"Remember ... He Saved You!"
(Delivered Sunday, March 4, 2007 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
This morning, I would like give you a brotherly “reminder”. It's my duty as a pastor to remind you of certain things. In fact, I am obligated—under the highest possible authority—to remind you of these things again and again. It's crucial to you're being able to live the the life God wants you to live that you remember them.
The “reminder” of these important things is given to us in Titus 3:1-8; where the apostle Paul writes;
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The apostle Paul first wrote these words of reminder to Titus—a pastor that he had commissioned with the task of serving the church on the isle of Crete. Paul had given him instructions to “set in order the things that are lacking” in the group of churches that were in this ancient community; and to “appoint elders in every city” (1:5).
It wasn't an easy task that Paul had given to Titus. There were many false teachers and opponents to the faith on Crete—men who were “upsetting whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain” (1:10-11). A part of Titus' task was that of countering these false teachers with the truth of God's word; silencing them, lest they make further wreckage of the church. In addition to that, Titus also had to contend with the immoral conduct that characterized the culture of Crete. Paul cited one of their own ancient poets, Epimenides; saying, “One of them, a prophet of their own, said, 'Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” (1:12). And Paul adds, “This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith” (v. 13).
So, Paul called Titus to stand strong and fight in the battle for the Christian faith; and not only for the faith, but also for the godly character that should flow from it. That's important to keep in mind as we consider our passage this morning. As you read through this short letter of three chapters, one of the things you're immediately struck with is how often Paul urges Titus in it to exhort the people under his care to “good works”. Paul warns that the ungodly “profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work” (1:16). And one of the ways that the people of God are to distinguish themselves from the people of this world, and to bear a positive witness for the truth of the gospel that they believe, is by being a people who are outstanding in “good works”.
In gospel churches today, we often avoid stressing “good works”. We don't want anyone to misunderstand the message of the gospel, or to think that we are somehow saying that people can be saved by doing good works. But there's an equally dangerous error in neglecting to talk about “good works”. A life characterized by “good works” is to be the visible manifestation of a work of God's grace in us through faith in Jesus. To neglect “good works” as a manifestation of our salvation is just as much an error as it would be to stress “good works” as a means of our salvation!
And so, Paul urges Titus throughout this brief letter to stress that “good works” are to follow after saving faith. Look at the very first thing he says in this letter—an affirmation concerning his own sense of ministry: “Paul, a bondservant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God's elect and the acknowledgment of the truth which accords with godliness . . .” (1:1). He is letting us know in this that his first priority is “the faith of God's elect”; that is, that those whom God has appointed for salvation would hear the gospel and believe. But then, Paul is equally concerned that those who have believed acknowledge “the truth which accords with godliness”. He wanted them to grow in the doctrinal truths that lead to a consistent pattern of godly living.
Paul makes this point in many places in this letter. In 2:1, Paul tells Titus to “speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine”; and then, he goes on to describe godly behavior. He tells Titus to, himself, be an example; “in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works” (2:7). He tells Titus,
In fact, Paul mentions good works twice in our passage this morning—both at the beginning and at the end. In 3:1, he tells Titus to remind the people of God “to be ready for every good work”; and in verse 8, he told Titus to affirm these things “that those who believed in God should be careful to maintain good works”. And Paul even closes his letter by telling Titus, “And let our people also learn to maintain good works, to meet urgent needs, that they may not be unfruitful” (3:14).
So; this letter is all about the people of God proving the truth of the life-changing power of the gospel by being characterized by good works. This is something that, sadly, isn't stressed very often. But the fact is that, in the work of spreading the gospel around the world, an emphasis on good works is strategic. It gives proof to the world of the truth of the gospel message. One of the greatest hindrances in gaining a hearing for the gospel among unbelieving people is the fact that so many professing Christians are not careful to live lives that conform to the faith they say that they believe. They fail to live lives that “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things” (Titus 2:10).
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Now; Titus is called to “remind” the people of these things. But I also want you to notice—and I hope you will hear me with all your hearing on this!—that Paul does not teach Titus to simply stress doing good works! Rather, he urges Titus to stress the doctrines of God's saving grace that lead to those good works!
Paul is not about changing people on the outside; because that would be mere “moralism”. Rather, he is about seeing them changed on the inside by the power of God through Christ. And once they've been transformed on the inside by having been carefully taught and by having believed the truths of God's saving grace through Christ, then—and only then—will they be in the proper position to be “reminded” to live rightly on the outside.
Paul is very serious about this. In verse 8 of our passage, he tells Titus, “This is a faithful saying”—which is another way of saying, “I want to stress as strongly as I can to you, Titus, that what I am telling you is true; that the good doctrines of God's saving grace that I'm passing on to you are the basis of godly living”—“and 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.”
If Titus was faithful to first proclaim the key doctrines of the gospel of God's saving grace to the people under his care, and then follow-up his teaching by urging those believers to rise up and live godly lives that are in accordance with the doctrines they were taught, then he would be fulfilling his ministry in such a way as to powerfully impact the unbelieving community with the message of the gospel itself. Paul wanted to remind Titus to remind the people of God of these things.
By including Paul's reminder to Titus in the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit has reminded me. And now this morning, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, I'm reminding you.
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To sum it all up, this passage teaches us that a life of godliness is the result of knowing and believing the doctrines of God's saving grace shown us in Christ. Please follow along with me in this passage . . . and be reminded of this today!
First . . .
1. REMEMBER THE AUTHORITATIVE CALL TO GODLY LIVING (vv. 1-2).
Paul begins by urging Titus to remind them of the pattern of godly living that they are to follow. He says, “Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men” (vv. 1-2).
Paul, here, mentions seven specific aspects of the sort of lives you and I are to be living in this world. But before we look at them, I ask you to notice that he urges Titus to “remind” the people of God to be characterized by these things. Literally, he was to “put them in mind” of them. And the tense of the verb suggests that he is to do so as a continual, ongoing practice—that he is to persistently, repeatedly remind them of these things.
I believe that it's essential that God's appointed teachers in the church are to continually “remind” the people of God to do these things, because we aren't naturally inclined to keep them in mind on our own! They are things that we constantly need to be exhorted from the word of God to do.
I remember a time, many years ago, when my wife and I were attending a church in the Seattle area. We lived not far from our church; and I struck up a conversation with a neighbor lady who found out that we attended there. She asked lots of questions about the church; and she said that she was looking for a church and had been thinking about visiting. “Please do,” I said. “It's a great little church; and I think you'll really like it.”
But then, she got very serious and asked, “But it isn't one of those churches were they tell you what to do, is it? I live the way I want; and I don't want to go one of those churches where they're always telling you what you should do.” And I had to tell her the truth; that she probably wouldn't like it there after all, because our pastor taught from the Bible and exhorted people to live according to what it said. It probably comes as no surprise that she never visited.
But you see; it's the solemn duty of the leaders of the flock in God's household to remind the people of God how they should be living. They themselves must “remember” the pattern of godly living; and they must continually “remind” the people under their spiritual care to also follow that pattern. We live in the midst of an ungodly culture that constantly seeks to press us into its mold; and what's more, we have our own sinful and fallen inclinations that press us from within. We need the reminder repeatedly and continually. And the world desperately needs the witness.
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Now; Paul mentions seven aspects of this godly pattern of living. First of all, we see two good deeds that relate to our lives as citizens of our culture. We are to be model citizens. Paul says, “Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey . . .” Here, Paul is calling us to honor the governing authorities that He—in His sovereignty—has placed over us.
Paul, in Romans 13:1-2, tells us, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring punishment on themselves.” And likewise Peter, in 1 Peter 2:13-14, says, “Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evil doers and for the praise of those who do good.” One of the ways that we demonstrate the truth of the message of the gospel in this world is that we are good citizens who are faithfully subject to the governing authorities—not only subject to them, but actively obedient to them. We adorn the gospel when we do so.
Second, we see Paul's call to behavior that relate to our practice. He says that we are to be “ready for every good work”. For one thing, it is to be the attitude of our heart—the spring-load of our being—to serve others in an active and sacrificial way. We're not to be begrudging about it; but on the look-out for it, and eager for it when it comes. And for another, we're to be ready for “every” good work—whatever the need may be that we can meet.
And third, we see Paul's call to good works that have to do with our relationships with others. He says that we're “to speak evil of [or literally, “blaspheme”] no one”. It's interesting that he mentions this right after speaking of “rulers and authorities”, isn't it? Did you know that it is a very great sin before God to speak evil of governmental leaders? Exodus 22:28 says, “You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people.” And this doesn't apply just to political leaders. Paul also says that we are to speak evil of “no one”. This, of course, doesn't mean that we can't speak out when we see wrongdoing occur. But it's one thing to speak of people's 'evil', and another to speak evil 'of people'. As believers, we are to “speak evil of no one”.
Along with this are three more good works of a relational nature. We're to be characterized as “peaceable” (that is, “not argumentative”, or “not disposed to fight or quarrel”); and as “gentle” (that is, “reasonable” or “fair”); and as “showing all humility [or “meekness”] to all men” (not just 'some humility' but 'all humility'; and not just toward some people, but to all people).
In short, Paul is calling Titus to remind the people of God to live like people who truly are 'out-of-this-world'—to live lives in the midst of this world that demand an explanation. When we faithfully do so, we adorn the gospel of Jesus Christ that we say we believe.
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Now, again; Paul is not simply urging Titus to remind the people to do a bunch of good deeds in a moralistic way. Apart from God's grace, the things that Paul has just mentioned are not merely difficult to do. They're impossible. The practices that he is to call the people to are to have a theological foundation; and unless that theological foundation is established as true in the lives of those to whom Titus was to issue this reminder, it would do no good to exhort people to do what is humanly impossible to do.
Do you notice the first word of verse three? Paul begins by saying, “For . . .” This conjunction indicates that what he is about to say is the “cause” or “basis” of the call to godliness he just described in verses one and two. So, this leads us to . . .
2. REMEMBER THE TRUTHS OF GOD'S GRACE THAT STAND BEHIND THIS CALL (vv. 3-7).
Dear brothers and sisters; I need to tell you that what follows is a majestic portion of God's word. It is one of the riches expressions of the saving grace of God that you'll find in the Bible. Let these truths sink into your heart deeply; allow yourself to become transformed by them; allow them to change you from the inside-out; and believe me . . . you will live a different life on the outside!
First, notice that Paul stresses . . .
a. The truth of what we were (v. 3).
Paul had described seven characteristics of the godly life. Now, he mentions seven characteristics of the life God saved us from—seven things that were true of us before God redeemed us from out of our lost condition by His amazing grace.
First, Paul mentions sins of 'attitude'. “For we ourselves were also foolish” (that is, “unwise” or “unthinking”). Before God's grace came to us, we were clueless to the things of God; for “the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). We were hostile to the things of God, because they didn't make sense to us. They couldn't. Apart from God's grace, we had no capacity whatsoever to understand spiritual truth. We were also “disobedient”; and this could be translated “un-persuadable”. We weren't willing to be persuaded of the truth, nor were we willing to be submitted to God's will for our lives. And what's more, we were also “deceived”. We thought we were “enlightened”; but in reality, we were the unwitting dupes of the devil. No wonder Paul calls us to show all humility toward all men, and to be gentle and peaceable toward them—including those who oppose our faith! Such people are trapped in terrible darkness—dead in trespasses and sins—and they don't even know it! And that was also true of us, before God's grace came to us.
And second, Paul mentions sins of 'action'. He says that we ourselves were also once “serving various lusts and pleasures”. We were driven by what our flesh demanded. It may have been in different forms of expression—for some it was sensual pleasures; for others it was materialism; for others still it was a craving for power. But whatever the various forms were, we were still slaves to our lusts and pleasures. He also says we were “hateful” (or perhaps a better word would be “despicable”). We lived in certain ways, or said certain things, or fought for certain beliefs, for which we are now deeply ashamed, “[f]or the end of those things is death” (Romans 6:21). And finally, we were “hating one another”. For all the talk we may have done about “love”, the truth of the matter was that we were filled with hate. We harbored bitterness and resentment toward others, and relished in our grievances against them. The world may have placed us in the “tolerant” category because we agreed with worldly values and priorities; but the truth was that we were as prejudiced and intolerant as we could possibly be when it came to our opposition to God's holy standards.
Before we depart from this, let me just point out a couple of things. First, notice that Paul includes himself in all this. He doesn't tell Titus, “Remind those people of all the awful things they all once were.” But rather, the great apostle Paul included himself in the condemnation—saying, “For we ourselves were” these things. Paul was able to say that he was “the chief” of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). Humility requires us to admit that these things were true of us also.
But second, notice the note of victory. Paul says that we ourselves “were” also once these things. To be a “were” is to no longer be an “are”. We “were” these things, but now “are” these things no longer! As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11;
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Now; being reminded of our past—being made to realize the truth of what we were—is a vital part of the call to live a godly life in Christ. It not only helps us to realize what it is that we have been saved from, but also highlights the grace of God that has now been showered upon us! And this leads us to how Paul stresses . . .
b. The truth of what God did for us (vv. 4-5).
First, notice that while we were still in that horrible, sinful, lost condition, God had mercy on us. Paul writes, “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior toward man appeared; not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us . . .” (vv. 4-5a).
Dear brothers and sisters; we were not just simply sick in trespasses and sins back then. We were dead in trespasses and sins! Someone may go over to a grave out in the cemetery, and lay a Bible on it; and even stand next to the grave and exhort the person in it to rise up and reform their ways and obey God's word; but it won't do any good. The person in the grave is dead! They don't have the capacity to even hear the exhortation or to read the the Bible; let alone rise up and do anything about it. And that's the condition we were in! If even the slightest bit of our salvation were up to us when we were dead, we would still be lost today.
But God saved us. And it was in no way because of any good works we have done in righteousness; because as spiritually dead people, we could have done no righteous deeds that would be pleasing and acceptable to a holy God! Rather, it was only because God first showed kindness and love toward us. It was only because He had mercy upon us while we were still dead in our sins. Paul writes;
Second, notice the way He put His mercy toward us into action. Paul goes on to say that God saved us, “through the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit” (v. 5b). What's in view in this passage is not the matter of our faith. Rather, its a matter of the work of the Holy Spirit in us that preceded ability on our part to have faith at all. And the first of those works that that of “regeneration”.
The Holy Spirit didn't simply raise us up as dead in our trespasses and sins. Rather, He first “regenerated” us; or as Paul says elsewhere, “made us alive”. Before we could hear the good news of His Son Jesus Christ and believe on Him, we had to first be made alive—with the capacity to hear spiritual truth, and to believe with living hearts. Then, as a result, we stand up from the graves alive—washed clean of every sin by the work of the Holy Spirit. It is the “washing” of regeneration—as people whose sins can no longer be held against them because they have been raised to a brand new life.
And then, the Holy Spirit also ministers “renewing” to us. The work of regeneration is a single event; but the renewing is a life-long process. This is the Spirit's ministry of “sanctifying” us. It's a work that, having been made a live in Christ, we actively participate in; but it is a work of God's grace toward us that is ministered to us by the Holy Spirit. It will be carried on until we are presented to Christ as “faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy” (Jude 24).
You and I need to be reminded of these things. They are doctrinal truths that do us good. As B.B. Warfield once said, “It is encouraging teaching to believers to tell them that they are not their own saviours but God is their Saviour”.1
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And then, notice how Paul stresses . .
c. The truth of what we now are (vv. 6-7).
It is by the ministry of the Holy Spirit that God the Father has brought us to life; “whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Lord” (v. 6). And so, right now, we walk about in this world as the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit—given to us by Jesus Himself. It is Jesus who has died to save us for Himself; and it is He who sends the Holy Spirit to dwell in us, to protect us, to guide us, to instruct us, and to empower us. And note that we don't just have the Holy Spirit in bits and pieces. We have Him abundantly!
We are also declared righteous before God. Paul identifies us as "having been justified by His grace". To be "justified" means to have been declared 100% righteous in the sight of God. The sins of our past are no longer held against us. The devil can no longer bring a single charge against us. All of our sins were placed on Christ and completely paid for at the cross. All of the righteousness of Jesus Christ is credited to our account. We are perfectly acceptable in the sight of a holy God.
And finally, we are the heirs of a great hope. Paul says that God has justified us by His grace through Christ our Savior, so that "we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life." We are destined to be transformed into the glorious image of Jesus our Lord, and to share in His eternal glory with Him in His Father's house forever. We may not be 'possessors' yet in the fullest sense; but we are heirs who will one day soon be possessors!
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In all of this, there is a glorious order of events in God's gracious work toward us. First is God's mercy toward us who were undeserving sinners--dead in our trespasses and sins, helpless to do anything to save ourselves. Then, in mercy, God brought about our regeneration; then, enabling us to believe, He brought about our justification; then, being justified, He continues to bring about our sanctification; and then, He guarantees to complete the work of salvation He began in us all the way to our full glorification in Christ.
None of this is anything that we have done. It is all the work of God's grace toward us. This passage teaches us that all the Persons of the Trinity were involve; that the Father has shown us kindness and love and mercy, that the Son has brought about our justification by His own sacrifice for us so that we might be washed of ours sins and made sharers together in the hope of His eternal glory; and that the Holy Spirit has regenerated us, is renewing us, and is poured out abundantly in us to ensure that all of these things will be brought to completion.
This, then, leads us finally to . . .
3. REMEMBER THE PRACTICAL RESULT OF BEING TAUGHT THESE TRUTHS (v. 8).
Paul tells 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. These things are good and profitable to men." Because these great realities of God's grace are true of you and me, we are to be, “subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men.” And because of these great realities, you and I can be these things!
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ; it's my duty to remind you of these things. It is your duty to live out the truth of them. The truths of God's saving grace are meant to be the foundation of the way you live. Receive them, grow to understand them, and believe in them in such a way as to be transformed by them.
And being transformed by them on the inside, live a life that adorns their truth on the outside.
1B.B. Warfield, Faith & Life (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1974), p. 400.
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