One Life to Live
(Titus 3: 1-15)
Back when I was a young police officer with a young family we had a daily routine that we’d do before I went to work. I worked evening shift which was from 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., which meant I would usually get home around midnight and could spend time with Teresa, Heidi and Neil before having to head off to work in the early afternoon. Part of that routine included watching our favorite soap opera, as if I didn’t have enough drama at work. Those programs can be addicting. I don’t know how Alice and Tom Horton raised such a dysfunctional family. Yeah, you guessed it, we were hooked on the Days of Our Lives. Back when there were only three channels what else were you going to watch? Then I’d go to work where we’d respond to domestic disturbances and family fights. Sometimes we’d pull up and see the unhappy couple standing outside the house or apartment giving the appearances that they had settled down, which was true, until they saw the police car pull up and then it was showtime. Then I started practicing law and, in order to pay the bills, I took some family law cases where one of the combatants would end up in my office telling me things I really didn’t want to hear. I got to where I developed a fonder appreciation for my criminal clients. They seemed to be a better class of people. At least, more rational. Then I got to be a prosecutor and would take domestic violence cases to trial which was always a difficult proposition where the warring parties would air their grievances in front of a jury of their peers. For heaven’s sake, I’d think, you’ve only got one life to live, why are you making it so difficult? Can’t we all just get along?
And this is where we find ourselves in our scripture reading for this morning. The Apostle Paul is sending Titus to the island of Crete to organize the churches. Titus was probably a Greek convert and one of Paul’s church planters. Paul was giving Titus some advice on how to establish good, solid churches in this rough and tumble part of the gentile world. The island residents of Crete had a reputation for being rough around the edges. They needed to be shown a more peaceful way of living with one another.
At the end of chapter two, Paul is telling Titus that the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people. It educates us so that we can live sensible, ethical, and godly lives right now by rejecting ungodly lives and the desires of this world. At the same time we wait for the blessed hope and the glorious appearance of our great God and savior Jesus Christ. He gave himself for us in order to rescue us from every kind of lawless behavior, and cleanse a special people for himself who are eager to do good actions. As Paul is sending Titus out on this difficult mission trip and church plant, he tells him to talk about these things, encourage and correct with complete authority and don’t let anyone disrespect him. It almost sounds like the opening scene of the old television series, Mission Impossible. Should you accept this assignment and then the tape disintegrates.
Paul give Titus an outline which, if the Cretans follow it, will result in the establishment of a godly church and a people who will live according to God’s will doing his work. He says to remind them to submit to rulers and authorities, and to be good citizens which was a virtue they apparently lacked, being a disorderly and disobedient bunch. They should be obedient and ready to do every good thing. They shouldn’t speak disrespectfully about anyone, but they should be peaceful, kind, and show complete courtesy toward everyone. You know, be a nice person and not a menace to society. If Titus was having any reservations about this assignment, Paul reminds him that we were once foolish, disobedient, deceived, and slaves to our desires and various pleasures too. We were spending our lives in evil behavior and jealousy. We were disgusting, and we hated other people. But when God our savior’s kindness and love appeared, he saved us because of his mercy, not because of righteous things we had done. You know, when we came to Jesus and he saved us from ourselves. He did it through the washing of new birth and renewing of the Holy Spirit, which God poured out upon us generously through Jesus Christ our savior. Paul continues by saying, so, since we have been made righteous by his grace, we can inherit the hope for eternal life. He tells Titus that this saying is reliable and that he wants him to insist on these things, so that those who have come to believe in God might give careful attention to doing good. These things, he says, are good and useful for everyone.
In his final instructions, he tells Titus to avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, and fights about the Law, because they are useless and worthless. Paul doesn’t want him drawn into a foolish debate regarding matters that are of little consequence. Don’t let them take you out of your game. Stick to the plan. He then admonishes him about dealing with difficult people, people who thrive on creating conflict. You know they are twisted, so after a first and second warning, have nothing more to do with them. They aren’t worth the effort and are only about themselves and not doing God’s will. In closing, he tells Titus that our people should also learn to devote themselves to doing good in order to meet pressing needs so they aren’t unproductive. Maintain good works and meet the urgent needs of others. Paul wants Titus to give the Cretans a practical way of living where they can start demonstrating their faith in good works by meeting the needs of other people, a good place to start. A way to put your new-found faith into action. As believers, Paul is telling us that we should live up to our holy calling.
While good works can’t save us or even increase God’s love for us, they are true indications of our faith and love for Christ. Paul did not make this aspect of discipleship optional. Service to others is a requirement. Everyone who is a Christian should be involved.
So, where do we stand as Methodists on the concept of good works? Part III of our Book of Discipline, Doctrinal Standards and Our Theological Task, addresses the concept of good works. In paragraph 102, Faith and Good Works, it says, we see God’s grace and human activity working together in the relationship of faith and good works. God’s grace calls forth human response and discipline. Faith is the only response for salvation. However, the General Rules remind us that salvation evidences itself in good works. For Wesley, even repentance should be accompanied by “fruits meet for repentance,” or works of piety and mercy. Both faith and good works belong within an all-encompassing theology of grace, since they stem from God’s gracious love “shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.” So, yes, faith is all that is required for our salvation, but John Wesley felt strongly that the repentance of our sins should be accompanied with good works of piety and mercy. He felt that if you truly repented and had faith, good works and righteous living would naturally follow. It should be so abundant that you can’t help yourself. Article X, Of Good Works, of the Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church, says, although good works, which are the fruits of faith, and follow after justification, cannot put away our sins, and endure the severity of God’s judgment; yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and spring out of a true and lively faith, insomuch that by them a lively faith may be as evidently known as a tree is discerned by its fruit.
Our sins are ours and only God can forgive them if we seek his forgiveness. Good works don’t erase our sins, only the forgiveness of God can do that. But, our good works in the service of Jesus Christ are pleasing to God. This continued process of Christian living is enabled by the Holy Spirit, resulting in our growth in character and good works.
We have only one life to live, so why not live it in a manner that is not only pleasing and acceptable to God, but also profitable in bearing fruit, the kind of fruit that springs out of a true and lively faith that all who benefit from our good fruit will know that we are children of the one true God, and will give thanks to God for all we do in His name?
Please pray with me.
Gracious and loving God, how grateful we are for your saving grace and the forgiveness of our sins. We know we are not worthy of the sacrifice of your son, Jesus Christ, who died on the cross as an atonement for our sins. We know we are saved by faith and faith alone, and that there is nothing we can ever do to earn our salvation. Move us to be a joyous people who, with a true and lively faith, look for every opportunity to do good works in your name, bringing you honor and glory and the praise and thanks from those we, your children, do the kind of works which are pleasing to you as the fruits of our faith. In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray, Amen.