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The Forgiveness of Our Sins

Tom Pennington Ephesians 1:7


You know, you probably know, you do know a few Hebrew words – for example, you know the Hebrew word hallelujah. That's a Hebrew word just transliterated into English in our Bibles – it means praise Yahweh. But there's another magnificent Hebrew word that you really need to know – the word is go'el. Go'el – it's sometimes translated close relative; other times, it's translated as kinsman-redeemer. It's a technical legal term taken from Hebrew family law – it's built on the idea that close relatives have responsibility for their family members. Under the Mosaic law, the go'el, the closest relative was generally responsible to protect the well-being of his relative – but he also, when that relative encountered distress and was unable to extricate himself from some crisis, the kinsman-redeemer had several specific duties. Let me just give you a few for examples.

First of all, the kinsman-redeemer was to buy back land that a needy relative had sold under duress, to ensure that the property never passed out of the family. He was to buy the freedom of those who had sold themselves into slavery because of poverty. The kinsman-redeemer was to ensure justice was done in a lawsuit that involved a near-relative, and he was to track down and ensure the legal prosecution and execution of murderers of near-relatives. By the way, this wasn't vigilante justice; this was the divinely prescribed legal method for securing the prosecution and the execution of those guilty of murder. And the kinsman-redeemer was to receive restitution on behalf of a deceased victim of crime.

So, the kinsman-redeemer played a crucial role in the Hebrew family – but this concept is so much greater than human families, because in Job 19:25-26, Job says this. "I know that my Redeemer," my go'el, "lives, and at the last He will take His stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall see God." Job refers to God as his go'el, his Kinsman-Redeemer who would vindicate him in the resurrection. In fact, the Hebrew word for redemption is related to this word go'el.

It's because of that I want us to turn this morning to Ephesians 1, because in this chapter, Paul reminds us that Jesus Christ is our Kinsman-Redeemer, and He has accomplished our redemption. Paul begins his letter to the Ephesians with the richest, most profound sentence in all of his writings – it runs from verse 3 of chapter 1 down through verse 14, and it is an outburst of praise to God for His eternal plan of redemption. It's one sentence in the Greek text, divided into three stanzas, each marked by the refrain "to the praise of His glory."

The first stanza, in verses 4-6, describes the role of the Father in the plan of redemption, and the Father's role here is described as that of sovereign election – the Father, in eternity past, chose those whom He would give to His Son as a gift of His love. The third stanza in verses 13-14 describes the role of the Holy Spirit in the accomplishment of our redemption, and that is, He is the one who applies the redemption to us, who seals us, who indwells us, who sanctifies us, and who ensures that we make it to glory. But the second stanza, verses 7-12, outlines the primary role of the Son in our redemption – these verses outline the blessings that are ours because of Christ's role in the eternal plan of redemption. And this morning, as we prepare our hearts for communion, I want to consider one great result of the work of our Kinsman-Redeemer; it's found in verse 7. Look at it with me, Ephesians 1:7. "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace." Our Kinsman-Redeemer has freed us from the guilt and penalty of our sins. In this one amazing verse, Paul outlines for us several key details about the forgiveness that you and I enjoy. I want us to reflect on our own forgiveness as we prepare our hearts for the Lord's Table – four key details about forgiveness.

The first detail he explains is the basis of our forgiveness – notice he begins, "In Him," that is, in Jesus Christ, "we have redemption." "In Him" – that speaks of Christ being our representative. We once were in Adam; that is, Adam represented us in the Garden and he failed miserably, but now Christ is our representative, we are in Him, we are spiritually united to Him by the work of the Holy Spirit, and in Him, notice "we," that is, all believers, "have," right now, literally are having, "redemption." Redemption is one of those key biblical words that, sadly, has fallen out of fashion – over the last twenty-five years, as the seeker-sensitive movement took over the church, there's been a trend to jettison the terminology of the Bible because unbelievers don't want to hear it and, frankly, believers aren't bright enough to understand it. But we ought to cling to such rich biblical words and to make sure that we understand them, so let's do that.

This Greek word for redemption literally means to buy back a slave or a captive, to make free by payment of a ransom. To make free by the payment of a ransom – if you go back to the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the first century, the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures, this word was often used for the release of a slave for whom payment had been made. And, in secular Greek, this word is also used in the context of literal bondage – criminals, prisoners of war, slaves. So, redemption – let me give you a definition – redemption is the freedom that a prisoner or slave has after someone pays the necessary price for his release. Redemption is really freedom, it's liberty – but it's been purchased by a ransom. The word emphasizes that God sets us, as sinners, free from the guilt and penalty of our sins only when the necessary payment has been made – before Christ, we were prisoners, and we were slaves. We were prisoners enslaved by sin – Proverbs 5:22 says "his own iniquities will capture the wicked, and he will be held with the cords of his sin." Jesus, in John 8:34, said "Truly, truly I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin." Titus 3:3 – we were "enslaved to various lusts and pleasures." 2 Peter 2:19 – "By what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved." You see, we thought we were free, but we were slaves – slaves to our own sin. Listen, if you're here this morning and you've never trusted in Jesus Christ, you might think you're free, but the truth is, you are a slave – if you doubt that, try changing. You're a slave, and we all were. And the situation is actually worse because we weren't just slaves – from God's perspective, we were also condemned criminals, prisoners, condemned because of our own sin. We were legally guilty, fully deserving of the legal penalty of eternal death. But Christ has redeemed us, not only from slavery, but also from the legal guilt and penalty of our sins; He rescued us by paying the necessary ransom.

So, to whom did Christ make the ransom payment? Some have wrongly taught that Christ paid the ransom to Satan; C.S. Lewis popularized that idea in his Chronicles of Narnia. But the Bible teaches that we have broken God's law, and as a result, we are not only slaves of sin, but we are under the curse of His law – and what does the law demand of someone who sins, what's the curse of the law? "The soul that sins, it shall die."[SR1] Physical death, eternal death. So, it was God's law that we had broken, it was God who pronounced the sentence of death on us, and Christ had to pay the ransom to God the Father to redeem us from our slavery to sin and also from the curse of the law, which is physical and eternal death. You say, is that clearly taught in scripture? Absolutely, in this very book – you go over to chapter 5, verse 2, and Paul writes, "Christ loved you and gave Himself up for us" – listen to this – "an offering and a sacrifice to God." He released us, He set us free from the bondage of sin and the curse of the law, which is death, by means of the ransom that He Himself paid on Calvary. Beloved, think about that – if we are in Christ, our Kinsman-Redeemer has come, and He has freed us from the guilty verdict that hung over our heads because of our sin; He's delivered us from the sentence of eternal death. Verse 7 says "In Him," literally, we are having "redemption" – it is a present reality, it is our constant possession – forgiveness.

Paul takes us deeper into this rich, biblical concept of forgiveness by explaining a second detail, and that is the cost of our forgiveness. The cost of our forgiveness – verse 7, "In Him we have redemption through His blood." That was the ransom that Christ paid for our souls. Now, sitting here in the twenty-first century, it's hard for us to fully connect with this concept of Jesus paying a ransom of His blood – but that simple phrase is filled with the richness of the Old Testament sacrificial system. As I've explained to you before – and I always love telling you again, because this is the heart of the gospel pictured in the Old Testament sacrificial system – if you had been an Old Testament Israelite and you had committed sin against God, and you wanted to make a sin offering, here's what you would have done. You would have chosen a perfect animal, and you would have taken that animal to the forecourt of the temple – and then, with great ceremony, you would have placed your hands on the head of that innocent animal, and you would have confessed your sins over the head of the animal. The point is, you were transferring your guilt to that substitute – he now stands in your place. And then – and this is shocking to the sensibilities of us today – but the priest would have handed you the knife, and with your own hand, you would have slit the throat of that innocent animal who's now dying in your place, and as the blood poured out of that animal, the priest would have captured it in a bowl, and he would have walked just a short distance to the altar, and he would have splattered that blood across the altar. And then he would have taken the proper portions of that animal and burned them on the fire on top of that altar. And the point of all of that was that the animal was dying in your place – it was crystal-clear that an innocent animal had died in the place of the sinner who deserved to die. And, to illustrate the principle of life for life, the animal could never be strangled – instead, its blood had to be shed. Hebrews 9:22, "without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness." Why? Well, Leviticus 17:14 explains, "As for the life of all flesh, its blood is identified with its life." "Its blood is identified with its life" – the pouring out of the blood pictured the pouring out of its life, the innocent dying in the place of the guilty.

But not one of those animals ever truly atoned for sin – Hebrews 10:4 says, "It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins." So, what had to happen? Our Kinsman-Redeemer had to come – He had to come and pour out His life in violent death in our place as our substitute, His life as the ransom for ours. You see, the kinsman-redeemer was supposed to show up when you had made a mess of your life, and he was responsible to step in and rescue you from what you had done – that's exactly what our Kinsman-Redeemer did. This was the purpose behind the incarnation – Mark 10:45, Jesus said it Himself, "the Son of Man" came "to give His life a ransom for many." He came to give His life as a ransom, and He did. 1 Peter 1:18-19, "You were redeemed not with perishable things like silver or gold … but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ." We tend to think of forgiveness as an easy thing, that if God wants to forgive, He can just say it and it happens – that's not what the Bible teaches at all. The truth is, forgiveness, forgiving sinners presented a huge problem for God because His justice and His holiness demand that sin be punished; He can't be just and just ignore sin. And so, the only way it could happen was through the sacrificial death of His Son. So, when Paul says that we were redeemed "through the blood of Christ," think of it as theological shorthand – he means Christ secured our spiritual rescue by means of the ransom payment of His violent death on the cross as our substitute. The price of our ransom was of infinite value.

Perhaps you've read the story – I'm fascinated by it, I came across it several years ago – but in West Africa in 1927, a blood specimen was taken from a man named Asibi who was sick with yellow fever; one man, sick with yellow fever. What's amazing is that for many years, all of the vaccine that was manufactured to combat yellow fever came from the original strain of virus obtained from that one man. It was passed down from laboratory to laboratory and duplicated and multiplied so that it could be spread to others – and as a result, the blood of one man offered immunity to yellow fever to millions of people across our world. In the same way, brothers and sisters, you and I have been rescued from the disease of sin by the blood of Jesus Christ – that's the cost of our forgiveness.

Thirdly, Paul explains the reality of our forgiveness – verse 7, "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses." This is the immediate result of the payment that Christ made to God for our redemption – it's "the forgiveness of our trespasses." The word trespasses means deviations from the path of righteousness – but they're not accidental; it's not like we sort of accidentally strayed, we wandered over the line, you know, separating our lane of traffic from others – that's not the idea at all; this word pictures our sin as conscious and deliberate. And notice it's plural; "our trespasses" describes a chain or series of individual sinful actions – we read it a few minutes ago in Ephesians 2:1; as unbelievers, we were what? "Dead in our trespasses and sins." Before Christ, we were marked by trespasses and sins. You say, well, wait a minute – unbelievers do some good things. Well, they do good things from our perspective, but they're never good in God's sight; why is that? Why, when unbelievers do things that the scriptures admonish believers to do, why does God not see them as good? Because they are done in a state of rebellion against Him – just like a king wouldn't see those who are involved in trying to overthrow his throne as doing good, even when they do good things to one another, they're still in a state of rebellion, and that's how it is with us. When God looked even at our best deeds, He saw nothing but rebellion. But, motivated by His grace, by His great love with which He loved us, and secured through Christ's death as our ransom, we have forgiveness of our trespasses – God forgave our sins.

You know, we talk about forgiveness a lot – but do you know what it is? What exactly is the forgiveness that happens at salvation? Well, in forgiveness, the scriptures teach that God makes two legal decisions. First of all, He removes the legal verdict of guilty from us. We are legally guilty of having broken God's law; He removes that guilty verdict from us. And secondly, He cancels the penalty of death that comes with it, of physical death – we'll die, but death will not conquer us; those in Christ, Jesus said will never truly die – and we're not subject to eternal death; death in the lake of fire forever, as Revelation describes it. He removes the legal verdict of guilty, He cancels the penalty of eternal death, and He did it once and forever. If Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior, then for Christ's sake, because of what He did, God has forgiven every sinful thought you have ever had, every bad attitude you have ever exhibited, every sinful word that has ever left your mouth, and every sinful act you have or ever will commit, past, present, and future. That's what Paul says here – notice Paul doesn't say God forgave you, although he does say that in other places, but if he said that, it might imply that you were just forgiven at the moment of your salvation for everything that had come before, but maybe not so much afterwards. That's not what he says – he says, literally, we are having forgiveness; God has removed the legal guilt for your offenses; He's forever cancelled the legal penalty they deserve; you have been forever pardoned by God.

It's interesting how Paul puts it in Colossians 2:13-14 – he says God, listen to this, has "forgiven us all our transgressions." "All our transgressions." But again, if you're like me, you need a little more assurance, and so, let's go to Titus 2:14. There, he says, He "gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed." So, all and every. It's an irreversible decision – we are having this forgiveness; it's what He promised in the new covenant; Hebrews 10:17, "their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more." God promises not to bring them up again, not to call them to His mind and treat us as we deserve to be treated; that's the promise He made in the new covenant. Psalm 103:12, "As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us." That is a fascinating figure of speech, because you realize, if you go north on this planet, you will eventually start going south – but if you go east, you will never run into west. He has separated our sins from us "as far as the east is from the west." Isaiah 44:22, "I have wiped out your transgressions like a thick cloud." In other words, just like you can't see anything when it's super foggy here in Texas – the cloud blots out everything further than a certain distance – God has put a cloud between Himself and our sins; He can't see them. Micah 7:19, "He will again have compassion on us, He will cast our sins into the depths of the sea."

The scriptures go overboard to try to explain to us the depth of the forgiveness of God – but do you know what's even more wonderful? And that is that forgiveness doesn't come by itself. It doesn't come by itself – it comes as part of the package of justification. You see, God has not just removed your guilt and declared you innocent of the crime; He has declared you perfectly righteous with the righteousness of His own Son. He has credited to your account the perfect life of Jesus – every perfect thought He thought, every perfect word He spoke, every perfect action He took – they've all been credited to your account, and now God sees you as if you had lived Jesus' perfect life. "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses" – that's the incredible reality of our forgiveness.

But lastly, notice in our text the source of our forgiveness – "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace." The spring that redemption and forgiveness flow from is God's grace. Christian, you need to understand God's grace – most Christians have a very weak and inadequate definition of grace. If all you think of grace as is undeserved merit, undeserved favor, you've got a bad picture of grace. Let me tell you what grace is – grace is a perfection in God that delights in doing good, not just to those who don't deserve it, but to those who deserve the opposite. Think about that – there is, in God, a perfection that finds joy and delight in doing good to those who deserve exactly the opposite. Notice He forgives "according to the riches of His grace." "According to the riches of His grace" – it's an interesting expression; think about it this way. If a wealthy man makes a small contribution to a charity, he has given from his wealth, but if another wealthy man gives a huge donation to the charity, he has given according to the riches that he possesses. That's how God forgives and redeems – it's "according to the riches of His grace." He's not stingy with grace; in fact, look at verse 8, "which He lavished on us" – God has lavished us with the riches of His grace. You know, our grace is easily expended; we offer grace, but wow, there's a pretty short tether, and there's a time beyond which it's like, okay, I'm done. God's not like that; His grace is endless. John Eadie writes, "Much grace is expended, many sinners of all lands, ages and crimes are pardoned, fully pardoned, often pardoned – but infinite wealth of grace remains." God has an endless supply, and however much grace He expends, it never touches the principal.

As of September 1, Forbes magazine tells us that the world's richest man is Elon Musk – he's worth an estimated $258 billion. Now, imagine if he decided to spend his entire wealth during his lifetime – he's 52 now; if he lives to 77, the average life expectancy for men in the U.S., he has roughly 25 years left. That means that to exhaust his current wealth, he would need to spend roughly $10 billion a year, $860 million a month, $28 million a day, $1 million an hour, and $19,000 a minute. So, unless he does something really foolish, which of course in his case is possible, he's not likely to exhaust his riches – but the riches of our God make Elon Musk look like a beggar! And here, Paul tells us that our God is rich in grace – it will never be exhausted. Look again at verse 7 – "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace." Christian, from God's perspective, we were guilty, condemned criminals, sentenced to eternal death – we were living on death row, just waiting for the sentence to be executed – but our Kinsman-Redeemer showed up and He rescued us, He set us free from our legal guilt through the ransom payment of His own suffering and His own death. We have been completely, eternally forgiven of every sin.

How do you respond to that? I can't say it any better than Lloyd-Jones says it; he says, "There is nothing in heaven or earth which is, in any way, comparable to this: that I can say 'the Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me, gave His life a ransom for me. His blood was shed, that I might be forgiven – O, the riches of His grace! O, the abundance of His love!'" And then he counsels us to do this – he says, "Go to the cross in your mind, stand there and look at it, survey it with Isaac Watts, 'See from His head, His hands, His feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down.' Stay there until you see that you never have had or ever will have a vestige of righteousness, that all your goodness is as filthy rags – but see your sins laid on Him, and see Him paying the price, the purchase price of your redemption, your salvation. Fall at His feet, worship Him and praise Him, and give yourself to Him, saying love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all." That's exactly what we do when we take of the Lord's Table together – take a moment and confess your sin, prepare your heart as the men come to serve us.

Our Father, we are amazed by the riches of Your grace. Thank You for what we have studied together this morning, thank You that You are gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin. Thank You, O God, that there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared. Lord, for us who have repented of our sins and have believed in Jesus, Lord, fill our hearts with joy and gratitude and worship and praise – may we respond even as Isaac Watts wrote, understanding that such amazing grace, such amazing love, demands our all.

And Lord, I pray that as we come now to the Lord's Table, that You would forgive our sins. Thank You that You have already, even as we have studied this morning, You have forgiven them at the bar of Your justice, in Your courtroom – the gavel has come down, and we are forever, forever forgiven. But Father, now we come as Your children who live at home with You, as it were, and we come seeking forgiveness of a Father, seeking not judicial forgiveness, but rather relational forgiveness, asking to be restored so that we can enjoy the fellowship with You that is such a sweet part of our lives. Lord, each of us, individually, in our hearts confesses our own sin to You – sins of thought, sins of attitude, of speech, of action – Father, sins of omission, what we should have done but failed to do; sins of commission, what we did completely contrary to what You have commanded. Father, forgive and cleanse us, and give us a new determination and a new resolve to walk in obedience.

Father, I also pray for those who are here this morning who don't know You, who still bear the guilt of their sins, who stand before You right now as those who are guilty and condemned – and if nothing changes, will spend eternity in hell. Father, I pray that You would use the gospel they've heard this morning to bring them to true repentance and faith – and as they see us who are believers celebrate together our Lord's death, may that be just another way, another means You use to draw them to Yourself. So, Father, as we take of the Lord's Table, receive this as our expression of gratitude and of praise and of worship, for the great plan of redemption, and for our Lord Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.

[SR1]Based on Ezekiel 18:20a.