Sunday, February 06, 2011

Sermon: Titus 2: 11-15 God's Grace

I wonder did you make any New Year’s Resolutions this year? Perhaps you decided that you would go to the gym three times a week; or give up eating chocolate; or read through the Bible in a year. Today is the 6th February, the 37th day of 2011. How are you getting on with them? Have they already fallen by the wayside, the new trainers now calling out to you every time you pass them, abandoned in the hall; the Bible reading planner left buried under a pile of other things at your desk or bedside table.

It’s hard to keep going at something, isn’t it? We start off so well, intending to keep up the willpower, but we fail all too quickly. Sure, you might even think to yourself, Lent isn’t too far off, and we can try again then.

Or maybe, following last week’s sermon, you resolved to be more self-controlled, or steadfast, or not gossiping and slandering, or whatever it was that God’s word said a man or woman of your position should be. We saw those in chapter 2:1-10. They say a week is a long time in politics, and it can be a long time when you’re trying to be good and more godly. Sunday, you went home from church and tried really hard, but then you went into work on Monday, and your temper was rising. The kids were playing up when you got home. An annoying relative or neighbour called. Or your own desires rose within you, and you succumbed to that temptation again. Maybe you thought that Paul was just being too legalistic, and you wrote it off as impossible to be more godly.

So how can we become more self-controlled? Are we left on our own to try and do it? Are we helpless and hopeless, trapped in the same cycle of trying to do better, failing, guilt, shame, and another stern warning from the preacher, and off you go again?

Thankfully God doesn’t leave us to try our best on our own. Rather, in our passage today, we are given the motivation for godliness, some encouragement in the fight against sin, the world, and the devil. The key to the whole passage comes in the very first words: ‘for the grace of God has appeared.’ If you were with us last week, you’ll remember that Tim was looking at how we can ‘adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour’ in the way we live. our passage follows straight on from it - ‘adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour. For the grace of God has appeared...’

You might be thinking, well, what’s so amazing about grace? What has grace got to do with how we live our lives? Hopefully today we’ll see that God’s grace leads to our godliness, and we’ll see this in past, future, and present.

So first, then, the past. Grace can sometimes be one of those slippery words that we use in church. We all use it, but we don’t always know what it means. Particularly if Paul tells us that the grace of God has appeared - how or when did grace appear, and what did it look like? Did the clouds spell out grace one day, or was there an advert in the paper? Was it when the sun shone particularly bright? No, none of these things. Rather, the grace of God appeared in that manger in Bethlehem, in the person of ‘our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ’.

Let’s look at how Paul expands on grace in the past - ‘bringing salvation for all people’ (11) and ‘Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.’ (14) Grace appeared when Jesus was born - remember how John described him? ‘full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14)

God’s grace was working in the past, in the Lord Jesus, God’s favour towards us when we don’t deserve it, through all the Lord Jesus did on earth. Look at verse 14 again: he gave himself to redeem us from all lawlessness, he gave himself to purify his people and make them zealous for doing good. We didn’t deserve for the Lord Jesus to come to this earth and die for us, yet that’s precisely what God’s grace has done. All those wrong things we have done, all gone, because God’s grace in Jesus has paid for them.

God’s grace in the past has saved us. For that alone, we could rightly sing ‘Amazing grace, how sweet the sound’. But there’s more. Look at verse 13 with me. As well as looking back to the past, and how God’s grace has been for us (in giving us salvation), we can also look to the future, to what God’s grace will do. We are ‘waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.’

We are waiting for another appearing. That word waiting probably conjures up some bad images in your head - sitting in the doctor’s waiting for your appointment; waiting at the bus stop for what seems like a very long time; waiting for traffic lights to change. We’re waiting for something much better than a bus or a green light, though. We’re waiting for the appearing. Notice that it’s not even just the appearing of Jesus, as good as that would be on its own, but look how Paul describes it: ‘the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.’ It’s the glory of Jesus we shall see as he appears. Now, the glory is veiled to us - while the heavens declare the glory of God, it’s as if the contrast on the TV is wrong, and everything is dull. But on that day, we shall see the glory of Jesus for what is really is. Notice as well that Paul isn’t referring to two people - our great God; and then our Saviour Jesus Christ. Rather it’s our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ. The king of glory is the king of grace. Jesus’ glory is his grace.

We’ve seen the glory of God in the past, where Jesus stepped into time to give himself to redeem us; and we’ll see the glory of God in the future, when our great God and Saviour appears. But what about now? What about the in-between time? Have we been abandoned between the past and the future, left to get on with things as best we can by ourselves?

You see, there are some people who would leave out verse 12 altogether. They go straight from salvation to heaven. So, for them, ‘for the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people... waiting for our blessed hope...’ So long as you have your golden ticket, you’re sure you’re going to heaven, then you can just sit around waiting. You’ve nothing more to do. It’s as if you’re saying to Jesus in a Star Trek type of way ‘Beam me up Scottie.’

That would be great, wouldn’t it - become a Christian, and no more worries, nothing to do, just do what you want while you wait. But it’s not what Paul says. Let’s see God’s grace in the present. ‘For the grace of God has appeared... training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age, waiting...’ The grace of God leads to godliness; we’re changed to be more like Jesus, not through stern words or guilt or willpower or manipulation; but simply through the motivation of grace.

God’s grace in Jesus trains us to firstly, say no. Some of you may remember the slogan that was everywhere following the Anglo-Irish Agreement in the 1980s. I can remember it being on a big banner strung across the front of the Council Offices in Hillsborough: ‘Ulster Says No.’ It was no to Dublin interference in Northern Ireland, no to this new Agreement. God’s grace trains us, teaches us, helps us to say no to ‘ungodliness and worldly passions.’ Those things that are ungodly, those things that we do which are unChristlike, God’s grace helps us say no to these things. It won’t happen all at once - we’re still going to fall and fail sometimes, but bit by bit, we find that we stop doing those things which are unhelpful, and can give up our old habits. What has grace to do with it, though? Well, we’re reminded of what Jesus has done, the great price he paid to save us (he gave himself); and the desire Jesus has for us to be more like him.

It’s not just negative though. It’s not just that we give up things, and stop doing things. God’s grace is also positive, as it helps us ‘live self-controlled, upright and godly lives.’ We don’t just say no to ungodliness, we say yes to godliness - those things we thought of last week; you notice self-controlled is there again!

It isn’t easy to live for Christ, seeking to please him, being changed to be more godly. It doesn’t come naturally at all. We can’t do it in our own strength. Rather, God’s grace is the motivation to live a self-controlled, upright and godly life. Again, we remember God’s grace in saving us, but also the purpose for which Jesus saved us - ‘to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.’ Jesus’ desire for you, as a Christian, is to be part of his people, all of whom are keen, zealous, to be doing good. The order is important: We’re saved, and then we do good works - not do good works in order to be saved. (Just as Paul writes to the Ephesians 2:8-10: ‘For by grace you have been saved by faith... For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works’). Zealous for good works, not just a miserly ‘good deed for the day’, but always seeking to be doing good, prompted by God’s grace working in our lives by the Holy Spirit to make us more like Jesus.

The grace of God has appeared, as Jesus gave himself to save us; the grace of God will appear, as Jesus returns. As we look to the past and to the future, we find God’s grace training us to become more like Jesus, day by day. Perhaps you’ve never experienced this grace - even today, you can see God’s grace which is for you - have a word with me and I’ll happily show you God’s grace. Or maybe you’ve been a Christian for a short while, or a long while. You’re discouraged by your sin, wondering if it’s all worth it - take some time to reflect again on God’s grace which gives you what you don’t deserve, will be yours for time and eternity, and which helps you on the journey.

Tis grace which brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

This sermon was preached in St Elizabeth's Church, Dundonald on Sunday 6th February 2011.

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