“The Difference Grace Makes”
July 9, 2017
God’s mercy and grace alone make us able to do good.
I. A Call to Goodness (Titus 3:1-2)
II. A Legacy of Badness (Titus 3:3)
III. The Transformation of Mercy, Grace and Faith (Titus 3:4-8)
We’ve been talking about the foundations of the church for several weeks. These foundations, God as a trinity, God as creator, the fall of humanity into sin, the deity and humanity of Christ, and the work of Christ can seem, I suppose, very theoretical and theological. But in many of the remaining weeks of this series we will look at how these foundational truths impact our daily lives. Last week we saw that we are given holiness and faithfulness, righteousness, as a free gift, through grace. This week I want to expand that doctrine into daily life. We’re going to focus today on the need for grace: the world’s lack of grace, our natural lack of grace, and God’s generous provision of grace that, in addition to saving us, equips us to live in such a world. We’ll see in Titus 3:1-8 that God’s mercy and grace alone make us able to do good.
Where do we see a lack of grace? The need for grace is all around us, from the most horrific war-making to the hidden thoughts and intentions of our hearts. But the place that stood out to me this week was social media. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram badly need an infusion of gracious people and words. But due to our own brokenness we desperately need grace to participate graciously.
The first three verses of Titus 3 seem like a perfect description of the sad state of so much social media. To test that perception I spent more than an hour Tuesday morning flicking through my Facebook feed and related links. Despite the fact that it was a holiday, the Fourth of July, it wasn’t hard to find Titus 3:1-3 in that feed. Do these verses describe your experience of social media? Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, 2to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. 3For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.
Does that sound like social media? Starting with a trivial example, one story I read was about a price increase for the National Park Senior Pass. At 62 you can buy a lifetime National Park Pass. It’s currently 10 dollars, but it’s apparently going to go up to $80, which I’m looking forward to paying. But, of course, one of the comments was “Why are the Republicans dead set on destroying all that is good in our country?” Then there was one where a Polish woman, maybe the prime minister, was speaking out against Sharia law. A lot of the comments applauded this stand, but hardly by “speaking evil of no one.”
So one said “Our problem is all the politically correct moron liberals,” and those who “stand with Islam but want Christian values taken out of everything,” Then someone replied. “These ‘Christian values’ you're talking about are the same ones represented in Sharia law.” Someone else said “the Republican party is literally the exact same thing. You’re just an ignorant clown.” “Jesus has nothing to do with Poland’s decision and Jesus is closer in religion to the people you hate.” And finally “Religion is baloney in general and worshiping a dead Jew doesn’t help.” That’s the grace of our conversations.
Later that same day another Twitter war started when National Public Radio tweeted the entire text of the Declaration of Independence. There is certainly nothing wrong with that on Independence Day, but breaking the document down into 140 character chunks may not have been the best idea. The Declaration, of course, contains a long list of grievances against King George of England. Some Twitter followers didn’t recognize the document? Accused NPR of trashing President Trump or even fomenting revolution? One NPR quote said “A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.” Another said that under such tyrrany “it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.” Someone responded “So, NPR is calling for revolution. Interesting way to condone the violence while trying to sound "patriotic". Your implications are clear.” Another said “Propaganda is that all you know how? Try supporting a man who wants to do something about the Injustice in this country #drainingtheswamp,”
From there it deteriorated to name-calling, most of which has been removed. But you’ve seen it. You know the profanity that I’m not willing to include here, the epithets, the threats. That’s not to mention all the other kinds of social media posts: sexually oriented, glorifying violence, or just meaningless. And yet mixed in with them are prayer requests we want to receive, updates we treasure, and some news that’s valuable. My point is that social media exposes the human heart, and the results are not encouraging. We don’t do well at doing good, at showing grace, as a culture or as individuals. Which is why Paul’s answer is so practical. He knows the problems we face, but says that God’s mercy and grace are the only thing that can make a difference.
In the verses we just read, Titus 3:1-3, Paul essentially says “Don’t be what you were,” a pretty common theme for him. But in this case both halves reveal the deep need for a grace rescued approach to goodness. Paul begins with a call to goodness. “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work.”
In our own contributions to social media, or our relationship with government or our interactions with people face-to-face, the demands of goodness, niceness, and selflessness are challenging. It’s easy for God’s people to forget what they’ve been called to, so the prophets in the Old Testament and the Apostles in the New encourage us to remember what God has done and its effect on our lives. So Titus is to remind believers of the responsibilities of the Christian life.
Paul teaches, first, that believers are to be submissive to rulers and authorities. Titus is ministering on Crete, an island with a reputation for insubordination. They had been on the edge of rebellion against the Romans for a hundred years. But Christians on Crete were to have a new attitude of submission and obedience. Paul teaches that our duty is to submit to the state, because the state’s authority has been given to it by God, and only when the requirements of the state come into direct conflict with the clear commands of Scripture can we refuse that duty. For some today the requirement to bake a cake or take wedding pictures for an un-Biblical marriage crosses that line. For me a ruling requiring me to perform such a wedding would definitely cross the line. I wouldn’t do it. But I still have to obey speed limits, pay taxes and live non-violently, don’t I?
The next phrase in verse 1 tells us we are to be ready to do every good work. This doesn’t mean all of us are to spend all our time hunting up good things to do. But being good implies doing good, willing to jump into opportunities for caring and helping. I had lunch recently with Mark Lewis, who leads the Free Church crisis ministry. You may remember that Mark showed up at my door the day after Hurricane Ike, with the first members of a response team. He encouraged us not to just take care of our own needs but to reach out and help others. Their need was an opportunity to show God’s love by good works.
Lately we’ve been talking about and celebrating the mission or missions God has specially given to our church. Many of these involve compassionate outreach, helping and caring for others. Whether it is benevolence that we share inside and outside the body, coming alongside a family who is doing foster care, counseling at the Community Pregnancy Center, working with kids at GUM, down in Galveston, or sharing the Gospel at Awana, we have tremendous opportunities to participate in the good works God has set before us.
But don’t get me wrong, these things are hard. We do not naturally do good, care for others, submit to leaders, show grace. And that’s because can’t show grace unless you’ve received grace. Part of what Paul is doing here in a few verses is what he did in three chapters of Romans, showing us our own inability so that we will see how badly we need the free gift of salvation and renewal.
Verse 2 makes that even more clear. More than doing good works, we are called to good attitudes, attitudes that stand in stark opposition to the evidence of our social media and to the inclination of our hearts. Teach them, he says “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.” The first two phrases are especially fitting in context. Paul has already shared the universal evaluation of Cretans, that they are all liars, and he has instructed Titus to warn the older women against slandering others. Paul’s wants the Cretan believers be distinctly different from their unbelieving counterparts. The same motivation lies behind his instruction that they not quarrel, since the Cretans were known for their contentiousness.
But slander and quarreling are not just Cretan vices. They are Facebook vices, Twitter vices, daily vices. Our fallen nature lashes out at anyone or anything that seems to threaten our personal self-interest. Paul is calling Christians to a different standard, the example of Jesus, the standard of selflessness. What we post in the digital world and what we live in the daily world should be more like his attitude than like our natural self-centeredness and self-protection.
The imitation of Jesus is especially obvious in the positive qualities Paul calls for in this verse, gentleness and humility. The first word is the Greek epieikes, which means gentle and gracious. In Greek use this word indicated the kind of person who sought to pardon and be reconciled to those who offended. The other word is prautes, the most common words in the New Testament for gentleness or humility. When Jesus says ‘I am gentle and humble in heart’ he’s using this word. Paul uses the same two words when he describes “the meekness and gentleness of Christ” to the Corithintians. When we are gentle toward those around us, and especially toward non-believers, when we are humble toward those same people, we imitate Christ and present a living witness to his power. It’s ironic that one of the arguments people get into on social media is whether gentleness and humility are actually virtues. For example, I find it astounding that some professing Christians defend all the things President Trump says on Twitter by saying that fighting fire with fire is the only effective way. Is that what Jesus did? Is that what these verses call us to? No. “Be gentle and show perfect courtesy to all people,” even those who disagree with you, even those who are being far from perfectly courteous toward you.
This doesn’t happen on social media. Someone posted a screenshot from Fox news. A black American, author, activist Jesse Lee Peterson, said black Americans were hurt most by former President Barack Obama's policies. “Not all, but most black Americans are suffering, not due to racism, but the destruction of the family & lack of moral character." You can imagine the responses.
One says “Obama divided the nation.” “Not really. You were racist and hated Democrats before Obama and you will continue to do so” “I’m most definitely not racist but I love how that's the “go to” defense. Mainly because you have zero intelligent arguments.” “Pretending something doesn't exist so you don't have to deal with it and putting everything I say in quotes kind of makes you a moron. Just saying.” That’s not perfect courtesy.
But how easy is this? Is it easy to be selfless, humble, gentle toward people whose actions or behaviors may be antagonistic? To do good toward people who are hurting themselves and others? No, it’s not easy. In fact, Paul goes out of his way at this point to show us that this kind of behavior is not natural. In verse 3 he sketches, the natural behavior of unsaved people, your natural behavior and mine apart from the grace of God. Titus 3:3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.
The key word in this sentence is the word ‘we’. Paul is not just accusing others of sinful actions and attitudes, he’s including himself and Titus in the accusation. This is a description of all people ‘at one time’, prior to coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus. It’s a discouraging but honest description of the heart of an unbeliever, and the echo of these things still sounds in your own heart no matter how long you’ve been saved or how far you’ve come with Jesus.
The first characteristic is ‘foolish’, without understanding. Before we trust in Christ, there is no rudder in our lives: we’re fooled and turned aside by all the world offers, whether personal temptations like sex, money, and power or foolish philosophies like relativism, humanism, or evolution. This foolishness leads directly to disobedience. The word implies both disobedience to God and to human authority, ignoring the laws of conscience, the voice of parents, the guidance of the church and the rules of government.
Furthermore, we are easily taken in by the schemes of Satan and the temptations of this world, and thus enslaved to all kinds of passions and pleasures. The Greek word for pleasures is hedone, the philosophy of hedonism that promotes personal pleasure as the greatest value. This belief system, which is far more common in practice than theory, often leads to enslavement. In our culture we call this addiction, including classic addictions like alcohol and drugs or more subtle ‘gotta haves’ like sex, power, or possessions. Kent Hughes says that Christians who remember what it means to be ruled only by one’s own standard, or who battle even now the power of addictive pleasures ought to be gentle and humble toward those who are still helpless slaves of these sins.
Having been enslaved by these desires, we inevitably pass our days, spend our lives, not in pleasure, but in malice and envy. Malice is thinking evil of others, envy is wanting what they have or to be what they are. Both are natural results of not getting what we want, of selfishness. We all know parents and spouses who are committed to marriage or child raising to the extent that it satisfies them and not a bit more. As soon as satisfaction wanes, malice and envy begin to rear their ugly heads, so the marriage ends in venom and hatred. We see the same malice and envy in our workplaces, in our youth culture, in our politics.
Malice and envy, left unchecked, inevitably lead to hating and being hated. Again, we see this all the time on social media. Venom and hatred are posted on people’s walls all day. But the worst case is when that venom poisons the relationships in our own homes, churches and communities, and we begin to say to people face to face, and by our actions “I hate you.” Believers aren’t immune to this. You may have been saved by Jesus, but without his daily grace you can revert to living in malice and envy and ultimately, hatred.
All of this, the whole verse, reminds us that there is no human reason to expect selfless behavior. Unaided by salvation, unaided by the Holy Spirit, the human experience is that of a downward slope into disobedience, foolishness and slavery, into malice and envy and hatred. Only the grace of God can alter this. Paul’s big idea is that God’s mercy and grace alone make us able to do good. The last four verses of this section give us a wonderful description of how we are washed and renewed, the result of salvation by grace. Titus 3:4-8: But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5he 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, 6whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 8The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.
Verse 4 completes verse 3: We were trapped in these things, but God, but when the goodness and lovingkindness of God appeared, he rescued us. The incarnation was the fullest expression of God's grace, his lovingkindness and goodness toward us. In describing the work of Christ as an epiphany or "appearance," Paul reminds us that our salvation was accomplished at a concrete moment in history. Jesus came to seek and save what was lost, to rescue us from the life of slavery to sin described in verse 3. The event is a matter of record, a rescue plan of epic proportions, the climax of God’s big story.
This goodness, chrestotes, is a word used only by Paul in the New Testament, sometimes translated kindness. In Romans 2:4 and 11:22 we see that God's kindness is a key factor in bringing people to repentance. The second term, lovingkindness, is literally "love for humanity", philanthropia, from which we get ‘philanthropy.’ God loves the people he’s created, and does them good, despite their miserable descent into sin. He saved us.
Verses 5-7 explain in rich detail from several perspectives the nature of our salvation. First, the cause of our salvation is solely God's mercy. Filled with compassion, God reaches out to mankind to bring us into a relationship with himself. In this section, as in Ephesians 2, God’s mercy and grace are deeply connected, almost synonymous. If we can separate them what we would say is that his mercy is the driving force behind his grace. And we’ve seen that we desperately need this. Scripture is clear here and in many places that you can’t get salvation by being good enough. Paul says that “he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness.” We’ve already established in this series that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and that “by works of the law no human being will be justified in God’s sight.” Salvation is not a result of works, not a result of merit, not a result of rule keeping. It is, as the Reformers insisted, entirely of God’s mercy, entirely of his grace.
Second, it is the Holy Spirit who applies salvation to us. Paul uses two words to describe the Spirit’s work: regeneration and renewal. Regeneration is further described as ‘washing,’ which is a reference to the internal reality pictured by baptism. Water cleanses. Baptism is a picture of cleansing. But baptism does not wash our souls. It is an external symbol, applied to our bodies. It is the Holy Spirit who washes us. If you think of everything in verse 3 as dirt, then it is no exaggeration to say that unbelievers are covered with filth. That’s what happens when you are enslaved by all kinds of passions and desires, when malice and envy consume you, when you hate and are hated. Everything inside you becomes rotten and dead, and you must be both washed and made alive again. That’s what I tried to show the kids with the messy children’s corner.
We are all, by nature, filthy, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags, stained by our sin. We need such a radical cleansing that it amounts to regeneration, a return to life from death. Ephesians 2 says we were dead in our trespasses and sins and now we’ve been made alive with Christ. The other word, renewal, literally means ‘re-created.’ In 2nd Corinthians Paul says ‘if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation.’ So these two terms imply a revolutionary new beginning – from sin and death to rebirth and recreation, eternal life and fellowship with God. All this is the work of the Holy Spirit.
Verse 6 tells us that the Holy Spirit was poured out richly through Christ Jesus. God did not skimp when it came to this cleansing. He poured out the Spirit richly, generously, completely cleansing and renewing us, through Jesus Christ our Savior. It was his sacrifice that made possible the Holy Spirit’s washing and renewal. By his suffering and death we are, verse 7, ‘justified by grace’. We are righteousified, made holy and faithful, by his substitution. It’s not that we have been found free of guilt. Rather, our penalty has been paid by another, by Christ, and thus by grace, an unmerited sharing in Christ's righteousness. It all comes back to grace. Only a free gift can help those penniless as we are.
We’re beginning to see the benefits of that grace. We’ve been washed. We’ve been re-created. We’ve been renewed. Finally, we’ve been adopted, so that we are heirs, having the hope of eternal life. In God’s family, every Christian shares this inheritance of eternal life equally. None can receive a greater share than another, for the only qualification is God’s grace. So we each look forward with hope to the promises of eternity when we will be free of the effects of our fallen nature; truly selfless. But we can begin now to live the life described in verses 1-2, because our Christian life is not based on merit but on grace poured out in the past and promised grace in an eternal future.
But what about the present? What about our clearly proven inability to do good, and be nice. Paul says that these things we are studying, verse 8, are trustworthy, and he tells Titus “I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. “These things” are the truth of grace, of God’s mercy, of salvation in Christ Jesus. These things, Paul tells are received by faith, they are for those who have believed in God. So Paul is saying “Titus, you have to insist on the centrality of salvation by grace through faith.” “Bob, you have to insist on the centrality of salvation by grace through faith.” “Trinity Fellowship, you have to insist on salvation by grace through faith. Because, he says, only those who have thus believed are able to “to devote themselves to good works.”
This is the simple truth that the Reformation re-focused for the church: you can’t live the way verses 1 and 2 call you to, you can’t avoid living the way verse 3 condemns you to, without grace, the outpouring of God’s mercy. You can’t live on social media with gentleness and courtesy without the outpouring of grace from God’s Holy Spirit. You can’t live in your family, your church, your community without grace. This is more than a theological idea. It’s a daily life foundation. God intends his outpouring of grace and the Spirit to touch the deepest part of our attitudes and character and behavior. He intends for us to live by grace alone, and by it to be able to do God’s good God’s way.