We have cause to celebrate because the grace of God has appeared, offering the gift of salvation to all people. Grace arrives with its own training instruction: run away from anything that leads us away from God; abandon the lusts and passions of this world; live life now in this age with awareness and self-control, doing the right thing and keeping yourselves holy. Watch for His return; expect the blessed hope we all will share when our great God and Savior, Jesus the Anointed, appears again. He gave His body for our sakes and will not only break us free from the chains of wickedness, but He will also prepare a community (a peculiar people, a treasure) uncorrupted by the world that He would call His own—people who are zealously passionate about doing good works. So, Titus, tell them all these things. Encourage and teach them with all authority—and rebuke them with the same.
I want to talk today about grace. The classic biblical definition is ‘unmerited favor’ – God has given us favor not because we are good, but because God is good.
- We are saved or justified by grace (Romans 3), which is why we can’t boast in our own righteousness.
- Our spiritual gifts are determined by the grace He gives us (Romans 12)
- Grace is how God’s power is seen in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12)
- Our faith is a gift of grace (Ephesians 2)
But we also hear interesting language about how we can grow in grace.
- Luke 2:52 says that Jesus increased in wisdom , stature, and favor with God and man. ‘Favor’, though, is charis, the word most commonly used in the New Testament for ‘grace.’ Jesus increased in grace – which is not how we normally think of grace.
- Paul talks a lot about the unmerited favor God gives – then notes in Romans 15 that duties come with it (proclaiming the gospel)
- Grace can even be set aside (Galatians 2:20-21).
So while we receive grace, we are not meant to be passive recipients. We have been given a gift that we must steward. Let's revisit this passage to see how this unfolds.
"We have cause to celebrate because the grace of God has appeared, offering the gift of salvation to all people. Grace arrives with its own training instruction: run away from anything that leads us away from God; abandon the lusts and passions of this world; live life now in this age with awareness and self-control, doing the right thing and keeping yourselves holy."
The first work of grace is salvation. It cannot be earned or bought; it must be given by God, who has offered this gift to all people. But there is an ongoing work of grace in our life that continues to do something spiritually profound in us.
“God’s saving grace is a training grace which makes man’s life sound in every respect.” (Concordia Self-study Commentary)
“Grace has a discipline. We generally think of law when we talk about schoolmasters and discipline; but grace itself has a discipline and a wonderful training power too. The manifestation of grace is preparing us for the manifestation of glory. What the law could not do, grace is doing…. As soon as we come under the conscious enjoyment of the free grace of God, we find it to be a holy rule, a fatherly government, a heavenly training.” (From Spurgeon's sermon Two Appearings & the Discipline of Grace)
Spurgeon observed that the discipline of grace had three results —denying, living, looking.
Grace trains us to “love not the world, neither the things that are in the world” (1John 2:15). “Be not conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2), because the “friendship of the world is enmity with God” (James 4:4). We are admonished to run away from anything that leads us away from God; to abandon the lusts and passions of this world. This is not about rejecting popular cultural trends that are morally neutral. You can love baseball and apple pie and even U of M football and not be in sinful conformity to the Spirit of the Age in the United States.
This has to do with our spiritual allegiance. What do we love? Who do we worship? What gets our ultimate allegiance? To what do we give our bodies as a living sacrifice???
We cannot be a holy people – separate, distinct, called out – without there being some kind of separation from the worldview of the earthly kingdoms around us. 1 John 2:16 puts ‘everything in the world’ in three categories: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.
- The lust of the flesh: bodily pleasures such as sex, food, drink, entertainment. This is the over-indulgence, misuse, and perhaps addiction to God-given physical gratifications. It’s a relentless catering to our appetites, living as if we are nothing more than animals driven by instinct and programming.
- The lust of the eyes: envy and greed for things that are not bad in themselves but which we don’t have and we covet: money, things, homes, vacations, cars, clothing – dare I say even spouses? It’s a relentless unhappiness with what we have while craving what others have. This is different from admiring beauty or success, or seeing things around us that inspire us to do or achieve more. This has to do with lustful attitudes of the heart.
- The pride of life: an unquenchable thirst for popularity and applause and a prideful display of success. Some translations say “the pride of the age” – craving and flaunting that which people associate with success. This isn’t about legitimate satisfaction in our accomplishments or the gratification of being recognized. It’s the flaunting of ourselves, the relentless self-promotion because of how amazing we think we are. It’s easy to point at the rich kids of Instagram and think, “Stop showing off”; it’s harder to look at ourselves and offer the same critique.
Grace has training instructions: run away from these things because they will lead you away from God. But Paul does not simply tell us what to reject; he tells us what to embrace.
Our life: self-controlled (sensible).
This is restraint over our thoughts and actions. If we are growing in grace – if God is at work in us – we will be in the training process of becoming more self-controlled. God’s grace enables us to govern ourselves in ways we could not before and that we could not do without Him. This does not mean we will be perfect. It does mean that one sign God’s grace is real and active in us is that the trajectory of our life is characterized by self-controlled living.
- Not responding with knee-jerk anger like we once did
- Learning how to think two or three times about that defensive comment we were about to post on Facebook
- Counting to ten before responding to our kid who pushes our buttons
- Not wasting time watching TV when we should be honoring other responsibilities in your life.
- Not being controlled by our appetites (food, drink, sex, money, pleasure)
The grace of God enables us to grow in self-control.
Our relationship to others: righteousness
This is conformity to the will of God (Matthew 13:17; 23:29; Matthew 27:4, 19, 24) and the teachings of Jesus ( Matthew 5:17-20 ). It is doing something God commanded as an act of worshipful obedience for His glory.
We are righteous when we are in a right relation with God through the salvation that He offers through his grace. Since Jesus has made us righteousness – that is, placed us in right relationship with God through his death – it is our duty and privilege to live righteously – that is, live as those who are in right relationship with God (more on this next week).
Our relationship with God: godly
This simply means to be fully devoted to God.
"Ungodliness refers to lack of reverence for, devotion to, and worship of the true God … Unrighteousness… focuses on its result. Sin first attacks God’s majesty and then His law. Men do not act righteously because they are not rightly related to God, who is the only measure and source of righteousness. Ungodliness unavoidably leads to unrighteousness. Because men’s relation to God is wrong, their relation to their fellow men is wrong. Men treat other men the way they do because they treat God the way they do. Man’s enmity with his fellow man originates with his being at enmity with God. (John MacArthur)
This is why we can’t settle for sin management or self-help, or think that we can ultimately solve our deepest problems apart from God. Why do we argue, really? Why do we judge, really? How do we account for our inhumanity to others? We are at odds with God, and until that is fixed, everything else will be a bandage on a wound that will never heal. It may be a helpful bandage; it may stop the relational bleeding, but it will never solve the problem.
"Watch for His return; expect the blessed hope we all will share when our great God and Savior, Jesus the Anointed, appears again."
There seems to be two parts to this: first, never losing hope in the midst of the hardship of this life because we know what God has promised for those who love Him in the life to come.
Second, never forgetting to keep our spiritual house in order. To use imagery from the Bible, we are God’s servants entrusted with stewarding the world. Just because the master has not yet returned, we aren’t excused for letting the lamps die out (Matthew 25) or squandering his money (Matthew 25) or letting his house become cluttered. It keeps us on our toes: the master is returning, and the house must be in order (1 Peter 4:17). How do we do that? Theologian A W Pink notes:
“My head may be filled with prophecy… I may think and say that I am “looking for that blessed Hope” but, unless Divine grace is teaching me to deny “ungodliness and worldly lusts” and to “live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world,” then I am deceiving myself. Make no mistake upon that point. To be truly “looking for that blessed hope” is a spiritual attitude: it is the longing of those whose hearts are right with God.”
I’m going to add one more to Spurgeon’s list: Communing, or building community.
He gave His body for our sakes and will not only break us free from the chains of wickedness, but He will also prepare a community (a peculiar people, a treasure) uncorrupted by the world that He would call His own—people who are zealously passionate about doing good works.
Envision a church community passionate about doing good work – not out of self-righteous attempt to earn salvation or impress others, but as a response to God’s grace. Jesus has placed us in right standing with God; how can we do anything less than honor him with our life through our obedience? This a what a community uncorrupted by the world looks like:
- Self-controlled instead of giving in to the lust of the flesh. Committed to learning what it means to respond carefully and wisely; to make choices that honor the pleasure God has placed in the world without giving in to sinful self-indulgence.
- Content instead of giving in to the lust of the eyes. Committed to applauding the success of others without anger and jealousy; thanking God for the blessing He has given rather than thinking of all the potential blessings He has not. Enjoying our success with humility.
- Humble rather than full of the pride of life. Committed to rejecting the desire to be applauded and seen and instead faithfully doing what God calls us to do even if no one notices.
- Alert for Christ’s return, which means we are always house-cleaning our own house first, then helping others where it’s appropriate while never forgetting the future hope that awaits us.
- Zealously passionate for good works. Actively looking for every opportunity to pass on what the grace of God has given to us.
This is the kind of community that Christ would call his own – and dare I say, a community that gives us a taste of heaven.