The Continuing Work of Grace
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THE CONTINUING WORK OF GRACE Spring Valley Mennonite; May 19, 2019; Titus 2:11-15 I don’t plan on beginning all my sermons with stories about living in Southern California, but it was an interesting and challenging place to live. We lived there off and on for a bit over 10 years, both before and after Alice and I married. One of the drawbacks of living there was the danger of wildfires that routinely burned all the vegetation. When heavy rain fell on those bare hillsides, they produced mudslides which were devastating in their destructive force. Whole houses were inundated with mud or were swept away with little warning. We saw and heard of these mudslides often. One tragic story concerned a sleeping family whose home was suddenly swept away in the middle of the night by a mudslide. Although the emergency workers came quickly, the rescue of the family was incomplete as their infant was missing. A frantic search ensued, with rescuers combing through the mud looking for the child. Hours passed and hope grew dim. Suddenly a neighbor spotted a muddy bundle half buried. It was the infant still wrapped in his crib blanket. Miraculously, the child was still alive and was taken to the grateful parents. They took their child and delicately washed off the mud, enfolded him in their arms, and took measures to ensure that this would never happen again. This story with a happy ending illustrates our rescue from the bondage of sin through God's grace. We were hopelessly lost, imprisoned in our sin, unable to save ourselves and destined to die. Then God graciously reached down and snatched us from destruction. He washed us off and provided provisions to protect us from the spoiling effects of our sins. Paul's letter to Titus serves to remind us of the magnitude of what God has done for us through grace, and of the continuing work of grace in our lives. I invite you to turn to the book of Titus, chapter 2: beginning at verse 11, follow as I read verses 11-15. The crucial importance of this subject is stated in verse 15: "These things speak and exhort and reprove with all [d]authority. Let no one disregard you." Grace is more than important; it is more than simply another Christian doctrine; for if you misunderstand grace, you misunderstand the central theme of the Bible! Nothing is more vital to the believer than understanding God’s grace. As we begin to explore this subject together. We find that… 1. GRACE HAS APPEARED "For the grace of God has appeared…" What is grace? Knowing what the Bible says about grace is bottom-line foundational to the Gospel message. Grace is how God has responded to our human condition of sin. Between God’s love and God’s justice stands Grace. It explains how God can be totally just and righteous in His dealings toward sin, and yet showing His perfect love toward mankind. Chuck Swindoll in his book The Grace Awakening gives an illustration of grace. He says, "Let's imagine you have a six-year-old son whom you love dearly. Tragically, one day you discover that your son was horribly murdered. After a lengthy search the investigators of the crime find the killer. You have a choice: if you use every means in your power to kill the murderer for his crime-- that would be vengeance. If, however, you are content to sit back and let the legal authorities take over and execute on him what is proper—a fair trial, a finding of guilt, and capital punishment, that is justice. But if you should plead for the pardon of the murderer, forgive him completely, invite him into your home and adopt him as your own son, that is grace. God does this every day! He takes the guilty believing sinner who says, "I am lost, unworthy, guilty as charged, and undeserving of forgiveness," and extends the gift of eternal life. To such a helpless person, God extends His complete forgiveness because Christ's death on the cross satisfied His demands against sin, namely death. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” God sees the guilty sinner (who comes by faith alone) as righteous as His own Son. In fact, He even invites us to come home with Him as He adopts us into His family forever. Instead of treating us with vengeance or executing justice, God extends grace." Grace has appeared. This word "appeared" in Greek is "epiphany", which comes directly into the English, meaning a sudden insight into the reality or essential meaning of something". In cartooning, an epiphany is the light bulb appearing above the head of a character! In classical Greek literature, the word described a hero or god breaking into a helpless situation to rescue someone from danger. Our January “Epiphany Service” celebrates the sudden and unexpected appearance of the Wise Men which provided resources and warning to the Holy family in Bethlehem. Paul uses the word to explain that God has sent His hero to rescue us from danger. The appearance of grace, the consummation of all the pictures and types of the Old Testament, was realized in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Grace appeared in the Bethlehem stable. It has been well said that "Grace is a personal action by a personal God who saves us from our helpless condition out of pure love." II. GRACE BRINGS SALVATION Verse 11 continues: "For the grace of God has appeared bringing salvation to all men." Grace and salvation are always connected and cannot be separated. Jesus' coming was for a single main purpose: to bring salvation to all men. He came to "seek and to save the lost". The phrase "all men" is not speaking of universalism, the idea that all men are saved by the sacrifice of Jesus, but that all classes of men are included. This is the force of the word "For" which begins verse 11. Immediately preceding this verse, Paul speaks to the different classes of society: older men (v. 2), older women (v. 3), young women (v. 4-5), young men (v. 6-7), and bondslaves (v. 9-10). All elements of society are included, and salvation is available to everyone without exclusion. Salvation is potential for all men but realized only by those who believe. "All men" also speaks of the universal need for salvation. Romans 3:23: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We all have the same universal problem of sin. We all are sinners by nature, having the inherited sin nature. And we all are sinners by practice. Scripture affirms that there is "no one righteous; no, not one." We are completely helpless to solve our problem, and hopeless, destined to suffer God's wrath for eternity. Ephesians 2 describes our hopelessness: And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved…) Grace brings salvation. (We will come back to verse 12 in a moment…) Now look at verses 13-14 (READ). While grace and salvation are a free gift from God to us, they were not free to God. There was a price paid: Jesus Christ, as verse 13 designates as "God and Savior", gave Himself for us. Several great truths associated with how God brings about grace and salvation are revealed in these words: Four truths about Jesus in these verses are: 1. (From v. 13) Jesus is God. Here is a clear statement of the deity of Jesus Christ. We know Jesus was wholly God but also wholly man. He was the God-man who lived a perfect life without sin, therefore He could be the sinless sacrifice for our sin. 2. Jesus voluntarily gave His life. His death was not an unfortunate circumstance and He was not a victim of the Jewish and Roman authorities. He said of His life in John 10:18: 18 No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.” 3. Jesus was our substitute. "For us" speaks of the substitutionary atonement. He took our place and died so that we need not die for our sins. I Peter 1:18-19: … For you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, 19 but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. 4. Jesus' sacrifice redeems us from the penalty for all our sin (lawless deeds)—past, present, and future! The word redeem is "to be bought out of slavery". It is to be set free and rescued. Romans 8:1: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” III. GRACE TEACHES A LIFESTYLE Now, back to Verse 12: "Instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age. The word for instructs refers to the training of a child, to train and educate. It has the flavor of disciplining, from which we get the word disciple. One respected commentator says this has the idea of "the process by which God trains His people and testifies through a chastening experience to the believer's sonship." As a child is trained, so God trains and instructs us through His many means. It is of crucial importance to understand that it is by the means of grace that God instructs and changes us. In sharing the gospel with non-believers, often I have had to explain that a person does not need to "clean up" his life before becoming a believer (as if that were possible!). When a person responds to the love of God and is born again, God the Holy Spirit enters into the life and changes our "want-to's". The principle of grace enables us to change! Grace, operating through the Holy Spirit, changes our attitudes toward life and lifestyle. Paul, in the book of Galatians, speaks clearly about the futility of self-effort to transform our behavior. He says in Gal. 3:3: "Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Dr. Ironside in his book, In the Heavenlies, tells the story of an attempted assassination of Queen Elizabeth. The woman who sought to do so hid herself in the queen's bedroom awaiting the convenient moment to stab the queen to death. She did not realize that the queen's attendants would be very careful to search the rooms before Her Majesty was permitted to retire. Hidden there among the gowns, they found the woman and brought her into the presence of the queen and took from her the knife which she had hoped to plant into the heart of the Queen. She realized that her case, humanly speaking, was hopeless. She threw herself down on her knees and pleaded and begged the queen as a woman to have compassion on her, a woman, and to show her grace. Queen Elizabeth looked at her coldly and quietly said, "If I show you grace, what promise will you make for the future?" The woman looked up and said, "Grace that has conditions, that is fettered by precautions, is not grace at all." Queen Elizabeth caught it in a moment and said, you are right; I pardon you of my grace." And they led her away, a free woman. History tells us that from that moment Queen Elizabeth had no more faithful, devoted servant that that woman who had intended to take her life. That is exactly the way the grace of God works in the life of an individual—he becomes a faithful servant of God. Grace teaches a lifestyle that has two negative parts and three positive parts. First with the negatives: grace enables us to deny: 1. Ungodliness. This is all that is anti-God. It is a disregard or defiance of God's person and right to reign in our lives. It is rebellion to God's leading in our lives. Grace teaches us that we must deny all such motivation in our lives. We are to yield and say "yes" to God. 2. Secondly, we are to deny worldly desires. This is the desire for that which is forbidden, the overpowering craving for the attractions of the secular world. In includes, but is more than, fleshly lusts. Galatians 5 has a pretty comprehensive list of those deeds of the flesh. I Peter 1:14 connects the ideas of the need for grace's instruction and these desires: "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance. Three positive areas in which grace instructs are: 1. To live sensibly. This speaks of self control or self mastery. Living sensibly is to live showing moderation and good judgment. "Soberly" is one translation, and it means more than not getting drunk! It means living thoughtfully considering what God has done in our lives and what He calls us to do right now. It speaks of our inner driving motivations and attitudes toward life. 2. To live righteously. While "sensibly" speaks of our self mastery, "righteously" deals with our actions toward our neighbors. It is living uprightly, considerately toward others. 3. To live godly. This is the term Paul uses to describe the genuine Christian life. If only the first two (sensibly and uprightly) were given, we could say that grace gives us a set of rules and behaviors to follow. In addition to self and neighbors, godliness is how we behave toward God. Godliness is not a consequence of human resolution or willpower; it is a relationship with God that results in a life honoring to God. Without a constant yielding and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, our hearts will always rationalize our sinful behavior. The life of grace is comprehensive, involving self, others, God. Such a life is not only desirable, but possible! That is the idea of the word "in this present age". God does not command the impossible. He does command the difficult. He sets a standard for us but reminds us that we achieve it by grace. How does that work? The power for living the Christian life comes from personally yielding to the Holy Spirit. We cannot live perfectly, though that is the standard, but we live pleasing to the Lord when we live dependently on Him, confessing and admitting our weakness and sin, confessing and keeping short accounts with Him. We have all the resources we need: Standards that teach us what is expected; the indwelling Holy Spirit to convict us of sin, then to fill and empower us, and the faith community within which we live and serve, encouraging and growing together. In conclusion, Paul gives another powerful function of grace-filled living: IV. GRACE CREATES A FUTURE FOCUS Growing in grace creates in us a focus on the future. Verse 13: looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus… We have a glorious future that begins, either when we die and go to be with the Lord, or when the Lord Jesus returns. No matter what happens here on earth, whatever trials or challenges we face; no matter how much it seems as if the bad guys are winning, we know who wins in the end! We are on the winning side. The Lord Jesus has everything under control, and we are assured that evil, sin and death will be gone forever. The elements of the blessed hope include not only Christ's return, but also the resurrection of those who have died in Christ, the union of living believers with Christ, the reunion of the faithful, both living and dead, and eternal life with Christ. Hebrews 6:19 calls this blessed hope the anchor of the soul. Like an anchor which is firmly lodged and secure, though out of sight, the certainty of Christ's return and heaven awaiting us lends stability and security to our lives. Grace anchors us firmly in the promises of the future. Because Jesus has come and through His blood purchased our freedom, cleansing us from all unrighteousness, God's grace enables us to serve the living God. We were locked in a wicked and empty way of life, but Jesus sets us free to walk in newness of life. We are enabled to progressively deny all inner rebellion and to become increasingly intolerant to anything that distracts us from devotion to our Savior. We are freed to live out our destiny as a people zealous for good deeds. Like the helpless infant rescued from the mudslide, we were rescued from sin and death. And like the infant who would have no desire to return to the clutches of a muddy grave, grace creates in us a growing aversion to a life of sin. So, because of the grace we received through the Lord Jesus Christ, I would exhort you to go into the world in peace, share the gospel, bind up the broken-hearted, help the weak, serve the Lord, and may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.