Scripture Readings: Exodus 19:5-6; Ezekiel 37:21-23 â— Titus 2:11-14 (Text)
What is the common keyword in the following statements?
- Philippine President Mrs. Gloria Arroyo on the year 2010: â€œan unfolding future that we greet with hopefulness.â€
- Malacanang press release: â€œWe in the government join our people in welcoming the New Year with a sense of accomplishment and hope.â€
- Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, leader of the Anglican Church: People should not give up on the â€œhope for changeâ€ or â€œshrug our shoulders and lower our expectations.â€
This January 1st, just like all past New Year pronouncements, â€œhopeâ€ is the bywordâ€”hope for peace and economic prosperity for their countries and for the world. But it is not only leaders of nations, but most everyone is hopeful at the start of a new year. However, their hope is soon dashed to pieces because wars and rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes, and lawlessness continue unabated. In fact, the worldâ€™s problems seem to intensify with every new year, as Jesus prophesied in Matthew 24:6-8.
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Where then should we as Christians put our hope? Paul tells us, “set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earthâ€ (Col 3:2). And when we look up to things above, we think of Christ who, with his grace, gives us hope for the future.
In his letter to Titus, Paul warns against false teachers who lead people to ungodly lives (Tit 1:10-16). Then, in contrast to false teachers, he lists the criteria for choosing elders (Tit 1:5-9). He then gives instructions as to the various roles of different people in the church (Tit 2:1-10). Godly Christian living based on sound doctrine leads to sound behavior. In this way, the believerâ€”and the churchâ€”is built up and strengthened.
What is the basis of the righteous lifestyle of a Christian? The basis is the grace of God which brought salvation to the world when Jesus was born, lived among men, was crucified, and then rose again from the dead. Because of this salvation, believers are to be â€œzealous for good worksâ€ in this present age. While they await their â€œblessed hopeâ€â€”the appearing of Christ a second time in the age to comeâ€”they are to live according to their calling as Godâ€™s own special people.
This afternoon, we will consider â€œGodâ€™s Grace for His Own Special Possession.â€
1. In the Past: Gracious Salvation
2. In the Present: Godly Living and Waiting
3. In the Future: Complete Redemption and Purification
In the Past: Gracious Salvation
In the Christmas story that we have considered the past four Sundays, we came back often to the angelâ€™s announcement to Joseph that his wife Mary â€œwill bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sinsâ€ (Matt 1:21).
Two thousand years ago, Christ came down from his glorious throne in heaven to be born as a humble baby in human flesh and blood. Why did he do that? God sent him on a mission with eternal consequences. The angel said his mission was to â€œsave his people from their sins.â€ In Titus 2:11, Paul confirms this mission in saying that Godâ€™s grace brought salvation to the world.
What is this grace? When Adam sinned, his perfect human nature was corrupted. He lost his righteousness, holiness and fellowship with God. And all of mankindâ€”his descendantsâ€”inherited this sinful nature. God warned Adam that on the day he disobeyed his command, he would surely die. He died that moment, losing his perfect communion with God. Then he died later, his body separating from his spirit.
God would have been justified if he physically destroyed Adam and Eve on that day they broke his covenant of works. But he didnâ€™t. In his grace and mercy, he set forth in his covenant of grace a plan to save Adam and his descendants. This is why Paul says in Romans 5:15:
But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.
Adam and Eve and all mankind did not deserve Godâ€™s mercy because the wages of sin is death. But God was gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in his love for them and his whole creation. His redemptive plan involved sending his own beloved Son to die for the sins of his people. But this plan was all Godâ€™s grace, mercy and love, without any contribution from our works whatsoever. This is why Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-9:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Grace is Godâ€™s gift. Even the faith in Christ and repentance that is required of us for our salvation is granted to us by God! There is nothing in our salvation that we can boast that we have contributed. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone: it is 100 percent Godâ€™s work.
Who are the recipients of this grace? Matthew says Jesus was born to â€œsave his people from their sins.â€ Then why does Paul in our text says, â€œFor the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all peopleâ€? This phrase â€œall peopleâ€ is often misunderstood that Christ died for all the sins of all people. This is a false teaching, because it contradicts many other Scripture. If Christ died for every single human being who ever lived, no one will be in hell, which is unbiblical. But if there are people in hell, which is what the Bible says, then Christ died even for those who are in hell! What a travesty of Godâ€™s justice and holiness!
No, contrary to false Arminian teaching, this phrase rather means that salvation is brought to all kinds of people: man or woman, slave or free, rich or poor, Jew or Gentile. In heaven, there will be all kinds of people â€œfrom every tribe and language and people and nationâ€ (Rev 5:9).
But even more important than this questionâ€”for whom did Christ dieâ€”is this: Do you know if Christ died for you? Do you know if Godâ€™s grace has brought salvation for you from sin and death? If you do not know or if you are not sure, today is the day to know and to be sure. God calls you and all other unrepentant sinners, â€œToday, if you hear his voice, do not harden your heartsâ€ (Heb 4:7).
But if you have received Godâ€™s grace by heeding Godâ€™s call to faith alone in Christ alone, then what are you to do afterwards? How are you to live your lives as people who have been given Godâ€™s grace and mercy?
In the Present: Godly Living and Waiting
Paul says that believers are to live godly livesâ€”the results of our salvation–â€œin the present age.â€ This means that Christians are to live godly lives today, in the here and now.
How different this is from those who teach that the Reformed understanding of the preservation and perseverance of the saints will lead to ungodliness. On the contrary, we teach that good works are the sure evidence of our salvation. This is why Paul says in Ephesians 2:10 that because of his grace, God has â€œcreated [us] in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.â€ Even before God created the world, he already prepared for his chosen people all the good works that they will do in their lives. What, then, if a person claims to be a believer but does not show the fruits of his faith? Is he then what Arminians call a â€œcarnal Christianâ€? God forbid! That is a contradictionâ€”an impossibilityâ€”of the highest order!
Our Reformed confessions stress this sound doctrine:
Heidelberg Catechism 64: Q. But does not this doctrine make men careless and profane? A. No, for it is impossible that those who are implanted into Christ by true faith, should not bring forth fruits of thankfulness.
The Reformers affirmed that it is impossible for a person who is saved by Godâ€™s grace not to bring forth the fruits of his salvation!
The catechism also teaches us the uses of good works in our present lives:
HC 86. Q. Since, then, we are redeemed from our misery by grace through Christ, without any merit of ours, why must we do good works? A. Because Christ, having redeemed us by His blood, also renews us by His Holy Spirit after His own image, that with our whole life we show ourselves thankful to God for His blessing, and that He be glorified through us; then also, that we ourselves may be assured by our faith by the fruits thereof; and by our godly walk win also others to Christ.
First, good works shapes us into Christâ€™s image. Second, they show our thankfulness for Godâ€™s salvation. Third, God is glorified by our good works. Fourth, good works assures us that we are truly saved people. And lastly, our godly behavior will lead unbelievers to Christ.
These statements are echoed by the Westminster Confession of Faithâ€™s article about good works:
These good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith: and by them believers manifest their thankfulness, strengthen their assurance, edify their brethren, adorn the profession of the gospel, stop the mouths of the adversaries, and glorify God, whose workmanship they are, created in Christ Jesus thereunto, that, having their fruit unto holiness, they may have the end, eternal life (WCF 16:2).
This is why Paul says that we who are believers are a people â€œzealous for good works.â€ We do not merely do good works as obligation and obedience, but we do them with joy and zeal. There is joy in salvation! The Psalmist knows this when he says, â€œMore to be desired are they [Godâ€™s commands] than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycombâ€ (Psa 19:10). Doing Godâ€™s will is the most desirable thing in the world!
Positively, our salvation trains us in two things:
First, Godâ€™s grace trains us â€œto renounce ungodliness and worldly passions.â€ What is ungodliness? In Romans 1:29-31, he describes them as
filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, maliceâ€¦ full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousnessâ€¦ gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.
This ungodliness is what Paul and Titus are up against in Crete. Titus was the pastor of the churches in Crete, whose people are well-known for pagan immorality and ungodliness.
Second, grace teaches us â€œto live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives.â€ Self-control is the discipline given by the Holy Spirit that allows Christians to resist the power of the fleshâ€”our ungodly desires and passions. Paul applies it to women in relation to modesty, â€œwomen should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-controlâ€ (1 Tim 2:9). How women today, even those in the churches, rebel against this Biblical injunction to live self-controlled lives when they dress in provocative, revealing ways!
Another example of the absence of self-control is in contemporary worship practices: wild dancing, emotional singing, screaming, and deafening rock music that we find in many evangelical churches. Do you remember the so-called â€œToronto Blessingâ€? What made it famous were the uncontrolled â€œmanifestations of the Spiritâ€ during their â€œworship,â€ such as â€œholy laughter,â€ crying, barking, roaring, and other animal sounds and babbling. So much for Paulâ€™s injunction–â€œBut all things should be done decently and in orderâ€ (1 Cor 14:40)â€”self-control.
Upright and godly lives mean righteous livesâ€”living according to Godâ€™s righteous standard. Christâ€™s life is our standard of righteousness. His righteousness is counted as our righteousness as a result of our faith in him. Paul calls the opposite of these as ungodliness and unrighteousness, with terrible eternal consequences:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unright-eousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth (Rom 1:18).
God will harden the hearts of those who insist on living ungodly lives and then on Judgment Day, he will pour out his righteous wrath on them.
Godâ€™s grace brought salvation to us long ago when Jesus was born, died and rose from the grave. This salvation results in godly and righteous living today. And when Christ appears a second time, he will complete our redemption and purification.
In the Future: Complete Redemption and Purification
Do you remember that just a month ago, all of us were so excited about the coming Christmas and New Year celebrations? All of our thoughts were focused on the holidays. We were constantly thinking what presents to buy, what food we will cook, where we will go, and what we will wear.
This is what is called living for the future. And Paul tells Titus that we are to live righteous and godly lives while we await our Redeemerâ€™s appearing. The Greek word for â€œwaitingâ€ also includes the idea of eagerness, anticipation and excitement for the future, for whatâ€™s coming. As eager as we are for Christmas and New Year, so we are to be infinitely more eager in expectation of the return of Christ to take us to our heavenly home forever.
When apocalyptic movies like 2012 or Armageddon are shown, some people wonder, â€œWhy should I study hard to finish college? Why should I continue to work hard? Why should I live in righteousness? Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we all die!â€
But Paul exhorts us in exactly the opposite way: â€œrenounce ungodliness and worldly passionsâ€¦ and live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.â€ Because our blessed hope, Christ, is coming! When he came into this world the first time, our Suffering Servant came â€œnot to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for manyâ€ (Matt 20:28).
In giving his life as a ransom for his chosen multitude, his mission in Titus 2:14 was twofold: first, â€œto redeem us from all lawlessnessâ€; second, â€œto purify for himself a people for his own possession.â€
What is lawlessness? Lawlessness in the Old Testament is direct opposition to Godâ€™s Law. In the New Testament, it means â€œwickednessâ€ or â€œsinfulness,â€ the opposite of â€œrighteous,â€ â€œupright,â€ or â€œgodlyâ€ lives that Paul exhorts believers to live. In Romans 6:19, Paul contrasts these two opposite qualities, â€œFor just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.â€
In giving his life for us, Christ redeemed us from all lawlessness and sinfulness.
What does Paul mean by â€œpurificationâ€? Again, he uses much Old Testament imagery here, mostly in Ezekiel 36-37, beginning with Ezekiel 37:23:
They shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. But I will save them from all the backslidingsÂ in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them.
Ezekiel prophesied that one day, the people of Judah will be restored from their exile in Babylon. God will save and cleanse them from the defilement of their sins of idolatry and unfaithfulness. In Ezekiel 36:25, 29, 33, God says he will cleanse and deliver them from their uncleannesses, idolatries, and iniquities by sprinkling them with clean water.
It is not difficult then to see how Paul applies the context of Israelâ€™s lawlessness and uncleanness to the Christians in Creteâ€”people who were formerly lawless and idolatrous, and therefore defiled and unclean before a holy God.
So at the end of the verse 14, Paul brings all of his Old Testament imagery together into the reality of the New Testament church. Believers have been redeemed and purified by God through the first coming of Christ because they are â€œa people for his own possession.â€ Just as he called his chosen nation Israel at Mount Sinai, â€œmy treasured possession among all peoples,â€ the church is now Godâ€™s â€œprized, special, treasured possessionâ€ (Exod 19:5; also Mal 3:17).
Notice the parallelism between Old Testament Israel and the New Testament church. While Psalm 130:8 talks about Godâ€™s redemption of Israel, â€œAnd he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities,â€ Paul says in Titus 2:14 that Christ came â€œto redeem us from all lawlessness.â€ Godâ€™s own chosen people today are â€œusâ€ who believe in Christ.
Thus, Paul connects three of his major themes in his epistles: Godâ€™s grace in election, redemption and sanctification. We are his own chosen possession, redeemed and cleansed from all our sins and uncleannesses, and as elect and redeemed people, we are to live godly and righteous lives in this present age while waiting for our blessed hope in the age to come.
And when he returns, he will complete our election, redemption, and purification. When he comes, we will have perfect body and soul. There will be no more sickness, no more death. There will be no more temptation, no more sin, no more tears. Can you imagine being in this perfect state for eternity? Can you imagine being in everlasting joy?
Much more than this, we will dwell with God and Christ forever in the heavenly places. We shall forever be perfected as â€œa people for his own possession.â€ As God says in Ezekiel 37:23, â€œthey shall be my people, and I will be their God.â€
Beloved friends, by Godâ€™s grace, you have been saved through faith in Christ. Go about your business this new year as Godâ€™s special, treasured possession, whether youâ€™re at home, work, school and marketplace!
Because your hope in this new year is not in your family, friends, work, or government, but in the sure appearing of Christ your Redeemer from heaven. AMEN.