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Entries in Good Works (1)

Wednesday
Dec022015

Lessons of Christmas- The Goodness of It All

Titus 3:1-8.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on November 29, 2015.

As we enter the Christmas season, I want us to look at some of the lessons that it teaches us.  Of course, we do not want to confuse what the world wants us to learn with what God wants us to learn.  The world wants us to generalize Christmas into a time of feeling and doing good things towards others.  But, God wants us to learn far more than this because the first Christmas did not happen in a vacuum.  It happened after a long history of mankind’s rejection of God and the tragic consequences of our chosen paths, namely sin.

The history of mankind is that of casting off the truth of God and his dealings with us, and then following our own heart.  We are told that spiritual enemies have taken advantage of this to instigate false religions and ways of living among mankind.  Thus the nations of the world were lost and worshipping demonic spirits in the guise of gods.  In this context, God creates a nation from Abraham called Israel.  He gives them His Law as a witness to all the nations.  But 18 centuries later, Israel had become a nation that sidelined the Truth of God’s Law and had embraced the traditions of rabbis and “wise men.”  Instead of a complete rejection like the nations of the world, they kept up a form of obedience, but the powerful principles of God’s Word had been rejected.  Thus all of mankind was in the same condition: bound by the sin of rejecting the Truth of God and guilty before Him.  It was time for judgment and destruction.  It was time for another global judgment.  And yet, that is not what God did.  It is impossible to overemphasize the fact that mankind was totally guilty and deserving judgment before God when He surprised us with a supreme gift of love.  God sent us His own Son, not as a conquering, warrior king to destroy, but rather as a harmless child who would save.  Christmas is a story about the supreme goodness of God.  The message of Christmas is not about the goodness of humanity, but rather, the goodness of God despite the horrible sins of mankind.

The Christian Is Called To Goodness

In Titus 3, the first two verses may look like a list of duties.  However, the list itself flows out of a central principle that followers of Jesus are called to goodness in everything that they do.  The first area Paul points out is our goodness towards authority, specifically governmental.  Christians ought to act in a good manner towards governments and any authorities in their life for that matter.  There are many times when the wickedness within a person causes them to reject the virtues of self-subjection and obedience to authority.  In fact as you read this you may not see them as virtuous, but as problems.  Yet, there are fewer times when righteousness demands that we stand against authority.  In fact, it is important for Christians to note, that even when the apostles themselves disobeyed governmental authorities by continuing to preach Christ, they submitted to the punishments without raging against those who carried them out.  In fact, they demonstrated love even to those who were persecuting them.  Yes, there are many issues in this area.  Yet, this cannot be avoided.  Those who follow Jesus must do so in an attitude of subjection and obedience to governmental authorities, and not one of rage, anger, and rebellion.

Next Paul tells them to be ready for every good work.  This is a general statement that helps us to see that we are to do more than just be good in a passive sense.  We are to actively prepare for and execute those good works that opportunity affords us.  How can we ready ourselves?  Our readiness is that of a disciple who is listening to the Holy Spirit and living out what He teaches us.  We follow the Spirit of Christ rather than the Spirit of this Age.  It is our submission and obedience to the authority of the Lord Jesus that enables us to be ready for the good things we must do, and often to those who “don’t deserve it.”

Lastly Paul tells us to be good towards our fellow man.  Verse 2 demonstrates many different ways that we can do that.  “Speak evil of no one,” uses the word that is translated blasphemy when it is used of God.  Thus we are not to speak what is untrue or unsubstantiated about any one, period.  We are to be peaceable towards others.  That means we don’t start fights and further more we decline to fight with others when they start it.  Such bickering, quarreling, and outbursts are to stop at the decision of the believer to not reciprocate such things.  We are also told to be gentle.  This is not about how we touch one another, but is about our dealings.  We should be fair, equitable, mild, and loving even in times of correction.  Lastly we should be humble before all men.  In fact, especially before those whom we feel we are above.  This life of goodness is not easy to accept.  Our flesh comes up with innumerable excuses and “reasons” why Jesus can’t really mean this. 

It is easy to be good towards those who we think are good, but in verse 3 Paul reminds us that we were not always a person committed to being good.  It is important to identify with the person we see as evil.  Even if we have left that life behind, we used to be like them.  If we condemn them then we are condemning ourselves.  If they are unworthy of goodness then so are we.  Paul ends his list of what our past life was like with a picture of those who are selfish and scrapping with everyone around them, hateful and hating.  It is survival of the fittest and dog eat dog.  This is the world as it was in the days of the first Christmas.  Little hope, little light, and thick darkness all around. 

The Goodness of God Has Appeared in Jesus

In verses 4-8, Paul reminds us that Jesus came to us during this darkness.  His “appearance” is a reference to His incarnation, birth and life.  His light broke in upon the darkness and life sprang up among the dead.  Jesus broke in upon this sad condition of ours and gave us goodness.  This is what we are called to do.  We are to be the goodness of God breaking in upon the darkness of others in this world.

Jesus did not just merely exist, but he was the goodness of God towards people who didn’t deserve goodness.  He came not as a rebel against the government in order to take over, nor as a destroyer.  He was the gentleness and compassion of God as he healed people, set them free from demons, helped them to see the truths that they had lost, and simply helped them to believe in God again.  No matter what we experience in life, we must keep this as the bedrock of our understanding: God loves us all and has poured out benevolent kindness upon us despite our wickedness.

He did so not because He was obligated to do so.  He would have been perfectly justified to judge us as evil and either wall himself off from us, or destroy us.  No individual and no nation had done anything that would deserve the kindness of God to send mankind His Son as a savior.  It was simply mercy.  He gave us what we didn’t deserve.  This salvation was not the outward destruction of our enemies.  Otherwise He would have to destroy us all due to the fact that we are all someone’s enemy.  Rather, the salvation is of a spiritual and mental nature.  It is intended to change our way of dealing with the world around us.  We are to respond and live differently because that is who God is.

Part of this mercy is described as being regenerated by the Holy Spirit.  Though this term can refer to the Resurrection, here it is referring to the spiritual resurrection of our dead spirit.  Before Christ we were spiritually dead to God.  We could not hear and respond to Him.  Instead we only listened to and followed the flesh and the spirit of this age.  When a person puts their faith in Jesus, the Holy Spirit does a real work of making their spirit alive to God.  This is also called “born again.”  The Spirit takes up residence within our heart and mind in order to help us connect with the heart of the Father.

We are also mercifully renewed by the Holy Spirit.  By following the spirit of this age and our own flesh, our mind and heart have become broken and scarred.  We have believed all manner of lies and deceptions.  The renewal of our mind and heart happens through the teaching of Jesus and his apostles.  The Word of God and our obedience to it washes and renews our mind and heart from the crud of this world.  Over time it is easy to give up and become discouraged with this process.  Yet, take heart.  We were told that it would be difficult to follow Jesus and that we would be tempted to quit.  When you run into things that discourage you, this is a sign that you are on the right path.  Some people give up at the very moment they are getting on to the right path.

Verse 8 brings us full circle.  Those who believe in the person and work of Jesus will be careful to maintain a life of good works.  This means we will be vigilant and watch over our life in order to keep doing the good things that God has for us to do.  Some people balk when we talk about good works because it sounds like we are trying to save ourselves with works.  It has been said that, “The theology of Christianity is based on grace, the ethics of Christianity are based on gratitude.”   We do not do good works because they will save us.  Rather we do them out of gratitude for the salvation we already have.  If God so loved us, while we were yet sinners, how much more ought we to act in love towards all men?  Don’t let this world rob you of the goodness of God.  Instead, be one who gives it freely everywhere you go.  No, we do not do good to others because of a foolish notion of humanity’s goodness.  Rather we do so because of the truth of God’s goodness and the ability of people to be redeemed.

Goodness of it all audio