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Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Collect.

O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Daily Bible Verse

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sermon Notes: The Apostle Paul on Regeneration and Justification



(This sermon was delivered today at Christ Church Longwood in Longwood, Florida).

A sermon by Charlie J. Ray. (For the audio, click here and look for the list: Sermons.

The Apostle Paul's Doctrinal Aside on Regeneration and Justification in Titus 3:1-11


Texts: Isaiah 54:1-10; Psalm 31; Titus 3:1-11; John 3:1-15


Introduction:


Why do good people go to HELL and bad people go to HEAVEN?


That was the question that a church once used to advertise a course that they were running. They requested some posters to be printed and sent the details to the printing company. When they received the posters they saw that the statement had been changed to: "Why do good people go to HEAVEN and bad people go to HELL." So they rang the Printers and said "
You've got it the wrong way round!" "No we haven't," said the Printers, "it's you that have it wrong!"

That was a story that I heard recently, and it shows how so many people have it the wrong way round. The Church in question had it right! It was the Printers that had it wrong! "How come?", you may ask. "Of course good people go to heaven and the bad go to hell - who'd want to spend eternity in a heaven filled with bad people - that would be hell!" Well, if your idea of getting to heaven is by doing things, for example, doing works, saying prayers at set times, keeping the rules, etc., then I can see how you have the idea that only the good go to heaven. To me that sounds like a lot of hard work, and you never know if you've done enough!


(From an anonymous pastor...)


I. The Problem.
But Paul is not dealing here with a long discussion of the doctrine of salvation or of justification. The book of Titus is not a book of theology or systematic theology. It is not a legal manual on the law. Rather it is a first century letter written by the Apostle Paul to Titus, the leading pastor of the congregations in Crete and the purpose of the letter is to deal with problems taking place in the church. In other words, this is not a missionary letter meant to convert the lost but rather a pastoral letter which Paul intends to encourage Titus and to instruct him in how to deal with the issues taking place in Crete. So Paul is dealing with ethical and moral problems among members of the church who are supposed to be Christians and therefore only mentions doctrine in relation to the moral problems taking place there.

a.  But why does Paul say this?

"The pastoral Epistles are primarily practical rather than theological. The emphasis lies rather on the defense of doctrine than on its explication or elaboration. The distinctively doctrinal passages comprise only a small part of the whole; Timothy and Titus had already been instructed." Expositor's Bible Commentary, NT.


Reforming a local church or congregation is a long and arduous task even in the first century! Paul devotes three entire epistles or letter in the New Testament to dealing with ethical and doctrinal problems in the churches at Ephesus and Crete under the leadership of Timothy and Titus.


b. It would be easy to misunderstand Paul and to think that Christianity is about being a good person. But is that really the point Paul is making here?


II. Six Degrees of Separation: Myth or Reality?


A recent theory involving mathematics, statistics and relationships has been popularized and romanticized in the media. The theory is called six degrees of separation. An article in Wikipedia gives us a few helpful details:


a. John Guare's Six Degrees of Separation

Main articles: Six Degrees of Separation (play) and Six Degrees of Separation (film)

American playwright, John Guare, wrote a play in 1990, and later released a film in 1993 that popularized it. It is Guare's most widely-known work.

The play ruminates upon the idea that any two individuals are connected by at most five others. As one of the characters states,

I read somewhere that everybody on this planet is separated by only six other people. Six degrees of separation between us and everyone else on this planet. The President of the United States, a gondolier in Venice, just fill in the names. I find it A) extremely comforting that we're so close, and B) like Chinese water torture that we're so close because you have to find the right six people to make the right connection... I am bound to everyone on this planet by a trail of six people.



b. While this romantic ideal of being only six personal relationships away from any other person on earth is appealing, in actual practice it is not as easy as all that. You have to know the right six people to get to that other person you want to contact and it is even more difficult if the person you want to contact is isolated from the rest of society by social buffer zones such as the President of the United States, who has the Secret Service and the FBI protecting access to him.



III. What Degree of Separation Do We Have from God?


a. Now that is an interesting question. Are we not all children of God? (See John 1:11-12). If we listen to the popular culture, the answer would be yes. We're all just basically good people. Homosexuals are just nice people who were born that way and just cannot help themselves. Of course, everyone else who sins is not born that way, we just choose to do the wrong thing because we have free will. Homosexuals are the one exception to free will, of course. They just can't help themselves--they don't have free will because their sexual orientation isn't freely chosen and therefore they are not responsible for their sexual immorality according to man's opinion. So in popular opinion, being good is what gets us to heaven and no one is really bad. People are just basically good people who make bad choices. Right?


b. So in popular opinion there is a balance sheet of good on one side of the sheet and bad on the other. Every time we do something wrong we must do something else good to make up for it. And if you do something really, really bad you must do a lot of good things to make up for it. Even the criminal justice system is based on this idea. "Don't do the crime unless you're willing to do the time." Prisons used to be called "penitentiaries", an idea coming from the concept of "doing penance" for one's sins. So we must do the time, then make restitution to the best of our ability as the civil and criminal laws of the land require. But is this God's understanding of being good? What does the Bible have to say about this idea of balancing good and bad? Not according to Paul. Paul's view is that ANY sin at all makes us sinners worthy of God's justice and wrath: " For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified." (Romans 2:12-13, ESV)1 We'll get to that in a moment.


c. Regarding our civil relationships, which applies to relationships between Christians as well, this is all well and good. We have a duty to treat our neighbor as we ourselves would want to be treated and our outward gentleness and humility and tolerance goes a long way toward witnessing to others about Christ.


IV. But What Is the REAL Problem?


a. As I said before, Paul is dealing with a practical problem in the church where some folks are living in sin and acting hateful. In short, their level of sanctification is not what it ought to be. That is, they might be Christians but they are acting like those in the pagan world.


b. Now we might assume from all this that Christianity is really about being good and being like Christ in that we are humble and gentle and always should show perfect courtesy. There is nothing wrong with this in and of itself if we understand that Paul is here dealing with our duty as Christians to live a holy life reflecting the love of God toward others.


c. However, in a recent lecture in Australia, Robert Forsyth, an Evangelical bishop in the Sydney Diocese of the Anglican Church made this comment, which he calls, An Aside on Moralism:


One reason for the crisis in the Anglican Communion is that I think that one of the shadow identities was of an Anglicanism that contented itself with broad low grade theology with an emphasis on good works and good behaviour, rather than theological truth. It may well be that such a concern for providing a faith that at least people are to be good has been a long term feature of Anglicanism, at least going as far back as the Reformation with a bruised England recovering from the disastrous 30 years War of the Roses. [23] Certainly there have been other occasions where theological or social conflict may well have led Anglicanism to agree that, whatever else the Christian faith has to offer, first and foremost it is, as the words of the famous Victorian children's hymn [24] also describe the death of Jesus, "to make us good."


But what happens when the taken for granted moral consensus collapses and becomes as fraught as theology? [25] Moralism as a way to keep peace fails. . . .



V. Your Sins Have Separated You From God.

The problem is that the Episcopal Church and even many Evangelical churches and ministers have focused on morality rather than the law and the Gospel. Dr. Michael Horton has called this phenomenon in American churches, "Christless Christianity." And even though we normally think of this as liberal mainline denominations which do not uphold the authority of Holy Scripture, Horton says this applies to Evangelical churches as well! Isn't that surprising? Instead of focusing on right doctrine and the Gospel, churches are focusing on morality, self improvement programs, marriage seminars and self esteem. Dr. Robert Schuller even redefined sin as a problem of low self esteem! (See quotes from Schuller at Self Esteem: The New Reformation). But is that REALLY the problem? But Isaiah 59:1-2 says:

"Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear." (Isaiah 59:1-2, ESV)



a. In Titus Paul is dealing with moral problems but what is surprising is that after giving a long diatribe about proper behavior and right living, Paul reminds the Christians at Crete of what he has already taught them through his ministry and what he has handed on to Titus. And we absolutely must not miss Paul's main point here. In fact, no less than 4 times in the pastoral epistles Paul mentions "sound doctrine" in connection with right behavior. And what is sound doctrine?



b. Paul's Aside on God's Mercy. The focus is on Titus 3:4-7.



"But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life." (Titus 3:4-7, ESV)



VI. The New Birth and the Doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone



a. The first thing we must realize is that God is not simply a God of love, although Scripture does in fact teach that God is love and commands Christians to love each other 1 John 4:7-8 says:

"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love." (1 John 4:7-8, ESV)


b. But Scripture has much more to say about God. God is also a law giver and a judge.

"Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you." (Psalm 143:2, ESV)


God's standards of justice are perfect since He is a perfect being who is absolutely holy and just. In our own eyes we seem like nice people but compared to God no matter how lily white we may think we are we are not lily white enough to be justified before God on the day of judgment. And even if we take it from the side of practical Christian living, we always have more room to grow in Christ and to be more lily white than we are. We never arrive, which is WHY our justification at the Judgment Day can NEVER be based on our good works, merits or performance!!! Rather our justification at the last judgment is based on the good works of Christ and His sinless life lived for us in our place!


"For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin." (Romans 3:20, ESV)


"For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law." (Romans 3:28, ESV)


"And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness," (Romans 4:5, ESV)


"yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not!" (Galatians 2:16-17, ESV)


VII. The Dinstinction Between Law and Gospel



The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel. Dr. Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther (1811-1887)


"In the first place, then, Law and Gospel differ as regards the manner of their being revealed to man. Man was created with the Law written in his heart. True, in consequence of the Fall this script in the heart has become quite dulled, but it has not been utterly wiped out. The Law may be preached to the most ungodly person and his conscience will tell him, That is true. But when the Gospel is preached to him, his conscience does not tell him the same. The preaching of the Gospel rather makes him angry. The worst slave of vice admits that he ought to do what is written in the Law. Why is this? Because the Law is written in his heart. The situation is different when the Gospel is preached. The Gospel reveals and proclaims nothing but free acts of divine grace; and these are not at all self-evident. What God has done according to the Gospel He was not obliged to do, as though He could not possibly have remained a just and loving God if He had not done it. God would still have been eternal Love if He had allowed all men to go to perdition." (First Evening Lecture, Thesis I). [Walther].


"The Old Testament is sometimes spoken of to-day as though in it salvation is by law; while in the New salvation is by grace. This is a grave error. The Old Testament itself teaches (Psalm 143:2) that by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. Salvation is all of grace, in the Old Testament as in the New. Jehovah is depicted as taking the part of the near kinsman, the goel. He redeemed Israel, not only from temporal trouble but from sin." David Broughton Knox. Selected Works. Volume 2: Church and Ministry. (Kingsford: Matthias Media, 2003). Pp. 13-14.



a. Open Water

In the movie Open Water, 2003, an American man and his wife go scuba diving on a commercial boat which takes groups of divers to the Great Barrier Reef:



Open Water is a 2004 film based on the true story of an American couple, Tom and Eileen Lonergan, who in 1998 went out with a scuba diving group, Outer Edge Dive Company, on the Great Barrier Reef, and were accidentally left behind because the dive-boat crew failed to take an accurate headcount.[1] None of the 26 other divers or five crew members noticed that the couple was missing. . . .

Before filming began, the Lonergans' experience was re-created for an episode of ABC's 20/20, and the segment was repeated after the release of Open Water. Clips from the film were also featured on NBC in Troubled Waters, a Dateline episode (July 7, 2008) with Matt Lauer interviewing two professional divers, Richard Neely and Ally Dalton, who were left adrift at the Great Barrier Reef by a dive boat on May 21, 2008.

b. Suppose your boat sinks and you are stranded in the middle of the ocean. Someone who could not swim would drown immediately. A good swimmer would make it a few miles. An Olympic swimmer might make it 10 or 20 miles. But eventually everyone stranded will succumb to their weakness and drown because the shore is too far away to make it. This is our dilemma from the point of divine justice. None of us are righteous enough to make it on our own. None of us are strong enough to satisfy the impossible demands of God's absolute moral law.



VIII. Natural Religion Understands Law But Not Gospel


Our natural inclination is to focus on being good. Paul does tell us to be good in the book of Titus because this is a sign of being a true Christian. But Paul is also careful to remind us that being good is NOT the basis of our justification or our salvation. Rather, the basis of our salvation and justification is the free gift of God. Even our faith is not a work but a gift! Billy Graham once said that salvation is 99% God and 1% our response. But this is not true. To make our salvation depend on good works even by 1% is to leave us without hope. The Gospel is that apart from anything good within us, God imparts to His elect the gift of faith (Ephesians 2:8), enabling them to believe and then imputes to them the righteousness of Christ, the true basis of our justification in the final judgment.


Dr. James Packer, the famous Evangelical Anglican scholar and clergyman puts it like this:


"The new birth or regeneration is an inner recreating of fallen human nature by the Holy Spirit. It changes the disposition from lawless, godless self-seeking into one of trust and love, of repentance for past rebelliousness and unbelief, and loving compliance with God's law henceforth. It enlightens the blinded mind to discern spiritual realities and liberates and energizes the enslaved will for free obedience to God.

The use of the figure of new birth to describe this change emphasizes two facts about it. The first is its decisiveness. The regenerate man has forever ceased to be the man he was; his old life is over and a new life has begun; he is a new creature in Christ, buried with him out of reach of condemnation and raised with him into a new life of righteousness.

The second fact emphasized is that regeneration is due to the free, and to us, mysterious, exercise of divine power. Infants do not induce or cooperate in their own procreation and birth; no more can those who are dead in trespasses and sins prompt the quickening operation of God's Spirit within them." James Packer, Your Father Loves You, (Harold Shaw Publishers, 1986).

Conclusion:


Some believe that we are merely sick with sin. God does His part by providing the medicine to cure the sickness and we do our part by taking the medicine. But the Bible says that we are dead in our trespasses and sins. Dead men are unable to take the medicine so medicine does dead men no good! What we need is a resurrection from the dead, a new birth. God does all this for us by making us believe in the first place and then justifying the ungodly by the faith He first gives us. While baptism is not in itself the new birth, it is the outward sign, a visible preaching of God's Word. It is the sign of an inward grace which produces our faith in the first place. What Paul is telling us in Titus 3 is to live sanctified and holy lives as a testimony to others. But never forget that the basis or bottom line for our salvation is the mercy of God alone, not our level of sanctification or the amount of good works we do! Grace does not make sense to the world. Even the wicked recognize the need to do good but grace can only be comprehended by those who have been born again and renewed by the Holy Spirit.


1 The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.


The Eleventh Sunday after Trinity.

The Collect.

O GOD, who declarest thy almighty power most chiefly in shewing mercy and pity; Mercifully grant unto us such a measure of thy grace, that we, running the way of thy commandments, may obtain thy gracious promises, and be made partakers of thy heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

2 comments:

Charlie J. Ray said...

Unfortunately, the wrong audio file got posted for last Sunday's sermon at the Christ Church website. Hopefully the audio file didn't get lost. More later.

Charlie J. Ray said...

The proper audio is now posted for my sermon last Sunday at Christ Church Longwood, Longwood, Florida.

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