I am way too old to be in a mid-life crisis, but I don’t think it takes a mid-life crisis to stop and consider the journey of life that we are on. Where have we come from? Where are we going?
As a part of a life review, it is also occasionally helpful to review our salvation. To do so is an important reminder. As we think about our salvation, it is a reminder of who we are. It is also good to review our salvation because it is such a great encouragement to think about what we hope for. But such a review of our salvation can also be a great challenge to recommit ourselves to what we must be.
This morning, I would like to look at Titus 3:3-8 as a way of reviewing our salvation.
Paul begins these thoughts with the words, “we too were…” A review of salvation appropriately begins with a reminder of what we were. As we read these words we need to think about who is speaking. Paul admittedly had been a persecutor of the church, but in another sense, he was one of the most religious men around. He believed with all his heart that he was being faithful to God. In Philippians 3 he identifies his strong religious background when he says, “…circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.” In this description, we see a lot about Paul and his solid religious life. He tried with all he could to live for God. He knew the Old Testament and was determined to live according to all faithfulness to God.
It is interesting then, that in Titus, which is written to a pagan audience, he says, “we too were…” He had not been anything like the people in the church in which Titus was pastor. They had been pagan, disobedient to God, ignorant of the ways of God, living in immorality and enslaved to sin. That is very different and we wonder why he would so closely identify with them in regards to what they were.
As people who have also grown up in Christian homes, who have gone to church all of our life and have never seriously broken God’s law, we might find it hard to say with Paul, “we too were…” especially when we look at the list of things which these pagans were. They were foolish - they did not understand God. Their worldview was likely one of pantheism in which every tree and bush and the sun and moon were gods. They were among those whom Paul speaks of in Romans 1 as knowing God but being disobedient to the knowledge of God revealed in creation. Instead of listening to the voice of God, they were deceived. They listened to and obeyed the voice of the gods of their mythology and refused to listen to the voice of their creator. As people who lived under a worldview of paganism, they were also enslaved to various lifestyle habits which they could not get away from. Lifestyle habits, not only of alcoholism, drug abuse and immorality as we might think of. Paul indicates that they were enslaved to “passions and pleasures” but also to “malice, envy, being hated and hating one another.”
How could Paul identify with them and say “we?” Paul knows what we also must know in the depths of our heart. Even the most religious person who does not accept God’s way is disobedient and consequently enslaved to various passions. Before we gave our lives to Christ, we didn’t get it either. Before we believed in Jesus, we were disobedient to God and deceived. Before we let God change our hearts through Christ, we also were bound in hopelessness and enslaved to all kind of things, even if those things were not the worst of sins, they were still sins!
So if Paul says “we,” we also must acknowledge as we review our salvation, what our starting point was. It was a starting point of separation from God.
We will not truly appreciate our salvation until we are able to say “we too were…”
But how thankful we can be that all that changed! In Titus 3:4-8, Paul goes on to talk about how that change took place.
The salvation we have experienced has arisen out of the love of God. It happened, as the text says, “when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared.” Several times in this passage we note that it is the mercy and love of God that is the reason that there is salvation. Love is only one of the characteristics of who God is, but it becomes most meaningful when we understand it in the context of the holiness and justice of God.
The fact that God is holy means that he cannot stand sin. If you have ever tried to start a fire with gasoline, you know that gas does not last long in the presence of fire. So it is with the holiness of God. Sin cannot last in his presence because that which is unholy is consumed. God did not have to save us, the holiness part of his nature would be correct in destroying us in our sin.
God is also just. His justice is not like our justice. His justice is such that he knows all the facts, is able to judge justly and to carry out his justice. The facts of the case are that we are all sinners who deserve to die because of our sin and rebellion. The justice part of God’s nature would sentence us all to punishment for our rebellion.
But God has chosen instead to act in love. The love of God is that part of his person in which God says, “I cannot stand evil, I cannot stand injustice, but even more, I cannot bear to destroy those whom I have created.” God loved us so much that he chose to bring his love to bear on his holiness and justice in order to save a people who would be holy and just in his sight.
That love was expressed in the coming of Jesus Christ. Our salvation is centered in Jesus who came from God, lived for God, died for us and rose victorious.
Salvation arises out of God’s compassion.
Because we were hopelessly lost and under His just condemnation, salvation also had to be His work and so the text says, “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy.” It is so important for us to realize, as Isaiah 64:6 says that, “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” Salvation is entirely an act of mercy, not of what is deserved. When we further realize that “there is none righteous” we understand and know that the situation is hopeless apart from the mercy of God.
The only reason we are saved is because God chose to do it for us.
The text tells us that it is actually the Spirit of God who does this work in us. Titus 3:6, 7 says, "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,"
The two words used here are interesting. The word "rebirth" comes from two words which are put together to mean "born again." Regeneration is "a change of nature from God." It is the Holy Spirit who causes that new birth to occur in us. The word "renewal" is made up of two words put together to mean "making something new." This is what the Spirit of God has done for us.
Years ago when one of our children was younger he was busily trying to clean a bottle. It did not get clean and he was getting rather frustrated, until he realized that the dirt was on the inside. This is the same with us. Our sin makes us dirty on the inside. Until the Spirit of God cleanses the inside, we can do all we want to clean the outside, but we will still be dirty.
There was a man showing a building to a potential buyer. The place had been vacant and had been badly vandalized. The owner promised that it would be cleaned up before the prospective buyer took over. The prospective buyer told him not to bother with that, his intention was to tear down the whole building and build a new one on the same site. That is the work of the Holy Spirit, to remove sin completely and to make a new creature out of us on the site of the old one.
God’s Spirit is highly involved in our salvation. Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead to make it possible as the text says, but, it is the Holy Spirit of God who mediates salvation to us.
The Holy Spirit empowers the proclamation of the message of the gospel, as we learn from Acts 1:8.
John 16:7-11says that the Holy Spirit prepares the heart. We read, "But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned."
And, as we have just seen, it is the Holy Spirit who brings the new birth into our lives to recreate us.
As we review our salvation it is an amazing thing to see what God has done in Christ and through His Spirit to bring our salvation to us. This passage in Titus is a wonderful reminder of all that has been accomplished in order that we should be redeemed from what we were.
As a result, we are what we are today. What is that? What have we become because of God’s grace in our lives?
Titus 3:7 says, “so that…we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”
This reminds us of two aspects of what we have become. We have become heirs of God. That is, we are His children who have now received the right to belong to Him. We are no longer strangers and aliens, we are children. We belong to our creator and He is not ashamed to call us His children. What a great blessing that is!
With any inheritance, we also have inherited the estate of the Father and that is the promise of eternal life. How often we rejoice in that hope! Jesus promises that He is preparing a place for us. We are waiting for that great marriage supper of the lamb! Being heirs of eternal life allows us to look beyond the death which is the inevitable end of every person and to embrace with joy that we are bound for eternity. There is no end! Now we are nearing the end of summer. Soon the gardens will be emptied of their harvest; the fields which have been green will become black once again. The wonderful summer days we have enjoyed for the last week or so will shorten and we will once again have to think about long johns and winter boots and danger on the ice and snow.
Sometimes we focus on the grey hair and the failing limbs and the mind that is slowing down and lament that life is drawing to an end. But as heirs of eternal life, this broken end of life is just a pause before the unending summer in the presence of the eternal king.
But the hope we have as Christians is not just eternal. It begins now. Our salvation implies a life that is different. We have become people who begin now to devote our lives to God. Titus 3:8 says, “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. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.”
One writer says, “When Christians are awed by the magnificence of God’s saving work, they will be careful to ‘devote themselves to doing what is good.’”
What we have become is people who have an “intrinsic motivation” towards good deeds. Let us keep doing them.
When I review my salvation, I am thankful that this is the course of life upon which I have been set. I sometimes have tried to imagine what my life might have been like if I wasn’t a Christian. It is a scary thought. Would I be married? Would I have a good marriage? What would I be addicted to? Would I have a life of meaning in serving God?
As I review my salvation, I am thankful for the hope that is mine. I can face anything that comes in life and know that God is the Lord and that in the end; I will enjoy eternity in His presence. I have been reading the story of my father’s family. They came out of Russia as refugees during the Second World War. After they came out, some people asked them how they could still have hope and believe in God, in spite of all they had experienced. My grandmother responded that they had experienced too much of God’s grace to live in any other way and they always kept an eternal perspective.
As I review my salvation, I know that there is so much I still have to learn. I want to keep growing in learning to understand what it means to do good works. I am glad to learn these things and so continue to seek God’s leading.
How do you feel about a review of your salvation? May it remind you! May it encourage you! May it challenge you!