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Are you trying to redeem yourself? We talk about ‘redeeming ourselves’ when we get into trouble (normally trouble of our own making) and need to extricate ourselves from it. When we say something hurtful to a friend, for example—we might deeply regret what we’ve said and sincerely want to make up for it. There’s a WikiHow article called ‘How to Redeem Yourself’. It lists twenty-one steps, in three sections, that will help you to redeem yourself. Each step has explanations, illustrations, and worked examples. The steps include: “Acknowledge your wrongdoing before the other person finds out”, “Take responsibility for your actions”, “Remedy the situation”, and “Face the realities of your life”. There’s some wisdom in this article, especially for people who want to try to make up for serious wrongdoing in significant relationships (it mentions wrongdoings like cheating on a spouse or breaking trust through lying). But unfortunately, it doesn’t work all of the time. Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we can’t fix the mess we’re in by ourselves. There are some situations that we just can’t redeem ourselves from. And facing that reality can be devastating.
The word ‘redemption’ means being delivered from some bad situation or danger that threatens us. It’s about being rescued from the situation and brought to a place of freedom or safety. Redemption applies to personal relationships, and it also applies to other situations. In this short passage from Ephesians, Paul talks about redemption. The redemption he’s talking about really matters, because it has to do with our relationship with God. As we look more closely at these verses in Ephesians, we see that when it comes to God, we can’t redeem ourselves. Instead, redemption is something that God has to do—and has done—for us. This is why it’s such a wonderful thing.
God has given us this grace in the one he dearly loves. In him, we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of offenses, according to the riches of his grace.Ephesians 1:6b–7
Redemption is a gift from God
Paul talks about redemption as a gift from God. It’s not an action we do for ourselves. Paul says that God has “given us this grace”, and that our redemption is “according to the riches of his grace”. The word ‘grace’ is all about a gift to us from God himself. God, from his overflowing riches, has given us a gift—redemption. That’s why Paul uses the present tense to describe our redemption: “we have redemption”. The redemption Paul is describing is not something that we have to achieve in our lives, or something we need to wait for in the future. We have it now, and we have it because God has given it to us.
But what is this gift of redemption? How has he redeemed us? And what have we been redeemed from?
The one he dearly loves
Paul says that God has redeemed us “in the one he dearly loves”. This phrase points us to the Old Testament prophetic book of Isaiah, which describes a figure called the ‘Suffering Servant’. This Suffering Servant is a person who is loved and chosen by God. He identifies closely with the people of Israel; so closely that he suffers and dies for the sake of Israel’s sins. Here is a famous passage from Isaiah:
But he was pierced for our transgressions;Isaiah 53:5–6 ESV
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
According to Isaiah, the Suffering Servant dies to bring redemption for the people of Israel. Redemption from what? At the point in time Isaiah is writing about, Israel was living in exile, captive to an ancient superpower called Babylon. God had promised his people, the Israelites, that he would redeem them from that captivity. But according to Isaiah, their political redemption from exile wasn’t the ultimate redemption. It was meant to be a picture of an even bigger redemption. The reason that Israel was in exile in the first place was because they had disobeyed God. They had committed “sins”, “transgressions”, and “iniquities” against God. In other words, they had repeatedly and wilfully done the wrong thing and violated God’s good will for them. So God had sent them into exile as a judgment against their sin. That’s why the Suffering Servant suffers. He suffers in the place of the people, as a substitute for sinners. He is pierced and crushed and wounded for the sake of sinners. And that is what brings redemption. Not just redemption from captivity—but redemption from sin and from God’s judgment.
Let’s come back to Ephesians now. Paul’s point is this: the Suffering Servant, this one whom God “dearly loves”, is Jesus Christ. And it is through Jesus Christ that we have redemption. The redemption has come to us through “his blood”. This is referring to Jesus’ violent death on the cross, where his blood was actually shed. Jesus died in our place, to take God’s judgment on himself. That means we are redeemed from God’s judgment for our sins—those wrong things that we ourselves have committed against him. What a great cost! But what a wonderful outcome.
Forgiveness of offenses
The redemption we have been given, then, is all about the “forgiveness of offenses”. A little later in Ephesians, Paul reminds his readers that everyone—each one of us, Israelites and non-Israelites included—faces God’s judgment because of the wrong things we have done against him (Ephesians 2:1–3). But through hearing about and believing in Jesus Christ, our offenses are dealt with. This is the “forgiveness of offenses”. It means our slate is wiped clean; it means that God doesn’t count any of our offenses against us. I first understood and believed this great truth when I was twelve years old. Before that point, I believed that God existed, but I was very afraid. I knew I had done wrong against God, and I was afraid of God’s judgment, and afraid that there was nothing I could do to redeem myself. But I heard through ‘Special Religious Education’ teachers who came into my school that I didn’t need to be afraid, because Jesus had died so my offenses could be forgiven. What an amazing thing this was to me! And it still is, (so many) decades later. No fear, no guilt before God. Just the forgiveness of my offenses.
This forgiveness of my offenses doesn’t mean that God just sweeps them under the carpet and pretends they don’t exist. It’s not as if God doesn’t care about the wrong things I’ve done to others (or what others have done to me) and turns a blind eye. In fact, it’s the opposite. God takes my offenses very, very seriously. He takes them so seriously that he gave his Son Jesus, who willingly died for my offenses, to bring me forgiveness. My offenses aren’t just ignored; they’re actually dealt with by Jesus. And that means that instead of facing God’s judgment, by believing in Jesus I face his good favour, now and forever. What a gift!
Accepting the gift
This is the gift of redemption. The gift of redemption is central to the gospel message of Jesus Christ, and it is the foundation of our Christian lives. In Jesus Christ, our offenses are forgiven, our guilt is gone, our judgment has been taken away, and we have been given freedom to live for God, now and forever. This is God’s gift, not our achievement. In this most important area, we can’t redeem ourselves. We can only accept the gift of redemption that God has given to us in Jesus Christ, the one he dearly loves.
This is the greatest redemption we can possess. We need to keep it firmly in our sights, at the front of our minds and at the core of our hearts. Of course, this fundamental redemption overflows into all sorts of other situations that need redeeming in our lives and our world. There’s the pain and regret to others and to ourselves caused by our own foolishness. For many in our world, there are broken and oppressive relationships, unjust social or economic conditions, violence and persecution and slavery. The redemption we have in Christ gives us the strength to care and help in these areas. Yet even as we care and help and seek to right wrongs, we must never lose sight of the greatest redemption that has already been won for us by God through Jesus Christ. We need to see all our other situations in that light—because this is the redemption that is sure and certain, that we already have in Christ, and that provides an anchor for our lives.
Remember that Paul is in chains as he writes about this redemption! Later in the letter, he mentions his chains several times. Yet what is the redemption he chooses to talk about first and foremost? It’s not his own redemption from physical captivity. It’s the forgiveness of offenses through the blood of Jesus Christ. Let’s never mute this or forget this redemption. Let’s never just assume it, as if it’s something that we can all just take for granted and move on to focus on our own acts of redemption. Let’s keep reminding ourselves of this gift of redemption from God, and rejoicing in it together. Because this is the redemption that changes everything.
What strikes you most about God’s redemption through Jesus Christ?
How does knowing God’s redemption help you as you face difficult situations caused by your own sin or by the sin of others?
This post is part of a series of ~70 reflections covering every sentence in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. You can see all the posts so far, and subscribe to receive updates via email, audio podcast, and social media, by following this link.
The academic details behind these reflections
In this series, I don’t go into detail justifying every statement I make about the background and meaning of Ephesians. I’ve done that elsewhere. If you’re interested in the reasons I say what I say here, and want to chase it up further with lots of ancient Greek, technical stuff, and footnotes, check out my book Reading Ephesians and Colossians After Supersessionism: Christ’s Mission through Israel to the Nations.