WHAT DOES IT MEAN to be “redeemed?” Sure, I could list theological, psychological, and sociological definitions, and there is nothing wrong with that approach. Definitions help define us. They allow us to compare, analyze, ruminate, consider, relate. We quantify and qualify through definitions. Relative to theology, definitions establish parameters; they provide the comfort of knowing what is. Christian theology unequivocally defines us in a way that leaves no doubt. We can sit and read through a list of criteria and benefits, or we can dive deep with the Holy Spirit and determine the amazing scope of redemption through the blood of Christ. Salvation, the very catalyst of redemption, so broadly impacts our lives that we do well to pick up the Bible and read about who we are in Christ—and what “in Christ” means.
Eugene Peterson, author of The Message, wrote the following in his introduction to Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians:
“What we know about God and what we do for God have a way of getting broken apart in our lives. The moment the organic unity of belief and behavior is damaged in any way, we are incapable of living out the full humanity for which we were created.”(1)
I have learned a lot from the theology of Augustine of Hippo. It is especially interesting to compare his life of debauchery before conversion to his undying commitment in striving to be like Christ after becoming a Christian. Augustine’s lifestyle before accepting Christ was fraught with “sexual adventures—real or imagined… capers that he would one day rue as the sign of his own sinfulness.”(2) Augustine is famously quoted as saying, “Grant me chastity and self-control, but please not yet.” He started on a path of repentance from a life of sin after reading Paul’s words in Romans 13:13-14: “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom. 13:13-14).
I had a difficult time thinking everything was going to be alright. Certainly, my debauchery was unforgivable, right? Are not some things without pardon? This conversation ran through my brain for decades. What I thought about me came from a number of factors, each one building on the previous one, making me sicker and more lost than ever. Today, I know it was Satan, accusing me in my mind, blocking God’s love and forgiveness, causing me to retreat further into darkness. Isolated, I threw my hands up in disgust. I am so grateful to several mature Christian men in my life who kept saying, “Nail it all to the cross and leave it with Christ.” I should tell you it is only very recently that I was able to do this. Salvation begins with and through an undeserved rescue, and continually builds in our hearts as we recognize our need for redemption and restoration. This is what Christ has accomplished. Indeed, He said before taking His last breath, “It is finished” (see John 19:30).
What is This Thing Called Redemption?
Augustine defines redemption as a process: a slave to sin; rescued from sin; a slave to God. His reference suggests there are two distinct masters, God and Satan, and we must choose to which one we will be bound. Paul said, “…we are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:24-26). Peterson’s translation says, “…out of sheer generosity [God] put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift.”(3) This is what Paul meant when he wrote, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith'” (Rom. 1:16-17).
I was pleased to learn that Augustine and I “saw eye to eye” on something. This is a tongue-in-cheek way to note that I came to a conclusion recently that he considered centuries ago. After Adam and Eve ate the fruit forbidden by God, they felt naked and ashamed, and they hid. The LORD cried out, “Adam, where are you?” I came to understand that God knew where Adam and Eve were, and why they were there. His question was meant to say, “Now look where you are!” God wanted Adam and Eve to see the existential and spiritual result of their sin. Edward Smither said of Augustine’s remark, “Although concurring with Novatian and Chrysostom that the Lord’s question (‘where are you?’) was not asked in ignorance, Augustine argues that these words were actually ‘words of reproof’ (Gn. litt. 11.34.45). For Augustine, God’s questions were intended to fully expose Adam’s pride and sin; so they are more about pronouncing judgement and pointing to the death of Adam’s soul than alluding to redemption (cf. Gn. litt. 11.34.47; Civ. Dei 13.23).(4)
Augustine believed sin warps man’s judgment and impels the mind toward external things. Sinful man is hamstrung by selfishness from the earliest moments of infancy; the prisoner of habits which are second nature. Only God’s grace can restore authentic freedom and allow God to clothe us in the righteousness of Christ.(5) To “put on” the righteousness of Christ is critical to our redemption and restoration, but it is not us who puts it on; God imputed our sins to Christ who knew no sin and He puts His righteousness on us who had no righteousness of our own. Isaiah wrote, “Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away” (Isa. 64:5b-6). Some translations say God sees our “righteousness” (the very best we can possibly do on our own) as filthy rags!
The God-setting-things-right that we read about in the Old Testament has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us in the New Testament.
Paul describes the profound significance of our redemption: “[God] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14). Consider the distinct terms listed in his remark to the Colossians: redemption; deliverance; transformation; forgiveness. Redemption is made available because we were buried with Christ by baptism into death so that we might walk in newness of life (see also Rom. 6:4). Just as one trespass (Adam’s disobedience) led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness (the atoning death of Christ) leads to justification and life for all men. We are no longer dead in our sins. God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing, even as He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before God. In love, God predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His immutable will. Sēlah!
(1) Eugene Peterson, The Message//Remix (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2006), 1715.
(2) Gonzalez, 242
(3) Peterson, Ibid., 1647.
(4) Edward L. Smither, “Augustine on Redemption,” VERBUM et Ecclesia, vol. 35 (Jan 2014). Accessed May 17, 2022. http://www.scielo.org.za/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S2074-77052014000100026
(5) Henry Chadwick, Augustine: A Very Short Introduction (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2001), 115.