Sunday, June 10, 2018

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

The other day I was in a petrol station, and the lady in front seemed to be very agitated. She was at the till for ages, as the only assistant worked to try to calm her down, and to give her the help she needed. Getting a phone number for her. Eventually, the lady went out of the shop, and the assistant explained what had happened to cause the delay. The poor lady had just filled her car with the wrong fuel. She’d put petrol in a diesel, or diesel in a petrol (whichever way round it was). Now, thankfully, she had realised before she had turned on the engine, but the car wasn’t going to go too far.

Your car needs the right sort of fuel to get from A to B. And it’s the same with us, as we seek to live the Christian life. We need the right fuel to move us and give us the power to live for Jesus, like Jesus. The wrong fuel will only lead to frustration, and not get us anywhere. Tonight we’ll see the fuel for our Christian life; the power to go and grow in our Christlikeness.

Last week, we looked at what Titus was to teach to the Christians on Crete. And if you were here, you’ll remember that we saw that the application was divided into different ages and stages, older men, older women, younger women, younger men, Titus himself, and then slaves (or workers). We looked at how each group were to live out the Christian life - those characteristics and behaviours that are in accord with sound doctrine.

So, how did you get on this past week? If you glance back at the earlier part of chapter 2, how did you do? Were there opportunities to use self-control? Did you take them? Were you able to grow more like Jesus this week?

My hope and my prayer is that you were able to do that. But what was it that motivated you to do it? You see, there can be lots of different reasons why we want to do something; why we behave in a certain way. Some of them may not be helpful or healthy - it would be like putting the wrong fuel in your car.

So, what would a wrong motivation look like? Perhaps you wanted to behave in these ways because you thought you would earn your place in God’s good books. So your motive was to earn salvation - but you can’t do that! It can’t be done! Or maybe your motive was to impress me or someone else - but really, our opinion doesn’t matter at the end of the day. It’s only God’s opinion that will finally matter. Or maybe your motive was out of duty, a kind of legalism. You might have tried really hard, for any of these reasons, but in the end, you probably didn’t get very far.

You see, all those reasons are like putting the wrong fuel in the car. You want to get on, but you probably won’t get very far. This evening, though, in our reading, paul shows us the proper fuel for Christian living - the real motivation for living out the Christian life. And it all comes down to one five letter word. Grace.

Grace is the reason why we can become more like Jesus, in the first place. And grace is the driving force to make us more like Jesus as we continue to follow and grow for the rest of our lives. And Paul spells out exactly why that is in these verses.

Do you see how this connects to last week’s reading? It all comes down to the ‘for’ at the start of verse 11. That ‘for’ gives us the reason why we should live in the ways we looked at last week. Paul writes: ‘For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.’

God’s grace which brings salvation has appeared to all men, all people. The news of God’s undeserved favour for us has been announced - but more than that, has itself appeared in the Lord Jesus. So what does grace do? We see that in verse 12:

‘It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age...’

God’s grace is our teacher - other versions have ‘training us’. So it’s as if grace is our Personal Trainer, like you would find in a gym, urging us to keep going, showing us what to do and how to do it. And what is it that grace is teaching us to do?

There’s the negative first of all. When I was younger, I remember going on the bus through Hillsborough when I was going to Lisburn. And strung across the front of the Lisburn Borough Council offices at the top of the hill in Hillsborough was a big banner that said ‘Ulster Says No’. Now, that was in response to the Anglo-Irish Agreeement in 1985. But God’s grace teaches us to also say ‘No’ - no to ungodliness; and no to worldly passions.

By our own nature and choice, these are the things we want to say yes to. These are the things we want to do. But God’s grace is our Personal Trainer, teaching us to say no to them. It might be a lesson that takes a while, and we might still stumble, and we might need to keep learning over and over, but that’s what God’s grace does. Teaches us to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions.

At the same time, though, we’re also learning that there are things we can say yes to. (Like the man from Del Monte - he says yes to good pineapples) We say yes to living self-controlled, upright and godly lives. And God’s grace, his undeserved favour, is the fuel to help us go in this direction. Grace encourages us to keep going - as one author has put it, a long obedience in the same direction.

So if we put those two things together - saying no to ungodliness and saying yes to godliness - that’s what grace teaches us to do, ‘in this present age’. This is where we’re meant to be, it’s the feature of all of our days. Every day is a school day. God’s grace is for our present, teaching us. But grace also points us forward, in verse 13: ‘while we wait for the blessed hope - the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.’

This is the hope that we have; this is what we are looking forward to. This is the end of our all growing in grace - seeing Jesus appear, being with Jesus. Do you see how he’s described? It’s not the appearing of two separate people - our great God, and our Saviour Jesus Christ. No, Paul is reminding us that Jesus Christ is our great God and Saviour. And he’s going to appear in glory. Glorious appearing. When we’ll see him, and be with him - only by grace.

And all this grace - grace for the present, and grace for the future, it’s all rooted in God’s grace for our past. We see that in verse 14:

... Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.’

Present and future grace is all dependent on past grace. Here we see what Jesus has done to deal with our past. You see, if we need to be trained in godliness, it’s because we are naturally ungodly. The word Paul uses in this verse is ‘wickedness.’ Perhaps you’re troubled by the memory of something that you have done. The thought of your past brings you grief; makes you doubt whether God would really have you in his heaven; whether God would want to train you in righteousness.

So, even though you’ve heard this message before, hear it again, as if for the very first time. See the grace of God here in what Jesus has done: ‘who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness...’

Whatever you have done; however many or however serious your sins; however wild your wickedness; Jesus gave himself for you to redeem you from it all. He has bought you back. He has paid the price - not just from some of your sins, but from all of your wickedness.

You didn’t do anything to deserve it. He freely chose to do it, to show you undeserved, unmerited favour. It really is amazing grace, as we’ll sing later. So if you are troubled in conscience tonight, then hear the promise that you have been redeemed from all your wickedness.

But that’s often where we stop. Jesus died to redeem us. Jesus died to take away our sins. It’s true, but it’s not the full picture of the cross. You see, Paul continues to give us another reason for the cross. Another reason why Jesus died. So follow from the start of verse 14, and at the ‘to’ drop down a line and pick it up again: ‘who gave himself for us to... purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.’

Jesus died, not just to forgive us, but also to own us. He has cleansed us, purified us, so that we are his - do you see the emphasis - ‘for himself... his very own’ As Paul says elsewhere, you are not your own, you were bought with a price. We belong to Jesus, we are his people, his possession.

And what is the defining mark of Jesus’ people? It’s not so that we can say we are his - and then look down on anybody who isn’t. No, the defining mark of Jesus’ people is that they are ‘eager to do what is good.’ Not reluctant, not out of duty, not out of a sense of ‘I’ll need to do this just in case someone sees me...’ Eager to do what is good. Strongly wanting to do good.

So where does the desire for doing good come from? What’s the fuel for living like Jesus? It can only ever be grace. Knowing that Jesus gave himself for us - people who didn’t deserve it - so that our past is covered, our present is in training, and our future is certain. It’s all by grace. It’s only by grace. God’s grace is the fuel to spur us to love and good deeds.

That’s why Titus is to teach these things; why he is to encourage his hearers to keep going with all authority, but also why he is to rebuke those who aren’t doing it. We as individuals can only run by grace; and we as a church can only run by grace.

So in light of God’s grace, what is God teaching you right now? In this week? What do you need to say no to - ungodliness and worldly passions; and what do you need to say yes to - self-controlled, upright and godly lives. Jesus gave himself for you. How will you respond to his amazing grace?

This sermon was preached in St Matthew's Church, Richhill on Sunday evening 10th June 2018.

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