God Graciously Reminds Us - Titus 3:1-3
When was the last time you forgot something? Maybe where you put your keys, or your wallet or purse? Ever forget to stop by the store when you were supposed to? Or have you ever gone into a store, done some shopping, and later realized that you forgot to buy what you went in there for in the first place? We forget all kinds of things. Important dates like birthdays or anniversaries,we forget names. We forget where we parked the car. Ever burn a meal because you forgot it was cooking in the oven? We forget to pay bills, return phone calls. We forget things that we once learned. Some people are better at remembering certain things than others, but we all forget. And so we set reminders on our phones, we put post-it notes in various places, we write things down in our planners or on our hands so that we can remember and overcome forgetfulness. The Scriptures teach us that our forgetfulness shows up in another place.
We naturally forget God. We forget that he provides and sustains. We forget his encouragements, his promises, his warnings, and his power. And these things are so closely identified with him that we aren’t just forgetting things about God or from God. We are forgetting God himself. This is how people have been since sin entered the world.
But God graciously reminds us of himself. In fact, reminders are a continual part of God’s redemptive plan for his people in both Old and New Testament times. He gives reminders through his Word and by his Spirit. He does it through preaching, as we learned last week from Titus 2:15. Also, he reminds us through the consequences of our sin. Certainly you can think of a time that you forgot God and went your own way and you suffered the consequences for it. And so you returned to the Lord. We are prone to forget but God reminds us.
And because he does this, we should recognize that remembering is a recurrent part of the life of a Christian. We need reminders. But of what kinds of things do we need to be reminded?
In the first part of Titus 3, we see three things of which God has to remind us:
- how a saved life looks. (v.1-2)
- how an unsaved life looks. (v.3)
- and how an unsaved life becomes a saved life. (v.4-5a)
Now first, God reminds us of how a saved life looks. (v.1-2)
Paul goes thought a list of things that these new believers in Crete need to remember. He says,  Remind them (meaning the Christians). This applies to everyone – all the people groups addressed in chapter 2. They should “be submissive to rulers and authorities” and “be obedient” (obviously, to the rulers and authorities). Of course, submission and obedience to these authorities is only appropriate when it doesn’t cause you to disobey God. If someone must choose between obeying governing authorities or obeying God, they should obey God. Christians should seek to live at peace with those in authority.
In Romans 13, Paul writes, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” If a person doesn’t like authority, they’re going to have a hard time with God. And then Paul says they should “be ready for every good work.” The Christian life is not meant to be a self-focused or self-absorbed life. Whether in your home or outside of your home, you have to be ready to serve others.
If a person doesn’t like serving others, they’re going to have a hard time with Jesus Christ. And he says “speak evil of no one.” This refers to venomously trashing people. The word is essentially “blaspheme,” to revile someone or rail at them. Also, “to avoid quarreling, to be gentle.” These go together. Don’t be contentious. Be kind. “and to show perfect courtesy.” Show humility toward people. Demonstrate considerateness, he says, “toward all people.” So, no exceptions. As we read on, it seems that he has non-believers in mind in particular. This is a different way of living.
The rest of the world is characterized by things on this list:
- unreasonable rebellion against government and authority
- living a self-focused life
- reviling others with words
- arguing, fighting with each other, acting puffed up and proud
- and being tribal, us-against-them, favor some people over others
By his grace, God saves his people and sets them apart to be different from the rest of the world. This was true in both Old and New covenant community. God saved Israel from Egypt by his grace and set them apart to stop being like that. God saved us and sets us apart to stop being like that. People who claim to be Christians who go on living like the world, without pause, do nothing but reveal that they probably have never been born again and trusted in Jesus. I think the South is full of this; Florence is full of this. You walked to the front of a worship service and prayed a sinner’s prayer? So what. You were baptized once, twice, or more? Who cares. Did you repent?
In Luke 3, Jesus talks about what Paul later refers to in Acts 26: bearing fruit in keeping with repentance, or, living the life of a person who has actually turned from sin and trusted in Jesus. Just as being an ethnic Jew descended from Abraham didn’t guarantee salvation to the Jews in the Old covenant community, so baptism or reciting a prayer does not guarantee salvation in the New covenant community. This is why in 2 Peter, the apostle Peter urged the people in the churches to “be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election,” by the way you live.
Picture a parent teaching a child right from wrong. The child is naturally self-centered, and has to be taught not to constantly act in a self-absorbed way. The world doesn’t revolve around the child, and the child needs to learn that in order to live in peace with others. Teaching the child “Don’t be selfish” is not unmerciful. The child has to learn, “Ok, selfish, that’s what I’m being.” It is a kindness and a blessing to be told what is right. James 1 says, Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
Just as it’s merciful to teach a child what is true, it’s merciful of God to remind us of the truth. God is patient with his people. He’s always been this way. In Deuteronomy 8:11, Moses told the Israelites, “Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today.” They needed constant reminders of how a saved life should look. The law of God was and still is good - because it reminds us of what holiness is. In Romans 7, Paul explains. He says, “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”
How often do we forget to live the way Paul describes in Titus 3? Again, in 2 Peter 1, Peter gives a similar list and then says, “Whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.” Don’t we fail, then resolve to change, but what happens? We forget. God has to remind us how our saved lives should look.
Next, God reminds us of how an unsaved life looks. (v.3)
Paul compels the people to live this way by reminding them next of their lives before Christ. He says,  “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray.” The word “also” is there, though maybe not in the English translation you have. “Also” implies that he was referring to non-believers earlier. We previously were the way non-believers still are. Is it difficult to act with kindness toward a hostile person who doesn’t believe? Paul tells them they were once that way. They were naturally self-absorbed “slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy.” We had intentional ill-will towards us. And we were filled with jealousy. And we were “hated by others and hating one another.”
Why do we need to be reminded of this? Because we quickly put ourselves above others. It’s human nature to look for someone over whom we can take moral high ground. We don’t have to work at being prideful, do we? In his autobiography, Ben Franklin wrote, “There is perhaps no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive…you will see it, perhaps, often in this history (meaning his autobiography); for even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.”
That’s keen insight from someone who didn’t hold orthodox Christian views.
How often do you forget what your life would be like apart from God’s grace? While there is right and wrong, and your stance on something may very well be right, we have to be reminded, as Paul states in 1 Corinthians 15, “By the grace of God, I am what I am.” This is an example of how to apply the gospel to a situation. How should you treat a puffed-up person? Well, you were puffed up -- toward God. How did God treat you? How do you treat an enemy? Well, you were an enemy – of God. How did he treat you? If you and I look closely at our lives, we see that we still sin. Even if we mature and change for the better, we can easily find ourselves up on a high horse, proud and indignant toward those who aren’t like us. And so we have to go right back to the cross. Probably best to just stay there all the time, with the constant reminder of who we would be without it.
And finally, God reminds us of how an unsaved life becomes a saved life. (v.4-5a)
If section one what is where we are now, and section two is where we used to be, this last section is how we got from there to here. Verse 4 “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared,” Always, for someone to be saved from the world and to God, his goodness and loving kindness must appear.
This was true in the Old covenant community. Deuteronomy 5, Moses told the Israelites, “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.” And it’s true in the New covenant community, the church today. Ephesians 2, “remember that you were…separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
The New Testament apostles used this Old Testament language to describe God’s New Testament people because they saw that the New covenant in Christ was the result God had been moving toward as he advanced his plan of redemption with each Old Testament covenant, first with Adam, then Noah, then Abraham, then Moses, then David, and finally, with Jesus Christ.
Those New Testament writes were pointing out the continuity of God’s redemptive plan. Now the word we translate as “appear” in verse 4 basically meant “to bring light,” “to make clearly known,” or “to reveal.” It’s not exactly related, but this Greek word is the origin of our English word “epiphany,” a sudden and unexpected revelation. When we were saved, by God’s grace we saw the light. The Scriptures refer over and over to God as light. Psalm 27, “The LORD is my light.”
Isaiah 9, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” The light appeared. It appeared to people who needed the light. Now here’s a question: were we looking for the light? The implication here is that we were not. This may contradict what you’ve heard or thought in the past, but biblically speaking, you and I were not looking for Jesus. We were not looking for God. How is that? Well, Romans 3 says no one seeks God. You may think, “Well, I was searching. I wanted God.” But the Scriptures describe something different. Many seek the benefits of God. Many seek a clear conscience or answers in life. Many want blessings and peace and hope. But every single person who has ever lived would be perfectly happy to find all those things without God.
That was at the heart of the sin of Adam and Eve: life apart from God. The natural way of thinking is not, “I want to be with God.” It’s “I want to be God.” “I want to be God of my life.” When you truly come to understand the good news of Jesus, you realize that what you “found” was not what you were looking for. Because you can’t know what you don’t know.
When I was a kid, I woke up during the night and I wanted a drink of water. So I got up in the dark, and I made my way down the hallway - in the dark. For some reason it didn’t occur to me to turn on a light. Instead, I put my arms out like this, so I wouldn’t run into the wall. And I hadn’t walked long until something hit me square in my face. If was the door frame. (Explain) I had not anticipated that. Didn’t even think about that as potentially happening.
When we were not yet born again, we were in darkness. For me personally, as an unsaved person, God was a problem to solve. He was an equation to figure out or a code to crack. He was a court case to defend. When I eventually came to believe that he existed, then his rules were a series of hoops to jump through so that I could have a good life. It was like the obstacle course on the TV show American Ninja Warrior. I mean, it’s obviously difficult, but it’s possible, right? Some people can do it.
Ok, well then I’m going to do it! But when God turned on the lights, I realized out that I didn’t need to be convinced, I needed to be forgiven. All of a sudden it was clear: my questions weren’t my biggest problem – the guilt of my sin was. But the difference was that now I could see Christ and his gospel. I could see that it was Jesus alone by faith through God’s grace. I felt like I was hearing something for the first time, even though I knew I had heard people saying it all my life.
Verse 5, “he saved us – there’s nothing wrong with saying you were “saved” although you may have to define the term for people. Notice Paul’s pastoral humility: “he saved us.” And there’s a clear contrast between two opposing views of how he saved us. “not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy,” Language scholars agree that the Greek wording here puts special emphasis on the words “his own mercy.” An unsaved life becomes a saved life by the mercy of God. It clearly isn’t deserved, achieved, or awarded by the performance of various rituals. It wasn’t given because you straightened up and got your act together, or because you began to do the things listed in verses 1-3. You don’t have it because you found it. It found you. God had to do it. You were helpless.
Have you forgotten how an unsaved life becomes a saved life? Maybe you knew this, but you got away from living like it? We tend to move one of two ways. Either we become riddled with guilt and shame, forgetting that we can rest because the righteousness of Jesus is enough and we can take nothing away from it; or we become puffed up with pride, self-reliance, and smugness, forgetting that the righteousness of Jesus is everything and we add nothing to it. We need God to remind us of how he saved us so that we don’t remain in either these pitfalls.
We need God’s gracious reminders. Remembering has to be a way of life until the end. John Newton is most famous for having written the great hymn “Amazing Grace.” Newton lived most of his life during the 1700s and before his conversion to Christianity, he was a slave trader. However, after being born again, he renounced the slave trade - one example of the contrast between an unsaved life and a saved life.
He became a great preacher of the gospel of Jesus, and biographer John Pollock describes how at age 82, Newton still wanted to preach, but his mind and his body had grown frail. He no longer had the mental grasp that he once had. And shortly before Christmas 1807, he lay dying, with a close friend by his side. And his friend recounted how Newton whispered, “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great savior.”
Let’s pray together.