…we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised (2 Corinthians 5:14-15, English Standard Version).
In biblical days redemption meant being released from slavery because someone else paid the price one owed but could not pay. Redemption meant salvation from slavery through the free, loving, and costly intervention of another.
We can understand why the word redemption has been so closely associated with Jesus. Through his free, loving, and costly death on a cross, he redeemed you and me from our own otherwise unavoidable slavery to wayward powers of evil.
But what is the scope of this redemption? From a conventional Christian point of view, Christ’s death on the cross only potentially redeems individuals from their bondage to evil. Individuals become actually redeemed only after they pay their own irreplaceable share of the cost of their own redemption. It’s as if Jesus paid $999,990 of the cost of each individual’s redemption, but each one of us must still come up with that last $10 before we are actually set free. It’s as if what Jesus did was great—but not quite enough.
From a conventional Christian point of view, Jesus made it a whole lot easier for all of us to buy our redemption, but each one of us still needs to come up with the last $10 ourselves. To come up with that last $10 we need to publicly acknowledge Jesus as our personal savior ($4), be baptized in his name ($3), join a true church ($2), and conform more or less to that church’s approved list of do’s and don’t’s (at least $1).
Concerning conformity to that church-approved moral code, we each need to net at least $1 between our baptism and our death. Each day we earn credits to our account by thinking, saying, and doing good things and debits by thinking, saying, and doing bad things. We also earn a big credit by doing something really good and a big debit by doing something really bad. If we are consistently gooder than we are badder, we may even earn more than the $1 needed in our moral conformity account to get into Heaven. If so, we provisionally belong to those redeemed by Christ on Earth. If we have a balance of at least $1 in our moral conformity account at the moment of death, then we actually and permanently belong to those redeemed by Christ as we join him in Heaven.
Of course, we may actually fail to come up with all $10 on our own. We might not accept Jesus as our savior at all. Or, for those of us who are conventional Christians, we might profess Jesus as Savior, be baptized, and join a church, only to fail in the end to conform well enough to our church’s approved moral code. It would be as if we had come up with $9 of our final redemption payment through profession of faith, baptism, and church membership, but had a balance of only 37 cents in our moral conformity account at the time of our death. In that case we would end up in Hell. We almost belonged to those redeemed by Christ, but not quite. Pity.
So, from a conventional Christian point of view, those actually and permanently redeemed by Christ are those who, only since the resurrection of Jesus, have heard the Good News of his $999,990 payment toward their personal redemption and then have earned the remaining $10 by publicly acknowledging him as their personal savior, being baptized in his name, joining a true church, and conforming with the church-approved moral code more often and in a more serious way than not. We may safely assume that the number of persons meeting these conditions has been quite limited compared with the total number of persons who have lived. Therefore, the scope of Christ’s redemption has been and will remain rather limited. That leaves Hell quite crowded and Heaven rather empty.
There is a more mischievous way of looking at the scope of redemption. To begin with, we might affirm that—through his death on the cross—Jesus paid all $1,000,000 of the cost of redemption for those to whom it applies. Not one of those so blessed needs to come up with even a penny of the cost on their own. Jesus already has made them free citizens of the Kingdom of God—both here on Earth and continuing in Heaven. Their privilege now is to think, speak, and act like it.
Furthermore, we may affirm that Jesus has paid the whole $1,000,000 cost of redemption for every single human being who has lived, is living, or will ever live. When he died, he defeated all the powers of evil and set them on the doomed defensive. When he was raised from the dead, all human beings without exception were raised with him to newness of life as free citizens in his kingdom. Some people do not yet know this. Others do not yet believe it. But their subjective ignorance or stubbornness does not alter what Jesus objectively accomplished in the place of all and on behalf of all. From this point of view, all those whom Father created, Jesus redeemed; and all those whom Jesus redeemed, Spirit will glorify.
Oddly enough, however, we must admit, even from this point of view, the possibility of exceptions. Let us grant for the moment that what Jesus accomplished through his crucifixion and resurrection applies equally and without condition to all persons. He redeemed all persons created by Father to live as free citizens of his kingdom in this age and in the age to come by the power of Spirit. Some, however, choose to remain openly hostile or callously indifferent to his gracious liberation of them. Some choose, absurdly, to devote themselves to doomed though still destructive powers of evil that seek only to hurt them and others through them. Though Jesus did redeem them, he may yet allow them—if they want it that badly—to experience the same end as those powers with whom they identify so strongly. In that case, the scope of redemption would still include most people but nonetheless Hell would not be empty.
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