Super-athlete Michael Vick has pled guilty to dog fighting. Possibly his NFL career is over, certainly it’s on ‘hold.’
It’s his post-guilty plea statements I find curious. In part he said …
“… I’m upset with myself, and, you know, through this situation I found Jesus and asked him for forgiveness and turned my life over to God. And I think that’s the right thing to do as of right now.
Like I said, for this — for this entire situation I never pointed the finger at anybody else, I accepted responsibility for my actions of what I did and now I have to pay the consequences for it. But in a sense, I think it will help, you know, me as a person. I got a lot to think about in the next year or so.
I offer my deepest apologies to everybody out in there in the world who was affected by this whole situation. And if I’m more disappointed with myself than anything it’s because of all the young people, young kids that I’ve let down, who look at Michael Vick as a role model. And to have to go through this and put myself in this situation, you know, I hope that every young kid out there in the world watching this interview right now who’s been following the case will use me as an example to using better judgment and making better decisions.
Once again, I offer my deepest apologies to everyone. And I will redeem myself. I have to.”
I pray that Vick has found his Savior! This would be amazing grace covering a violence-addicted heart. But we’re also aware now is a great time to publicly “find Christ” in the hopes of swaying more lenient sentencing. May Vick truly find his peace in the Cross and find wise counsel from pastors in his life. We can pray to this end.
But there is a deeper lesson in these words for us all. We want to “find Jesus” and, at the same time, want to redeem ourselves. We don’t say it like this, but it’s a real struggle. We struggle against legalism because we struggle to rest our full eternal redemption into the hands of another.
Trusting in the gospel is to be eternally redeemed in Christ, relinquishing all hope of becoming redeem-able. It means crying for mercy in light of the impossible demands of self-redemption. We have seen the sin in our hearts, the holy standards of God, and cannot be redeemed today or tomorrow or in a year by our self-improvements.
In Scripture it’s one sinful tax collector and one bloody criminal hanging next to Christ that both find redemption by relinquishing self-improvement. This is hard for us to grasp in a society bent on self-improvement and image and perception. We are repulsed from the idea that our souls cannot be improved to God’s approval. We don’t want to be helpless. We need Jesus for an initial push of momentum in the right direction.
Recall what Mark Lauterbach recently wrote: “I have wondered for a couple of years where the Gospel intersects modern American life — and I think it is here. The Gospel calls us to stop trying to improve ourselves.”
At some level the words of Vick are the words of us all: ‘Redeem me so I can redeem myself.’ This prideful contradiction energizes legalism, undermines the humbling power of the gospel, undermines the grace-sustained Cross-centered life, undermines our Cross-purchased eternal security, and undermines honesty over personal sin in small group meetings.
At the least, these words reveal a false dichotomy between private, spiritual ‘redemption’ and public, PR ‘redemption.’ At the worst, Vick’s words reveal a misunderstanding of the gospel, a gospel so confused in popular culture that to “find Jesus” may now be the first step towards self-redemption.
photo (c) 2007 Doug Mills/The New York Times