January 30, 2012 David Balzer

Titus 3: Looking Back while Looking Forward

Once again Australia’s immigration policy is the topic of heated debate. Everyone seems to have an opinion about what to do with the refugee boats that keep coming from Indonesia. Do you turn them around? Do you send them to Nauru, or Christmas Island, or Malaysia?

But, whatever solution is talked about, the boats keep coming. And they keep sinking. And lives keep being lost.

You have to wonder, “What would convince an asylum seeker to pay thousands of dollars to a dodgy operator?” To leave behind everything except what they can carry? To risk the lives of their children? To spend weeks in stinky, cramped conditions, sea-sick and hungry, on a leaky tub of a boat?

All on the SLIM CHANCE that if the boat makes it safely into Australian waters. After waiting for years, they’ll be granted asylum?

Why do they DO it? It might seem strange to US. But not to THEM. To them, it’s OBVIOUS.

Because what they’re looking FORWARD TO is so much better than what lies BEHIND. They’ve left behind bloodshed and war. They’ve left behind poverty and persecution. Famine and danger. So they’ll put up with ALMOST ANYTHING for the chance for something better. The chance for freedom, and peace and security.

They’re looking FORWARD to something better. And BACK to something they want to LEAVE behind. And BOTH of them motivate them IN THE PRESENT.

And it’s that same motivation that should drive US as CHRISTIANS. It’s an idea Paul writes about in this little letter to Titus. That the Christians in the church on Crete have something to look forward to. And they’ve also got something to look BACK to. One to PULL them forward, and the other to PUSH them.

Saved FROM

Pick it up in v3. Paul wants them to LOOK BACK. To what they’ve been saved FROM.

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.

It’s not a flattering portrait, is it? But it’s ACCURATE. Not NOW, but ONCE – “at ONE time”. Before they were Christians, Paul and Titus and the rest were FOOLISH. Failing to recognise God from his Word and his Creation and his Son.

And DISOBEDIENT. Failing to respond to God the way they should. Thinking THEY knew better than God. Thinking life was about what THEY wanted, rather than what God decided.

And they were “deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures”. It’s funny isn’t it? People think they’re FREE to live the way they want.

It might be the single, pleasure-seeking party lifestyle. Free to BE with whoever they want, doing whatever they want. FREE to sleep around, or drink or smoke whatever they want.

Or even good, MORAL people. They’re still deceived and enslaved. Enslaved by a mortgage, or by materialism, or a lack of contentment, or the need for approval, or the short-sightedness of thinking this world is all there is.

But they can’t see that they’re actually SLAVES to the things that they’re free to do. Like a carrot dangling on the end of a stick strapped to a donkey’s back. He can see the carrot, but he can never REACH it. Every step he takes moves the carrot one step further forward TOO.

 

And it’s the same with the so-called “freedom” of life lived outside God’s plans.

It’s not freedom, it’s a TRAP. Trapped by the compulsion to gamble, or to seek pleasure. Unable to break out of the vicious cycle of desire and satisfaction, and greater desire and greater satisfaction. Trapped in the emptiness of seeking SATISFACTION in things that can never truly SATISFY. Or seeking SECURITY in things that can never LAST.

And then there’s the cycle of how you treat other people.

“We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.”

 

The WORLD says the way to personal success is to DRAG others BACK. You can’t WIN unless others LOSE. It’s just NATURAL to wish them HARM, wish them FAILURE. And if they harm YOU, then success and victory means harming them MORE.

We see it in the Bikie wars raging through Sydney’s west at the moment. Personal revenge and justice just escalate as people are hurt, and seek to inflict even GREATER hurt on those who’ve hurt THEM.

But there’s no FREEDOM in that. It’s A TRAP.

That’s what life USED to be like. It’s what it’s STILL like for people who aren’t Christian.

So don’t look LONGINGLY at that life. There’s no lasting pleasure there. No freedom. Just slavery. And deception. And foolishness.

And don’t JUDGE those people EITHER. ACCEPT them. Be GENTLE with them, and HUMBLE. Be CONSIDERATE.

They MAY be foolish and deceived and enslaved. But you were JUST AS blind. Just as trapped and enslaved and deceived. The DETAILS might have been different, but the broad brushstrokes of the portrait were the same. SO you’re on shaky ground to be BLAMING them. Or CRITICISING them.

Saved BY

But WONDERFULLY, INCREDIBLY, that’s not where you are NOW. God’s CHANGED the picture.

If you’re a Christian, then that picture’s OUTDATED. And the CURRENT portrait’s MUCH better.

It doesn’t happen OFTEN for people, but some modern photos look BETTER than the earlier ones. Like WEDDING photos. Our kids LAUGH at ours. I’ve got big round glasses, and a daggy suit. They notice a red pimple I’ve got in the middle of my forehead. I’ve got wild, wavy hair. And I haven’t got a beard, so my little chin sinks into the photo. Elyse, a little inaccurately, reckons I look better NOW. I’m not sure she’s right.

 

But it’s certainly the case with the portraits Paul’s comparing here. The PRESENT picture is MUCH better than the OLD one. What we’ve been saved FROM (v3). Compared with now we’ve been saved.

 

And in v4 he describes HOW God changed the situation. For those who are Christian, we’ve been saved by his KINDNESS, LOVE AND MERCY. (At ONE time, we were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved)

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,

 

It’s a wonderful description. Just as ASTONISHING and BREATHTAKING as v3 is DEPRESSING and SOBERING.

 

God responds to our disobedience, ignorance and hate with kindness, love and mercy. It’s the ultimate INAPPROPRIATE RESPONSE.

 

There’s a wonderful scene in Les Miserables. Jean Valjean is released from prison. He can’t find anywhere to stay until the Bishop Myriel takes him in. During the night Valjean steals the Bishop’s silverware, and runs away.

 

He’s caught by the police and returned to the Bishop. He’s betrayed the Bishop’s hospitality, and deserved to be thrown back in jail. Instead the Bishop explains to the police that the silverware was a gift. And then reprimands Valjean for forgetting to also take the silver candlesticks.

 

He’s rescued, and set on the path to redemption

 

It’s an inappropriate response. He deserves wrath and punishment. But he’s shown mercy and forgiveness instead.

 

And God gives us an even GREATER inappropriate response. He returns HATE with LOVE. He shows us MERCY – withholding something we deserve. We DESERVE judgment, but he shows us kindness instead.

 

And it’s not just a FEELING. It’s an ACTION. V5. His kindness and love EXPRESSED itself in God our Saviour SAVING us. RESCUING us from the SLAVERY we were trapped in.

 

And it’s THAT RESCUE when God’s kindness and love APPEARED. God’s character is all theoretical until he actually SHOWS that character in SAVING us. In revealing his SON to us. Revealing justice and forgiveness and new life in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

 

It’s like KNOWING that the lifeguard at the beach is a good swimmer. He’s sitting there in his chair. He’s got the uniform on so he must be a good swimmer. You know it THEORETICALLY. But it’s not REVEALED until you’re getting dragged out to sea in a rip, until you’re exhausted, and your head’s sinking under the waves. Not until you feel a solid grip and a strong arm grabbing you tight and lifting you onto a rescue board that the lifeguard’s qualities are REVEALED.

 

Same with God. His mercy, love and kindness are revealed in THE ACT OF SAVING US.

 

As v5 and 6 explain, he does it by washing us clean. Declaring us forgiven and righteous. He does it by making us NEW PEOPLE through his Holy Spirit poured out generously on us.

 

We’re NOT who we used to be. We’re no longer FOOLISH. We know whose world it is. And who deserves our allegiance. We’re no longer DISOBEDIENT. Sure, we still fall. But our basic orientation is towards what GOD wants.

 

We’re no longer DECEIVED. God’s opened our eyes. We understand eternity. We understand what SIN is. And GRACE and FORGIVENESS.

 

And we’re no longer ENSLAVED. Instead, we’re set free (RESCUED) to be SLAVES TO GOD. We’re NEW PEOPLE. Reborn and renewed.

 

And (last part of v6) he does it all THROUGH Jesus Christ our Saviour. On the BASIS of his work on our behalf.

 

That’s how God’s kindness, love and mercy are REVEALED to us.

 

Have you NOTICED that? Have you ACCEPTED it? Have you APPRECIATED it?

 

If you wonder what God thinks of you. What he’s like. If you’re not SURE. Then spend some time at the foot of the cross. THAT’S where we come to understand God’s character. Where it’s REVEALED to us.

 

Saved TO

But that’s not all. God doesn’t just save us, make us new, and then leave us as we were. There are a whole lot of benefits that come with the new relationship. He says to us, “But WAIT, there’s MORE!” But the reality of the Christian life is that we don’t SEE most of those things YET.

 

The Christian life is about waiting expectantly for God to deliver on his promises. To trust his word, even when we can’t SEE it.

 

It’s about LOOKING FORWARD. We’ve been saved FROM something. But also saved TO something. V7. God saved us through his Holy Spirit through Jesus…

7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become HEIRS having the HOPE of eternal life.

 

God promises us an inheritance beyond our wildest dreams. But just not yet. That’s the thing about inheritances. They’re CERTAIN. Promised. But you don’t get them YET.

 

God promises us eternal life. Life lived with the priorities and orientation and perspective of eternity about it. We BEGIN it now, but we don’t get it all until THEN.

 

God promises us wealth and riches. But not NOW. We have to look forward to THEN.

 

He promises us health and wholeness. He promises us restoration and rest and peace. He promises us perfect intimacy without hurt or embarrassment. He promises us no tears or hunger or danger or fear or pain.

 

But not NOW. We have to LOOK FORWARD to THEN.

 

It might seem physically impossible, but the Christian life is about looking BACK while looking FORWARD. It’s about looking back to what we ONCE were. What we were saved FROM. And looking FORWARD to what we’ve been saved TO.

 

Saved FOR

And BOTH of them are strong motivations for how we should think and behave IN THE PRESENT.

 

Just like the asylum seekers. Looking BACK to the persecution and hardship. Looking FORWARD to the peace and freedom of Australia. BOTH of these perspectives motivate them IN THE PRESENT to risk the open seas, enduring the seasickness and hunger.

 

And Paul, as every good pastor does, wants to hammer out the APPLICATION of the theology. He talks about what we’ve been saved FOR. Where the rubber meets the road. TODAY. THIS WEEK. V8. God saved us, justifying us by his grace, so we might become heirs, having the hope of eternal life. V8.

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.

 

Looking back, and looking forward. Focussing on how God’s saved us, and why. Helps us to DO WHAT WE’RE HERE FOR NOW. Which is DEVOTING OURSELVES TO DOING GOOD.

 

And Ch 2 is all about what doing good LOOKS LIKE for different groups. Being careful to devote yourself to living humbly, sacrificially, honestly, with self-control. So that the world would NOTICE. So that the teaching about Jesus looks ATTRACTIVE.

 

That’s what counts.

 

How are you GOING with those things? Those ATTITUDES? Or are you coming up with EXCUSES?

 

Perhaps you’re letting yourself get distracted from the main game. Seems like that was happening for Titus. V9. Don’t get side-tracked, says Paul, by arguments about things that don’t matter.

 

Some churches have huge rows about the most insignificant things. Like the instruments you use, or the chairs you sit in. In the right amount of water to use for baptism. While people all around them are blindly headed for judgment.

 

People all around are deceived and enslaved, living with malice and envy, being hated and hating. And churches are arguing about tea cups and the colour of stained glass windows.

 

Paul wants NOTHING TO DO with that sort of stuff. Avoid it, he says in v9. It’s unprofitable and useless. V10.

10 Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him.

 

He’s just wasting your time and your attention and your energy.

 

We’ve been saved so we can be CAREFUL to DEVOTE ourselves to DOING GOOD. DEVOTE ourselves. Is that what we’re DOING? Or are you letting yourself get DISTRACTED?

 

Two ways we can go bad with doing good

One mistake when it comes to living out what we’ve been saved for is to GET DISTRACTED. Arguing about things that don’t matter.

 

Or taking God’s grace for granted. To fiddle away our days resting on our laurels. Thinking what we do doesn’t matter. NOT devoting ourselves to doing good.

 

People all over Australia today are in church giving God their Sunday mornings. But then once they walk out the door, life goes back to normal. God takes a back seat until NEXT Sunday morning.

 

That’s not DEVOTING yourself to doing what’s good. God has done SO MUCH for you. He DESERVES – he DEMANDS EVERYTHING YOU’VE GOT. Rom 12:1-2

12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

 

One of the saddest things I’ve seen for a while is the security sensors inside the front door at Koorong. The Christian book store. They’re obviously there because they’re NECESSARY.

 

People are going there to buy Bibles and Christian books about how to live HOLY LIVES. And then they’re STEALING them.

 

That’s not DEVOTING yourself to doing good. That’s treating God’s grace with CONTEMPT.

 

The OTHER mistake – the other way to go bad at doing good – is to give the wrong EMPHASIS to doing good. To turn it on its head.

 

Which is what most people think about Christians. Even lots of Presbyterians. They think “doing good” equals “being a Christian.”

 

How do I become a Christian? DO GOOD!

 

But that’s making a DEADLY mistake, isn’t it? It misses the whole point of good works. That it’s by looking back, and recognising how God SAVES you that you RESPOND by doing good works. That good works are what you’re saved FOR.

 

You’re not saved BY your good works. God’s salvation of you has NOTHING TO DO with your works. Did you see it, there in v5? You don’t save yourself by being good at all. He saved you NOT BECAUSE OF THE RIGHTEOUS THINGS WE’D DONE. But simply because of his MERCY. Completely undeserved.

 

And the person with true faith in that work will do good works in RESPONSE to that. Will DEVOTE himself to them. As Martin Luther said “We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.” It always SHOWS itself in good works.

 

This year, be CAREFUL to DEVOTE yourself to doing what’s good. What opportunities will you take to DO that? There’s plenty for you to DO.

 

Look back at what you ONCE were. Look FORWARD to what God’s promised for you. And let those truths MOTIVATE you to live for him NOW.

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