Redemption has been redefined by many. The true gospel is about the redemption of the church, but many today proclaim a redemption of this world.
Not surprisingly, this shift from the redemption of the church to the redemption of this world would involve a change in what is meant by the term redemption. Therefore it is of utmost importance that we know what Scripture means by this term, and how it is being used very differently today by many who claim to be giving instruction in the truth of the Reformed faith.
The redemption provided by Christ
To redeem is to pay the price that is required to free from bondage. By nature we were all in bondage to sin. Christ paid the price to redeem us from this bondage, freeing us from being enslaved to the devil, that we might willingly and cheerfully live unto Him.
These redeemed people are separated from sin, and also from impenitent sinners. Those who are redeemed praise God for this separation, as is evident from the following song that they sing as they praise their Redeemer: “thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation” (b).
The saved people are redeemed “out of” every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation. It is not this world that Christ redeems. Rather, it is a separate people that are called out and separated from this ungodly world.
That is the first point.
A second point is that it was by His blood that Christ redeemed us. For us to be redeemed, God’s justice had to be satisfied. It was because of our disobedience that we had become enslaved to sin and Satan. To deliver us from this bondage, and to purchase for us the right to become heavenly, our Lord had to lay down His life for us.
Indeed a great price had to be paid for us to be redeemed. That price was the perfect sacrifice offered to God by the Lamb that was slain.
A redemption of systems, not of people
Today many who profess to be giving biblical, Reformed instruction are using the term redemption very differently. They say relatively little about the redemption of the church, and prefer rather to speak at length of the so-called redemption of this world.
Rather than the redeeming of people, a particular people, they speak of the redeeming of “social systems” and of “economic structures”:
God wants to save social systems and economic structures too. If the management/labor structure contains built-in antagonism, then it needs to be redeemed. If the health care delivery system reaches only the well-to-do, then it needs to be reformed.1
This, supposedly, is “redemption.” It is a redemption very different from that which was preached by Christ our Lord.
For one, this would be a redemption for those outside of Christ. The majority of those in such a “redeemed” social system would not be in Christ. Rather, they would continue worshiping the gods of their imagination.
That serves to bring out another point: This redemption does not involve a deliverance from the bondage of sin. Take, for example, the “health care delivery system” mentioned in the above quote. If that system provides health care for all the citizens in the society, then supposedly that system has been “reformed” or “redeemed.” The people receiving that health care may be using their improved health to continue in their sin, but the “system” that has provided them with that health care supposedly has been redeemed.
A redemption without the cross
A redeemed society, therefore, would not be one in which the people have actually been delivered from their sin. Many citizens in the redeemed society envisioned by these teachers would receive certain things that they would enjoy briefly in this life, only then to die in their sins and suffer everlastingly in hell.
Note well that this redemption, therefore, would not require the blood of Christ. One could provide this redemption with corruptible things, such as silver and gold. Yet we know, says the inspired apostle Peter, that this is not how God’s people are redeemed:
Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot ().
Clearly this redemption, and the redemption provided by Christ, are not one and the same.
A redemption many ungodly desire
Redemption, defined this new way, is something that many unregenerate people strongly desire. They desire a wage that they think is fair, and they want health care to be provided for them. They cry out for this type of “redemption,” and for a “redeemer” that can provide it for them.
Moreover, such a redeemer does not need to be one person. It can be a group of people—a large group of people. It can even be a large group of unregenerate people, working together as redeemers of society. Since many unregenerate desire this type of redemption, many of them can work together to bring it about.
This redefining of redemption serves to illustrate one of the tactics used by our adversary the devil. He takes what is true of the church, and tries to persuade us to think that it is true of this world. Christ has redeemed the church. The devil tries to convince sinful men that they can work together to redeem this world.
We and our children must not be fooled by those encouraging us to become “redeemers.” Rather, together we must continue to join with all the heavenly people, who praise Christ for redeeming them by His blood, out of every kindred, tribe, nation, and tongue.
1 Cornelius Plantinga Jr., Engaging God’s World: A Reformed Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2002), 97.