7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He lavished on us.
Here is something I have been thinking about, which was raised by thinking about Ephesians 1:7-8 over and over again. We have redemption through His blood. Together. The trespasses are ours. Grace is lavished upon us. These are all plural pronouns. It’s either for everyone or it’s for no one – nothing less will work.
Separating Blame – a Fool’s Game
We want to separate out sin, and carefully assign the proper blame, to make sure that the trespass is yours. It is personal holiness the legalist is after, not “that we should be holy and blameless before Him” (Ephesians 1:4). This individuality and singular idea of responsibility is one of the reasons why the legalist thinks behavioral holiness is even possible. They think, to hell with all those other sinners, but I can control myself. It is far more important to know that I am holy and blameless, than to try to worry about the whole lot of everyone being holy and blameless. Under this mindset, if community holiness is possible, it can only done by heavy-handed control and harsh coercion. It carries none of the dynamic of welcoming sinners in love.
However, it is very difficult if not impossible to really tease out the true responsibility for the transgression. Furthermore, this is apparently an activity which God is not very interested in. We ask, “is it Eve who was responsible, or was not Adam just as responsible, for eating the forbidden fruit?” God clothed both of them. He redeemed them both because they sinned in unity. I have found that the problem in counseling isn’t that the proper blame needs to be teased out and assigned. It is the idea that this is the important endeavor at all. The real problem is unbelief in lavish grace.
Our mutual sins and the importance of Lavish Grace
And so He has lavished grace and eternal mercy on all of us who believe. Our mutual sins are lavishly forgiven as a whole. This works because it really is our trespasses which are the problem. My sins were not born in isolation. I reacted poorly to the sins of others. I was formed by my mother’s and my father’s imperfections. Yet I took them, I owned them, I responded selfishly to them. I am now formed by my 26 sinful years with my wife. I could never ever comprehend who started what, and the attempt to parse out the individual responsibility for our dysfunction is not going to solve things. Lavish grace and abundant mutual forgiveness is the only solution, and it is the biblical solution. This is the question children raise when they are fighting – “he started it!” As a parent, I know you can never get to the bottom of that question. Our sins, even our most private sins, are community problems. Shock and rejection at each others’ sins is not going to help things along. Grace is always scandalous; if your idea of grace isn’t scandalous then it probably isn’t grace.
It is this dynamic that informs 1 John 1:5-10:
5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
1 John 1:5-10
Pretense and Isolation
You see? If we pretend to be the righteous center, the ultimate judge, we lie. We have produced the sin and fostered the sin as much as anyone. The angry parent thinks they hold the moral high ground against their disrespectful child, but their anger provokes sin instead of nourishing virtue. Sin is always quite a mutual endeavor. Either the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin, or it cleanses nothing at all. Lavish superabundant “sloppy-agape” grace is the only thing that is going to restore our relationships. Anything less, any individual application of mercy, any boundary to the scope of the gospel, and there is nothing but isolation and pride and pretense. An individual’s successful “sanctification” is not what what cleanses us from all sin. It is the blood of Jesus plus NOTHING which cleanses us, because in the end that kind of lavish grace is the only thing that is going to work in community. How else is it possible that the whole lot of us could be “holy and blameless before Him?” (Ephesians 1:4).
Christian Imperatives as Belief in Community Grace
Let’s look at the imperatives in Ephesians 4-6. They are all born from this idea of lavish grace. You can boil all of them down to this: don’t withhold lavish grace from your brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul says, in many different ways, don’t believe the gospel applies only to you but not to them. Understand that the grand promises from Ephesians 1-3 apply to all of you, and not just to the elite righteous. This kind of partial belief (which is really unbelief) leads to isolation and lovelessness and sin of every kind.
The Example of Marriage
For instance, a husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church, and gave Himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25). Contrary to popular belief, the defining dynamic of this idea is not self-sacrifice. It is, as in Ephesians 1:7-8, forgiveness and lavish grace. It means forgetting about what is fair or right and loving each other despite all of that. It means letting each others’ belovedness define the relationship instead of allowing righteous judgments and expectations to define the relationship. Notice that it is lavish grace and love which allow the church to stand before God holy and blameless, and it is lavish grace which is going to be evident as the praise of God’s glory. This is to be how the marriage relationship works, and it is to be how all relationships in the body of believers works.
Our testimony: The Power of Grace!
Our overcoming testimony will not be that we transformed and became legalistically perfect. It will be that we believed that the grace and love of God defined us as a whole. We believed, despite our imperfections with each other, that Jesus is right: we are worth forgiving. We believed Jesus: forgiveness and persistence of relationship is worth great sacrifice, even death. We believed that our relationships are worth more than individual justice. Love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). In the community of faith, our mutual sins are lavishly covered in Christ. This is the basis of our love and the basis for all gospel-bred imperatives. Put faith and grace in the backseat as theologically necessary checkmarks on your doctrinal statement, and you kill Christian community. Paul gave thanks when he heard of their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and their love for one another. Just as in 1 John 3:23, we see that the two are intertwined, they are two sides of the same coin. Belief in the redemption we have through His blood leads straight to authentic community.
In the end, this is our communion. We equally meet at the table and eat the bread of forgiveness and drink the wine of the new covenant. We join in our mutual sin and receive, all together, a lavish grace which covers everything. This is our proclamation until the Lord comes again!