Read at beginning of message:
Titus 3:3-8 (NIV)
3 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. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 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, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. 8 This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.
— How many of you have ever bought something from a TV infomercial?
I?ve never done this. In fact I don?t really like watching TV ?infomercials? and I usually never had to worry about seeing them. But an interesting thing happened when my son Zachary was born. There were a few times when I found myself watching TV infomercials at 3 in the morning.
Have you noticed how creative they?ve become in making these 30 minute commercials? Most of them used to be boring and predictable, but now some of them are actually quite exciting and effective as they present some innovating new idea or revolutionary product that you just have to have?
There are a few things that every infomercial has in common:
– an amazing product or service to sell;
– an energetic / well-known host / hostess and an enthusiastic crowd;
– first-hand reports of people who have used the product and have found it to be amazing;
– a special limited-time offer — usually a discount on the normal price, and special bonuses (ie. if you buy now, you will also receive…).
Now let me ask you this: what is it that really seems to lure you in / convince you to buy?
– product is brand new / easy to use / proven effective by others.
– remarkable claims made by the host / manufacturer.
– there?s a little voice inside of us saying “I just have to have that item!”
Now, if that is the case, Why is it that many, if not most of us, generally don?t buy things very often from TV commercials?
– too expensive, trendy.
– ?seems too good to be true.?
I expect, however, that the greatest reason we don?t make these purchases is that all of us have been burned at one time or another or we?ve heard of someone else who has had a bad experience. Most of us have had the experience of buying a product (from a commercial or a store), and we?re really excited. But then we get it home and find that it really wasn?t as easy, effective, or as durable as they claimed it was. How did that make you feel?
How does it feel…
– when you buy a car and less than a month later something breaks down on it?
– when the person you voted for reneges on their campaign promises?
– when you buy tickets to see a ?blockbuster? movie and it turns out the only busting it does is your pocketbook?
– when someone gives you a check, and it bounces?
How do you feel? Upset, frustrated, betrayed, disappointed. People who have this happen to them a lot become cynical, lose faith in people, don?t trust others easily.
Unfortunately, I think that some people have been disappointed too often by products and others and have become extremely cynical. To the point that not only do they fear disappointment, they expect it. As a result, many of us have learned not to trust — not to trust our neighbors, our government, our schools, institutions, etc. Unfortunately, a further result is that many people have become very cynical about GOD / spiritual things. They?re afraid to place their trust in the church and the Bible because they don?t want to be disappointed again — so they stay away / keep them at arm?s length.
This affects us as Christians as well. Knowing that people are watching us, and judging Christ by what they see in us, many of us as Christians have become fearful of saying or doing anything for God in case we mess up and turn someone off. We?ve lost confidence in ourselves, and at times, even in spiritual truths.
How do we change this? How can we rebuild our confidence as Christians? How can we earn the trust of others around us so that they will listen to us and not write us off as ?too good to be true??
I believe that we as Christians need to become convinced of the truth of God?s Word and the claims it makes for our lives. We need to find our confidence and security in God, so that we can boldly offer what we have found to others. We need to become the kind of people that others will believe.
These are the same challenges that Christians have faced for centuries. And the good news is that we can look to the same place for our answers — God?s Word.
The Apostle Paul amazes me ? you know, the great evangelist and church planter. In the midst of his work, he was also a prolific writer. He wrote many letters to his followers — some to churches / Christians in various towns & cities; others to individuals — specifically leaders that he had developed, equipped, and placed in key ministry positions. These letters, in particular, have a different flavor — more personal in nature. They were written to encourage and help these leaders in the work that God had given to them — Pastoral Epistles.
Five times in these letters, Paul used a phrase that set a specific principle or truth apart from the rest. ?This is a TRUSTWORTHY saying…? By using this phrase, Paul declared to his readers: “what I have just said, or am about to say is an important truth; it is a principle you can depend on.”
Paul knew what it was like to have doubts from time to time, and how a follower of Christ (even a leader) can have moments when they question their own faith / ability to serve God. It was at that time when they needed something firm to stand on. Five times, he said ?this is TRUSTWORTHY? — ?this you can believe. If nothing else seems true and dependable, you can count on these principles — so build your life on them.?
In these five statements, Paul gave us FOUR ETERNAL TRUTHS that we can depend on.
This morning I?m beginning a four-part series looking closely at these four truths ? hoping that you?ll discover some foundational principles that you can build your life on.
1 Timothy 1:12-19a (NIV)
12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. 18 Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, 19 holding on to faith and a good conscience.
The first foundational truth that Paul shared with these two leaders was ?GOD?S GRACE IS ABUNDANT.? This truth was so important that Paul emphasized it in two places (Here in 1 Timothy and also in the passage I read this morning ? in Titus 3:8). And if we are going to progress in our lives as Christians, and have anything to offer to our neighbors and families, we have to begin with a proper understanding of God?s Grace. In order for this to happen, we must…
I. UNDERSTAND WHAT WE WERE BEFORE CHRIST.
In Titus 3:3, Paul left no room for misunderstanding in regards to our condition before receiving God?s grace. ?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.?
Paul didn?t mince words, did he? He was very direct in describing what all of us were before Christ.
— We were ?FOOLISH? — lacked spiritual understanding and discernment; this speaks of our inner attitudes and motivations.
— We were ?DISOBEDIENT? — willfully disregarding authority, refusing to obey God?s law, and God?s desires.
— We were ?DECEIVED? — actively strayed from the true course by following false teachers, and false ideas.
— We were ?ENSLAVED? — by aligning our conduct with that which was false, we became entangled and ensnared by passion and pleasure.
— The RESULT? We opposed God, and treated others with malice / hatred.
Why was Paul so direct and so negative? I believe that he understood that we have an inner tendency to deny or diminish our own sinfulness, by comparing it to others around us. We look at murderers, thieves, abusers, addicts, and the like, and we think ?I?m not like them. I can?t be as bad as they are.? That leads to the next thought: “How can God treat me the same as those people? I?m basically a good person, aren?t I?”
That?s where the problem begins — when we puff ourselves up, we deny the gravity of our sinful condition. When we do that, we begin (at least in our own minds) to lessen our need for God?s grace — tell ourselves we deserved it.
In one broad stroke, Paul shattered those attitudes and assumptions, saying that ?at one time, we too were just like they are?. Paul was echoing the same sentiment he wrote in Ephesians 2:1-3
Ephesians 2:1-3 (NIV)
1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.
He was saying, in no uncertain terms: ?The lives of our non-Christians neighbors are just like each of us were before Christ — if not in action, then in attitude — inner nature.? And just to make sure that we knew he wasn?t excusing himself, Paul described himself to Timothy as ?the worst of sinners?. Now that would shock some people because they knew him only as a godly evangelist and teacher. But Paul knew the truth — he had once been a blasphemer, persecutor, a violent man. He knew and understood the gravity of his sinful condition before he received God?s grace.
I?ve noticed that this tendency is found in those who are closest to the Lord. Some of the people whom I respect the most are those who humbly speak of who they were before God forgave them. And, by the way, they also are the ones who continue to recognize their deep need for God?s help to remain faithful.
A nominal church member had lived for years with the philosphy that his good works would be more than enough to get him into heaven. One night, he had a dream (more of a nightmare) in which he pictured that he was standing right behind Mother Teresa at the time of judgment. This church member was horrified as this saintly nun took her place before God, and the Lord said: ?Teresa, I was really expecting alot more out of you.? (quoted in the message “The Certainty of God’s Grace”” by Mark Thornton)
If we want to be certain of God?s grace, we must begin by really understanding who we were before Christ. That leads us to the next step.
II. UNDERSTAND WHAT GOD DID FOR US.
Notice Paul?s words In Titus 3:4
Titus 3:4 (NIV)
4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared,
Add to that 1 Timothy 1:14 ?
1 Timothy 1:14 (NIV)
14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
This was immediately followed up by v.15 ?
1 Timothy 1:15 (NIV)
15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst.
While we were still in that helpless condition, God the Father sent His own Son, Jesus Christ into the world — with one purpose: to save sinners. Knowing that we could do nothing to save ourselves, Jesus took the initiative, and he died to pay the penalty for our sin — because of His mercy and his love.
What was the result? (Titus 3:5ff) ?He SAVED us through the…?
– ?washing? — cleansing from the defilement of sin.
– ?of rebirth and renewal? — our lives were regenerated from the inside out, resulting in a change of attitude and nature.
– ?by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ.? — all of this is done by the Holy Spirit, who comes to dwell in us at the moment of our conversion.
– ?so that, having been justified by his grace? — when we receive Christ, we are declared righteous, and given a standing of acceptance before God.
– ?we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.? — as members of his family, we can look forward to spending eternity with God in heaven.
That?s what God?s grace is all about — that through Jesus Christ, we can avoid what we did deserve (death), so that we might receive something we don?t deserve (forgiveness and eternal life). As Christ?s followers, it is imperative that we truly understand what God has done for us — foundation of our faith. We must be convinced in our heart that God did what we could not do ourselves, to make it possible for us to enjoy a relationship with Him — both now and for eternity. Why? Because He loved us.
III. UNDERSTAND WHAT GOD DESIRES FROM US.
What is an appropriate / expected response to God?s Grace?
1) EXPERIENCE His Grace.
– Paul was writing this letter to a person / people who were already Christians; they had already received and accepted God?s love. That is the first and most essential step.
George Wilson was sentenced to hang after he was convicted of killing a guard while robbing a federal payroll from a train. Public sentiment against capital punishment led to an eventual pardon by President Andrew Jackson. Unbelievably, Wilson refused to accept the pardon. Now the courts had never experienced this, and were naturally confused as to what should happen. Eventually the Supreme Court was called to make a ruling. Chief Justice John Marshall delivered the following verdict: ?A pardon is a parchment whose only value must be determined by the receiver of the pardon. It has no value apart from that which the receiver gives it. George Wilson has refused to accept the pardon. We cannot conceive why he would do so, but he has. Therefore, George Wilson must die.? – Consequently, Wilson was later hanged. (quoted in the message “The Certainty of God’s Grace”” by Mark Thornton)
The truth is that we stand in a similar position before God. Through Christ, He offers us forgiveness and pardon from sin, but it is only effective as we accept it and make it our own / experience His grace personally in our lives.
2) EXERCISE God?s Grace Through Godly Living.
Read Titus 2:11 – 14.
Titus 2:11-14 (NIV)
11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope–the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 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.
Titus 3:8 (NIV)
8 This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.
When we have received God?s grace, the next step is to live in obedience to God?s desires — to live a life of holiness and love. To do otherwise is to thumb our noses at God?s grace.
3) EXTEND God?s Grace To Others By Becoming A Grace-Giver.
Once Paul had received God?s grace, he immediately saw the importance of extending that grace to others.
1 Timothy 1:16 (NIV)
16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.
How do you become a grace-giver?
— By openly talking about how God has forgiven you & changed you.
— By living in accordance with God?s will and desires.
— By treating others with grace & mercy, not judgment & hostility. Christians sometimes run into the danger of becoming judgmental of people — “this is right and this is wrong. If you do what is right, I like you. If you do what is wrong, I condemn you.”
How many of us react to someone doing wrong / hurting us by immediately jumping in and judging them? When someone hurts us or breaks a law, we want to “tar & feather them, ride ?em out on a rail.”
Do you disagree with that assessment? Let me ask you this question:
— Q. How many of you cheered when the US invaded Iraq and initiated the war to liberate Iraq?s people? How many of you laughed at the ridiculous comments made by Iraq?s information minister during the war when reporting on the advancing US troops? How many of you said in your hearts, ?It serves him right? when the news bulletin was announced of the bombing attack on Saddam and his sons where they think they successfully killed them?
— I know, you?ll say as I said ?but that?s different — that?s justice / law and order.?
Ok, then let me ask you this: Whether you believe in the need for that war or not, how many of you have PRAYED for Saddam Hussein — that the Holy Spirit would melt his heart, and draw him to Christ? How many of us have prayed that somehow he would hear the gospel message and be saved? (or are we satisfied that he deserves not only death now, but an eternal death in hell). How many of us would be willing to speak to him ourselves / share God?s grace?
That?s what it means to be a grace-giver — seeing a person not as everyone else sees them, but as God sees them. And to do so with a heart that remembers and appreciates what God has done for us, being willing to pass that grace on to others.
4) EXPRESS APPRECIATION For God?s Grace Through Worship.
Notice Paul?s closing word:
1 Timothy 1:17 (NIV)
17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
For Paul, it was a spontaneous expression of appreciation for God?s grace to bow down and give honor and glory to God. And if we truly understand God?s grace, it should be our response as well.
Many of us have faced moments of doubt and disillusionment that have caused us to question our faith — in fact, I expect that some of you are facing one of those moments right now. It is during those moments of uncertainty that we need to hold onto something that is firm and unchanging.
Paul has given us the first of four eternal spiritual truths that we can depend on ? God?s Grace is Abundant
I believe that before we move on to the next truth (before we leave here today) it is absolutely essential that we understand what God?s grace is all about. Have you experienced God?s grace for yourself? Do you really understand what God has done for you and have you made it a part of your life? Are you exercising God?s grace in the way you live? Are you extending God?s grace to those around you? Have you recently expressed your appreciation to God for the grace that He has poured out in your life?