Have you ever done something really stupid, or had a bad habit that stuck with you for a long time before you were able to break it? When you look back at that, how do you feel? I know that there are incredibly dumb things that I’ve done, and the sense of regret is palpable. I remember one time in high school where I ended up throwing red punch onto the guy next to me…and it was his birthday party! I have no idea what I was thinking at the time: I wasn’t angry with him or feeling malicious – it just happened. I still wish that I could take back that moment.
Even Paul, in the following verse from his letter to Titus (as well as in other places in Paul’s writing), looked backwards to an ugly past:
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.
Titus 3:3 NIV
Here, Paul is reminding Titus (and us) that we were once lost: separated from God because of our own choices to sin. When a person is lost like this, we do some really dumb things, and make some really bad choices, including the choice to sin against God.
And, in fact, living in service to sin looks like this. It’s messed up and painful and hurtful and just plain ugly, especially when seen from the perspective of God’s righteousness and holiness. That is the very place that human beings walk into when we sin, and it’s the place where people who still need Jesus remain stuck. This is why those of us who have found the cure must tell others about salvation, and show them why accepting Jesus is so much better. To not do so is downright un-loving.
Here’s the thing, though: for those who have accepted Jesus Christ, this is the past. As 1 Corinthians 6:11 says, “And that is what some of you were.”. Not are. Were. Not present or future tense. Past tense.
Still, there are many who seem happy with the life described in the verse above. And, why wouldn’t they? After all, many things and places seem pretty good until we try something new or go someplace better, and realize how much we were missing. For instance, I remember when we got a new minivan for the family, and one of my sons said that it was like “riding in a cloud”. We had become accustomed to how loud and rough the old vehicle drove, and didn’t fully appreciate that this wasn’t the best it could be…until we tried something better.
Continuing in Paul’s letter here, he summarizes the good news about God’s grace in the next four verses:
But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 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, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
Titus 3:4-7 NIV
Let’s take a quick look at three questions that this passage answers for us:
How did God save us? Note the words “rebirth” and “renewal”. We are brand-new. When Satan the Accuser tries to condemn us for our history, we have every right to point out that we are a new creation, and that we have been saved through Jesus’ sacrifice. That is done. Remember, God convicts and disciplines us to help us become holy and sanctified, but if voices tempt or condemn you, that’s probably not God’s message.
Why did God save us? Well, it certainly wasn’t because we were really good. It is painful to see people believing the devil’s deception that they have to somehow “get good before they can get saved”. The more that lost people can learn that Jesus’ salvation is for sinners just like them, the more we can disperse this lie that anyone has to “get their act together” before Jesus will accept them.
Instead, God saved us because He is merciful. God is not out to get us. We separated ourselves from God, but He reached out to us to invite us back.
What do we receive? Salvation, for one thing. We are saved from the eternal punishment that our sins deserved, and we are saved from being a slave to our sins. We receive God’s mercy when we no longer have to be eternally separated from Him. We receive grace from Him when we get to receive blessings in this life and in Heaven. We receive His freedom, no longer being bound to a life of sin. And, we get adopted into the family of God, heir to an inheritance (Galatians 4:7).
All told, salvation is an amazing thing. It is pretty much the total opposite of the “rules-based club” that some in the world perceive it as. Instead, it is a transformation out of darkness, garbage, and pain…into a brand-new life (although we must still live out on this earth – where there is darkness, garbage, and pain – until we get to Heaven).
- Christians don’t get salvation because they were good enough. They are saved because Jesus was good enough.
- Christians don’t serve Jesus (and others) because they are afraid that they won’t pass some sort of test in Heaven. They serve because they love Jesus, are grateful to Him, and respect Him.
- Christians don’t force their way to God. He reached out to us, and we merely accepted His invitation.
So, I invite you to read Titus 3:1-8, and reflect on the following:
Remember the fact that we are fundamentally changed: a new creation in the latest and best model that God has created. As new creations in Christ, we are not damaged goods, used products, or “pre-owned”.
Remind others of this fact. For those who don’t know the good news about Jesus, teach them how amazing He is, and invite them to accept His offer. For those who are already following Jesus, keep sharing this good news, so that we don’t forget that Jesus is the cornerstone of our faith and our actions.
React to this good news by behaving like a child of God, one who is a new creation. Don’t return to the mess that you were in before you were saved, and instead focus on living a life of humble service (with the power of God behind you), in goodness and gentleness.
Based on Sunday School lesson prepared for November 22, 2020.
- Christian Standard, Volume CLV, Number 11, pages 85-86. © 2020 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, 1, 2 Timothy & Titus, by C. Michael Moss. Ph. D. College Press Publishing Company, © 1994.