Your heart of darkness

Text John 3:1, 2a Time 02/09/12 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
John Chapter 3 must be one of the most famous chapters in the Bible. It the famous story of Nicodemus and how he came to Jesus at night and was told that he and everyone else needed to be born again. It contains what is probably the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
This morning I want us to look at the very opening of the chapter and at verse 1 and the first words of verse 2. These words set up the whole scene that unfolds. It says Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night … Nicodemus is only mentioned in John's Gospel and there is not very much even there. Besides what we have here, there are only two other references.
1. At the end of John 7 where, having failed to have Jesus arrested the Jewish ruling council asks a question and gives its own answer. Has any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law - there is a curse on them. At this point Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing? They replied, Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee. They had obviously forgotten about Jonah from Gath-Hepher.
2. Then we catch a glimpse of him in John 19:39, 40 where we are told that Joseph of Arimathea who requested the body of Christ for burial was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. This suggests that although at this point (John 3) Nicodemus was certainly not born again he subsequently was and became a true follower of Christ, first secretly and then openly.
I want us to think about this man this morning in his unconverted state and I want us to see where we can identify with him and where that teaches us certain things about human nature and about ourselves. I basically want to say two things. The first is this
1. Recognise the many things that, of themselves, will not lead you to eternal life
John 3:16, which we have quoted, speaks about not perishing but having eternal life – not simply life that goes on forever but life in the presence of God receiving his blessings unhindered. How can you have eternal life? There are a lot of wrong ideas about on that question and it is very important that we are not confused on the point. From this chapter we can identify a number of things that characterised Nicodemus that, of themselves, cannot lead to eternal life.
1. Simply being a human being will not lead you to eternal life
John introduces Nicodemus by saying in a very Old Testament way Now there was a man …. There are people about who simply assume that everyone is going to heaven. They are men, human beings and so if it is human to err then it is equally human to go to heaven. It is the attitude typified by a saying attributed to Catherine the Great of Russia. On her death bed she is reported to have said “I shall be an autocrat: that's my trade. And the good Lord will forgive me: that's his trade.” I think Heinrich Heine the German poet said something similar when he was dying. I'm sure it is a common attitude. “Of course, God will save me. Why wouldn't he?” Nicodemus was a human being, quite a nice one perhaps and a determined man but at this point he isn't born again and he's not going to heaven. None of us are by nature. We must do all we can to dissuade people from thinking that there is some automatic ticket to heaven, that everyone is going to the same place. The Bible is very clear that's not the case. God owes us nothing. Do you see that?
2. Your ethnic make up is not the key to eternal life
Many people, of course, know that not everyone goes to heaven but they think that they will be saved because they have a certain background. I was reading recently about an American preacher (John Hagee) so in love with the modern state of Israel that he once said “... we strongly reject any missionary work in Israel itself, since it is our belief that Israel is God’s chosen people, and therefore in the hands of God. Our rejection of missionary work in Israel stems also from our belief that Israel is a nation which has had to endure so much, and should be shown love and understanding.” That is naïve and foolish and wrong. Equally foolish is the idea that God will save you because you are British or Nigerian or Korean or whatever. Nicodemus was also a Jew and no doubt he thought it a great advantage, as it certainly was in some ways. However, at this point he isn't born again and he's not going to heaven. No-one is by nature, whatever his race or background. Do you think that your race or background somehow qualifies you or even gives us a head start when it comes to eternal life? It's true that God works through nations and he has shown extraordinary favour to some nations, including this one, and that should be acknowledged. As for guaranteeing salvation to any individual, however. That is not the case.
3. Your religion, however pure it may be, will not lead you to eternal life
Nicodemus was not only a Jew but he belonged to the strictest sect in Judaism – the Pharisees. When we see that word we tend to think “ah the hypocrites” and certainly a lot of Pharisees were hypocrites but we are better to think when we see that word of the orthodox, the puritans, the ones who were really serious about religion. It is good to be serious about religion but the moment we start thinking our religion can save us we are in big trouble. This was the mistake Paul made. He could boast of his religion. He says (Philippians 3) If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel,of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. But he says whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him …. Nicodemus would eventually say the same but at this point he's still full of his religion, his Pharisaism and its supposed power to bring him to heaven. There have been many others since who have had to come to see this the hard way.
Take Luther as an example. One writer says “Luther put his all into following the holy path. He was resolved to put into practice everything with which man could save himself. For three days he did not eat even a crumb of bread and fasted often. Fasting consoled him more than festivities. He felt fuller from Lent than Easter. He devoted himself and did penance and prayed all night beyond the set rules. He threw aside his blanket and almost froze to death. “From time to time, he would boast of his purity and say, “I did not do anything bad today.” That was not enough and felt anxious saying, “Did I fast correctly? Did I live poorly?” Later on, he thought his digestive function received chronic injury because of this strict lifestyle.” He himself wrote “I was a devoted monk. I meticulously followed the regulations of my religious order. If anyone could have gained heaven as a monk, then I would indeed have been among them. The brothers that were with me in the monastery at that time would say that it would be true. If I continued that work, I would have died by doing the all-night vigil, praying, reading, and so forth.” Thankfully Luther eventually saw this was not the answer. We need to see it too. Nicodemus was a very religious man but he wasn't born again and he wasn't going to heaven. None of us is by nature, whatever our religion. Are you thinking that you can get to heaven by praying or coming to church or something of that sort? It will not work, however pure your religion is, however orthodox, however hard you work at it. Do you see that?
4. Your personality cannot lead you to eternal life
I'm not sure why Nicodemus was called Nicodemus. It is really a Greek name (it means the people's victory) but it was popular among the Jews. I asked my mother once why she called me Gary. She said that she looked at me and thought I looked like a Gary, which sounds daft but I think it's another way of saying it just seemed the right name. She once told me she considered calling me Andre. Now if I told you my name was Andre you might think of me rather differently. In fact a lot of things in my life might have been different if I'd been called Andre. A name doesn't confer personality but we all have a personality and Nicodemus was no different in that. They might not have said it then but when Nicodemus did certain things, said certain things then it was often typical of the man, “vintage Nicodemus” as we might say. Now there is an idea about that being a Christian is just something that appeals to certain personality types. You talk to people about trust in Christ and they say “I'm not the religious type”. But this is a myth. I've met thousands of Christians over the years and the truth is that there is as much variety among believers as unbelievers. Despite persistent rumours there is no typical type. Think of church history Luther was clearly a jolly fellow but one who knew dark periods when he would be prone to depression. Calvin, on the other hand, was hardly a joker, a very serious man he nevertheless managed always to keep on an even keel emotionally. Another idea is that to qualify for eternal life you need to have your personality changed. This is equally erroneous. There is no evidence that a personality change was what gave Nicodemus eternal life. No, when a person becomes a Christian his personality is developed but it doesn't change – the change is within. We don't really know what sort of personality Nicodemus had but we know it wasn't his personality or a change of that personality that gave him eternal life. No, personality is not the key to finding eternal life nor is changing it somehow either. Do you see that?
5. Your successes of various sorts will not bring eternal life
If it was not his humanity, his Jewishness, his Pharisaism or his personality that led to eternal life it was certainly not his high standing in Jewish society either. We're told that Nicodemus was a member of the Jewish ruling council as well as being, we learn later, a Rabbi. He was clearly a well to do man, highly respected in his community. There were various Jewish ruling councils that the Romans allowed to exist but this refers, no doubt, to the leading one in Jerusalem. There were about 70 on the council and although they didn't have the power the Romans had they were a significant body and they are the ones who eventually (without the consent of Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea) had Jesus arrested and tried, leading to his death. Of course, there are other kinds of success, especially today. We've been thinking recently of what it takes to win a gold medal in the Olympics and now with the Paralympics, how to win a gold medal despite a great setback. There is also academic success, political success, success in business, in art or entertainment. Sometimes people are tempted to think that such success gives them a right to eternal life. Multiple gold medal winning swimmer Michael Phelps has said “I wouldn’t say anything is impossible. I think that everything is possible as long as you put your mind to it and put the work and time into it.” Perhaps that's okay if it's confined to Olympic sports or something of that order but some people think that it can be extended to eternal life. It can't.
Nicodemus was a successful man, a respected member of society, on the Jewish Ruling Council and Israel's Teacher. However, at this point he didn't have eternal life. He wasn't born again. And you may be very successful in life indeed but it doesn't guarantee anything for the life to come. In 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 Paul says Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things - and the things that are not - to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It isn't that you can't be successful in this world and in the next but it's a rare thing. Few find it possible and success here certainly doesn't guarantee anything for the future.
6. Not even your knowing about Jesus can, of itself, guarantee you eternal life
You see the point then. None of these seeming advantages were any use to Nicodemus in and of themselves – not his humanity, his being a Jew or a Pharisee or who he was in himself or what he'd done in life. But then here he was coming to Jesus, surely that counts for something? Now we need to be careful how we answer. It was Jesus, as the hymn puts it, who showed him “the way of salvation and light”. However, simply meeting with Jesus wasn't the thing that saved him. No, it's clear from the way that he speaks even then he is full of himself and his own ideas. He could have met with Jesus a thousand times and still not got it. In the same way we can come to a meeting like this a hundred times and still not find eternal life. Preaching on one occasion the great 19th century preacher Spurgeon once spoke like this
“I am very anxious to be understood, and therefore I am trying to speak very simply, and to talk right home to those whom I am driving at. My own case is to the point. I was for some few years, as a child, secretly seeking Jesus. If ever heart knew what the bitter anguish of sin was, I did. And when I came to understand the plan of salvation by the simple teaching of a plain, illiterate man, the next thought I had after joy that I was saved, was this - "What a fool I was not to trust Jesus Christ before!" I concluded that I never could have heard the gospel, but I think I was mistaken. I think I must have heard the gospel thousands of times, but did not understand it. I was like Hagar with my eyes closed. We are bound to tell you every Sunday that trusting Jesus Christ is the way of salvation, but after you have heard that 50,000 times, you really will not even understand what we mean by it till the Spirit of God reveals the secret.
“But when you do but know it and trust in Jesus, simply as a child would trust his father's word, you will say of yourself, "How could it be? I was thirsty with the water rippling at my feet! I was famishing and perishing for hunger, and the bread was on the table! I was fretting as though there were no entrance into Heaven, but there stood the door wide open right before me, if I could but have seen it!" "Trust Christ, and He must save you." I will improve upon it: "Trust Him, you are saved." The moment you begin to live by faith in His dear Son, there is not a sin left in God's book against you!”
Here was Nicodemus with Jesus right in front of him but that still doesn't save him. Here you are in the presence of the risen Lord Jesus but you may not be saved either. Even coming to church where the Word is faithfully preached won't do it. Do you see that?
2. Understand that the reason this is so is your heart of darkness within
So you hear me – being a human being won't save you, being a Baptist won't, listening to sermons won't do it. Well, why? Well, the key is in that little phrase at the beginning that tells us Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. Why does John tell us that? People have speculated that Nicodemus came at night so he wouldn't be seen by others. That certainly rings other true. Others suggest he simply couldn't get to see Jesus in the day time because so many others wanted to see him. I would guess it is most likely that as a rabbi Nicodemus liked to spend his daylight hours studying and then once it was dark he would spend time talking and discussing. Recognising Jesus as a leading rabbi he probably thought this would be an acceptable way of doing things. In the end we don't need to worry why he came at night because John has only told us this because he wants us to learn a very important lesson. Light and darkness is one of the great themes of John's Gospel. It comes out in several places. Right at the beginning (1:4-9) it is said of Christ In him was life,and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness,but the darkness has not understood it. John the Baptist is described as a man who was sent from God … He came as a witness it says to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. Of course in 8:12 Jesus says I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. He says something similar in 9:5 and Chapter 12. A very interesting verse is 13:30 As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night. In this very chapter we read (19-21) This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God. When Nicodemus met Jesus, he was in the presence of the Light of the world but he loved the dark rather than the light – spiritually speaking because his deeds were evil. Like every evil person his instinct was to hate the light and feared his deeds being exposed. Yet his greatest need, and our greatest need, was to come into the light. Here is the lesson then – nothing in us can save us – not even an encounter with Jesus himself can do it. This is because we are lost deep in the darkness of ignorance and sin. We are all like sheep, we've gone astray. We have fallen short of God's glory. There is in us not one good thing. By nature we are all, as Paul put it, dead in our transgressions and sins and we follow the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us are like that by nature. Our instinct is to gratify the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. We are all by nature deserving of wrath. Neither our humanity nor our race, our religion or our achievements can save us. Unless God shines the light into our hearts and takes us from the kingdom of darkness there is no hope for us. We need to be rescued from the dominion of darkness and brought … into the kingdom of the Son God loves, in whom there is redemption, the forgiveness of sins. And so I urge you to put no trust at all in yourself and what you might do. Yes, many things are possible if you “put your mind to it and put the work and time into it.” But not this. If God himself doesn't dispel the darkness you will remain in it and will be cast into the place of outer darkness forever. Nothing could be worse. So repent today and look to Christ and the salvation he alone can give.
In 1899 Joseph Conrad published his famous novella Heart of darkness. It's about an Englishman who takes a foreign assignment from a Belgian trading company as a river-boat captain in Africa. The darkness of the title writers suggest is three levels. 1. The literal darkness of the Congo wilderness. 2. The darkness of the Europeans' cruel treatment of the African natives. 3. Finally, the unfathomable darkness within every human being that makes them capable of committing the most wicked acts. Conrad was no Christian and his book can be understood in several ways. Let's make no mistake, however, that there is a heart of darkness in us all and if it is not removed then there is no hope for us at all. We are in the dark.

How many will be saved? Will you be one of them?

Text Luke 13:22-30 Time 20/05/12 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church

Let's start with an interesting question. Are there lots of people who will be saved and go to heaven or will it only be a few in the end? It's a fascinating question and one that there would be evidence for on both sides, both in support of the view that there will be few and the view that there will be many.
Often with difficult questions like this we find ourselves wishing Jesus was on hand to ask. We feel certain that if we could ask him then he would give a perfect answer and we would soon know what to think.
I raise this matter because it is the question that Jesus is asked here in Luke 13:23 where we read that Someone asked him, Lord, are only a few people going to be saved? Of course, the answer he gives is not the one we might expect. He certainly doesn't give a straight yes or no – Yes, only a few go to heaven or no, more than a few go to heaven. I think it would be unfair to suggest that he does not answer the question. Rather he goes at it in quite a different way to the way that we might have expected.
I want us to consider this morning exactly what he does say and so I want us to look at Luke 13:22-30 and I want to say four things to you.
1. Understand the work that Jesus came to do, the work of teaching and dying
People have various ideas about why Jesus came to earth. Clearly here the person who asks the question has the idea that he has come as a wise man to answer questions like the one he himself poses. People liked to ask Jesus questions. However, they didn't always get the answers they expected or wanted. I think if we look carefully at the very first verse in this section we will get a pretty good idea of why Jesus came to this earth. In verse 22 it says Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem.
There are two things to see there. First, it says that Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching. Then it says that it was as he made his way to Jerusalem. Here we learn that two things then
1. Jesus came to teach us the truth
He was specifically going from village to village, town to town, not answering questions as such but teaching the people. Back in Luke 4 we read how people try to detain him from this task and get him to stay with them but he says (43, 44) I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent. Luke adds And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea. This is what Isaiah 61:1 would suggest Messiah would be like. There the servant says The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
Jesus came not only to do miracles but chiefly to bring the message of salvation to this world and if we are wise we will listen to what he has to say. In these last days God has spoken through his Son. Listen to him!
2. Jesus came to die on the cross
The statement that he taught as he made his way to Jerusalem may sound quite innocent on the face of it but, of course, we know why he was going to Jerusalem. He was going there to die. It is clearer back in Luke 9:51 where we read that As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. Before that, when he was transfigured Luke says that Moses and Elijah spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfilment at Jerusalem. In verse 33 of this same chapter Jesus himself says I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day - for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!
Jesus came to teach and preach but he is very much the man who was born to die. Any understanding of Jesus that does not focus here (eg he came as a great teacher) is very much mistaken. His death on the cross is central to who he is and what he came here to do. It is because of the cross and his death there in Jerusalem that it is possible for anyone to be saved and to go to heaven. There is no salvation otherwise.

2. Consider this interesting question he was once asked about whether only few will be saved
Now in verse 23 we are told that Someone asked him, Lord, are only a few people going to be saved? As we have said, it is a very interesting question. The questioner, no doubt, was not as clear on how to be saved as we can be now that Christ has come and not only preached but also died on the cross and risen again. However, given that some are going to be saved through Christ the question of how many are going to be saved is bound to come to mind. Are there only a few who will be saved?
Apparently this one of the questions that Jews often debated at this time. It was the general opinion of most of them, it seems, that only a few would be saved. Given that when the Children of Israel came through the desert only two of them (Caleb and Joshua) made it all the way from Egypt to the Promised Land surely those who are going to heaven will be proportionately just as few. Seeing how godless the Gentile world around them was for the most part only confirmed them in this opinion. Some of the discussions on this topic were very academic and trivial indeed.
Here is a question then. There is no simple answer to it, however. It is worth thinking about but only as far as it leads us to think about what Jesus has to say here. So let's look at Jesus's answer.
3. Hear this vital answer Jesus gave urging us to make every effort to enter his kingdom
He said to them, Make every effort to enter through the narrow door. In other words “enough of academic questions about how many will be saved. The real question is about whether you will be saved or not.” The Jews often spoke of heaven and salvation as like being at a great banquet. There was a tendency among them as individuals to assume that they would be at that great banquet. Of course, they would be there. Who else would be there, there was some room for conjecture over but they certainly would be there.
But here Jesus comes at them and he says “Don't be so complacent. Don't assume all is okay.” No, you need to make every effort to enter through the narrow door that leads to that banqueting house. It is a little bit like overhearing a conversation between some football fans about getting tickets for the big game. “Do you think there'll be a large number at the game?” says one. “I'm not sure” says another. “I think the numbers will be down this year” says a third. “No, no they'll be up if anything” says a fourth. And then you say to them “What about you? Have you got tickets for the game?” “Oh no” they say “we're not sure if we are going”. Weird.
Now something similar could be said to us. It is all very well to sit here and ponder deep questions like how many will be saved? Will there be more in heaven than in hell or less? Rather we should be saying to one another with great urgency Make every effort to enter through the narrow door. That is the real issue. Make sure that you put in every effort to make sure you enter through the narrow door that leads to eternal life. You notice the door is narrow. That means that it is not easy to get in. Think of the wicket gate that Bunyan talks about. A wicket gate is a small gate or door built into a larger one. You sometimes see them on warehouses where there is a big roller shutter that they use for lorries and a door within that so people can go in and out without opening the main door. It is through such a door we must pass to get into the kingdom. You can't drive in with a big lorry load. No only an individual can get through and as the door is narrow he has to leave everything else outside. Or think of a turnstile or the ticket barrier at an underground station. Only one persona at a time can come through and the passage is narrow. Are you making every effort to get through the door? I urge you to do so. Let go of everything else and make sure you can get through. As Jesus himself says elsewhere Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Make sure you find it. Make sure you come through.
4. Consider the reasons why he must be heeded
In the rest of the section Jesus is really underlining his main statement by giving reasons why we must make every effort.
1. Because many will try to enter and not be able to
He goes on Make every effort to enter through the narrow door. because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. There is no automatic entry through this gate. There are people, he says, who will try to get through it, who will think they are going through it but they will find that is not the case. He goes on in verses 25-27 Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, Sir, open the door for us. But he will answer, I don't know you or where you come from. Then you will say, We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets. But he will reply, I don't know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers! It is like a little parable, I suppose. There is the owner of the house which must be a reference to God. There is the house, a banqueting house no doubt, representing heaven. At a certain point the owner of the house gets up and closes the door. The door is now open – you can come in if you make every effort to do so. But soon the door will be closed. God will close it. Once that happens stand outside knocking and pleading, saying Sir, open the door for us. But he will answer, I don't know you or where you come from. You will try arguments. Jesus pictures the people here saying We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets. You will say perhaps “but I used to go to church and hear about you, I knew lots of Christians”. But he will reply, I don't know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers! It is a frightening thought isn't it? It is very real though. How easy for someone here to get caught out. You say to yourself. I know I must believe in Christ. I know I must repent. But not today. And it may be that there will be other opportunities but still you will say not today. You refuse to make every effort to enter, to really struggle to get in. And then one day the door will be shut. You may well plead and call out but you won't get in. Have you ever been locked out? It is not nice, especially in bad weather. There you are right next to the warm house with the lights and the TV and whereas you could be making a sandwich for yourself and settling down to it you are outside in the rain. How unpleasant. It does not begin to compare with what it is like to be shut out for eternity. Or was there ever a day when no-one else would play with you or they had all gone away somewhere else, and though you were okay at first you felt very lonely in the end. Again, it does not begin to compare with what it is like to be apart from God's people forever.
Make every effort to come to Christ. So soon it will be too late otherwise.
2. Because to fail to enter is the worst disaster there can be
In verse 28 Jesus describes how in that place outside There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. People weep for various reasons. You can weep for joy. You can weep just because your feeling rather emotional about something. When people weep and gnash their teeth it is because they are in agony and in anguish. This description of hell reminds us of how it will be for those who go there. They will weep and gnash their teeth when they see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, inside the house but they themselves thrown out. There can be no worse disaster. To be locked out of the house is a disaster. To be homeless is a much greater one. How sad if you have no friends at all. But to be in hell is an unmitigated disaster of the very highest order. There is no comfort whatsoever. Take care that it does not happen to you. Seek Jesus Christ with all your heart and mind and soul an strength.
3. Because today the door is still wide open
Those last two arguments are negative and I suppose they lead to the feeling by this point that the answer to the question are only a few people going to be saved? must be “Yes”. But our final argument is a positive one – make every effort to enter through the narrow door because the door is still open. Or to sharpen the argument, see that
1 It does not depend on race or religion
Jesus says in verse 29 to his Jewish interrogator People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. The Jews tended to think they were the only ones going to the banquet. We all have a tendency to be narrow minded and parochial. But no says Jesus, stop thinking that there will only be a few who are saved, just the Jews and not all of them. No, People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. Race and religion in the sense of the religious background you have are neither here nor there. What matters is getting in.
Further,
2 It does not depend on rank or riches either
Jesus goes on (30) Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last. The Jews looked at the world in their day and it seemed that they were first and so would be going to heaven ahead of any others. Within Judaism the Pharisees and others had quite a high opinion of themselves and a very low opinion of others like prostitutes and take gatherers. They needed to learn that come the end of the world there would be those who are last who would be first, and first who would be last. Today people think that being rich or good looking, skilful or successful is the great thing. They too need to know that there is a day coming when those who are last who will be first, and those who are first who will be last.
You are well aware that the Olympics are coming up in two months time here in London. One of the events is the tennis at Wimbledon and the great British hope is, of course, Andy Murray. Murray is more than keen to win Olympic Gold. What is he doing to bring that about? Well, he trains, of course. An article a little while ago described what that involves.
Murray's workouts” the article says “fall into distinct categories: in tournament and out of tournament. They are equally tough. In the winter, when he is out of tournament, he checks into a gruelling tropical climate body boot camp for a month where he will exercise in hot temperatures for six hours a day.
On a typical boot camp day he will start with one hour of aerobic sprint training on an athletic track where he runs 400-metre laps at intervals of five minutes, aiming to get faster with each lap. He will also jump hurdles sideways, to improve balance.
This will be followed by a one-hour upper body weight training session in the gym where, among other drills, he ties a rope around his stomach and pulls 40lb weights using just his abdominal muscles.
A 90-minute Bikram yoga session comes next, where he stretches and performs dynamic yoga movement in a room heated to 40c, during which he will burn 1,600 calories and lose 4 litres of sweat.
His workout will be rounded off with a two-hour tennis practice session with his coach. In tennis season, his gym sessions are reduced to an hour a day but he still hits the practice court for two hours before a match.”
No if a man is willing to undergo that sort of effort for a mere earthly prize then why are we not wiling to make as great an effort to know Christ? Of course, we are not saved by what we do. Salvation is all of grace and the Lord says plainly Make every effort to enter through the narrow door. Let's do so.

Instruction and exhortations



Text Titus 3:12-15 Time 24/11/10 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church

I want us to look this week at the closing words of Paul's little letter to Titus, as found in Chapter 3 verses 12-15. Paul really has three things to say at the end – there are some final instructions, some final exhortation and some final greetings. Let's look at these then and consider the subjects they bring before us.

1. Final instructions to note reminding us of how roles change and the importance of helping

1. Remember that our roles sometimes change
First in verse 12 Paul writes As soon as I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, because I have decided to winter there. Artemas may be short for Artemidorus. We do not know anything about this man at all.

Tychicus gets a few mentions in Scripture – first in Acts 20:4 where we are told that when Paul went into Macedonia He was accompanied by seven men Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius from Derbe, Timothy ... and Tychicus and Trophimus from the province of Asia. Ephesians and Colossians were written by Paul at the same time and it would seem Tychicus was involved in delivering those letters. In Colossians 4:7 Paul tells them that Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. Paul says of him He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. In Ephesians 6:21 he calls him the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord. Again he will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing. Here Paul is planning to send either this trusted brother or Artemas to Crete to carry on Titus's work. In 2 Timothy 4:12 Paul says that he had sent him to Ephesus where Timothy was and this probably points to a decision to send Artemas to Crete.

Paul wants Titus to join him in Nicopolis. There was a Nicopolis in Macedonia but this Nicopolis is probably the one on the west coast of what is today Greece and that was then in Epirus.
You have seen those films where there is a large table top map laid out in the middle of the room and people are using croupier sticks to push around symbols of armies from one place to another. It is something of a film cliché and only vaguely related to reality. It helps us to see Paul in our minds' eye, however. Winter is coming in the early sixties of the first century. Paul (we learn from 2 Timothy 4:20) has left Erastus to take care of things in Corinth and Trophimus in Miletus just south of Ephesus because he is sick. He has decided to winter in Nicopolis and he wants his right hand men with him and so he wants to pull Titus out of Crete and Timothy out of Ephesus, replacing them with Artemas and Tychicus. Of course, even as an apostle Paul could not command these men to do what he wished. In 1 Corinthians 16:12 he says of Apollos I strongly urged him to go to you with the brothers. He was quite unwilling to go now, but he will go when he has the opportunity.
Now the point to take on board here is probably that things change. At this point Titus is working in Crete. We do not know how long he had been working there. Next he was to be relieved by Artemas or Tychicus so that he could be with Paul in Nicopolis. Our roles sometimes change. I lived my first 18 years in Cwmbran and I was committed to that place. Then I was in Aberystwyth for 3 years before coming to London where I have been ever since – first at LTS, then here (for the last 27 years). At what point it will be time to leave here I don't know. My father-in-law has just celebrated 45 years as pastor of Alfred Place! The important thing is to be a faithful servant in the Lord and to go wherever the lord leads.
2. Remember to do everything you can to help fellow believers
In verse 13 Paul says Do everything you can to help Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way and see that they have everything they need. Apollos we know is the powerful preacher from Alexandria who at first only knew John's baptism but was helped to understand things more clearly by Paul's friends Priscilla and Aquila. Beginning at Ephesus he went on to Corinth where he was very popular. Zenas (perhaps Zenodorus) we again know nothing about, including what sort of law he was an expert in Jewish or Roman. Presumably it was these two who brought the letter to Titus. Paul has no specific plans for them after this duty but he urges Titus to do all he can to help them and to see that they have everything they need.
We get these sort of statements in many places and it is a reminder to us that we need to do all we can to help our fellow believers especially those who are ministers of the Word. We must do all we can. For different ones this will mean different things, of course, but we must all play our part.

2. Final exhortations to note reminding us of devotion to what's good and productive living

In verse 14 Paul comes back to what is the great concern of this final part of the letter. So we say

1. Always devote yourself to what is good
Paul says Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good. It is the reference to the need to help these Christians that brings him back to this. Some people want to take this reference in a very narrow way – as if he is just saying he wants the people to follow an honest trade. No doubt this is included but there is surely more too. As believers we must be very careful how we live. Paul had seen how in Thessalonica some had got into the habit of sponging off others as they waited for the Lord's return. Even today there are people who lead a rather strange existence where they do not really put in an honest day's work but are ministers or missionaries or whatever with no really clear role in life. That is not to say that there isn't a place for full time Christian workers of different sorts – but the norm is to be doing some regular job of work and using that money to support the work of Christ, while using our free time in various forms of Christian service. Good deeds are emphasised again and again in Scripture – things like teaching and bringing up children, showing hospitality, what Paul calls washing the feet of the saints, helping those in trouble (1 Timothy 5:10). Other examples would be generosity and willingness to share, helping the poor in various ways, paying your taxes and submitting to authority. James speaks of looking after orphans and widows in their distress and keeping oneself from being polluted by the world.
You should aim to let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. Live such good lives among the pagans says Peter that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
2. Do not live an unproductive life
Paul adds in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives. Our lives must count for something. We cannot simply drift through life without any real aim. Rather we must constantly be seeking to be useful. Sylvanus Phelps was a Baptist minister in America in the nineteenth century. In 1862 he published his hymn “Saviour Thy dying love”.

Saviour, Thy dying love Thou gavest me.
Nor should I aught withhold, dear Lord, from Thee.
In love my soul would bow, my heart fulfil its vow,
Some offering bring Thee now, something for Thee.

O’er the blest mercy seat, pleading for me,
My feeble faith looks up, Jesus, to Thee.
Help me the cross to bear, Thy wondrous love declare,
Some song to raise, or prayer, something for Thee.

Give me a faithful heart, likeness to Thee.
That each departing day henceforth may see
Some work of love begun, some deed of kindness done,
Some wanderer sought and won, something for Thee.

All that I am and have, Thy gifts so free,
In joy, in grief, through life, O Lord, for Thee!
And when Thy face I see, my ransomed soul shall be
Through all eternity, something for Thee.

When Phelps was 70 the man who write the tune Robert Lowry wrote to him “It is worth liv­ing 70 years even if no­thing comes of it but one such hymn as "Saviour! Thy dying love Thou gavest me; Nor should I aught withhold, Dear Lord, from Thee." Happy is the man who can produce one song which the world will keep on singing after the au­thor shall have passed away. May the tune­ful harp pre­serve its strings for ma­ny a long year yet, and the last note reach us on­ly when it is time for the sing­er to take his place in the hea­ven­ly choir.”
We are not hymn writers but if we can do just something for the Lord then we have done something worthwhile.
Speaking once to the pastors college Spurgeon said to them
"I have to say to you, go forward in actual work, for, after all, we shall be known by what we have done. Like the apostles, I hope our memorial will be our acts. There are good brethren in the world who are impractical. The grand doctrine of the second advent makes them stand with open mouths, peering into the skies, so that I am ready to say, “Ye men of Plymouth, why stand ye here gazing up into heaven?” The fact that Jesus Christ is to come is not a reason to stargazing, but for working in the power of the Holy Ghost. ... We must have done with day dreams, and get to work. I believe in eggs, but we must get chickens out of them. I do not mind how big your egg is; it may be an ostrich’s egg if you like, but if there is nothing in it, pray clear away the shells. ... We want facts — deeds done, souls saved. It is all very well to write essays, but what souls have you saved from going down to hell? ... To swing to and fro on a five-barred gate is not progress, yet some seem to think so. I see them in perpetual Elysium, humming over to themselves and their friends, “We are very comfortable.” God save us from living in comfort while sinners are sinking into hell. In travelling along the mountain roads in Switzerland you will continually see marks of the boring-rod; and in every minister’s life there should be traces of stern labour. Brethren, do something; do something; do something. While committees waste their time over resolutions, do something. While Societies and Unions are making constitutions, let us win souls. Too often we discuss, and discuss, and discuss, and Satan laughs in his sleeve. It is time we had done planning and sought something to plan. I pray you, be men of action all of you. Get to work and quit yourselves like men. Old Suwarrov’s idea of was is mine: Forward and strike! No theory! Attack! Form a column! Charge bayonets! Plunge into the centre of the enemy. Our one aim is to save sinners, and this we are not to talk about but to do in the power of God."
3. Final greetings to note reminding us of love in the faith and the grace of God
1. Never forget the love we share in the faith
Paul says Everyone with me sends you greetings. Greet those who love us in the faith. We get a clear impression in the New Testament of the great love they had for one another in Christ. It ought to continue today. Let's not forget how many loves us – some who we've never even met – because we have put our faith in Christ. We too ought to love every believer. I watched a video this week of a believer from North Korea now living in South Korea as she gave her testimony and pleaded for her native land. Inevitably my heart went out to her. That is how it should be.
2. Never forget the grace of God we all need
Grace be with you all. This is a typically Pauline ending. How we need God's grace every day. Remember those words

O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander–Lord, I feel it!–prone to leave the God I love.

Here’s my heart, Lord, take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.

Situations and people to avoid

Text Titus 3:9-11 Time 17/11/10 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church


We are in the final part of the Book of Titus and I want us to look this evening at 3:9-11. The opening verses of the chapter have been very positive. Paul is concerned that Titus should teach the people on Crete to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men as real Christians should. He wants those who have trusted in God to be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good as These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.
All this implies a commitment to upholding the Law of God. The Law cannot save us but it is to be the Christian's rule of life once he has come to faith in Christ.
Now if anything is true of Paul it is that he is realistic and he realises that upholding the law is not always easy. Even among those committed to the idea there are problems and difficulties and so in these verses he goes on to warn against certain situations and certain people. That is what we want to consider tonight then
1. Situations to avoid – what not to do with regard to the law
1. Situations that Paul does not say we must avoid
Paul does not say, you notice, the Law doesn't matter so don't defend it or argue for it or promote it. Quite the opposite. Paul is very keen on obedience and doing good as we have seen. It can't save you but once you are saved then this is how to live. We must not press Paul's words then to say that there should never be a cross word about this, never a disagreement of any sort.
2. Situations that he does say we must avoid
His point is that we should avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law. Questions about the law are bound to arise, there will be disputes and controversies of one sort or another but avoid foolish controversies he says. Avoid arguments and quarrels – wrangling and strife, that sort of thing. The reference to genealogies is similar to what Paul says in 1 Timothy 1:4, 5 ... stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God's work - which is by faith. Many Jews had a great interest in genealogies because of the importance of Messiah. Once the Messiah has come that subject is not so important. False teachers also used to go on about these genealogies in unhelpful and distracting ways. I think Paul brings the subject in as an example of the convoluted wrangling one can sometimes face – like an endless genealogy, some go on at length explaining away the law or setting up rules of their own that they want to impose on others.
Let's uphold the Law, says Paul, but let's not get caught up in foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law – endless disputes that do no good.
3. Examples of the sort of things that would come under this ban today
Obviously in Paul's day there were particular things that excited the popular imagination and that led to the sort of foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law that he has in mind. What about day? What sort of situations does he want us to avoid?
A number of examples come to mind
1 Think of something like what you can and can't do on a Sunday. The Law makes clear that the Lord's Day is to be special, one day is to be different to the other six. The Bible never goes into specifics on this. So we will probably all ant to avoid doing main shop or the laundry on a Sunday and we will take care over travelling and things like watching TV, playing sport or similar activities. However, it is likely that we will come to different conclusions on certain things. These issues must be thought through with care but they must not become sources of foolish controversy, endless wrangling and quarrels.
2 Something similar could be said about what you wear on a Sunday. There are a number of issue here. What about the hats question for women? Shouldn't women be made to wear hats? Some few churches will actually give you one if you don't have one. What about the men? Should they be encouraged to wear ties and suits? What about shoes? Are trainers acceptable? I was reading about a nineteenth century Baptist minister recently who caused a stir in his first church because he did not wear a white tie as was expected. Things have moved on now and it is the question of whether the minister should wear a tie at all. I don't want to suggest that these matters are unimportant but what we must avoid is wrangling over them.
3 The fifth commandment decrees honour and obedience to parents and implies that the parents should be worthy of such honour and obedience. What the Bible never spells out is some of the specifics. I think it is quite clear that the Bible countenances and encourages physical punishment where necessary but it doesn't tell you what to use and to what age or that other punishments are not allowed. The home schooling movement is a strong one but again it is not entirely clear that this has to be the way to bring children up. Countless other issues in the same category and must not be a source of wrangling.
4 Another example might be keeping or not keeping Christmas and Easter. Different Christians will take different views on this matter. Such differences must not lead to unseemly arguments.
5 Other examples would be things like TV (to have or not to have), divorce (when is it permissible if ever?), contraception, worldliness, forms of evangelism and Bible versions – all issues that have even split churches on occasions. It is not that the Bible does not have things to say on these important subjects, rather that there are sincerely held differences over some of the issues involved and they can easily lead to pointless and destructive arguments.
4. Why such situations must be avoided.
The reason why Paul is so concerned about this is because these (foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law) are unprofitable and useless or worthless. In verse 8 he says that doing good is excellent and profitable for everyone but these foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law most unprofitable and worthless. They do no good. We must therefore avoid them. Otherwise we will find ourselves getting sidetracked and going backwards in the things of God rather than making progress.
I think it is a problem that we have largely avoided in this church but we can very easily slip into it. It only takes one or two determined individuals and there have been times when precious time has been taken up with foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law. That brings us to the next point
2. People to avoid – how to deal with divisive people
Some people seem to think that everything the Bible has to say about church discipline is all found in Matthew 18 – some even narrow down further to certain verses in that chapter. In fact there is more to be said and this is one place for example. Here it is how to deal with a divisive person. Such people do exist. It is important to see the other point of view but this can be taken to extremes. I remember someone telling me about a man in their church like this. He eventually left the church and for some reason his membership was not ended. At that time they were trying to work through a new constitution to improve things. Everything came together well with few big disagreements. On the night of the church meeting where it was all going to be finalised this particular individual turned up unannounced and was the only one to vote against the proposals. The man who told me this story also told me that this man was once on jury service. Now, of course, what goes on among jurors is secret but it was interesting that the jury, despite the Judge's direction, was only able to return a majority decision – 12 to 1! Some people are just divisive. It is as if they cannot help it. So what do you do about divisive people? The procedure is made very clear here.
1. First warn them
Warn a divisive person once. Such people have to be warned. They think they are full of zeal for the Lord, most often, but they need to be shown that they are in fact simply being divisive. They are harming the cause of the gospel and Christian unity. Their supposed stand for the truth is just a pain and unhelpful. If you can get a brother or sister to see this then they have been won and it is a reason to rejoice.
2. If necessary warn them again
And then warn him a second time. It may be that having come around they revert or that they cannot really be brought to see that they are the ones in the wrong and so they need to be warned again. It's a little bit like a referee giving a verbal warning the first time and then showing the yellow card. Although I don't think this should be done in too legal a spirit. This is a rough guide.
3. If necessary after more than one warning then avoid that person
After that, have nothing to do with him. There is no pronouncement on whether this person is a Christian as such. The point is that he is doing damage to the cause of Christ and needs to be got out of the way quickly. Sometimes such people will leave of their own accord but sometimes not and they will have to be formally disciplined and put out. It is the only way, painful as it is.
4. What is the problem with such people?
Paul adds in verse 11 You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. Paul says that such a person is warped or twisted. There is something perverted about him. He is not thinking straight and no amount of argument will do any good until his thinking is straightened out. This is a rare state of affairs but it can be the case and we need to be firm in the face of it. Such an attitude is sinful – it misses the mark. When Paul says that such a person is self-condemned his argument is probably this – such a person is so sure that he is right and that everyone else is wrong that he ends up standing alone and separated from his brothers. That is in fact how it should be – not because he is right and everyone else is wrong as he may think but because he is wrong! His unwillingness to work with others is a testimony to his unworthiness of being counted among those others. What sobering thought. It stands as a warning to all of us not to fall into divisive and unhelpful ways of thinking.

Motivation to be good

Text Titus 3:4-8 Time 10/11/10 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
I was reading an article called Sales lessons from England's Dismal Failure at the World Cup. The writer's first point is that motivation is crucial. He says
"Of course you’ll already know that motivation is crucial to success, whether that’s in sport, in business and particularly in the sales arena. However it’s motivation on a consistent basis that’s vital to producing good results in sales over a period of time.
Consistent motivation is even more important when it comes to ‘new business’ activities. For example if you know you’ve got cold calling (or even follow up calls) to do, and you’re not feeling motivated, how likely is it you’ll do the calls you need? Not very likely!
Alternatively, you may do the ‘task’, but in reality you’re just ‘going through the motions’, and even through you’ve done your ‘activity’ it was never going to produce any kind of results for you.  Some people then even use that ‘result’ to justify saying ‘cold calling just doesn’t work for me’ or ‘I’m no good at that’ for example!
You saw the impact that lack of motivation had on the England team – make sure it’s not happening to you or your team right now!"

We began last week to look at Paul's argument for why the people in the churches in Crete ought to be good, what should motivate them. His chief argument is that these people have been changed – they are not what they were. We spent some time last week looking at verse 3 and considering how it used to be for the Christian.
We spoke of how At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. Having made that negative statement Paul goes on to speak of the great change that comes about in Christians in these terms. He speaks in verses 4-8 of how
when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
Before he adds a little more he says that This is a trustworthy saying. This is one of the trustworthy sayings of the pastoral letters then (the two to Timothy and the one to Titus). There are five altogether – three in 1 Timothy, one in 2 Timothy and this one here in Titus. They were probably sayings that went round in the churches in those early days and that Paul takes up as appropriate to what he has to say at certain points.
He wants Titus to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. As he adds These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.
Perhaps the best way to get at what is in these verses is by asking a series of questions.
1. When did God save us?
Verse 4 begins But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us. Though by nature we are foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of desires and passions, malicious and envious and hateful - something has happened that has changed all that – as he puts it here, the kindness and love of God our Saviour has appeared. By God our Saviour here is meant particularly God the Father, although we most often use the term Saviour in connection with the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul talks of his kindness – the word only appears here in the New Testament and his love for man. These appeared, having been previously hidden, when we were converted. Of course, we can go back to foreknowledge and predestination and the incarnation, life death, burial, resurrection, ascension and session of Christ and the pouting out of the Spirit for all that lies behind that conversion through the work of the Spirit. They are all part of the appearing of the kindness and love of our Saviour God. In the old westerns there often used to be that moment when it looked as though it were up with the good people and then out of nowhere the cavalry would appear to save the day. It is something like that with the appearance of our Saviour. Or think of the sun rising to herald the dawn. Its appearance means the long night of suffering and misery is over and the day has arrived.
It is the undeserved kindness and love of god that has made the difference then. This is what has transformed the life of every believer. Here is reason for constant thanksgiving and a realisation that nothing can ever be the same again.
When did God save us? When his kindness and love appeared, even while we were lost in foolishness, disobedience, blindness, malice, envy and sin, and we were converted.
2. What caused God to save us?
Paul puts this negatively and positively.
1. Negatively. Not because of righteous things we had done. His burden here is that the people should do what is good. In that situation there is always the danger that we can give the impression that Christianity is all about pulling ourselves up by our own boot straps, that in some sense we save ourselves. Nothing could be further from the truth. No, it is not because of righteous things we do that God saves us. What good can we do anyway? By nature we are foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved, malicious, envy, hateful and hated. No, it is nothing in us that saves as the New Testament stresses time and time again.
2. Positively. Rather it is because of his mercy. He has mentioned God's kindness and love and now he refers to his mercy – his undeserved favour. Without God;s mercy what hope would there be for us? None at all. He has looked on us with pity and seen our misery and failure and he has been merciful in Jesus Christ. Again it is a reason for much thanksgiving and a reason for good deeds. Having known such mercy how grateful should we be. We can bets show that thankfulness by living for God's glory and doing his will, being wise in him and obedient, with our eyes opened through him and refusing to be ruled by our passions and desires.
Why caused God to save us? It was certainly not because of righteous things we had done but entirely because of his mercy.
3. How did God save us?
The NIV endeavours to help us with the next part by reminding us that Paul is talking about how He saved us. Well how did he save us? It was, says Paul through two things. He also mentions a third thing a little later. It was firstly
1. Through the washing of rebirth
This is quite a saying. Paul really combines two thoughts to come up with a new one. On the one hand there is the idea of regeneration – being born again. But there is also the idea of washing being cleansed. The idea of new birth is taken up more in the second phrase so let's stick with the idea of cleansing first. We can think of the way we were in terms of dirt clinging to us, of being unclean. That's how we were. We had no right to come to God because of the sins that so clung to us like filth and dirt. I was listening today to an interview with a very low caste Dalit woman, an untouchable, in India. Because of her caste the only work she can get is taking away the waste from people's toilets. Because of her work people are very wary of touching her or coming into contact with her. If she goes to the market she is not allowed to touch the produce. If she wants something she has to point to it and they put it on the ground so that she can pick it up. What a wicked system the Hindu caste system is. But that is how we once were – unclean, like untouchables, like lepers banished from society. But we have been born again through God's mercy and so all our sins have been washed away. What a glorious thing that is. How thankful we should be.
2. And renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour. With that washing there was renewal as implied in the reference to regeneration. If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation, the old has gone the new has come. We have not only been washed clean but we have been renewed too. It is not just that we were dressed in filthy clothes and we were soiled all over. We were clothed in rags and our whole being was worn out and decrepit. However, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on us so generously because of the victory Christ won on the cross then the Holy Spirit renewed us and made us into new persons. We were transformed by his activity within. We were born of water and of the Spirit. Our hearts were not only sprinkled clean but we were given new hearts too. We were set apart to God or sanctified and made new or regenerated.
You notice what a Trinitarian statement this is. He (the Father) poured out on us the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ our Saviour.
3. It was also through having been justified by his grace.
Almost in passing Paul goes on to remind the believers that they were not only washed and renewed - sanctified and regenerated – but also justified. It wasn't only that God made a change within but also, and this is the thing that Paul more often emphasises, there was legal change. There was a change in our standing before God so that where as by nature we are condemned, we have now been justified or made right with God. And what was the root of this justification – it was the grace of God. So with kindness and love and mercy we now mention grace – God's undeserved love. Without that there would be no salvation – no justification, no regeneration, no sanctification.
God's justifying grace should move us to a life of good deeds in his service.
So, how did God save us? By having mercy on us and washing us clean when we were reborn and renewing us by pouring out the Spirit generously on us through Jesus Christ our Saviour and by declaring us righteous in his sight by his grace.
4. To what end did he save us?
It is so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. We've mentioned regeneration and justification and sanctification. We mustn't forget adoption either. By doing what he did, God made us heirs sons and heirs, those who have the right to inherit good things from God. In particular he mentions here our now having the hope of eternal life. ITV have recently been showing a costume drama that has proved very successful. It is called Downton Abbey. In the final episode of this first series the wife of Lord Grantham becomes pregnant quite late in life. They have three grown up daughters but if this next child proved to be a boy then he would become the heir rather than the present heir, a distant male cousin. Without giving things away if you have not seen it, the drama makes very clear what a difference being an heir can make. A lot hangs on it. Now if you are Christian tonight then you are a son of God and an heir and you have an inheritance that cannot be taken from you. In Peter's words, it cannot spoil or fade. Paul speaks of it here as the hope of eternal life. That is what we hope to inherit because of the great change that God had brought about in our lives. This hope ought to so affect us that we not only look forward to heaven but our behaviour here on earth is also changed so that we live for his glory.
This is indeed a trustworthy saying, and worth remembering - no wonder Paul wanted Titus to stress these things. All good preachers ought to stress them.
Never forget that although you were once foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures, living in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another in a word lost or totally depraved - all that has now changed. You have known the washing of rebirth, renewal by the Holy Spirit and justification and adoption. Because of God's kindness, love, mercy and grace you now have the hope of heaven. Never forget it.
5. How should we then live?
So there is a mini theology of salvation – a soteriology, if you like. However, it is not here simply to inform our minds. Do not forget what Paul is driving at here. Verse 8 – it is all to the end that those who have trusted in God all these blessings come by faith may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone. The very fact of what we were and have now become by the love and mercy and grace of God ought to stir us up to a careful devotion to doing what is good. All these facts should combine to stir us up to holy living – the love and grace of God, the generous way he has poured out his Spirit, the fact we never saved ourselves, regeneration, justification, the whole plan of salvation. May it do so.
You saw the impact that lack of motivation had on the England team – let's make sure it’s not happening to us right now by keeping these things in mind.