READ : 1 Peter 1:13-25
As Christians we believe that our salvation is totally free, a gift of God’s pure grace. Yet we also realize that it comes to us at an infinite cost.
While traveling some years ago, I was asked one day to preach in a small village in northern India. The setting for our open-air service was a field near the village well, where a temporary shelter had been erected against the burning sun. We gathered under a roof of palm fronds, with the congregation in rows upon the ground, men on one side, women and children on the other. Around the fringes stood a scattering of observers, Hindus from the village whose curiosity drew them to our gathering. After a time of singing and the sharing of testimonies, I stood up to preach. I began that day by reading from First 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
Christians worship a Lord whom we cannot see, I explained to that, for me, very different congregation. In fact, we’ve never seen him, at least with our physical eyes. But even though Christ is not visibly apparent to us, nevertheless we love him and believe in him and are filled with joy at every thought of him. Faith in Christ and love for Christ are the two things that distinguish every authentic Christian. So why do we trust and love a person whom we’ve never seen? The reason isn’t hard to find. It’s set out a bit later in First Peter 1, in the text I chose for my sermon in that Indian village on that long-ago, memorable afternoon:
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, niv
Redeemed: From What?
The central idea in that quotation is the idea of redemption. It’s a word very familiar to most Christians, perhaps too familiar. “Redeemed how I love to proclaim it, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb,” goes the old gospel hymn, “Redeemed, redeemed, his child and forever I am.” Now that is a wonderful truth, but it’s possible we have heard it so often we no longer get the point exactly. “Redemption” is actually a metaphor, a picture word that the New Testament uses as an analogy to teach us an essential truth about our salvation.
The illustration behind the word is taken from the institution of slavery. If a person in the ancient world, a slave owner, was inclined to set one of his slaves free, he could do so by taking that slave to a temple and there pay a ransom price in money, which would effect the slave’s freedom. This transaction was called “redeeming” the slave. “Redemption” was the name of the process by which someone was freed from slavery through the payment of the proper price.
Redemption is the word Peter uses to describe what has happened to Christians. You too, he says, in your pre-Christian way of life, were once slaves in bondage, but now you have been redeemed and set free. Of course, he didn’t mean a physical kind of slavery. It wasn’t a literal bondage. This slavery involved subjection to sin, death and the dark powers of evil, and it resulted in a life of emptiness and despair. The redemption Peter’s readers had experienced was from slavery to their pagan way of life which they had inherited from their ancestors. This was a life marked by three things in particular:
First, ignorance. The first-century culture into which the gospel burst like a dazzling sunrise was chock-full of religion. People worshiped many gods; there were dozens to choose from in the ancient world, each one claiming its own devotees and promising its own benefits.
But in the midst of all that religion and all those different gods there remained a profound ignorance of the true God. When Paul visited the city of Athens he discovered among the profusion of temples and shrines an extra altar dedicated to “The Unknown God” just in case they had missed one! “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you,” he boldly declared (Acts 17:23).
Our contemporary society, with its equally bewildering variety of religious claims, needs to hear that same message. The God of the Bible whom we proclaim is the one true and living God. To know him is to know ultimate reality. To be ignorant of him is to live in spiritual darkness.
The second great characteristic of the ancient world was immorality. As Christians today we sometimes look at our secular culture and are tempted to despair. Things are bad, we think, and getting worse. There can’t have been a time as bad as this. Well, there was. The New Testament world was a cesspool of corruption, indecency and evil of every kind. Abortion, infanticide, theft and murder, sexual perversion and immorality, obscene and violent entertainment spectacles, political corruption, war all these and more were commonplace events in the world of the Bible.
The only restraint upon human behavior and the culture to which the gospel was first proclaimed was the taste and conscience of the individual. Given what most individuals are like, the results are not hard to imagine. But into precisely that culture came this good news of Jesus Christ as a startling contrast, and it produced lives of purity and love in ordinary people that shone like beacons in the darkness of a depraved society.
Third, the pagan first-century world was marked by hopelessness. “You were redeemed,” writes Peter, “from the empty way of life handed down to you.” It was a futile life, a life of vanity in the Ecclesiastes sense of the word a life without meaning or purpose, an utter dead end. People really were living, in the apostle Paul’s words, with “no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12).
The underlying despair of the ancient pagan world is seen most clearly in the grave inscriptions that have survived from Greek and Roman cemeteries. “Here I lie,” went a typical one, “Dionysus of Tarsus, sixty years old, unmarried. Would that my father had been the same.” But for Christians that kind of bleak despair was all in the past. Now they have been redeemed, set free from hopelessness, given a purpose for living and a hope that goes beyond dying.
Redeemed: With What?
Peter develops the analogy of redemption further when he reminds his readers of the price that was paid for their salvation and freedom. First he says what did not redeem us. We weren’t redeemed with any perishable thing, he writes, not with silver or gold, not by a payment of money, and not by things like animal sacrifices or human offerings, nor by our own religious efforts or good works. None of those things can redeem because they are all perishable, that is, they don’t last, they don’t have real eternal worth.
Have you ever stopped to reflect on how silly our so-called “valuables” are? I mean after all, what are they? We dig up ore from the earth and refine it into gold. We print pieces of colored paper with pictures of politicians on them. Then we agree that these things are precious and valuable, and we spend our lives working for them, and many will lie, cheat, steal and kill for them.
But they aren’t really precious. They’re all perishable, wearing out, wasting away, disappearing. Nothing like that can redeem. It takes an offering of infinite worth to set us free from sin and death and from hopelessness and despair.
Not with perishable things, but with the precious blood of Christ, says Peter. That is how Christians are redeemed. That is the price that had to be paid for our salvation. Grace is free, but it isn’t cheap. Look at what it cost God! Christ’s “blood” is a graphic reference to his death as an atoning sacrifice. He is compared to the lambs that were the sacrificial victims in the worship of the temple. The law required that those animals be physically perfect, without blemish or defect, not because that would make them sufficient offerings for sin but because it would make them fitting pointers to the true Lamb of God, the perfect and flawless Christ.
Every Old Testament offering, every unblemished animal victim, every drop of blood shed at the altar, pointed to Jesus. He did whatever it was that was necessary, that needed to be done, in order to save us, the spotless Lamb who offered his life as our redemption price.
Redeemed: For What?
Peter is not content merely to remind us from what a life and by what a sacrifice we have been redeemed. He also drives these truths home in a practical application by telling us for what purpose we have been redeemed. Live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear, the Apostle exhorts us (v. 17). If you and I have been redeemed it means that we no longer really belong to this world. We’ve been bought out of the whole system. We’re no longer slaves of sin or in bondage to the old empty, pointless way of life. Now we belong to the one who bought us. So we must act differently; we must live differently (vv. 13-14). Above all, we must strive to become more and more like the Lord whose we are (vv. 15-16).
I once came across this recipe for how to become more worldly: “Find out what the world is thinking and think it; find out what the world is wanting and want it; find out what the world is doing and do it.” Turn that around and substitute “God” for “the world,” and you have a pretty good practical agenda for how to live as if you’ve been redeemed. “Find out what God is thinking and think it; find out what God is wanting, and want it; find out what God is doing, and just do it.”