Titus 3:3-8 Gospel Rescue

Sun, 19/07/2015 - 10:30 -- James Oakley

Here are some of the headlines from the past week: UK unemployment total up by 15,000. A German court convicts a 94-year old former guard at the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz of being an accessory to the murder of at least 300,000 Jews. Fears of new arms race after Iran nuclear deal. Many NHS hospital patients complain of lack of dignity.

And so we could go on. Most weeks, the news makes thoroughly depressing reading. The human race cannot help itself. We’re driven by a desperate pursuit of personal pleasure, a blindness to the needs of others, and an inexplicable capacity to hate people, or at least not to treat them with the dignity and care they deserve. It’s a wonder we haven’t destroyed ourselves as a species long ago.

Don’t you wish you could live in a world that is free from all of this? The trouble is, the problem is closer to home. Each of us is a part of it. This world is not just in the news. For most of us, if we look back on our past week, there are moments like this: Bumped into Rachel on my way into work. Her look made quite clear she still hasn’t forgiven me for last week. Why did Richard get that promotion? It’s so unfair – I’m so much better qualified. Next door neighbour’s dog kept barking all night. Woke the kids up twice. So much for our quiet night in.

We don’t just live in a world where people treat each other like this. We get treated this way. We treat others this way.

Our Bible reading starts in exactly this place. Look with me at verse 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.”

This is our world. This is our life being described here.

And the good news is that Christianity is a rescue religion. If we long to live in a world where we don’t live like this, treat each other like this, suffer this, then God has a plan to rescue us from it.

It’s a plan that centres around the person of Jesus. The rest of that reading spells out God’s wonderful rescue plan, and I’d like to draw our attention to three details.

Saving Mercy

Firstly, saving mercy. Saving mercy.

God rescued us. Why? Verse 5 tells us: Not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.

Take the “not” first: Not because of righteous things we had done. God didn’t rescue us because we had managed to improve ourselves. Indeed, how could it be that? He’s aid that we’re enslaved. We live so selfishly that we can’t help ourselves. Try as we may, the selfish me keeps on coming out. If you’re enslaved, you need someone else to liberate you. The rescue must be God’s work from start to finish.

This makes Christianity different from every other religion on the planet. Every other religion sees us as climbing up a ladder towards God. Religious acts of worship, prayer, acts of kindness to others, all take us up towards heaven one rung at a time. You then hope that you’ve got far enough up the ladder, that God might see your efforts and decide you’re close enough.

Whereas Christianity is a rescue religion. Not because of righteous things we had done.

Instead it’s because of God’s mercy. Not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. Mercy means letting someone off. Not treating us as we deserve. We’ve done things wrong, but God offers to wipe out the debt. To treat us as if none of those mistakes every happened.

We find this so hard to do. Living as though past mistakes never happened. We’ve got such long memories. With God it’s not just hard; it’s impossible. He’s perfectly just. He can’t simply overlook the wrong things we do.

Except that Jesus died on the cross. As he did so, God himself took the wrong things we have done, and he paid for them himself. Which means God can wipe them out from our record, no longer hold them against us, because Jesus has already paid the penalty himself.

When Napoleon was the emperor of France, a soldier in his army committed a crime that the emperor deemed worthy of execution. The soldier’s mother came to him and pleaded with Napoleon to spare her son: ‘Sire, please have mercy! Let him off this terrible punishment.’ The emperor replied, ‘Why? He doesn’t deserve it.’ The desperate woman retorted, ‘Sire, if he deserved it, it wouldn’t be mercy.’

We could never rescue ourselves. But wonderfully God is a God of kindness, love and mercy. So he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.

There’s the first thing about God’s rescue. Saving mercy.

Second Birth

That’s the “why”, why he rescued us. Saving mercy. Next, the “how”. How did he do it? That’s our second heading. By second birth. Second birth.

Look how verse 5 goes on: He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour.

What we need is a new beginning. A new beginning so radical it’s like being born all over again, starting life over, only this time we’re on the same side as God, rather than trying to fight him all the time.

You know how it is when you get to know someone knew. Sometimes, you just get off on the wrong foot. Until you reach the point where one of you says: This hasn’t got off to the best start. Can we start all over again? And so you start with a clean sheet.

That’s what we need with God, and it’s what he gives us. The trouble is, in our human relationships, it’s never long before things go wrong again. We need constant fresh starts. Not so with God. Yes, we continue to make mistakes. But as we’ll see, we don’t need continued fresh starts. Because when God makes us new again, it comes with a promise of forgiveness for our sins past, present and future.

I’m told that the French have a different attitude to old buildings compared to the English. In England, our approach is to preserve everything you can. So we have a listing system for buildings, to protect them In France, faced with a badly damaged building, they’re far more likely to tear it down and start again.

In this respect, only, God is more French than English. We all live for our own pleasure, resenting others, until we’re trapped in our selfishness and can’t rescue ourselves. God doesn’t see how much can be salvaged. What’s needed is a radical and total new beginning. Start over again. Second birth.

A new beginning. A definite new beginning to last a life time, to last for eternity. Second birth.

But it’s not just a new beginning we need. It’s a spiritual new beginning that we need. Titus chapter 3 is clear that we need washing, making clean. That’s done as we are reborn and renewed. But then look how verse 5 ends: “… through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”

It’s a work of God’s Holy Spirit. It’s an inward work. We need God to perform heart surgery on us, to make us new people to the very core of our beings. This is God doing something to us that we could never do for ourselves, we could never reach deep enough to give ourselves new hearts. We can change our diet, what we eat. We can change our religion. We can seek help to address personality traits. But none of that is deep enough. We need God himself to reach right inside, and make us new.

A spiritual, definite, new, beginning. Second birth.

Many people think that becoming a Christian happens on a sliding scale. In some ways, this is right. We can grow in knowledge of God. We can grow in Christlikeness of character. We can grow in Christian maturity.

But what this passage is saying is that when you boil it down, being a Christian is actually a black and white thing. Either you’ve been born again, or you haven’t.

Diesel has been in the news this week. A while back diesel was considered good for the environment. Now it’s bad. But unless your car is electric, it’s either petrol, or it’s diesel. It’s never half way between the two. You could have the car converted from one fuel to the other. It would cost a bomb, because you have to put a new engine in the heart of the car. But if you really wanted to, you could do it. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what fuel powers a car. Not every petrol car looks like you’d expect a petrol car to look. But at its heart, every car either has a petrol engine or a diesel engine. It’s one, or the other.

So it is with people. In our heart, either we’ve been given this supernatural second birth by God, or we haven’t. Sometimes it might be hard to tell. Not everyone who is a Christian behaves like you’d expect a Christian to act. But deep down, in the heart, we’re one or the other.

So there’s the second thing to say about God’s rescue. It’s about second birth.

Secure Future

We’ve thought about why God rescued us: It’s all about his saving mercy. We’ve thought about how God rescued us. It’s all about second birth.

Lastly, let’s think about “so what”. And there’s our third heading. It’s so that we can have a secure future. Secure future.

Verse 7 says this: “, … so that, being justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”

We’re two things according to this verse.

Firstly, we’re justified.

This is legal language. It means to be acquitted by a court of law.

In this case, the court is the final judgement, when God assesses each of our lives. Measured against his perfect standards, his perfect law, his perfect love, how does our life measure up? One day we’ll each be on trial, and the verdict will either be guilty, or not guilty.

We’ve already thought about the amazing love of God. In the person of Jesus, God the Son, God himself took our failures on himself. He pleaded guilty to the things we have done wrong. And the sentence was to go to the cross, to pay the full price, to be punished in our place.

Which is good news for everyone who trusts in God, as verse 8 puts it. It means we have been justified by his grace. We haven’t even reached the judgement day yet, and we’ve already been declared not guilty, acquitted, free to go, cleared of all charges.

Imagine, for a moment that you are due to stand trial in a court of law in this country. It would be a stressful event. How will the evidence unfold? Will your barrister represent you well? Will the jury see your side of the story? And then that terrifying moment when the jury foreman is asked by the court clerk: Do you find the defendant guilty or not guilty? Followed by probably two seconds of silence, but it feels like hours are passing.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you knew, somehow, before you even gave your name before the court, that the verdict would be “not guilty”. How the stress would be lifted. How the pressure would be off. In this country, we’d call it a stitch-up. There is no way it could be a just trial if the verdict is decided before any evidence has been heard.

Wonderfully, in God’s court, that’s exactly what happens. It is just, because Jesus has already taken the blame, carried the guilt, borne the punishment. We have already been justified. We’ve been acquitted already. If we trust Jesus, we can know today, with absolute certainty, what the verdict will be on that last day. Not guilty.

Justified.

And second, we are heirs.

Verse 7: “So that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”

An heir is someone who stands to inherit. One day, Prince Charles will inherit the throne of England. The son of a business magnate stands to inherit the empire his father built. The middle-aged couple stand to inherit the large country house owned by her parents.

The trouble is, our inheritance is never certain. All kinds of things can happen, and what you thought you stood to inherit goes to someone else, is sold off before time, or whatever it is.

What do we stand to inherit? We’re told: We’re heirs of eternal life. We stand to inherit eternal life.

We think the word “eternal” means something that goes on forever. In the Bible, “eternal life” is both about quality and quantity. It’s the very best life imaginable; and it goes on without end. It’s all about perfection. We’ll be perfect. We’ll know God perfectly. We’ll be perfectly like God. We’ll have renewed, perfect bodies that never fail or fall apart. And this perfect life will go on forever.

And unlike any other inheritance, it’s absolutely guaranteed. We just have to wait for it.

That’s the “so what” of God’s rescue. He rescued us so that we can be justified, we can be heirs.

And both of those blessings are about a certain future. One day in the future there will be a judgement. The verdict is certain today. We’ll be found not guilty. And one day in the future eternal life will begin. And we can be certain of that today.

A secure future.

Conclusion

The world needs rescuing. We need rescuing. Happily, Christianity is a rescue mission. Thanks to God’s saving mercy, the offer of second birth, the promise of a secure future.

Verse 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.

We need to know about God’s rescue mission. It’s the key to living good lives. If you’ve been rescued like this, you won’t go back to the old ways. You’re a new person now, born again, so you’ll live like it. You’ve got a certain future, so you’ll start to anticipate that in the way you live.

What’s more, God’s rescue mission is in the public interest. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone. Society will flourish if there are more and more Christians, living out their faith.

Most weeks, we have some people here still looking into the claims of Jesus. If that’s you, wouldn’t you love to be free of the world of those headlines we started with? Wouldn’t you love to be free from hurting other people, and of being part of the problem? The good news is, you can be.

God is a rescuing God. And that’s such good news, we need to be clear on it. Saving mercy. Second birth. Secure future.

Website Section: 
Sermon Series: 
Additional Terms