Welcome to the Family!

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Titus 3:7

So that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.

Titus 3:7 rsv

When do we say words like these: “Welcome to the family”? Maybe it’s as you open your home to a foreign exchange student. I was in a situation like that this past weekend. A pastor and his family in Illinois have received into their household for this year a German high school boy. He lives in their house, eats at their table, shares their life. They say to him, in effect, as they take him in, “Welcome to the family!”

In a deeper way, this happens at wedding receptions. A father has just given away in marriage the daughter who is the apple of his eye, the joy of his life. Now he has a new son-in-law. As they stand in the reception line together, the father, eyes moist, congratulates the groom and says warmly, “Welcome to the family!” From now on, the young man will have a place in this network of relationships. He’ll have some say in decisions to be made. He’ll have a vital interest in the future of all the others. He’s now part of that family circle.

But most permanently and poignantly, those words are spoken when a child is adopted. The husband and wife have been hoping, planning and praying about this for a long time. Now the happy day has come and a tiny bundle of life is delivered into their arms. A gorgeous daughter! From now on she will bear their name, be nurtured in their home, have a place in their hearts. They are saying in that magic moment, through tears of joy, “Welcome to the family!”

And that, friends, is what God says to people like us in the gospel. We’ve been thinking together about the great salvation that has dawned upon the world in Jesus Christ. We’ve seen how the source of it is God’s amazing love for the disobedient and the unworthy. We’ve thought of how that love comes to supreme expression in Christ’s self-offering for our sakes and in His victory over death. We’ve rejoiced in the ministry of the Holy Spirit cleansing us, giving us life, renewing us from within. But we don’t have the full picture of what salvation means until we sense also its family dimension.

Listen to Paul’s teaching one more time from Titus 3, beginning at verse 4, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.”

JUSTIFIED BY HIS GRACE

First now, what it means to be “justified by his grace.” That verb to justify is not a familiar one for many of us. Let’s explore how it’s being used here. Sometimes we can understand a word best when we know its opposite. For example, listen to this from Proverbs 17:15, “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the Lord.” Here to justify is plainly the opposite of to condemn. To justify then is a legal term that means to “pronounce innocent,” to “declare someone in the right.” When a judge justifies a man or woman standing before him, he is acquitting that person of all charges.

Now according to the thrilling message of the New Testament, God as the just judge of all the earth justifies people like us. He pronounces us innocent, declares us to be in the right. But here’s the great mystery. He does this for people who are, without question, guilty. The apostle Paul can even say that God justifies the “ungodly”! How can that be? How can God say about wayward people, about those who have disobeyed Him time and time again, “These are acquitted. I declare them free of all charges.”

The answer lies, of course, in Jesus Christ, who took upon Himself our guilt and condemnation, who died for our sins. Because He suffered for us, the just one for the unjust, because He bore what we deserve, all our guilt has been atoned for, put out of the way. Now God, looking upon us in His beloved Son, Jesus, can say, “They are acquitted. They are freely justified.”

That’s why Paul contends here that we are justified by God’s grace. It’s not in the ordinary way – by our personal innocence, by any perfect record we possess, any works of righteousness that we have done. It’s completely by God’s free gift, by His undeserved kindness in Jesus Christ. We are justified in Christ, justified by His blood, and therefore by God’s astonishing grace.

HEIRS OF LIFE ETERNAL

But even that is not the best. We’re not only cleared of all charges, justified freely by the great Judge of all the earth. We also become His children. We saw last week how in the new birth, by the power of the Spirit, God gives us life. But our being born again means more than a new beginning. It means our receiving a new nature as the children of God. We are born, as John’s gospel puts it, “not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). We have received – imagine it! – “the power to become children of God.” God has begotten us through the Word, by the Spirit, as His beloved children. We have become partakers of God’s own life!

But there’s another sense in which we become God’s children. The Bible also uses about us the beautiful word adoption. Listen to these words of the apostle Paul, “When the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5). Yes, and adoption as daughters. Here it’s not a matter of receiving a new life. Rather, we’re being given a new status. We are declared to be God’s children, with all the rights and privileges that go along with that. We share in the sonship of Jesus. We can call God Father, “Abba – Father” just as Jesus did. The same Holy Spirit that moved Him lives also in us. God says to us in the music of the gospel, “Welcome to the family!”

Adoption, even on the human level, can be a moving and beautiful thing. I was talking with a friend who is a grandfather just this past week. My friend’s daughter had gone through a deeply painful experience in her first marriage. She had been abandoned by her husband just as she was about to bear their first child. The birth was drastically premature and the tiny baby struggled for life, but marvelously survived and grew. In the months that followed, when there were still many questions about the child’s future, another young man proposed to the new mother. Then he came to her father and told him not only that he wanted to marry the daughter, but also to adopt the little baby. Now all these things have happened. The tiny child has become a lovely, normal two-year-old.

Here’s what especially impressed me about what my friend was saying. The baby now has a brand new birth certificate. The adoption process has brought about a wholly new reality. Legally, as well as in accepting love, the little girl was now the real child of her adopting father. I see in that a wonderful glimpse of how our Father in heaven takes us in, claims us as His own, and says “Welcome to the family!”

The apostle Paul emphasizes particularly here that God’s dear children, adopted and born anew, have become also His heirs. He writes, “so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.” Because we are God’s sons and daughters through Jesus Christ, we have a share in the family inheritance. And it’s quite an estate. Hear how the apostle describes it in Romans 8:31-32, “If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him?” Did you hear that – all things? All that the Father has belongs to His children. And especially, they are “heirs in hope of eternal life.” That comprehends all that the Father has to give: life abundant, life eternal, life that is life indeed, the utmost of what we dream of when we speak of “really living.” Indeed, because that life means fellowship with God Himself and with His redeemed people.

We have eternal life here and now, but only as the firstfruits, a taste, a glimpse. When Christ returns, on resurrection morning, what we’ve begun to experience here will become our overflowing portion forever. As the already and the not yet, eternal life is both present reality and future hope. And it all belongs to those who are God’s heirs, joint heirs with Jesus Christ.

ALL BY FAITH

“But,” someone asks, “is that really true for everyone? Are all people justified by God’s grace, all adopted into His family? Are they all heirs of life eternal?” No, we aren’t told that. We’re told that this justifying work of God happens through Christ, that adoption is in Christ, that eternal life comes to us from Him who said, “I am the resurrection and the life.”

Further, we know that all of this is given through Jesus’ sin-bearing death. We are justified by His blood, says the apostle, adopted through His sacrifice. We find life in His death.

But there’s one more word about it, one that bears upon our receptivity, our response. The great word of the gospel is that we are “justified by faith.” We are “the children of God through faith in Jesus Christ.” And God so loved the world, we learn in the best-loved of all Bible verses, “that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” All is in Christ, all is through His saving work and all is granted to us as pure gift, through faith. Paul puts it beautifully, “By grace you are saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).

Faith, you see, is not an achievement of ours for which we can take credit. Faith is like the empty hand extended to receive the gift. It’s like reaching out, as a woman did once, to touch the Savior who can make us whole. It’s like swinging wide the door of our hearts and inviting Him in. As one of the old creeds put it, “Faith in Jesus Christ means receiving and resting upon Him alone for salvation, as He is offered to us in the gospel.”

Here’s how it happens. I’ll tell you my story. When I was in my teens, a friend of mine asked me under a street light one night what I thought it meant to be a Christian. I didn’t know. I stumbled around for an answer. He explained the gospel to me. He told me who Jesus was, what He had done for us, how He was alive and could come into our hearts, forgiving us, renewing us, becoming our Savior, living within us by His Spirit. That was the most marvelous good news to me. My heart just opened up to receive it. I believed in those moments that it was for me that Jesus died and rose again, that God loved me, that for the sake of His dear Son He was receiving me, claiming me as one of His children, giving me the hope of eternal life.

Now the gospel is coming to you. Maybe you’ve heard it before. Maybe you’ve already trusted Christ. Then rejoice anew today in what the Lord has done for you and in the fact that you truly belong to Him.

But if you’ve never truly trusted Christ before, never recognized that all of this was for you, I invite you in the Lord’s name today to receive Him. Acknowledge that it was for your sins that Jesus died and put your whole trust in Him as your living Lord. Commit your life to Him. And I can tell you, on the authority of His unfailing Word, that as you do, you will be justified by His grace, totally accepted, and you will become an heir of this marvelous hope, a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ. Believe it. God will say to you, with a smile of accepting love, “Welcome to the family!”

Prayer: Father, how we praise You that You accept us freely in Jesus Christ and call us Your children through faith in Him. May every person who shares this program today believe this wonderful good news and know the joy and true life of being God’s children and have their hearts filled with hope. Let it be so for Jesus’ sake, we pray. Amen.