Read Titus 2:1-14
Last week, we talked about the role the gospel plays in our repentance from sin. This week, we want to walk it back a step--to the role the gospel plays in helping us not to sin in the first place. All believers war against sin—the question is—are we warring against it as the Bible teaches—through the gospel, or through other means that will not work? As we’ve said many times, Jesus died not only to set us free from the penalty of sin to condemn us, but also to set us free from the power of sin to control us. Today, we want to talk about a couple of ways we use the gospel in our war against sin.
As you heard from the first ten verses of Titus chapter two when it was read earlier, Paul tells Titus in verse one to “teach what accords with sound doctrine” and then follows with eight verses filled with broad, sweeping ethical imperatives or commands for the church. Older men, older women, younger women, younger men and slaves— all demographic segments of the church are told how they are to live as a Christ-followers. He then closes the section in verse 10 indicating that as they live this out they will in everything “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.” We know from what follows, the doctrine he is talking about is the gospel. The gospel will look beautiful as they live upright lives. The beauty of the gospel is manifest most clearly as it’s transforming a former rebel sinner into someone who increasingly looks like our beautiful Savior. So Paul’s train of thought here is: 1. Teach sound doctrine; 2. All of you live in a manner that adorns or makes the gospel beautiful to people. Then, in verse 11—he explains HOW that kind of holy, gospel-beautifying life is now possible. “11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” The reason we can live uprightly and in so doing make the gospel beautiful is because “the grace of God has appeared… training us to renounce (or say “no” to) ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age…” Paul says this grace purifies or cleanses for God “a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”
It’s the grace of God in the gospel that trains (or more precisely, continuously trains because it’s a present tense verb) believers to say no to sin and live godly lives. The implication is that unless God’s grace through the gospel—which is the power of God for salvation, is active in your life, you won’t be trained to say “no” to sin and “yes” to holiness. That’s important because the way many believers deal with sin—especially habitual or besetting sin is to assume that all the responsibility for getting free of it… is ours, “I need to just buckle down and get serious about this. I need to get some accountability from some brothers who will hold my feet to the fire. I need to pray more and get this under control.” Now, it’s good to be earnest in the fight against sin and have accountability and to pray. But just doing those things alone is graceless because it relies solely on our effort to get free from the power of sin. Paul says a believer is actively trained by something outside himself to say no to sin and yes to obedience.
When we place all the weight or responsibility for our holiness on us, there’s no grace there. Paul says its gospel grace that trains us not to sin. When we expect to be holy on the basis of only our own efforts at self-control, the only active participant is me--my willpower and personal resolve often born out of guilt or fear. The question is: “HOW does the gospel grace of God train us to say no to sin?” Paul explains one way in Romans chapter six. In verse 16 Paul explains, “16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” He presents two options-- slavery to sin or slavery to obedience and the master we serve is dependent upon which master we present ourselves to. To emphasize that the enslaving power of obedience is dominant in the life of the believer, Paul writes in verse 17, “17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed,” The enslaving power of sin formerly held you captive, but now—your identity has been changed and the controlling power of sin has been replaced by the controlling power of obedience. That is now dominant in you because God has given you a new heart that produces obedience. Christ’s work has ensured that we can live uprightly because our former enslavement to sin has been displaced by enslavement to obedience.
Paul’s explains in that verse that this obedience is not an external following of the rules, but is characterized by a God-imparted, heartfelt desire to obey God. There are two elements of this obedience in which the grace of God in the gospel trains us. You see, God doesn’t simply forgive our sin, only to allow it to have the same power of enticement it formerly possessed. NO! Paul argues that God plants within the new heart of every true believer a desire to obey Him. In verse 18, the verb is passive. Literally, the verse should read, “18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.” The meaning is clear. Grace first trains us to live self-controlled and upright lives by breaking the controlling power of sin so that it no longer overwhelms us. We don’t have to sin those sins any more. By his grace, he has through the gospel broken the chains which bound us to sin. We are free from its controlling power to coerce us, manipulate us and dictate to us.
But as we read earlier, God’s grace has not only set us free from the cruel master of sin, second, this grace trains us to say no to ungodliness by blessedly enslaving us to obedience which leads to righteousness. Isn’t that beautiful? By God’s grace through the gospel, obedience is now the controlling power in our lives and this was accomplished NOT through our discipline or initiative. God’s grace is continuously training us through this joyous enslavement to obedience that comes with a new heart. This shatters the lie that the power of sin is just as powerful in our lives to cause us to rebel as the power of righteousness is to compel us to obey. In the believer, a blessed power shift has occurred in favor of obedience over sin thanks to God’s grace through our new hearts. This desire to obey is God-imparted and this is part of how grace trains us to “renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.”
The question is, “if by God’s grace my heart is strongly weighted in favor of a desire to obey God, why is it that sin at times seems to be pulling me so much stronger than God?” There are a few answers to that question but this morning we’ll look briefly at two. First, some people in church experience sin as being much more powerful than the pull to righteousness because they’ve never been truly saved. If they have no saving grace through the gospel, there is no grace to train them in this enslavement to obedience. Of course sin will be stronger if its power has never been broken by Christ in their life. That’s one reason some folks in church see the pull of sin as being much stronger than the pull to obey. Though they are tired of sinning—it goes against even their fallen conscience—they have no power to triumph over it.
Another reason why the power of sin seems stronger than our desire to obey is because many believers do not know and/or believe this truth in their hearts. In other words, they are not warring against sin biblically. Many Christians experience this liberty over sin when they are first saved—their desires change—sometimes radically. But over time, it seems like the balance of power between sin and righteousness shifts back in favor of sin. In truth, what is happening is that God at some point allows the believer to experience the power of sin, so that they will learn to walk by faith—trusting in gospel-grace to train them not to sin. In both Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11 Paul says, “The righteous shall live by faith.” Many believers live in bondage to sin’s controlling power because they’re not trusting—placing their faith in the promises of God that Christ through the cross conquered the power of sin in us. When we don’t believe the truth of the gospel, the temptation to live in sins like apathy, lust and deceit will seem overwhelming. In that vacuum of faith and God’s truth created by our failure to believe God’s promises, our sinful flesh—which always relies on ME alone for spiritual growth--will rush in as the dominant spiritual influence over us. And if we are placing our faith in ourselves—trying to train ourselves to live uprightly, we’ll be very frustrated. Also, in addition to our flesh, our unbelief in Christ’s victory over sin for us can open the door for the enemy to rush in. He works to get us to believe the lie that the power of sin is greater than the pull toward righteousness because that’s the way it feels. He also uses our own repeated past failures to support his lie that the power of sin is stronger than this gospel grace.
Many have believed the lie and forgotten the promises describing the nature of the new heart God through his grace has given us. In these cases, though the power of salvation is present in our lives, we haven’t accessed that power in the gospel because we haven’t been hooking into it by faith in the promises of God. We haven’t as part of our daily routine been internalizing these truths—rejoicing over the power of gospel grace that God has given us through Christ and which trumps the power of sin. Let me ask you, do you see yourself as a person in whose life sin’s controlling power has been broken and who has been enslaved by God to obedience? Is that the way you conceive of yourself? If you’re a believer in Jesus Christ, that’s precisely what God has done for you and if you want to live above sin’s controlling power, you can and must believe these promises of your enslavement to obedience regardless of your past record of failure or how strong the temptation may feel at the moment. Faith is the evidence of things NOT seen, NOT felt, NOT experienced in the past. Paul explains our victory over sin this way in Romans 6:2, “How can you who died to sin still live in it?” The believer has been united with Christ as he died on the cross, that is—he was taken out of the realm where sin controlled, and we have died with him to sin — have been delivered from the power of sin to control our decisions and our destinies. Do we believe that? Do we regularly thank God for that?
Because a believer is united with the risen, ascended Christ, he has been placed positionally over the power of sin—it’s under his feet. The nature of your new heart is to desire to obey God. If you are in Christ, that’s who you are. When the temptations to sin seems overwhelming, we can and must affirm our faith in what GOD says about us, “Why am I feeling like a helpless victim to the power of sin, when in fact I have not only been set free from it, but I have actually been given a stronger, God-placed desire to obey?” Do we respond to temptation that way? If you don’t live by grace through faith in the promises of the gospel, you will live in discouragement and defeat instead of impassioned, heartfelt, enslaved-to-obedience-righteousness. The grace that trains us to say no to sin is accessed by faith in the truth of the gospel. When we don’t rehearse and apply the gospel truths of Christ’s victory over sin and ours with him, there is no grace to train us because there is no faith. This training grace comes through the conduit of faith in the promises. As we by God’s grace choose to believe the truth about ourselves instead of our feelings or our past record of miserable failure, this training gospel grace floods into our lives.
Tim Keller has helped me see a second way grace trains us to war against sin. That is--to give us insight into the nature of our sin and apply the liberating truth of the gospel to what is at the core of our sin. Sin overcomes us when we fail to believe the promises of the gospel—the sin of unbelief. But we must also know that the root of sin has two cores—a dual-core sinful flesh. One is unbelief and the other which the others flow is… idolatry. Unbelief and idolatry are the two root sins of the human race because they were the two root sins in the fall of Adam and Eve. Their unbelief is manifest when they chose to doubt God and believe the serpent—this creature they didn’t know nearly as well as they knew God. In a situation where there was a disagreement in testimony about the tree of knowledge between the serpent and God, their Creator, co-Regent and best friend, in their unbelief they swallowed the serpent’s lie. They chose not to believe God’s promise to them about the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil---that they would die if they ate it.
Their other root sin in the fall is idolatry because what finally caused them to doubt God’s word was when the serpent told them that the reason God forbade them from eating the fruit from that tree is because “You will be just like God.” The serpent tempts them to be God. That’s the root of all our sin, isn’t it? Whenever we disobey God in sin, we’re acting like God by implicitly communicating, “I know better than you do,” and that puts us in the place of God. Martin Luther was right when he said that in the Ten Commandments, the first commandment –“You shall have no other gods before me” is the commandment around which all the others orbit. The reason is because you cannot break any other commandment without first violating the prohibition against having other gods. Idolatry is implied in all sin.
For instance, if you lie, it’s because something is more important to you than God and obeying him—your reputation, money, job, etc… If you steal, it’s because whatever you steal is more important to you than God—at least at the moment you steal it. If you worry, it’s because something is so important to you, in your unbelief, you won’t entrust it/him/her completely to God at that moment. The same is true for all of the commandments.
Grace teaches us to war against sin by giving us insight into what idol(s) we have we set up. This involves getting into the habit of thinking more deeply about our sin so that by God’s grace, we can see what is the root sin beneath it. The Bible often makes this distinction between outward behavioral sin and the sin underneath motivating that sin. The rich young ruler comes to Jesus in Luke 18 and asks him how to inherit eternal life. Jesus tells him, “20 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’ ” 21 And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 23 But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.” At first glance, we might say this man’s main sin was greed, but that is a superficial analysis. Underneath his greed, we see both idolatry and unbelief operating. First, this man prefers his wealth over Jesus thus making it his God--idolatry. But also notice he is not motivated by Jesus’ appeal to sell all his goods which is --verse 22, “You will have treasure in heaven.” He didn’t believe that. His external sin was greed, but underneath was unbelief. Jesus offered him heavenly treasure but it didn’t compel him to sell his fortune because he didn’t believe that Jesus was offering him a better deal.
Likewise, if you sin by ignoring your time in prayer or the ministries to the body for which God has gifted you because, in your love for your child, you’re too busy running him/her around to his/her various enriching activities, your root problem is NOT that you’re too busy. The truth is-- your child has become an idol because you’re willing to enrich your child’s life at the expense of your walk with God and your other ministries. The child’s love for you or her happiness is more important than Jesus’ love—her happiness has become your Savior. If he/she is happy or turns out well, that will dictate your happiness. Conversely, if the child turns out to be serially unhappy or worse, a prodigal, you’ll crash and burn. It will destroy you if they grow up and ignore you because you, by allowing your life to orbit around theirs, have trained them to be self-absorbed. Your happiness is dependent NOT on Christ and what he has done for you, but in how well rounded or successful or grateful to you your child is. Your life revolves around him/her. Mark Driscoll defines idolatry as—when good things become ultimate things and therefore have become bad things.
If your joy or happiness depends on your spouse’s happiness or getting out on the lake or buying a bigger house or newer car or being respected by others, then those things have become your Savior because THAT is what determines your level of joy instead of all Jesus is to you and what he has done for you in the gospel. The good news is that God’s grace enables us to see what good things we are turning into ultimate things. We know someone or something has become an idol when the threat of losing or even the perceived threat of losing it causes us to react sinfully. When our gods are threatened, we react strongly. When we’re unable to give the kind of time and energy we want to our idol, or if our idol is in some way disappointing us, that will REALLY push our buttons. We become enraged or seriously cranky—we complain, lose our joy, fall into depression or whatever you do when someone or something is messing with something or someone that you’ve made of ultimate value to you.
When we have those kinds of extreme emotional responses—that’s God’s gracious way of tapping us on the shoulder and showing us what is in our hearts. If you crash and burn at the prospect of losing: your job, your boyfriend, your authority or the admiration of your peers, it’s because you are worshipping that—making it your Savior—your joy is in some way dependent upon that. So, a huge piece of effectively warring against sin is to find out what is the root sin in our hearts and God’s grace trains us to do that. When I lie, the deep, root sin is not the lie; it’s the reason I lie. If I lie by padding my resume or to conceal a failure or weakness, then the root sin I need to address is not fundamentally telling a lie, it’s my idolatrous desire to impress people. THAT’S my big problem and when I repent of that idolatry, the lying will stop.
Unbelief is also at the root here. When I lie to impress people, I’m not trusting in the truth that I am totally loved and accepted by God. If I really believed that—really in my heart believed that, I wouldn’t feel compelled to cover up my failures or weaknesses because I am resting in the promise that I am completely accepted and loved by God. And that gets to another related way grace trains us to renounce ungodliness and embrace righteousness. That is—grace trains us to replace the idol with God through the gospel. This Summer Eric preached a sermon by the great Scottish Puritan Thomas Chalmers called, “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” As you recall, his thrust is simply that if we are giving our heart to an idol, the only way to rid ourselves of the idol, is by God’s grace to replace the idol with God through the gospel.
A great example of how to do this is in a story Tim Keller tells about a woman he met early in his ministry. This was a woman who for most of her life had drawn all of her sense of worth from men. If she was on the arm of a man—she felt valued. Because she was so dependent on men for her worth, she ended up being used by several men. This woman ultimately became a Christian and told Pastor Keller her story. She said, “Before I became a Christian, I went to a therapist and she told me that I needed to take the energy I was putting into men, and put it into developing a career and being successful.” She then very perceptively said, “I knew that all my therapist was doing was telling me to replace my female gods [the love of a man] with male gods [an ego-stoking career.] When I became a Christian, I found some verses in Colossians chapter three that set me free.” The verses that helped her were, “3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” That’s gospel.
From the time she came to believe—really believe that verse, whenever she met a man that tempted her, she would think to herself, “You’re a nice man and maybe someday I’ll marry someone like you, but you are not my life—Christ is my life and I am hidden with him in God.” She believed the gospel(!) and used gospel truth to keep her from falling into her old sinful pattern of idolatry. She was saying, “I get my spousal love from Jesus—He is my Savior, not any man.” If your idol is wanting to please people more than God, meet that temptation with Isaiah 2:22, “22 Stop regarding man in whose nostrils is breath, for of what account is he?” That will jolt you into realizing how foolish it is to want to please people over pleasing God. When God’s grace trains you to discern the root idol of man-pleasing, replace it with God through the gospel. “Did that man ever die for me? Did he take my sins away? Did he take God’s wrath for me? I will not make his opinion of me of ultimate worth to me.” If money is an idol for you and God shows you that by the anxiety you have over whether or not to tithe your income, allow God’s grace to train you to believe and apply the promise that God will take care of you in this life and you will have treasure in heaven.
As we close, in addition to believing gospel truth, another way God’s grace trains us to replace our idols with God is by worshipping him in a way that reminds of us his supremacy and stimulates greater affections toward him. Our idols stimulate us in some way—they increase our heartbeat. Yet, many believers very seldom experience that dynamic in their relationship with God in part because they don’t spend time or energy in worship reflecting on the supremacy of his glory, his mercy and kindness to them. That will trigger greater affections for God and help displace our idols with him. It reminds us that he is better than our idol. We must experience the supremacy of God’s glory and one way we do that is by worshipping him in ways that excite the affections of our heart.
Perhaps the best way to do that is to worship God through music—especially songs that are cross-centered and gospel-saturated. The power of music is--it packs truth with emotive power. John Piper helps us to see the unique power of music to excite our affections and by extension, displace our idols. “Music and singing are necessary to Christian faith and worship for the simple reason that the realities of God and Christ, creation and salvation, heaven and hell are so great that when they are known truly and felt duly, they demand more than discussion and analysis and description; they demand poetry and song and music. Singing is the Christian’s way of saying: God is so great that thinking will not suffice, there must be deep feeling, and talking will not suffice, there must be singing. …singing is an ideal way, a God-ordained way of combining objective truth with thankfulness, theology with doxology, intellect with emotion.”
God trains us to war against sin by giving us the faith to believe the promises of the gospel. Do you spend any time meditating on and celebrating what God says is true about you, your new heart, your new relationship to sin? When we fail to do that, we are not giving grace any room to train us. God also trains us to war against sin by teaching us to see the idols which underlie our external sins and replace them with God. Do you do that? Do you think about why you committed a particular sin? Have you identified some of the idols in your life? If so, are you, like the woman we spoke of—choosing to believe that Jesus is better than what you are serving? As by God’s grace we identify the idols, his grace then enables us to replace them with God through his faith-stimulating word and heartfelt worship. Is worship through music a regular experience for you? May God give us the grace war against sin as his grace trains us to live uprightly for his glory and our joy.
Page last modified on 9/23/2012
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