READ : Titus 2:11-14
Today, in our first program of the year, David Bast asks about our hopes and dreams for
the future. As you enter a new year, what are you hoping for? Better health? An improved
economy? An end to war? For Christians, nothing life may bring can shake our future
You've heard this saying, “Where there's life, there's hope.” But the opposite is just as true. Where there's hope, there's life. Without hope, life isn't possible, not for very long, because what oxygen is to the body, hope is to the spirit. Without it we die.
But if you think about it, in order to have hope, you have to have a future. Hope means you've got something better to look forward to. It's the expectation that good is coming, no matter how bad things may be now. But for hope to be real, the thing you're hoping for has to be realistic. There is a difference between real hope and wishful thinking, and the difference has everything to do with whether you're being realistic. You might hope that you'll win the lottery, for example, or become a movie star, or be elected president of the United States. But if you do, you're living in fantasy land. That's not real hope; those are all pipe dreams.
What I want to talk about today is real hope, hope for everyone who knows Jesus Christ, hope that's even better than the hope of going to heaven when we die. It's the hope of final glory. Paul talks about it in a memorable phrase from a letter that he wrote to his friend Titus.
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. (Titus 2:11-13)
“The blessed hope,” Paul calls it, “the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” What he's talking about is the public and visible return of Jesus Christ at the end of time to judge the world and redeem the creation. That's what Christians mean when we talk about our ultimate hope, our future hope. It's the coming of Jesus Christ, and that will mean unimaginable blessings for those who know him and are looking for his appearing.
But as we think about this future hope of glory, we need to listen, too, to what Paul says in the context that surrounds that promise. What he's interested in driving home to his young friend Titus has more to do with “here and now” living than with “bye and bye” glory. So he begins by talking about grace. “The grace of God has appeared,” says the apostle.
God's grace isn't a substance. It isn't something that can be packaged and bought and sold. It's really an attitude, first of all on the part of God. It's a disposition that God has to be merciful, to express his love by saving undeserving creatures. And then grace is God's act where he takes the initiative in order to save us. And it's grace that's the very foundation of our hope. This is what makes our hope of glory realistic and not a pipe dream.
So Paul says, “the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to everybody” (Titus 2:11) And what he means is Jesus has come, Jesus has appeared to everyone. Paul's referring here to the historical facts of the life of Jesus: his birth, his ministry, his teaching, his miracles, his suffering, his death on the cross, his resurrection, and his ascension into heaven, and then the outpouring of his Spirit. All of this is behind this phrase, “The grace of God has appeared.”
Jesus, you see, is God's grace personified, appearing on history's stage. Grace means love acting to save the undeserving, love expressed through kindness, love for those who haven't merited love. It's love in action, reaching down to rescue those who cannot save themselves. And all of this is perfectly embodied in the life of Jesus Christ. He is grace, God's grace in person. And we experience that grace when we come to know him, to put our faith in him, and to experience his saving love.
So let me say it again, God's grace is his love for the undeserving, those who are both helpless and unworthy. And it's expressed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, his mighty acts that bring salvation. And, finally, God's grace is experienced in our lives when we have faith in Christ and receive the gift of his Spirit, when we are born again, and cleansed and forgiven from all our sins.
But that's not all there is to say about grace because Paul goes on to stress the fact that this same grace that saves us also changes us. He talks about how grace “teaches” us. Listen again to how Paul puts it:
“The grace of God has appeared,” he says. “It teaches us to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.”
All of us who know Jesus Christ, who've experienced his salvation, are enrolled in the school of grace. And what exactly do we learn there? Paul says the first thing we learn is to say “no” to ungodliness and to worldly passions.
So grace begins on a negative note; its first lesson is on how to renounce certain things, certain behaviors. Right off the bat, grace teaches us to say “no.” That may come as a bit of a surprise because often the way Christians talk, it sounds as though grace means saying an unqualified “yes” to everyone and to everything. You will sometimes hear people say things like, “We believe in grace around here. We don't reject anyone. We practice unconditional acceptance.” If you mean unconditional acceptance of sinners, that's true, grace does do that, but it doesn't mean unconditional acceptance of sinners' behavior. No. Grace teaches us to renounce certain things, in no uncertain terms.
Biblical Christianity has an unmistakable negative element to it; it teaches us to say “no,” and often the negative comes before the positive. We have to say “no” to some things in order to say “yes” to others. We have to say “no” to ourselves in order to say “yes” to Jesus. We need to deny ourselves before we can follow him. We need to die to sin so that we may live to righteousness. This is basic New Testament teaching.
Notice specifically what Paul says we're called upon to deny if we're learning in the school of grace. First we have to say “no” to ungodliness. And that includes things like false religion (wrong ways of relating to God), as well as non-religion (the sort of casual indifference to God that treats him as an irrelevance to our lives). In the Bible, faith is always connected to action in a cause and effect relationship. So if we believe the wrong things about God, it's going to result in defective behavior, whereas right faith will produce good behavior. So “ungodliness” in Scripture doesn't just mean wrong ideas about God but every kind of sinful behavior that follows from rejecting the truth about who God is. And grace teaches us is to say “no” to all of that.
And secondly, this verse says grace teaches us to say “no” to what Paul calls “worldly passions.” If ungodliness refers to wrong belief and behavior, then worldly passions is aimed at our misdirected desires, desires that are aimed at the world and its goods and values rather than on God.
Now to the positive. What does grace teach us to say “yes” to? The apostle says that grace teaches us “to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (v. 12), three things he mentions, a trio of positive characteristics that sketch out what our behavior ought to be in the most important relationships in our lives.
So with respect to ourselves, Paul says, we are to be self-controlled, that is, self disciplined, the discipline that comes from having our wills rule our appetites and our emotions. But self-control is far more that mere willpower. It's one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:23; cf. also 2 Timothy 1:7). God gives us the power to do what otherwise we would find to be too much for us: to resist temptation, to control our emotions, to remain steadfast and faithful in adversity, calm under provocation, to stick to obedience even if we don't feel like it.
Secondly, grace teaches us to be upright, or righteous, which refers to our behavior toward other people. The root word that Paul uses here means “just.” It refers to basic honesty and fairness in all our dealings with others. “Upright” describes the way those who have been changed by God's grace behave in their human relationships: in the family, or at work or school, in business dealings, in friendships, in their communities. It's the quality of character which we might express today by using the word “integrity.” Christians are supposed to be people of integrity, people who have been taught by grace not to be underhanded or shady or dishonest in any way.
And finally, there's our relationship with God. The term Paul chooses for this is godly, or pious. Grace teaches us to be godly. I think the word piety has gotten a bad name today. It's not considered a compliment to be called “pious,” but that's actually a wonderful old word for a very good quality. It means relating to God in the proper way, seeing him as great, and ourselves as low before him. So these are the things grace teaches us: to say “no” to sinful actions and false desires and then to say “yes” to lives that are inwardly self-controlled, outwardly upright and honest, and godly in the face and before the presence of the Lord God himself.
You know, friends, if you're looking for the return of Jesus Christ, godliness is the only way to go now, day in and day out. It's the sign that our hope for the future is real, that our expectation of glory is realistic. The Lord Jesus will come again with glory at the end of time just as surely as he came in lowliness and suffering in the midst of time. Then he died; now he lives; and in the end he will reign. That is our future hope!