"By Grace to Good Works"
(Delivered Sunday, April 6, 2003 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotes are taken from the New King James Version.)
Over the past couple of weeks, we've been preparing to study the Ten Commandments. We've been taking the time to consider some preliminary matters first, so that we'll be thinking in a biblical way about the commandments before we actually begin to study them in detail. I'd like to begin this morning by reviewing what we've learned so far.
First, we learned one of the most important things we can know about the Ten Commandments - that they were not given so that we could become righteous through our obedience to them. In fact, we've learned that the opposite is true; that God gave His commandments so that we would be condemned by them as sinners, and that we would turn to Jesus for righteousness through faith. As Paul has written; "What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed [that is, Christ] should come ..." (Galatians 3:19). "Therefore," he tells us, "the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith" (v. 25). This first point is foundational to a right understanding of the commandments; and it's what the Bible means when it says that "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes" (Rom. 10:4).
So then, we have been brought to Jesus as sinners condemned by the law; so that we may trust His sacrifice on the cross for our salvation from the curse of the law. But even after having trusted Christ, we still sin and fail to keep the requirements of the law. What happens to us then? This leads us to a second thing we've learned - that being in Christ, the law no longer has the power to condemn us before God. As Paul has proclaimed,
There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteousness requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:1-4).
The law was not able to make us righteous before God; and that was because of our own inability to obey it. But now, being in Christ and thus no longer condemned by the law, the righteous requirements of the law are fulfilled in us by faith. We stand before God as 100% righteous by faith with respect to God's law; and we are now to walk, not in the power of our own fleshly efforts to keep the law, but by the enabling power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. He lives the Christ-like life that is pleasing to God through us (Gal. 2:20); and the life He lives through us is in complete conformity to God's righteous requirements (Gal. 5:22-23).
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This brings us to a third question we need to answer before we begin to study the Ten Commandments in detail: What relationship do we, who are no longer condemned by the law, now have toward that law? Are we, as believers, now completely released from any relationship to the law; or are we still obligated to the requirements of the law in some way?
This question is something that we need to answer very carefully, because there are two extremes that must be avoided. The first extreme is that of "legalism". "Legalism" is the erroneous belief that we can maintain a state of favor in God's eyes - or even make ourselves grow in His favor - through the law.
What we've studied from the Bible so far helps us to avoid this error; because we've already seen that "by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Rom. 3:20); and as Paul has said elsewhere, it's foolish to believe to think that, having begin in the Spirit, we're now made perfect by the flesh (Gal. 3:3). And what's more, we've also seen that there's not even a need to try to be more righteous before God through the law, because "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1). So if we were to ask, in this legalistic sense, whether we were obligated to the law to stay righteous before God, then the Bible's answer is clearly "no".
But there is a second extreme to be avoided; and it's called "antinomianism". This word comes from two Greek words placed together - "anti", which means "instead of" or "against"; and "nomos", which means "law". "Antinomianism", then, is the erroneous belief that the Christian's life no longer needs to be governed by the requirements of God's law; or that a Christian can be legitimately live in contradiction to the standards of God's law. It would say that we are no longer obligated to the law with respect to the way we behave, and that we can now disregard its requirements.
The Corinthian Christians were falling into the error of antinomianism by - among other things - embracing sexual impurity. They were justifying the gratification of sexual lusts by declaring, "All things are lawful for me;" or by quoting the phrase, "Foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods." But Paul wrote to call these very disobedient Christians to their senses by telling them, "... Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's" (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
There were even others in Paul's day who were falling into antinomianism as a result of misunderstanding the message of grace that he preached. He hints at some of their arguments when he says such things as, "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?" (Rom. 6:1-2); or "What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?" (vv. 15-16).
I myself have talked to professing Christians who were living in open sin; and who justified their behavior by saying, "But I'm set free from the law. The law was of the Old Testament. I live under the New Testament. I live under grace, not under law." In such cases, I think of what Paul said to the Galatians; "For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh ..." (Gal. 5:13); or what Peter said, "For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men - as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God" (1 Peter 2:16). Such people live in sinful rebellion against God; and then seek to cover their sins over by throwing a cloak of "grace" over their misbehavior.
So; it's true that we¹re not under the law as a means of being made righteous before God. In Christ, we have been made 100% righteous in the eyes of God through faith - Jesus' own righteousness having been credited to our account. That's God's gracious work of "justification by faith", apart from any work of the law on our part. But having been "justified" by faith, are we now to live in accordance with God's righteous requirements as expressed in His law? Does the law now have any kind of abiding impact, upon men and women justified by faith, as a pattern of the new life in Christ?
If that is our question, then the answer is "yes"; the law does have a continuing and an abiding impact upon us as justified believers. Personally, I think the passage that best expresses this to us is found in the New Testament letter of Paul to Titus..
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Paul's letter to Titus is particularly well-suited to speak to the impact of God's law in the sanctification of the believer. Paul wrote this little letter to a pastor named Titus, whom he had given the difficult task of building up the church on the ancient island of Crete. The people who lived on Crete were far from living lives that accorded with the law. In fact, Paul had to wrote to Titus and said,
For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain. One of them, a prophet of their own, said, "Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons." This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in faith, not giving heed to Jewish fables and commandments of men who turn from the truth. To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but even their mind and consciences are defiled. They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work (1:10-16).
The Christians of Crete, living as they did in such a culture, were in need of strong pastoral leadership; and Titus definitely had his work cut out for him! And so, Paul's purpose in this little letter was to urge him to admonish the believers under his care, and teach them to live in a manner that is consistent with the gospel message they have professed to believed. Paul says that he himself was "a bondservant of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God's elect and the acknowledgment of the truth which accords with godliness" (1:1). And he told Titus, "... These things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men" (3:8).
In fact, I'd like you to notice the passage that immediately precedes our text this morning. Pay attention to how Paul calls for the believers to perform the sort of good works that accord with the message of the gospel. He wrote to Titus and said,
But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine: that the older men be sober, reverent, temperate, sound in faith, in love, in patience; the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things - that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed. Likewise, exhort the young men to be sober-minded, in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you. Exhort bondservants to be obedient to their own masters, to be well pleasing in all things, not answering back, not pilfering, but showing all good fidelity, that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things (2:1-10).
Clearly, Paul was calling the Christians at Crete to live lives that "adorn the doctrine of God our Savior". The law could not justify them before God; but having been justified by faith in Christ, the pattern of their behavior was to be in accord with the righteous requirements of the law. They were to live in a way that was "proper for sound doctrine", and "that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things".
And that brings us to our passage. Notice carefully why Paul urges Titus to teach this to the believers on Crete:
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works (Titus 2:11-14).
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As the Bible tells us, the basic principle behind sin is a rebellion against - or failure to measure up to the standards of - God's holy law. "Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness," John tells us; "and sin is lawlessness" (1 John 3:4). Sin is a matter of behavior that is "lawless" in nature. And in this morning's passage, we see that Jesus died in order to "redeem us from every lawless deed" [that is, from a life-style of disobedience to God's law], "and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works". Can you see how "good works" are presented to us here as the opposite of "lawless deeds"? God's great program of grace through Jesus Christ, then, seeks to transform people from being condemned "law-breakers" to redeemed and purified "law-abiders".
This means, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, that the law of God truly has an ongoing and abiding impact upon us as justified believers. It gives us the pattern for the kind of holy life-style that Jesus has saved us to live. It defines the kind of people He died to make for Himself.
Now remember that our obligation to the law is not as that which makes us righteous before God; because our righteousness before God is already settled - having been imparted to us through Christ alone. But having been made 100% righteous in Christ, the law is to now be our pattern of behavior as those who have been declared "righteous by faith." The law is not what we now obey in order to make ourselves righteous; but is rather the definition of the way we now live having already been declared righteous by faith! If you understand this, you will be equipped to understand the impact the Ten Commandments are now to have in your life.
Notice carefully how Paul shows us this. First, he declares to us ...
1. THE "APPEARANCE" OF SAVING GRACE THROUGH CHRIST (v. 11).
In the New King James Version, it reads, "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men ..." In the original language, Paul places the emphasis on the "appearance"; and so he literally writes, "For it has appeared, the grace of God ..." In emphasizing this, Paul is letting us know that our obedient behavior does not bring about the grace of God. He is declaring that the grace of God has already come; and that we are now to live in the light of this wonderful, life-transforming grace.
In the passage just before this one, Paul has described several different classes of people; and now, he says that this grace - which has already come - has an impact on "all men" or "all people". Again, the New King James Version says that "the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men"; as if it is the grace of God that has appeared to all. But the reading in the original language is better understood as it has been translated in the New American Standard Bible: "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men ..." In other words, it's "salvation" that has been brought to all. Paul is very careful not to say that the grace of God has come, "saving all men"; but only that it has come "bringing salvation to all men". This wonderful grace from God is sufficient to save anyone, from any walk of life, anywhere in the world, at any time, from any and all sin.
And what is this wonderful, saving "grace" from God? Paul describes it a few verses later;
For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life (3:3-7)
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Dear brothers and sisters; by His grace - that is, as a free gift - God has saved horrible sinners like us. He did this, not as a result of our own works of righteousness (because we did no works that could possibly earn us our salvation; but only those that would earn us condemnation), but only according to His own mercy through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. And now, having been justified by grace, we stand before Him as His redeemed sons and daughters - full heirs of all the riches of eternal life.
How then should you and I live in the light of this? Having been saved so wonderfully from our sins, should we now continue in them? Should we now dare to respond to such saving grace by saying, "I am under God's grace now; so it doesn't matter how I live. I can now sin all I want, because I'm not under law, but under grace" -? Absolutely not!! Paul goes on to say to Titus, "This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works" (3:8).
This leads us next to see, in our text, how Paul declares ...
2. THE "LESSON" OF SAVING GRACE THROUGH CHRIST (vv. 12-13).
He says that the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, "teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ ..."
Look at verse 13. Have you ever wanted to find a verse that clearly states that Jesus Christ is fully God? Then, let me recommend this verse to you. Grammatically, the divine Person who is called "our great God" in this verse is the same as the Person being called our "Savior Jesus Christ". And we're to be looking for "the blessed hope"; and grammatically, the wonderful event being called "the blessed hope" is the same as the event being described as the "glorious appearing" of Jesus.
Our "great God and Savior Jesus Christ" has already appeared once. He came to this world and died for our sins on the cross. And because He did so, we who have placed our faith in that sacrifice are declared righteous. The first "appearing" brought about our "justification". But there is another "appearing" that is yet to occur. When Jesus returns to this earth in power and glory, we will be glorified with Him. And our expectation of this "blessed hope" - at which time we will be made to share in His glory - is to motivate us to live a life that is in keeping with our righteous standing before God. The apostle John wrote,
Each time you or I give in to the temptation to sin, and justify it by saying that we're under "grace"; each time we ignoring God's holy standards for our lives, and pretend that His holy standards no longer apply to us; each time we're tempted to say, "I'm under grace - and not under law; so it doesn't matter how I live" ... each time we think that way, we are forgetting the glorious destiny to which, in love, God has appointed us! May God help us to keep on looking for "the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ"; at which time we'll be transformed in glory into what we are now by faith! May God help us to love Him in return for the glorious hope that is ours by living now in obedience to Him! What a great motivation to holy living now our future prospect is!!
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And notice that the grace of God has appeared precisely to teach us to live just such a holy life! Paul says it has appeared, "teaching us ..." or "instructing us ..."
Notice, first, that the saving grace God has shown us in Christ "teaches" us to deny certain things. It teaches us to deny "ungodliness", which speaks of a lack of reverence toward God - or open rebellion against Him. It also teaches us to deny "worldly lusts", which speaks of a greed for the things of this world that satisfies the flesh. "Ungodliness" has a vertical focus, and "worldly lusts" have a horizontal focus. The one thing leads to the other thing; because once we shake our fist at God in rebellion, we extend that same hand to grasp greedily for the sinful things of this world. The grace of God has appeared in the Person of Jesus Christ; "teaching" us to stop shaking our fist at this God who loves us so much, and to stop grabbing after the things that are in opposition to His good plans for us.
And notice, second, that God's saving grace "teaches" us that we should, instead, live lives that are characterized by other things. First, we see that we're to live lives characterized by sober-mindedness, or sound-mindedness. This speaks of our internal frame of mind; so that we're no longer controlled by the passions of the flesh, but by a sound-minded pursuit of God's wisdom for living. Second, we're to live lives characterized by "righteousness" or "justness". This speaks of our manner of behavior; so that we're no longer controlled by sinful impulses, but by a desire to do what is right. And third, we're to live lives that are characterized by "godliness" or "reverence toward God". This speaks of our attitude toward God; so that we're no longer living as if He wasn't there, but living with a sense of continual, glad-hearted, reverent dependency upon Him.
This is, of course, a completely new way of living. It involves our whole being - sober-mindedness having to do with how we conduct our minds, righteousness having to do with how we conduct our bodies, and godliness having to do with how we conduct our spirits. It also impacts all our relationships - sober-mindedness having to do with our relationship to ourselves, righteousness having to do with our relationships toward other people, and godliness having to do with our relationship to God. The grace of God has appeared to "teach" us to experience a whole-life transformation!
And notice that Paul says this transformation is to occur "in the present age." Many people respond to God's grace by thinking, "I'm under grace; so I'll live however I want now, and expect to gloriously transformed in the sweet by-and-by!" But that's not what God's grace teaches us. God's grace has appeared to teach us to live different lives now - not to put it off until some time in the future.
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So many people think that God's objective in saving us in Christ was just to keep us out of the Lake of Fire - and that it's now our option whether or not we want to live holy lives. But God has so much more in mind for us than that. God's great program of salvation is intended to bring about whole-hearted, whole-life holiness in the way we live right now! He saves us from our sins so that we can now live righteously before Him.
Think of how the Bible describes God's great plan of our salvation. To make us holy now was why God the Father, in eternity past, chose us for salvation through Christ; because as it says in Ephesians 1:4, "... He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love." It says in 1 Peter 1:2 that we are "elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ ..."
Having chosen us, He then calls us. And to make us holy now is why He called us in Christ; because as it says in 1 Peter 1:15-16, "... As He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, 'Be holy, for I am holy.'"
And having called us, He has raised us up with Christ as those who have died with Him to the condemning power of the law. And this new life is to be lived in a holy manner; because as it says in Rom. 6:14, "... Present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace."
And so finally, we see that Paul declares ...
3. THE "OBJECTIVE" OF SAVING GRACE THROUGH CHRIST (v. 14).
He writes that we look to the glorious appearing of Jesus Christ, "who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works."
Notice what Jesus sought in giving Himself for us. We see His objective expressed in three things. First, He "gave Himself" that He might redeem us from every lawless deed. Second, we see that He "gave Himself" to purify for Himself His own special people. In the King James Version, it says He sought a "peculiar people". The idea is a unique kind of people who live in such a way as to make others say, "You're not from around here; are you?" And third, we see that He "gave Himself" to seek a people who where zealous for good works. He seeks a people who don't have to be made to do works against their will; but rather, who are eager and excited - highly motivated - to do good works. As Peter has written;
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"Good works" figure heavily into this little letter from Paul. They are mentioned five times (1:16; 2:7, 14; 3:8, 14). That's because Jesus gave Himself in order to make us into a people who are characterized by "good works". This, no doubt, is why Paul closes this paragraph with these words to Titus: "Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you" (v. 15).
So then, let no one misunderstand the impact of the law of God on the believer. We will never be made righteous by the law; but are declared righteous only by faith in the work of Christ on our behalf. And having trusted Christ, and having been declared righteous in Him, we will never be made more righteous in Christ through obedience to the law; but are now under "no condemnation" by the law - forever 100% righteous in God's eyes through faith in Christ. But now, let's be sure we learn the lesson that God's grace intends to teach us. Having been declared righteous by faith in Jesus, let us now live lives that are in keeping with God's standards of holiness as expressed in His good law. Let us now live righteously in thankful practice, because God has already declared us to be fully righteous by grace.
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