The Real Cost of Our Redemption
“Ye know that ye were…redeemed…with the precious blood of Christ.” I Peter 1:18-19
During this holy Lenten season, it behooves us to consider in true contrition and repentance not only our many sins by which we have offended our God and Lord but also the cost of our reconciliation to Him rendered by His only-begotten Son in His work of redemption (Romans 5:10a), His all-sufficient obedience to divine justice which, in the stead and in the place of every human being, satisfied both the demands of God’s Law and its punishments required of every transgressor. Particularly regarding Christ’s passive obedience, which paid the penalty of men’s guilt, the Apostle Peter takes up the examination of that cost in the words of our title-text, which read thus in their entirety:
“Ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things as silver and gold from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a Lamb without blemish and without spot.”
Peter first reminds us of the state of depravity from which we were bought back by Christ’s wonderful work of redemption. He says: “Ye know that ye were…redeemed…from your vain conversation, received by tradition from your fathers.” The word translated in our King James Version as “conversation” really means, according to the original Greek, the “way of life” or “conduct” by which the whole human race since the fall of Adam and Eve is known, the “way of life” in which “they are all gone aside, they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one!” (Psalm 14:3). That “conduct” is “vain,” Peter says; it is empty, meaningless, and completely devoid of merit in the sight of God, because, out of all the people in the world, including those who lead an outwardly righteous and exemplary life in the sight of men, “there is not a just man upon earth that doeth good and sinneth not” (Ecclesiastes 7:20). And even we Christians, if our deeds were judged according to their merit and reckoned against our debt to God, find ourselves compelled to confess with Isaiah: “We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags!” (64:6).
This depraved condition in which we find ourselves by nature has been “received by tradition from [our] fathers,” Peter tells us. Literally, it has been “handed down” and “passed along” from generation to generation from our ancestors as their legacy of shame. “By one man [namely, Adam] sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned,” Paul writes in Romans 5 verse 12. Since the fall of Adam and Eve, all men have been conceived and born in sin, as the Psalmist confesses of his own wretched heritage, saying: “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (51:5). This “original sin” or “inherited sin” is the total corruption of our whole human nature, so that, by nature, man is, according to his spiritual heredity — which we might liken to corrupted spiritual DNA — ruined in body and soul and, as we confess in our Catechism, “without true fear, love, and trust in God; he is without righteousness, is inclined only to evil, and is spiritually blind, dead, and an enemy of God” (Explanation of Luther’s Small Catechism, St. Louis, CPH, 1943, Q/A 95). And this inherited condition of depravity and vanity “received by tradition from [our] fathers” causes us to commit all manner of “actual” sins— acts of our own doing in our rotten, wretched, vain and morally bankrupt “way of life”— whereby we “actively” transgress God’s holy Law in thoughts, desires, words, and deeds, and thereby compound the guilt passed down to us by inheritance! —Yes, even we Christians, who have been regenerated or “born again” (John 3:3) by the power of the Holy Ghost (Titus 3:5) through the Means of Grace (I Corinthians 4:15; John 17:20; I Peter 1:23; etc.), brought to saving faith in Christ, our Savior, and made new creatures (II Corinthians 5:17) in whom the New Man is now operative in a renewed (Psalm 51:10) way of life —even we Christians, because of our old sinful flesh, continue to sin, continue to do what we know we should not do, continue to do (in spite of our best intentions and efforts) what we really don’t want to do contrary to God’s Law, so that we cry out with Paul in Romans 7: “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death??!” (v. 24; cf. also vv. 18-23).
There indeed is the key, isn’t it? We desperately need to be “delivered” or redeemed “from the body of this death,” “from [our] vain conversation received by tradition from [our] fathers.” And the price did not come cheaply!! In fact, Peter here in our title-text devalues (for the purpose of our redemption) what you and I here in this world reckon to be “legal tender for all debts public and private.” “Silver and gold” —money, the “coin of the realm,” the riches of this world after which man covets and to which he looks for temporal security and the “good life”— is “corruptible,” Peter says. It is subject to devaluation in the precious metals markets of this world, to fluctuations in the world’s economy, to pressures brought to bear by geopolitical and social conditions, etc. Moreover, besides being an unstable commodity in and of itself, money, in any amount — even in the form of precious metals — is unable to compensate God for the sins of the world. The Apostle Peter calls it “gold that perisheth” (I Peter 1:7); and those who regard it as a stable “hedge against inflation” in a volatile economy and ask in precious metals commercials “What’s in YOUR safe?” comfort themselves thereby with the empty assurance of security in this transitory world, but have nothing of value for the world to come.
Money doesn’t turn God’s head they way it turns ours. (Witness, for example, the ineffectual third temptation of the devil by which he sought to “buy off” the Lord Jesus and suborn His allegiance, as we hear of his vain effort in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter four, the Gospel Lesson for the first Sunday in Lent.) —And if such “corruptible things” as mere money — even in the form of precious metals — are not able to render to God the purchase price of our redemption, how much less shall the “dead works” of sinful human beings avail before God in compensation for the debt owed to His divine justice! For “none of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him; for the redemption of their soul is precious,” writes the Lord’s Psalmist (Psalm 49:7-8).
No, my dear readers, “ye know that ye were NOT redeemed with corruptible things as silver and gold from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” Here again we see the prophetic imagery of Christ as “the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.” For, throughout the Old Testament, the Children of Israel were directed by the “shadow of things to come,” the ceremonial sacrifices ordained by God for His people then, to the one Sacrifice that would, “in the fulness of the time,” in the place of sinners, atone for the sins of the world. Among such shadows of things to come we reckon, for example, the ram caught by its horns in the thicket, which Abraham offered instead of his son, Isaac, as a substitutionary offering to God (Genesis 22:13). Then, at the time of the Exodus from Egypt, God commanded that each household slaughter a male lamb, a yearling without blemish, whose blood was to be painted on the side posts and lintel of the door of each house, and whose flesh was to be roasted with fire and eaten by the family. The blood was to be a signal to the Angel of Death to “pass over” the houses of the Children of Israel and to spare their lives, while he struck down in death the firstborn in every house of the Egyptians (Exodus 12:3-13). In commemoration of their salvation from the tenth plague of death, the Jews were to celebrate the Passover every year with a similar symbolic sacrifice (v. 14-20). This Passover Lamb, the Bible tells us, along with all the ceremonial laws of old, was “a shadow of things to come” (Colossians 2:17), a picture-in-advance of God’s Messiah, who “was brought as a lamb to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7), upon whom the Lord “laid the iniquity of us all” (v. 6) as the Sinbearer, who “offered Himself without spot unto God” (Hebrews 9:14), who “loved us, and hath given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savor” (Ephesians 5:2). In fact, St. Paul calls Jesus “our Passover” who was “sacrificed for us” (I Corinthians 5:7).
It was “the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” that “redeemed” us, Peter writes in our title-text, as the price that could not be equaled by men. It is “the blood of Jesus Christ, [God’s] Son, [that] cleanseth us from all sin,” John tells us in his first epistle (v. 7b). Christ “made peace through the blood of His cross” (Colossians 1:20), having offered it to God as the “propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:2). And “through faith in His blood,” through confidence in the all-sufficient value of Christ’s blood as the only sacrifice that avails before God, we have imputed to us the righteousness of Jesus Himself which God declared and accepted on our behalf as payment-in-full for the reconciliation of the world (Romans 3:25). Yes, Jesus’ precious blood, painted, as it were, by faith upon the doorposts of our heart, protects us from the angel of eternal death, the devil himself, who otherwise would be able to claim us as his own, hold us forever in slavery to sin and bondage to his wicked will, and destroy us ultimately with the plague of everlasting damnation! (Hebrews 2:14-15).
When you and I consider the tremendous cost of our redemption and see in the bloody sweat of our dear Savior, in the lacerations on His scourged back, in His thorn-pierced brow, and in the spike-torn hands and feet of “God manifest in the flesh,” the “precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot,” how our hearts must truly melt in humble contrition for the sins which caused His deep affliction, and how we must cling in childlike confidence to the all-sufficiency of the blood-atonement of God’s only-begotten Son for our redemption! Indeed, how the words of Luther in the Second Article take on even more significance for us in the light of our title-text, as we confess in humble gratitude for our redemption: “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord; who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sin, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death; that I may be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness!”
O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world,
have mercy upon us, and grant us Thy peace!
— D. T. M.