For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.
Spirited is a modern-day interpretation of and satirical spin on the various adaptations of Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol. In this version, Jacob Marley and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet-to-Come have spent nearly two centuries leading a team of spirits in “redeeming” one human soul every Christmas.
Looking for a soul to redeem, Christmas Present (Will Ferrell) becomes fixated on Clint Briggs (Ryan Reynolds), a renowned but despicable “win at all costs” media consultant. Despite Marley’s insistence that Briggs is an “unredeemable” soul, Present refuses to back down. The Ghosts prepare for Clint’s haunt, compiling visions intended to make Clint lament his past and dread his future. Assuming all goes according to plan, Clint will resolve to be a better person; he will be redeemed.
If you take away the catchy musical numbers, modern pop culture references, and the comedic charm of Ferrell and Reynolds, Spirited seems like the same familiar story. But there is a twist: as the haunt begins, we learn that Christmas Present’s determination to redeem “unredeemable” Briggs is personal. Present, as it turns out, is none other than Ebenezer Scrooge, the only “unredeemable” in the history of The Ghosts’ haunts to be successfully redeemed. But, as Present shares through song (excerpt quoted below) he struggles to believe he is truly redeemed—fearing that if he returns to the human world he will find he is the same old Scrooge:
Am I forever unredeemable?
Can I ever overcome
All the wrongs I’m running from?
Can my worst be left behind?
And do I deserve to find
There’s a soul who could see any good in me?
Or will I only ever be
Christmas Present’s problem is a misunderstanding of sin and redemption. Spirited’s writers equate a person’s good behavior (which is relative at best, anyway) with redemption. This is a worldly understanding of redemption — making amends or overcoming some wrongdoing or fault. For instance, “Despite being a lying, cheating rat for most of his life, having saved his neighbor’s life, Jeremy died a redeemed man.” Redemption in this sense is the idea that some good, selfless act can make up for or erase our bad, selfish behavior. This version of redemption plays out well in a lot of movies and television but does it work in real life? Let’s say you were the betrayed wife of the aforementioned fella. Would his heroic, life-saving act make up for his infidelity and dishonesty? Would that act allow you to see him as a totally different and better person? Would that act make him a totally different and better person? With this understanding of redemption, Christmas Present has good reason to doubt the efficacy of his redemption. If our redemption lies in our ability to “do good deeds” and “be better,” to never succumb to old patterns of self-serving behavior, we are most to be pitied.
Well, thanks be to God that Scripture tells us Christian redemption is different. Our redemption is not of our own doing and not just for those “really bad apples” among us. We all find ourselves plagued by the questions posed by Christmas Present. Redemption is necessary for all of us because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Before we were redeemed by Christ’s death and resurrection, we were slaves to sin and condemned to eternal separation from God. But Christ’s redemption has freed us from the guilt of our sin — past, present, and future, “being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). With Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, God purchased our freedom. Jesus paid the price for our release from sin and its punishment. Jesus gave his life in exchange for ours. Scripture is clear that redemption is only possible through his blood: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us…to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 3:13, 4:5). To be redeemed is to be reconciled, forgiven, justified, and adopted by God, our Heavenly Father.
This is the redemption Christmas Present needs. This is the redemption we all need because redemption through Christ takes away all of the question marks. Because it isn’t up to us, we don’t have to doubt the efficacy or sufficiency of our redemption: “…knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19). And it is only by this redemption that we are made new: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Christmas Present feared if he resumed his life on earth, he would fall back into his old Scrooge-y behaviors. But the root of Present’s fear was his doubt that anyone could love him because he had behaved badly in the past and would undoubtedly behave badly going forward. Our redemption as assessed by fellow humans and earthly measures will always leave us questioning. But our redemption by God through the work on the cross of his one and only Son is finished; it’s done. Jesus is the full and sufficient sacrifice for our sins, past, present, and future: “For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:14). In Christ, we never have to wonder. We know we are redeemed, fully, completely, and eternally, because God says so.
Why did Jesus redeem us? Why would God plan for our redemption? John 3:16 holds the answer, but we hear these words so often, we may have become deaf to their assurance.
Do you have trouble accepting John 3:16 as true, not in a universal sense, but in an individual, personal, “For God so loved (insert your name here)” sense? Well, hear this today, “For God so loved you—you, who lies about her dress size, who loses her temper in traffic, who pretends not to see emails asking for help with the school carnival, whose destructive behavior has caused such pain to those who love her—God so loved YOU that he gave his only Son, that if you believe in him you will not perish but have everlasting life.” And why? Why does God love you that much? Simply because you are his.