The Blessed Hope

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Titus 2:11-14

What are you hoping for out of life? If you are a Christian, that question has already been answered for you .

What are you hoping for out of life? Hope is one of the most valuable assets anyone could have. You have heard the saying, “Where there’s life, there’s hope.” The opposite is just as true. Where there is hope, there is life. And without hope life isn’t possible for very long. We cannot survive without any hope. Hope is as necessary to us as oxygen; without it, we die.

But in order to have hope, we need to have a future. Hope is our expectation of something good to come, some blessing that awaits us in the future, something to look forward to. But for hope to be real, it must also be realistic. There is a difference between real hope and wishful thinking, and the difference has everything to do with how certain your expectation is. You are probably hoping to see the light of day tomorrow; and that is a pretty solid hope. But if you are pinning your hopes for the future on winning a fortune in the lottery, or on becoming a movie star, or on being elected president of the United States, you’re living in fantasy land. Those aren’t real hopes at all; they are pipe dreams.

I want to talk about what is, for friends of Jesus Christ, the ultimate hope, a hope that is even greater than going to heaven when we die. It is the hope of final glory. Paul refers to it in a memorable phrase from a letter he wrote to his friend Titus.

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, 12 training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. 14 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

“The blessed hope,” Paul calls it, “the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” What an incredible statement! The apostle is talking here about the public and visible appearing of Jesus Christ at the end of time to judge and to save the world – what Christians commonly refer to as Christ’s return, or “Second Coming.” Jesus Christ will appear once more on earth in person, and his infinite glory – that is, his goodness, beauty, perfection, righteousness, praiseworthiness and power – will be made clearly evident to everyone everywhere. And that will mean unimaginable blessings for all who love him and are longing for his appearing.

GRACE HAS APPEARED

But before we think more about the blessed hope of glory at the end of the world, we need to listen to what Paul says in the surrounding context of that phrase. He wants to tell Titus much more about “here and now” living than about “bye and bye” glory. So Paul begins by talking about the most important concept in the Christian faith: grace. “The grace of God has appeared,” Paul says.

What is grace, exactly? As Christians understand it, grace isn’t a substance, nor can it be packaged, dispensed or stored. It’s not for sale to the highest bidder. Nor is it a concept. It can’t be debated or refined or promoted. It isn’t available in book form or on cassette from your local Christian bookstore (or, to be candid, from your favorite Christian broadcaster!). No. Grace begins in the mind and heart of God; it is first an attitude on the part of God, a predisposition of a loving God to be merciful to undeserving creatures. Grace is also an act of God whereby he takes the initiative to save sinners. Grace is the very foundation of our hope. It’s what makes our hope realistic.

So Paul begins with the basic fact on which all Christian faith and life is grounded. He reminds his friend and colleague Titus that “the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all” (Titus 2:11, niv). Paul is referring here to the historical life of Jesus and all the things that he did: his teaching, miracles, death, resurrection, ascension and sending of the Spirit. Jesus is God’s grace personified, appearing on history’s stage. Grace is love acting to save the undeserving; it is love coupled with kindness, love for those who have not merited love. It is also love in action, reaching down to rescue those who cannot save themselves. And all of this is perfectly embodied in the life and words and deeds of Jesus Christ. Let me say it again. He is grace personified. And we experience his grace personally through the work of his Spirit, the Holy Spirit, in bringing life to us and making us new people and giving us the gift of faith on the basis of Jesus’ death on our behalf. So we are saved by this grace and not because of our own “righteous” deeds as Paul goes on to say a little bit later in his letter to Titus (cf. Titus 3:5-7).

So to sum up: God’s grace is his love for those who are both helpless and unworthy. It is expressed in the actions Jesus performed to bring about our salvation. It is experienced when we are born again by the cleansing and renewing work of the Holy Spirit.

WHAT GRACE TEACHES

But that is not all there is to say about grace. Paul goes on to stress the fact that the same grace that saves us also changes us. It “teaches” us some things, to use Paul’s expression. The truth is that grace instructs those whom it transforms. So what sort of lessons do we learn in the school of grace? What exactly does grace teach us? Paul says, first of all, “It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (verse 12, niv).

So grace begins on a negative note; its first lesson is on how to renounce certain things. Right off the bat grace teaches us to say “No.” Judging by how some Christians talk, you might think that grace always meant an unqualified “Yes” to everyone and everything. You will sometimes hear people say things like, “We believe in grace around here. We don’t reject anyone.” You’ll sometimes hear people say things like, “We believe in grace around here in unconditional acceptance.” Well, if you mean unconditional acceptance of sinners, that’s true, but grace does not mean unconditional acceptance of behavior. No. Grace teaches us to say no – in no uncertain terms. Biblical Christianity has an unmistakable and inescapable negative element to it, and the negative usually comes before the positive. We have to learn to say no to some things before we can say yes to others: to deny ourselves before we can follow Jesus, to put off the old nature in order to put on the new, to die to sin so that we may live to righteousness, to crucify the flesh in order to walk by the Spirit. This is basic New Testament teaching.

Notice the things Paul says specifically that we’re called upon to deny here in verse 12. First, we must say no to ungodliness. This includes untrue beliefs about God: false religions (that is, wrong ways of relating to God, such as the belief that we earn God’s favor by certain practices), as well as non-religion (that is, 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 deficient beliefs will issue in defective behavior, just as right faith will produce personal goodness. So “ungodliness” in scripture becomes a synonym not just for wrong belief but every kind of wicked behavior that follows from rejecting the truth about God. What grace first teaches us is to deny that sort of thing, to say no to it.

Second, it teaches us to say no to worldly passions, in Paul’s phrase. If ungodliness refers to improper belief and behavior, the command to reject worldliness is aimed at our misdirected desires. Desires that are “worldly” are focused upon things or values endorsed by this age, that which we can see and feel and handle. The prime example of a worldly passion in the letters of Paul is the oft-mentioned love of money. Money has become a sort of secular sacrament, mysterious, powerful and attractive. It’s much more dangerous to real Christian faith and life than persecution is. So do we pray? Do we flee? Do we say no against that sort of thing?

Now to the positive. What does grace teach us to say yes to? Paul says that grace teaches us “to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (v.12). This trio of positive characteristics sketches out in a general way what our behavior ought to be in the most important relationships of our lives. With respect to ourselves, we are to be self-controlled, sober and sensible, with the discipline that comes from our wills ruling our appetites and emotions. Self-control, though, is far more that mere willpower. It is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit’s presence within us (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 in adversity and calm under provocation, to stick to obedience even if we don’t feel like it.

Secondly, grace teaches us to be upright, which refers to our behavior toward other people. The root meaning of the word Paul uses here is “righteous” or “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 all their human relationships: in the family, at work or school, in business dealings, in friendships, in their communities. “Upright” describes the qualities of character which nowadays we could express by using the word “integrity.” Christians who have been taught by grace refuse to be underhanded, shady or dishonest in any way. They will not compromise the standard of righteousness in their dealings with others.

Finally, there is the Christian’s relationship with God. The term Paul chooses for this is pious, or godly. Grace teaches us to be godly. Piety sometimes has a bad name nowadays. It’s not considered a compliment to be called “pious,” but it’s actually a wonderful old word for a very good quality. Originally it meant “to fall back before” one who was greater than you. And it was used especially to describe the proper way of relating to God, including both the right attitude toward him (reverent awe at his greatness), and right actions toward him (the determination to honor and obey God in all of life).

So these are the things grace teaches us, first 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 upwardly godly.

THE BLESSED HOPE

That is the kind of life that will prepare us for “The Blessed Hope” of Jesus’ return. This is indeed our greatest hope – not just that we will go to heaven when we die, or sometime see our loved ones again. Those are secondary hopes. No, the thing that all believers are really waiting for is “the glorious appearing of our God and Savior Jesus Christ,” when the Lord once more will “shake the heavens and the earth” and bring his kingdom which cannot be shaken (Hebrews 12:26-29).

But here’s the point Paul wants to stress. If this is our hope for the future, it’s going to change the way we live in the present.

Godliness is the only way to go! It is the sign that our hope is real, and our expectation of glory is realistic. The Lord Jesus will come again with glory at the end of history, just as surely as he came in lowliness and suffering in the midst of history. Then he died; now he lives; in the end he will reign. It is the ultimate in life-changing hope!