This morning I was reading a book by a very well-known Christian pastor and author (and no, his initials were not R.W.) which discusses Christian leadership. In one section he speaks about a friend of his who has dedicated his retirement years to helping his local church, volunteering on a continual basis and delighting in his ability to do work for God’s Kingdom. The author relates how he once watched the man looking over a crowd of new converts with tears in his eyes, taking joy in God’s work through that local body of believers. What made me stop was how the author described this, for he said that the man looked over a crowd of “the newly redeemed.” That may not sound unusual, but it is speaks of a serious theological misunderstanding, for it assumes that those people were redeemed at that very moment – that their redemption flowed from their decision to follow Christ – that when they believed, Christ extended redemption to them.
The Bible tells us a different story. The Bible tells us of “…that great Savior, who, after such preparation, actually accomplished the purchase of redemption, and who, after he had spent three or four and thirty years in poverty, labor, and contempt, in purchasing redemption, at last finished the purchase by closing his life under such extreme sufferings as you have heard, and so by his death, and continuing for a time under the power of death, completed the whole.” (Jonathan Edwards, History of the Work of Redemption) The Bible tells us of a Savior who did not die to make redemption possible in the lives of those who would place their trust in Him, but of a Savior who actually and finally redeemed His people with His death. When Christ cried out “It is finished!” he indicated that His work of atonement was complete. He did not make atonement possible, but actually accomplished it.
When this author and his friend looked upon the crowd of new believers, they did not look upon a crowd who had been newly redeemed. No, for if these people were true believers, they were redeemed at the same moment and through the same act as the rest of the saints; Christ’s blood purchased their pardon long before they were even born. Instead, they looked upon a crowd to whom God had extended the application of this great act of redemption. We must not confuse the accomplishment with the application.
When we suppose that Christ’s redemption depends on our display of faith, we make a grievous error, exalting ourselves above our lowly station and making light of the work of Christ.
If you would like to read more about the application of redemption to believers, I wrote an article about that which you can read here. If you struggle with this, I would recommend John Murray’s short but thorough treatment of the subject, Redemption Accomplished and Applied.