Redeeming Redemption

Aug 09, 2023
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Being a Missional Movement

Redeeming Redemption

By Stephen Baxter

Have you ever thought about the cultural context of the word REDEMPTION?
For most people in Tassie, the word has little or no spiritual or religious meaning. Any association with God and his work in and through Jesus has been lost. But that does not mean it is unredeemable.

According to the latest census, most Tasmanians have no religion. Or so they say. The move away from religion, particularly among younger generations, has been observed for decades. For those still attending church it is clearly seen and felt every Sunday. Church attendance is no longer high on people’s priorities, and that includes those who claim to be Christians. That’s not to say people are not spiritual, they’ve just rejected institutional forms of religion.

Along with this rejection has come a significant loss of a biblical literacy, particularly among younger generations. The Bible stories and biblical words, once common knowledge in the community for believers and non-believers alike, are no longer familiar. This has set up a widening communications gap between the Church and the community, which the Church has seemed reluctant, or perhaps incapable of bridging. Notwithstanding a number of valiant attempts to bridge the gap with varying levels of success.  

The Bible stories and biblical words, once common knowledge in the community, are no longer familiar.

Modern-day usage

Redemption is one of those words that has lost almost any of its biblical meaning. For most in our community, the words ‘redemption’ or ‘redeem’ are associated with ‘gift cards’ more than anything else. They can be spotted in the aisles of the checkout of any large retail store.

More than likely, you have used them as a gift when you can’t think of anything else to give. And no doubt you have received one for the same reason. Many of them sit on our bedside tables, or take up room in our wallets, for months, until we get around to “redeeming” them.

A second, less common usage, has to do with making someone or something seem less bad. We talk of a person “redeeming themselves” when they do something good after they had a failure. We also point out “redeeming qualities” in someone or something that would otherwise be considered dull or mediocre.

So today, the words ‘redemption’ or ‘redeem’ have little association with God and his action through Jesus Christ. A quick search on Google reflects this, with very few mentions of God. And if it does, it is termed as if it is an antiquated use of the word.

But does this mean we should stop using the word ‘redemption’? Is it a lost cause? Or can we set about “redeeming redemption”? I believe so.

Biblical redemption

The first two chapters of Genesis give us a small glimpse of the world God first intended. A friend of mine describes living in Eden as living in “right relations”. It outlines a clear plan of how humanity is to relate to each other, the world around them, and to the God who made them. But things got messed up very quickly and relations – with God, with each other and with the earth – became strained and dysfunctional.

God’s response to this brokenness was a patient drawn-out process to do whatever it costs to set things right again. It reached its highpoint in the life of Jesus Christ, and continues to this day. This is biblical redemption: God reclaims the broken and sets it on a course to a renewed and completed wholeness.

This is the story of hope, where a miraculous restoration follows deep despair and total loss. This theme of brokenness and renewal, or human breakthrough after failure, is powerful and uplifting. It is the plot line of any great narrative whether it be a novel or a movie or real life. Just think of your favourite movie. Good Will Hunting, Star Wars – Return of the Jedi, Gran Torino, Les Misérables, Cinderella Man, Rain Man, I can only imagine, the Marvel series and so on. The story of redemption, it seems, is hard wired into our psyche.

Given the theme of redemption is so much a part of who we are, surely the potential power of the word ‘redemption’ remains, it just needs to be repurposed for our contemporary world.

It’s all about relationship

In the New Testament, ‘redemption’ basically has two aspects.

On the one hand we read of Christ’s atonement for the sins of the world, as in: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3). On the other hand, we read of Christ’s victory over the powers of evil, as in: “we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. But … God sent his Son … to redeem those under the law” (Gal 4:3b, 5a, see also 2 Cor 4:3-5, Phil 2:8-11). The focus of the first is our relationship with God, while the focus of the second is our relationships in the world.

Both are critical for our understanding of redemption. However, historically, the church has emphasised redemption in terms of our relationship with God at the expense of our liberation into freedom as “sons of God”. By paying more attention to making things right with God we have neglected making things right with our neighbours, and significantly for younger generations, making things right with the environment.

Perhaps it is here the word ‘redemption’ can find redemption! Perhaps redeeming redemption is a thing after all.

Despite the brokenness of our world and the despair people feel, Jesus reminds us that at the heart of this vast universe is love, and that the great Creator has always and has never stopped loving us. Humanity is God’s great project and despite the havoc caused by sin, God’s heart was never hardened against us. Instead, it is our hearts that were hardened against God. Yet God, who is always ready to point out our “redeeming qualities” amid all that is dull, mediocre or severely broken, set about freeing us.

So, what is Redemption?

Redemption is God’s gracious act of releasing us from all the things that cause our hearts to be hard. It is a liberation from the slavery of bitterness, shame, rage and anger, and the powers that locked us into mediocracy, harmful habits, undermining attitude.

Through redemption, we are rescued so we might find our way back to life, to health and to living the way life was meant to be. It brings us back into right relations with God, with each other and with the world upon which we live.

Redemption is so powerful and wonderful that it can even redeem itself. At its heart, redemption is a gift. Jesus. He is God’s great “gift card” available for everyone. All we need to do is redeem him.

Stephen Baxter
Mission Leadership Director

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Redeeming Redemption