Optimistic Christians: part two

29 Apr

Is change possible?

To even suggest that people can change is offensive to many in our culture. As believers however, we have good reasons for believing that God can change people. In Titus 2:11-14, Paul reminds us of three reasons we must have hope about the possibility of change.

  1. God intended His grace to bring salvation for all kinds of people.
  1. God demonstrates His grace in that He continues to actively train people.
  1. God shows His grace through radically transforming people.

Now look with me at verse 11, where Paul says “For the grace of God has appeared,” that’s like his theme statement, and he gets specific, “bringing salvation for all people.”

  1. God intended His grace to bring salvation for all kinds of people.

It is kind of like we are looking back with Paul at this shocking in-breaking of God’s grace into the world and asking what is that we can learn from that about how we should view the ministry we are involved in now, and Paul’s saying one thing we can learn is that it is God who brings salvation and He brings that salvation for all people.

Now think about that.

Because salvation is an intense word.

The grace of God brings salvation.

Which means rescue.

If we look back at what God’s done through Christ, we see it assumes something is really wrong with all of us. Otherwise God could have just sent instructions.

We are so broken, God had to bring salvation.

That’s really the only way, actually any of us can change. There’s no real change apart from this salvation, which is part of what gives me hope actually that people can change, because there’s isn’t any out there who changes, simply through their own efforts, it’s always only through this salvation that the grace of God brings.

I am trying to say, I find sometimes when you go to minister the gospel to people maybe who really are down and out, that even Christians will sometimes tell you, oh you know those people, you are not going to get very far, as if there are certain groups of people that are easier than others, and look, whenever people say that, I am just thinking, dead’s dead, you know, we don’t need someone to tell us these people are really a bad kind of people.

Because we are all a bad kind of people.

There’s not a good kind of people to work with.

We all need saving.

If you think there is a certain group of people out there that are so good that they can kind of take care of themselves, then you better read this passage again, because Paul is saying we all were in such a desperate position that we need God in His kindness to break in and bring salvation and if you think there is a certain group of people out there that are so bad that they can’t be delivered, then you better read this passage again, because Paul is saying God brought this salvation for all people.

Which is why again, it’s kind of funny, if someone comes to us and say, I don’t you think you realize how desperate a situation these people find themselves in.

Because sometimes, that’s like offered up as an excuse for not reaching out to them.

They are in such trouble, you know, they can’t fix themselves, that’s what they are saying, and we obviously don’t need someone to tell us these people aren’t able to fix their lives.

Because, we weren’t able to fix our lives either.

No one can.

Otherwise they wouldn’t need the grace God to bring salvation.

So when we look at people and we are tempted to come up with reasons why these people can’t change and why we shouldn’t have hope for certain kinds of people, many, if not most of those reasons are in fact, part of the whole motivation for God doing what He’s done in the gospel.

For the grace of God appeared bringing salvation, it’s God who does the saving, and what makes this salvation that God has provided so exciting to Paul and to us, is that He came bringing salvation for all people, which I think, here is the emphasis.

Now obviously, when Paul says all people, we have to think about what that means, because I don’t think it means that everyone in the world experiences God’s saving power in the same way. I don’t think he means that somehow when Jesus came into the world, God saved every single person who has ever lived through what he did and I don’t think that because for one thing, it doesn’t fit with what Paul teaches anywhere else, he’s not going to suddenly contradict himself like that, this was a man who clearly believed in the necessity of faith and repentance, and definitely saw the wrath of God as resting on those who didn’t turn to Christ. Plus, when we study God’s Word, we have to look at what it actually says, and when we look at the way Paul speaks here in chapter 2, we see that way of looking at what he means doesn’t fit as well with the context in which we find this verse.

I really don’t think we need to make understanding this more complicated than it really is actually, because if we look down at the beginning of chapter 2, we see before Paul talks about the grace of God bringing salvation for all people, what’s he saying to Titus, he’s saying, talk to all these different kinds of people in the church, you need to teach what accords with sound doctrine, and you need to teach it tall these different groups.

Men, women, rich, poor, old, young, Jew, Gentile.

I think Paul here as a Jew who is writing to Greeks, even Titus, was a Gentile actually, is just enjoying the fact, that while for so many years before he was converted, he assumed that when the Messiah came, he would be coming for one group of people only, that’s how Paul would thought of it, but now in the gospel, God revealed to him that it wasn’t just for Jews, it was for Gentiles, and not just a certain kind of Gentile either, not just for the elite, the educated, the rich, the important, you name it, the salvation God provided was for all kinds of people from all kinds of places with all kinds of different backgrounds as well and Paul never got over that. We find that idea popping up in so many of his letters.

Like Galatians 3, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

And Colossians 3, “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all and in all.”

We have got all these categories that we put people in, that’s the way the world works, oh you are this and you are that, and what happens as we do that, is it is easy for us to act as if a certain group were beyond the reach of God’s grace, we do this to divide, we do this to feel superior, and that’s why we need to remember, God’s approach is different than the worlds, when the grace of God appeared, it appeared bringing God’s saving power for all kinds of people.

Not just people who look and act like me. Not just people who look and act like you.

I was reading someone recently who was saying we need more tattoos in church, and he wasn’t saying that because he liked tattoos, and I really don’t either, but he was saying that because sometimes as Christians we seem to think that Christianity and the gospel is only for a person who looks a certain kind of way or comes from a certain kind of background.

We may not think the gospel is only for Jews, but we sometimes act like the gospel is only for people like us, and yet when we actually look at the gospel, and we consider the way Jesus acted when he came into this world, we see that He actively and deliberately pursued the kinds of people no one else would.  In fact, if you look at Jesus, it sometimes seems like that he was constantly drawing to himself the worst of the worst, the prostitutes, Roman collaborators, leprous outcasts, the demon-possessed, and on and on.

And that’s because, he tells us, the Spirit builds the kingdom not with the noble or the powerful but with the lame, the marred, the hopeless. When the grace of God broke into this world, it went after all kinds of people and when God in His grace, appointed men to take out the message of what Jesus did, He specifically told them to take that message to all nations as well.

We don’t just have hope for people from good backgrounds changing, we don’t just have hope for people who don’t have really bad habits changing, we don’t just have hope for people from an educated background changing, because we don’t believe that God’s salvation only came for a certain kind of person.

We know this salvation is intended for all people. Looking back to what God has done through Jesus, gives us hope. But that’s not all, actually as we look down at the text, we see a second hope producing truth about the grace of God, and that is has to do with what the grace of God is doing now, which we will talk about tomorrow.

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