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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:The Text that Says It All
Text:Titus 3:3-8 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Amazing Grace
 
Preached:2016
Added:2016-01-24
Updated:2016-01-25
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 73:8,9                                                                                           

Ps 5:3,4,8

Reading – Ephesians 2:1-22; Titus 2:11-3:8

Ps 40:1,3,4

Sermon – Titus 3:3-8

Hy 80:1,2,5,6

Hy 64:1,2 

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation, sometimes there’s a passage of Scripture that just seems to say it all. In a few verses, the Holy Spirit expresses the heart and essence of the Christian faith. That’s the kind of text open before us today: one of the fullest and most powerful statements of the gospel that we can find in the Bible.

It’s all here. In these verses, if you look with a bit of attention, you’ll find pretty well every part of what it means to be a Christian. Here described is our sin, our salvation, and our service. Here covered is the whole range of time: our shameful past, our blessed present, and our glorious future. And central to this text is the Triune God; each person is here, each with an essential role: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Because all those basic points of the faith are mentioned, some commentators think that this could be one of the very earliest Christian creeds—a confession of core doctrine. We don’t know for sure. What the Spirit does give us, He says in verse 8, is “a faithful saying.” Paul is telling Titus, “This is something you can build your life and ministry on.” For more than anything else, we can be certain of this gospel, all about the redemption of sinners through Christ. We can know—right to our very depths—that the gospel we believe is right, that the gospel we believe is trustworthy. It’s this gospel that I preach to you today from Titus 3:3-8,

This is a faithful saying about God’s gift of salvation:

1) we’re saved from terrible misery

2) we’re saved by the Triune God

3) we’re saved to do good

 

1) we’re saved from terrible misery: The letter open to us today is another that Paul writes to a co-worker in the ministry. Just as he wrote before to Timothy, now he writes to Titus. Chapter 1 tells us that this letter was written when Titus was on the island of Crete, which is the roughly rectangular island just south of Greece. These days I think it’s a nice place to visit, but for Titus it was pretty rough. Back then the people who lived on Crete had a reputation for really bad behaviour. Even among other pagans, they were known as liars, as lazy, and lewd! So Titus had his work cut out for him: he had to organize the new churches, he had to contend with false teachers, and he had to teach the converts how faith should shape their whole life.

So in the first couple verses of chapter 3, Paul is talking about how we should deal with the people who live around us, like our fellow citizens and the people at our work. Even in this wicked society, Paul urges us “to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle” (v 2). And he says we must keep these commands in “all humility” (v 2). We have to be humble, because we as Christians aren’t one bit better than anyone else. That’s the beginning of our text, the Spirit telling us why we have to be so humble. And He’s not afraid to dig up the dirt. He reminds his readers of the despicable life that they lived before. He reminds us too, of the misery that we’d be stuck in, if not for God: “For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another…” (v 3). No words are spared in describing our depravity. It’s a seven part description of the sinful human nature, a complete portrait of shame.

And let’s notice how Paul includes himself in these words: “For we ourselves were also once foolish.” Even the apostle was like this once. Titus too, has a spot in this miserable family portrait. And it was good for him to remember that. If Pastor Titus was ever frustrated with those he was ministering to, if he was getting impatient with all their weaknesses, he just had to recall that he too, was a hopeless sinner. He too, would be lost if not for Christ.

That’s a good reminder for every minister, for every office bearer, and every member of the church. “We ourselves were also once foolish…” Remember for a moment where we’ve come from, or what we’d be: “Am I really any better than my unbelieving neighbour? Does God owe me anything, perhaps more than He owes to them? No. So I need to be patient with my neighbours, my fellow Christians.” We shouldn’t be above others in pride, but walk beside them in a spirit of humility.

Paul then recalls how we were “foolish” (v 3). What’s the sense of that word? In the Scriptures, a fool is the one who says in his heart there is no God. And not just intellectually asserting that there is no God because you can’t accept his existence. But practically, a fool is someone who rejects God’s ways for life. It means that a person might be smart in a lot of things, by education or experience. But in the things that matter, in the big issues of life and eternity, an unbeliever doesn’t have a clue. Sin darkens the human mind, shrouds it in fog.

In the world we see lots of this foolishness. Maybe in a high court decision, or the words of a politician; perhaps in the worldview promoted by the media or by popular entertainers; or maybe it’s just the average guy on our street talking with his friends—in so many places, there’s an assumption that there is no God. Or that if there is a God, what He says doesn’t matter. That’s what we see today: fools everywhere! But in humility we have to acknowledge that we’d be just as foolish if God hadn’t given his Word, and sent his Spirit.

“We ourselves were also once… disobedient” (v 3). Actually, we’re still disobedient—we keep breaking God’s laws, keep neglecting the good He call us to. In halting steps, like an toddler just starting to walk, we’re only now starting to obey the law of God. But even that’s impossible without God’s help. There’s the natural inclination to say to the LORD, “I won’t do it. I won’t submit to you. I’ll do it my way.”

Yes, apart from God’s renewing grace we’re all disobedient, and also “deceived” (v 3). Do you ever think about how when we sin, we’re actually being fooled? We’re being taken in by a lying tour guide, like someone who promises us to show us all the beautiful sites around town, but takes us to the garbage dump instead. Sin is like that: it’s following a false guide. Because we’re promised great things. We’re told today we can have it all, and our minds are crooked enough to believe it. We’ll accept the twisted reasoning of sin because it sounds so good. On our own, we’re going to be deceived and led astray.

Once led astray, the Spirit says, we begin to “[serve] various lusts and pleasures” (v 3). That word “serve” has the sense of bondage or slavery, when a person becomes captive to his desires. Today we hear a lot about addictions, whether to alcohol, or to drugs, or to gambling, or to sex. Those are real, and they can be deadly. But apart from those well-known few, can’t we become captive to almost anything? You can be enslaved by whatever offers you a kind of reward, whether it’s a moment of gratification, or the chance at love, or some glory.

But the pursuit of those rewards is endless. There will surely come a day when we ask, “Am I happy now, with this money? With these friends? Having this work? These accomplishments? Am I really free to enjoy it? No, I’ve become a prisoner—enslaved, because it’s never enough.” If there’s a heart that isn’t ruled by Christ, sin will find a way to dominate that heart, and then to d destroy that heart.

The Spirit also wants to remind believers how we used to act toward one another: “[Once we too were] living in malice and envy” (v 3). In its natural state, the heart has lots of ill-will and animosity, not just for God, but also for other humans. For instance, if you have something good, I might resent you. Not necessarily because I want what you have, but because I just don’t want you to enjoy something nice, and enjoy that pleasure. That’s what the human heart is like. Malicious, and envious.

The verse concludes with a sad view of what it’s like to be without God. If God hasn’t changed our hearts, there arises in us an endless cycle of hatred: “Hateful and hating one another” (v 3). When people are given over to their sin, they become hated. By sinning, we make ourselves detestable and odious. Why is that? Because after a while, people come to see sin for what it is. They see that we’re always putting ourselves first, even trampling on others. Sin is always ugly, so when sin’s let loose, there’s no room for love. A sinner is hated, and he hates.

So far this powerful text has been dark and dismal. Do we see ourselves in it? We understand how it describes Titus’ congregation, who were a bunch of former idol-worshipers and heathens. But when were we ever like this? Was there ever a time that you were so foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved and hateful? Haven’t almost all of us always had what we have today, the gospel and Christ and the Bible? This may be so. And we thank for God it! For we realize that knowing Christ isn’t something that’s ours by right. It’s not something we deserved, or even asked for it. If we didn’t have the Holy Spirit, we’d be just as lost as every unbeliever, every idol-worshipper, and every atheist in this world today.

For instance, imagine where you’d be if you weren’t in church this morning. You might be out with the boat, or relaxing at home, or still in bed sleeping. And if you didn’t know the gospel of salvation, and you weren’t committed to it, you’d probably have more spare time, more money, and more freedom. But how miserable we’d be! How lost! And we probably wouldn’t even realize it, because we’d be “deceived,” led astray by sin. We wouldn’t even realize it, yet that wouldn’t change the fact: Without God we’d all be completely hopeless. Utterly lost. Bound for condemnation. Titus 3:3 is the life that we’d be living if not for Christ. It’s the misery in which we’d all be mired, if not for God’s grace. But we’re leaving that life behind, rising out of that mess! For today,

 

2) we’re saved by the Triune God: Sometimes when we hear good news, we just expect that there’s bad news to go along with it. “I passed my math exam,” Johnny will say to his parents. And they’ll dread what he’s going to say next, “…but I only got 56%.” In our text, Paul gives the bad news first. “For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived… living in malice and envy.” Then comes the good news in verse 4, “But when the kindness and the love of God appeared…” What a glorious gospel in that small word “but!” It’s the start of a new day, it’s a fresh beginning! “But when the kindness and the love of God appeared…”

The Spirit does a similar thing in Ephesians 2, “We all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others” (v 3). Sounds pretty bad, right? “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (vv 4-5). The Spirit invites us to think about what we would’ve been, forever. We would’ve been the objects of his holy wrath. But God chose to show love and mercy, to break our self-destructive and downward spiral, and He pulled us out of it. And now we’re saved, because the Triune God himself is working out our salvation!

The root cause of all this is “the kindness and love of God our Savior” (v 4). In kindness, God decided to save. Into our world of darkness—black sin, empty ambition, pointless desire, filthy hearts—God’s kindness “appeared.” This is a word that suggests radiance; it’s like the first star that begins to shine in the night sky, or a beacon of light along a stormy coast. “The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men” (2:11). The light shines into the darkness! “He saved us,” it says simply, in verse 5: “He saved us.” For that’s the bottom line: We’ve been saved—plucked from the Pit. Pulled from the fire. Taken from the enemy. Freed from prison. Even raised from the dead. We’ve been saved!

And we should never think we deserve such a gift. It’s “not by works of righteousness which we have done…” (v 5). Of course not! Because how could disobedient and malicious people ever deserve such kindness? We can’t do anything to make ourselves attractive to God. Paul actually makes this point often; it’s in his letter to the Romans, and to the Galatians, and the Ephesians: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (2:8-9).

Don’t we need that reminder often? It’s at once both humbling, and comforting: God saved you, not because of your church affiliation. Not because you’re a kinder person than your neighbour, and you work hard every day. No, God “saved us… according to his mercy” (v 5), out of his “kindness and love” (v 4). You didn’t earn it, and you don’t have to earn it. By believing in Christ, your salvation’s secure, now and always.

And once God saves us, the benefits don’t stop coming. Verse 5: God has given us “the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” Remember what we were, outside of God’s help. Because we used to be spiritually dead, we needed a second birth. Because we were failures, we needed a brand new start. Because we were filthy, we so desperately needed “the washing” of the Spirit. We get a picture of this cleansing in the sacrament of baptism. Like water washes away dirt from our body, so God washes sin from our souls. Far more powerful than any soap, better than any high-efficiency detergent, the Spirit washes us with a deep and cleansing action. He removes our pollution so that we can begin to serve him in holiness.

Having received the gift of faith, we’re now “justified by his grace” (vv 6-7). The Catechism students will remember that word “justified.” It’s a word that puts us in the courtroom of God. We had been accused of sin—we were guilty of sin, and we had no defense. But God, that most gracious Judge, provides an advocate, someone to take up our cause. Jesus entered our misery as humans, and volunteered to carry our punishment. Because Christ is our perfect substitute, we’re declared righteous by faith in him. Now God welcomes us back, and He makes us his own.

Once children of wrath, we’re now children of God. There’s many blessings in being a child. And one of those blessings is that you’re an heir; that is, you can look forward to getting an inheritance. Maybe our earthly parents won’t leave us much when they pass away. And even if they do leave us a lot, it’s only money: here today, gone tomorrow. But as children of the heavenly Father, we are also heirs, “heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (v 7). There’s an inheritance in store for us. It’s something that lasts, that truly delights. It’s called “eternal life.” Life with him, life as it was meant to be. This is where we’re going, what’re looking forward to. And until then, we have things to do.

 

3) we’re saved to do good: “This is a trustworthy saying,” says Paul, “And these things I want you to affirm constantly” (v 8). As Titus works on Crete, he needs to bring this message. Affirm it, preach it, explain it. He has to, because this gospel is for every sinner. There’s nothing more certain and relevant than this gospel message: We’re saved by the Father’s mercy, in the person of Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit. This truth will not change, and we’ll never find anything better.

And it’s this gospel that gives our purpose: “[Affirm these things], that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works” (v 8). Notice how our holy conduct and Christian lifestyle are rooted so firmly in this message. If you know the true gospel, then you have to devote yourself to doing what is good! What is good? “Good” here stands in contrast with the life we lived before. Instead of being a fool, begin to live in wisdom. Instead of being enslaved by your desires, start living in the freedom of Christ. Instead of accepting disobedience and unholy habits, begin to live in humble service. Instead of envying and hating, be content and show other people your love.

Yet let’s be honest. Doing good still doesn’t come easily. There’s a reason the Holy Spirit says we must be careful to maintain good works. You could translate it, “Be devoted to good works.” If you want to do good for God, it’s going to take dedication, a sustained effort. Why is that? Sometimes we’re not sure how we should contribute. We’re not sure where our place in the church is, or what our gifts are. Or we might think we’re disqualified from service—we can’t do it, because of how we behaved in our youth, or because of our age, or because of our character. “There’s not much good I can do for God,” we say, and we head for the sidelines. But maintain good works. Look for ways and opportunities you can serve.

Other times we get tired of living the Christian life. We’d rather stay home on Sunday afternoon. Rather watch a movie than read the Scriptures. Rather buy new furniture, than make an extra donation for mission. Rather give up on someone prickly, than reach out to him for the hundredth time. We ask, “Do we always have to give and to sacrifice?” And the Spirit says, “Be devoted to good works! Don’t become weary in doing good.”

And we all need to practice these things. Sometimes we expect that because we’re supposed to share the gospel, that sharing the gospel is going to be easy. Or because we’re supposed to be hospitable, then being hospitable will feel natural. But it might not. So we need to practice. Somewhere else the Spirit speaks about “learning to do good.” Think about how to do it, and how to do it better. Practice reaching out. Practice giving of yourself.

Be careful to maintain good works. Because God saved us for a purpose: He saved us to glorify his name. The Triune God didn’t do all that work for nothing—planning our salvation, making it possible through his Son, applying it through his Spirit—only to end up with lazy Christians. Like it says just before our text, in chapter 2:14, “[Christ] gave himself or us, that he might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for himself his own special people, zealous for good works.” That’s what He wants us to become: zealous for good works.

So what does that glorious gospel mean to you? How is that faithful saying taking root in your own life? Are you zealous to do good? You can tell that the Spirit is transforming you, when you come to delight in what God asks of you. It’s still a sacrifice. It’s still tiring. There’s still the daily challenge of being faithful. But you’re willing to do it. Through the Spirit working in you, you come to enjoy the privilege of living for God.

It’s a faithful saying, for God himself says it in his Word. He says that He has saved you from your misery. He has saved you in his great mercy. And He has saved you for himself!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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