For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds. (Titus 2: 11-14 NRSV)
So this year I’ve been doing one of those “read through the entire Bible in a year” plans through BibleGateway.com. They make it easy, providing Apple and Android apps that help you track your reading and you can subscribe to emails that give you the daily readings as well. The plan I’ve been doing goes over both an Old Testament and New Testament passage each day. Now I’ve done this before, but it’s been probably 18 years. It’s also not the best way to actually READ the Bible for study and comprehension, but it can help a reader (especially a new reader) get a feel for what happens where in the Bible, and every once in awhile you come across a little gem that perhaps you overlooked before or maybe was tucked away in one of those books that aren’t widely read or studied in church.
That’s what happened to me today as I read the selection above from Titus, chapter 2. Church tradition ties the Letter to Titus to the Apostle Paul, but some believe that it was written some time later, after the death of Paul, by a person writing in his name. I’m not a scholar on the matter in any way, shape, or form, but I tend to believe that it probably was written by Paul, though certainly many learned folks disagree.
At any rate, as I pondered these verses this afternoon, I felt like they were highlighting three different facets of the Christian Life, and then one big undercurrent that flows through all three. This made the reading quite special to me. Could it be my next sermon if I get the opportunity? Just maybe it could be!
The first facet of the Christian life is the appearance of the Grace of God. For Christians, and indeed for Paul, we don’t, we CAN’T do anything apart from the Grace of God. What is that grace, how did it appear? It appears through the person and work of Jesus Christ, born of Mary, dying on the cross, and rising from the dead. This is the bedrock of the Christian faith. Christ is faithful to us, and his death justifies us. The message of Paul is clear. The only reason that were are allowed to enter the presence of God, to be reconciled to God is through the work of Jesus. It’s not by anything we do. As far as justification goes it doesn’t matter how much cash we give to the church. It doesn’t matter if we jet across the world to serve on some kind of mission, it doesn’t matter how many “good deeds” we do, it’s the acceptance of the Grace of God through Christ.
And the good news is that this grace is FREE. Period. It’s free and as the verses say, it’s for ALL PEOPLE. Not just men, not just a particular ethnic group, not just a particular social class, it’s for everyone. Grace is the great equalizer in the equation. A poor person gets as much as the filthy rich. A repentant criminal is as entitled to it as a pastor or priest. You don’t have to go to a temple or make a ritual sacrifice either. It’s available to you 24/7, 365 through the person of Jesus Christ.
Sometimes we struggle with this, or at least I do. Many people, myself included, are uncomfortable just being handed things. We feel like we have to try to do something to earn it or justify it. It’s an epiphany when you finally realize that there’s nothing you can do to earn this grace, no monetary amount great enough to purchase it. It’s often when we finally realize this, that we often also come to the realization of how much we don’t deserve it. Grappling with these realizations is a facet of Christian life what we live through daily, and if we let them, they will blow our minds daily as well.
But that’s only one facet of our life in Christ. It isn’t meant to stop there. Once we receive the gift of grace, we’re supposed to USE IT. Think of it this way: if somebody gets you a cool, new car, what good does it do you if it just sits in the garage covered under a tarp? Take it out for a spin! In verse 12 Paul says that the Grace of God and Salvation trains us. Trains us to do what exactly? They train us to “reject impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Paul doesn’t want us to rest on our laurels. We’re supposed to use the grace of God to make ourselves better people. It seems to me that this is where many Christians start to drop the ball. We realize that we have this great gift, but we just leave it at that. We don’t realize that the gift is supposed to TRANSFORM us. It’s supposed to make us different somehow. We’re supposed to stop chasing worldly things and, as Jesus put it, seek the Kingdom of God and his righteousness first.
So many of us seem to think that this just involves living out some kind of conservative moral code, and we’ll immediately jump into things like SEX because let’s face it, when many of us think of impurity and worldly passions, that’s what we think of. Certainly sexual piety plays a part, the Bible stresses that. Poor decisions regarding our sexuality can be destructive, mentally and physically, and for many people it can control their lives in unhealthy ways.
But being TRANSFORMED is so much more than not smoking, drinking, or dating people who do. It’s about how we view life, about how we think about things. It’s about trying become more and more like Jesus every single day. It’s about choosing mercy instead of judgement, service instead of fame, and submission over selfishness. It’s no easy task, but it is our task as Christians.
Which brings us to the third facet of the Christian life highlighted by Paul here. Verse 14 says that we are to be a people belonging to Christ who are “zealous for good deeds.” Now wait, didn’t I just say that we can’t earn our place with Christ? Yes, I did. However, Christ doesn’t want us to do “good deeds” out of a sense of buying his grace or a sense that they’re mandatory. We should be doing them because we WANT TO. If we have accepted the gift of Grace and let it work in us to transform our lives, we should want to do something out in the world, again, following the example of Christ.
What were the things that Christ did? He healed the sick. He fed the hungry. He cared for the poor. He proclaimed a better way, a higher way to live our lives. He poured out himself, sacrificed himself for others…others who didn’t deserve it.
Is that really what we’re called to do as Christians? You better believe it! Not only are we called to do these things, we’re supposed to WANT TO do them, we’re supposed to be ZEALOUS for them.
That’s a tall order sometimes. Our humanity gets in the way.
In fact our humanity gets in the way of all three of these facets of our lives, doesn’t it? We’re desperate to please others and gain approval, our pride not allowing us to accept a free gift. When choices arise, we often choose the easier path of pursuing worldly power and passions as opposed to the glorious transformation offered by God. And then sometimes it’s just so hard to take ourselves out of the equation and do good for others. It can be hard for us to part with our hard earned money and give it freely to others. It can be hard for us to use some of our precious free time in service to others.
So how do we do it? That’s where the power of God, the Holy Spirit comes in. It is the Spirit who brings us to the acceptance of Grace and convicts us. It is the Spirit that works inside our hearts and lives to transform us. It is the Spirit that empowers us to do good things and serve others. It is the Spirit who makes us zealous for the Kingdom of God.
Where are you at with these three facets of the Christian life? Take some time to think about it. Ask the Spirit to work in you and empower you. It’s a process, a life long process, a road that never quite ends, a race that doesn’t finish this side of Paradise.
But it’s a journey worth taking, and a race worth running.
Maybe you haven’t accepted the Gift just yet. If that’s the case, what are you waiting for? God loves you and the gift of his Son is meant for YOU. There is no greater love, no greater gift. All you have to do grab hold of it.
Once you do, it’s start of the journey of a lifetime!