It’s not about forgiveness, it’s about freedom

Have you ever tried to explain Good Friday to someone with no church background?

If you went to Sunday school and learned the standard story you probably said something like, “Well, we were bad and God wanted to forgive us because he loves us, but he’s too perfect and holy to just let us come back to him. Someone had to pay for our mistakes. So he sent his son Jesus and he didn’t make any mistakes. So God arranged for him to be killed, in our place, because we deserved to die. Only because he was perfect and died for us, he didn’t stay dead, God raised him up from the dead, and now we get to be with God too because that made it so he doesn’t have to punish us any more.”

If you said that to someone who hasn’t heard anything about the gospel I’m guessing the response you got was something like, WTF?! Literally. Then, if the person was intelligent, they would point out all of the things that are wrong with that story. “If God is so powerful,” they might ask, “Why would he need to do all that in order to forgive someone? Why can’t he just decide to forgive and then do it?”

Then they might ask, “What kind of messed up kind of love is it that you say you love someone but when they don’t obey you you have to kill them? So in order to not have to kill them you kill someone else instead?”

These are the questions they might ask, and they would be right to ask them. Because really, even though the above version is what a lot of us come away with from Sunday school or church, it is messed up, and it’s missing the entire point.

Let’s start with forgiveness. If you think that the cross was about forgiveness you haven’t read much of the Old Testament. God keeps forgiving, all the way through, without any mention of a cross. Don’t start about sacrifices either. He specifically says, again and again, that they are not the point(Is. 66:3-5, Is. 58), and aren’t why he forgives. Let’s visit the book of Isaiah for a moment for an example of this. “I, even I, am the one who blots out your transgressions, for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins.”(Is. 43:25)

Or listen to the psalmist say, “For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, And abundant in loving kindness to all who call upon You.”

And think about all the times when Jesus forgives people, long before the cross, and the response from those people who knew the law and the scripture better than anyone. “The scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, “Who is this {man} who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?””

No forgiveness isn’t the issue, and first century Jews recognized that, even if we don’t. So what was the point of the cross?

Well, let’s listen to the opinion of a 1st century Jew or two who followed him about what Jesus was up to shall we?

John wrote, “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.” (I John 3:8)

Paul said, “In Him we have redemption through His blood…And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, … But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” (Just read the 1st two chapters of Ephesians to follow that. There is so much more but I have work to do and you don’t have all day to read this to let’s just start with these examples.)

Not to forgive us, it doesn’t say, though forgiveness comes up over and over again, but to redeem us, to destroy the works of the devil. Redeem isn’t the same as forgive. Redeem is what you do to get a slave out of slavery, to get back something that you once had, and in our case, to rescue those who are trapped and enslaved out of death and into life. It’s a merchant type term that has to do with ownership and purchase. Redeem is to buy back.

It’s an important distinction, please don’t miss it. God has always forgiven and been able to do so. No, Jesus and the work of the cross was to set us free. Sin has always been merely a symptom of our enslavement, our deadness. We were dead, we were enslaved, we were without God’s spirit in us. Jesus bought us back, that day on the cross, his life for ours in a sense. But it was more than that because it says that he fought our captor and he defeated him. He won our freedom. It was not because of our sin that we couldn’t be with God, it was because of our slavery.

You see, when God set us here and carved out a place from the useless and chaotic earth for us to live, he set us a task. We were made in his own image to subdue the earth, to occupy it, to redeem it. We instead became enslaved, unable to do our task, without the life of the Spirit of God in us, dead and weak, and vulnerable.

Jesus was what we were meant to be, he fought and won where we failed to fight and died. God didn’t send his son to die so that he doesn’t have to punish the rest of his children. He sent his son to fight and rescue those of his children who were lost and enslaved by his enemy.

That’s what we remember that Jesus did this day. He fought were we could not. He won where we lost. He bought us with his own blood, and in that battle, it says, he descended into Hades, fought and won, and set us free. “I am the living one and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore and I hold the keys of death and Hades.” (Rev 1:18)

I hope you will remember this today and tomorrow and Sunday, and all the days to come. Most especially, I hope you will remember this when you try to explain what Jesus did to a person who has never heard it before.

Image by hour of the wolf and used under the terms of a Creative Commons license.

all content © Carrien Blue

6 thoughts on “It’s not about forgiveness, it’s about freedom

  1. Excellent. I reckon this is a truth God is busy restoring right now. The Gospel of the Kingdom, rather than the Gospel of salvation which the church has preached for such a long time but which is great but far less than all that Jesus won for us that incredible day.

  2. Well spoken. Although, I don't believe God made the Earth to be useless and chaotic. He said it was all "good" after he created. Love the clarity you bring to the difference between forgiveness and redemption.

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