1 Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. 3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.Titus 3:1-7
I have been thinking a lot about the effect that spending time with Jesus should have on our lives. Looking at the lives of Peter, John, and Paul make it seem somewhat unattainable for us – somewhat out of our reach. I do not know about you, but, many times, I find myself using the lofty examples of the apostles and other “heroes” in the Bible as excuses to not desiring to see the Spirit of God move more in my own life.
In the first part of this study, we saw that the Sanhedrin saw Peter and John’s “boldness” and were “astonished” that these “uneducated, common men” were able to speak with any eloquence; we also saw that it was “recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). That challenged me. Do I long for people to look at me and be impressed with my eloquent words or skills, or do I long for people to look at me and see that Jesus has impacted my life?
Last week, we looked at Paul’s trial before the Roman governor Festus and King Agrippa. Paul did not hesitate to share both the reality of his sinful past and the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Rather than seek to have himself set free, he shared how Festus and Agrippa could be freed from their sin and live through Christ Jesus. How much of my life is spent avoiding trials and tribulations, even for the sake of Christ? If it became illegal to worship Jesus (like it is in so many parts of the world), would there be enough evidence in my life to bring me up on charges – much less convict me?
The older I get, and the more I walk with Christ, the more fully I realize that I often fail. Looking at the first two verses of today’s passage remind me of this. I often struggle with submitting to authority because it shows me that I am not in charge. I would rather do things that serve me than to be “ready for every good work”. More times than I would care to admit, I “speak evil” of others and enjoy doing it. For years I thrived on “quarreling” and see this flare up in my life even today. And, while I may exhibit gentleness and courtesy on the outside, I am often angry, bitter, and rude in my heart.
I am glad verse three reminds us that our sinful lives should be part of our past – not our present, but all too often I find that I struggle with the same old sinful nature more than I feel that I should. Instead of being characterized as “once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another”, I find those qualities to show up in my every day life. I am thankful that, the more I walk with Christ and spend time with Him in prayer and in His Word, that those moments have less power over me. But I would much rather not struggle at all.
I identify fully with Paul’s words in Romans 7:15:
“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing that I hate.”
If we are honest, we enjoy the sins that we habitually commit. But – if we are in Christ – our love for Him should produce a hatred for the things in our lives that go against God, namely sin. Longing to follow after God is a result of walking with Him. Wanting what He wants is too. But, while I am glad that verse 3 points out that there should be a difference between our sinful past and our present walk with Christ, I am eternally thankful for the gospel truths that show up in verse 4.
Let that phrase sink in. I was dead in my trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1-2) – BUT GOD. I was lost and headed toward death (Romans 6:23) – BUT GOD. I was doomed to die and stand before the judgment of God with no righteousness (Hebrews 9:27) – BUT GOD.
We shift here from looking at all we can accomplish (verses 1-3) to what Christ alone can accomplish should we trust in Him as our Savior and Lord. You see, there is nothing that we can do to save ourselves. Jesus is our only Savior. He is our only hope. And that is why verses 4 and 5 bring such good news: “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy….” Our efforts do not save us – His effort does. Our own meager works condemn us, but His mercy saves. Rather than give us the punishment due our sin, he “himself bore our sins in His body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24).
Note that this is a result of his “goodness” and “loving kindness”. So often people want to paint God as cruel because of the existence of Hell. But, in “goodness and loving kindness”, He made a Way through Jesus Christ (John 14:6). We see in 1 Timothy 2:4 that God “desires all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth”. And through that knowledge of the Truth – again Jesus (John 14:6), people will see that they must turn away from their sin to God. Look at how God’s heart in this is shown in Ezekiel 18:23: “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?”
God is merciful, but He is also just. He cannot merely pass over our sin. This is why Jesus died on the cross – to pay our price for our sins (Colossians 2:13-14, Romans 6:23). God’s kindness in allowing people to come to a knowledge of the Truth (Jesus) and enter into His Kingdom through the living Way (again Jesus) is “meant to lead you to repentance” (Romans 2:4).
Salvation is also a result of God’s love. Many people are familiar with John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” He loved us enough to give His only begotten Son. Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:4-5 mirror and clarify today’s passage: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved….”
A love like that impacts one’s life.
Imagine that you and I are walking down a busy street together. While we are walking, we hear the roar of an engine and the screeching of tires a few yards behind us. There is barely enough time to understand what is going on, and I act solely out of reflex – shoving you to the safety of the yard while I (standing where you were just standing milliseconds before) take the full weight of the vehicle. Obviously, I would be dead. But you would be alive.
In that situation, you could definitely describe my actions as kind. Those actions would be characterized as a sacrifice. What would you say to my wife when she arrived at the crash site? What would you tell my children? How about your family – would my sacrifice come up as a topic of conversation?
You would tell everyone. My sacrifice would move you to words and gratitude. But I would be dead and my sacrifice would help only you.
We have been looking at the effect that Jesus’ presence – the effect of His sacrifice – on one’s life and how it should be evident. Jesus’ sacrifice is real in every way my hypothetical story was not – the main difference being that Jesus’ sacrifice is actual and He did not remain dead! The news of Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf can help others be saved from sure destruction and damnation.
If Jesus’ “goodness and lovingkindness” has appeared in your life, if He has saved you, it is time to make sure that His presence is producing a recognizable difference in your life. If you see no difference – no fruit, maybe it is time to assess whether or not you have moved from darkness to light – from death to life. The good news is that it is not too late to give your life to Him!