“THE GOSPEL: FROM HOPELESSNESS TO HOPE”
March 18, 2007
You may have noticed that there are many, many times in life when those things that we need most we hesitate longest to do. A little child who needs a nap so badly will resist it to the bitter end. Two people who need badly to talk because they have been upset with each other will refuse to do that for as long as possible. A person whose health is not the best who really needs nourishment will not feel like eating.
It is no surprise to discover that in our spiritual lives we have some of these same hesitations. For example, when we read Paul’s last three letters, it is clear that the church at Ephesus where Timothy worked was challenged by some doctrinal problems that troubled them. The people at Crete where Titus was lived in the midst of a culture which was ungodly to the core. In both places Paul emphasizes that what is so badly needed is the gospel. In these letters, Paul refers to the gospel as the “sound doctrine.” The word “sound” means “healthy” or “health giving.” He often refers to this good doctrine, which is what will answer the demands of the places where Timothy and Titus are working. I especially love the way Paul speaks of the gospel in I Timothy 1 – “the glorious gospel of the blessed God,” he says.
The text which we will study together today is the most beautiful and complete statement of the implications of the gospel that I can find anywhere in the New Testament. It deserves our attention and our devotion. It is Titus 3:3-8.
“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 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. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.”
Verses 4 through 7 in Titus 3 are all one long, great sentence. The verb, the action term in this sentence, the one upon which everything else turns, is the statement in verse 5, “he saved us.” There is the heart of the gospel’s message. It is the news that God has saved us. That fact is what is powerful enough to move people from the hopelessness with which this text begins to the hopefulness with which it concludes. Every single one of us needs hope in our lives. Hope is not something that merely occurs because we want it to. It is something that has to be produced; it has to have a foundation, a reason. And God’s reason for it is found in the gospel.
What We Were
I want you to notice first that the need for the gospel shines through this passage. In verse 3 we learn that we need to know that God can save us because of what we once were ourselves. It is easy for us to look around and to think of what the world is coming to. It is a different matter for us to look inside and think of what we are becoming, especially in situations where we are ignoring what Christ has done for us.
Eight terms are used to describe what we were once. I think it may help us if we look at them in pairs. William Hendriksen observed that “in these terms the world apart from Christ passes in review, and what a sorry spectacle it is.” Paul mentions first off that “we were foolish, disobedient.” The one word means that we were “mentally senseless,” without understanding. The other term means that we have been “morally rebellious,” without willingness to submit to loving care.
Secondly, he said, “we have been misled and enslaved.” Misled means that we have been deceived by thinking that some way of life or some way of thinking would lead us where we want to go in life, only to discover that is not the case at all. “Enslaved” means that we find ourselves at the mercy of forces that make us victims, from which we are unable to deliver ourselves. We become slaves to various passions and pleasures.
Thomas Odem observed, “There is no point then at which we feel satisfied under these conditions. The need for acceleration of hedonistic benefit is unending. It is always moving toward satisfaction.” The minute you give in to that passion and have finished with it you begin to want some other fulfillment. That is the idea. Jesus said in John 8:34 that one who commits sin becomes the slave of sin. That is what is being played out before us here.
Then notice that he mentions that we are just sort of existing “in malice and envy.” Malice is the malignant ill-will that one may feel toward another person in life. Envy is the dissatisfaction and irritation at the good in somebody else’s life that makes us either want to take it from him or to ruin it. These two terms describe what it is like to be always living in frustration and resentment with other people. What an unhappy, hopeless existence that is!
And finally he says, “We are hated and hating.” These are not two different forms of the same word in the original. The one means to be “odious or repulsive or disgusting to others,” and the other means that we become angry people who are filled with dislike for other folks in life.
What kind of a way of living is that? I think maybe Paul is telling us something in verse 3 when he mentions in that one phrase, “passing our days in malice and envy.” It is not living at all. It is a hopeless existence in which an individual is merely living out his time with nothing to look forward to, either in this life or in what lies beyond. He has no reason to hope for things to ever be any better because there is only unhappiness and enslavement and weakness in life. What an unhappy and depressing picture of human life this paints!
Observe carefully that when Paul speaks of this in verse 3, he is not describing what things are like at Crete where Titus was. This is not the description of those who were still caught in Paganism. This says “we ourselves once were.” It calls upon us to recognize that maybe we were for years caught in our vanity and pride, but we have struggled with vanity and pride. Perhaps it is not some physical passion or lust that has hold of me. Maybe it is envy or malice, but somehow we find our own history and the picture of the human predicament that all of us share in this verse. There is the need for the gospel.
The Heart of God
What’s the source of it? When someone is caught in a situation like this, if he is enslaved how will he deliver himself? If he is deceived, how will he think of an answer? If he is someone who has been foolish, how is he suddenly going to come to his senses? Notice the sharp contrast between how verse 3 ends and how verse 4 begins. We go from “hated and hating” to “the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior.” The source of hope is God’s heart.
In this text there are four terms used to describe God’s heart. The first is his “goodness.” That means his heart of concern and his heart that wants the best for us. The salvation the gospel speaks of does not begin with Jesus coming to die for us. It begins in the heart of the Father who wants our good and who can’t be satisfied without it.
Then there is his “loving kindness” - his graciousness in the sense that he is touched with our feeling and reaches out to help us. Then in verse 5 there is his “mercy,” his compassion for the helpless. Then in verse 7 there is his “grace” – his action in behalf of the undeserving. One writer observed in thinking about these statements that salvation originated in the heart of God. It is because of his kindness, love, mercy and grace that “he intervened on our behalf. He took the initiative, he came after us. He rescued us from our hopeless predicament.” (J. Stott, I Timothy and Titus, p. 203). That is the picture that you need to see. The gospel works to rescue people who were already lost.
I am disappointed with myself sometimes in allowing myself to think, “Here are people who are happy and at peace – why disturb them with the gospel?” The way we need to see things is that the gospel comes into a world where people are already hopeless. They are not hopeless because they have heard the gospel and rejected it. They are hopeless because they were lost, and there has been nothing done to help them. The source of the gospel is God’s heart.
The Appearing of Christ
What about the ground of the kind of hope we are talking about here? If hope has to have a foundation, then what is it? If God from the goodness of his heart cares, what can he do to save us? You realize that when someone is hopeless, he does not become hopeful just by wishing he were. If someone is in danger and needs to be rescued, he is not brought to safety just because someone wants him to be saved. If we have just passed our days and we die, that doesn’t mean that somehow suddenly there is going to be hope for us. There has to be a moral ground, a moral foundation upon which God can justify people who have acted like verse 3 describes. What is it?
It can’t be “because of works done by us in righteousness.” I have tried and tried to think of how to illustrate this point to us. Why cannot a person who has been morally off base and has sinned against God not just make it right by saying he is sorry and doing some good things? Think of it this way. What if I am physically ill? I have a serious health issue in my life, something that has the potential of taking my life. Suppose that I decide then to start saying nice things to my neighbors, or that I begin to do some religious work. I start reading my Bible every day. I go visit sick folks at the hospital, etc. Would that make me physically well? Those things may be good in themselves, but they lack the power to meet my need.
Transfer the picture then to my spiritual existence, morally. If I have sinned against God, if I have been a slave to passions and pleasures, if I have been disobedient, then can doing a few good things change that condition? You can see that it is not possible. Someone from outside of me is going to have to do something to rescue me from the plight into which I have placed myself. So Paul says in verse 5 that it is going to have to be according to God’s own mercy. He says in verse 4 that somehow the goodness and loving kindness of God has to make an appearance on the scene to help me, to deliver me, to rescue me from the condition I have been in.
In these three letters, that appearing has reference to the work of Jesus Christ. Notice in Titus 2:11, Paul said, “For the grace of God has appeared bringing salvation to all people.” What does he mean by “the grace of God has appeared”? How has it appeared? Look at 2:14. It says that “Jesus Christ gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who were zealous of good works.” There is the appearing that he is talking about. The mercy of God appeared in the form of Jesus Christ. The loving kindness of God was made manifest as the Son of God lived among us and went to the cross. At Calvary, the mercy and grace of God was on display as God worked to bridge the gulf between his goodness and our sinfulness. The ground of hope is what God has done for us through Christ.
The means of this hope is next. The fact that Christ has done this for us all does not mean that immediately all of us are saved. That is why Paul is writing as he does to Timothy and Titus that the news of what Christ has done has got to be made known to people, that people have to be called to the gospel. Paul says here that “God saved us by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (v. 5). We studied the Holy Spirit last week so that we could study the passage this way this week. Notice very carefully that we have been saved according to God’s mercy by the washing that he talks about here. There are actually three figures of this change in this passage. One is the cleansing of the washing; next is the birth which the word regeneration describes, and the third is the acquittal, the justification which is mentioned in verse 7. A washing, a birth and an acquittal at court are all three referring to the times when our sins were forgiven, when the blood of Christ was applied to us, when we were forgiven of our failure and when we were rescued from our lostness.
What kind of washing is this? What is there taught in the New Testament in connection with the gospel of Christ which could possibly be in mind here? There is only one thing, and it is the baptism into Christ of the person who has heard the gospel and believed it and whose mind has been changed as a result of the gospel. This exact word for washing is only used in one other place in the New Testament – Ephesians 5:26 – where the apostle Paul talks about how Christ saves the church through the washing of water by the word. There is a cleansing involved through the gospel, something that God does through his spirit, that saves people. This apostle would not have been able to have written these words without calling to mind that time when Ananias had come as a messenger of God and said to him, “And now, why do you wait? Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins calling on the name of the Lord.” Paul never would have understood that some how he had the power to wash his own sins away, but he did have the power to do something that would allow God to wash his sins away.
Friends, baptism into Christ for new life to be justified is not something done for people who are already saved as an outward sign of what has already occurred. It is instead a response of faith to what Christ has done for us which allows the Father to raise us up to walk in newness of life. Baptism occurs through faith and the powerful working of God, according to Colossians 2:12. The Expositor’s Greek New Testament says of this statement in Titus 3, “God saved us by baptism which involves two complimentary processes: a) the ceremony itself which marks the actual moment in time of the new birth and b) the daily, hourly, momently renewing of the Holy Spirit.” (Cited by J.D. Coffman, Titus, p. 347)
G. R. Beasley-Murray in his book on baptism says that “baptism is the occasion when the spirit works creatively in the believer.” (Cited by Coffman, p. 348) I appreciate a statement made by Brother Burton Coffman in his commentary on this book of Titus. He pointed out that “baptism is God’s means, not man’s. Baptism is not a work of men. No man ever baptized himself; only God can do that, and even then only for those who believe and repent. And every true baptism in all history was a work of almighty God himself,” (p. 348). That is an important statement.
Heirs of Hope
The need for it is our sins; the source of it is God’s heart; the ground of it is Christ’s work; the means of it is our washing through the Holy Spirit. And then the goal of it is hope. God takes hopeless people and gives them hope. Anybody who has ever felt or thought or found himself in a situation in life where for just a moment things looked hopeless can surely appreciate how this change must appear when put in the perspective of eternity.
We have moved here from just passing our time to being heirs of the hope of eternal life. According to verse 7, God’s goal is to put us in a situation where we can be people who have an anchor for our souls, which is hope; where we can be people who have a reason to purify ourselves, who have a reason to live with a sense of assurance and purpose. He makes us heirs, heirs of God, joint heirs with Christ, Romans 8:17 says. He allows us to hope for eternal life, not merely because we wish life wouldn’t end, but instead because we trust what Christ has done for us and the impact of God’s raising Him up.
Devoted to Good Works
Then the evidence of this kind of hope in our lives is noted in verse 8. This is a saying that we can have confidence in, something that we ought to affirm with our lives so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. Paul uses the phrase “good works” fourteen times in the books of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. I find that amazing. Twice he says that God has not saved us for any work of righteousness that we have done. And then he turns right around and says, “I want you to insist that saved people devote themselves to good works.” Isn’t that interesting?
The change from hopelessness to hope has implications in our lives. William Barclay pointed out that the word for “devote themselves to” or “to practice” in verse 8 literally means “to stand in front of.” It was the word which was used for a shopkeeper standing in front of his shop crying his wares and selling his goods. People of hope are supposed to be standing out there in front of their hope and calling on other people to say, “Look, here’s what God has done for us! I sure would love to pass it along for you.” A.M. Stibbs says that this term means “to be forward in, or to devote themselves before all else to.” The good works that are mentioned here involve things like showing kindness and mercy to people who really need help, living right, taking care of children, being good neighbors, being a good worker at the job, building a family which honors the name of the Lord, teaching other people the gospel of Christ. People who are devoted to good works help us build great Bible classes, help us to visit people who need to be cared for, help us to show loving kindness where it needs to be shown in life.
Have you made the journey from hopelessness to hope through obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ? That is the invitation that this passage lays before us. If you are here today and that needs to happen in your life, won’t you let it be known while we stand and sing together?