READ : Titus 2:12
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age.
Titus 2:11-12 niv
Grace is God’s wonderful, undeserved kindness toward people like us. That grace has appeared in history in the life and ministry, the death and rising of Jesus Christ. It’s a grace that brings salvation, delivering us from guilt and bondage, restoring us to what we’re meant to be. And it’s a grace, thank God, that’s meant for everyone. If you will this day acknowledge your need of a Savior and put your trust in Jesus Christ, this God of grace will welcome you, forgive you and breathe into you new life. That is the gospel.
Today I want to think with you especially about “The Gospel School,” how the message of God’s grace in Jesus Christ instructs us. Listen to Paul’s words again. I’m reading from his letter to Titus, chapter 2, verse 11: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say `No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.”
We often say that such and such an experience “taught us something.” We learn, for example, from a humiliating personal failure not to take ourselves so seriously. We discover sometimes at the lowest point in our lives how the Lord was there to sustain us. Events can be instructive. Paul is saying here that the gospel, the good news of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, is a kind of object lesson, vivid and powerful. It bears a message about how we are to live our lives.
It’s vital for us to see that connection between the gospel of grace and our daily living. Behavior follows belief. Conduct is molded by conviction. A remarkable, distinctive way of living arises out of the gospel. When we are disciples of Jesus, when we are taught by God’s grace, when we are enrolled in “The Gospel School,” we learn how to live graciously.
All right, what does the gospel teach us? First, on the negative side, Paul says, it teaches us to say “No” to “ungodliness” and “worldly passions.” We are to deny these things, to repudiate them, to renounce all connection with them.
Now notice, the gospel itself is not negative. It’s the most positive, life-giving, joy-bringing message in the world. But when we say a great “yes” to God, it always involves saying also a resounding counterpart “no.” You know how that goes. There’s a choice involved. To say “yes” to one person or one cause always involves some counter negation, sometimes a very dramatic one. When you say a wholehearted “yes” to one special person as your life partner, you’re saying a “no,” aren’t you, to every other possible spouse? You may be saying “no” to some other things, too. Some of us remember when England’s King Edward said “yes” to the divorced woman he loved. Because it was felt at the time that his contemplated marriage was inappropriate for a king, Edward finally had to say “no” to the British throne. He made a decision; he turned toward the woman he loved. But that meant turning away from royalty.
There’s nothing royal about what Christians renounce. They are taught by the gospel to renounce “ungodliness.” All who believe in Christ are to say a flat “no” to everything that dishonors God. Even more, they are to turn away from everything that keeps them from a reverent awareness of God, that “steams the windows of their souls,” as it were, so that they cannot behold Him clearly. Preoccupation with money and things can do that to us. Hobbies and pursuits can sometimes become so absorbing that they lead us to forget God and our relationship to Him. Whatever mesmerizes us in that way, whatever dims the reality of God’s presence in our lives, can’t be affirmed, can’t be tolerated, if we’re going to follow Jesus. The only thing to say to all the things that threaten to lead us away from God is “no.”
What are these “worldly desires” or passions the apostle writes about? They’re cravings that focus on the goods of this present age, that make wealth or power, prestige or pleasure the goals we seek most eagerly. They drain away our emotional and spiritual energies in a quest for things that neither matter much nor last. The gospel teaches us to say “no” to whatever weakens our intensity of concern for God’s cause, God’s kingdom.
Here’s how the apostle puts it in another one of his letters. (This is from Colossians 3:1-2): “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth” (rsv). We have been raised with Christ, says Paul, to a new life in God’s kingdom. We are therefore to concentrate the desires of our hearts on heavenly things, setting our minds on Christ and the goals of His reign. Why? Because God has graciously joined us to this Christ. In Him we have died to the world and its charms and have been raised again to seek first God’s kingdom.
Do you see what the apostle is doing here? He’s showing in this vivid way how the gospel teaches us. It reminds us that because we have been joined to Christ in His death and resurrection, all our thinking, desiring and doing are to have a new focus.
THE NEW LIFESTYLE
On the positive side, the apostle writes, we are to live “soberly” or “sound-mindedly.” He’s speaking about self-control here, about how we handle ourselves. This is the very opposite of drunkenness, dullness, or irrationality, all those states of mind and body that lead us to do foolish and shameful things. Peter puts it like this: “We are to keep sane and sober for our prayers” (1 Peter 4:7). We’re to be vigilant against the devil, staying alert to the spiritual conflict around us and to opportunities we may meet for service and witness. This living soberly, with full presence of mind, is always a prime qualification for watchmen on the wall, for sentries at the front, for launchers of Patriot anti-missile missiles in the Gulf War. If we aren’t ready for action in a moment of crisis, it may well be too late.
We’re also to live “righteously,” or uprightly. In the Bible, that’s a word that reminds us of the covenant between God and His people. To live righteously is to be faithful to the commitment we make to the covenant God, to be obedient to His commands and loyal to His cause. It has to do with our conduct before others: uprightness, blamelessness, walking a straight path, dealing with people fairly. The gospel teaches us such practical things as just weights and balances, plain honesty in business dealings. To live righteously is to keep our promises and fulfill our commitments.
Righteous living, covenant keeping, is the very opposite of what we might call “self-maximizing.” The latter is what many have openly advocated in our time. “Go for all the gusto you can.” “Pursue personal fulfillment.” “You have a right to happiness,” we’re told, “to be all that you can be. So go for it.” If we happen then to be in a marriage that isn’t completely satisfying and happen to meet a partner more ravishing, we’ll simply get out of one marriage into another.
Covenant-keepers look at things differently. They’ve heard the word of the Lord saying to them, “Let not loyalty and faithfulness forsake you. Bind them about your neck. Write them on the tablet of your heart.” Loyalty and faithfulness are ways of living to be internalized. The gospel teaches us to have a higher goal than self-fulfillment. Call it walking before God. Call it fidelity to those who trust us. Call it living righteously.
Now here’s the crown: the grace of God in Christ teaches us to live lives also that are “godly.” We’ve talked about what that word means. To be godly is to live our lives with a reverent awareness of God, realizing that we are in His presence, acknowledging Him in all our ways. The godly are God conscious, God-centered people. The center of life for them is worshiping God and walking in communion with Him.
I was reading in Psalm 73 just the other day a phrase that struck me, “My chief good is to be near God” (v. 28). If living soberly has to do with how we control ourselves, and walking righteously to do with how we treat other people, godliness has to do with the primary relationship in our lives, our tie with the Lord of heaven and earth.
Do you know what the goal of God’s saving grace is, the aim Christ had in view when He gave His life for us? Listen to these words from the apostle Peter, “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). That’s why He came to earth. That’s why He lived a life of obedience. That’s why He set His face to go to Jerusalem and was willing to drink the bitter cup. That’s why He suffered and died for our sins – so that, Peter writes, He might bring us to God. This is a story of barriers broken, distance bridged. It’s a message of reconciliation, home at last. The gospel teaches us above all else that we belong to the Lord, that we are created and redeemed to dwell in the secret place of the Most High. Grace teaches us to make the Lord our treasure, to prize His presence above all.
Maybe you have a question for Paul at this point. Maybe you’re wondering, “How does the saving grace of God in Christ teach us these things? How do we learn them from the message of the gospel?” Let’s think about that. The grace of God teaches us to live in this new way first of all by offering forgiveness through Christ for our past failures. We don’t have to carry around a crippling load of guilt. People who are self- condemned find it very difficult to treat others well. They are down on themselves. They feel far away from God. When the gospel teaches them that in Jesus Christ they are completely forgiven, they feel a new freedom.
The gospel teaches us to live in this new way also by providing resources for our calling. In the ministry of the Holy Spirit, God comes to dwell within us, making our bodies His temples, promising to live in us and walk around in us. Walking by this moral standard, we aren’t left alone. If we try to do it by ourselves, we’ll end up either pretending that we’re something we’re not, or looking down on others. But the Holy Spirit, working in us, renewing and transforming us, makes the new life possible. Not all at once, but here and there, now and then, we find ourselves able to walk in newness of life.
And think how the gospel teaches us by the motivation of a grateful love. Remember how the apostle put it: “The love of Christ constrains us” or “controls us.” “Because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:14-15). Why live a sober, self-controlled life? Why be a covenant keeper? Why live to honor God in all things? For Jesus’ sake. Because He loved us and gave Himself for us.
That makes all the difference, doesn’t it? Living in the right way, living in God’s way has to do with more than outward actions and spoken words. It has to do with heart, with motive. The gospel teaches us to obey God, not to win His favor, not out of a grim sense of duty, but from a joy-filled, grateful heart. It actually creates that gratitude in us by the power of the Spirit.
And here’s one more thing. The gospel teaches us to live in this new way by the inspiration and support of a sure hope. It may sometimes be difficult to live soberly, righteously and godly in this present age. Other paths may seem at times more pleasant and rewarding. But listen: all our self-denials and struggles cannot possibly be in vain. A great future is ahead for us. This same hope frees us from our illusions about worldly goals. It exposes how hollow are the enticements of evil, how false the promises of the tempter. Supported by these great gospel expectations, we can go through anything – cleaving to God.
If you have internalized the gospel, friends, you are truly well taught. Learners in “The Gospel School” know how to live. They major in that finest of the arts. May you be one of those, through trusting in Jesus Christ!
Prayer: Lord, help everyone sharing this program today so to trust in You, so to know Your saving grace, that they may enroll in “The Gospel School and learn how to live. In Jesus’ name. Amen.