Teaching the Difference Between Redemption and Salvation

“Redemption” and “salvation” are two words which many unbelievers and even Christians throw around interchangeably, supposing that they both refer to the same concept: that God makes it possible for us to go to heaven.

In reality, although they are related, there is a crucial difference between the two. “Redemption” refers to undoing the effects of sin for all mankind. The word itself is based in Old English means to “buy back.” Humanity bore a debt to humanity (which it could not pay). In mercy, God used the life of His Son, Jesus Christ, as currency to pay that debt.

Consider Ephesians 1:7, In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace. However, owing to our sinful nature, which we inherit from our parents, we cannot know what God did for us. It’s like someone paid off our credit card debt, informed the bank, but we never found out. This is where the Holy Spirit walks on stage, who in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, creates faith. Through faith, the individual receives or benefits from what Jesus did for all. Paul explains this in Romans chapter three: (Sinners) are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith. 

There are a few different illustrations one might use. God puts a million dollars in everyone’s back account. Then He sends the bank vice president to let people know. God provides a medicine that will cure all the patients in the hospital. His Holy Spirit brings that medicine to the patient. Faith is the IV tube through which the medicine flows to the patient. Sinners are soldiers fighting a war on a small island. The war is over, but they don’t know it, and keep on fighting. The Holy Spirit writes the soldiers a letter telling them that the war is over because God made peace.

Why Does This Matter?

Shouldn’t we just focus on the truth that Jesus is our Savior and not bother with such specifics? Isn’t redemption versus salvation something with which pastors and professors concern themselves? The answer is twofold: the world needs to understand, and Sunday School students may have more questions than they are ready to admit or ask. Understanding the difference between redemption and salvation equips Christians to confidently respond to questions such as, If Jesus died for the whole world, don’t all people go to heaven? Jesus did indeed pay for the sins of all, but the Holy Spirit blows where He will, as Jesus explains in John chapter three.

In other words, God brings salvation according to His perfect plan and purpose. God desires that all people know what Jesus did and have the forgiveness Christ earned on the cross. However, there are some who do not want to know, and other who reject the news even after they hear it. Following the analogies included at the end of the above paragraph, some hear that they have a million dollars in the bank, but choose bankruptcy anyway. Some soldiers hear that God made peace and wants to bring them home. Nevertheless, they prefer to keep fighting and make peace on their own. It’s also important to use this lesson regarding redemption and salvation to stress the importance of sharing the Gospel.

God wants children in Sunday School to tell others about Jesus just as much as He does teachers, pastors, and missionaries. If a little boy asks why his cousin doesn’t come to church, encourage him to invite such family and friends to church. If a little girl asks why her neighbor from India isn’t a Christian, use this as an opportunity to explain that perhaps God wants to use her to bring the Gospel to that family. In every situation, stress that God loves all people and desires that they have forgiveness in Jesus and spend eternity with Him.

An Activity to Teach about Redemption

For redemption, bring in a bowl of candy. Tell the students they may have a piece, but the price is a quarter. After this reality has set in, give each student a quarter and allow them to redeem that quarter for a piece of candy. Explain that the candy is heaven and forgiveness in Jesus is the quarter. Stress that they received the quarter and candy as free gifts. This will work especially well with younger students. With middle school and older students, give each one a make-believe bill in the amount of $500. Explain that, if they are unable to pay the bill today, they will have to go to prison. At this point explain that God paid their bills at His own expense, and they are off the hook. Stress that Jesus’ death on the cross is the money God used to cover their bills. Stress that they were redeemed by God’s grace as a free gift. With the older kids, help them to understand what God does in the Holy Spirit-creating faith through the Gospel of Jesus. The idea is to make sure they are not left with the idea that redemption and salvation are synonymous, that all people go to heaven simply because Jesus paid everyone’s debt.

An Activity to Teach about Salvation

For salvation, start the lesson by telling everyone that you are having a party and that you want everyone to come. Prepare just a few invitations, and give these to a few of the students. Inside the invitation, include the message that each student receiving an invitation is to share the location of the party with another student. When the exercise is complete, explain that your party is heaven and that the invitation is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. You are the Holy Spirit, sharing the news of the party with others. Stress that, those who received an invitation are like Christians who are called to share the Gospel with those who don’t know about Jesus. Care must be taken to make sure that students are not left with the idea that God has favorites, that He only desires certain people to receive an invitation or attend the party. Reinforce that God desires all attend the party in heaven, though some will reject the invitation.

This can be a challenging topic to address. The key is to stress:

  1. God’s grace in Christ.
  2. Redemption and salvation are free to us at Jesus’ expense.
  3. God’s desire that all have salvation.

For more teaching tips, explore Enduring Faith curriculum for Sunday School & Midweek.

Preview Enduring Faith Bible Curriculum

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Written by

Erica Tape

Erica Tape is a missionary serving in the Dominican Republic. As a writer and editor, she has worked at Concordia Publishing House, at Concordia Seminary, and as a freelancer. You can usually find her practicing her imperfect Spanish, running, reading, or spending quality time with her husband and daughter.

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