How I Belong

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : 1 Peter 1:18-19

I have been bought and paid for. I belong to God, not just because he is my Maker, but because he is my Redeemer. I am the Lord’s by right of purchase.

My very first trip to India a number of years ago was a powerful experience. One of the most vivid memories I have is of a worship service that took place in a remote village in extreme northern India. Christians had come from all over that region for worship and fellowship and to welcome into their number through baptism a large group of recent converts. The believers spread a canopy on bamboo poles to create an open-air church right next to the village well. Under the awning the leaders of the service sat on chairs at the front, and in the congregation men and then women and children were separately grouped, sitting on the ground on either side. Around the fringes of the shelter peering in under the roof stood a scattering of observers, non-Christians from the village who were curious about what was going on and were eavesdropping on our worship. And off to one side a screen of palm fronds hid the cooking fires – the “church kitchen” if you will – where pots of rice and vegetables were steaming in preparation for the communal feast which was to follow.

I had been asked to preach at the service, so at the appropriate time I rose to my feet. And taking my stand beside the interpreter, I read from 1 Peter, chapter one:

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

1 Peter 1:8-9

We Christians, I explained to the assembled crowd, we worship a God whom we cannot see with our eyes, a Lord who is presently invisible. But though he is not visible to the eyes of our bodies, nevertheless we love him, we believe in him, and we are filled with joy at every thought of him. Faith in Christ, love for Christ, and joy because of Christ are the distinguishing marks of every genuine Christian. Why do we love someone whom we’ve never seen? The reason is not hard to find. It’s set forth a bit later in 1 Peter chapter 1, a text that I chose for the heart of my sermon in that Indian village that afternoon many years ago in order to preach the gospel with these wonderful words:

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

1 Peter 1:18-19

Redeemed: From What

The central idea in those verses is the idea of redemption. This is a word that’s very familiar to most Christians, in fact, perhaps it’s a little too familiar. We may heave heard it so often we no longer get its point exactly. What does it mean to be redeemed? Just what is redemption? It’s actually an image, a metaphor, a word picture which the New Testament uses as a kind of analogy in order to teach us something crucial about the ground of our salvation. The illustration upon which the word is based is a commercial one. It’s taken from the institution of slavery in the ancient world. If a slave-owner in the Roman empire was inclined for whatever reason to set one of his slaves free, he or she could do so by taking the slave to the marketplace and paying a certain price in money there, which would buy that slave’s freedom. And this transaction was called “redeeming” the slave; “redemption” was the name of the transaction by which a person was freed from slavery through the payment of the appropriate price.

And this is the word Peter uses in verse 18 of his first chapter of his first letter in order to describe what has happened to Christians when they are saved through faith in Christ. We too were once slaves in a sort of bondage, but now we have been redeemed and set free. Ours was not a physical bondage, of course, to another person. No, our slavery was something even worse. It was of a different sort, involving subjection to sin and death and the powers of darkness, and expressing itself in a life of emptiness and despair. You were redeemed, says Peter, from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers. And this way of life was marked by three things in particular as we read the New Testament against the backdrop of the first-century world:

The first was idolatry. The world of the New Testament was one that worshiped many gods. There were dozens to choose from in the ancient world, and each god claiming its own devotees and promised its own benefits. But in the midst of much religion, there was a profound ignorance of the one true God. When the apostle Paul visited the city of Athens he was startled to find, in the midst of countless temples and shrines, an altar that had been erected “to the unknown god” (Acts 17:23). So many gods and yet they were afraid they may have missed one. That God, the true God, was the God that the New Testament proclaimed to that world.

A second characteristic of this empty way of life was immorality. The world into which the gospel came was a cesspool of corruption, indecency and evil of every kind. The only restraint upon human behavior was the taste and conscience of the individual; and since these were generally depraved, you can imagine the results. But into that world came the gospel as a startling contrast, producing lives of purity and love that shone like beacons in the darkness of a corrupt society.

And finally, this empty way of life was riddled with hopelessness through and through. It was empty and futile, says Peter. It was without meaning or purpose, an utter dead end. They were truly living “without God and without hope in the world,” as Paul described the pre-Christian life of the Ephesians. But all of that was now in the past. Now they have been redeemed, set free from idolatry and immoral behavior, and hopeless despair.

And so have we if we too know Jesus Christ. The more you read the New Testament, the more you can see the dramatic parallels to our own world. Don’t we live in a culture that is morally corrupt, where vices of every kind are flourishing and where virtue is laughed at, where there are almost as many different religions as people, and where the frantic pursuit of entertainment and pleasure is a futile attempt to avoid facing the emptiness so many people feel inside.

Redeemed: With What

The apostle Peter develops the analogy of redemption further when he reminds his readers of the price that was paid for their salvation and freedom. What have they been redeemed from? From an empty and hopeless and immoral way of life. What have they been redeemed with? They were redeemed, he says, not with any physical thing – “not with perishable things such as silver or gold,” writes Peter. Money cannot save us. These things can’t possibly redeem anyone because they are, as Peter calls them, “perishable,” that is, they don’t last. And that means they can’t have any real eternal worth.

Have you ever stopped to consider how ridiculous our so-called “valuables” are? We dig up rocks and minerals from the earth, or we print colorful pieces of paper with pictures of politicians on them, and we agree that these things are precious and can buy whatever we need, and then we lie, cheat, steal and kill in order to accumulate them. But it is not so. All these things are perishable, wearing out, wasting away, being consumed. Nothing like that can redeem. It takes something infinitely precious to set us free from sin and death.

“Not with perishable things,” Peter says. No, you were redeemed with the precious blood of Christ. That’s how Christians have been set free. That is the infinitely valuable price that was paid for our salvation. As someone has remarked, grace is free, but it isn’t cheap. Look at what it cost God! Christ’s “blood” is a graphic reference to his death, to his life offered up as an atoning sacrifice.

Peter compares him to the lambs which were the sacrificial victims in the worship of the Jerusalem temple. The Old Testament law required that those animals be physically perfect, without blemish or defect, not because that would make them sufficient offerings for sin. No, because it would make them fitting symbols of Jesus Christ, the spotless Lamb of God. Every Old Testament offering, every flawless animal victim, every drop of sacrificial blood shed at the altar, pointed to Jesus. He is the perfect sacrifice, the sinless one who offered his life as our redemption price – and an immeasurably precious price it is.

Redeemed: For What

The biblical truth that as Christians we have been redeemed from slavery to sin and death and the devil by the death of Christ explains why we love him even though we have never seen him, and why we can rejoice in our salvation with an inexpressible joy. But it also explains to me why I am not my own, but belong, body and soul, in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. It’s because, in the words of the Heidelberg Catechism, “he has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.” I have been bought and paid for. I belong to God, not just because he is my Maker, but because he is my Redeemer. I am the Lord’s by right of purchase.

How crucial then that we put our faith in Christ and him alone for our salvation and redemption! Nothing but his blood can pay the price. How crucial that we tell others about this great Redeemer and Savior so they too can belong to him! And how crucial that we live like people who really have been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ and have been set free from the tyranny of the devil. As another scripture says,

Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? . . . God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20, The Message, by Eugene Peterson