Let's place two texts side-by-side--Titus 2:11-15 and 2 Peter 2:18-21:
First, Titus 2:11-15:
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you.
And 2 Peter 2:18-21:
For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage. For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them (2 Peter 2:18-21).
Out in the news I keep hearing this place and that place declared supposedly "safe spaces." But Earth in 2019 has no safe spaces. Our adversary the devil goes about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. He roams earth looking for prey, and friend, you are prey. You are his special interest. He is searching for you, not because you might make good lion food, but to deprive you of your God-given opportunity for true manhood. God wants to teach us how to be free, but we are inclined to choose some form of bondage. Slavery is easier than freedom. But we are called to freedom.
We are in desperate peril. We can't round the edges of that or put velvet on it. We live in the last time; all the forces of Satan's kingdom will soon be unleashed to kill you and everyone you love. The great controversy between good and evil is on and you were born onto the battlefield. God is calling you to demonstrate the way of peace to a world that knows only strife, imposition, self-indulgence, and carnality.
What a mission.
But what a Savior!
Jesus gave everything for you. On the cross He gave all. We need to start there. But let's not speak in generalities; let's begin with Scripture. Human ideas are cheap. If we want to understand God's salvation then we want to understand God's ideas of salvation. God's idea of the cross is the one that matters. Satan piles around the cross an enormous crop of false ideas. He puts them in proximity to the cross. He wants you to think this or that pet idea is what the cross is about. So we want to start with the Bible, to try for the divine idea, the idea in the text.
A Word Through Titus
So, let's ask some questions from the text. Open your Bible at Titus 2:11-14.
What is it that Brings Salvation?
The grace of God brings salvation--not what man brings to God but what God brings to man. Cain thought he would bring some produce to God. No doubt it was his best. But the sin problem could not be solved by what human hands had produced. God was not seeking gifts from men. What gifts do men have that they can bring to God? Is there anything we can really lay claim to, anything that was ours and ours alone, that we are able to give to God?
The parent gives the child a pencil and paper and the child draws a picture and gives it to the parent. The parent loves the child, and praises the child for the picture because it is special. It has love in it. But the parent provided the paper that the child transformed. The parent provided the pencil the child drew with.
Likewise, when David prepared the material to build a temple for God, he acknowledged to God that all man can do is give back what the Giver God has already given. Listen:
Both riches and honor come from You, and You reign over all. In Your hand is power and might; in Your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. . . But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly as this? For all things come of You, and of Your own we have given You. . . O Lord our God, all this abundance that we have prepared to build You a house for Your holy name is from Your hand, and is all Your own (1 Chronicles 29:12, 14, 16).
So it is the grace of God that brings salvation; it is never earned by us. Jesus paid for it at the cross; we are strictly recipients. We cannot generate grace, we can only receive it from its source.
To How Many?
Another question: How many men--how many human beings--has this grace appeared to?
Our text answers that God's grace has appeared to all men. Jesus died for all men. The sacrifice of the cross was made for all people. And then God did not hide it; He communed with prophets and Bible writers and caused the Bible to be the single most widely distributed document in human history. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit provoked missionaries to travel the planet and share the gospel with everyone. The grace appeared to all men. Jesus' death on the cross became widely known, and Jesus lived in Christians. The mind of Christ, the unselfish, love-others-first plan seen in Jesus, was reproduced in every Christian. The grace of God that brings salvation appeared to all men in Jesus' sacrifice and all the lives affected by that. A ripple of goodness and unselfishness swept across the universe. Nothing can be added to the cross. Jesus is our Savior. Our best human-generated works would add only confusion and imperfection.
The classic text stares back at us:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it [--in the gospel of God--] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, 'The just shall live by faith.' (Romans 1:16-17).
The righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. Which is to say, it is demonstrated, made concrete and actual, in the actions of God's children. When we act in faith, God makes the fact of righteousness. Our faith is never alone; God makes it possible for us to have faith. When a Christian does what the gospel says, the power that accomplishes it is the power of God. The power of man on his own is demonstrated every day and does not amount to much. But God squeezes His grace out into the world in the lives of believers. Then it's never our righteousness and always His righteousness.
His grace is manifest in many ways, for there is nothing good that we deserve. All of His helps are gifts. He works on the consciences of all men, showing us what is right and what is wrong. He convicts via His Holy Spirit of sin, right-acting, and judgment. It is a gift from God. God designed us to know right from wrong in the beginning. It was a gift to us designed into our being. After the Fall of man, that clarity was fogged. Jesus needs to restore enmity between us and Satan. He "puts" enmity back in (Genesis 3:15). This restoration of a capacity to maintain an enemy stance toward Satan is a gift. God offers salvation to all. Salvation requires a capacity to choose the right but also a capacity to desire the right.
His grace is offered to all but forced upon none. Men are not forced to be righteous. We are free to be unfree if you will; God insists on laying out options for us but He does not force us to choose His freedom.
What does this Grace Do?
Onward now with our questions growing out of the text. What does this grace do?
We want grace as biblically defined. This is what we see in verse 12. Believers are called to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts while living sober, righteous, and godly lives in this present age. There is a present troubling viewpoint that everything goes, nothing is too strange for God, nothing in unacceptable, God is not particular, He is not jealous, and that He approves everything we might feel like doing. How does Satan bring this deception? The way this works out is that Satan sends a teacher who effectively tells his hearers that there is no clear Bible command that cannot be trumped by an invented general "principle" which allows for disobedience.
Of course, no false teacher will say that so clearly as that. Many who teach in such a way do not even realize this is what they are doing. But the effect of their explanations comes out this way. Things we don't want to do are explained away so that we don't have to do them, and things we want to do are explained in such a way that we are permitted to do them. Space is opened for the flesh, for habits and preferences that should be suppressed.
But if there is one principle above others we should be careful to keep at the front of our thought, it is that we need to keep a focus on Jesus' soon return and His present purpose for us. We are born into a time of test. We are not left to guess God's will; the Bible lays it out. We are to deny ungodliness now, in the last days before Jesus comes. But knowing what is and is not ungodly, now there is a project. Following Jesus means laying aside every weight and every sin that besets us. We are to live godly now. So how do we decide what is and is not godly?
Sources of Authority
Here, we come to that giant question, What are our sources of authority? How do we value things? How and why will we determine what is God's way while avoiding that self-deception which causes us to make our choices based on what we humanly want?
I hope it is clear to us all that God's Word, the Bible, is our primary and ultimate source of authority. It is the Bible which accurately tells us God's will, which correctly records and transmits God's account of true history, that shows us good and wrong, light and dark, righteousness and sin. God spoke through inspired writers and the Holy Spirit gave them insight for us that is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). The Bible is ultimate. It is from God to us. Its very purpose is to guide us in His ways. It cannot be replaced by science, or well-meaning people, or theories of human government, or even by our personal experience. Nothing is superior to the Bible. Nothing speaks on an equality with it; nothing has priority over it. This is why Ellen White wrote in The Great Controversy,
'To the law and the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.' Isaiah 8:20. The people are directed to the Scriptures as their safeguard against the influence of false teachers and the delusive power of spirits of darkness. Satan employs every possible device to prevent men from obtaining a knowledge of the Bible; for its plain utterances reveal his deceptions. At every revival of God's work, the prince of evil is aroused to more intense activity; he is now putting forth his utmost efforts for a final struggle against Christ and His followers. The last delusion is soon to open before us. Antichrist is to perform his marvelous works in our sight. So closely will the counterfeit resemble the true that it will be impossible to distinguish between them except the Holy Scriptures. By their testimony every statement and every miracle must be tested. . . .(The Great Controversy 593).
And in the same chapter,
It is not enough to have good intentions; it is not enough to do what a man thinks is right or what the minister tells him is right. His soul's salvation is at stake, and he should search the Scriptures for himself. However strong may be his convictions, however confident he may be that the minister knows what is truth, this is not his foundation. He has a chart pointing out every waymark on the heavenward journey, and he ought not to guess at anything (Ibid 598).
It should be settled in our minds; the Bible is supreme. But what then?
The Bible has many clear commands that require little interpretation. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not commit adultery. No one needs a university degree to understand these things. What we need is a willingness to submit to them. But there are other things in the Bible which are not clear prescriptions. We have stories of people having multiple wives, historical record of many things which are not evaluated or explained to us. The Bible prohibits us from eating horse meat (Leviticus 11:2-8). The Bible describes which foods are prohibited but never tells us why horse meat is not allowed. Maybe among all the things we need to understand while we live, this is one of those things we just don't need to know for now. We need to obey the command, but God is under no obligation to explain to us all of His commands.
We are looking at how we make decisions. So the Bible is supreme, but there are several things that can have a part in our decision-making. God is at work in this world and He is acting in many ways. It is important for us to correctly interpret signals of God's providence. What opportunities are coming up, what doors are being opened or closed to us? Is it God opening the way, or is a particular development something else? This isn't always easy to know.
Even personal conscience can be influenced by personal preference or other reasons. So we seek out the experience and counsel of other Christians. There is strength in a community if its driving force is truly the Word of God. It is humility to seek out the guidance of other men and women of God.
Another source of guidance is Christian leaders. Elders, pastors, evangelists, people with long years of experience in God's church hopefully have considerable helpful insight. But all that they say and do must be measured by God's inspired Word. People are human. They can err.
There is the opinion of family members. There is tradition. There is culture. All these must be subject to the inspired counsel of God. We will often find that tradition and culture are polluted wells. Good things are mixed with bad. Good people can come up with long standing practices which have no basis in the Bible and which do not reflect God's will. There is a danger "in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body," which Paul warns, "are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh" (Colossians 2:23).
Were there no Bible, there would never have been an Anabaptist movement and would never have been a Seventh-day Adventist Church. You and I stand next in a long line of godly men and women, martyrs and simple men and scholars, believers who have sought to live simply. Seekers of godliness sojourning in this world have been driven often from one place to another in their quest to live in peace with God and man. I admire the men and women for whom it is not OK to go along with the stink of a world that has forgotten God, and who are willing to stand out or emmigrate as necessary to live right.
We are next in that spiritual line, you and I, and we want to maintain a biblical faith. We want to uphold the family in a world which right now is at war with the family. We cannot trust the world to help us. The state is as fickle as the hearts of the people working for it. Something that is acceptable today might not be acceptable in three years. Rights that are respected now might not be respected in three years. God calls us to live godly in this present age. Jesus gave Himself for us to redeem us from a lawless age and to purify for Himself a special people at the end of time.
Verse 14 reminds us that this life is that time of purification. Wherever we are is the place for purification. And Jesus is the only source for purification. He wants our hearts and our hearts must be changed. But it is following His Word that will make us like Him. There are so many other words that present themselves as being from Jesus when they are not.
Jesus is coming again. Soon he will return. When He comes back, will He find faith on the earth? Will He find you faithful? He can find us faithful if we are in the Word. The Bible provides that balance that we ourselves lack. God has not left us in confusion. There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end thereof is the way of death. God has a word of hope for us. He has clarity. He has truth. He has strength to give us for obedience. But make no mistake--all of this, all of this, is gift.
Jesus died on the cross as sacrifice for our sins. God the Father accepts that sacrifice. We add nothing to it. But there is something very special we can do for Jesus. We can live lives that are a testimony to His goodness. We can be examples of grace. We can be forgiven our sins and live in God's light, all while dystopia rolls onward everywhere else. Christians going about the business of living for God are light and salt in the world. Each new day brings new tasks, new duties. Each is a day for us to grow in that light.
Jesus is coming soon and too many have a wheel off their buggy. But you and I--our privilege is to live in the grace of God, to be examples of the Bible teaching that says we deny ungodliness now, we live for Jesus now. There is only one safe space and that is at the foot of the cross looking up to Jesus. I want more of Him. I want less of the world. I want true Christianity. I want to find it, I want to be it, I want to live it. And the only reason I want that is because God puts it in my heart to want it. I owe all to Him and He owes nothing to me. That should help us understand grace better. He is the Giver of grace; you and I are only its recipients. Oh, may Jesus save us and grow us and keep us from all the cheap substitutes!
West Salem Mission Camp Meeting OH 2019-07-19
Fremont MI SDA 2019-10-12