Titus was a young pastor, shepherding God’s flock on the isle of Crete. The church that was entrusted to his care was a church that the Apostle Paul probably planted after his Roman imprisonment narrated in Acts. Because Titus is young and inexperienced, Paul is writing him a letter, which we know as the Epistle to Titus. In this letter Paul is instructing Titus that he needs to “straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town” (
The Rescue of Grace (
“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.” We are saved by the grace of God alone.
John Bunyan writes, “O Son of God, grace was in all thy tears; grace came bubbling out of thy side with thy blood; grace came forth with every word of thy sweet mouth; grace came out where the whip smote thee, where the thorns pricked thee, where the nails and spear pierced thee. O blessed Son of God, here is grace indeed! Unsearchable riches of grace! Unthought-of of riches of grace! Grace to make the angels wonder, grace to make the sinners happy.”
With his wonderful sanctified imagination, C.S. Lewis writes about a bus that was leaving hell to take a tour of heaven. And while riding through the streets of gold, one of the guys in the bus sees an old friend walking through the streets of gold, and all of a sudden he jumps up and starts yelling, “It’s not fair, it’s not fair, he was a sinner all his life, it’s not fair. I want justice, I want justice.” And one of the people walking through the streets of gold turned to his neighbor and said, “Poor guy. He doesn’t know that we’re not here because justice has been imparted to us. We are here because we have been given grace.”
Some say that God’s grace is a New Testament development. Yet, if we look closely, we see that in fact God has been pouring his grace upon humankind since
Let me further illustrate God’s grace for us by using an illustration from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament. The story of Mephiboshet in
“He is in Lo Debar.” Lo Debar can mean: No word, no thing, or no place. He has nothing going for him. He is in “no man’s land.”
But David says to Mephiboshet, “Don’t be afraid for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.” Notice Mephiboshet’s response. “What is your servant that you should notice a dead dog like me?” Imagine Mephiboshet at the king’s table. He says to himself, “There sits the intelligent prince Solomon; he seems to be writing something. People say that he always seems to get in trouble for writing love songs during dinner. Hopefully, he will publish them some day. Next to him sits the good looking prince Absalom; everybody knew that in all Israel there was no one as handsome as Absalom, so highly praised; from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head there was no defect in him. And next to Absalom there sits his beautiful sister, Princess Tamar.
“But what am I doing here? I am crippled, I don’t belong, I don’t fit with the intelligent, with the good looking, with the beautiful.” But he experiences GRACE, because the king comes and tells him, “You sit at the table anyway.”
Lo Debar is not a permanent place. It is a waiting place. How long can you wait? Maybe you too are waiting in Lo Debar. How long can you wait? Remember, the king knows where you are. Even Lo Debar is the place of grace. God is ready to pour grace upon you. I love the story of Mephiboshet because his story is my story. His story is your story. Sin has crippled us and we’re lame; lame in our talk (we stutter, we have an accent); lame in our motives (we do the right thing for the wrong reason); and yet God our King says to us, “You sit at My table anyway.” That’s grace. And one day we’ll sit at the King’s table, and our feet will be crippled no more, because he’ll make all things new.
And now let me illustrate God’s grace with another true story from the New Testament. You know the story of the woman caught in adultery of
In his book Six Hours One Friday, Max Lucado writes, “Jesus told the woman to look up. ‘Is there no one to condemn you?’ He smiled as she raised her head. She saw no one, only rocks – each one a miniature tombstone to mark the burial place of a man’s arrogance. Maybe she expected him to scold her. Perhaps she expected him to walk away from her. I’m not sure, but I do know this: What she got, she never expected. She got a promise and a commission. The promise: ‘Neither do I condemn you.’ The commission: ‘Go and sin no more.’”
The Greek text of John says something puzzling. “Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.” In the midst of what? In the midst of the stones that were earlier aimed at her. When I was in Israel this past January I got some rocks from the Temple mount. (Showing stones, one by one, continue.)
The stone of criticism. A small stone, but you can palm it, you can put it in your purse, you can put it in your shirt pocket even as you come to church. It can be lethal. “The song was too high . . . the sermon was too long . . .”
The stone of bitterness. This one has several layers. Someone who cannot forgive, someone who cannot forget, gathers these types of stones.
The unnamed stone. You name it: legalism, liberalism, self-righteousness, racism . . . you name it. Have you ever been hit with such a stone? Have you ever thrown such a stone?
If anyone had the right to throw stones at us it was God. But he didn’t. He forgave us through the death and physical resurrection of his son Jesus Christ. Aren’t you glad that God gave us grace? Do you want to hear the sound of grace? (Let the stones drop to the ground one by one.) That is the sound of grace.
It wasn’t the grace of the teachers of the law, and it wasn’t the grace of the Pharisees. It was the grace of Jesus. John Newton was right: “ ‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved. How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed.”
“Neither do I condemn you,” is only the first part; that is the rescue of grace. The second part is “Go and sin no more.” And that is our requirement of grace.
The Requirements of Grace (
It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions (lusts – would be a better translation here), and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. This is our “Go and sin no more” charge. Grace not only saves us, but it also teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions. Paul uses this word in
Verse 21, “Although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him.”
Verse 23, “They exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.”
Verse 26, “Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones.”
Verse 27, “Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.”
How dare some churches say that homosexuality is okay when God is it is an abomination? But the grace of God teaches us to say “No” to these things. Not “Maybe,” not “Later,” not “Let me think about it,” but “No.” In one of his sermons, Robert Smith says that the devil wants you just to dance a little dance with him. I dream of the day when our “yes” will be “yes” and our “no” will be an emphatic “no.” Not being apologetic for what we believe.
We all like the rescue of grace, but how do we do in the school of grace? Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. . . . Costly grace calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”
What else does grace teach us? “To live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.” In his book Paul and the Law, Frank Thielman writes, “Paul can even say that a primary result of salvation is that people might ‘live sober, righteous and pious lives in this present time.’”
A lot of us long for the “good ol’ days.” I too would have loved to live in Mayberry. To get a haircut at Floyd’s barbershop, to eat one of Aunt Bee’s dinners, to spend some time with Andy the sheriff and his sidekick Barney Fife, and to slap Otis around and tell him to get a life and quit getting drunk. But we are not asked to live yesterday, we are asked to live godly lives TODAY, and not in Mayberry, but in our towns and villages.
And we are not just to live holy lives in an unholy world, but we are to “wait for the blessed hope, the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” Our waiting is not to be a passive one, but an active one, a time when we do good to those around us and in this way they will be able to experience the love of God and his wonderful grace.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’”
What would Jesus say to us today? Might he say, “I was naked, and you questioned my lack of modesty. I was in jail, and you debated the legal aspects of my case. I was poor, and you discussed if your donations are tax-deductible. I was sick, and you thanked God for your health. I was hungry and you formed a club that studies malnutrition. I didn’t have a home, but you said that the love of God would cover me. I was alone, and you left me alone while you prayed with your friends. You seemed so holy and so close to God, while I am still sick, alone, and afraid.”
If you have received the rescue of grace, but have been unfaithful as to the requirements of grace, and you have not lived your life in a godly way . . .
The rescue of grace: “Neither do I condemn you.”
The requirements of grace: “Go, and sin no more.”
Max Lucado writes, “The woman turns and walks away into anonymity. She’s never seen or heard from again. But we can be confident of one thing: On that morning in Jerusalem, she saw Jesus and Jesus saw her. And if we could somehow transport her to Calvary and let her stand at the base of the cross . . . you know what she would say. ‘That’s him,’ she would whisper. ‘That’s him.’ She would recognize his hands. The only hands that had held no stones that day were his. And on this day they still hold no stones. She would recognize his voice. It’s raspier and weaker, but the words are the same, ‘Father, forgive them . . .’”
And she would recognize his feet. On that day in Jerusalem they were dusty, but now the dust was mingled with blood.
“And she would recognize his eyes. How could she ever forget those eyes? Clear and tear-filled. Eyes that saw her not as she was, but as she was intended to be.”
Like Mephiboshet and like the woman caught in adultery, we have experienced grace. Now, let us learn from grace to go and sin no more.
Tiberius Rata is Visiting Asst. Professor of Hebrew and OT at Beeson Divinity School and Pastor, Brook Highland Community Church, Birmingham, AL.