We are going to look into a mirror today. For the next twenty-five minutes or so to be meaningful for you I am going to ask that you be as reflective as possible.
Cartoons: Try to see the truth not what you want to see. We are sometimes very good at seeing what we want rather than what we are.
A couple from New York City had driven several hours across winding back roads and narrow country lanes, overjoyed to have escaped the hectic pace of city life for a while. They were delighted when they found themselves in a very small town with only a few houses, a post office, and a general store. They spoke to the store owner as they entered, "The country is so nice and quiet," they said. "It's so much better than life in the city. Don't you agree?" The store owner shrugged his shoulders and said, "I can't really say. I've never lived in the country-all my life I've lived right here in town." Hopefully you have a better ability to be really see yourself today in the context of your life.
What is the purpose of the church on earth? Why did Jesus leave a presence in the form of a group of people called “the church?” If I understand the Bible we were left on this earth to be Christ’s presence, His hands and feet. We are to be the bearers of the good news of salvation. We are to make disciples and to teach others to obey the commands that are embodied in the life of a Christ follower.
Salvation is by grace. The grace of God allowed His Son Jesus Christ to come to this earth as a living and willing sacrifice for our sins. In doing this Christ brought salvation to all who will avail themselves of His mercy.
16 “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16
Paul was wrote to Titus, one of the young men that he was mentoring in ministry and gave him many very practical things to teach the churches he was leading. I am drawing this teaching today from a classic summary statement that Paul wrote in Titus 2.
11 For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. 12 And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, 13 while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. 14 He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds. Titus 2:11-14 NLT
11For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. Titus 2:11-14 NIV
This free salvation that we have been offered comes with guidelines that teach us how to live out our faith in the world around us. At different periods and times in history, Christianity has been turned into a lukewarm and often tepid faith that offers little more than a free ticket to heaven. The church by nature, given enough time and left unchecked will naturally drift away from spiritual things and replace them with man-made self righteousness and a pseudo form of Christianity. The drift of denominations is a matter of history that has never been overcome. Every denomination or Christian reform movement starts in a fire storm of passion but eventually given enough years and generations will be reduced to a whimper and shadow of its former self. More importantly it will be a shadow of what it should be as a reflection of Christ and the word of God.
The question I have for you today is: Where are you in your relationship with God? Are you passionate about your faith? Are you earnestly seeking to know what it means to live out your faith and a Christ follower on a daily basis?
Do you seek to live out your faith by daily staying connected and in tune or harmony with God and His word? I am not talking about some obsessive ritualistic program. I am just talking about crossing over into a world where your faith in Christ is more important than all the other things that clamor for your attention. Your relationship with others is shaped by your connection and commitment to Christ.
In this writing Paul emphasizes to Titus that there is more to Christ following than just believing. While you and I can’t earn our way to salvation or heaven God has some standards of behavior that He expects us to follow.
There are codes of behavior that should be a part of every authentic Christ follower’s life. These are basic and simple truths that ought to be taught at every level.
1. Have you left or turned from godless living and sinful pleasure?
“12 And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures.” Titus 2:12a
If I understand the process of salvation and what it means to be a Christ follower it is all about transformation. There is a lot of emphasis today on what you can’t do or be. Dickens wrote, Great Expectations but the church seems to be intent of the message of “Low Expectations.”
What is the point of accepting Christ as you Savior if it leaves you the same old person you were when you came to faith? What is the point of taking the name of Christ in the form of “Christian” yet not allowing yourself to be changed or transformed by the power of God?
Becoming a Christ follower should be the most transforming experience of your life. It is radical. It is both destructive and constructive. There will be things you divorce from your life and lifestyle and there will be things you add to your life and lifestyle.
I do believe the minute the church starts majoring or defining what all those things are we begin reducing the gospel to a list of man-made rules and we get into trouble. Having said that there should be an emphasis on godliness and holiness that should cause every one of us to hunger and thirst for righteousness, justice and holiness.
Take a few moments today and examine your life. Have you turned from the ungodly things that you are doing? The things that you know you shouldn’t be doing yet you persist in doing them. Let me assure you that once God has given you light on something or you feel convicted about it and you don’t act on that conviction you will slowly begin to drift away from the transforming power of God.
In 1 John the writer ends his letter with these words: “Dear children, keep away from anything thing that might take God’s place in your hearts.” 1 John 5:21
“12 And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures.” Titus 2:12a
2. Do you live with wisdom, righteousness and devotion to God?
We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God” Titus 2:12b
10 Fear of the LORD is the foundation of true wisdom. All who obey his commandments will grow in wisdom. Psalm 111:10
4 Love wisdom like a sister; make insight a beloved member of your family. Proverbs 7:4
The Bible has an incredible amount to say about wisdom. Again, this is something that you have to be intentional about. You have to want it and seek it and ask God for it. The Bible clearly states that if you lack it you can ask God for it and He will give it to you. Wisdom is the ability to navigate your way through life with a clear head and heart. It is wise-ness. It is being smart and that doesn’t mean necessarily that you have ten degrees behind your name and the highest IQ of anyone around you. There have been men and women of faith who simply because of their connection to God have left a trail for others to follow.
There is just something about them that makes you want trust their judgment and wisdom.
The question that is being asked here is simple. Do you live a righteous life in this present world? In other words do you care about the things God cares about? Do you see your life in the light of God’s word and wishes for you? This is a tough subject because when you try to add righteousness to your life it never works.
In 1519, Martin Luther preached a sermon on righteousness and in the closing lines he makes these comments:
“Fourthly, before all things, guard yourself from works elected by yourself, because these do not purge sins, but rather pollute, as are in our time ceremonies, prayers, little speeches [voculae], structures of the churches. Thus those works rather purify which God imposes and names: hence of all the best are sufferings, adversities, penury, ignominies, death, because here alone God works and man suffers, and most perfectly Adam is killed, and Christ the vine is purified and his vine is dressed [John 15]. For this is the best way to salvation, difficult to walk, but quite happily in the end.”
Righteousness comes to us in direct proportion of our pursuit of God.
“11 But you, Timothy, are a man of God; so run from all these evil things. Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness.” 1 Timothy 6:11
C. Devotion to God
It is so simple really. We are called to live a devoted life. All of us in this room are devoted to something. We may be devoted to work, we may be devoted to some person, habit, hobby or any number of things that I could mention. The point is all of us practice devotion. The question is, are you devoted to God? Paul said we should live in our present age with wisdom, righteousness and devotion to God. Not tomorrow, not when everything works out, but now, today we are to live the devoted life.
Let me warn you, in a lukewarm church age living a life of devotion to God will not make you popular. It will not always be easy and people get into real trouble here because they start practicing self-righteousness which is as bad as no righteousness and they start judging others and that is not godly either. If you live your life truly devoted to God there will be a whole lot of people who will not understand you and why you do or don’t do the things you do. That’s okay. Don’t become proud or arrogant just live the life that God calls you to and humbly follow Him.
Just like water the church will often seek the lowest level of living. We too often compare ourselves to each other instead of God’s word. We look at someone else and think, “Oh they can do that or not do that and be a Christ follower? I guess I just adopt that lifestyle.” Look to Christ. Be as student of His word. Let the word of God dwell in you richly.
“ 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” Colossians 3:16
3. Are you looking forward with hope?
“13 while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed.” Titus 2:13
I don’t think I need to spend a great deal of time here but let me remind you that your time on this earth is extremely short. We will have struggles and trials. Turmoil may come, persecution may come, you may even wonder at times how you can stand up under the things you are facing at work or in your family.
Keep your eyes focused on that day whenever it is that we will see Christ. This was the hope of the New Testament. The writers encourage one another with words like:
7 Dear brothers and sisters,[c] be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return. Consider the farmers who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They eagerly look for the valuable harvest to ripen. 8 You, too, must be patient. Take courage, for the coming of the Lord is near.” James 1:7-8
Paul wrote about the Lord return to earth and said, “So encourage each other with these words.” (1 Thess. 4:18)
Hebrews 6: “These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. 19 This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls.”
“But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. 36 Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. 37 Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half,[d] and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. 38 They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.” Hebrews 11:35-38
The hope of every Christ follower is not in this world. Our greatest investments are in heaven and the hope of being with Christ someday for eternity.
I sat on the platforms of hundreds of churches over the whole decade of the nineties and watched a generation of people who had become dead to the songs of faith that had just become boring and unattractive to them. The so called music controversy is nothing more than a generation of people reacting to lack of connection that many of our parents had to great songs of faith and hope. We are slowly reintroducing you to some of them because maybe now they will be meaningful again. As I was writing this message I went back in my mind to a time long ago when as a very young boy growing up I could remember the last time I saw someone excited about the prospect of going to heaven. The words of an old song came flooding back. Not the way we sang it through much of the last twenty years but the way they it was written when Eliza Hewitt wrote it:
Sing the wondrous love of Jesus, Sing His mercy and His grace. In the mansions bright and blessèd He’ll prepare for us a place.
When we all get to Heaven, What a day of rejoicing that will be! When we all see Jesus, We’ll sing and shout the victory!
While we walk the pilgrim pathway, Clouds will overspread the sky; But when traveling days are over, Not a shadow, not a sigh.
Let us then be true and faithful, Trusting, serving every day; Just one glimpse of Him in glory Will the toils of life repay.
Onward to the prize before us! Soon His beauty we’ll behold; Soon the pearly gates will open; We shall tread the streets of gold.
That is hope. We ought to live with our heads and hearts attached a little more to heaven than we do. Keith Green wrote the song, I Pledge my head to heaven and I think that’s a pretty good idea.
4. Do you love to do what is good?
“14 He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds.” Titus 2:14 NLT
“14who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” Titus 2:14 NIV
Let me sum all this up for us today. We are called to be transformed into the image of Christ. Our lives are to be continually changing and becoming more Christ like. The bottom line of this message and the teaching in these verses is simply this: Do you love to do good? This is the big question of the day. Doing good is doing what is best or God’s way. It is saying no to the things of this world that clamor for out attention and truly getting to a place of genuine Christ following.
Use mirror pictures: We spend a fair amount of time in front of mirrors to gain perspective. Norman Rockwell painted this picture. What are you seeing as you look at yourself today?
Spiritual development and growth can frequently seem frustrating and discouraging when we, or someone we are discipling, progresses at a much slower pace than desired. Patience and perseverance are good words to remember when this happens. That’s exactly what is required to successfully grow a Chinese bamboo tree. This unique tree demands patience from its grower because all it visibly develops in the first four years is a little bulb and a small shoot. Although you’ve planted a tree, it appears you are growing nothing more than a big weed. Nonetheless, a mighty tree is taking shape because the first four years are devoted to the development of a massive root system. Then, in the fifth year, the Chinese bamboo tree uses that incredible foundation to launch as much as eighty feet of new growth in just one year. Growth that can be seen and measured often doesn’t occur until there is a strong foundation upon which it can be built. There appears to be great wisdom in picturing discipleship like the development of a Chinese bamboo tree. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families, Stephen R. Covey, 1995, Tape 4
When Dr. David Livingstone was working in Africa, a group of friends wrote him: "We would like to send other men to you. Have you found a good road into your area yet?" According to a member of his family, Dr. Livingstone sent this message in reply: "If you have men who will only come if they know there is a good road, I don't want them. I want men who will come if there is no road at all."
Today we are calling on you to come to a breaking point in your relationship to God. Are you willing to break the current image of yourself and truly begin to live in the image of Christ on this earth? You’ll have to take it seriously.
Are you at a breaking point? Are you willing to start over and new and fresh with God today?
Song: Just as I am
Benediction: “23 Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. 24 God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful.” 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24