First Mennonite Church
November 13, 2022
A Testimony of God’s Salvation
Text: Titus 3: 3-8
Let me begin by saying that there are many people who do good things in the world. There are many who make sacrifices to serve the needy around them or those in faraway places. There are many who are passionate about caring for the creation, or for abused animals, or about finding cure for diseases. Beside these good people there is an even greater number of people who worship God, who love to have fellowship with others, give to the church, and do many other pious deeds.
In the Bible we find similar cases of people like the latter. You remember Lydia in Acts 16, verse 14. She was a Gentile who worshipped God, but did not know Jesus. It is implied, however, that her life was turned around and her relationship with God came to fullness when the Lord “opened her heart,” through the message of the gospel. There is also the Roman centurion, Cornelius. He was a well-respected man, a God-fearer, a generous giver of alms, and who prayed to God daily (Acts 10:2, 22). But again, it was until God transformed his heart through the message of Peter that Cornelius came into a personal relation with God through Christ. There is also Paul. He was a model observer of the Law, righteous, blameless according to his Jewish religion, yet, he admitted that the turning point in his spiritual life came only after “a light from heaven flashed around him; he fell to the ground” and a voice called him by name “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me” (Acts 9:3, 4). And Paul surrendered to Jesus Christ, as his Lord and Savior.
My dear brothers and sisters, although it is clear that each of these persons lived pretty good moral and religious lives, there was something each of them still needed to be right with God. God “opened the heart” of Lydia and she received the word Paul was preaching. Cornelius had to hear and receive the gospel from Peter’s mouth. He was filled with the Holy Spirit and was baptized with water. In the case of Paul, the zealous observer of the Law and ferocious persecutor of the church, he was transformed into a passionate minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
So what do these examples tell to us about religious practices, upright moral life, and charitable works? They tell us that in God’s new economy in Jesus, in God’s new salvific plan, even strict religious observation—of whatever kind—is never absolute evidence of being right before God. They tell us that morality and uprightness are not indisputable evidences of a regenerated heart. They tell us that the life of faith comes through Divine renewal and transformation of the heart. No amount of good deeds can buy God’s grace of salvation. The words of the prophet Isaiah expresses this truth so clearly when he wrote:
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. (Isaiah 64:6)
You see, the problem with sin is that it is not just when someone deliberately disobeys God. Sin is the unredeemed and inherent rebellious nature against God, we are born with. According to the New Testament, this sin nature is called the “flesh” (Romans 6, 7) or the “old self” (Galatians 5:19). Jesus simply calls it the “heart”: For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander (Matthew 15:19). Paul says, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature—my flesh” (Romans 7:18). And again he says, “Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:8).
The point here is, as Hebrews 11, six says, “Without faith, it is impossible to please God.” That is because we cannot change our state of rebelliousness against God, unless he “opens our heart,” or transforms our heart through the washing by the regeneration and renewing of our being through the Holy Spirit.
Our passage this morning is the beautiful testimony of Paul and Titus, to whom Paul addressed these words. In this letter, even Paul admits to have been one of those foolish people: 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. Paul did not have a problem admitting he was a chief sinner. Paul did not deny his own enslavement by sin, even when acknowledged how good a practitioner of his faith he was. He makes reference to the “deeds which we have done in righteousness.” But not even those were enough to gain his salvation. Salvation came to Paul until “the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind was manifested and revealed.”
Paul was deeply aware that it is impossible to attain salvation by living a moral upright life or by doing good deeds. Paul was fully aware that human effort cannot earn God’s favor. Salvation is by God’s gracious mercy alone.
My dear friends, salvations is not based on deed done, however good and wonderful as these might be. No matter how good and for how long deeds of righteousness can be done, they will never remove the sting of death embedded in us by sin. Salvation comes to us when God cleans and renews our heat. That is what regeneration means. Salvation comes when we find ourselves in the righteousness of Christ and his work on the cross. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he or she is a new creation; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come (2Corinthians 5:17). To be regenerated by God does not simply mean that we have been improved inwardly. When God regenerates us, He not only fixes us in the inside; He makes us new! We are “born of the Spirit” (John 3:6, 8). We are “born of God” (John 3:13).
Once we have been born anew, we need to remember that our life in Christ is just beginning. Just like baby TJ who depends on Caitlin and Christian, his parents, we should also depend on God for our growth. Just like a baby who needs to grow with his family to learn how to be family, we too should seek the fellowship at all times to learn how to be God’s family. Every parent know the challenges they have in raising a child. Imagine what would happen if a child if left to his or her own. He or she will grow up to be socially unfit. The natural selfish and immature tendencies in the child will flourish causing the child’s own destruction. That is the same way with our new life in Christ. The apostle Peter was so aware about the importance of spiritual nourishment, once we are born in the Lord. When admonishing the communities he wrote to, Peter said, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1Peter 2:2, 3).
We need to feed and nourish the new creation in us. And we do so by feeding on the living bread—the word of God. We nurture the regenerated self with spiritual food—spiritual songs, hymns, prayer, fellowship, meditation. Doing these things will help us grow in the Lord and the knowledge of the will of God. The reward is that “we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (v. 7).
If you are not sure whether you are growing in your spiritual life, let me just ask you: What give you pleasure? What kind of books you mostly read? Whose company do you seek the most times? How much time do you spend alone with God?
The passage for today ends with this verse. Verse 8 says: This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for [everyone].
Paul was not discouraging doing good deeds. He considered his teaching as trustworthy, which he invited his fellow brothers and sister to speak of with great confidence, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds. God does expect us to engage in every good deed. Good deeds only become a problem when someone believes that by doing them can earn God’s salvation.
May the Lord open our heart to his word. And may the Holy Spirit enable us to perform every good work for the glory of God. Amen!