Lessons of Grace

You've all seen the bumper sticker that says, "If you think education is expensive, try ignorance." And while I think that is a lousy excuse for the kind of education that the government is pawning off on us, it is certainly true that ignorance is very expensive. And we live in an age where there is a great deal of ignorance of grace. And you can see the negative ramifications: it's expensive. On the one hand, there are people who confuse grace with works righteousness. You can see that with the evangelical signers of the Evangelicals and Catholics Together document. On the other hand, there are evangelicals who think that grace is somehow contrary to law and if there is any law-keeping, there is no grace. They fail to remember that it took Christ's perfect law-keeping to make grace possible, and that grace has as one of its goals to transform individuals after they are justified. Some think grace is needed for conversion (that is, for justification), but then spend the rest of their lives thinking that we can live the Christian life apart from grace. Others define grace in a way that you would think that God really doesn't care about sin. And others think that grace means that we need to get justified over and over. Weslyans think that they can lose their salvation, and then get saved, and then lose it and then get saved, and their view of grace gives them no sure footing on which to grow. And so we are going to let the Scripture tell us what grace teaches. Verse 2 says that grace teaches us something, and by the time we are done with this passage, I hope each of us realizes how expensive and disastrous it is to be ignorant of these lessons.

The school of grace opens our eyes to the only way of salvation (v. 11)

It is expensive first for the unbeliever because apart from an understanding of God's grace, we are all lost. And we totally misunderstand grace if we think that we can somehow earn, deserve or even contribute in some small way to God's favor. Let's break the verse down word by word. The word "grace" is a word that simply means God's favor. The word "salvation" implies that we were lost — we were deserving of hell. But notice the order in which God's favor comes. Verse 11 says, for the grace of God that brings salvation. So the first thing that we need to notice is that God's favor came upon us before we were saved, otherwise grace couldn't bring us the salvation, right?. But if God had favor on us before we were saved, that then means that God's favor came upon us before we were changed; before we converted; before we had anything good in us. That means that there was nothing in us that contributed to God's favor. This is why we define grace as undeserved favor. God's favor began in eternity past when He elected us before the foundation of the world. And that eternal, undeserved favor brought every aspect of our salvation into being. Scripture says that we believe by grace, are converted by grace, understand by grace and are sanctified by grace. Every aspect of salvation flows from God's prior favor.

But there is a certainty in these words that is encouraging as well. Commentaries have pointed out the curious usage of an adjective for "salvation." "Salvation" is a noun, but the Greek is not a noun. It's an adjective meaning "saving." And if you look at the form, it is feminine, singular, nominative and it corresponds to the feminine, singular nominative of the noun "grace." So most commentaries point out that literally this should be "saving grace." It's not a grace that makes salvation possible. It is a grace that always and effectively saves. It's an irresistible grace. And that's why our version says that it actually brings salvation. It's a very strong; a very encouraging term.

A third thing to notice is that this prior favor of God that presently brings salvation, had to pierce the darkness. You can't really see that in our version. But the word for "has appeared" is ∆Epefa¿nh, from which we get the English word epiphane. But it has the idea of illumination in darkness. It's true that something "appears" when the lights turn on, but the Greek really emphasizes the lights. The dictionary defines it this way: to shine upon, to light up, to cause light to come upon some object by way of illuminating it, to illuminate, to cause something to be seen in the darkness. So it's more than just appearing. Yes, it is a reference to the appearing of Christ. But it is the lights coming on. He's using a metaphor to indicate that not only was God's grace prior to anything that we did, but we contributed nothing but darkness, and the darkness had to be pierced with the light of Christ's appearing. John begins his Gospel by saying in Him was life, and the life was the light of men, and the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. Even with the light there, they did not comprehend it. Luke begins his Gospel by saying of Jesus, that He was: to give light [that's the same word in Titus 2:11 — "to give light] to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. And this is precisely what men need before they can learn any lessons from grace. Grace needs to open blind eyes to be able to see the truths of Scripture. There is no synergy here between God and man as if man is seeking for God. It is God's shining out of the darkness. On God's part grace is sovereign and unconditional and on man's part grace is completely unmerited. All we contributed was darkness. God's favor contributed everything else.

And the fact that Jesus appeared to all men or shone His light before all men shows that this favor was not intended for a small corner to produce a tiny holy huddle. It was moving towards all men. Now obviously it isn't all without exception. That's one of the five dictionary definitions of the Greek word "all." "All without exception" would be "each and every." But it is all without distinction. The School House of Grace is not an exclusive, private club for rich kids only. No. It reaches and it saves all without distinction. In other words, both the Jews and Gentiles that this book talks about; the old and young he has just finished exhorting; the males and females, the masters and servants the rich and the poor.

So Paul instructs us on how we even got into the school house. We were dead in our sins and trespasses, lying out in the darkness of the world, and God's favor went out of the school house in search of us, found us, brought us back in, resurrected us and turned on the lights so that we could learn. And so verse 12 says of grace: teaching us that and then we learn all kinds of new things about grace. But we have to be saved before we can learn them. Once we are in the school house, we can never be satisified with only learning of how grace saved us. That's glorious. That's wonderful. But grace teaches us so much more, and the ignorance of what it teaches us can be costly.

The school of graces teaches us to be sanctified (v. 12)

So let's look at what it teaches us about sanctification. If point number I dealt with regeneration and justification (which is the beginning of our Christian walk), then this point deals with sanctification. Verse 12: teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age. This is exactly opposite of the doctrine of grace being taught by some dispensationalists who teach the carnal Christian theory; who deny that sanctification necessarily follows justification; who deny that holiness is an essential mark of a truly growing Christian. Their view of grace teaches the carnal Christian theory — that it's quite OK for Christians to continue in sin. It teaches that holiness is an option, but not an essential feature of the Christian life.

But what does the true saving grace of God teach us? In this verse it teaches two things: First, something negative. Grace is against something; it stands in opposition to something; it denies something — or (as William Hendriksen translates it) it renounces something. Verse 11 says that true grace denies or renounces ungodliness and worldly lusts. And if your grace is not working in you to the denying of ungodliness and worldly lusts, then it is a countefeit grace. If it doesn't stand against anything, it is a counterfeit grace. Now sometimes you have to repeatedly renounce these works of the flesh, but there is a standing against something. Grace always works to the renouncing of those two things: ungodliness and worldly lusts. A grace that has saved you in justification by faith alone is a grace that will go on to teach you how to be sanctified; how to grow holy in Christ.

And so it stands against sin and all of our fleshly desires, and it stands for righteousness. But notice the order: you've got to stand against something before you can truly stnd for something. Here's what it stands for: that we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age. Soberly is the same word for "rationality" that we looked at previously in verses 6,4 and 2. And I love the fact that Paul wants us to be rational. We have been saved to be rational! Amen? Grace teaches us to think with our head. But unfortunately there is a common notion of grace that you find in some circles that tells you that if you are really spiritual, you will believe contradictions. There are some Reformed Van Tillians who are quite content to believe contradictions. And Paul says, No. Grace teaches us to be rational. There are people in some circles in this city who believe that barking for Jesus and slithering on the floor is a sign of revival. And Paul says "No." Grace teaches us that we should live rationally! Some believe that you if you haven't had irrational experiences you haven't been baptized by the Spirit. And Paul says, "No. Grace teaches us that we should live rationally." Some say that they are allergic to theology and all God wants is our hearts. But what does Scripture say? It says that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind. That's a pretty interesting lesson of grace, isn't it?

The next thing that grace teaches us is that we should live righteously. Any conception of grace that says we can sin so that grace may abound is a false view of grace. Paul says that true grace teaches us to live righteously. God is interested in righteousness. He is interested in how we live.

The next word deals with a life devoted to God. That we should live godly. Some translate that as devotion to God. Grace stirs up the heart to seek after God; to commune with Him; to have a life that is wrapped up in God. And so God doesn't just want an intellectual Christianity. HE wants all of us. Grace was given to make us totally devoted to God. And those who have no interest in devotions and worship may need to question whether they have tasted truly of grace. And if you will put your boat in the current of God's grace it will move you irresistibly in this direction. Don't bank your boat on the shore, and don't row against the current. Learn the lessons of grace.

So in these words we have seen that grace teaches us how to be sanctified in relationship to self, to others and to God. But there's one more phrase in verse 12 — all of this is to be in this present age. That implies that it is possible to be rational, righteous and devoted to God in this present age. We don't have to wait till we get to heaven. Nor do we have an option of waiting till we get to heaven, as the carnal Christian theory teaches. It teaches that we are to live this way in the present age. And literally that is in the "now" age. To me this is encouraging. It teaches us to do it now. You can overcome.

But the interesting thing about grace is that it does this gradually, not suddenly. The word for "teaching us" is from the same stem as pedagogue. As Hendriksen points out, a pedagogue leads children step by step. And grace too, gently (but firmly and consistently) leads and guides us forward. We don't get there overnight. We grow in grace gradually. And so any form of perfectionism that says a Christian can instantly be perfect or live above known sin is also wrong. Grace is a pedeagogue that gradually, gently leads us along teaching us principle upon principle of how to live.

And so certainly there is a cost to this teaching on sanctification, but the cost of having a view of grace that leads to sin is even more costly. It will cost you in your personal life, your family life, your finances and in every other area. The costs involved in learning your lessons of grace are simply investments that will pay tremendous dividends in our sanctification.

The school of grace teaches us to be driven by the future (v. 13)

Verse 13 is continuing the sentence that begins with what God's grace is training us in. The third major point that the school of grace teaches us is to be driven by the future. Verse 13 says, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. Notice first, that Jesus is clearly called God here. There is one appearing, and since the article is before God and encompasses God and Savior, it is one Person, and this one Person is called "our great God and Savior Jesus Christ." He was fully God and fully man. So this is a great passage to turn to for JW's and others who deny the Trinity.

But the second thing to notice is that God's grace will drive us to look forward to this appearing of Jesus, and that this appearing will be a blessed hope. Not a scary hope, but a blessed hope. In fact, Romans 8 says that the whole creation groans and travails as a woman giving birth, waiting in anticipation of the Second coming of Jesus. That will be the time when all sin will be removed from creation, all thorns and thistles removed; all curse, all eating of meat by animals, all pain and suffering. And history is moving towards that glorious hope irresistibly. Grace makes us long for it. It makes us realize that this is not all that God intended for planet earth. Grace intuitively makes us have a holy dissatisfaction with the way things are in this world, and to long for the final product and to look forward to that day. And yet, what we do in the present age (which is verse 12) has a part in how we look forward to that day (verse 13). We aren't passively waiting to get bailed out. We are denying ungodliness and worldly lusts and by rationality, righteous living and devotion to God, we are hastening that day. We have a job to do, and until it is done, Jesus Christ is not coming back.

The school of grace teaches us to have zeal for Christ's cause (v. 14)

And so point number 4 says that the school of grace teaches us to have a zeal for Christ's cause in this world (verse 14). Verses 11-14 are all one long sentence. The parts of this sentence are all logically connected. Any view of eschatology which takes away our zeal (verse 14) is a defective eschatology. Any view of eschatology which is even irrelevant to what we do now (verses 12) is a defective eschatology. Verse 14 indicates that in the meantime, grace also hugely motivates us to move ourselves and planet earth as close to that final pattern as we can. Who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. This is as radical a contradiction of modern antinomianism as you can get. Antinomianism means to be against the law. And antinomianism in the name of grace is rampant in Reformed and non-Reformed circles. They can teach grace, grace, grace all they want, but if they ignore the purpose of grace in this verse, it shows that they have misunderstood grace.

It teaches us to flee from lawlessness (v. 14a)

Notice the purpose phrase in this verse that He might redeem us from every lawless deed. There are three things that I want to highlight from this phrase. First, if we are redeemed from lawless deeds that means that redemption not only saves from hell, it saves us from our sinful actions themselves. And that's exactly what the angel told Joseph in Matthew 1:21 that this was the purpose of Christ's incarnation — for He shall save His people from their sins. You have not learned the lessons of grace if you think that you have a free ticket to heaven and now you can live any way that you please. Paul says, "God forbid." Jesus did not die to make us comfortable in our sin. He died to save us from our sins and to make us law-abiding.

Second, notice that sin is defined by the law. We are redeemed from every lawless deed. 1 John 3:4 says, sin is lawlessness. That means that sin is anything that is against the law of God. Sin is not some nebulous bad thing that has no relevance to Old Testament law. Sin is lawlessness. And Hebrews 1:9 says that Jesus hates lawlessness. On the day of judgment Jesus will say, depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness (Matt 7:23). Obviously God continues to be interested in the law, and those who resist the law are resisting God's purpose in sending Jesus. They are ignorant of the lessons of grace. You have not learned the lessons of grace very well if your version of grace teaches you to ignore the law. Lawlessness is antithethical to grace. Grace enables us to keep what we could not keep in our own strength.

Third, notice how comprehensive this affirmation of the law is. Who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed. Any deed that could be described as against the law, is a deed that grace rescues us from. The whole law, and every disobedience to that law is what is in view. This means that grace teaches us the lesson of Jesus in Matthew 5:17-19. There Jesus said:

Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5:17-19)

Failing to learn from grace has been extremely costly to our modern generation. Their faulty views of grace has caused many people to throw out the law and to oppose teachers who uphold the law. It's sad. But Paul insists that true grace teaches us to flee from lawlessness.

It teaches us to be zealous for good works (v. 14b)

And secondly, it teaches us to be zealous for good works. Verse 14 goes on to say, and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. Several things to note here. First, God's grace purifies or cleanses you. You may feel discouraged and dirty after hearing this message, but you can go to the cross of Christ, ask His forgiveness and be made white as snow — forgiven, and with God's favor shining upon you. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Second, graces purifies you for Himself. What's the purpose of purification and forgiveness? It's to draw us closer to God. God's grace didn't purify you so that you could live to yourself. No. You were made for God. Grace makes God delight in you. It draws you to Him. Grace is intended to make you close to God and God close to you.

Third, God is making you to be His own special people. The word "special" means "being beyond usual" (Strongs). In otherwords, you cannot be the status quo of what the world says is normal. He is redeeming you to be beyond the usual. You cannot measure what is normal by the world or even by the church. Grace makes us radically different. And it makes us different for Him.

Fourth, grace teaches us to be zealous for good works. If you are content to be a couch potato all day, then you have not been learning the lessons of grace. Grace saves us for the purpose of making us zealous for good works. True grace burns within us; it yearns for action and it must be released in action. Wherever true grace is, these characteristics are always present. Which means, many in the church of Jesus Christ are not even saved. They need to come to the cross of Christ to receive His cleansing and His empowering grace.

And so this whole verse is a rebuke to the modern church. Ignorance of what grace is all about has been costly to the church of Jesus Christ. It has left the church in America in a messy shambles. And we need to pray that God would reverse that and pour out His grace upon the church in great measure. And pray that we might be a part of bringing this Reformation.

The school of grace teaches us to never stop learning (v. 15)

The last lesson of grace is that we should never stop learning. Verse 15 says, Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you. We've already commented on this verse in connection with Titus' duties. But it is an appropriate way to end this section that deals with the school of grace. The school of grace should give every student an insatiable appetite to learn from Scripture and to never stop learning.

Has God's grace been at work in you? I trust that it has. May we be a people of grace. And may God receive all the glory. Amen.

Lessons of Grace is part of the Titus series published on November 14, 2004

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