Christ Has Redeemed Us

Bible Studies

How Christ Has Fulfilled the Function of Redeemer to Acquire Salvation for Us.

Here, Also, His Death and Resurrection Are Discussed, as Well as His Ascent into Heaven

(The effects of the obedience and death of Christ, 5-7)


Now someone asks, How has Christ abolished sin, banished the separation between us and God, and acquired righteousness to render God favorable and kindly toward us? To this we can in general reply that he has achieved this for us by the whole course of his obedience.  This is proved by Paul’s testimony: “As by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience we are made righteous” [Romans 5:19 p.]. In another passage, to be sure, Paul extends the basis of the pardon that frees us from the curse of the law to the whole life of Christ: “But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, subject to the law, to redeem those who were under the law” [Galatians 4:4-5]. Thus in his very baptism, also, he asserted that he fulfilled a part of righteousness in obediently carrying out his Father’s commandment [Matthew 3:15]. In short, from the time when he took on the form of a servant, he began to pay the price of liberation in order to redeem us.

Yet to define the way of salvation more exactly, Scripture ascribes this as peculiar and proper to Christ’s death. He declares that “he gave his life to redeem many” [Matthew 20:28 p.]. Paul teaches that “Christ died for our sins” [Romans 4:25 p.]. John the Baptist proclaimed that he came “to take away the sins of the world,” for he was “the Lamb of God” [John 1:29 p.]. In another passage Paul teaches that “we are freely justified through the redemption which is in Christ, because he was put forward as a reconciler in his blood” [Romans 3:24-25 p.]. Likewise: “We are …justified by his blood …and reconciled …through his death.” [Romans 5:9-10.] Again: “For our sake he who knew no sin was made sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” [2 Corinthians 5:21.] I shall not pursue all the testimonies, for the list would be endless, and many of them will be referred to in their order. For this reason the so-called “Apostles’ Creed” passes at once in the best order from the birth of Christ to his death and resurrection, wherein the whole of perfect salvation consists. Yet the remainder of the obedience that he manifested in his life is not excluded. Paul embraces it all from beginning to end: “He emptied himself, taking the form of a servant …and was obedient to the Father unto death, even death on a cross” [Philippians 2:7-8 p.]. And truly, even in death itself his willing obedience is the important thing because a sacrifice not offered voluntarily would not have furthered righteousness. Therefore, when the Lord testified that he “laid down his life for his sheep” [John 10:15 p.], he aptly added, “No one takes it from me” [John 10:18]. In this sense Isaiah says, “Like a sheep that before its shearer was dumb” [Isaiah 53:7; cf. Acts 8:32]. And the Gospel history relates that he went forth and met the soldiers [John 18:4], and that before Pilate he did not defend himself, but stood to submit to judgment [Matthew 27:12,14]. Not, indeed, without a struggle; for he had taken upon himself our weaknesses, and in this way the obedience that he had shown to his Father had to be tested! And here was no common evidence of his incomparable love toward us: to wrestle with terrible fear, and amid those cruel torments to cast off all concern for himself that he might provide for us. And we must hold fast to this: that no proper sacrifice to God could have been offered unless Christ, disregarding his own feelings, subjected and yielded himself wholly to his Father’s will. On this point the apostle appropriately quotes this testimony from a psalm: “It is written of me in the Book of the Law [Hebrews 10:7] … ‘that I am to do thy will, O God [Hebrews 10:9]. I will it, and thy law is in the midst of my heart’ [Psalm 39:9, Vg.]. Then I said, ‘Lo, I come’” [Hebrews 10:7]. But because trembling consciences find repose only in sacrifice and cleansing by which sins are expiated, we are duly directed thither; and for us the substance of life is set in the death of Christ.

(The condemnation through Pilate)

The curse caused by our guilt was awaiting us at God’s heavenly judgment seat. Accordingly, Scripture first relates Christ’s condemnation before Pontius Pilate, governor of Judea, to teach us that the penalty to which we were subject had been imposed upon this righteous man. ewe could not escape God’s dreadful judgment. To deliver us from it, Christ allowed himself to be condemned before a mortal man — even a wicked and profane man. For the title “prefect” is mentioned, not only to affirm the faithfulness of the history, but that we may learn what Isaiah teaches: “Upon him was the chastisement of our peace, and with his stripes we are healed” [Isaiah 53:5]. To take away our condemnation, it was not enough for him to suffer any kind of death: to make satisfaction for our redemption a form of death had to be chosen in which he might free us both by transferring our condemnation to himself and by taking our guilt upon himself. If he had been murdered by thieves or slain in an insurrection by a raging mob, in such a death there would have been no evidence of satisfaction. But when he was arraigned before the judgment seat as a criminal, accused and pressed by testimony, and condemned by the mouth of the judge to die — we know by these proofs that he took the role of a guilty man and evildoer. Here we must note two things that had been foretold by the oracles of the prophets, and which greatly comfort and confirm our faith. When we hear that Christ was led from the judge’s seat to death, and hanged between thieves, we possess the fulfillment of the prophecy to which the Evangelist referred: “He was reckoned among the transgressors” [Mark 15:28, Vg.; cf. Isaiah 53:12]. Why so? Surely that he might die in the place of the sinner, not of the righteous or innocent man. For he suffered death not because of innocence but because of sin. On the other hand, when we hear that he was acquitted by the same lips that condemned him (for Pilate was more than once compelled to give public testimony to his innocence [e.g., Matthew 27:23]), there should come to mind the utterance of another prophet: that he repaid what he did not steal [Psalm 69:4]. Thus we shall behold the person of a sinner and evildoer represented in Christ, yet from his shining innocence it will at the same time be obvious that he was burdened with another’s sin rather than his own. He therefore suffered under Pontius Pilate, and by the governor’s official sentence was reckoned among criminals. Yet not so — for he was declared righteous by his judge at the same time, when Pilate affirmed that he “found no cause for complaint in him” [John 18:38]. This is our acquittal: the guilt that held us liable for punishment has been transferred to the head of the Son of God [Isaiah 53:12]. We must, above all, remember this substitution, lest we tremble and remain anxious throughout life — as if God’s righteous vengeance, which the Son of God has taken upon himself, still hung over us.


The form of Christ’s death also embodies a singular mystery. The cross was accursed, not only in human opinion but by decree of God’s law [Deuteronomy 21:23]. Hence, when Christ is hanged upon the cross, he makes himself subject to the curse. It had to happen in this way in order that the whole curse — which on account of our sins awaited us, or rather lay upon us — might be lifted from us, while it was transferred to him. This was also foreshadowed in the law. Now the sacrifices and expiations offered for sins were called “Ashmoth,” a Hebrew word properly signifying sin itself. By using this term figuratively the Holy Spirit intended to intimate that these were like sacrifices of purification, which take upon themselves and bear the curse due for sins. What was figuratively represented in the Mosaic sacrifices is manifested in Christ, the archetype of the figures. Therefore, to perform a perfect expiation, he gave his own life as an Asham, that is, as an expiatory offering for sin, as the prophet calls it [Isaiah 53:10; cf. 5:5], upon which our stain and punishment might somehow be cast, and cease to be imputed to us. The apostle testifies this more openly when he teaches: “For our sake he who knew no sin was made sin by the Father, so that in him we might be made the righteousness of God” [2 Corinthians 5:21]. The Son of God, utterly clean of all fault, nevertheless took upon himself the shame and reproach of our iniquities, and in return clothed us with his purity. It seems that Paul meant the same thing when he says of sin, “He condemned sin in his flesh” [Romans 8:3 p.]. The Father destroyed the force of sin when the curse of sin was transferred to Christ’s flesh, there, then, is the meaning of this saying: Christ was offered to the Father in death as an expiatory sacrifice that when he discharged all satisfaction through his sacrifice, we might cease to be afraid of God’s wrath. Now it is clear what the prophet’s utterance means: “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” [Isaiah 53:6]. That is, he who was about to cleanse the filth of those iniquities was covered with them by transferred imputation. The cross, to which he was nailed, was a symbol of this, as the apostle testifies: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, when he became a curse for us. For it is written, ‘Cursed be every one who hangs on a tree,’ that in Christ the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles” [Galatians 3:13-14; Deuteronomy 21:23]. Peter means the same thing when he teaches: “He himself bore our sins … on the tree” [1 Peter 2:24], because from the very symbol of the curse we more clearly understand that the burden with which we had been oppressed was laid upon him. Yet we must not understand that he fell under a curse that overwhelmed him; rather — in taking the curse upon himself — he crushed, broke, and scattered its whole force. Hence faith apprehends an acquittal in the condemnation of Christ, a blessing in his curse. Paul with good reason, therefore, magnificently proclaims the triumph that Christ obtained for himself on the cross, as if the cross, which was full of shame, had been changed into a triumphal chariot! For he says that “Christ nailed to the cross the written bond which stood against us …and disarmed the principalities … and made a public example of them” [Colossians 2:14-15 p.]. And no wonder! For “Christ …through the eternal Spirit offered himself,” as another apostle testifies [Hebrews 9:14]. From this came that transmutation of nature. But that these things may take root firmly and deeply in our hearts, let us keep sacrifice and cleansing constantly in mind. For we could not believe with assurance that Christ is our redemption, ransom, and propitiation unless he had been a sacrificial victim. Blood is accordingly mentioned wherever Scripture discusses the mode of redemption. Yet Christ’s shed blood served, not only as a satisfaction, but also as a laver [cf. Ephesians 5:26; Titus 3:5; Revelation 1:5] to wash away our corruption.


There follows in the Creed: “He was dead and buried.” Here again is to be seen how he in every respect took our place to pay the price of our redemption. Death held us captive under its yoke; Christ, in our stead, gave himself over to its power to deliver us from it. So the apostle understands it when he writes: “He tasted death for everyone” [Hebrews 2:9 p.]. By dying, he ensured that we would not die, or — which is the same thing — redeemed us to life by his own death. He differed from us, however, in this respect: he let himself be swallowed up by death, as it were, not to be engulfed in its abyss, but rather to engulf it [cf. 1 Peter 3:22, Vg.] that must soon have engulfed us; he let himself be subjected to it, not to be overwhelmed by its power, but rather to lay it low, when it was threatening us and exulting, over our fallen state. Finally, his purpose was “that through death he might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage” [Hebrews 2:14-15]. This is the first fruit that his death brought to us.

The second effect of Christ’s death upon us is this: by our participation in it, his death mortifies our earthly members so that they may no longer perform their functions; and it kills the old man in us that he may not flourish and bear fruit. Christ’s burial has the same effect: we ourselves as partakers in it are buried with him to sin. The apostle teaches that “we have been united with Christ in the likeness of his death” [Romans 6:5, KJV], and “buried with him …into the death” of sin [Romans 6:4]; that “by his cross the world has been crucified to us, and we to the world” [Galatians 2:19; 6:14 p.]; that we have died together with him [Colossians 3:3]. By these statements Paul not only exhorts us to exhibit an example of Christ’s death but declares that there inheres in it an efficacy which ought to be manifest in all Christians, unless they intend to render his death useless and unfruitful.

Therefore, in Christ’s death and burial a twofold blessing is set forth for us to enjoy: liberation from the death to which we had been bound, and mortification of our flesh.

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Philadelphia, 1960), Book II, Chapter 16, pp. 507-512

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, The Library of Christian Classics, XX-XXI. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960.

Bob Vincent