Trained by Grace
Series: Titus: A Church That Lasts
The book of Titus emphasized the virtue of self-control, and it’s easy to feel guilty about our lack of self-control. How do we actually become self-controlled, though? Just as we are saved by grace, we are trained by grace.
The Letters to Timothy and Titus, Philip Towner
We’re continuing our series of sermons this morning through the book of Titus, and least week the text we looked at touched on the topic of self-control. After the sermon, a number of you talked to me and commented that that part in particular challenged you. Of all the virtues the Bible extols, self-control is one of the easiest to feel guilty about. You eat more than you should, you don’t exercise enough, you spend too much time on social media, etc. Nobody likes feeling guilty either, so what do you do when that guilty feeling comes? One approach is to minimize: “Self-control is no big deal; God is gracious.” In some ways, the false teachers in Titus’ context were saying that when this letter was written: You don’t need to live a godly life. The other approach is rules: Stricter diets, firmer workout regimens, delete the apps, etc. And in some ways, this was also being taught by the false teachers in Titus’ context, except the strict diet they advocated was the kosher laws, along with cleansing ceremonies, circumcision, and perhaps others. The text at which we are looking today shows us another way, though. It shows us God is gracious; more gracious than you can imagine. But that doesn’t mean a godly life doesn’t matter. On the contrary, God’s grace, not rules, trains us to live godly, self-controlled lives. Just as we are saved by grace, we are trained by grace: The same grace that saved us, to live godly lives, in a posture of waiting.
The same grace that saved us
Verse 11 tells us that the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people. Grace is a word meaning favor, and it’s especially used in the Bible to refer to God’s favor on those who deserve His judgment. So when we read here that the grace of God has appeared, it means a revelation has been made that God is not against, but for, the very people who sinned against Him. Last week I sent an uncharitable text message to a member of our church, which means I read something she said in the worst possible light and responded defensively. The Holy Spirit convicted me shortly afterwards that I was wrong, so I sent her a text and apologized, but then I had to wait for her response. I wondered, “Is she mad at me?” I had done something wrong to her, after all. But her grace appeared to me when she responded with a text that showed she was not mad at me.
And God’s grace appeared when God appeared, by God the Son being born of the virgin Mary and becoming man. What favor of God appeared when He not only became one of us, but was among us as one who serves. What favor of God appeared when He used His power to heal the sick, give sight to the blind, preach good news to the poor, and forgive sins. What favor of God appeared when instead of judging us for our sins, He went to the cross to bear the judgment for our sins. What favor of God appeared when He rose from the dead and went to the very people who crucified Him to offer them forgiveness. What favor of God appeared to those who heard this good news in Crete, where Titus was ministering, and believed, and what favor of God appears to us now who hear this good news and believe. As Newton wrote in the hymn Amazing Grace, “How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed.” What appears in these things? Is this a God you can really go on believing is against you? No; it is the favor of God, the grace of God, that has appeared.
And this grace brings salvation for all people. We know from the rest of the Bible that doesn’t mean every individual will be saved, but what does it mean? The first place to look for an answer to such a question is the context. In the 10 verses preceding this verse, Paul was addressing all sorts of people: Older men, older women, younger women, younger men, Titus himself, and bondservants. In each case he tells them to live in a particular way that fits the gospel. Now he’s giving the reason: Because the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, that is, for you older men, and you older women, and you younger women, and you younger men, and you Titus, and you bondservants. So the “all” of verse 11 means all without distinction, not all without exception, as we’d mean it if we said, “All of Philadelphia went crazy when the Eagles won the Super Bowl,” even though we understand many individual Philadelphians were in bed and could have cared less if the Eagles won.
So that means no matter who you are, you are not beyond God’s grace. Has God’s grace appeared to you today? Then believe in Him, and you too will be saved. If you’ve been saved, the grace of God has appeared to you and brought salvation for you. He is for you, today, apart from your performance. And then, that same grace that saved us, is the grace that trains us. See the connection between verses 11 and 12: That grace that appeared bringing salvation for all people in verse 11 is the grace that trains us in verse 12 to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age. More guilt and more rules won’t train you in godliness. If you say, “I’ll believe God is for me once I grow in godliness; until then I’m going to keep just feeling guilty,” you’ll never grow in godliness, because believing God is for you is what trains you to live a godly life. Stop living with a constant sense that you aren’t doing enough and trying to perform your way out of it. Believe before you improve a single thing in your life that God is for you, and not only will His grace save you, it will then train you to live a godly life.
To live godly lives
But the first part of living a godly life is renouncing an ungodly one, and that’s where verse 12 takes us next. It says the grace of God trains us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions. Ungodliness is kind of the umbrella term for all ways of living that do not conform to God’s law. To renounce ungodliness is to make a commitment: “I will stop doing, thinking, and wanting what God’s law forbids.” More specifically, the grace of God trains us to renounce worldly passions. It doesn’t say grace trains us to renounce the world itself: to reject all food, sex, comfort, and so forth, but it does say grace trains us to renounce worldly passions. That word for passions here goes beyond ordinary desire to an inordinate attachment where we not only use the things of this world, but we look to them for satisfaction. To renounce worldly passions, then, is to make the specific commitment: “I will not look to anything in this world for satisfaction,” and the grace of God that saved us also trains us to make such a renunciation.
Then it also trains us positively, to live a different kind of life than the one we’ve renounced, a self-controlled, upright, and godly life. Self-control is the virtue to which worldly passions are the vice. Rather than looking to the world for satisfaction, self-control refers to the ability to use the things of the world for the glory of God and the good of others. A person who is self-controlled enjoys good food with thanksgiving to God and if they choose, a good drink, but they are able to stop. If married, they enjoy sex with their spouse without demanding it for their own gratification. If unmarried, they may desire sex, but successfully say no to it. Upright is literally righteous or just, which speaks directly to conformity to God’s law, and godly of course is the virtue to which ungodliness is the vice, a life lived positively for God’s glory. This too grace trains us for.
How does grace train us for these things? If not by guilt and rules, how? It gives you a new satisfaction. Why do I scroll Twitter for 30 minutes, and then think, “I’ve gotta keep going”? Because the 30 minutes hadn’t satisfied me yet, and I’m looking for Twitter to do that! It’s the same reason we keep eating, the same reason we keep drinking, the same reason we keep demanding sex. But the grace of God gives you a new satisfaction. You realize that God is for you. You realize He sees all your flaws, all your pain, all your sins, and He loves you. When that appears to your heart, the world looks like small potatoes. The grace of God won’t just keep your desires in check; a diet and rules about your smart phone usage can do that. The grace of God won’t just keep your desires in check; the grace of God will change your desires. It trains you, not to keep your worldly passions in proper boundaries, but to RENOUNCE them. It trains you to live for something else: For God, for His glory, for the good of your neighbor. That’s the path. If you want to live a godly life, the thing you need more than anything else is to feast your eyes on the grace of God that has appeared and saved you. Do that, and that same grace will train you.
And so that does mean there is something for you to do in this training process. There is what author Jerry Bridges called a “discipline of grace,” words I assume he got from this passage, as the word for “train” here can be translated “discipline”; it’s the same word used in Ephesians 6 when Fathers are commanded to raise their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. What you must do, then, if you want to be disciplined by this grace, is to practice the disciplines of grace, what are commonly called the spiritual disciplines or means of grace. Christians get sideways with these when they become an end in themselves, a new set of rules that we obey to help us not feel guilty. That won’t train you for godliness, as we’ve been saying.
Grace trains you for a godly life, and so we engage in the disciplines of grace because it is in them that the grace of God appears to us over and over again. The grace of God appears to us through the reading aloud and preaching of God’s Word, so we go to church to hear the Word read and preached. The grace of God appears to us in the Lord’s Supper, so we go to church to take the Lord’s Supper. The grace of God appears to us in song, so we go to church to hear others sing to us and to sing back to them about God’s grace. The grace of God appears to us in prayer, so we go to church to pray together and then we shut the door behind us at home and pray to our Father in secret. The grace of God appears to us in Scripture, so we read it. The grace of God appears to us in other Christians, so we go to church to see our church family, we confess our sins to one another, and we encourage one another. The grace of God appears in church discipline, so we join churches to be disciplined by grace when we begin to stray from it. And through these things, as we see the grace of God in them, that grace trains us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.
Are you getting drunk? Looking at pornography? Engaging in sexual activity with someone to whom you aren’t married? Those things matter to God. If you’re like, “yeah I am but those things are no big deal,” do you see what that suggests? It suggests that the grace of God hasn’t saved you, because if it did, it would also be training you to renounce those things and to instead life a self-controlled, upright, and godly life in the present age. Come clean to God and receive His grace, which is offered to you today even if you’ve been spurning it for some time now, and then renounce ungodliness and worldly passions and begin living a self-controlled, upright, and godly life in the present age.
Others of you have been saved by the grace of God, so you know your lack of self-control is a big deal, but you’re still struggling with it. You don’t need more guilt; you need grace. God is for you. He loves you. Right now He loves you, before you fix these things. You don’t have to keep your distance from Him and look for satisfaction in food, sex, or anything else this world has to offer. He is all you need, and He is for you. Let that train you to live a godly life while you say no to looking for satisfaction in this world, in a posture of waiting.
In a posture of waiting
Verse 13 says we live this godly life while waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. I’ve said already that grace trains us to renounce worldly passions because it gives us something else to be satisfied in: The grace of God for us. And there are times in this life where God gives you a sweet taste of His love, those moments of clarity, when you know you don’t need anything else. Nonetheless, in this life, another episode on Netflix, another video game, often does feel more satisfying, at least for a little bit. And that’s because although the grace of God has appeared, we are still waiting for another appearance: The appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Throughout the Bible, the glory of God refers to some visible manifestation of His perfection. Before the coming of Christ, we read of the glory of God filling the temple, and what the people see is a bright light. But listen to these words from 2 Corinthians 4:6 – “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” The place we see the glory of our great God and Savior most clearly is in the face of Jesus Christ, and one day we will see His face again when He comes again in all of His glory. Only on that day will our satisfaction reach its consummate end. Only then will our desires be purified and set free to desire Him and Him alone, feeling no need for satisfaction in anything else.
So much of our world is oriented around now. We’re told that if we want something we should be able to have it now, or at least in this life, maybe when we retire. But the grace of God doesn’t train us to delay our worldly passions; it trains us to renounce them, and to instead wait for full satisfaction on the day when Jesus Christ, the glory of our great God and Savior, appears. Don’t get impatient and start looking to this world to satisfy. It won’t work anyway. And then, Paul can’t help but end in verse 14 by recounting some of the glory of Christ. The one we will see is the one who gave Himself for us, to redeem us from all lawlessness, and to purify for Himself a people who are zealous for good works. He gave Himself for us, as our substitute, dying in our place on the cross, and here the Scripture especially emphasizes Christ’s purpose in this: To redeem us from all lawlessness. The language of redemption was used in the marketplace to speak of freeing slaves: You would redeem them from our slavery. Christ died to redeem us from our slavery to lawlessness.
And He did it to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, who are zealous for good works. He bought us out of our slavery to lawlessness in order that we might belong to Him, cleansed of our ungodliness and worldly passions, now zealous to give our work, our energy, to what is good. Just as the grace that saved us is the grace that trains us to live godly lives, so Christ died to save us, in order to make us a godly people. Notice that it wasn’t to make godly individuals, but a godly people for His own possession. Of course, that requires godly individuals, but the end goal of godly individuals is a godly people. This people for Jesus’ own possession is what the Bible calls Jesus’ body, or His church. Don’t just let grace train you individually for godliness; seek to build up the church so that we increasingly become a people zealous for good works.
The false teachers in Crete claimed truly good works were unnecessary while they also insisted on observing ceremonial rules. Paul flips that on its head. He says you don’t need ceremonial rules; the grace of God has appeared in Christ, and it has already brought salvation to all people, to older men, older women, younger women, younger men, bondservants, and so forth, that grace is what saved us, and then what it trains us for is good works. We aren’t saved by good works; we are saved by grace, and then we are trained by grace for good works. You will never get beyond the grace of God. You will never perform enough so as not to need it. But in Christ, you have it. It has appeared. God is for you. He loves you. As we wait for His glory to appear, may His grace train us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, that we might be a people zealous for good works.