The Lord’s Day Morning
“Justified by Grace/Careful for Good Deeds”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Titus, chapter three. We have been working through the Book of Titus for a number of weeks now. We’ve said throughout that Titus is a book that Paul has written to exhort a local pastor in how to exhort his congregation to live a Christian life in the midst of a very immoral society. All along we’ve indicated the parallels that exist between the life situation of this congregation, or these series of Christian congregations on the island of Crete in the first century: they lived in a pluralistic society; they lived in a society that was antagonistic towards Christianity; they lived in a society that did not believe in absolute truth, they believed in many truths; and they had to proclaim an absolute gospel which entailed absolute truth, and salvation in Jesus Christ alone to that very society, very much like we do today. And so there are many practical applications of the truth of this word from God through Paul to Titus and the congregations in Crete for us today.
But one of the things we’ve said all along is that Paul’s theme that repeats itself is that these Christians would adorn the doctrine of God their Savior with the way they live. In other words, knowing that the Romans would be making all sorts of false and silly accusations against Christians; knowing that the Romans were somewhat incredulous of Christian teaching—of Christian doctrine; Paul wanted to make sure that these Christians would live in such a way that the teaching of God in His Scripture would be held in honor in the eyes of their contemporaries, and that they would see evidence of the divine work of grace that God had done in their hearts, setting them apart from their immoral contemporaries and bearing a sweet witness to God’s gospel in Jesus Christ. Well, Paul is dealing with that again in the passage we’re going to read today.
Let me just outline it for you before we read it. In verses 1 and 2, Paul is going to give an exhortation to Titus. He is going to exhort Titus to exhort the Christians in Crete to obey their civil authorities and to be kind to all people, non-believers included and especially. And so we see this exhortation in verses 1 and 2.
Then in verses 3 to 7, Paul is going to explain the motivation for the exhortation. He’s going to explain what their motivation is (or ought to be) for heeding the exhortation that he’s given in verses 1 and 2. There, Paul explains the reason for their behavior. Why should they behave towards civil authorities and towards their neighbors in the way that he exhorts them to behave in verses 1 and 2? Well, he gives the answer in verses 3 to 7, but he not only gives them their motivation, he actually explains to them there how it is that they are going to be able to keep that exhortation.
And then finally, in verse 8 he reiterates that the statement that he has just made in verses 5, 6, and 7 is a “faithful saying.” Now, you know because we’ve already come into contact with them, that a “faithful saying” was a biblical truth that had become well-known in all the Christian churches, so that when you said that statement out loud in a Christian church, everyone knew “that’s biblical, that’s true, I’ve heard my pastor say that before; every Christian believes that.”
And then Paul takes that faithful saying and he makes a deduction from it. He says if that’s true (and you know it is), then you need to do this. And so he reiterates what the truth of verses 5, 6, and 7 means for Christian living in verse 8. In other words, he speaks of its realization; he speaks of the effect of the truth in Christian life in verse 8.
And so there you see the three parts of this passage in Paul’s argument: his exhortation in verses 1 and 2; his motivation and explanation in verses 3 to 7; and then, finally, his reiteration of this faithful saying, where he speaks about the realization, the effect, the result of this truth in the Christian life.
Let’s hear God’s word, and before we do, let’s look to Him in prayer and ask for His help and blessing.
Our Lord and our God, we acknowledge that these words are not the words of men, but the very words of God. You have breathed them out by Your Holy Spirit; You moved Paul to write Your truth for Your people. These are not Paul’s opinions about spiritual matters. This is not Paul’s advice to a pastor. This is Your word for this pastor, for this congregation and for us, because You teach us in Your word that every word of Scripture is inspired and profitable for our reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. We acknowledge that Your word is our final rule for faith and life. Grant that by Your Spirit we would understand it, believe it, and obey it. This we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Hear God’s word.
“Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be uncontentious, gentle, showing every consideration for all men. For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that being justified by His grace we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy statement, and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God may be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
The Apostle Paul, writing to these Christians—Christians in Crete, an island not unlike Israel that was under the occupation and governance of an alien culture and authority. The Romans had taken over this island with an ancient heritage. And perhaps the Cretans, like the Jews, resented this Roman governance over them. In fact, perhaps the very immorality that was prevalent in this Cretan culture was in some way a rejection, a protest against this alien Roman authority.
It would have been a temptation for Cretans to be angry about this alien Roman rule over them, and yet here we have Paul saying to the Christians in Crete that they are to respect those who rule over them in government, and that they are to relate to their non-believing neighbors with kindness, with charity, with genuine care and compassion.
Paul is concerned, you see, for the witness of their lives to the truth of the gospel. That’s what he means when he says ‘I want you to adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.’ He wants your life, as a believer, to bear witness to unbelievers of the reality not only of God’s grace in your life, but of the reality of the one gospel of salvation which God has announced in Jesus Christ. And so he has three things to say to these Christians and to us.
I. A call to remembrance: We must exhort Christians to obey civil authorities and be kind to all.
And the first thing is this, this exhortation in verses 1 and 2: an exhortation that we would obey and respect lawful civil authority, and that we would be kind to our neighbors, including and especially our unbelieving neighbors, our non-believing neighbors...our non-Christian neighbors. Listen to what he says: “Remind them...” [he’s speaking to Titus, telling Titus to remind the congregation] “Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men.”
He’s saying remind these Christians not to forget their duty here on earth. They are to be good citizens and good neighbors, even as they are members of the heavenly kingdom. And even though their Cretan friends and neighbors may resent the yoke of Roman authority, they as Christians are to have a proper attitude of respect to civil authority. In fact, Paul lays out seven civic virtues for these Christians. He wants these Christians, both in their relation to civil government and to their neighbors, to display these graces, these God-wrought virtues.
First of all, he tells them to be subject to rulers. That is, to be outwardly respectful of the lawful commands of lawful rulers and authorities. And then he says to be obedient, that is, to be inwardly willing and obedient to the particular commands of that government.
And then he begins to speak of our behavior in relation to all men, to our neighbors. We’re to be ready for every good deed: that is, to show a spirit of love and cooperation, a readiness to do good to our non-believing friends. We are to malign no one, he says: that is, to not revile or insult or abuse with language those who are unbelievers. We’re to use appropriate speech with them. We’re to be peaceable, he says: that is, we’re not to be contentious or quarrelsome. Insofar as it is up to us, we are to live in harmony with those who are non-believing neighbors. We’re to be, he says, gentle: that is, we’re to be genial and ready to yield personal advantage for the sake of others. We’re to be meek, to use Jesus’ word.
And we’re to show every consideration for all men. Isn’t that a comprehensive phrase? Paul doesn’t say that we’re to show some consideration to all men, or some consideration to some men, but all consideration to all men. There is to be a generous, indiscriminate kindness to our neighbors. And these virtues Paul wants to see displayed in the lives of these Cretan Christians in order that they would adorn the doctrine of God their Savior.
In our own day and time we live in a culture which was once largely influenced by Christian truth, pervasively evidencing Christian values and foundations, and it frustrates many of us as we see the erosion of that. It makes some of us angry, and sometimes our posture and attitude towards the society displays that anger rather frankly. In contrast, Paul is calling on us to have this kind of attitude towards rulers and towards the community around us.
A good example of an evangelical who has done this is John Stott.1 Perhaps you read the article by David Brooks in The New York Times opinion column back in November. He was commenting on a television program, Meet the Press, where Tim Russert had invited on a few people to debate the issue of religion in public life. And David Brooks (who’s one of my favorite writers—he’s a secular, Jewish, somewhat conservative commentator for NPR...now you figure out how all those things go together!). He’s written a book, Bobos in Paradise...which, if you’ve never read Bobos in Paradise, you’ve missed a treat. But Brooks is very respectful towards evangelicals and he’s very knowledgeable of evangelicals, and he says this about that Meet the Press program:
"Tim Russert is a great journalist, but he made a mistake last weekend. He included Jerry Falwell and Al Sharpton in a discussion on religion and public life.
Inviting these two bozos onto "Meet the Press" to discuss that issue is like inviting Britney Spears and Larry Flynt to discuss D.H. Lawrence. Naturally, they got into a demeaning food fight that would have lowered the intellectual discourse of your average nursery school.
This is why so many people are so misinformed about evangelical Christians. There is a world of difference between real-life people of faith and the made-for-TV, Elmer Gantry-style blowhards who are selected to represent them.
Falwell and Pat Robertson are held up as spokesmen for evangelicals, which is ridiculous. Meanwhile people like John Stott, who are actually important, get ignored.
It could be that you have never heard of John Stott. I don't blame you. As far as I can tell, Stott has never appeared on an important American news program. A computer search suggests Stott's name hasn't appeared in The New York Times since April 10, 1956, and it's never appeared in many other important publications.
Yet, as Michael Cromartie of the Ethics and Public Policy Center notes, if evangelicals could elect a pope, Stott is the person they would likely choose. He was the framer of the Lausanne Covenant, a crucial organizing document for modern evangelicalism.
He is the author of more than 40 books, which have been translated into more than 72 languages and have sold in the millions. Now rector emeritus at All Souls, Langham Place, in London, he has traveled the world preaching and teaching.
Stott's mission is to pierce through all the encrustations and share direct contact with Jesus. He says the central message of the Gospel is not the teachings of Jesus, but Jesus himself, the human/divine figure.
There's been a lot of twaddle written about the supposed opposition between faith and reason. To read Stott is to see someone practicing "thoughtful allegiance" to Scripture.
For him, Christianity means probing the mysteries of Christ. He is always exploring paradoxes. Jesus teaches humility, so why does he talk about himself so much? What does it mean to gain power through weakness, or freedom through obedience? In many cases, the truth is not found in the middle of apparent opposites, but on both extremes at once.
Stott is so embracing it's always a bit of a shock - especially if you're a Jew like me - when you come across something on which he will not compromise. It's like being in "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," except he has a backbone of steel.
He does not accept homosexuality as a legitimate lifestyle, and he believes in evangelizing among nonbelievers. He is pro-life and pro-death penalty, even though he is not a political conservative on most issues.
Most important, he does not believe truth is plural. He does not believe in relativizing good and evil or that all faiths are independently valid, or that truth is something humans are working toward. Instead Truth has been revealed."
Isn’t it interesting, this reaction that a secular, Jewish, cultural commentator has had to the voice of John Stott? I’m not saying that John Stott is perfect, but I’m saying that in obeying Titus 3:1,2 he has gained a hearing and has adorned the doctrine of God our Savior.
Now, sometimes when we speak the truth we will be hated, and we can’t help that. It’s our job to speak the truth. But isn’t what Paul is saying to Titus and to these Christians and to us that we must learn to live and speak the truth in love? And this is something of what John Stott has done, and so we have this interesting response to his words.
II. The reason for our behavior: What we were and what we are.
But that’s not all Paul has to say. He not only has this exhortation for us to be ready for every good deed, he tells us why. What’s the reason? Why should we live this way towards civil authorities and towards our neighbors? Well, he tells you in verses 3 to 7:
“For we once also were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another.”
Paul is saying, ‘Look, Christian, if you say ‘Well, I’m not going to live with this kind of kindness and generosity towards the world because the world is sinful, the world is wicked, the world is filled with wrongdoing...’’ Well, Paul has this to say to you: that’s just like you. That’s just like you before the grace of God got a hold of you. The kindness of God came to you when you were that kind of person, and therefore, he says...look at the very next statement:
“When the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy....”
In other words, God is saying ‘I dealt with you not according to what you deserved, but according to My mercy. Now, Christian, you deal with your civil rulers and with unbelievers around you not as they deserve, but on the basis of mercy, because that’s how I dealt with you.’
But he doesn’t stop there. He makes it clear that the way that we are able to do this is by the power of God at work in us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit. We have been justified by God’s grace, but we have been transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit in us, so that we might live in love and in kindness towards those who are in civil authority over us, even unbelievers, and towards our neighbors who do not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
And so Paul is calling on us to remember God’s kindness to us and to emulate that in our dealing with our fellow men.
III. The reiteration of the reliable saying: Speak these things with confidence.
And then in verse 8, he draws his conclusion. Here’s the result. If we understand his exhortation, if we understand the motivation for why we ought to relate to our neighbor this way, here’s the result: “...so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds.”
Have you ever heard a Christian preacher or teacher say “We’re saved by grace. It doesn’t matter how we live.” Or, “We’ve received the grace of God; therefore we’re not bound any more to be concerned about what we ought to do, or what we have to do. We don’t have to do anything any more. We’re free in Christ.” You may have heard many well-meaning Christians and Christian teachers and preachers say just that. Paul would have been scratching his head if he had heard that! Listen to him again: “...so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds.”
You see, grace does not free you from obedience: it frees you to obedience. Or, if I could say it this way, the grace of God which saves us does not free us from obedience, it frees us for obedience, so that we can say ‘we delight in Your word, O Lord. How I love Your law, O Lord.’ That is the expression of Christian freedom. Let me put it this way: Christian freedom is not doing whatever we delight in. Christian freedom is delighting in doing whatever God delights in. The essence of Christian freedom is not being able to sin or to obey...whatever we want to do, because we’re saved by grace. That’s not Christian freedom. Christian freedom is delighting to do what God delights in. It’s not doing whatever we delight in.
Let me put it another way. Christian freedom is delighting in doing what we ought, not doing whatever we delight in. and that’s what Paul is speaking about here. We have believed in God. We have rested and trusted on Him alone for salvation as He is offered in the gospel, and therefore we will be careful to engage in good deeds.
Now listen closely to what Paul has said there. Paul has not said that if we will be careful to do good deeds, we will be justified. He is not saying that if we will believe on God and be careful to do good deeds we will be justified, we will be forgiven, we will be accepted, we will be acquitted by God. He is not saying that. He is saying that God has saved us by His mercy. His saving of us is not based on our being good, it’s not based on our doing good deeds, it’s not even based on the good deeds that we will do because of the Holy Spirit working in us! It’s based on Jesus.
But having been saved by God’s mercy through Jesus’ work, we are saved in order to do good deeds. They are the consequence, they are the result of the work of God’s transforming grace in us. And so the Apostle Paul is saying the result of the Spirit’s work, the result of God’s merciful salvation in us will be that we will be very careful to engage in good deeds. And so we have this exhortation: Christians, relate this way to civil authorities and to non-believing neighbors, so that you will adorn the doctrine of God your Savior. Do this realizing that your motivation to do it is because God was kind to you when you didn’t deserve kindness. Do this relying upon God’s work in you, because it will only be by the work of the Holy Spirit, the renewing grace of the Holy Spirit, that you will be able to live this way towards your civil authorities and unbelieving friends. But realize that the result of God’s grace in you will be that having believed on God, having trusted in Jesus Christ alone for salvation as He is offered in the gospel, you will be very careful to engage in good deeds. You’ll delight in doing what God wants you to do.
And where does God tell you what He wants you to do? In the word. So what does Jesus say? What does He say in the Gospels to His disciples? “It is my food to do the will of the One who sent Me.” What’s Jesus saying? He’s saying that it’s like eating to be able to obey the will of the heavenly Father who sent Him into this world. He so delights in doing God’s will, it’s like eating a sumptuous feast. You see, that’s Christian freedom: delighting in doing what God delights in. Not so that He will accept us, because we can never delight in Him well enough that He would accept us on the basis of our delighting, but because He has saved us.
Delighting in Him and delighting in doing what He delights in, that’s Paul’s exhortation and motivation, and the result of it for these Christians in Crete, but it’s for us today. We all, by God’s grace, face the challenge of bearing a faithful, truthful, loving witness in our lives and in our words to an immoral society and an increasingly anti-Christian culture. How will we do it? We have our marching orders right here in Titus 3:1-8. May God bless His word in us.
Our Lord and our God, help us to sing the words we are about to sing as a prayer, to mean every word that we lift up corporately as a personal petition for Your work of grace in us. We pray it in Christ’s name. Amen.
Grace be with you all. Amen.
1. John Stott Ministries
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A Guide to the Morning Service
The Theme of the Service
We noted last week that the truths of the free offer of the gospel and the mercy of God to forgive sinners do not stand in opposition to godly living. Forgiveness and holiness are not mutually exclusive, either in God’s character or in our experience. In fact, the very grace that brings salvation also instructs us “to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age.” We return again to this relationship between God’s grace in salvation, that the lives that we are to live. The two hymns that bracket this morning’s sermon highlight both these ideas.
The Reading of God’s Word
Proverbs ends with this very famous description of an excellent wife. Humbling words, no doubt, for the women of this congregation, and full of exhortations for all kinds of folk in our congregation. Young men, as you consider a future mate, look no farther for a biblical model of an excellent wife. What is it now that you prize most in a woman? Riches? Physical beauty? Popularity? Look through this passage and try to find these things. Oh, they may be wonderful characteristics, but those are not the things that characterize an excellent wife. Young women, what is it that you aspire to be? Here is God’s recipe for an outstanding woman. Wives, do you desire to be excellent? Here is a beautiful description of a woman that excels. And husbands and children, heed the example in verse 28. Arise and call your excellent wives and mothers blessed!
The Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs
O Come, My Soul,
Bless Thou the Lord (Psalm 103)
We open our morning service with the singing of this wonderful rendition of Psalm 103 from The Psalter of 1912. The music is familiar to you—we sing the great missionary hymn “O Zion, Haste, Your Mission High Fulfilling” to the tune “Tidings.” Its composer was born on June 21, 1837, in Edgerton (near Bolton), England. He died on August 30, 1901, Llandudno, Caernarvonshire, Wales. A student of Henry Smart, Walch played the organ at Duke’s Alley Congregational Church, Bolton (1851); Walmsley Church (1857); Bridge Street Wesleyan Chapel (1858); and St. George’s Parish Church, Bolton (1863). He conducted the Bolton Philharmonic Symphony (1870-1874), then moved to Barrow-in-Furness in 1877, where he ran a music business.
Elizabeth Adamson, a woman who attended the preaching of John Knox was led to
Christ and to rest, on hearing this Psalm, after enduring such agony of soul
that she said, concerning racking pains of body, "A thousand years of this
torment, and ten times more joined, are not to be compared to a quarter of an
hour of my soul's trouble.” She asked for this Psalm again before departing: "It
was in receiving it that my troubled soul first tasted God's mercy, which is now
sweeter to me than if all the kingdoms of the earth were given me to possess.”
Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness
Are we justified by faith, or are we called to good works? Simply answered, yes! This great hymn, that contemplates our free justification in Christ, reminds us that the ground of our hope of the comfort promised in the gospel is found in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone. Written by the German, Nikolaus Ludwig von Zizendorf, a Moravian, this hymn has become one of the best-known hymns on the subject of justification by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. We sing it this morning before hearing the Word of God read and proclaimed.
Love Divine, All Loves
We respond to the preached word by singing yet another of Charles Wesley’s hymns. We prepared for the sermon by singing about the forensic justification found alone in Jesus Christ. We respond by focusing in on our need to live godly lives. May it be that we would be able to sing the words of the second stanza with conviction: “Take away the love of sinning.”