is enslaved.  We are spiritual captives living under the curse and dominion of sin.

Who Is the Redeemer?

Christ Jesus is uniquely qualified to pay the satisfying ransom for humanity held in slavery to sin.  The New Testament is insistent: He alone and no other is capable of delivering people from their captivity.

“For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom (ἀντίλυτρον) for all…”

(I Timothy 2:5-6).

In fact, according to Jesus Himself, the payment of this tremendous price is the ultimate expression of His identity as the promised Servant of God.

“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom (λύτρον) for many” (Mark 10:45).

This ransom paid by Christ is repeatedly praised for its broadness of application.  It is given for “all” (I Timothy 2:6).  It is for “the many” (Mark 10:44-45).  Even before the throne of heaven, the Lamb of God is worshipped for the great price that He has paid and how widely it has purchased fallen humanity.

“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open is seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed (ἀγοράζω) people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom of priests to our God and they shall reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:9-10).

The emphasis in the New Testament redemption metaphor is always on the one who has paid the price (Christ), and never on whom the price is paid to.  This part of the metaphor is silent.  What we do know is that we have been bought with a price (I Corinthians 6:20) greater than any amount of silver or gold.  That price is the unthinkable offering of the very life-blood of Christ Himself (Matthew 26:28, Ephesians 1:7, Hebrews 9:14, I John 2:2, Revelation 1:5).

“knowing that you were ransomed (λυτρόω) from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot”  (I Peter 1:18-19).

What Are They Redeemed To?

The New Testament picture of redemption is not just a release from captivity, but it is a release into something in particular.  The former sin-slave, freed by the purchase of Christ, experiences a fundamental change of status and identity because of this redemption.

Through redemption, we are no longer captives in the realm of darkness, but now belong among the saints, who are the special possession of God Himself.

“Giving thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.  He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in who we have redemption (ἀπολύτρωσις) the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:12-14).

Through redemption, we are no longer slaves without legal standing, but we have become forever family with God, with the prized status as His children.

“Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.  The slave does not remain in the house forever, the son remains forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:34-36).

The redemption of God through Christ does not merely release us, but it releases us to a new life of rich blessing and honored identity.  We have been changed from aliens into citizens of the kingdom.  We have gone from the dispossessed to richly appointed children and heirs (Galatians 3:13-14).  We have been redeemed to faith, hope, and the richest goodness from God’s heart (I Peter 1:18, 21).

Redemption Pointing Back and Looking Forward

From a temporal perspective redemption either points back or looks forward.  There is a great past day of redemption in which Christ fully paid the price to buy us back from sin.  There is also a great future day of redemption, at the return of Christ, when we will experience the perfect consummation of our deliverance.  This also is the day of redemption.  Both the past and future days of redemption are necessary for a complete New Testament understanding.

Looking back to the cross, those who put their trust in the finished work of Christ, through His blood, are categorically and eternally transferred from the status of a guilty sinner to a perfectly justified saint.  Regardless of how insurmountable their debt, through Christ’s sacrifice the debt has been forgiven.

“In him (Jesus Christ) we have redemption (ἀπολύτρωσις) through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight” (Ephesians 1:7-8).

By placing the “forgiveness of trespasses” in apposition to “redemption”, Paul is specifically clarifying that the benefit of forgiveness has been received through the payment of the blood of Christ.[12]  It is by looking back to the cross that the believer can confidently know – past tense – that the price has been paid, the grace has been lavished, and their forgiveness has been received.

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption (ἀπολύτρωσις) that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith…” (Romans 3:23-25)

The New Testament also speaks of the certain, final redemption that is still a future reality for believers.  There is a coming day of redemption that we can look forward to with eager anticipation.

“Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption (ἀπολύτρωσις) is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).

“And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption (ἀπολύτρωσις) of our bodies” (Romans 8:23).

This is what we look forward to and long for, the appearing of Christ, at which we will be changed (I Corinthians 15:51-53).   In that instant of time the perfectly finished work of Christ’s redemption on the cross will become the perfectly realized work of redemption in our mortal bodies.  Not only will we belong to the kingdom of the beloved Son, but will forevermore reflect the glory of the beloved Son.

The believer, therefore, lives somewhere in-between past redemption received and future redemption promised.  We know that our sins have been forgiven and our spirit has been made alive.  This is the faith of redemption, to which we look back.  But we also know by experience that we are still housed in bodies of sin and death.  We groan, therefore, and look eagerly for the final change yet to come.  This is the hope of redemption, to which we look forward.

What Difference Does Redemption Make Now?

Returning to the original question of pastoral application: “What difference does redemption make now?”  We might be tempted to believe that living somewhere between redemption-past and waiting for redemption-future, that there is little practical relevance for our present.

Yet the New Testament would argue just the opposite.  It is precisely the confident assurance that we have been bought at such a tremendous price that should provide the compelling reason for living lives that honor Him now.

“For you were bought (ἀγοράζω) with a price.  So glorify God in your body”

(I Corinthians 6:20).

The Apostle Peter, likewise, encourages believers in their daily conduct to set aside sinful passions and press toward holiness, by the same internal motivation.

“…conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed (λυτρόω) from the futile ways inherited from your fore-fathers” (I Peter 1:17-18)

However, it’s not only the faith of redemption-past, but also the hope of redemption-future that motivates the believer toward transformed living.  At first glance this might seem counter-intuitive.  Why do the hard work of change in my mortal body, when perfect change will come in an instant at the return of Christ?  Yet Paul says that it is precisely God’s redemption promise and seal of that great day that should propel us toward Christ-likeness in our attitudes and words now.

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption (ἀπολύτρωσις).  Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice” (Ephesians 4:29-31).

The precious blood of Christ has bought us back from our great sin debt.  He will soon appear to usher in our final redemption, and in that moment we will see Him face to face.  Knowing both of these things should propel us with great enthusiasm toward lives of practical holiness.

And I use that word “enthusiasm” intentionally, drawing upon Paul’s language in the second chapter of the Titus.  For there he draws together all the elements of New Testament redemption: The sure knowledge of redemption-past in all of its wideness, the confident hope of redemption-future in all of its glory, and the motivation this brings us now for a new kind of living.  He describes the redeemed of Christ with the word ζηλωτής that describes one who is internally, emotively stirred toward some pursuit.  Translated “zealous”, the underlying idea is one with an internal passion or enthusiasm that drives them.[13]

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for the blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem (λυτρόω) us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous (ζηλωτής) for good works” (Titus 2:11-14).

For the people of God, working out their salvation in everyday living, their enthusiastic zeal is fired by their faith and hope in Christ’s redemption.  Make no mistake – practical transformation is hard work, but it is no white-knuckled attempt at self-reformation.  According to the Bible, our godly living is a declaration of our faith in the finished redemption of Christ on the cross.  Our godly living is a demonstration of our hope in the perfectly realized redemption of Christ to be attained.  Every day that we choose to say “yes” to a new way of godly living and “no” to the old way of godless living, we make a statement about that which we believe most deeply.

For people of God who sometimes wonder if their debt of sin could really be completely forgiven– choosing to live upright is a bold-faced declaration of faith:

I have been purchased by the blood of Christ.  In His redemption I have the forgiveness of sins, and I am no longer a slave to them.  And in this day I boldly proclaim my freedom by living upright and holy in all that I do.

For the people of God who can’t help but sometimes wonder where the long-awaited return of Christ is, and if it is true that they will finally be released from all sin and death – choosing to live upright is a demonstration of their undying hope:

My final redemption in Christ is drawing near.  By the Holy Spirit I am sealed for that day.  And in this day I demonstrate my hope in that promise by living according to what I will be and not according to what I used to be.

“Declare these things”, Paul concludes in Titus 2:15.  Declare that the salvation of God has been brought to all people through the redemption of Christ.  Declare that the appearing of this same Christ is the blessed hope of every believer.  Declare these things, that by faith and hope in them, the people of God might fire the enthusiasm that propels them toward a life of good works.

[1] Yamauchi, Edwin.  1981.  Harper’s World of the New Testament.  San Francisco: Harper & Row, 94.

[2] Arlandson, James Malolm.  1997.  Women, Class, and Society in Early Christianity: Models From Luke-Acts.  Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 66.

[3] Schneider, Joahannes.  1986.  New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Volume 3, ed Colin Brown.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 177.

[4] Wright, Christopher J.H.  2006.  The Mission of God.  Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 275.

[5] Morris, Leon. 1993.  Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, ed Gerald F. Hawthorne and Ralph P Martin.  Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 784.

[6] Walvoord, John F.  1962.  The Person and Work of Christ Part IX: Redemption.  Bibliotheca Sacra 119:4-11.

[7] Kittel, Gerhard. 1964.  Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Volume 1.  Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 125.

[8] Arndt, William F. and Gingrich, F. Wilbur.  1957.  A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature.  Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 271.

[9] Arndt, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 484.

[10] Walvoord, The Person and Work of Christ Part IX: Redemption.

[11] All scripture quotations, English Standard Version, 2008.  Emphasis in scriptural quotations are mine throughout.

[12] Hoehner, Harold W.  2002.  Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary.  Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 207-208.

[13] Geoffrey Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Volume 2, 887-883.

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