Summary: Fifth in a series taken from Ephesians 1, this series delves into the riches that we know through our relationship with Christ.
Well…he’s back. Exactly thirty years after we first learned the name Apollo Creed, thirty years after we first heard the strains of “Gonna Fly Now”, thirty years after we first heard him cry, “Adrienne”, and sixteen years after we last saw him on the silver screen, this Christmas, Rocky Balboa is returning. Yes, it’s true, confirmed this week, ironically just as Brent is discovering Rocky for the first time (we watched the five-picture set together recently). I don’t know which of the films is your favorite, but mine is Rocky II, and in that film, we see Rocky evening the score with Apollo, getting what some would term “redemption”. Redemption…not a word we use a whole lot today; my mother used to collect S&H Green Stamps, though, and she’d redeem them every so often. Do a Google search on the word and you’ll find that there is a group that goes by the name “Redemption”, billing themselves as a “progressive metal power band”. Whatever.
“Redemption”…of that word, theologian B.B. Warfield said that “it’s sad to see a word die”. He was lamenting an increasing reticence to use that term in order to describe what Christ has done for us. Even our translation today doesn’t actually use the word itself, though it does a reasonably good job of defining it. Incidentally, Warfield’s been dead for many decades. Why is it that this word has fallen out of disfavor? Well…because some of the things that redemption implies aren’t in vogue today, in our age of “discard theology in favor of relevance”.
“I find people today are not looking for theology”, says the handsome young man who pastors what is apparently the largest church in America. And so his habit, and the trend in so many pulpits today, is to preach on so-called “practical” issues, to try to be “relevant”. Now…being practical is great, but I think that dealing with the most realistic, practical problem people have—that of being estranged from a holy God because of their sin—is the first and most practical issue people face. I have this sad vision of thousands of people who have memorized tips for making their kids mind, and have gotten on a budget, and have gotten a bit of a grip on their anger, who have never been born again—and in Jesus’ economy, this is the starting place, and without a firm grasp on the reality of my sin, I will not come to Jesus as Savior. Understanding and appropriating the redemption made for us in Christ Jesus is utterly essential, not only to life eternal, but to living in the here and now as well.
And so we wrestle a bit today with that word that seems to be dying away from disuse and, in some quarters, from distaste: redemption. Notice that the first implication of the word is
1. The Plight
The plight of those of us before Christ. It’s implicit in the very word: for one to be redeemed implies that one is in some unsatisfactory situation. A person must be redeemed from something. And that something is sin.
The problem is that we underestimate the gravity of our sin. First off, we don’t like the word; it isn’t used in polite company today. Karl Menninger wrote a book entitled Whatever Became of Sin? for this very reason. As Dr. Bill Long said, “…sin is no longer a topic that is preached on or taught. It doesn’t attract members to congregations and it doesn’t keep them there. It flies pretty directly in the fact of the upbeat message that we must inculcate in the young in order to keep the economic engine of America going. Sin has no place…grace rather than depravity, (is) the word that people want to hear.”
Sin is endemic. As we’ve said before, we’re “natural born sinners”; it is our common condition. All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory, the Bible tells us.
Sin is vile. Do pigs stink? Well, that depends; we say that they do, but to pigs stink to other pigs? JC Ryle, “The very animals whose smell is most offensive to us have no idea that they are offensive; fallen man has just no idea what a vile thing sin is in the sight of God.” Similarly, we categorize sin—sure, some of it is bad in our eyes, but some of it we excuse and condone; we tend, I think, to conform our thinking more to the cultural ethos than we do to the Bible. We’ll agree that certain forms of sexual perversion are wrong, that racism is evil, that Enron-style greed is sinful; at the same time, envy is something to be encouraged, as is pride; gluttony a sin? Please! Gossip? A little fudgin’ here and there? We don’t tend to see sin as the vile thing it is, but