Grace Has Appeared

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works”  Titus 2:11-14.

This text was the basis of the sermon I heard Sunday night.  Mike started by looking at the word “has appeared”.  He pointed out that this doesn’t suggest that grace didn’t exist before; rather, he compared it to the sun.  It appears at dawn, but it was around before the dawn.  It’s a sweet interruption; grace from God broke through the darkness of our hearts as the dawn breaks with the first rays of sunlight brightening the black sky of night.  This was the second time in a week that I had heard (or read) someone use the lustrous illustration of a sunrise as a metaphor for something of the Christian life, which paints such a beautiful picture, I sit up and take notice.  So immediately, the pastor had me thinking.  But the rest of the time, I have to admit, I hardly paid attention.  I started to pick up on something else in the text, and I felt compelled to keep digging.

Verse 14 of the passage above reads “who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works”.  I take three things from this.  First, the word ‘redeem’ in English is literally “to buy back”.  It has the same idea in the Greek.  The word λυτροω has the meaning of releasing a slave for a ransom.  He bought us back.  This is grace explained simply and sweetly: his sacrifice paid for our sin, and we are no longer in bondage.  Secondly, the grace mentioned at the beginning of the passage is given not only to redeem but also to purify and refine.  Looking back up, that grace is said to have appeared, “training us to renounce godliness and worldly passions…”  This is the beauty of New Testament grace.  It is not a one time transaction.  It is transforming, renewing, purifying.  Like the toothpaste that fights cavities round the clock, this grace acts at the moment of salvation and keeps on acting throughout our lives, helping us to grow up in Christ.  And thirdly, the point of that grace was to “redeem us” and to “purify for himself a people for his own possession.  So this grace, sweet as it is, is not ultimately for me.  It is for the glory of God.  And that’s oh so humbling.  Yes, God has given you this wonderful gift of grace, saving you (and me!) from sin and its wages, namely death.  But more than that, this grace trains us.  It molds us to look daily more like God.  And that carries His name to the world.  Our zeal for good works brings Him glory.

Finding Favor

Life dealt me a pretty hard blow a few weeks ago, and the truth that led to a door shut in my face, leaving me outside and exiled, that truth continues to hurt like a knotted bruise.  There are certain people I love, family or seeming friends, with whom I have tried for so long to find favor, but I can never obtain it.  When, on occasion, I do get a commendation, it fades quickly, and I am left feeling despised again.

I do believe that it’s a natural tendency of ours to want to please others, most often seeking the approval of those whom we love and those who have been given authority over us.  If they fall in both categories, those of loved ones and authority figures, we’re especially eager to please them.  We want them to commend us.  We want to be praised by them.  If you have children, are around them, or remember being one, you’re familiar with the kid who tries so very hard for his parents’ attention when they’re busy, and fails to receive it.  You’ve seen his original excitedness to show off and impress, the way it becomes more intense when praise is not immediately given, the desperation when he realizes he’s being ignored.  It hurts so much not to receive it from the people we want to impress the most.  C S Lewis calls it “the specific pleasure of the inferior: the pleasure of a beast before men, a child before its father, a pupil before his teacher, a creature before its Creator”.  His essay “The Weight of Glory” discusses the idea that the glory we are told we will receive is glory in the sense of finding favor with God.  We see a small picture of this, one which Lewis cites, in Jesus’ parable of the talents: “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant… Enter into the joy of your master'” (Mt. 25:21).  And in the Gospel of John, Jesus taught his disciples, calling them to keep his commandments, “that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full”.  A couple of chapters later, in his prayer to his Father before he was arrested, he said “The glory that you have given me I have given to them” (17:22); that is, “glory that you have given me because you loved me” (24).  The glory we are promised we will receive is associated with God’s rejoicing in us, delighting in us; we will be glorified by being loved by God.

Lewis spells it out for us: “The promise of glory is the promise, almost incredible and only possible by the work of Christ, that some of us… shall find approval, shall please God”.  Paul writes in 2nd Timothy “God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are his'” (2:19).  This idea of someday being known by God or not known, approved or ignored, accepted or estranged, the idea is given weight in our deep-felt longing for praise from our fellow men.  I have known so little of it from those I loved most, those I most wanted to please.  It is so very painful to feel unwanted by those who ought to love and support, those who should be proud of us.  If I may be so honest, I am sometimes brought near to the point where I wonder if I could ever please anyone, delight anyone, find favor with anyone anymore… perhaps not even with God.  Even David cried out in Psalm 13 “How long, O LORD?  Will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me?”  But He does not keep his face hidden.  Mr. Lewis wrote in his essay, “To please God… to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness… to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son–it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain.  But so it is”.  It’s a fantastic thought, so much so that I find trouble believing it’s not a fairy tale ending.  And though the praise of men is not promised to us, if we know the Son, we shall find favor with the Father. As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians, “we make it our aim to please him”.

This is a promise which, if you can believe it, will make your heart swell.

Standing in Faith

Lately I’ve struggled with finding a balanced approach to faith.  Do I approach it practically, considering in a business-like manner what it looks like to have faith in the situations in which I commonly find myself at work and among peers?  I’m not the problem-solving sort of person.  I’m not analytical in that way.  And it seems that faith doesn’t fit in a box.  It isn’t algebra, where a jumble of variables comes out to one specific answer.  But having a very abstract view of faith makes it easier to make the mistake of separating it from the day-to-day, justifying a lack of faith, because what does such an abstract concept have to do with the issues I face at work or school?  The author of Hebrews wrote quite a lot on faith in chapter 11.  He starts out by saying “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”.  How?  In what way is faith the means of such assurance?  The Greek for the word ‘assurance’ in the verse above is hypostasis.  Faith is the hypostasis of things hoped for.  Leon Morris, in his Bible commentary, says this:

“His meaning is that there are realities for which we have no material evidence, though they are not the less real for that.  Faith enables us to know that they exist, and while we have no certainty apart from faith, faith does give us genuine certainty.  Faith is the basis, the substructure (hypostasis means lit. “that which stands under”) of all that the Christian life means, all that the Christian hopes for.”

It seems to me that he’s saying faith is the floor, the base of “things hoped for”.  Without it, those hopes fall right through.  “For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness” Galatians 5:5.

So no longer will I try to be a mathematician, plugging in variables and trying to work out a set solution.  No longer will I try to fit faith to my circumstances.  No, this assurance, it is a foundation, solid and supportive.  And in the next chapter, the author says that Jesus is the “founder and perfecter of our faith”; other versions use ‘author’ in 12:2 in place of ‘founder’.  In Hebrews 1:3, he said of Jesus, “he upholds the universe by the word of his power”.  Colossians 1:17 reiterates that “in him all things hold together”.  Even faith is held up and sustained by Christ.  It finds its origin in Him; Jesus is the source of our foundation of faith.  What a solid foundation it must be!

Stand firm in your faith!