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God’s Grace Empowers Us for Virtuous Living

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Titus 2:11-14

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.  It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope-- the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, 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.

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Last Sunday I tried to make three points from this letter of Paul to Titus  . . .

1.  All Christian men should pursue the virtues that church elders must possess. 

 
“An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.  Since an overseer is entrusted with God's work, he must be blameless-- not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain.  Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.  He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it”—1:6-9). 

 
These are “leading” virtues; so all Christians (especially men) should follow after them.

 
2.  All Christians should pursue these virtues so our vices will not dishonor God’s word (“ . . . so that no one will malign the word of God”—2:4,5) and so our virtues will make the gospel attractive, engaging and inviting (“ . . . so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive—2:9,10).  God wants integrity—our actions integrated with our words.

 
3.  The reason all Christians (especially men) should pursue these gospel- attracting virtues is the weightiness of the message (2:11-14).  It is the best news and the most transformative, dynamic message in the world.  So the weightiness of the message is the reason why we all should pursue these gospel-attracting virtues.

However, this is where we hit “the wall.”  That’s what marathon runners hit after running 20 or 21 miles.  Legs turn rubbery.  Lungs nearly burst.  Pushing on feels impossible.  We hit “the wall” when we set out to actually live virtuously—when we set out to be humble instead of overbearing, forgiving instead of quick-tempered, abstinent instead of drunk, peaceful instead of violent, content instead of greedy, welcoming instead of withdrawing, loving what’s good instead of lusting after what’s bad, self-controlled instead of dominated by our desires, upright instead of dishonest, holy instead of profane, disciplined instead of sloppy, faithful to the gospel instead of disloyal and so on (1:6-9).  It’s one thing to say, “Pursue these virtues!”  It’s quite another to actually “get in the race” and pursue and practice them.

So, for all of us who “hit the wall”, here’s the weightiness of the gospel:  God’s Grace empowers us for virtuous living. Our attempts turn rubbery.  Our energy gives out.  Our will falls short.  But God’s grace empowers us for virtuous living.

“Grace” is God’s favor that we don’t merit or earn.  It’s God’s “kindness and love” that he shows us, “not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (3:4,5).  God’s grace empowers us for virtuous living. How does that work?  How does God’s grace empower us to persevere in pursuing godly virtues when we “hit the wall”?

By having appeared to bring us salvation (“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men”--2:11). God’s grace appeared. Not in our minds or beliefs, but at a specific point in human history.  A baby’s cry pierced the silence of a Bethlehem night.  A miracle-worker went about Israel doing good.  A Jew was nailed to a Roman cross.  A dead man climbed out of his tomb alive.  Personified in Jesus Christ, God’s grace appeared like the sun rising over the world’s darkness.

He came to “bring salvation.”  To rescue a man like me.  I don’t have a natural regard for God.  I don’t naturally live as if he’s watching and weighing all my actions and holding me accountable for them. I am inherently godless.  Furthermore, this world system, dominated by the devil, drives my desires.  It stimulates my natural bent toward arrogance, anger, addiction, violence, greed, sexual immorality and pride.  In the first few “miles”, I do okay.  But then I “hit the wall.” I need rescue.  God’s grace empowers us for virtuous living by having appeared to all mankind to rescue us.

By teaching us to renounce vices and live virtuously (“It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age”--2:12). The Greek word is piedoo-o. It’s used of a father training his child from immaturity to maturity.  God’s grace, personified in Jesus Christ, progress-ively teaches us to say “No” to acts that disregard God, acts that violate his moral laws.  Ungodliness says, “Blow your paycheck on alcohol!”, “Satisfy your cravings with illicit sex!”, “Lie to save your skin!”  “Don’t give your money to the poor!”  God’s grace teaches us to say “No!”  Instead, it teaches us to control our cravings, to be honest with others and to satisfy ourselves in God 24/7.

And God’s grace teaches us to live like this “in this present age”—like running on rough ground, with the wind in our face and crowds jeering and coaxing us to give it up.  The present age is “evil” (Galatians 1:4).  The principles by which it operates are foolish in God’s sight (1 Corinthians 3:19).  And our “wise men” are blind to God and rejecters of God’s grace in Christ (1 Corinthians 1:20-25).  But God’s grace has appeared to save us and teach us to renounce vices and live virtuously in this present age.

How does the grace of God teach us to say “No” to ungodliness and “Yes” to godliness?  By the Word of God.  We’re not left to intuition about what is wrong or right, what is not godly or what is, what is vice and what is virtue.  The Word of God—the Word that reveals the grace of God in the Son of God—teaches us and trains us.  It disciples us as we study it and meditate on it and as we allow others to encourage us in it.  So God’s grace empowers us for virtuous living by teaching us to say “No” to ungodliness and “Yes” to godliness in this present age.

By giving us “the blessed hope” (“ . . . while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ”—2:13). Whether we’re running a marathon or pursuing virtues, we need the incentive of a finish line.  When I used to run for exercise, the end kept me going.  Pursuing virtuous living in this present, evil age isn’t endless.  There’s an end. And it’s glorious.

What is this “blessed hope”? It’s not a verb as in, “I hope for . . . “  It’s a noun as in, “the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”  He, in the glory of his appearing to come, is “the blessed hope.”  At the end of the race—at the end of our running after virtuous living—he will appear and we shall see him as he is.  And, when we do, we shall be fully like him (1 John 3:2b).  Our pursuit of virtue isn’t hopeless.  We’re not doomed to defeat; we’re promised victory.  God our Savior, Jesus Christ, will appear, and he will complete the saving work he’s started in us (Philippians 1:6).  We will be glorified, conformed to his likeness (Romans 8:29,30).  That’s our destiny.  God empowers us for virtuous living by giving us “the blessed hope”.

By redeeming and purifying us for himself (“ . . . 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”—2:14). 

At the cross Jesus Christ “gave himself for us.”  He did it to “redeem” us, to set us free from “all wickedness.”  The Greek word anomee-a literally means “lawlessness.”  He “gave himself for us to redeem us” from our natural defiance to his moral laws.  Ever since Adam, every human is born with a nature that rebels against God’s laws.  God’s grace empowers us for virtuous living by freeing us from that dominating power of lawlessness.

On the positive side, Jesus Christ “gave himself for us . . . to purify for himself a people.”  We not only act uncleanly before God; we are unclean inside.  But Christ’s self-sacrifice get us “cleaned up” inside.  This is what Paul wrote of in 3:3-7 . . .

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.  But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared,  he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,  whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior,  so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

God’s grace empowers us for virtuous living by regenerating us—giving us “new birth”—and renewing us by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously when we believed in Jesus Christ our Savior.  If we have turned to believe in him, then we are not the “same old people” vainly pursuing virtuous living.  We have been “born again.”  We have been made new creations in Christ Jesus by the Holy Spirit generously poured out on us.

This “redeeming” and “purifying” makes us the people of God our Savior, Jesus Christ, for his purpose. And his purpose is that we eagerly do what is morally good.

So we’ve come full circle.  God’s grace empowers us for doing good—for virtuous living—by having appeared in Christ to bring us salvation, by teaching us to say “No” to ungodliness and “Yes” to godliness, by giving us “the blessed hope” and by redeeming us from lawlessness and purifying us to actually be his very own people eagerly doing good.  In our pursuit of virtuous living, we’ll “hit the wall.”  But God’s grace will be there, empowering us to keep pursuing the virtues and putting them into practice.

So what should we do in response to God’s empowering grace?

  1. Admit our need to be saved and believe that God in Christ has come to save us.
  2. Choose to say “No” to anything that shows a disregard for God’s moral laws and “Yes” to everything that shows reverence for God and his moral laws.
  3. Meditate on God’s Word to cultivate anticipation for “the blessed hope. “
  4. In prayer and in faith keep running after the virtues in our living, believing that in our very nature we are the redeemed, purified, reborn, renewed people of God who can progressively live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.

“For the grace of God has appeared . . . “