So far, in Paul's Letter to the Ephesians, we’ve heard a lot about the good news that the gospel is—that we are holy, chosen, beloved, adopted and covered in glorious grace. These things are now and forever true about us, because God says so.
And yet, we know that there’s some other stuff that seems to be true about us. Some days we don’t look especially holy. Often we fail to represent God’s family very well. We choose not to be generous in love and mercy; we don’t live with others in ways that seek their flourishing, or ours. We get mired in cycles of anger and resentment; we’re slow to forgive, if we worry about forgiveness at all. As Paul puts it in his letter to the Romans, “we all sin and fall short of the glory of God.”
The great writer, Frederick Buechner, says that the gospel is always bad news before it is good news. That may seem a little counterintuitive. But more I understand what it means to follow Jesus, the more I think it’s true. Because the closer we get to Jesus, the more we realize that our lives are out of step with what God wants. We can’t come to Jesus without recognizing that we don’t live the way we are created to live—madly in love with God and the world that God loves.
There’s a scene in Luke’s gospel, where Jesus performs a miracle in the presence of a fisherman named Peter. And when Peter sees what Jesus is capable of, when he recognizes the presence of the living God in Jesus, Peter falls to his knees and says, “go away from me Lord, I’m a sinful man.” Now, if you know the story, you know that Peter goes on to be one of Jesus’ first and most intimate disciples—he even gets named by Jesus as the “rock of the church”, the solid foundation on whom Jesus is going to establish his people. His is a quintessential good news story.
But I certainly know about Peter’s first response. In the presence of Jesus he is overwhelmed by how much he doesn’t deserve Jesus’ presence. I hear guilt in his voice. But more, I hear shame. (Guilt is feeling badly about what we’ve done; shame is feeling badly about who we are). I am a sinful man. Not, I am a man who’s committed sins; I am a sinful man. That’s who I am.
We may not voice it like that, but I believe that shame is a universal experience. We have all felt, at one point or another, like we are not holy, chosen, and beloved—by God or anyone. We all know the feeling of not living up to expectations (ours or others’). Maybe you feel that way right now.
Our verse for today says this: “In Jesus, we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.”
I said off the top that the messes of our lives seem to be true about us. And I meant that they seem that way. Whatever is contrary to what God says about us is a lie. It is not true. But still, we can become enslaved to the lie. Bound by it. That voice that whispers “why would God choose you?” “Why can’t you just stop doing that?” “Could God really call you a saint?” You know the voice, and it weighs heavy.
Paul knows that, so having told us who we are, he deals with the lies we continue to hear about ourselves or that we tell ourselves, the lies that we let define and drive us. He reminds us that there is nothing that can completely come between us and God. Anything that tries to is a lie, from which we can be freed. We have redemption (that is, freedom from slavery) through Jesus. We are freed from everything—from our shame and our brokenness, our sin and our failures—everything that would keep us from our truest selves; we are freed to be the people God says we are and nothing less.
We have redemption through is blood—in Jesus, on the cross, we see how far God will go just to have us, to free us from all the crap that gets between us and God, our best selves, each other, and creation. We have forgiveness, a fresh start. We have a new possibility not predicated on our will or effort or abilities, but a possibility made by the grace that God has lavished on us. Lavished. Our sin has nothing on God’s grace. Nothing. God’s grace is lavished on us.
And it is limitless. Every day we get to draw close to Jesus. And when we recognize that we’re living in or carrying some lie, we get to drop it at the foot of the cross and experience his grace, his forgiveness, his freedom again.
And that may be harder to do that to say. It surely is. But it’s worth it. It’s worth it to leave the lies with Jesus. Because, as another writer in Scripture says, “When the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.”
May we experience that freedom today—the redemption, the forgiveness, the grace of God as his beloved children.