Is there a distinction between forgiveness and redemption?


First, I must say that your web site is fantastic!  There is much cool stuff here that I wish I had more time to read.

At Bible class last night, the issue of forgiveness vs. redemption and taking away sin came up.  The issue, and my question, is whether forgiveness and redemption are the same thing.  I decided to mosey around your web site, and found several sermons relating to forgiveness. I plan to consult them to find Scriptures that might shed insight onto this issue.

But there is a related issue that I didn't see any sermons addressing, I thought I would ask you directly. One of the arguments presented to support a distinction between forgiveness and redemption or taking away sin was to note that Leviticus 5 (esp. v. 12-13) makes a connection between animal sacrifices and forgiveness.  Yet Hebrews 10:4, 11 clearly says that animal sacrifices couldn't take away sin.  Thus it is argued that forgiveness and taking away sin are distinctly different things.  Do you have any insights on how to understand this?


If I asked you to select one word to describe yourself, you might pick one that stands out most in your mind, but you would grumble that just one word would not be adequate to cover all aspects of your personality. And I would definitely agree. Have you noticed that few things are described by just one word? Jesus is the Word, the Christ, the Son of God, the Son of Man, Lord, and many more descriptive names. Christians are disciples, children, virgins, citizens, slaves, and many other descriptive names. Each describes an aspect of a person, some might overlap, but no one word covers the entirety of person at the same time.

I am both a husband and a father. They are not the same thing, but they cover some common ground. For instance, they both indicate that I am male. But a man can be a father without be a husband, and a man can be a husband without being a father.

This problem of single words being inadequate to describe a person extends to concepts as well. Think about all the terms related to salvation:

  • Saved
  • Redeemed
  • Forgiven
  • Sins blotted out
  • Take away sins
  • Wash away sins
  • Purified
  • Cleansed
  • Reconciled
  • Delivered
  • A new life
  • Escaped
  • Released

I'm sure there are more, but none of the ones listed above are exactly the same, yet they are interwoven to express an idea that one word cannot adequately express.

Forgiveness expresses the idea that there is a debt owed and that we are being released from that debt. For example, if you loaned someone a hundred dollars, but decided that you didn't want it all back, then that debt has been forgiven, in whole or in part. Since once aspect of sin is that it creates a debt of death (Romans 6:23; Galatians 6:7-8). Once a debt is forgiven, it cannot be collected upon later.

Redemption revolves around the concept of something being sold which justice requires being bought back. Rather than repeating the details, take a look at the article "The Living Redeemer."

Taking away sins, or washing away sins, views sins as a smudge or dirt upon a person's life. It is corruption that needs to be removed so that the person can become spotless.

Salvation sees a person being lost because of his sins. Being saved is being rescued from that lost condition.

Each concept is not the same, yet each each sheds light on the idea concerning how the impact of sin is removed from a person's life.

Yes, animal sacrifices could not remove sin. It took the death of the Son of God to accomplish this. But those who offered sacrifices could be forgiven of their sins because in their obedience they could look forward to the coming rescue by the Messiah. "And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance" (Hebrews 9:15).

It is much the same as how we speak of salvation today. We are saved from our sins when we rise up out of the watery grave (Romans 6:3-7; I Peter 3:21), but in reality we don't actually receive our salvation until we enter heaven. So we can be saved and not yet saved at the same time. We can speak of our salvation because of our hope and our faith that God keeps His promises. "This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast" (Hebrews 6:19). We can speak of it as a given, though not yet received, because we know that God's Word is sure. For the same reason, people under the Old Law could speak of their redemption (Job 91:25) and forgiveness (Leviticus 4:20) even though the Redeemer had not yet brought the means of forgiveness to the world at that time.

Thank you very much.  Your comments were very helpful.  In addition, Ephesians 1:7 seems very helpful to my inquiry because it appears that Paul speaks of redemption and forgiveness in parallel, seemingly using them as synonyms.

A further question:

You wrote:

"We are saved from our sins ... but in reality we don't actually receive our salvation until we enter heaven. So we can be saved and not yet saved at the same time."

This sounds sensible, but could you supply a scriptural basis for this?  Specifically that "...we don't receive our salvation until we enter heaven"?  Would it be better to say that it isn't finished, rather than saying we don't have it?  For God has promised to dwell in us and such even in this life. Your comment makes sense, but is still a bit jarring.  But perhaps I simply feel a reaction against it due it running counter to "what I've always heard," but which the Bible may not actually teach.


Past tense:

"For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees?" (Romans 8:24).

Present tense:

"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (I Corinthians 1:18).

"Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you--unless you believed in vain" (I Corinthians 15:1-2).

Future tense:

"Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him" (Romans 5:9).

All three tenses are simultaneously correct. It is what lies at the root of the difficulty some have in comprehending that a saved person can fall from grace and ultimately be lost Some people have a hard time getting their mind around the concept that we are saved because God promised salvation, but we have not yet received the promise.

"Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it" (Hebrews 4:1).

"For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise" (Hebrews 10:36).

"These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth" (Hebrews 11:13).

"By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son" (Hebrews 11:17).

"who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions" (Hebrews 11:33).

"And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise" (Hebrews 11:39).

A profitable study is to go through all the references to "promise" in the book of Hebrews. At first glance the statements in chapter 11 almost seem contradictory. People receive promises, but did not receive the promises. Yet both are true. They were given promises by God, but those promises would not be fulfilled in their lifetime or the lifetime of their children. Not until enter heaven will the promise of eternal rest be fulfilled. But people altered their lives based on those promises because the one promising is God, who cannot lie. So even though it isn't yet in our possession, we it is a fact that it is there for us and we will receive it -- if we endure.