A Celebration of Redemption
Forgiveness, Grace, Salvation
Last week, as we started our study of Ephesians, we started looking at Paul’s outburst of praise in Chapter 1. If you recall, verses 3-14 are one sentence in the Greek, giving the impression that this was one continuous, joyous thought from the apostle Paul. Last week we saw how Paul rejoiced in the fact that the Father has had a plan to save believers from before the creation of the world. We were reminded of the good news that salvation is not dependent on what we do, but rather on what God does in us.
In verses 7-10, we see a shift in focus. Verse 7 begins with the words, “In him…” This is referring to Christ, the second person of the trinity. Paul shifts from talking about the glorious blessings we have because of the Father, to now talking about the blessings we have through the Son. So, this morning, we fix our attention on the Son. The apostle Paul tells us of three different gifts that come to us through the Son.
We see the first blessing we have through the Son in the first part of verse 7,
In him we have redemption through his blood…(Eph. 1:7a, NIV)
Paul says that through Christ, we have redemption. Redemption is a word that we don’t often use in English, so it may not be clear to us exactly what Paul is saying. But to Paul’s original audience, the word redemption would have given them a vivid understanding of what Christ had done.
In the first century, slavery was commonplace in this part of the world. People could be born into slavery, they could become slaves after being defeated in battle, or they could sell themselves into slavery in order to satisfy a debt. Regardless of how they became slaves, the effect was that they essentially became the property of the one who owned them. So a slave could be traded or sold the same as property would be. But a slave could be set free if someone paid the “redemption price” required by their owner. Once that price was paid the one who had paid it could set the slave free. This was an image that would have been familiar to Paul’s original audience.
A more accessible example for us might be if you were in debt to the IRS, and they seized all of your assets and threw you into prison as a payment for the debt you owed. You would essentially have no recourse, since because you were imprisoned you would have no means of satisfying your debt. Imagine, however, if someone went to the IRS and negotiated a settlement. This person would pay off your debt, they would pay any penalties you had incurred, they would request that you be released from prison and have your assets returned to you.
This is the image that Paul is using when he speaks of Christ redeeming us. The Bible tells us that each of us has incurred a tremendous debt because of our sin. It is a debt that we cannot possibly pay off. The Bible also teaches that we are in slavery to our sinful natures. In the book of Romans, Paul tells us that our slavery to sin is so severe that no one will choose to follow God, because our natural instincts are to go our own way. In many ways, it is like being in prison—we are condemned with no hope of parole unless someone else intervenes on our behalf. Jesus has not only paid the debt that we owe, but he has set us free from the prison of sin. As a result, we are free to respond to God’s call to follow Him.
It’s important to understand the concept of redemption, but it is also important that we do not overlook a couple of very important words in our text. Paul says we have redemption through his blood. He explains that our redemption was not simply a matter of God overlooking our debt. The debt had to be paid before we could be redeemed.
In Romans 6, Paul explains that the wages of sin is death. In other words, our sin incurs a debt for us that can only be satisfied by death. In the Old Testament, the people were told to offer blood sacrifices to pay for their sin. They were to kill an animal as a way of reminding them that the payment for sin was death. The same is true for us—our debt can only be satisfied by the death of someone else. The reason for this is that sin is a capital offense. We think of sin as being no big deal, but it is a treasonous act against God. As people under a death sentence, we can only be set free if the blood of an innocent person is spilt. That is exactly what happened at the cross.
We sometimes miss the point of the cross. Sometimes we think that Jesus was crucified to demonstrate God’s love for us. We sometimes think that the spread arms of Jesus on the cross were to demonstrate that He loved us “this much”. It’s true that the cross should remind us of God’s love, but that was not its primary purpose. The primary purpose of the cross was for Jesus to spill his blood as payment to redeem us from sin. Though it is at the cross that we see God’s love demonstrated, the cross was primarily about justice! In order for us to be redeemed and set free, justice had to be served, and a payment had to be made. It is only because of the blood of Jesus Christ that we can have redemption. But because of the blood of Christ, we are free!
Forgiveness of Sins
Having explained how we have redemption, Paul then takes it a step further and explains a little more about what we have received through Christ. He says that we have,
the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. (Eph. 1:7b-8, NIV)
In addition to being redeemed, we are also forgiven of our sins. Not only did Jesus set us free from bondage to our sin, he also paid the penalty for every sin we have ever committed and will ever commit. Because of this fact, we can be forgiven.
What does it mean to be forgiven? God’s forgiveness is about more than just having our sins paid for. Think about it in terms of our human relationships. Suppose you lend someone your car, and they damage it in some way. Once they have paid for the damage and gotten the car repaired, the offense has been paid for. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the relationship is restored—it will still likely be strained. God’s forgiveness includes reconciliation, restoring our relationship with Him to the way it would be if we had never sinned.
For Christians, this means that the sins we commit are no longer held against us; that God does not keep a list of all the sins we have committed so he can throw them back in our face. Forgiveness means that even when we sin, we can pick ourselves back up with the knowledge that God still loves us, and that He has not abandoned us.
Paul says we have forgiveness through God’s grace. Grace is an important word in Christianity. It means an undeserved gift. The redemption and forgiveness we receive is not something we deserve, it is something that is given to us freely. But even though it was given freely to us, it does not mean that it did not cost anything. Jesus paid a great price to offer this forgiveness to us. This is why someone has come up with a very appropriate acrostic to define the word grace: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Jesus paid the penalty for us, and has chosen to give us a new and restored relationship with God, even though we do not deserve it.
Think about the implications of this. If every sin we have ever committed, and every sin we will ever commit has been paid for, then we do not have to worry that somehow we will mess up so badly that God will no longer love us. We do not have to worry that we have messed up too many times, and that God has finally given up on us. Because of this truth, we know that we can be forgiven no matter how badly we mess up.
Some people argue that if this is true, then we should indulge our sinful natures, because we basically have a blank check to sin. They ask, “Why should I live God’s way if doing so doesn’t earn God’s favor and forgiveness?” They misunderstand the motivation of a true follower of Christ. Think about it. If you are forgiven by someone, how do you want to respond? Do you want to respond to their forgiveness by going out of your way to offend them and wrong them again? Of course not! When we are forgiven, we are drawn closer to that person because they have extended grace to us.
It is the same way with Christ. We do not follow God’s commands because he requires us to do so in order to be forgiven. We live according to God’s commands because it is the way we can best honor the One who has given us so much. Our obedience isn’t an attempt to earn forgiveness; it is a response to forgiveness.
There is one more implication to this teaching. If we recognize the magnitude of forgiveness that we have received, we ought to be willing to forgive others as well. Jesus told the parable of the ungrateful debtor to illustrate the absurdity of a Christian who is unwilling to forgive someone else. As people who have been forgiven much, we should be willing to extend forgiveness to others—even when we don’t think they deserve it—because we received forgiveness when we did not deserve it.
Insight into God’s Plan
So we see that we have redemption through the blood of Jesus, and that because of his sacrifice we also have forgiveness of our sins. There is a third thing we have received through Jesus, and it is found in verses 9 and 10.
And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. (Ephesians 1:9-10, NIV)
Not only do we have redemption and forgiveness, but we are also given insight into the mystery of God’s will! Many today believe that life has no real purpose or direction. They are wrong.
Paul tells us that through Jesus Christ, we have a glimpse of the mystery of God’s will. The term “mystery” in the Bible does not mean a riddle to be worked out, but rather a truth that we cannot discover without God’s help. The mystery of God’s will cannot be understood through science, through examining history, or through philosophy. It can only be understood through God revealing His will to us. Through Christ, God has revealed His will to us, and given us a glimpse of what His ultimate plan is.
Paul explains what that plan is at the end of verse 10. God’s plan is to bring everything on heaven and on earth under one head, Jesus Christ. In the Greek text, there is an additional idea that is not communicated in our English Bibles. It is the idea of restoration—that God’s plan is to restore the earth to the way it was before sin entered the world; that God intends for everyone and everything to be unified in worship and service of Him. Paul reminds us that this process will not be complete until Christ returns again, but it has been underway for thousands of years.
Think about the early church. Because of the redemption and forgiveness offered through Jesus, there was unity among the believers, regardless of their background. Jews and Gentiles (who wouldn’t even eat together before) now treated each other as equals, people who were forgiven though they didn’t deserve to be. Slaves and their masters were able to worship together, because they understood that they were both servants of Christ. Men and women could view each other as equals, because both were under Christ. This process began with Christ, and continues today.
The place this should be most visible is in our churches! It is in the church that all of us should be seeking to honor the Lord above everything else. It means we should be a place where income, race, and past history don’t matter. In many ways, it is like the Olympic Games. If you watched the Opening Ceremonies, you saw countries who may be enemies in the world standing side-by-side, united for a common cause. They were willing to set aside their differences because they were less important than the things that united them. As Christians, we should be united for a cause far greater than sports—we should be united in our mutual service to the Lord who has redeemed us!
This means that Bible-believing, Christ-honoring churches should be unified as well. Though we may not always agree on exactly what it means to put Christ first, we should be unified with each other as we each seek to do exactly that. Instead of churches being in competition with each other, we should recognize that we are all working for the same goal—God’s goal—which is to point everyone and everything to Him. If we will strive to do that, we will be unified, even as we wrestle with the minor disagreements that happen along the way.
This passage is filled with rich doctrine that is essential to the Christian faith. It is important that we really seek to understand the things that Paul is teaching. But simply understanding the teaching is not enough; this teaching demands a response from us. If we understand these truths, then we, like Paul, should respond with a heart of praise. But true praise results in action, so we should also be motivated to live in a way that is pleasing to Him. Our lives should reflect the attitude of gratitude that we have.
I want to leave you with a couple of take-home thoughts from this passage that I hope you will take to heart.
First, I hope you understand the source of salvation. I hope that you see from this passage that the salvation we have in Christ has nothing to do with what we have done and everything to do with what Christ has done. We can do nothing that will make us worthy of salvation. The only way that we can be redeemed and forgiven is by the blood of Jesus Christ. Jesus says that if we will trust and follow him, then he will pay the debt that we cannot.
Practically speaking, this means that we should never say, “I’m not good enough to be a Christian”, or “God can’t accept me until I get this sin under control”, or “I’ve got work to do before I can be a Christian.” These statements are completely untrue, and they indicate a failure to grasp what Paul is saying! All you must do to become a Christian is to recognize your own sin, acknowledge your inability to fix it, and embrace Jesus Christ, who offers you redemption and forgiveness. He takes care of our sin! If today is the first time that you have really grasped that, then I encourage you to begin following him today and boldly and gratefully accept the forgiveness He has purchased for you.
Second, I hope you understand the extent of your forgiveness. I have talked with many Christians who have fallen in ways they think are unforgiveable. They feel as though they have messed up so badly that God must have turned his back on them. This is untrue. Please understand the magnitude of the forgiveness we have in Christ—there is no sin a Christian can commit that is so grievous that it is beyond the forgiveness that Christ offers us. In the book of 1 John we read these words,
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9, NIV)
When we sin (and every one of us will), our responsibility is to confess our sin to the Lord, to acknowledge what we have done without trying to make excuses to justify ourselves, and to ask for forgiveness. The Bible promises that if we will do this, we will be forgiven and made clean once more. There is no limit to how big of a sin God will forgive, because the sacrifice of Jesus is big enough to cover it all, if we will simply acknowledge our sin and humbly ask for forgiveness once more.
Third, I hope you will seek to offer the same kind of forgiveness to others. If we understand just how much God has forgiven us, we should recognize that the offenses we have suffered at the hands of others pale in comparison. As people who have been forgiven much, we should be willing to forgive much. Jesus said that those who have been forgiven much will be people who will extend forgiveness.
Fourth, I hope that you will see that God has a plan, even if we don’t fully understand it right now. Remember that God had a plan to save you before he created the world. He has a plan to ultimately restore this world to the way it was before sin—a world where everyone rightly recognizes Him as the Lord of all creation. When things get difficult, we can rejoice that we know the end. We don’t worry about the future, because we trust that God is in control and that He will restore the world to the way it should be. We can be part of that process now, seeking to put Christ first and encouraging others to do the same. When we, as Christians, are unified in that goal, we give the world a glimpse into the future that God has revealed to us, even though it is still a mystery to them.
Finally, I hope you will live with joy at the wonder of God’s love for us. Through Jesus, we have been shown a love that is greater than anything we can ever experience. The love of Jesus is greater than the love we receive from our parents, our spouse, our best friend, or even our dog. It is a love that is unmerited and yet it is also unlimited. This should give us the strength we need to carry on even as things get difficult. It should also motivate us to grow closer to this One who loves us so much. We should desire to understand him better, to serve him, and to introduce others to him.
The point I’m making is this. If we grasp what Paul is telling us, then we should understand why he was so excited. When we really understand the truth of what we have received in Christ, we should be energized. We should be people who marvel at precisely what God has done for us. But this message should not just change the way we feel while we sit in the pews today—it should change the way we live our lives, it should change the way we set our priorities…it should change everything.
In the great hymn, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, the writer, Isaac Watts reflects on precisely what we have received through the cross of Christ. The last verse focuses on what an appropriate response would be to the tremendous gift we have been given. I can’t state it better than Watts does, so I leave you with this thought:
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small:
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.