Our Redemption Accomplished through God’s Love

March 10, 2016

by William Edgar

We cannot redeem ourselves. No religion, however beautiful, however lofty, can move us out of the bondage of sin into the freedom of God’s children. Many religions have engaging cultic practices, whereby God or the gods are appeased through ritual. Many affirm lofty ethical obligations that improve the believer by discipline and conformity to various laws. But in the end, the different systems, however noble in themselves, cannot open the doors of heaven, for no matter how elaborate the cult or rigorous the moral practices, nothing can fully satisfy the requirements of a truly righteous and holy God. The sober truth is that “none is righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). We are not so much missing basic information as we are unwilling to process the information we have correctly. To put it another way, the fall is not so much downward, in scale, but lateral, in ethical revolt. It is often said that even if someone may not know how to find God, at least his sincerity will be rewarded. Two problems refute this idea. First, how could sincerity ever atone for guilt? And second, who can honestly claim sincerity?

However, there is good news. God has left heaven and come to earth to find us and bring us back in, throwing the gates wide open. Unlike the different religious systems of the world, which urge us to ascend to heaven through ritual or obedience, the God of the Bible descends to our level and pays an unspeakable price to purchase our redemption. We do not have to earn it; we cannot. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). And so now, no one who is in Christ will be condemned (Rom. 8:1). Not only that, but we can now walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4). What no religion or philosophy could do, God has done for us, by his Son Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:3). Here is grace, amazing grace. Reformed theology insists on the fullest possible statement of this wonderful truth: redemption is accomplished.

Here, we have a wonderful mystery: love is God’s deepest characteristic, yet love is driven not by obligation but by the one who loves.

What reasons can we possibly recognize for this matchless plan of redemption? We do know the primary answer, although it puts us on the threshold of inexhaustible wonder: the love of God! The reason for the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in view of our reconciliation with God is God’s unalterable love. Once again, the best-known verse in the Bible puts it powerfully and simply: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). It is significant that this text comes on the heels of an interview between Jesus and Nicodemus, a well-placed Pharisee who struggled to understand the spiritual significance of Old Testament teaching in the light of Jesus’ presence in the world. Nicodemus had a number of things right, but he could not quite see that the kingdom of God was at hand. Nor could he see that all of the ancient prophecies about judgment were being fulfilled, not by the expulsion of the Roman oppressors but by Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, come in human flesh, to expose the world and its guilt, in order to prompt many people to believe and be saved (John 3:17–21). And behind it all is the love of God.

God so loved the world . . . Why would God love a world gone horribly against him? We cannot say. Why would God love such an unlovely object? We cannot find any reason beyond the character of love. We have an ultimate here, and blessedly so. It is true and of great significance that God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). We saw earlier that his being love is as much a characteristic of God as his being spirit and light. God cannot choose to be anything else but love, for that is who he is. And yet, it is of the very essence of love not to be obligated to express it toward such undeserving objects as we. Here, we have a wonderful mystery: love is God’s deepest characteristic, yet love is driven not by obligation but by the one who loves. . . .

In the way Blaise Pascal might have put it: God’s love for his people in a fallen world is not awakened by anything else but reasons of his heart, which reason cannot fathom. He did not plan redemption because all along he knew that the fall would occur and that he would have to save us anyway. The death of Christ did not earn God’s love. Nor did God love us because he saw great potential in us. There is no reason we can fathom for his redeeming love. How liberating, though, to be able to stop right there! If in a human relation we ought not to ask, “Why do you love me?” all the more should we not ask this of God.

This piece is adapted from William Edgar, Truth in All Its Glory: Commending the Reformed Faith (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2004), 151-153. Used with permission of the publisher.

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William Edgar

Dr. Edgar (DThéol, Université de Genève) is professor of apologetics at WTS.

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