Is being redeemed the same as being saved?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture 

Question: Can a person be redeemed but not saved? I’m thinking of the nation of Israel which God redeemed from slavery in Egypt. Were all the individuals in that people group believers? I'm trying to reconcile God's action in redeeming us while understanding why people might reject that gracious act.

Answer: First of all, you’ve chosen your comparisons well; the redemption of Israel from Egypt is not only a biblical type, but it’s the perfect analogy for how we understand salvation in Christ today. Yet I can see circumstances in both ages where a group that is said to be redeemed can contain some individuals that are lost. So, let’s explore that starting with Israel.

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household … when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses ….” (Exodus 12:1–8, NIV, emphases mine)

The verses above indicate that God did indeed redeem Israel as a body (which you noted), but whether or not that body contained every individual Israelite that was in Egypt, and whether every individual in the delivered body was a true believer are open questions. Here’s why.

It was the responsibility of the male head of each household to place this blood on their doorposts. If the blood wasn’t there, then the atonement did not apply to that house. This means that the Israelites had to “do” something to be redeemed. No blood, no redemption… just ask the Egyptians! But did every Israelite do this? The Sunday school assumption is yes — every Jew escaped! But the Bible neither says nor implies this. So my question is, is this a reasonable assumption?

I think it is more reasonable that, given centuries of living among the Egyptians (and growing to over 2 million people), the Israelites would have been absorbed into the Egyptian culture by varying degrees. Some would have become nominally religious (sort of like today’s nominal Christians). But I also think it reasonable that some would have identified with their host culture so strongly that you couldn’t tell them from the Egyptians. Therefore, I think it plausible that a number of these would have chosen to ignore Moses and not apply the blood, staying in Egypt while the others left (Exodus 16:3).

Now, these households would have lost their firstborn sons just like the Egyptians, but the probability that such people existed complicates some questions about Israel. Were redemption and atonement the same thing back then? Was the nation’s atonement full or limited? And/or was the nation’s redemption full or limited?

Also, what do we say about people who were atoned for successfully (as evidenced by their successful flight from Egypt) but who were later consumed by God? Were these truly atoned for? That is, were these among the redeemed? Did people like Korah wind up in Abraham’s Bosom (Luke 16:22) … and if not, please describe their redemptive state… and then translate it into New Testament terms.

“…. if the Lord brings about something totally new, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them, with everything that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the realm of the dead, then you will know that these men have treated the Lord with contempt.” As soon as he finished saying all this, the ground under them split apart and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their households, and all those associated with Korah, together with their possessions. They went down alive into the realm of the dead, with everything they owned; the earth closed over them, and they perished and were gone from the community.”
(Numbers 16:30–33, NIV)

This is why the “Sunday school” assumption about the Jews in Egypt is that every Jew was a slave… and that every Jew stayed isolated and faithful to God during four centuries of living in a pagan culture… and that every Jew was redeemed and fled Egypt successfully under Moses. I have two problems with that scenario.

First, the Bible doesn’t say this. Second, that scenario turns real live people into cartoon characters. So, sans changing people’s personalities (which is equivalent of changing their free wills), that notion has little credibility when we compare it against how life usually goes… and perhaps this is the key to your reconciling this business. Free will is a necessary part of God’s plan. But free will requires that some will reject God. It’s a sad fact, but the price of redemption is that some will be lost… and every one a volunteer!

I understand that we don’t want to burden very young children with life’s messiness. But we adults should be hearty and mature in our analyses. You see, whether or not every Jew followed Moses’ instructions and fled Egypt successfully, there is still a possibility that some would have refused to do so… or else free will is a sham. But either way, to explore the edges of redemption (which is what I believe you are trying to do), we should treat the exodus that way.

I see in the first Passover a type of God’s actions in John 3:16 where he provides redemption for all of humanity (… for God so loved the world). It’s just that not every human puts Jesus’ blood on the doorposts of their hearts… so they do not avail themselves of God’s provisions for salvation… like Jesus’ atonement for sins and justification through faith. But these are subassemblies in God’s great work of redemption, so if a person is redeemed, these will show up.

Now, we humans have no control over God’s part in our redemption. So it can still be said that God “redeemed” humanity irrespective of an individual’s response to this truth. But unless I’ve missed something and universal salvation is correct, for redemption to be efficacious for an individual (which is a different commodity than God’s redeeming people) the individual must act. Yet, the plan of redemption — which was cooked up before the foundations of the world — would persist without us.

“[Jesus] was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.”
(1 Peter 1:20, NIV)

So, can a person be redeemed and not saved? Yes… and that was the case for many of us. You see, before I came to Christ I was among the redeemed… but under another name: the elect, and this name gives us insight into how God works in time.

I received Christ at a point in time, and only then did God’s provision become efficacious for me. Before that, I was still in the category of “the redeemed” — but through the agency of God’s predestination (another subassembly). However, I was not in the category of “the saved" because I had not yet placed Jesus’ blood on my doorposts. That is, I hadn’t yet believed (Acts 16:31).

“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—” (Ephesians 1:4–5, NIV)

“But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:” (John 1:12, KJV, emphasis mine)

This is only true for people who are or will be saved, of course. It cannot be said of those who are lost that they were ever among the redeemed… even though Korah was among those redeemed from Egypt… so the comparisons have their limits. But, since what is meant by redemption can vary with the point of view, this is not a contradiction. God is not restricted by time as we are. So, we often have different points of view.

God lives in what is best described as “the eternal now” … and when Scripture is speaking of redemption, it is usually speaking from God’s point of view. Now, we often speak from that point of view too… especially when discussing redemption theologically. But when we consider it experientially, that’s another matter.

You see, there was a time when we did not believe God, and there was a time when we had not received the Redeemer… and the point of my response is that the Great Commission would make no sense unless both were true: God has indeed redeemed humankind… and humanity is in the process of being redeemed.

“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you ….” (Matthew 28:18–20, NIV)

The Great Commission is the logical next step for both God and us. God uses the redeemed to spread the news of his redemption far and wide… and this is another evidence that people can be redeemed and lost at the same time. God had done his great redemptive work before the foundations of the world, yet it’s on us to convince unsaved people that they too can be redeemed. The ones who come to God were the unsaved-redeemed one minute… and the saved-redeemed the next!

But I’m speaking technically, of course. We are much better served by thinking that there is no difference between saved people and redeemed people… because in the end, there will be none! And it is important to note that, although Israel and the Church have a lot in common, Israel’s understanding of redemption was informed more by God’s mercy while ours is informed more by his grace.

I pray that this discussion helped you sort through these complex issues.

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