Optimistic Christians: part three

7 May

Can people change?

The answer seems obvious. Of course, people can change. But really? Fundamentally? Honestly, for a lot of people, even suggesting that people can change in fundamental ways is offensive. We have to come to the point where even suggesting that a man who thinks he is a woman should get help to change the way he thinks about himself is rejected as a ridiculous, old-fashioned, way of looking at the world.

And, to a certain extent, we as Christians can understand why. Maybe I can say this better. We can understand why people don’t think individuals can really change. It’s because they can’t. Left to themselves. The fact is we as Christians may be more pessimistic about people changing than the culture around us, when we are looking at people apart from God. But, we are optimistic because we don’t only look at people apart from God. We know God has acted in this world. He has shown grace.

Now, this grace I am talking about is not just an idea. We don’t have hope for people to change simply because we believe as Christians have a great new concept that will help them change. This grace is a person. It refers first to a historical event. When we are discouraged about certain kinds of individuals changing we stop and remember that God has acted by sending His Son into this world to bring salvation and the salvation that He brings was intended for all kinds of people. There are certain groups that are outside of the reach of God’s grace.

And when God’s grace grabs hold of someone, saving them, He not only forgives them of their sin, He works to transform them

That’s the second reason we have for believing people can change. God displayed His grace by bringing salvation for all kinds of people. God demonstrates His grace by continuing to actively train people.

In Titus 2:12, Paul says, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us…”

The word for training means instructing, discipling, teaching basically. It is in the present tense. So Paul is saying it is something God’s grace does now. The same grace that came to save all kinds of people, now works to train us. Here, Paul’s focusing on our lives as believers and he’s reminding us that, God hasn’t left us on our own, as a church. It’s like he’s moving past just the general fact that the grace of God came for all kinds of people, and looking now at what’s actually happening in our lives especially as believers, the grace of God is teaching us.

Or maybe better tutoring us.

Because we maybe think of teach as just sort of showing up and dumping information on someone and then going home. Instead, it is more like how in the old days when you wanted your child to learn something, you would hire a tutor who would move into your home and who would devote himself to teaching your child all that you need to know. And what Paul’s saying is that God has moved in, He’s present in our lives right now showing us mercy by tutoring us in what we need to know to live holy lives, and as we go about doing ministry, it is really, really important we don’t forget that.

Because it is easy to.

God is in this thing.

When it comes to spiritual growth.

It’s not just you and me and that person and their Bible and their problem. If that person is saved, God is at work in their life. That’s actually the only way I can counsel. If I am talking to an unbeliever, I don’t have hope for them changing, until God changes them, and once God changes them, saves them, I can’t be pessimistic about their ability to change, because God’s committed Himself to changing them.

This is the great now of the gospel.

I once heard someone talk about the then now then of the gospel.

There’s the past then. And it seems like sometimes we make a big deal out of the then, of the gospel, in terms of looking back to the past at what the grace of God has done, bring salvation and there’s a future then, and sometimes we are even pretty good at remembering how the glory of God is going to appear to save us, but it is very easy for us to forget that in the middle of those two great events, the past then and the future then, there is also a now to the gospel, the grace of God is still at work to change us.

God did not only save us.

And God will not only save us.

God is saving us.

It’s not just you talking or that person trying, it’s God transforming.

We need to think about God’s present work in our lives in order to find encouragement that we can actually change our lives.

I was thinking recently about Jesus after the resurrection. This was a great moment of victory for Him. And when we experience victory ourselves, we often focus on ourselves, we want to enjoy the moment. But we find Jesus after the resurrection, instead thinking of his disciples. Now we might expect Jesus to be thinking of his disciples but in a negative way, because they had all abandoned him when he needed them most, and so we might expect Jesus to want to get a message to them, but we would think that message might be to say that they should have known better than to run away, or how could you or something like that.

But instead, in the gospel of John, John 20, when we hear Jesus’ speaking to Mary and telling her to deliver a message to his disciples, his first words to his disciples, after his resurrection, what we find him saying is, go and tell my brothers.

My brothers.

He wants them to remember that in spite of their failures, they are still family, but what does he want Mary to tell his brothers, this is the point, he says tell them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, my God and your God and what I love about this is that Jesus here, he wants His brothers to know, that He isn’t finished seeking their good. Because he could have said to them, Go tell my brothers, what I did for them on the cross and that would have been great, but instead He says go encourage my brothers, that I am not done working for them.

And He isn’t.

He’s still working, as Paul says here, the grace of God, Jesus didn’t only come to save us, He is still present in our lives, working to train us.

You think I am a really slow learner.

That’s ok.

Because Jesus is a really great teacher.

And this gives us hope in our own lives, and you know, as we go to work with others.

Because I can imagine as Titus was working there in Crete, there might have been times when he looked at these people and thought, really, I am not sure I have what it takes to teach them, after all their backgrounds are to different than mine, their culture seems too far gone, but Paul is saying Titus, be encouraged, because you are not in this on your own, God is busy working in these believers so that can learn what they need to learn to live their lives for Him.

I know for myself, that is such a great encouragement, when I go to disciple and counsel others, because I sometimes think this whole teaching thing is just too much. I mean, really, here’s God and here’s me and here’s you, and how in the world am I supposed to teach you what you need to know about God?

Because sometimes people’s problems are so complicated.

How am I supposed to help you change so that you can live a life that honors God?

The reason I can teach and you can disciple and we can talk to each other about the Word of God with a kind of eager expectation to see what exactly happens is not because, ultimately we are just amazing teachers, because look, the truth is, if it were just me up here teaching or you out there counseling, you might think I can’t do this, I can’t say what needs to be said to get someone to change, and you are right, you are totally right, left to yourself there’s no way you can do that, but you are not left to yourself, yes, you are teaching, but Paul says here, down in verse 12, so is God, God’s training, you are counseling, but you know what if that person is a believer, so is God and if they are a Christian, God is way, way more committed to their transformation than you will ever be.

No matter how committed you are to another believer changing; God is even more committed than you.

I know, if you look down, Paul says it so simply here, the grace of God trains us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, that we might overlook it, but if you take moment and think about all that the grace of God has done and is doing that you might become who He wants you to be.

You kind of have to do this, because it is so easy to only see the negatives, but there’s some very real things God has done in your life and in the lives of the believers around you to change them.

I mean, you want to talk undeserved kindness.

He’s given you every spiritual blessing. He’s equipped you for the task of spiritual growth. He’s given you the Spirit. The church. He’s placed you in a spiritual family. He’s given the people in your family gifts so that they can help you grow. He’s given you His Word. And in His Word, He’s told you everything you need to know so that you can live a life that pleases Him. He has His Son interceding for you. And the Spirit of God is also helping you pray and ask for help when you don’t know how. He allows you to come into His presence at every moment, freely and with confidence, to find help in your time of need.

It’s easy when you go into help someone, to feel too much responsibility, and what I mean is you think ultimately their change is dependent on you, but if they are a believer, you should feel some responsibility of course, but not the ultimate responsibility, because while God may be using you to teach them, ultimately God is the one who is training them.

The very things that Titus is to supposed to speak to the believers in Crete about, God is already at work in the believers in Crete about.

Paul told Titus I want you to teach them this, and then here he tells Titus, for God is teaching them this, the grace of God is training us to “renounce ungodliness and worldly passions.”

Now again, sometimes we get so discouraged, seeing how we are living our lives in this world that lives its life, definitely, without reference to God.

And that’s ungodliness.

And we can be like man, how can anyone expect people to be holy in a world like this, that’s basically trying to stuff it’s worldly passions down our throats. Everywhere we go we are being confronted with temptations. Yet, you know, in the middle of that, we need to remember that God in His grace has taught us to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions.

There is a whole lot’s God’s done in the now that we need to be giving Him thanks for.

I mean, we haven’t all perfectly done this of course, but this part of how we became Christians in the first place, and I have seen it and you I am sure you have seen it as well.

I am talking about the young man, who, he’s living with all these other teenagers who are watching dirty television shows and talking about sinful things, and he says no, that’s not how I am going to live my life, I don’t want that, how does that happen, that’s the grace of God at work, training us to turn from ungodliness and worldly desires.

Think about your own life, if you wonder whether people can change, how you lived your life before you were a believer. God only came into the picture, when we were interested in finding a way to use Him for something, but otherwise, we were right there at the center and as a result, we were dominated by our own sinful desires, that is worldly passions. But what did God in His grace do when He saved us. He opened our eyes and caused us to turn from that kind of lifestyle, to say no to it. I don’t want to live my life any longer without reference to God, I don’t want to be dominated by the desires that used to dominate me, and of course, that right there is a miracle.

And what God in His grace did back when we first were saved, He’s still doing in us today, training us on a daily basis to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and He’s doing that, so that we can live, self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.

This is such a beautiful promise.

I was thinking this week, there are lots of things we can hope for when it comes to the church, that we just don’t have any promises about.

We can hope, honestly that we get a nice building. I know for our church I hope that we have a facility in the middle of Sunnyside. Or maybe we could hope for better finances so we can hire other pastors. We might hope to plant other churches, or to have a choir. But with a lot of those things, those dreams, we don’t have any promises from God, that they are going to happen, I am going to pursue them, I am going to see what happens, but I can’t really count on them, because I can’t turn to a verse in the Bible that says, you are going to be able to buy a facility, but this dream, here, this dream of helping believers live lives that make the gospel look beautiful, we do have a promise, we have a promise that God himself is at work, teaching you this, and of course, that should give us all great hope, because what God wants to happen, happens and you know, one thing that God really wants to happen in your life right now, is your spiritual growth.

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