April 7, 2019
March Madness! It’s almost over. There have been some amazingly close games! In each of these games there are moments that we sometimes refer to as a game-changers. It was the clutch 3 point shot at the end of the half. It was the moment when a key defensive player fouled out. These are game-changing moments. This morning I am thinking about a different kind of game-changer. It’s far more significant because it is the difference between life and death. It has bearing on who we are in this world.
We are looking at Paul’s letter to Titus. Paul had given his co-worker, Titus, a task to do on the island of Crete. For one thing, Titus was to appoint elders in the church at Crete. And he was to help that congregation become established in Christ. In this letter Paul speaks about the grace of God. We see that God’s saving grace is a game-changer for living life in this world.
I. GOD’S GRACE IS COMPLETELY UNEXPECTED. 2:11; 3:4
“Canadian Sunset” is a tune released in 1956. It was written by Eddie Heywood and Hugo Winterhalter. It has been covered by jazz musicians over the years including Count Basie, George Shearing, Wes Montgomery and many others. I mention it because the lyrics help to set the stage for this idea. The first verse goes, “Once I was alone, so lonely and then, You came, out of nowhere like the sun up from the hills.’ The song is about a person at a ski lodge in Canada feeling lonely and out of nowhere the man or woman of their dreams appears. I’m interested in the line, “You came out of nowhere.” This unexpected love came out of nowhere. Listen to 2:11. “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.”
The word, “appeared,” gives us our English word, “epiphany.” An epiphany is a sudden appearance or perception. In racking our brain to understand something we might say, “I just had an epiphany.” Understanding suddenly came from out of nowhere. The verse literally says, “It has appeared, the grace of God.” If you look at 3:4 you find the same word. “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared….” We must see this thought against the backdrop of this present world. The person in the song was feeling so alone. Their loneliness provided the foil to meeting the love of their dreams.
This present world is so broken. Our world dwells in darkness. This darkness is mostly seen in the hearts and lives of men and women. It’s not just that we have lost our way. Generally the world of humanity is blind to its own lostness. Anger, rage, fighting, murder, racism, infidelity, envy, pride, lying, cheating, stealing, abuse! It goes on all the time everywhere in the world. We have come to expect it and we are especially grieved when we or our loved ones are the victim.
But, Paul says, “It has appeared, the grace of God.” What is Paul talking about? He’s talking about the coming of Jesus into this world. The grace of God made an appearance, dwelling among us in the person of Jesus. And the appearance of Jesus brought many surprises, many epiphanies. Here was someone whose message was unique. Here was someone whose overwhelming power was used only for miracles of goodness. Here was someone who willingly laid down his life for the sins and guilt of the world in order to provide cleansing from sin and eternal living in the kingdom of God. That is not how the world works. It is how God works.
The grace of God in Jesus Christ is a gift, pure and simple. It is a gift based solely on the goodness and loving kindness of God. Because this saving grace is rooted in God’s loving character and his love for the world, there is nothing that the world, you and me, can offer to God in exchange for his forgiveness and life. The grace of God that brings salvation is not based on any system of merit or privilege. All we can do is respond to God’s gift in Jesus Christ by casting ourselves at his feet in repentance and faith, trusting God, taking God at his word. The only way we can be put right in our relationship with God is through faith in Jesus Christ. Now Paul tells us that this grace is for all people. It is for you. Have you received God’s grace of salvation in Christ? Before you answer, “Yes,” you might want to listen to the next thought.
II. GOD’S GRACE TRANSFORMS OUR WAY OF LIVING. 2:12
Look at v.11-12. It says, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.”
What kind of grace is God’s grace? It is grace that is active in the lives of all who embrace Jesus. In 3:5 we read that God’s grace in Jesus regenerates and renews our lives. This isn’t just a nice way of talking. This is a statement about what God does in us through Jesus Christ.
When we receive the grace of God by receiving Jesus Christ as Savior, Lord and King, Christ the King takes up residence in our life and graciously begins teaching us how to live like him in this present age. Paul describes negative and positive implications of having Christ. On the one hand believers are learning to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions. This is important. Every ungodly attitude and passion that is found in this world resides in each of our hearts to one degree or another. We may think we don’t have a racist bone in our body. But sometimes our thoughts and words tell a different story. We may think we never have a problem with anger, lust, envy, or greed. But more often than we want to admit, these behaviors are found deep in our hearts. John tells us that if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves. When Christ comes in, he begins a work of renewal and we begin to realize that things need to change and can change with the help of the Holy Spirit.
On the positive side, Christ is teaching us to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives. One commentator points out that self-control is inward, upright living is outward, and godly living is upward, finding its reference point in Jesus. What goes on in you has to do with bringing your attitudes under the control of Jesus Christ. The way you live before others has to do with conforming your conversation and conduct to the way of Jesus. The overall way you envision your life, has to do with fixing your eyes on Jesus. This is Christian living. This has nothing to do with trying to be good enough to make the cut for heaven. This is about living out the life of Christ in us.
What is more, we are living this life in this present age. As John Nugent points out in his book, “Endangered Gospel,” we are not called to make the world into a better place. As Christians in the Church of Jesus Christ, we are the better place. We are the light of the world. The new creation work of God begun with the resurrection of Jesus has begun in us through faith in Jesus. We are new creation in Christ Jesus. Godly living can only occur in people who have received Christ and his life.
So if you have received Christ, would you say that you are learning to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions? Would you say that you are learning to live a self-controlled, upright, and godly life in the world today? Receiving God’s grace in Jesus is a game-changer. Our lives should be becoming increasingly at odds with the ungodliness and worldly passions of this age and we should be increasing in Christ honoring living.
III. GOD’S GRACE REDIRECTS OUR FUTURE. 2:13; 3:7
According to v.13, while living in this present age, we are, “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” Or, if you look at 3:7, Paul writes, “so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” While the new creation work of God has already begun in our lives, it will not come to completion until Christ returns.
What do you have in mind for your future? Maybe you are young and you have your heart fixed on finding a spouse to marry and have children with. That is a worthy goal. Or maybe you are in college or graduate school and you have your mind fixed on a career that will give you the means to realize any number of life dreams. Good for you. Maybe you are in middle age and you are focused on preparing for retirement. That is a good thing to do. Most people do not seem to make these kinds of preparations. Maybe you are elderly and your focus is on staying healthy, living as long as you can, and enjoying your children and grandchildren. There is nothing wrong with that.
But as wonderful as all that may be, if you have received the grace of God in Christ Jesus, the most important life goal is being with Jesus himself. Now I get it. Being with Jesus sounds a little nebulous and intangible. Christians have been looking for the return of Christ ever since Christ ascended to the Father. But our treasure is in Jesus. Jesus is our life. We are seated with Christ in heavenly places. Eternal life doesn’t begin in the next world. It has already begun for us in this world because we are new creations in Christ looking forward to being with Christ in the new heavens and earth.
And now I am thinking about the Lord’s Table. At the Lord’s Table what is intangible is given a measure of tangibility. Just as the bread we eat is real bread, and the juice we drink is real juice, so the life of Christ in us is real life. We are not eating and drinking Jesus, but we are eating and drinking in the presence of Jesus with an eye to the future when we will be with the Lord forever. So as we come to the Table it is an opportunity to reorient our goals for the future to reflect the priorities and values of Jesus Christ.
The Lord’s Table is a banquet of grace through which we are renewed in his love and grace. Do you know the Lord? Are you living for yourself or are you living for Jesus in this world? In other words, is God’s saving grace a game-changer as you live your life in this world? Let us think about these things as we come to the Lord’s Table. Amen