I am slowly chipping away on my book on the Free Grace alternatives to the five points of Calvinism and Arminianism. I’ve been working on the chapter about the atonement, arguing that it is neither limited nor unlimited but has different benefits for different people under different conditions. It’s so encouraging to read about the many benefits of the cross to believers and unbelievers alike. And there are several such benefits that I have not seen discussed very much in the literature. For example, consider this passage from 1 Peter:
knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot (1 Pet 1:18-19).
Jesus taught that He came to give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45), meaning the ransom price was His life. Peter picks up on that image—the image of buying slaves in a marketplace—saying that believers were redeemed (defined as “to free by paying a ransom, redeem”) not with “corruptible things, like silver or gold” but with “the blood of Christ.”
The ransom price was Christ’s blood, which Biblically symbolizes the life (Lev 17:11).
But what does Peter mean by redemption? The word itself was related to the experience of slavery. As Edwin A. Blum explains:
The Greek word lytroō (“redeem”) goes back to the institution of slavery in ancient Rome. Any representative first-century church would have three kinds of members: slaves, freemen, and freed men. People became slaves in various ways—through war, bankruptcy, slaves by themselves, sale by parents, or by birth. Slaves normally could look forward to freedom after a certain period of service and often after the payment of a price. Money to buy his freedom could be earned by the slave in his spare time or by doing more than his owner required. Often the price could be provided by someone else. By the payment of a price (lytron, antilytron), a person could be set free from his bondage or servitude. A freed man was a person who formerly had been a slave but was now redeemed (Blum, “1 Peter,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 224-225).
So the word lytroō invokes redemption from slavery. But what kind of slavery does Peter specifically have in mind?
You might think this is redemption from sin, death, hell, and the devil—the kind of “big idea” salvation that preachers and evangelists most often speak of. But read the passage again. What were they redeemed from? Hell?
knowing that you were not redeemed…from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers…
Christ redeemed them “from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers.”
Here is another benefit of the cross: redemption from a way of life.
Peter calls it aimless (mataios), which can mean “empty or futile.” Several commentators believe this is a reference to Gentile ways of living. For example, Edwin Blum says this must refer to “a pagan lifestyle rather than a Jewish one because the NT stresses the emptiness of paganism,” and cites Rom 1:21 and Eph 4:17 in support (Blum, 1 Peter, 225). And Zane Hodges agrees, adding that the “fathers and their legacy to Jewish life are usually regarded positively.” (Hodges, 1 Peter, 31).
However, other commentators think Peter was referring to empty Jewish traditions. Peter was almost certainly writing to a Diaspora Jewish audience (v. 1:1), whom he calls “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people” (2:9), which are terms for Israel. Hence, Diaspora Jews would have inherited many Rabbinic traditions to which they were enslaved, and which were critiqued by the Lord Jesus (cf. Mark 7:3-9; cf. v 13; Gal 1:14). Was Peter, then, referring to his readers’ redemption from Jewish traditions? I think that is plausible. After all, Paul could refer to Christ’s freeing us from the law (Gal 3:24-25; Rom 6:14; 7:4). And Peter knew all about the struggle to reconcile his newfound faith in Christ with inherited Jewish traditions, such as the prohibition of eating with Gentiles (Gal 2:12; cf. Acts 11:2-3). But he learned the death of Christ redeemed him and his readers from those kinds of regulations.
Just as importantly, we know what kind of lifestyle they were redeemed to—i.e., they were redeemed to live lives characterized, not by former lusts (1 Pet 1:14), or by emptiness, but by love and holiness (v 16). (I believe that the Free Grace movement should be one that promotes and preaches practical holiness.)
What is the condition to receive the benefit of this redemption? In one respect, that redemption is an accomplished fact for Peter’s readers—they are redeemed from their aimless conduct. On the other hand, their experience of that redemption seems to be still in the process of being worked out to the goal of holiness. Peter later calls them, even begs them, to lay aside sin and to grow (2:1-2, 11). Clearly, then, the outworking of that benefit of the cross in the life of the believer takes acting obedience.
Just as Peter called his readers to lay aside their traditional ways of living, I think that the Free Grace movement will have to lay aside the traditional way of thinking about the atonement as either limited or unlimited.