Living between the grace and glory of God
This year we are looking at Titus. It’s a small book written by the apostle Paul to his friend and apprentice Titus who was living on the island of Crete.
Paul was writing to encourage him and instruct him how to build up the church there by teaching them how to live out the gospel as part of their daily lives, i.e. live the ‘good life’.
If you cast your minds back to November, Vicky took us through verses 1-10 of Titus chapter 2. These verses were about the practicalities of godly living and how our behaviour and relationships can make the gospel attractive to others. For example, verses 3 and 4 said, ‘Teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers, or addicted to too much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women.’
These commands are good and godly, but so far the focus has been on what we should do. The verses that follow on from this, that we are looking at tonight (verses 11 to 14), tell us why we should want to live such a life.
The beginning of chapter 2 has told us how we should behave and what we should and shouldn’t do, but there’s no power in just being told what to do. Paul – and God – know that we need motivation and incentives to put hard work and effort into something.
After all, you run a marathon to win a trophy, you endure a pregnancy to meet your baby, and the gospel gives us the greatest motivation of all to live out the good life – the incredible grace of God that has been freely given to us and the awesome glory of God that leads to our salvation and truly perfect eternal life.
The grace and glory that Paul writes of here are the engine that drive the good life of verses 2-10. The good life cannot run without these, which is why these verses are, in essence, the epiphany, or high point, of the entire book of Titus.
PART ONE v11, 14 – GOD IS FOR US (He won us)
I’ve titled the talk ‘Living between the grace of glory of God’ because tonight’s verses are bookended by Jesus’s two appearings – firstly when he came to earth as a baby, lived amongst us and then died for our sins, and his second appearing when he will return to claim his people for his own. It’s our task to live the good life in between these two events.
So, let’s begin by looking at the ‘Past’ event, what God has already done for us (i.e. Jesus’s birth). Let’s read the first verse in tonight’s passage, verse 11: ‘For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.’
Anne spoke on this verse at our Christmas meal – on Jesus’s coming and the amazing Good News that is for us. It describes the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus as an appearing of grace, a revelation of grace.
This verse goes on to tell us that the purpose of this grace was to ‘bring salvation for all people.’ This both amazing and alarming. Amazing because there is not one person in any place in any situation who has not been saved by God’s grace. But it’s also alarming because it tells us that every single person, across every era of time, has fallen short of the glory of God. Literally every person has sinned and separated themselves from God.
Fortunately, Titus is full of good news, reassuring us in verse 14 that Jesus gave his life to free us from ‘all wickedness’. The grace that Paul is speaking of here is the undeserved love of God to those who love Christ and are saved by him.
The reason why this is so motivational to us as Christians is that God was free not to be gracious to us. He has never, and will never owe us anything. But God did freely chose us, and sent his Son to die for us so that we could freely choose him. There’s nothing more wonderful than being chosen by someone, whether it’s as a friend, or a wife. The gift of their free love that they could have placed elsewhere is very precious.
I’ve always found this image from Toy Story very powerful – you’ll remember how much it means to Woody to have Andy’s name on his foot, what a mark of high honour that is to be the favourite toy above all others – and it strikes me as quite incredible that God chosen to put his name on us and marked us as his own through his amazing grace.
Paul knew that there will be times when you need to tell people what the good life looks like, but if you want people to actually live a good life it’s great that we don’t have to focus on the good we must do for God, but can meditate on the good God has done for us.
After all, we don’t serve Jesus because we have to win his love. Jesus proved his love first by giving his life (v14), and then asked us to follow him. As it says in 1 John 4 v 19, ‘We love because he first loved us.’
I’ve now got a couple of questions that it would be great if you could discuss in twos and threes. There won’t be any feedback after, it’s just a chance to reflect and share on God’s grace in your lives.
QUESTION: How did you feel when you first learned that Jesus died for you? How does that knowledge shape your daily life now?
PART TWO v12 – AND HIS GRACE WILL TRAIN US
So, if we know from verse 11 that God is for us, that he won us before we even existed, what does that mean for us in the here and now?
Verse 12 was the main focus of this month’s study that some of you will have done with your study buddies (If you want to find out more about that, please speak to us afterwards), and the heading of that study was ‘The Training of Grace’.
We’re moving on now from looking at what God has done for us in the past to what he is doing for us in right now, in the present. Let’s read verse 12 now: ‘It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.’
This verse is clearly split into two parts: negatives and positives – in other words, how we should live and how we shouldn’t live. If we first look at the ‘negatives’ (on screen) – these are very much to do with self-control and an obsession with the things of the world (passion, pleasures and possessions).
Ungodliness is the defiance of God as Lord of all, the root of original sin and pride. These are just a few ways that I see ungodliness rearing its ugly head in my life.
Worldly passions are all around and within us, tempting, subtle and often unnoticed. We all know how addictive these things can be and how easily they entrap us. We might think that we can handle our desires and that a little of a bad thing isn’t too bad, but we are God’s people and verse 14 says that Jesus came to free us from ‘all wickedness’. It can’t be underestimated how much God cares about our motivations and our hearts. He doesn’t want any little wicked nooks and crannies left in our lives. Grace didn’t come to make us happy in the pig sty of our sin, but to lift us out of it completely.
Choosing God instead of the immediate and visible pleasures of sin can be tough – it’s an act of faith. But faith recognises that ultimately God is always better, fuller and richer than all the pleasures of the world.
If we then look at the positives that we are instructed to embody: ‘self-controlled, upright and godly lives’… Now doesn’t this sound completely unachievable?!
Firstly, I would say to bear in mind that we are in training. We are all on a journey and we won’t achieve perfection in this lifetime because we are human and we are fallen.
Secondly, and much more importantly, God does not ask us to change our sinful desires ourselves and in this passage Paul helpfully personifies the grace of God so that grace the Saviour (as Jesus was referred to as in verse 11), now becomes grace the teacher.
As Canon Hay Aitken, the nineteenth century evangelist so brilliantly put it, ‘Grace not only saves us but undertakes our training. So all Christians become learners in the school of grace’. Once we become Christians, we are automatically enrolled school of grace and this school has two main lessons that we see in verse 12: negatively it teaches us what to say no to (‘turn from godless living and sinful pleasures’), and positively it teaches us how to live (‘with wisdom, righteousness and devotion to God). Both of these lessons are equally important as we learn to live the good life.
I know personally that sometimes it feels as though we are not learning anything at all as we study in this school of grace. But God gives us so much encouragement through his Word.
I love it in Philippians 2 verse 13 when it says ‘For God is working in you, giving you the desire and power to do what pleases him.’ I have this verse up in my kitchen and at the end of a long day when the kids are screaming, and I feel I have nothing positive left to give, this is a daily encouragement to me.
I’m so grateful that Jesus is not the launching event for our faith who then clocks off and tells us to try our best. He is with us every step of the way, willing us on and strengthening us.
I’m also grateful that our acceptance with God is never on the basis of our performance – it is all his grace. When we say no to things that displease him (shouting at kids, feeling like I want to swear or bad mouthing someone), God is rooting for us through his enabling grace.
It says in tonight’s passage that he wants us to live for our best, ‘in this present age’ – that means right now. And that in itself is a challenge as we live in a fallen world, an ‘evil world’, as Paul says, where Satan often seems to reign. But as Douglas Milne says: ‘The best news of the gospel is that what it demands it gives to those who submit to it. That is the meaning of grace.’ We are never on our own as we undertake the training of grace.
The gospel succeeds in changing people’s lives where other religions, fads and lifestyle gurus can’t, because it puts real moral steel into the hearts of believers. We are encouraged to change and enabled to change.
If all you ever do is reiterate the commands of Titus chapter 2 v 1-10 (snippets on screen) to others or yourselves then they are crushing, not good news or transformative. Just condemnation. But there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom 8v1).
The heart of our discipleship is not laws and fear, but the grace and glory of God – and the secret of our power as Christians is the freeing death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our redemption through him breaks the crushing power of sin and totally ends its controlling presence in our lives leaving us completely free to live the good life he has planned for us.
If we consider tonight’s section of Titus as verses that are (as indeed they are!) written to us right here, right now, we should take encouragement from them that God has promised to stick with us, making us the very best that we can be, through his enabling grace. The grace that saves us is the grace that trains us. Grace does not do one without the other – those he saves, he works hard in, with the aim of making us more like Jesus day by day.
In your small groups again, I’d like you to consider the following questions. I’ve highlighted verse 12 on the screen for the first part of your discussion.
Question: Which of these commands in verse 12 pose the biggest challenge in your life and why? How do these this passage (Titus 2 v 11-14 on screen) encourage you in your challenge?
PART THREE v13-14 – SO TRACK TOWARDS CHRIST’S RETURN (He is coming back for us)
We are now reaching the climax of the passage and the part that has always made my heart sing:
‘While we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.’
If you’re a fan of classic love stories, think of this as the moment when Elizabeth accepts Darcy, except a thousand times better. Our hearts naturally long for a true hero, and a perfect happy ending, and here it is right before us: the greatest love story ever told. God giving himself completely to his undeserving people so that he can win them forever.
Just to recap, we’ve looked at the ‘past’ section of the passage – what God has done for us through Jesus’ death and how that frees us, and the ‘present’ section – how grace trains us to be more like him and changes us from ungodliness to godliness – and now we are looking at the ‘future’ section – the glory of God that is coming and that we will share in. If the first appearing of Jesus was an act of grace then the return of Jesus will be an act of glory.
I love the way that it says in the NLT version that on the day Jesus returns for us, his glory will be ‘revealed’, meaning that it already exists – it is an active power right now even though we can’t see it. In heaven, our glorious future is already a reality.
It’s massively encouraging and inspiring, particularly on the hard days when living the good life seems neither worth it nor even possible. This also means that our justification is complete and already finished. Verses 11 and 13 are in a sense the bookends of our lives – Jesus has appeared and he will return for those who love him.
I just want to look at a few of the awesome word choices in these two verses which are our closing section. I often blow through it because I’m familiar with it, but when you really think about the detail of what it’s saying, it strikes you with fresh power:
‘Wait’ – anxious expectation and longing. Paul says that the coming of Jesus should be the deepest desire of our hearts. But is it really what we long for on a daily basis? Is that always at the front of our minds?
‘Blessed’ – original meaning was ‘happy, or joyful’. The thought of Jesus coming back for us should literally fill our hearts with joy that nothing and no one can take from us. Is that truly our joy on the good days and the bad?
‘Hope’ – hope in the New Testament is not what might be, but what is assured, a term of real encouragement to the Cretan Christians. Jesus’ reappearing is as certain as – in fact more certain than – the sun rising tomorrow morning.
I know that I am certainly prone to holding on very lightly to his hope, and the result of this is that I replace Jesus with uncertain earthly things. This then means that I then easily fall prey to fear and anxiety. I basically try and carve out my own little heaven on earth that is more easily within my control.
The trouble with doing that is that then, when bad things hit, we fall apart. The only thing in life that cannot be taken from us is our hope in Christ, the security of the cross. When that our focus, the peace that is in us is firm and immovable because that hope is certain and true. That is what grace trains us to do – keep our focus on Jesus.
The one thing that I have learned from preparing this study is that I need to intentionally and fully track towards Christ’s return. Without that focus and that motivation, I will fail. That’s why every part of our lives needs to be aimed towards that, and nothing else.
The only way that we do that is by reminding ourselves of the gospel daily (John 3 v 16 onscreen), setting our minds on things above, and having others in our lives who will commend the gospel to us regularly. This is how we can live gospel shaped lives, good lives, that are fit for purpose.
In your groups again, I’d like you to spend a few minutes discussing these final questions. Try and come up with some real steps that you can implement in your lives.
QUESTION – How can we commend the gospel to one another on a regular basis? What practical steps can we take to make this a reality in our everyday lives?
The message from my marriage ceremony, which I will be eternally grateful for, was ‘Keep the main thing, the main thing’ i.e. Jesus. I’ve always found this simple phrase really memorable as it’s what I need to preach to myself and others every day.
We live with the cross behind us and Jesus’s return ahead of us. That means that we need to deliberately orientate ourselves with determination to live in the light of Christ’s two comings. Both affect and shape our lives in incredible ways – we are freed by Jesus’s death and motivated and called on by his return.
We need to say to ourselves regularly the great acclamation that ‘Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again’ John R W Stott. Then our everyday life will be inspired by Christ, for while we love ‘the good life’, we await an even better life.
There is both a push and a pull in Christian living. “We are pushed from behind by the wonder of grace and we are pulled forward by the hope of glory.” Tim Chester. I am so grateful that this glory is not an unspecified reward, some vague promise: it is a person who has already proved himself to us and is calling us home.
In closing, verse 14 says that we are Jesus’ ‘very own’. When we become a Christian, we are under exclusive contract with him, made pure to be pure, set apart for a good life. There is an everlasting covenant of grace and free promise between God and his people. ‘Very own’ is the language of intimacy and love. It is the way in which God addressed Israel as his covenant people in the Old Testament, the church of Crete in the New Testament and us here in Corsham Baptist.
Jesus died for us, he won us, he sticks with us in the mess of life, making us the best we can be, and he is coming back for us to claim us as his prize. That should change every moment of every day for us.
“Paul says we are Christ’s very own people, whom he has redeemed and purified. That is who you are. That is your value. You are Christ’s treasured possession.” Tim Chester
And just to prove that Tim Chester was not making that up – here are some verses from our very own bibles that state it quite clearly. Remember that these are written for you, God’s chosen daughter, and that they are true.
Isaiah 53 v 11 ‘When [Jesus] sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he shall be satisfied.’
Heb 9 v 28 ‘Christ was offered once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation for all who are eagerly waiting for him.’
Col 3 v 3-4 ‘When Christ who is your life appears, you too will appear with him in glory.’
Hosea 2 v 16, 19, 20 ‘When that day comes,’ says the Lord,’ you will call me ‘my husband’ instead of ‘my master’… I will make you my wife forever, showing you righteousness and justice, unfailing love and compassion. I will be faithful to you and make you mine, and you will finally know me as the Lord.’
Isaiah 51 v 11 ‘The ransomed of the Lord will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.’
I hope we can all be encouraged by these words as we remember what Jesus has done for us, as we live for him, wait for him to return; all not in our own strength, but through his.
God is for us and his grace will train us, so track towards Christ’s return