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Redemption is a Secular Word

Updated: Feb 9, 2022

Last month I introduced John Wesley’s famous mentor, William Law of the eighteenth century, who penned the revival classic, A Serious Call To A Devout and Holy Life, and prodded all in society to obey God as the Lord. During that era, famous preachers such as William Law, John Wesley, and Jonathan Edwards, did not pretend that non-Christians were off-the-hook with God. Granted, it makes sense to expect people who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God to abide by God’s law and feel convicted and repent when they fall short, and conversely, to withhold that expectation from people who are still dead in their trespasses (Ephesians 2:1). We cannot expect society to live as if society were the church. But on the other hand, it is misleading for people in the church to regard the spiritually lost as if they are excused from submitting to the standards of the Lord.

When I was on staff at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois during its heyday in the nineties, one of my laments was that “seekers” (pre-Christians) were visibly treated with more honor and respect than most believers were, contra Galatians 6:10, “So then, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are in the faith.” Granted, as believers, we are not to show partiality (I Timothy 5:21), but we are to treat those in Christ with all the lavish love of Christ Himself. If you have ever been part of a seeker-friendly church or of a church corporation that targets seeker audiences, you may have seen unbelievers exempted from accountability and even coddled. In seeker churches, non-Christians are often held in high esteem and tacitly regarded as if they are not responsible to heed God’s law. Most seeker churches that imprint Willow’s seeker model seem largely to have forgotten that everyone alike is accountable to God. Indeed, the thought of universal accountability, right here and now–not just on Judgment Day–may occur to many Christians as a fresh new realization.

In seeker culture, non-Christians are rarely told that they are sinning when they are sinning. For example, denying Jesus’ Lordship is not framed to them as sin. Too often the seeker message is that “making Jesus Lord of your life” is a mere consumer decision, something sheerly optional. Unbelievers are not told that the reason why they are lost is precisely because they are unanchored to the truth – that Jesus Christ is Lord no matter what. No one has the power to “make” Jesus Lord. He is Lord. Period. He is Lord before, during, and after anyone admits to the reality of His undefeatable Lordship. To admit that He is Lord is to align oneself with Reality. That is how a person gets un-lost. To say the same thing differently, lost people are lost because they do not understand that bowing to Christ as Lord is the only thing that attunes people to capital “R” Reality.

Ironically, it seems that most evangelicals, i.e., orthodox believers who prioritize The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) at least in theory, have been terribly lax (myself included) about openly telling the public that all of us together, both religious and non-religious, are equally beholden to God. If we want to be good disciplemakers, we need to come to terms with what it takes to be a disciple: we have got to tell the truth about Jesus’ Lordship. Think about it. At the end of time, what is every human tongue assuredly going to confess? That God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their life? That Jesus loves the little children? That God accepts you as you are? No!

The Scriptures are very clear: God highly exalted Jesus and bestowed on Him the Name which is above every name–that at the Name of Jesus, every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).

Jesus’ Lordship is essential to His redemptive work. No one but the Lord can free us from our slavery to other masters. We need the Master of masters to deliver us. Redemption is deliverance. Redemption does not refer to a religious act or ceremony wrought by gods or priests. The biblical word redemption was not a religious word in the first century. It was secular. Theologian Leon Morris explains it:

“Redemption was part of the language of ordinary people in their ordinary everyday life. Christians could use it knowing that it was a vivid word-picture, a word which everyone could understand and which, properly used, conveyed forcefully one important aspect of Christian teaching. It was the fact that it was not a religious word which gave it its usefulness and its wide intelligibility . . . The term as used in the all-pervasive Greek culture of antiquity had its origin in the practices of warfare . . . the victors . . . round[ed] up as many of the vanquished as they could. Then they took them off as slaves. . . They [the vanquished] could not break free. Left to themselves they would remain in captivity for the rest of their lives. For them to be restored . . . they must be bought out of their captivity . . . The buying of prisoners of war out of their captivity was the basic idea of redemption.

In other words, redemption in the first century was a financial term. It had to do with money. It pertained to paying a cost. That is, to graciously pay a cost that the redeemer was not obligated to pay. Redemption is pure gift. The recipient of redemption is not the one to pay; the Redeemer, rather, pays.

So when the public in the first century heard the gospel news of Jesus paying the price of redemption for our sin, they heard the word redemption for all its amazing worth in society. What I am getting at, dear friends, is that the gospel message itself is meant to be publicized. The gospel is for the public. It is public news, not a private church announcement. The gospel itself is public. Redemption, a secular word, is meant to be shared with the public.

If you want to know more about redemption and other related concepts that pertain to the gospel message that Jesus entrusted to us to share with others in public, so as to make disciples “of all the nations” (Matthew 28:18-20), then join us, please sign up, get registered this week or next for the life-changing course, “Theology In Evangelism,” which starts on March 7, 2022, taught by yours truly, Sarah Sumner.

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