Just for Catholics

OUR REDEMPTION

The devil won the day in Eden; he succeeded in drawing man away from his Creator. Paradise was lost – but not forever! God was not surprised by man’s rebellion. According to his eternal plan, God had purposed to redeem and call a people for himself from among the fallen human race. Soon after the fall, God begun to reveal his plan to send ‘the woman’s seed’ to fight against the serpent and crush his head (Gen 3:15). At Golgotha the woman’s seed, Christ Jesus, won the decisive battle – he triumphed over his enemies, purchased freedom and merited eternal life for his own.

Covenant of Grace

God bound himself by a solemn pact, or covenant, with his people, promising to bring about reconciliation (Heb 10:16, 17) and restore our fellowship (Jer 31:33, 32:38-40; Ezek 34:23-25, 30, 31; 36:25-8; Heb 8:10; 2 Cor 6:16-18).

The gracious covenant of God with his people is made possible by the mediatorial work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He is the mediator of the covenant (Heb 9:5), bridging the infinite gap between us and our Creator. He is our representative before the Father (Rom 5:12-21; 1 Cor 15:22), and our surety (Heb 7:22). A surety, or guarantor, is someone who is legally responsible for the debt of another. Jesus satisfied our legal obligations.

The covenant is founded in eternity past. Even before the creation of the world, God’s people were chosen ‘in Christ’ (Eph 1:5); we had been given to Christ by the Father (Jn 6:39).

The covenant was gradually revealed in history. God called Abraham, justified him by faith, and promised to bless all the nations through him. Centuries later, God gave the Law by Moses to Abraham’s descendants, the people of Israel. But the Law did not annul the promise to Abraham, for it was unable to give life. The law served as a tutor to lead the people to Christ; by means of types and shadows, it pointed forwards to the promised Saviour (Gal 3). At the appointed time, Abraham’s seed, Jesus Christ, came to the world to establish ‘the new covenant in his blood’. It is new not because it is entirely different, but because it is a new revelation of God’s covenant, and because it is the fulfillment of the symbolism and promises of the Old Testament.

We still wait for the consummation of the covenant. God’s oft repeated promise -- ‘I will be their God, and they shall be My people’ – will be finally and gloriously fulfilled in heaven (Rev 21:3).

Facets of Redemption

Like a precious diamond, there are many facets to God’s marvellous work of redemption. The Bible uses several terms to describe them.

  1. Predestination and election: From eternity past, God had determined the destiny of the people he loved, and chose (elected) them unto salvation.

  2. Propitiation: Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was offered to appease God’s righteous anger against sin.

  3. Reconciliation: Sinners are enemies of God. Jesus removed the cause of this hostility, sin, and brought friendship and peace.

  4. Redemption: Jesus Christ redeems his people; he sets them free from the slavery of sin. Jesus shed his blood on the cross to pay the price, or ransom, for our freedom.

  5. Regeneration, the new birth: marks the beginning of the Christian life. The Holy Spirit calls, renews the heart, and gives eternal life to those who were spiritually dead in sin.

  6. Justification: God declares the believer righteous on account of Jesus Christ. Justification is received by faith alone and not on account of our personal merit.

  7. Adoption: Jesus gives the right to those who believe in his name to become children of God. They are received into God’s family, call him ‘our Father’, and are made heirs of his blessings.

  8. Sanctification: God calls his children to sanctification, or holiness, that is, to be set apart or consecrated to his service. Sanctification is a life-long process by which the Holy Spirit gradually transforms us to be like Jesus Christ.

  9. Glorification: God’s saving work reaches its ultimate end at the second coming of Christ, when believers are given an immortal body, made morally perfect, and are forever welcomed into the immediate presence of God.

It is also helpful to distinguish three temporal aspects of salvation: past, present and future. The believer can say, ‘I am saved, I am being saved, and I will be saved.’ The Christian is already saved from the guilt and dominion of sin (Rom 4:5-7; 6:18). From the moment of faith, we are forever counted as righteous before God (Rom 5:1). Yet, as long as we remain in this world we must engage in a continual struggle with the flesh – the principle of sin that stills clings to us (Rom 7:22, 23). The Spirit enables us to overcome sin and live a godly and righteous life, albeit our many failures. Ultimately our salvation will be fulfilled at the second coming of Christ, when he delivers us from the very presence of sin and grants us a glorified body (Rom 8:23, 24). In this sense, we are saved in hope.

Sovereign Grace

From eternity past God chose a definite number of persons to be saved. The Bible calls them ‘God’s elect’. Jesus said that ‘many are called, but few are chosen’ (Matt 22:14); the apostle Paul teaches that ‘there is a remnant according to the election of grace’ (Rom 11:5). He reminds the disciples that God ‘chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will’ (Eph 1:4, 5).

God did not choose us because we were better than the rest of mankind, just as God chose Jacob rather than his twin brother, Esau, even before they were born or had done any good or evil (Rom 9:10-13). In fact, as Christians we readily admit that formerly we were dead in their trespasses and sins, and we were children of disobedience just like the others (Eph 2:1-3). The only reason why we were chosen is God’s sovereign grace; we certainly didn’t merit his love. God loved us simply because he wanted to, as he declares, ‘I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion’ (Rom 9:14).

Justification is not a joint-venture between God and man, as if God performs his part and man is expected to contribute his part too. Many people wrongly assume that we must contribute our good works to merit salvation, but this is contrary to the clear teaching of Scripture: ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast’ (Eph 2:8, 9). Salvation is a gracious gift that we cannot earn by our works.

Others think that, although we cannot merit grace, salvation ultimately depends on the consent of the human will. The critical factor is our choice! This is another serious error. Being sinful by nature, we were not willing to come to God. God must choose us before we are made willing to choose him. That is why Scripture says that ‘it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy’ (Rom 9:16).

From beginning to end, from God’s election in eternity past to our glorification at the last day, salvation is found in God’s initiative and work alone. ‘Even when we were dead in trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ -- by grace you have been saved’ (Eph 2:5).

The Purpose of Salvation

Why did God save us? Why did he save us by grace? One good answer is simply this: we were unable to save ourselves or contribute the least merit to our salvation. If it weren’t for God’s initiative and unmerited favour, we would have been forever doomed.

A more fundamental reason relates to the purpose of salvation. Evidently, we enjoy innumerable blessings that convey God’s goodness to us. But the ultimate purpose is not man-centred -- God saves his elect for his own glory. God saved us ‘that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus’ (Eph 2:7); and again, his purpose is to ‘to make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory’ (Rom 9:23).

In heaven, we will not be bragging about our merits and our good decisions; we will forever praise the glory of his grace, by which God made us accepted in the Beloved (Eph 1:6). The redeemed are the trophies of God’s grace; he will be forever glorified in us!

© Dr Joseph Mizzi. 2008. Permission is given to reproduce and distribute this article in any format provided that the wording is not altered and that no fee is charged. Please include the following statement on distributed copies: Copyright Dr Joseph Mizzi. Website: www.justforcatholics.org. Used by permission.