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GRACE Has Appeared

GRACE

By Dennis Pollock

I have occasionally been complimented on my writing skills, but one knock I sometimes get is that my sentences can be just too long! I admit that I get carried away when writing and at times I can hardly bring myself to put a period on a sentence. The thoughts seem to flow so fast that I just keep adding and adding and end up with a pretty lengthy and complicated sentence. And I do need to be reminded of this tendency now and again, to keep my thoughts in a more easily digestible form. But I do take comfort in the thought that the apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, seemed to have this same tendency. In fact, he was far worse than I ever was, although his writing was so brilliant and so inspired that he could get away with it!

In this study we will look at one of Paul’s long sentences. It is from the little epistle of Titus, and it is one of his more well-known passages. To his protégé, Paul writes:

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).

Fountain of Grace

Paul begins by declaring that God’s grace has appeared to all men. Of course, he is talking about Jesus Christ, who is the Fountain of the grace of God in the earth. John tells us that the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament God’s law was revealed, but when Jesus arrived, “born of a woman, born under the law” grace appeared. This was the “glad tidings” and the “peace on earth” which the angels announced to the shepherds in the field. Forgiveness, mercy, blessing, favor, and eternal life were all wrapped up in that tiny baby born in a manger, who grew up to die on the cross, rise from the dead, and become the Savior of the world. It is the “grace that brings salvation.”

But this grace does not just bring blessing; it brings instruction. We are not only told we are loved and forgiven. We are given the lifestyle which must be embraced by all of grace’s recipients. Paul writes that having appeared to all men, it teaches us to “deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present age.” Apparently, Jesus comes into our lives as a package deal – He brings salvation, forgiveness, and eternal life, and He comes with a “recommended lifestyle.” In fact, I think we could say that it is a highly recommended lifestyle.

Paul uses five concepts to amplify this lifestyle that grace teaches us to embrace. Two of the concepts are things we must avoid, and three are adverbs which describe the way we must live. Let’s look at the two things to avoid first. Paul says we must “deny” ungodliness and worldly lusts. Often we think of the word deny as meaning that some charge is false and non-existent. If someone says we robbed a bank yesterday, we would deny it vehemently. We would say that such an accusation is baseless and untrue. But this is not what Paul means when he says that we are to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts. Instead he is saying that we must refuse permission for such sinful ways of life to touch us. It’s like someone trying to gain access to a ship in harbor, who asks the captain: “Permission to come aboard?” and is told emphatically: “Permission denied.” Essentially this kind of denial is simply saying, “Nope, it’s not going to happen.” Likewise, when ungodliness and worldly lusts seek to rule in our lives we are to declare: “Permission denied – no way!”

Grace Teaches Us

How do we know that this is what is expected of us? Paul says that the grace of God, which brings salvation, has taught us this. In other words, Jesus came to this earth, bringing with Him the amazing grace of God, and has instructed us clearly that we who follow Him must deny these things. Ungodliness means a way of life entirely inappropriate for someone connected with God. God is all about honesty, for example. Followers of Christ cannot possibly be liars. God is kind and compassionate. We who call ourselves His children cannot be harsh, angry, and hateful.

The other thing which we must deny (say “no” to) is worldly lusts. The word lust typically has a sexual connotation, but Biblically speaking it involves much more than sex. Worldly lusts can be a strong, passionate desire and urge for anything that is unlawful in the eyes of God. We can lust for a second piece of pie, we can lust for excessive entertainment, we can lust for an easy, lazy, unproductive life. Regardless of our own pet lusts, the point is that we are wanting certain things, things which are not appropriate, way too much.

Desire is a powerful force in our lives and at times it can be a good thing. Most young people desire to be married. As a result, they carefully observe attractive individuals of the opposite sex, they flirt, they date, they propose – and they get married and enter into family life. There is nothing wrong with any of this. It is, in fact, God’s will for the majority of us. But this would not happen, at least not often, if we didn’t have some pretty strong desires for marriage and a lifelong relationship. Clearly God has put it into our hearts to desire, and desire strongly the opposite sex, and when young people (or older people) seek a marriage partner, they are not sinning.

But not all urges and desires are noble and productive. The “worldly lusts” Paul speaks of are desires which are patently ignoble and unproductive. More importantly they are sinful, at least they will be if we yield to them. Men and women of God certainly feel urges and passions and lusts which would lead us into sin and debasement, and so we must say no. It might be nice to think that these lusts come along once every ten years or so, but in truth, strong desires for the wrong things happen to all of us nearly every day. The Christian life is a life of constantly saying no – again and again and again. This is why Jesus tells us that if we desire to follow Him, we must deny ourselves and take up our cross daily.

Soberly, Righteously and Godly

But denying ungodliness and worldly lusts is not the whole story. There are also positive virtues we must wholeheartedly embrace. We are to live “soberly, righteously, and godly.” The idea of living righteously and godly is no surprise; it follows logically if we “deny ungodliness and worldly lusts.” In essence this means we behave ourselves. We follow the New Testament admonitions to be kind, live honestly and honorably, avoid sexual immorality, work hard, and keep our lives without scandal. Again, this is what “the grace of God which brings salvation” teaches us. In other words, this is what Jesus teaches us through His word and through His Spirit, once we trust Him as our Lord and Savior.

But the first attribute is a little more mysterious. Not only are we to live righteously and godly; we must live soberly. The word sober can mean two things. First it is the very opposite of being drunk with alcohol. The drunk person has lost his ability to carefully reason. He is often silly, he can get angry easily, he can do things while drunk that he would never think of doing while sober. He is less cautious, more impulsive, more reckless, louder, more easily angered, and so forth. In short, when drunk he is a very inferior version of himself.

Another aspect of sobriety is simply the attitude of taking one’s life seriously. A non-sober high school young man refuses to study, loves to party, jumps in and out of relationships, is not reliable, is not consistent, is undisciplined, and is not dependable. If he does not change, he would make a lousy employee, a lousy neighbor, and a lousy husband. Paul says that the grace of God that brings salvation teaches us that we are to live soberly – we are to take our lives seriously. Life is not a big joke. It is purposeful, it demands commitment, discipline and faithfulness. People who live soberly typically end up at the top of their professions, they make good husbands and wives, they are pleasant to be around, and when they die, they leave the world a better place because they were in it.

Looking for Jesus

So far, Paul has packed a lot of information into his long sentence. But he is not through. He goes on to describe the outlook and perspective of such people that learn their lessons from grace: “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” You can’t read much of Paul’s writings and miss the fact that the great apostle had a great love for and eagerness about the return of the Lord Jesus. Paul declares that this looking for Jesus’ appearing is a vital part of what grace teaches us; this long sentence describes not only how Christians live, but how they think, and the great passion of their hearts.

We are not to be so enmeshed in and endeared to this world that the thought of leaving it seems a great tragedy. On the contrary we look for the blessed hope, the glorious appearing of our Lord Jesus. While we behave ourselves, live honestly, righteously, and soberly, while we say “no” to ungodliness and worldly lusts, we also keep our minds focused upon the reality of Christ’s return. We will not be here forever. Jesus will come one day and take us to Himself. And somehow, this looking for the coming of Jesus helps us with the sober, godly living. We find it easier to do, and easier to say no to the ungodly desires that offer themselves, as we reflect upon our translation from this world into the presence of our Lord.

At this point you may be thinking, “OK, Paul is surely done with his long sentence!” But no, not quite yet. He has to remind us of what Christ has done for us. And so, after declaring how we look for Jesus’ appearing, he goes on to declare that Jesus “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.” Those simple words: “Jesus gave Himself for us” take us to the cross, the center of the Christian faith. Jesus died for us and in our place – Paul cannot describe the Christian life and attitude without referring to the cross. But he does not say what many might expect him to say. He does not say Jesus gave Himself for us so that we can go to heaven and live forever. Instead he goes right back to the idea of Christian behavior. According to Paul, Jesus 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.”

Jesus did not die on the cross for us, to enable us to go on sinning, lying, fornicating, cheating, raging at others, and so forth. He gave Himself for us “to redeem us from every lawless deed and purify us as his own special people, zealous of good works.” The born-again children of God are to be special, not because we are prettier than others or richer than others or smarter than others. Our uniqueness must be in the godly, decent, and kind way that we live. Not only do we live this way, but we are “zealous of good works.” We don’t just have a slight desire to do good and help people. We have a raging inferno of desire to be a blessing to our world and to those around us. We possess a radical, surging, overwhelming zeal to do good for others. Where does this come from? It comes from Christ, who is the Fountain of the grace of God – that grace that teaches us so much and produces a lifestyle best summed up by the word godliness. “For grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

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