Sunday, May 25, 2014

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

I wonder if you’ve ever received one of those mailings which declares that you have been chosen at random from a draw you didn’t enter to win a guaranteed £50,000. If it doesn’t go straight into the bin, you might wonder, what’s the catch? You read the small print to discover you have to buy something from a catalogue, or send a small deposit to continue to see what you’ve actually won. The new version is the spam email from an African country where if you give them your bank account details to help them move a small fortune then you’ll be handsomely rewarded. Except you realise quickly that the only movement will be the money out of your account, and delete the emails.

Things seem too good to be true. We’re brought up to see that you don’t get anything for nothing. We have to work hard for what we’ve got; and to make sure that you pay your way. Just think of the spectacle of two ladies fighting over which one of them is going to pay for their morning coffee. We can’t quite accept anything for free.

When it comes to God, we expect to have to work hard to become acceptable to him. We expect there to be a check list of things to do so that he will love us - pray, read your Bible, give to charity, avoid temptation and all the rest. And last Sunday, as we looked at the passage immediately before our reading today, we found lots of things to do. There were specific instructions, a teaching curriculum for different groups of people in the church - older & younger men and women. Maybe you went away last week thinking - finally - something to do or something to try. So you tried to be more self-controlled or less addicted to wine or whatever your bit was. But as the week went on and life happened, with stress at home or work, you discovered that it’s not easy to be self-controlled. The more you tried, the harder it became. The more aware you were of failure. Well, don’t give up.

This morning we have the key to the Christian life; the secret that brings peace and energy for our walk with God. It’s the motivation to live in the way that we saw last week and it’s found in our reading this morning. The apostle Paul is writing to Titus, a church leader on the island of Crete. He’s spelling out what Titus needs to do as he teaches the church and appoints leaders. Paul knows that what we believe affects how we behave. So Paul is urging Titus to teach the truth, which accords with godliness. When we believe the truth, we’ll show it in our lives.
And here is the truth. Here is the reason why we are to live out the truth. ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.’ Salvation has been offered to all sorts of people, and it’s entirely free. Grace is God’s gift, undeserved, but gladly and graciously given. There is nothing you can do to earn God’s grace, just receive it as a gift. Now I don’t know if ‘Baptism presents’ is something that happens (and if you’re a guest of the family today, don’t panic if you haven’t brought anything!), but imagine you give a gift to Erin today. What would you think if Catherine brought out her chequebook and asked how much she owed you for it? You’d say, no, it’s a gift, it’s free. Please just take it.

Now imagine that you’re Erin. You’ve received so many beautiful gifts. If she could talk, I’m sure she would express her thanks and wonder and amazement. We have nieces who are a little bit older, and when they receive a new t-shirt, they’re amazed that they got something. They want to tell everyone that auntie soandso gave me this!

When we receive salvation as a free gift, it will change how we view God. We want to do what pleases him; we don’t want to do those things which harm our relationship with him. And look at the way in which grace works in this. ‘For the grace of God has appeared... training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions...’ Some of us may remember back to the mid-1980s, after the Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed. Unionists were dismayed at that agreement. Across the province banners displayed the message: ‘Ulster says no.’ Grace prompts us to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions. If God has been so gracious to us, we don’t want to carry on doing those things that separate us from him.

But grace helps us to do more than just say no. Grace also helps us to say yes to other things. There used to be an advertising slogan: ‘The bank that likes to say ‘yes’’. As we say no to ungodliness, so grace helps us to say yes to live ‘self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age.’ The types of things we find in the first part of chapter two. You see, it’s not that we have to do those things in order for God to love us. Rather, because God loves us, we’ll want to do these things.

And all the more, because God’s grace has given us something to look forward to. Verse 13. We’re waiting for our blessed hope. So often, waiting is seen as a negative, whether it’s waiting on a bus which doesn’t seem to come, or waiting in the doctor’s surgery. But we’re waiting for our blessed hope - the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.

It’s more like the eager anticipation of preparing the nursery for the arrival of a new baby. Or counting down the days until a long lost relative arrives home on holiday from Australia. We’re in the in between period - in between the appearing of God’s grace, something which has already happened; and the appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.

You see, when Paul writes those words, he isn’t referring to two people. It isn’t ‘our great God; and then also our Saviour Jesus Christ.’ No, Jesus Christ is our great God and Saviour. The first appearing of God’s grace was when Jesus appeared. And that grace appeared because of what Jesus accomplished when he was on earth. Look at verse 14. Here’s what Jesus came to do the first time, as he demonstrated his grace; as he gave freely to us:

‘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.’ Jesus gave himself as he died on the cross, taking our sins upon him. Removing all the wrong things that we have done. Giving us a fresh start, from all the ways we have broken God’s laws. Those sins are gone. We are redeemed, bought back by Jesus, the price has been paid.

As we receive this good news; as we accept Jesus to be our Saviour, so we discover that he loves us just as we are, but he doesn’t want us to stay that way. His purpose is to purify his people to be zealous for good works. There’s an order there - redeemed by Jesus, and then zealous for good works. Christianity isn’t about what we do for God. It’s about what God has done for us. Our good works are a response to God’s grace.

As we come to baptise Erin today, we are expressing God’s grace toward her. As she grows and discovers God’s grace, our prayer is that she will accept it for herself, and live a life of love in response.

But what about you? Have you experienced this grace of God for yourself? That Jesus did it all for you? The salvation is offered to you freely? Let today be the day that you surrender to him; that you stop trying to work to earn his favour, and instead receive it for what it is - a gift, freely offered and freely received.

And if you have already received this grace gift - what difference is it making to your life? If we believe in the God of grace, and have received the grace of God for ourselves - does it show in how we treat others? Has it made an impact in teaching us to say no and yes? In other words, is grace really amazing to us?

What we believe affects how we behave. The message of God’s grace is the heart of the Christian life. And that’s why Paul insists on this message being taught and declared. Nothing else will change us. Nothing else will motivate us. Except this: Jesus loves you and gave himself for you. Praise the Lord.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 25th May 2014.

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