Prepared To Meet God
Scripture: Titus 3:3–8
Prepared To Meet GodTitus 3:3-8
Sunday, Decmber 10, 2006
Pastor Randy Smith
It has been said that human beings are like porcupines, every time we get too close and intimate with another person, someone gets injured.
Last week we learned that only two ingredients are needed for the recipe called conflict: people and a problem. So since we cannot rid the world of either of these, we are bound to have difficulties in our relationships - difficulties that are prone to bring much pain and sorrow.
Conflicts are inevitable in the home and the church and the workplace. They are not always evil, for the way we manage them can often strengthen the relationship. But unfortunately this is often not the case because few people know how to deal with conflicts in a way that brings resolution and restoration. Last week we said that we often gravitate toward two tactics. We tend to either run from our problems using "escape responses" or aggressively dominate others using "attack responses." Sometimes we do both.
This week I came across five approaches that poke fun at the many improper ways we respond when dealing with a conflict.
- The Mike Tyson Approach: "I don't start fights, but I sure finish them."
- The Ostrich Approach: "I am going to close my eyes and cover my ears until this conflict goes away."
- The Charlie Brown Approach: "I would rather sulk and be hurt than resolve and get on."
- The Opportunist Approach: "Now you've done it; I've been saving up for a long time and now I'm going to cash in."
- The Corporate Raider Approach: "Win at all cost, even at the cost of losing the relationship."
All of these responses are unbiblical. All of these responses are dishonoring to God. All of these responses are destined to fail.
If we wish to succeed in our relationships with others, we are called to be peacemakers. This is God's proven method to resolve conflict. When we act as peacemakers, we are imitating the character of God. "Blessed are the peacemakers," says Mathew 5:9, "For they shall be called sons of God." For God is the ultimate peacemaker in reconciling us to Himself.
You might be saying, "Pastor you snuck that last thought in there pretty quickly! Are you saying God needs to make peace with humans? No peace assumes there is a conflict. Conflict implies separation. Separation with God entails an eternity apart from Him in hell. …I wonder if I am at peace with God?"
Last week we started with the vertical - our relationship to God, and worked toward the horizontal - our relationship to others. This week we will do just the opposite. We will start with our relationship to others (as we just did) and spend the rest of our time talking about our relationship with God.
The nature of our conflict with God stems from the fact that He is holy and we are sinners. God is holy. He is unable to look upon sin, much less permit sin to dwell with Him for eternity. In His perfect justice He must punish sin. Against that backdrop of God's holiness, we as humans are sinners by nature, choice, and divine declaration (Rom. 3:23). We continually violate God's holy law. We rebel against His sovereignty, supremacy, and lordship. So due to the conflict between our sinful nature and God's holy nature, the Bible says we are estranged and alienated enemies (Rom. 5:10; Col. 1:21), separated by a chasm between the two of us that is humanly impassable.
Isaiah 59:2, "But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you."
Possibly an illustration will help clarify our awful predicament before God. Imagine we all walked a half-mile down to the beach and lined up along the water's edge. Then on a given command we all attempted to jump across the Atlantic Ocean. Sure, some of us would make it farther than others, but none of us would make it beyond the breakers, much less to our desired goal of Europe!
Unlike every other world religion, Christianity claims our best human efforts will never gain God's approval. For our sins have created a separation between Him and us that is infinite.
In verse 3 of our passage in Titus this morning we read about the depraved nature of all humanity. We observe a true picture of the world - that includes you and I - as seen through the eyes of God. The verse says, "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."
It is a sad and humbling snapshot, but it is an accurate assessment of our condition. Let's consider each one of these indictments individually in the light of the Christmas season alone.
Think about it: Are humans not foolish to spend more time talking to their children about Santa Claus than God-incarnate, Jesus Christ? Are humans not disobedient when they sing, "O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord" and then live as if He never existed following their own self-will? Are humans not deceived when they believe telling others the true meaning of Christmas is insensitive and unloving? Are humans not enslaved to various lusts and pleasures when they focus more on what they will receive under the tree than the One who died on the tree for sins? Are humans not malicious when they spread more strife than peace this Christmas season? Are humans not envious when they watch all the commercials and focus more on what they want than what they have? Are humans not hateful to God and others when they fail to put themselves last by imitating the humble baby born in a manger who came to lay His life down for others?
Considering the depravity of our hearts spoken of in verse 3, do we really believe we can earn our own salvation? It is only when we take a deep look inside and examine ourselves against the standard of God's holiness will we realize how we are spiritually in a pit deeper than we can crawl from, in a darkness greater than our light can penetrate and in a sin mightier than our resolve can control (Chapell, Titus, p. 360).
And if you believe you are the exception, it only gives further evidence to the degree in which you are deceived as to your knowledge of the Bible and your true condition before God. The great theologian, John Calvin, once said, "The human heart has so many crannies where vanity hides, so many holes where falsehood lurks, is so decked out with deceiving hypocrisy, that it often dupes itself" (A Calvin Treasury, Christianity Today, vol. 37, no. 4). Are you duped? The author of Titus wasn't duped. For even Saint Paul, the self-righteous Jew, included himself using the personal pronoun "we" at the beginning of verse 3.
God will not compromise His character, and we are unable to change ours. As a result the Scriptures declare: "He who does not obey the Son (of God) will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him" (Jn. 3:23). And "cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them" (Gal. 3:10). And "the wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23).
Regardless of our good deeds, noble intentions and religious pursuits, there is nothing we can do to reconcile ourselves with God. So do we plea to God for justice? Absolutely not! Justice would mean an eternity in hell! Our only hope is mercy. Our only hope is to have God act on our behalf to remove our sin and thus reconcile our relationship. We are dependent on Him to take our relationship from hostility to peace. But how?
The answer is found in verse 4. We have spent a considerable time talking about God's holiness and justice, but we must not forget that God is also kind and loving. And in our dark condition His kindness and love broke through to bring us the light of salvation. By way of strong contrast to verse 3, verse 4 states, "But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared."
When my children reach that point of fear and cry out, the response that always brings them comfort is, "Daddy's here." To young kids, daddy and mommy are the embodiment of omnipotent love and kindness. We were alienated from God. We were enemies with our Creator. We were hopeless. We were only one breath away from an eternity in hell. And before we even thought of crying out, God in His love and kindness said, "Daddy's here."
Now love and kindness are well intended, but meaningless if they are unable to deliver. My presence brings my children comfort because they still think their daddy is bigger than the boogieman and can beat up any other daddy on the block! Little do they realize that all my love and kindness can only go so far to provide them the ultimate protection they desire.
Yet with God, His love and kindness are infinite. They are sovereign. They are omnipotent. They are not flimsy emotions, but the source of actions that will always prevail in accomplishing His purposes. Love and kindness alone will not remove our sin that is separating us from God. But when love and kindness "appeared" (verse 4; cf. 2:11) in the presence of a Savior, Jesus Christ, our offense against God was dealt its final deathblow.
As our only hope, God sent His Son to be our substitute. He would live the perfect life in our place, receive our sins upon Himself and then die on the cross in our place. He accepted the wrath of God and the penalty for sin we deserved. The Scriptures affirm this glorious reality. "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8) and "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them" (2 Cor. 5:19 - also see Eph. 2:4-5). Can we ask for a greater demonstration of God's love? At the cross the love of God burst upon the world with unmistakable clarity.
The cross of Jesus teaches us that we are all unable to save ourselves. Yet the cross also teaches us that there is no limit God will take to restore our relationship with Him. A popular Christian singer rightly concluded, "In the gospel, we discover we are far worse off than we thought, and far more loved than we ever dreamed" (Steven Curtis Chapman and his pastor Scotty Smith, Speechless: Living in Awe of God's Disruptive Grace, 1999).
Most humans have it backwards. Salvation does not exalt the goodness of our heart. It exalts the goodness of God's heart. And salvation is not based on our works. It is based on God's works. The "I'm basically a good person" and thus deserving of heaven is a lie straight from the pit of hell. Yet this is the false sense of security that millions are clinging to at this very moment. Consider Muhammad Ali, the one hailed to be the greatest athlete of our generation. In a recent Reader's Digest interview he said, "One day we're all going to die, and God is going to judge us - (our) good deeds and bad deeds. If the bad outweighs the good, you go to hell. If the good outweighs the bad, you go to heaven" (Ali, Reader's Digest, December 2001, p. 93). My friends, our good deeds are tainted with sin and the standard for our good deeds is the goodness of God. And even if we have a faint understanding of the goodness of God, we will realize that our "good deeds" are greatly insufficient.
Think about it! If good deeds or any other human effort for that matter were able to save us, why would God be so foolish to spend the life of His very Son (Gal. 2:21)? How preposterous and blasphemous to think we can somehow contribute to His gift or bypass His offering all together and do it ourselves. How preposterous and blasphemous to think we as sinners can somehow earn the favor of the thrice-holy God (Isa. 6:3). It is not about our righteousness. It comes down to God's mercy. In verse 5 of Titus 3 we read, "He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy."
God saw our hopeless condition and had pity on us. Our social, moral and religious works were all insufficient. Moreover we opposed ever surrendering our will to the God of Scripture and loving Him as commanded with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our might (Dt. 6:5). Isaiah 53:6 says, "All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way." But He first loved us (1 Jn. 4:19). He "caused the iniquity of us all to fall (upon Christ)" (Isa. 53:6b). And "even when we were dead in our transgressions" (Eph. 2:5), Christ died for the undeserving so that we might be forgiven and accepted by God. In Hebrews 8:12 God said, "For I will be merciful to their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more." That is why Ephesians 2:4 tells us God is "rich in mercy."
We do not earn salvation. We do not demand justice. We fall at the foot of the cross as did that repentant tax collector and beg, "God, be merciful to me, the sinner" (Lk. 18:13)!
Salvation is not based upon our works, but rather God's mercy (not giving us what we deserve) as we see in verse 5 and God's grace (giving us what we don't deserve) as we see in verse 7. Ephesians 2:8-9 cannot be any clearer "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast." 2 Timothy 1:9 says the same thing. "(God) has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity."
You may not like to hear this, but apart from God's grace and mercy you and I have no greater hope of entering heaven than the foulest criminal that ever walked on the face of this earth.
One ad for the U.S. Marines pictures a sword, and beneath it the words: "Earned, never given." If you want to become a Marine, be prepared to earn that name through sacrifice, hardship, and training. If you get it, you deserve it. But if you want to become a Christian, you must have the exact opposite attitude, for the message of the gospel is: "Given, never earned."
Have you ever been in a restaurant and some unknown person provides that surprise blessing? It is a rather awkward feeling when you pull out your wallet and the waitress says, "Sir, your bill has already been paid. Have a nice evening." You feel helpless. You feel the need to pay but the debt is already cancelled. There is nothing to contribute. All you can do is receive the gift and be thankful.
That is how salvation comes to us. It is all of God. It is all of grace and all of mercy. It is not based on what we do, but rather what He did for us in Christ.
It has been said, "Only when grace is the first and last word of contemplation can the scars of spiritual sin be healed" (Mark Galli, Leadership, vol. 15, no. 1). Have you been spiritually healed? Are you presently at war with God or are you reconciled with Him? Are you His enemy or His friend?
Salvation has been made available to all, yet we must understand that the gift of salvation works like any other gift we may receive this holiday season. In order for the gift to become ours, we must accept it. Salvation is offered to all, but it only becomes effective when we understand our need for a Savior and by belief (or faith) reach out our heart and receive the gift of God's love. Isn't that the teaching of the most popular verse in the Bible? "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life" (Jn. 3:16).
Now what kind of belief do you think God requires? Is it simply the belief that Jesus was a good man that lived many years ago? With that attitude we place Jesus, at best, on par with other human heroes such as political leaders, astronauts and famous athletes. No, God is looking for serious faith, a faith that seeks to surrender all, unequivocally trust and repent from sin. God is looking for a faith that clings to Him for hope, relies upon Him for satisfaction, and depends upon Him for joy. God is looking for faith that doesn't seek to earn grace, but uses grace once received to fulfill holy obligations and give evidence that He really dwells within us. God is looking for a faith that produces true disciples, people who "deny (themselves), and take up (their) cross daily and follow (Jesus wherever He leads)" (Lk. 9:23).
The best illustration I have ever heard of biblical belief comes from what I was told to be a true story. Many years ago a man strung a line across the Niagara Falls. To the amazement of the people he tightrope walked to the other side pushing a wheelbarrow. The crowd erupted in applause. Yet when the excitement was at its highest, he asked an individual if he believed the stunt could be accomplished again. The man in the audience affirmed his talent and ability to once again cross the falls pushing a wheelbarrow. After the artist repeated his question a number of times he emphatically asked, "Do you really believe I can do this again?" The man responded, "Yes, I am absolutely positive you can perform the same stunt without falling." To which the tightrope artist immediately replied, "Then get in the wheelbarrow and allow me to push you across."
This is the belief (or trust) that God expects of His children. And to those who have this kind of belief John 1:12 declares, "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name." And upon believing upon His name, verse 5 of our Titus text says He saves us (which implies delivering) and regenerates us (which implies cleansing) and renews us (which implies recreating) by the power of the Holy Spirit (Tit. 3:5-6). We are, verse 7 "justified by His grace." And He also provides for us the great promise for our future also found in verse 7 that "we would be made heirs according to the hope (a confident expectation) of eternal life."
One author in summarizing this text spoke of God's marvelous plan of salvation based solely on His work of grace. He said, "'Grace,' charis, is unmerited favor that results in God exerting His holy influence to turn us to Christ, to remove the guilt and power of sin, to increase our faith, to enable our godliness, to keep us and to bless us eternally as joint heirs with Christ" (Bryan Chapell, Titus, p. 362).
As Christians we rejoice and take great comfort and assurance in this gospel message of salvation. Can you do that this morning? Are you reconciled with God? Do you have a personal relationship with Him? Are you at peace with Him because your sins have taken away through the sacrifice of Christ? Are you depending on your own works or have you received His gift of grace?
As the hymn writer penned…
Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!
Yonder on Calvary's mount outpoured,
there where the blood of the Lamb was spilt.
Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace,
freely bestowed on all who believe!
You that are longing to see his face,
will you this moment his grace receive?
Grace, grace, God's grace,
grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
grace, grace, God's grace,
grace that is greater than all our sin!
(Text: Julia H. Johnston)
So let's remember this Christmas that the little cute baby born in a manger in Bethlehem came for a very distinct purpose. As the angel said to Joseph, "She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins" (Mt. 1:21; cf. Lk. 1:31). Jesus came to bear our sins and thus bring peace between God and humanity.