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bible study colossians theologyWhat is redemption, really? Our salvation? How should we think about it? Is there a wrong way to think about it?

Salvation: A Healing or a Pardon?

I’ve been listening to some great sermons lately on my looong, once-a-week commute, that have mentioned the idea that the Church in the West perhaps over-emphasizes the idea of salvation as a legal transaction. That’s always been my understanding of it—the wages of sin is death, Christ paid the debt I could not pay, etc.

But this pastor (whom I appreciate and respect, and is probably one of my favorite preachers to listen to) suggests that the Western Church thinks of salvation as something that happens in a courtroom more than something that happens in a hospital. Jesus, after all, said He came for the sick. He draws out plenty of other examples from scripture, and tells us that in a lot of Eastern traditions salvation is primarily thought of as being healed of a disease—rather than being pardoned from a crime.

He admits, of course, that both are true. And I do think that it’s helpful to remove whatever legality we can from salvation—especially in our very self-made, works-based culture—and remember that sin is like a disease. It definitely inspires more compassion in evangelism to think that an unsaved person is spiritually ill, rather than a spiritual criminal.

Penal Substitution

I’ve also been overhearing (because I’m just over, lately, unfruitful theological debates, so I rarely wade into those waters) conversations (to put it mildly sometimes) over the concept of “penal substitution.”

Penal substitutionary atonement refers to the doctrine that Christ died on the cross as a substitute for sinners. God imputed the guilt of our sins to Christ, and he, in our place, bore the punishment that we deserve. [Theopedia]

It’s a very legalistic understanding of salvation, again. Critics like the term, “divine child abuse” (forgetting—perhaps—that Christ and the Father are One).

The Apostle Paul (and John MacArthur) on Redemption

And then John MacArthur and I were talking about Colossians 1 this morning. Verse 14 reads,

… in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

John points out that,

MacArthurApolutrosis (redemption) is one of the magnificent New Testament words expressing a blessed aspect of the work of Christ on our behalf. … It means “to deliver by payment of a ransom,” and was used to speak of freeing slaves from bondage.

And it’s not that I don’t trust John, but I wanted to be sure. He’s right. It’s #629 in Strong’s Concordance. He goes on,

The meaning of apolutrosis is expressed in our English word emancipation. The Septuagint uses a related word to speak of Israel’s deliverance from bondage in Egypt.

I like the idea of salvation as healing, of sin as a disease and Christ as our Healer. It’s completely accurate, and scripture definitely bears it witness. And I’m opposed to all forms of child abuse.

But Paul, in writing to the Colossians, seems pretty convinced that the blood of Jesus, poured out through His death on the cross, purchased our freedom from the kingdom/authority of darkness and death. And that’s pretty fantastic too.

This Week for the Persecuted Church (April 11-17)

A round-up of news on the plight of the persecuted Church. If it helps bring a little awareness, then that’s a great start. There are also some resources at the bottom for practical ways you can get involved and help our suffering family.

Christian Girl in Uganda Seriously Injured, Traumatized after Gang-Rape, Father Says – April 14

UGANDA—A 17-year-old girl was attacked by five men because her father, a pastor, refused to close his church. Uganda, as a whole, is about 85% Christian, but in the district where the attack took place, Christians are a minority.

Why Won’t Obama Help My Syrian Christian Family? – April 16

persecuted church syriaSYRIA—Not breaking news, but a testimony from a believer who survived persecution in Syria and now lives in the U.S.

There I made sure to be seen by a man who knew my family, who later told them that he saw me with the “Visitors of the Night,” as we call them in Syria.


15-yr-old Christian boy set ablaze by 2 Muslims, dies from horrific burns – April 16

PC2PAKISTAN—A teenage boy was set on fire when he answered two men who asked if he was a Christian. Although he had burns over 55% of his boy, doctors initially thought he would survive. He died early Wednesday morning, though, because the hospital didn’t have adequate burn treatment facilities.

“Nouman was brave throughout his pain and spoke of forgiveness for his attackers. He dies a martyr and will no doubt be with the Lord today,” Chowdhry said.

Italy accused of bringing in Islamist ‘terrorists’ after Christians thrown into sea – April 16

ITALY—Police are investigating claims that a clash among asylum seekers on a smuggler boat led to a dozen Christians being thrown overboard and drown in the Mediterranean.

Fifteen Muslim migrants, believed to be from Senegal, Ivory Coast,and Mali, were arrested, accused of having thrown the Christians from Ghana and Nigeria into the sea after the fight broke out. They are suspected of being responsible for “multiple aggravated murders, motivated by religious hatred”, police said.

There are, of course, dozens and dozens or other stories being told and hundreds that no one ever hears about.


Some of the sources reporting on Christian persecution include:

How to Help Persecuted Christians

Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. (Hebrews 13:3)

1. Pray

Pray first. It’s hard to know how to pray in very difficult situations, so we take our cues from the very first persecuted Christians.

Acts 4:29-30
“And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

Acts 7:60
And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

Acts 12:5
So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.

2. Give

If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? (James 2:15-16)

There are lots of ministries helping persecuted believers in very practical ways.

  • VOM Action Packs—Voice of the Martyrs sponsors large care packages that are delivered to Christians in areas of need. You can request an empty one and pack it yourself, or pay to have one packed and shipped directly.
  • Open Doors—Give toward Bible distribution efforts, community restoration, programs to advance women and children, and more.

3. Be a Voice

Raise awareness. The Christian experience in the West is very different from the Christian experience in many parts of the world, and most people—Christian or not—don’t know.

Whatever you do, don’t do nothing.

Colossians 4: On Names and Prayers

bible study colossians theologyI finally finished journaling through Colossians. (I put it down for much longer than I intended. Lame, I know.)

I’m not the only one who tends to skim over the ends of Paul’s letters, right? Greetings and reports on individuals I don’t know, ya ya … To no one’s surprise there’s some good stuff in there if I force myself to take it slowly. (Three cheers for journaling scripture.)

Some thoughts on the (formerly-) boring end passage of Colossians.

I motion we start calling ourselves something other than, “Christians.”

Paul constantly refers to himself as, “a bondservant of Christ,” and at the end of his letter to the Colossians he refers to Epaphras the same way. He seemed to like that term, and it’s no wonder why. I’m sure it make the role of a believer very clear.

More than a title, calling yourself a “slave” over and over again, has to work an effect on your psyche. More than just a descriptor used to identify people who share the faith, it must have been a constant reminder of what we do, how we live, etc.

The word “Christian” probably did the same thing at one time, but I think it’s lost its power to familiarity. If we can stand around the water cooler and gossip, refuse to tithe, never love or serve our neighbors, never go out of our way to share our faith, and still call ourselves, “little Christs,” or, “Christ-like” with a straight face … something isn’t connecting. I think it’s time to make a change.

I’m open to ideas. Let’s put it to a vote. Or let each local community decide for themselves what they need to be reminded of. During a recent ISIS attack, the terrorists mocked our people by calling them, “the people of the cross.” I kind of like that – as long as we can remember what a cross is all about. They also marked doors with an “N” for “Nazarene.” That’s a little shorter, although maybe not so descriptive.

Like I said, I’m open to ideas. But I like the idea of referring to ourselves with some language that reminds us of our purpose and calling, rather than a fraternity-esque title. Discussion is now open in the comments …

Pray for your pastors.

Paul and Epaphras had high hopes and expectations for their churches.

Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God. (Col 4:12)

The NKJV says, “perfect and complete.”

Epaphras didn’t just preach on Sunday and hold down weekly office hours. That man was invested, and he did not compromise his vision for his people. He didn’t leave “work” at the office when he went home, and he wasn’t “realistic” about how many of his church would really pursue Christ. He “always” “labored” “earnestly” in prayer for his people, that they would be perfect and complete in all the will of God.

But I’ve known a few pastors in my limited Church experience, and I’ve been in more than a few staff meetings. This is not a vision or a passion that pastors can whip up, and if we’re honest – most of us don’t make it real easy for our pastors to have this kind of hope or vision for us.

Pray for your pastors, that the Lord would give them grace to forgive, faith to believe, comfort for their wounds, so that they can pray these kinds of prayers for you.

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