In the opening words of Titus 3, Paul describes the world without grace, the way you are without grace, the way I am without grace. It is not a pretty sight. Yet, God calls us to respond to this world in a way that is surprising and at times extremely demanding.
“Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men.” (Titus 3:1–2, NASB95)
We are to respond to unkind (but lawful) authority with submission and obedience. We are to be peacemakers, not warmongers; gentle, not rough; and considerate, not boorish. Clearly this is a tall order. How does one even begin to begin such a task? Paul says, "Remember who you once were before grace caught up with you:
For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another.” (Titus 3:3, NASB95)
What was I like then?
- I was lost in rebellion (Disobedient). I lived defying the infinite authority of God. God said one thing, I did another. My every thought was: I will live for myself, but I will not live for You. "Who is the Most High that He should reign over me!" Yet God showed me kindness and love.
- I was also lost in Deception (Deceived): Surrounded by the everywhere-proclaiming, sometimes thundering, and other times whispering revelation of God, I closed my ears and shut my eyes. What madness. Wanting to become my own meaning maker, I hardened my soul to reality. As a result, ignoring the world as God sees and defines it, I plunged myself into a fantasy world of my own imagining. A world in which I was free to live as I pleased. A world in which I was central and God was at best peripheral. A world that was not real. As one author put it, I became like a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat that wasn't really there. Yet God showed me kindness and love.
- I was lost in addiction (enslaved to various lusts and pleasures). Ungodliness is what happens when my life becomes so dominated by the desire for present pleasures that my heart refuses to stay inside God's boundaries. This is the hopeless life goal of graceless men - They want to find something as big and as good as God to satisfy them forever, yet something that is less demanding than God - something that allows man to remain in control and in the center of everything. But in God's creation nothing is as big as God. And without Him, even His best gifts are but hollow facades that leave us thirsty with anticlimax. Yet, still I refused Him, seeking a better life without Him and against Him. Yet still God showed me kindness and love.
- I was lost in Alienation (Spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another). This one verse encapsulates the warlike, restless, violent, rapacious nature of graceless humanity. Why Isis? Why the Cold War? Why the racial tensions in his country? Why is the divorce rate spiraling out of control? Why am I a difficult man to whom to be married?As one pastor complained to His wife: 80% o the women in this church would love to have me as their husband. And with a glint in her eye, she replied, "Yes, dear, I must be part of the 20%!" Why all this relational difficulty? Because graceless people like to hurt other people (malice), they can't bear it when others have more than they do (envy), and so they spend their lives giving hate and attracting hate. Cracked by the Fall, hate seeps out of our souls like oil dripping from a old cracked engine. Eventually, therefore, once self no longer finds a selfish reason for showing kindness to the increasingly inconvenient, we find ourselves with no reason to give people other than what we think they deserve. This is the logic of the sinner - I will only give grace to the deserving, and yet grace never works that way. This is the way I was, and yet God showed me kindness and love.
It is into such a world that God sent His Son. It is for such a world that God broke His body, spilt His precious life-blood, and damned His lovely soul upon the cross. This is the logic of grace: it is not merely that God somehow finds it within Himself to love the undeserving. No, such a notion does not go nearly far enough. Grace is much better than that. Grace is what provokes God to love the ill-deserving, even the hell deserving. Listen to Paul....
“But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4–7, NASB95)
Notice, why God saved us: "Not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness." But simply, and only, and freely by the standard of His mercy.
Notice how God saved us. Two things happen. First, God regenerates us by the power of the Holy Spirit. This both cleanses and renews us from the inside out. This is the Divine energy that moves the soul away from unbelief towards faith. And it is through this empty handed faith that we receive God's free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. Elsewhere, Paul speaks of faith as the alone-instrument of justification - that is to say, we do contribute any work to the moment when God forgives us our sins and declares us righteous in His sight.
But here, do you see, Paul simply describes this declaration as an act of God born out of grace. We are justified by His grace! In this text, Paul makes no mention of our response to the gospel. Paul does not mention our faith? Why? Well because, here at least, Paul wants us to bask in the realization that salvation is something the comes entirely from God. It is not something we can do for ourselves, begin for ourselves, or merit by ourselves. It is something God does for us, to us, and in us. Our only contribution to the equation is sin. God gives everything else - even the faith we put in Christ (Eph. 2:8-10).
So when people give you no reason to love them and every reason to hate them: remember God, remember yourself, and remember Grace. By its very nature it overflows: from God to us; from us to others. Christian, resolves this day NEVER TO BE A DEAD END TO GRACE.
- What difference should this truth make to your marriage? When your spouse doesn't respond to you the way you deem inappropriate? When they don't listen enough, be affectionate enough, desire you enough...., etc., etc? How should grace mellow your natural response?
- What about with a difficult neighbor, an unreasonable colleague, an inconsiderate driver cutting you off in traffic? Jesus blamed the pharisees for training their hearts in greed. Don't you see, you and I can train our hearts to be graceless in their response to others?
- If that is true, and I believe it is, how can we train our hearts to be gracious? What kind of prayers could we pray at the beginning of the day? What kinds of questions might we ask ourselves at the end of the day?
- How might a person grow in their appreciation of God's grace?
- How do you find your own soul in light of the experience of Grace?