Titus

Insist on These Things (Titus 3:4-8)

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For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” – Ephesians 2:10

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Intro

We’re about to wrap up the book of Titus. It’s a very short book written by Paul to a pastor he had left to care for the churches on the island of Crete. Titus, like Timothy, was a young associate of Paul’s. Both seem to have been saved as a result of Paul’s preaching. Both assisted Paul in his travels. And later in his ministry, Paul would come to rely heavily on these men to establish the churches that he planted.

 

Book of Titus

 

Quick review

Here’s my quick summary of Paul’s letter to Titus. After his opening remarks, Paul tells Titus that church leaders should have good behavior and good doctrine.[1] He says that many people have gone out and taught falsely in Jesus’ name, causing dissension in the church and giving many a false assurance of salvation. They claim to know God but their (bad) works prove they do not. In fact, their evil ways make them unfit for any good work.[2] (Paul didn’t tend to beat around the bush.)

On the other hand, if evil works prove you don't know God, good works show that you do. If those bad actions follow from false teaching, Paul wants Titus to teach his congregation what actions follow from sound doctrine. In short, you’re Christians so act like it. Do good things.[3]

He goes on to give examples of what ‘doing good things that accord with sound doctrine’ looks like for older women, younger women, older men, younger men, slaves, and masters. We are all called to good works, regardless our station in life. Paul calls this “adorning the gospel”, or “adorning sound doctrine”. Our behavior either reflects positively or negatively on Christ and on the good news he brought.[4]

Paul then shares the gospel message of God’s salvation by grace, and says that its result is that it trains us to live like we believe it. He wants the church to walk the talk.[5]

Anthony’s message last week covered the bookends of chapter 3. There, Paul says we are to obey the authorities and generally strive to live like Jesus. In the end he noted that troublemakers of various kinds have caused unproductive divisions within the church and that we ought to have nothing to do with them.

 

We were saved in order to do good.

In today’s text, Paul continues with the encouragement to do good works. At the end of today’s passage, Paul adds some helpful clarification to help us understand the connection to the other themes in the letter. In verse 8, he says, “In order that believers in your congregation will devote themselves to these good works, I want you to insist on these things.”[6] This is what I’ve chosen for my title this morning: Insist on These Things.

Paul is saying that there are important things that must be stressed if we are to achieve the Godly outcome of good works. These things are found in one long sentence that stretches from verse four through seven.

“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” – Titus 3:4-7

And, as I previously stated, the next verse is where Paul says he wants Titus to “insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works.

So there’s the core message of chapter 3:  we were saved in order to do good. To understand this properly I’m going to slowly disassemble that phrase.

 

We

 

We who?

Paul was telling Titus what to tell his church. With this in mind, the “we” refers to Christians. From Jesus’ teaching, we’re talking about people who have put their faith in Christ and who follow his commandments[7]. We Christians were saved in order to do good.

 

Were saved

 

By whom were we saved?

Who saved us? Look at the language Paul uses.

  • God saved us by his mercy
  • By the actions of Jesus
  • Which the Holy Spirit applied to our lives

Notice the Trinitarian formula Paul has included in this sentence. Many people think that the Trinity isn’t taught in scripture, but right here is overtly Trinitarian language that is easy to miss if you’re not paying attention.

  • God the Father is the instigator
  • Jesus is accomplisher
  • Holy Spirit is applier

This is the pattern throughout scripture. God the Father ordains it, Jesus does it, the Spirit applies it. In this instance, God decreed that he would save us, the son accomplished our salvation, and the spirit applies that salvation to our lives. Christianity is fundamentally Trinitarian. This is sound doctrine. This is a thing we must insist on.

 

How were we saved

This is where I’ll throw in a fancy theological term: Ordo Salutis. That simply refers to the order in which the components of salvation occur.

Most of us tend to think of salvation as a thing by itself - like an experience, or an event when we are converted. And it may be experienced as that by many, but not by all. And regardless how one experiences it, there is A LOT going on behind the scenes. Conversion is an important part, but it’s not the whole thing. I don’t want to suggest that you need to know this to be saved, but I think it is helpful to understand how the bible talks about salvation.

Paul starts by saying God saved us, then takes out his magnifying glass to see how that happened. By “God saved us” he is not talking about the event at the cross so much as he is talking about the particular moment when we each became aware of and convicted of that truth. That is when God came to us (individually) and saved us (individually) in this context.

Then Paul says we were washed, regenerated and renewed. You may be familiar with songs or bible verses that say God “made us new”, or that he “formed a new heart in us”. These are ways of describing the doctrine of regeneration. Scripture says we were “dead in our sins”[8] and God “made us alive in him”[9]. Jesus had a conversation with Nicodemus about being “born again”[10]. Each of these is talking about regeneration. A heart of stone is turned to a heart of clay[11] - not by my doing, but by the work of God[12].

Once we are regenerated, we are able to respond to God. Formerly we were opposed to him, but after regeneration we were drawn to him. When we respond to the Father’s call, we are converted. This conversion from following self to following Christ means that we are instantaneously justified. By God’s grace we are no longer seen as legally guilty of our sins. God doesn’t forget them, but he no longer holds them against us. In one act, the guilt for our sins is applied to Jesus, and the righteousness that his perfect life attained is applied to us. In a word, we are justified.

Paul says that God justified us so that we could be made part of God’s family for eternity. This isn’t just flowery talk - it’s a vital Christian doctrine called adoption. Beginning very early in the bible we see that Israel was created and chosen by God for a purpose. Those born into the people of Israel were part of God’s salvation plan. As outsiders, we cannot choose our family, but if we are justified we are adopted in to God’s family. No longer are we outsiders or foreigners. Now we are family with equal standing to the Jewish believer. In Romans, Paul talks in terms of the Gentiles being grafted in to the same vine as the Jew[13]. There is no reason left for despair or boasting. The only eternal difference between men is what they did with Jesus. Did they reject him and remain outside for eternity, or did they accept that he was their Lord and their Savior and become grafted in, adopted in to the family?

Lastly, at least in this sentence, Paul alludes to sanctification. This is the process by which we come to be more like Jesus. We love what he loves. We grow in his patience and mercy when dealing with others. We increasingly are offended by what offends him. We increasingly display the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control ). Paul describes this transformation as being conformed into the image of Christ. (Romans 8:29) This process is called sanctification.

These components of regeneration, conversion, justification, adoption, and sanctification are some of the major aspects Paul uses in explaining how we are saved.

 

In order

But we were not saved for ourselves. Paul says we were saved in order to do good. That doesn’t mean we were saved because we were good. In fact, the seemingly good things we have done did not play any part in our salvation.

How this has been screwed up

This teaching has been distorted and misunderstood a number of ways.

 

Works as merit

If you’re like me, you’ve probably been confused over this. As a result of the emphasis on grace, it’s possible to take away the message that works are bad. But the bible is loaded with instructions to do good works!  Good works are not bad! In fact, they are expected of the Christian. The misunderstanding is understandable though. A major faction of Jews required circumcision before salvation. Rome required sacraments, allegiance to the Pope, and a complex system of payments to the church before forgiveness was granted and salvation was conferred. Far too many of us today do the same thing when we confuse law and gospel, or works and grace. Works are not the problem. Seeing works as merit is the problem.

 

Earning salvation

Good works do not save us; that would be merit. Merit implies work that earns us something. Good works do not earn our salvation. We’ve probably all heard that before, but it’s worth repeating. If our behavior got us saved, no one would be saved. God saves us, by himself, by his grace.

 

Keeping salvation

But even though I know I can’t earn salvation through works, I’ve realized that I have a tendency to think that I keep my salvation through my works. Do I have my quiet time? Do I pray enough? Do I read the bible enough? Do I help the poor enough? Do I attend church enough? Do I fast? Did I lose my temper? Have I done everything I need to do to make God pleased with me? But God does not work that way, and works do not work that way. If our good deeds or obedience kept us saved, no one would stay saved. God upholds our salvation, by himself, without us.

 

Cause and effect

 

Works flow from salvation

The other day I was trying to wrestle Mackeson into his car seat. That's not a part of the day that either of us particularly enjoy. Since my mind has been in Titus lately, I invoked Paul and told Mack that he was displaying bad works and he ought to be devoting himself to good works and through his behavior, adorn the doctrine of his father. (This is a true story - feel free to ask Aubrey.)

Mack is young, but we are doing our best to teach him the proper way to behave. Sometimes it goes better than others. Our instruction isn’t a guarantee that he will be a responsible adult, but it is a necessary component of creating a responsible adult.

Good works by us shows to others evidence of God's work in us. When we do good works, it shows other people evidence that God has changed us. Mack doesn't earn my love by behaving and I don’t earn God’s approval by my behavior. But both of us honor our father with our obedience. When we do good deeds, we honor God. These good works do not save us, but they are an indication of salvation.

Good works flow out from good teaching. A believer will do good works, not out of compulsion, but out of love. He wants to express gratitude to his Father. He wants to share the love and grace he has been given with others. It is often second-nature to the Christian because his nature has been changed. But that doesn’t mean it’s all auto-pilot. These works are still things we must do. (Not must in the sense of obligation, but must in the sense that they won’t do themselves!) This is why we have so many reminders in scripture.

  • “Let us not grow weary of doing good” – Galatians 6:9
  • “set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” – 1 Tim 4:12
  • “Show yourself to be a model of good works” – Titus 2:7
  • “insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works” – Titus 3:8

This is not law. The law is a burden. I don’t want to leave you with a burden today! If you leave here feeling like God expects more from you, then I have failed.

Paul calls the law our schoolmaster[14]. It is there to show us the level of perfection that God’s righteousness requires. It shows us how short we fall of God’s grace. That’s why the law must be coupled with the gospel! The gospel says, sure you’ve failed – we all have! But you don’t have to earn your salvation!

The law is a burden, but Jesus said his yoke is easy and his burden is light[15]. This isn’t a message of obligation, but one of freedom. You don’t have to do anything! God has done it all! But still – do good works! You aren’t obligated to do them, you’re free to do them. This passage is a reminder of that. Continue in those good works. Continue to reflect positively upon Christ. Adorn the doctrine. Show Christ and his message to be as good as you know it is.

Also, remember how much you have been forgiven. Our sinful past should not remind us of our failures – it should remind of of God’s goodness. In the words of a great Steven Curtis Chapman song from long ago, “remember your chains”. In reflecting upon the freedom you have, and the debts you’ve been forgiven, how could we not do good works? Would you expect a freed slave to do nothing? Would you think a person whose debt has been eliminated would have no response? Surely a response is appropriate!

 

To do

 

Who do?

When we do the good works that we are called to do, there’s an interesting dynamic at work. We do the deeds, and our sanctification ensues, but it is not we who sanctify ourselves.

 

How do?

God is the one who changes men. We work in the world, but God works in us. As we serve others, he sanctifies us.[16]

 

Good

 

What counts as a good deed?

So we’ve established that we are called to do good works.[17] Great. What’s a good work?

I think this is a helpful template from pastor Bryan Wolfmueller. A good work is something that is:

  1. Done in faith in God
  2. Done in obedience
  3. Done for the glory of God
  4. Done for the benefit of my neighbor

I think that grid helps me. Let’s work through them.

 

Done in Faith in God

The author of Hebrews tells us “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”[18]

The prophet Isaiah said, “we have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.[19]

These are not hope-inspiring passages. If we do not know God and have not been reconciled to him, nothing we do is truly good because it is done while in rebellion to him. The unregenerate man can feed the poor and fight for justice, but if all those involved are opposed to God and destined for hell it’s just rearranging chairs on the Titanic. For our works to be good, we must be saved.

 

Done in Obedience to God

Good works will be done in obedience to God. Here, Wolfmueller is speaking specifically of the Ten Commandments, but plenty of other biblical teachings bring clarification to this point as well.

If you are helping in a ministry to get closer to a thing or a person that you covet, then regardless how helpful it is you are not doing good because you are coveting.

If you are giving to the church to get the tax deduction or recognition form others, money or reputation may be an idol. If that’s the case, your motivation is something other than God, and what you are doing is not a good work.

If we are disobeying God, our behavior dishonors him.

 

Done for the Glory of God

Jesus said, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:16

We are created for God’s glory. We are saved for God’s glory. If our motivation is not a response of love of God and thankfulness to him for our forgiveness, then we have a wrong motivation. This is what Paul meant by adorning the gospel. Our works should point to God and reflect well on him. Our works should not glorify us – they should glorify God.

 

Done for the Benefit of Our Neighbor

When asked for the most important commandment, Jesus said, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” That fits with my last point. He continued by saying, “The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” – Mark 12:30-31

If you’ve gotten past the first three criteria, this one can still catch you.

This one should be fairly obvious. If I give someone money or help them so that they will owe me, I have failed at good works. If I’m hoping that other people notice my gift, that is just as bad. If I give it to them because I am looking to be thanked by them, that’s a problem. When I give, am I really giving for the benefit of my neighbor?

Let’s take a recent and uncomfortable example. Are you condemning the KKK to let people know you’re one of the good guys? Do you feel guilty about your skin color or your economic position? Don’t get me wrong – there are severe and disturbing injustices all around us. But why do we speak up or get involved? Is it because society has informed us what is acceptable, or because we look to a higher standard? Is it because of guilt or because of love?

Truly good works are not for our benefit. They are not to assuage our guilt, to bring us attention, to signal to others that we are good people, to make us feel self-righteous, or anything else that is for us. They are for others. Good works must be for the benefit of our neighbor.

 

Faith vs. Works?

Hopefully we’re on the same page about works now. They are appropriate, but God is not a scorekeeper. So with that in mind, we can zoom out a bit and get a larger picture of what Paul and others thought about the Christian life.

Once you’re saved, there ought to be a change. We are new creatures[20] with new hearts[21] and new affections[22]. A different person sees life differently and lives life differently[23]. God works in us[24] to bring about this change, but we participate[25] as well. In all of it, the inspiration, the inclination, and the ability to live a holy life comes from God. When describing this process of sanctification, Paul described it as beating his body into submission[26], and pushing forward like a runner completing a race[27]. Only in glory will we be finally and fully sanctified, but the process begins here. God is working on our hearts to point out sin and we do the work of pulling those weeds. Paul calls this “working out our salvation”[28] with the goal of being “conformed to the image of Christ”[29]

I know many of us don’t like hard teachings. We aren’t always comfortable with “do this” / “don’t do that” messages. Many even call that legalism, saying in Christ we are free from the law and free from obligations. I think that is a well-intentioned, but mistaken understanding. Look at Paul’s closing instructions to Titus:  Insist on these things. Insist on sound doctrine, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works.

Paul sees no opposition between God’s grace and our works, when understood correctly. We receive grace and our works change. Many have seen James as disagreeing with Paul, but in fact they are saying the same thing. James says[30] that faith without works is dead – not because doing good is required for salvation, but because the one who is saved will prove it by doing good.

We are saved by grace, through faith.

We are not saved by works, but we are not free from works either.

As long as we tread this earth, you and I do works. Are our works Christ-like or not? Paul’s instruction to Titus assumed that they would be. That’s why he said, “remind them”[31].

Such Were Some of You

Notice also that Paul, Titus, and the rest of the church all the way down to you and me were not always this way. Read v3 again: “For we were once…”. In another letter, he says “for such were some of you[32]. We were once one way, but then God’s grace entered the equation and we were changed. We were one way, but now we are different[33].

  • We. Were. Once.
  • That means formerly.
  • Before Christ.
  • But now, no longer.

Do you remember your chains? Do you remember how you used to be? How we all used to be? We acted that way because of the false beliefs we held. But now that we know the truth, we act differently. There is a direct link between doctrine and behavior. You cannot disconnect beliefs from character.

Sure, we sin sometimes, but we ought to be sinning less than before. If not, something is wrong.

Of course we still sin[34], but sin no longer defines us[35]

Look at some of the things Paul says we once were[36]:

  • Foolish
  • Disobedient
  • Stray
  • Slaves to passions and pleasures
  • Full of malice, envy and hate
  • Sexually immoral
  • Thieves
  • Greedy
  • Drunkards

This is the list that he says will not inherit the kingdom of God[37]. He says that’s how we once were, but we are no longer. Like I said, it’s not that our sin is eradicated, it’s understanding the difference between committing a sin and being enslaved to a sin. Do you grieve over your sins, or do your sins define you? People should never see us and think “liar”, “cheat”, “drunk”, “disobedient”, etc. As Scott Norris said three weeks ago, the world should have nothing evil to say about us[38]. If any of these do apply to us, we have cause for grave concern, and we would do well to spend some time considering who or what our behavior shows to be lord of our lives.

 

Closing

Hopefully this morning, I have insisted on these things that Paul instructed, so that those of you who have believed in God may be careful to devote yourselves to good works. Not because of duty. Not because of guilt. Not because you must work to earn your salvation or work to keep your salvation. Do it because you can. You've been given the freedom to do so. Because the Trinity - the godhead working together - has called you, regenerated you, justified you, and adopted you so that you might not only tell others about God, but show them something about him as well, and in doing so that you might be sanctified by God as you work out your own salvation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1] Titus 1:6-9

 

 

[2] Titus 1:10-16

 

 

[3] Titus 2:1

 

 

[4] Titus 2:2-10

 

 

[5] Titus 2:11-15

 

 

[6] Titus 3:8

 

 

[7] John 8:31, 14:15; 1 John 2:4

 

 

[8] Ephesians 2:1

 

 

[9] Colossians 2:13

 

 

[10] John 3:3

 

 

[11] Ezekiel 36:26

 

 

[12] Titus 3:5

 

 

[13] Romans 11:11-24

 

 

[14] Galatians 3:24

 

 

[15] Matthew 11:30

 

 

[16] Philippians 2:12-13

 

 

[17] Titus 3:8

 

 

[18] Hebrews 11:6

 

 

[19] Isaiah 64:6

 

 

[20] 2 Corinthians 5:17

 

 

[21] Ezekiel 36:26; Romans 2:15, 29, 6:4; 2 Corinthians 3:3

 

 

[22] Colossians 3:9; Ephesians 4:24

 

 

[23] Romans 8:29

 

 

[24] John 17:17; Hebrews 10:10; Philippians 1:6

 

 

[25] 1 Peter 1:15; Hebrews 12:14

 

 

[26] 1 Corinthians 9:27

 

 

[27] 1 Corinthians 9:24

 

 

[28] Philippians 2:12-13

 

 

[29] Romans 8:29

 

 

[30] James 2:14-26

 

 

[31] Titus 3:!

 

 

[32] 1 Corintians 6:11

 

 

[33] Titus 3:3-7; Ephesians 2:1-10

 

 

[34] 1 John 1:8-10

 

 

[35] Romans 6

 

 

[36] Titus 3:3; 1 Corinthians 6:11

 

 

[37] 1 Corinthians 6:9

 

 

[38] Titus 2:8

 

 

The Training Field Of Grace (Titus 2:11-15)

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.[1] 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 —denyinglivinglooking.

DENYING

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.

LIVING

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.

LOOKING

"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.”

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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.

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[1] http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/grace.html

 

THE PURE AND THE POLLUTED (Titus 1:1-15)

A little background on Crete is in order as begin our series on the book of Titus.

Most of the people there came from a mercenary background. Violence, greed and sexual corruption were everywhere. When Paul said that all Cretans were liars, he was quoting a Cretan writer named Epimenides who said that about his own people. The Greeks actually used the word ‘cretize’ as a synonymn for ‘lying’.   Look at the list of elder qualifications again and you will see that the explanation accompanying the list seems to target the stereotypical behavior of Cretan men. As you might expect, the gods the Cretans worshipped (primarily Zeus) were characterized by the same things that characterized the people. This was where the church was trying to grow.

Paul, servant of God and emissary of Jesus, the Anointed One, on behalf of the faith that is accepted by God’s chosen people and the knowledge of the undeniable truth that leads to godliness.

We rest in this hope we’ve been given—the hope that we will live forever with our God—the hope that He proclaimed ages and ages ago (even before time began). And our God is no liar; He is not even capable of uttering lies. So we can be sure that it is in His exact right time that He released His word into the world—through the preaching that God our Savior has commanded into my care.

 To you, Titus, my dear son birthed through our shared faith: may grace and peace rest upon you from God the Father and Jesus the Anointed, our Savior.

One of the first things Paul reminds Titus of is that God is not a liar. The second is that God is trustworthy, and we can confidently place our hope in Him.  God is involved with the world, and His plan and His timing are perfect. Then Paul starts to put structure in place (this will continue throughout the letter). The church community is going to need both moral and communal guidelines if they are going to move into the freedom Christ offers and establish a compelling outpost of the Kingdom in a remarkably needy place. 

 I left you on Crete so you could sort out the chaos and the unfinished business and appoint elders over communities in each and every city according to my earlier orders. Here’s what you should look for in an elder: he should be above suspicion; if he is married, he should be the husband of one wife, raise children who believe, and be a person who can’t be accused of rough and raucous living. It is necessary that any overseer you appoint be blameless, as he is entrusted with God’s mission. Look for someone who isn’t pompous or quick to anger, who is not a drunkard, violent, or chasing after seedy gain or worldly fame. Find a person who lovingly opens his home to others; who honors goodness; who is thoughtful, fair, devout, self-controlled; and who clings to the faithful word that was taught because he must be able, not only to encourage people with sound teaching, but also to challenge those who are against it.

You see antagonists everywhere; they are rebellious, loose-lipped, and deceitful (especially those who are from the circumcised lot). Their talk must be quashed—their mouths sealed up because impure teaching is flying out of their lips and overturning entire families for the sake of their own squalid gain.  I’ll tell you, even their own prophet was heard saying, “Chronic liars, foul beasts, and lazy gluttons—that’s who you’ll meet in Crete.” And he’s right! This is why we have to scold them, sometimes severely, so they will be sound in the faith  and be able to ignore Jewish myths[i] as well as any commandments given by those who turn away from the truth.

He warns about false teachers:[ii] specifically, the Judaizers ("those of the circumcision”), though there were others. These teachers insisted that keeping external rules – diet, circumcision, washing - equaled purity.  And while these weren’t in and of themselves bad things, these false teachers were saying these outward actions had the power to save or to make righteous. This didn’t address issues of the purity of someone’s heart.[iii] 

This is a problem (think of how Jesus challenged the heart in the Sermon On The Mount). People become pure from the inside out after God does a work inside.  They become "new creatures in Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:17) who are "born anew" (John 3:3). We don’t become pure by scrubbing the outside.

 Listen: to those who are pure, all things are pure. But to those who are tainted, stained, and unbelieving, nothing is pure because their minds and their consciences are polluted. They claim, “I know God,” but their actions are a slap to His face. They are wretched, disobedient, and useless to any worthwhile cause.”

* * * * *

That’s a claim that would have rattled his Jewish audience – and frankly, it's a phrase that can be easily misunderstood by our 21st century ears.[iv]

1. Christian purity is moral purity.

John Gill’s Expository On The New Testament references a Jewish commentary on the issue of pure and impure people:

`The flesh of the most holy things is forbidden to strangers, though pure; the flesh of things lightly holy is free to strangers that are pure, but forbidden to them that are defiled.''

This is one of many teaching you can find on the privileges and restrictions for pure and impure people. The more ceremonially clean you were – the more outward appearance of purity -  the more privileges you got.  When God said He was looking on the heart while people were looking on the outside (1 Samuel 16:7), I believe he was referring to situations like this.

Titus has the task of re-teaching the concept of genuine purity. Genuine purity is the internal purity of the heart and soul that only Christ can bring, and it will manifest itself in pure living.  Once again, that will be about morally pure living, not ceremonially washing your hands and not touching dead things.

2.  Morally Impure Things Don’t Become Pure Because Our Heart Is Pure.

To understand this better, let’s establish what biblical, spiritual purity is. In 1 Timothy 4:4, Paul stated that "every creature (everything?) created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected.” Barnes’ Notes On The Bible gives a good clarification on what this means:

“It is good in its place; good for the purpose for which God made it. But it should not be inferred that a thing which is poisonous in its nature is good for food because it is a creation of God. It is good only in its place, and for the ends for which he intended it.”

When something is existing in its God-given intent and purpose – when it is unmixed or unalloyed with anything else (the literal translation of the word ‘pure’) -  it is pure.  Paul insisted in his letter to the Roman church that there is nothing that, when used with the intent and purpose for which God created it, is unclean in itself (Romans 14:14, 20).

To the pure (people who live in their God-designed intent and purpose and are unalloyed with the world), all things are pure (they recognize and use everything within God’s design).

Notice this is very different from saying that even impure things become pure with our magical pure touch. Two examples should suffice.

  • Pornography  or promiscuity do not become miraculously okay because Christians think that they are pure enough to make it okay.
  • Christians can’t naively dabble in the occult and walk away unscathed. Being a Christian doesn’t change the nature of a Ouija board or a tarot card reading or seances.

There is no sense whatsoever anywhere in Scripture that suggest we can engage in sin and somehow sanctify it because we are good people deep inside.[v]  Paul is not excusing sin. He’s saying that we are pure or impure because of the state of our heart.  Our lifestyle flows from our heart; our heart provides the lenses through which we see everything. That’s why we must guard our hearts; they are the “wellspring of life” and determine the course of our lives (Proverbs 4:23).

Eating bacon and shrimp won’t make your heart impure, and eating kosher food or washing your hands just right won’t purify your soul. If you haven’t been cleansed by Jesus on the inside, you can do everything right externally and still be defiled.

3. Even Pure Things Can Become Impure To Us If Our Heart Is Impure

When I was a baby, I didn’t know what things were for or where they were supposed to be, and I left a trail of chaos behind me. I ate dirt. Seriously. It was not one of my better moments. 

I don’t eat dirt anymore (!), but I have a remarkable capacity to clutter things.  Really, I can leave a mess anywhere relatively quickly. You should see the interior of my truck, or the floor on my side of the bed. But I know I have this capacity because I know what clean is. I know what a ‘pure’ kitchen and bathroom should look like.

When you know what clean is, at least you have a frame of reference for how you are doing. If you don’t know what clean is, everything you touch becomes unclean.

If our soul is not clean (purified by God so that we know and love the intent and purpose for all things God has created), we will make everything we touch unclean because we won’t understand how God designed it.

  • If we don’t know God’s intent and purpose for money, we will use it selfishly rather than for God’s glory.
  • If we don’t know God’s intent and purpose for sex, we will use and abuse others rather than delighting in and honoring them as part of married life.
  • If we don’t know God’s intent and purpose for marriage, we will keep thinking it’s about happiness when it’s actually about holiness.
  • If we don’t know God’s intent and purpose for language, we will think we have the right to say anything we want and we will destroy people with our words.
  • If we don’t know God’s intent and purpose for education, the arts, work…

This isn’t just about things. This is relevant to what we believe as Christians; specifically, how we understand the Bible. The Judaizers were distorting God’s Law. We can do this with Scripture today as well if we aren’t careful. We can take good and true teachings and distort them.

  • “Love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8); God is always faithful when we are not (2 Timothy 2:13); God’s grace abounds (Romans 5:20)” can remind us that God is so, so good and motivate us to greater worship… or it can be used as an excuse to do whatever we want. 
  • “Ask and you shall receive (Matthew 7:7); God gives good gifts to His children (Matthew 7:11); give and see if I won’t open up the storehouses” (Malachi 3:10) can remind us that God takes care of us and blesses our faithfulness for His glory and the sake of His Kingdom… or it can make us think God is a cosmic slot machine where if we pull the right levers we get rich.
  • “You will have none of these diseases (Exodus 15:26) and He heals our diseases” (Psalm 103:3) can be seen as a get-out-of-sick-jail free card… or it can be seen as a reminder that God cares for us and works miracles in His time and for His purposes for our good and His glory.

To those whom God has made pure, everything – the Scriptures, our bodies, the things around us - is pure; that is, they are understood, valued and used and God intended them to be. To those not made pure by God, everything becomes devalued and misused outside of God’s created design.

  • Why do our minds wander when we see someone attractive?
  • Why is the first thought after our bonus on how we can spend it on ourselves rather than how God can be glorified?
  • Why can we turn ordinary comments into, “That’s what she said”?
  • Why do we daydream about how we could have humiliated someone in that argument we had?
  • Why do we use food and entertainment to avoid life?
  • Why do we use work as an excuse to avoid resolving conflict at home?
  • Why do we twist Scripture to make it say what we want it to say?

Becaus are hearts, while undergoing ongoing purification by God, will never be perfetly pure on this side of heaven. God does a miraculaous work of purification throught the act of salvation (read 1 Timothy - Paul uses the language of purity everywhere!), and God continues this purification process through what we call sanctification. But this life is marred by sin, and even our gloriously new hearts are under attack from the sins that so easily beset us. It's part of why we mourn will all of creation (Romans 8) as we wait for the New Heaven and Earth. 

In Psalm 24:3-4, David asks who can stand in the holy presence of God. His answer? “The one who has clean hands and a pure heart.” The one whose entire life is characterized by purity. This is bad news in one sense: on our own, we can never purify our hearts; even after God gives us a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26), we still manage to soil it. Is it any wonder that David also asked God to do what is impossible for us to do: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right Spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10)?

While God has given us agency- we are called to participate in our purity by living within God's path for lifen(1 Peter 1:22) -we must have that miraculous work of God in us so that our hearts are renewed and our eyes are opened in ways that only God can do it. Then we will see the goodness of God and His creation – we will see how He designed the world to be – and we will be able to live in our God-given purity through the power and for the glory of God.

[i] After the Babylonian Captivity, many rabbis began to assign mystical meanings to numbers and apply it to the Hebrew Scriptures and the Talmud,  the rabbinical interpretations of Scripture. By the time Paul was writing, they were also taking ideas from Hebrew and Greek numerology and arriving at increasingly fanciful interpretations.

[ii] For previous sermons on the biblical focus on false teachers, see two sermons from our 1 Thessalonians series: Teachers Good And Bad (Part 1) https://clgonline.org/teachers-good-and-bad-part-1-2/ and Teachers Good And Bad ({Part 2) https://clgonline.org/teachers-good-and-bad-part-2-2/

[iii]  “It is sin, and that only, which takes its rise from the heart, lies in thought, and is either expressed by the mouth, or performed by some outward action, which defiles the man, and renders him loathsome, abominable, and odious in the sight of God. The heart is the source of all evil; the pollution of it is very early, and very general, reaching to all the powers and faculties of the soul; which shows the ignorance of some, and folly of others, that talk of, and trust to the goodness of their hearts; and also the necessity of new hearts and right spirits being formed and created; and that the sinful thoughts of the heart, and the lusts thereof, are defiling to men; and that they are sinful in God's account, and abominable in his sight; that they are loathsome to sensible sinners, and are to be repented of, and forsaken by them; and need the pardoning grace of God or otherwise will be brought into judgment. Sinful words, which, through the abundance of wickedness in the heart, come out of the mouth, have the same influence and effect: words are of a defiling nature; with these men pollute both themselves and others: the tongue, though a little member, defiles the whole body; and evil and corrupt communication proceeding out of the mouth, corrupts the best of manners, and renders men loathsome to God, and liable to his awful judgment. And this is the nature of all sinful actions; they are what God can take no pleasure in; they are disagreeable, to a sensible mind; they leave a stain, which can never be removed by any thing the creature can do; nothing short of the blood of Christ can cleanse from it; and inasmuch as they are frequently committed, there is need of continual application to it. These are now the things men should be concerned about, as of a defiling nature; and not about meats and drinks, and the manner of using them, whether with hands washed, or unwashed.”  (Gill’s Exposition Of The Entire Bible)

[iv] Check out Precept Austin’s explanation of this passage. http://www.preceptaustin.org/titus_114-15

[v] The Children of Israel entered Canaan were commanded to avoid the practices of the pagan religions (Deuteronomy 12:30). Paul wrote to the Romans, "I want you to be wise in what is good, and innocent in what is evil"  (Romans 16:19). The Bible warns us to "flee the flesh" (2 Timothy 2:22) and to avoid things that could “entangle” us (Hebrews 12:1)