Sunday, June 08, 2014

Sermon: Titus 3: 1-7 Heirs of Hope

When I was younger, I loved to do spot the difference puzzles. You would have two pictures, side by side, but there were some subtle differences. If it was a picture of a park, there might be three ducks in one picture and only two in the other; or the little boy’s kite might have disappeared. Sometimes you had to look really carefully to see what was different.

Sometimes it’s not very easy to see what has changed. For some of the men, perhaps your wife has returned from the hairdresser and they ask you what you think; and can you notice what’s different or what they’ve had done. Is it a new colour, slightly shorter, more or less wavy? Or is it a trick question?

In other situations, though, it’s easy to spot the difference. With a family occasion, you maybe see someone you haven’t seen for a while and the change is instantly noticeable - if they’ve been on holiday; lost or gained weight; or for nephews and nieces, the inevitable ‘look at how tall you’re getting...’ It’s easy to see the change and spot the difference.

In our reading today, Paul gives us two pictures of how to live. He sets them side by side, but the difference is very easy to spot. In fact, the two ways of life are so different to one another, it’s like comparing day and night.

Now we’re coming near to the end of our series, but it’s always good to remind you where we are and what’s happening. Paul is writing to Titus, his colleague, who is on Crete, teaching the church and appointing leaders. The big theme of the letter is ‘truth which accords with godliness’ - or in other words, what we believe affects what we do. All the way through, Paul has been showing us that we need to believe the truth, and then live it out. We saw that in chapter 1 in the church leadership - wanting men who hold to the truth; and in chapter two in the home, where younger and older men and women each have their own specific roles and application.

Here in chapter three, Paul focuses in on life in the world. In verses 1 and 2, he shows us what living as a Christian will look like. It’s something they already know, because he says ‘Remind them...’ So let’s hear and heed this reminder, even if it seems like you’ve heard it all before. ‘Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarrelling, to be gentle, and to show courtesy to everyone.’

Here’s what we need to do as Christians. Here’s how we should be living as we go about our daily business, meeting friends and neighbours and enemies. It’s an attractive, positive way of life. Good citizens, good neighbours, good living.

But this is like the ‘after’ feature of one of those home makeover programmes. There used to be one on a few years back called ‘How Clean is your House?’ Kim and Aggie would go into a home that had been neglected over the years, clean it up and get it sorted out. Life as a Christian is like the after shot - the good, indeed the best way to live.

But just as a spotless home doesn’t just happen, neither will a blameless life. Instead, if we’re left to ourselves, if we go our own way, life will look very different. I wonder can you spot the difference when we get to verse 3: ‘foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating one another.’ It’s the exact opposite of verses 1 and 2. It explains the way the world is, as people live out these very ‘values’ (if that’s the right word). It’s easy to look out at other people and see these things in them. But for the Christian, it’s important to remember that we are no better, because we were once like that as well. Look again at the start of verse 3: ‘For we ourselves were once...’

The Christian life is one of change. I used to be like that, but now I have changed. But how do we jump from one to the other? How can we move from living out verse 3 to living the 1&2 way? We simply can’t do it by ourselves. By nature, we are enslaved. We can’t escape by ourselves. Just like the people in those houses who needed Kim and Aggie, so we need to have outside help.

That’s where verse 4 comes in. This is where the change is found. ‘But when the goodness and loving-kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.’

Before God works in our life, we’re in verse 3. We can’t be saved by works of righteousness, because we can’t do any. We’re slaves to passions and pleasures. We can’t do anything good that will earn favour with God. That’s why God steps in. Jesus, the goodness and loving-kindness of God our Saviour appeared, and saved us according to his mercy. Mercy is when God does not give us what we deserve.

You see, our sins deserve punishment, but instead God gives us mercy. Instead of wrath, we receive rebirth and renewal - new life by the Holy Spirit. We are reborn and made new, so that we can live by the Spirit, instead of following our sinful desires.

On this Pentecost Sunday, we remember how God gave the Holy Spirit to every believer. He lives within us, giving us life, confirming in us his grace, helping us to live for God, and reminding us of the hope of eternal life. We have been given the Holy Spirit, not miserly, not in a small measure, but richly, abundantly, fully.

Some people think that the church is all about do’s and don’ts. At first glance, that’s what this passage looks as if it’s doing. Don’t be like verse 3. Do be like verse 1 and 2. Do, do, do. It’s like trying to drive a car that has run out of fuel. You could be terribly inspirational, but the car can’t do it. The Christian life is fuelled by the message of grace - here’s what God has already done. You have been saved. You have been justified. You have this great hope. You have the Holy Spirit living inside you. So live it out.

At times we fail. At times we don’t do it as we should. That’s why we need the reminder. Keep going this way; keep obeying the Spirit. And as you do so, you and those around you will be able to spot the difference. You’re not the person you used to be.

As we look at this spot the difference, I wonder which of the two pictures is the likeness of your life. Do you find yourself in verse 3? Enslaved, hating and hated? You don’t like how things are; you want to change, but you don’t know how. Look to Christ and find the grace and mercy he provides. He can make you new through his work on the cross, and give you the Holy Spirit to change you.

Or maybe you’re already a believer. How are you getting on with verses 1&2? Do your workmates or friends see something different in your life? We’re not asking you to pull your socks up, to try a bit harder. Rather, it’s a reminder of what God has done, as you live out the good news. He can make us change, for his glory. Amen.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 8th June 2014.

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