Finally, after attempting my first ever sermon series on sex, and surviving it, I would have to say that is was a much more enjoyable experience than I would have imagined. Enjoyable? Yes, because it was obvious from the student’s facial expressions, to the tears, to the comments afterwards, to the many emails that I received, that speaking on sex was a much needed subject. It’s a much needed subject, especially in our culture which is drowning in a distorted view of sexuality, and how God designed it to be.
The series began by looking at the overall picture of Sex, Christianity and Culture, and followed with posts focusing on “Created Goodness”, “Sinful Distortion” and “Redeemed Potential.” These are descriptions that I borrowed from late Christian ethicist, pastor, author, theologian, Lewis Smedes. Those seemed like appropriate, beautiful descriptions of the predicament we find ourselves in sexually. “Created Goodness”: Looking at how God designed sex, and brought man and woman together in the Genesis 1-2 account. “Sinful Distortion”: Looking at the ways we have taken the goodness of sex, and how God created it to be, and how we have taken it into sinful, destructive directions. “Redeemed Potential”: Looking at how we are all given the opportunity through God’s grace and mercy, to be forgiven, to be redeemed, and to move forward in our lives, out into a new direction.
So it is with that in mind that I finished my last sermon in this series, looking at that very issue of, “Redeemed Potential.”
The word “redeemed” is a very interesting word, especially in the Biblical sense. It’s a word that comes off the tongue very easily, very smooth, and it has a very nice and beautiful sound to it. “Redeemed.” “Redemption.” Sounds good. But thought it’s a word that sounds beautiful, it is very different underneath the surface. Underneath it’s a very gritty, and disturbing, and dirty word. Not dirty as in bad, but dirty as in not being clean. It’s a dirty process that brings about a beautiful result. What is beautiful to us, cost someone something. It cost God His Son Jesus Christ, and the cost was death. It’s a beautiful word, that was brought about by a bloody process.
It is a word that in the New Testament means to “buy back a slave or captive”, or making someone “free by payment of a ransom.” It means “to release.” Outside of the New Testament its meaning was very similar to the ancient Greeks, where it could mean “to be relieved of an occupation” or to “permit to leave a country.” It is the process by which one leaves a former state, and heads down the path into a new life, into something better. But as you can see, there is a cost. The cost is not on our part though which is the beautiful thing from our perspective. The cost, the ransom, the release, was paid for by someone else.
In the Bible you can see this word used in various contexts, whether its the words of Psalm 130:7, where the people sing about redemption as they ascent to the temple to worship. Or maybe it’s the words of Jesus in Luke 21:28, where he talks about the end times and the destruction of the temple, and the redemption that waits. Maybe it’s Paul’s words in Ephesians 1:7, where he talks about the redemption brought about by blood. The blood of Christ. Paul continues this theme somewhat in Colossians 1:14 talking about redemption and the forgiveness of sins. Or what about this haunting and beautiful image in Hebrews 9:12: “He entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.” Wow! And then there is this passage with which I think we can most often identify with, especially when our body, soul, mind and spirit has been wracked by sin. Romans 8:22-25, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
When it comes to redemption in the sense we are talking about, the redemption of our sexual sin, there is not a specific word. Rather, redemption is a much larger word, one that covers all sin, sexual or not. It is a word that covers the whole messy process of our lives. It is the process that cleanses us from our pasts that are not pretty, whether we struggled with sexual sin (pornography, hooking-up, pre-marital sex, etc.). God’s redemption brings life out of the death that was consuming us while we were still yet slaves in bondage.
What does redemption look like then if you have failed sexually? Well, I think it can look like many differnet things. Or it can take on many different forms. There is no pattern, there is no step by step process, but I do think the Bible can bring some of these things to light.
1) I think it’s a realization on our part that we can’t continue to live life or fight sin on our own. It’s a realization that we are fallen people and that there is a different way to live life. A life that God is offering us. I see this in the story of John 4, where Jesus confronts the Samaritan woman in her sin, and offers her “livng water.” He offers her a new way to live. But first of all he makes her aware of her sin, and that there is a better way. “Jesus said to her, ‘Go call your husband, and come back.’ The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” (John 4:16-18). Jesus gets to the point, pointing out her sin, but offering her a new life, a new way to live. I think we too must come to the realization of our sin, and choose the life that God has offered. Sometimes we realize it on our own. Sometimes it’s through our friends and family and other times God steps in and brings it to our attention.
2) It’s a conscious decision of accepting God’s grace and mercy, and leaving our life of sin. Sure we will still sin in our life, because we will not be perfect. But I think God is asking us to leave our intentional life of sin that we so often live and relish in. We know if we are in a sinful sexual relationship, and that we must get out. We know if we have the tendency to drink too much and get drunk. We know these things. We know these sins we must leave behind. To be offered a new life, a new way to live, also means completely leaving the life you have lived…behind you. In John 8:10-11, after Jesus helps the woman caught in adultery, he says to her: “Jesus straightened up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one sir.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.'” This is a beautiful story of redemption that calls us to go and sin no more.
3) Redemption, and being redeemed is always the process of choosing life over death. Time and time again throughout the New Testament, especially in the gospels, Jesus offers people a new life. Jesus even goes so far as to break some of the rules, commandments, and philosophies of the day in order to bring life to someone. Jesus heals a crippled man on the Sabbath (John 5), seeing the bigger picture, while the religious leaders around him only see the violation of the Sabbath. This is the God, the Jesus that we worship, who is always about the work of redeeming us.
Ultimately, I think redemption is a word best understood when it is in action. It is a word that I could translate, define and parse, but what good is a word like that unless it is in the process and work of people’s lives, and in the work of God. When we can get our eyes and hands around it, and get an image, or a glimpse of what it looks like, then we often have a better understanding of what that means to our lives.
I believe that those who have most strayed from God, are often the most capable, and most humble in understanding what true grace, true mercy, and true redemption means. We can be Christians who grow up in the church our whole life, throwing around words, very important words like redemption, without really knowing what they mean. Without really knowing the cost of those words. Without really knowing the grittiness and underbelly of what makes a word like redemption sound so beautiful. I think the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32 is a story that can best communicate the meaning and the image of redemption. Someone like the prodigal son who has left everything, and who has strayed far from God; so far that he is living with the pigs; that is someone who really understands redemption. That is someone who knows what it means to be in far away lands, away from the Lord, but then to return, without questions, without judgment, but rather in a place of grace and love and mercy. We often do not get that. Maybe that’s why I keep a copy of Rembrandt’s Prodigal Son in my office. To remind me of what redemption looks like. Maybe that’s why I love reading Henri Nouwen’s book, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming.
Images can best often convey redemption and the act of redeeming better than words. Maybe it’s something like the movie Shawshank Redemption where we get a glimpse of a man who has been wrongly imprisoned, swim and climb his way through sewage, only to come out into the open and free. Or maybe it’s the scene from the movie, The Passion of the Christ, where Mary Magdalene is wiping up the blood of Jesus, while reflecting on her past, and how Jesus redeemed her from the crowd that was about to stone her. It is a moving scene, as she crawls up from the ground, while Jesus stretches out his hand to her. Redemption: This process, by through the blood of Jesus, He reaches down into our lowly and sinful state, and pulls us up into new life.
Or maybe it’s the beautiful scene in C.S. Lewis’, The Chronicle of Narnia. In the book, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, there is a beautiful, and captivating scene in which the boy turned dragon, Eustace, is confronted by the lion Aslan, who is the God figure. In this scene Eustace recounts how he tried to strip off his layers of dragon skin, only to discover there were more layers than he could take off. It wasn’t until he allowed Aslan the lion, to pierce his skin with his sharp claws, and pull off layer after layer. It is a scene of redemption that only comes about when we submit to God, and allow Him into our lives to clean up the mess we have made.
No matter what you have done, or how you have lived your life, you have never run far away enough that God has left you. And if you don’t know Christ, maybe now is the time to know Him. When people come to me and say that their life is too messed up, that there is no possible way that God would take them back, I just have to say to them. Have you read the Bible? Have you seen the lives of the people in the Bible, lives that God took, and redeemed, and whom He used to serve Him. What about the Apostle Paul, who we find in Acts 8 murdering and persecuting Christians, and who in Chapter 9, God gets a hold of, and redeems.
Redemption. A beautiful word that rolls off the tongue. But a word that cost God greatly.
For more information on these topics, link to the previous blogs below, as well as linking to the articles on the right side of this page under current sermon information.