The School From Which We Never Graduate

Bill McFarland

May 6, 2007


I know that this is the time of the year when we have families looking forward to graduation activities.  That is always a time to celebrate.  I am the kind of person who still is not able to listen to “Pomp and Circumstance” without it bringing my emotions to the surface.  No doubt a lot of your families will understand what I am talking about by the time this month is over. 

I titled our study for today “The School From Which We Never Graduate.”  I have already had some comments about what that school might be.  Someone thought that down where Barney and I are from it is called “the sixth grade.”  Somebody else thought that maybe the school from which we never graduate is what someone referred to as the “school of hard knocks” – that things are always going on in life that are not easy lessons.   Maybe you have other illustrations of learning experience that might fit the description we are speaking of here.

What I have in mind, though, is a school suggested by Paul’s statement in Titus 2:11-14.  This wonderful passage is what Paul means when he uses the phrase “sound doctrine.”  Here this sound doctrine is the basis for the kinds of moral choices that are supposed to be made in the everyday life of a Christian.  Notice that Paul says, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 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 School

Focus on the thought in verses 11-12 that the grace of God has appeared and that now it is instructing us.  The grace which saves now functions as the grace which teaches.  The word for “training” in the beginning of verse 12 is the word from which we get the English term “pedagogy,” meaning to train or to instruct or to correct as one would do with a child as he brings that child up and prepares him to live life.

Paul is saying, then, that for a Christian learning to make moral choices and learning to live in a worthwhile manner involves allowing ourselves to be lifelong students in the school of grace.  We are to let grace be the master who instructs us or trains us to be the people that God wants us to be.  The school of grace is to be the school from which we never graduate, indeed from which we never want to graduate.  That makes it different from all other schools.

The Lessons

What is it specifically, then, that grace teaches us about life?  This passage suggests at least five lessons that we are intended to learn.  Grace teaches us first to say no to temptation – not merely to say no to it but to deny temptation, to renounce it, to disown it when it attacks us in our lives.  The grace that is in Paul’s mind here is the grace which appeared when Jesus came in the flesh, offered himself up on the cross for us all, abolished death and brought life to light through the gospel.  The grace of God always existed.  God has always been gracious, according to Exodus 34:6, but in the work of Jesus, the clouds all are drawn back and we are allowed to see in the broad daylight the grace which saves us. 

In Paul’s mind, that grace teaches us to say “no” to two great lines of temptation.  The first one is what he calls here “ungodliness.”  It is a word which means irreligion.  It describes that attitude which has no room for anyone greater than self.  It is the mindset which leaves no place for the rule of God in one’s daily walk.  Ungodliness is not merely doing wrong things.  It is a heart which says “God is nothing to me.”  Like the Pharaoh of old in Exodus 5, ungodliness thinks, “Who is the Lord that I should obey his voice?”  One who is ungodly in this sense is not necessarily a person who goes out and commits criminal deeds.  He is not necessarily wildly immoral in his talk and behavior every day.  He is just a person who has no place for God in his life.

The second line of temptation is what Paul calls her “worldly lust” or “worldly passion.”  This time, rather than being the attack of irreligion, it is the attack of immorality.  It is the temptation which says, “You have desires.  Gratify them!  Do what you want, what makes you feel good!  No one should ever say “no” to himself.”  That line of thought is common.  But when one looks at what Jesus did in leaving heaven to be made like one of us, becoming a servant to offer himself even to the point of the death of the cross, and when one evaluates life and comes to consider his own being in view of that, he learns to say “no” to temptation.  The education of grace says, “I can’t do this to someone who loves me that much!”  Grace teaches us to say “no” to temptation.

Secondly, grace teaches us to live nobly in this present age.  The Lord is not interested in having a bunch of people whose lives are merely empty because they don’t do anything that is irreligious or immoral.  The Lord wants us to be people who go out and actively live worthwhile, useful, meaningful, rich lives in order to illustrate to the world that this is what happens to a person who devotes himself to the grace of God and continues in that grace.

Specifically, notice that in verse 12 grace teaches us to live in a certain way toward ourselves and toward our neighbors and toward God.  Grace teaches us first off to live self-controlled lives.  The word is translated “sober” sometimes.  It means to be sensible, to be able to exercise self-restraint, to be able to choose how one lives.  This must be an extremely important quality.  In a culture like the one that existed on Crete, where they described themselves as gluttons and liars, Paul called upon those who would be leaders in the church to be self-controlled in 1:8.  He called upon older Christian men to be self-controlled in 2:2, and he calls upon young men in Christ to be self-controlled in 2:5.  This quality means that grace trains and equips us to be able to rule our lives and channel them in the right direction.

Secondly, toward our neighbors, grace teaches us to live upright lives, righteous lives, lives which treat other people justly, which give to other people their due, which respect other people and their needs and feelings and rights in life, and never uses them as objects to serve our own interests.

Thirdly, toward God, grace teaches us to live godly lives in this present age.  Notice the sharp contrast between the ungodliness at the beginning of verse 12 which is now renounced and the godliness at the end of verse 12 which is now embraced.  Godliness here means more than just living a morally upright life.  It is an attitude which reverences God, honors God, respects him, rejoices in him, thanks him and worships him in life.  That causes an individual to pursue nobility in this present age.

Next, notice that grace teaches us to be looking forward to our hope and to stay with it.  Verse 13 is teaching us to wait for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.  There was an appearing of grace when Jesus came to offer himself up for us all, but there will be an appearing of glory in which Jesus will finish what he has begun in making it possible for our sins to be taken away.  If you pursue this second appearing as it is taught in scripture, you notice some statements of it in wonderful passages.  In Hebrews 9:27-28, the writer says, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”  Someone says, “Wait a minute.  I thought we were already saved.”  It means to complete the promise, to fulfill our inheritance.  Notice the way it is put in Philippians 3:20-21.  Here, as Paul describes the appearing of Christ, the application is the difference it will make in us then.  He says, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”  His appearing will make a difference in us.

Then notice the way Peter describes this in 2 Peter 3:11-12.  He says, “Since all these things (physical things around us) are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!” The idea of this appearing in glory becomes such an earth-shaking event that nothing remains the same.  For Christians, though, that appearing is our hope, what we look forward to; it is what we confidently expect.  And this hope is called here our blessed hope.  In other New Testament passages, it is referred to as “good” hope or a “living” hope or a “better” hope that we have through Christ.

I read just yesterday in the “Power for Today” devotional of a young person who was taken by her family when she was a small child to one of the theme parks in our country.  This one happened to have a huge Ferris wheel, and this little one, as I would be, was intimidated by it.  The thought of just one ride provoked dread in her mind.  Her dad was going to go with her, but she didn’t want to go.  He told her, “It will be alright.  Just look forward and don’t look down or don’t look back.”  Paul is saying here that is what grace teaches us to do.  Look forward, wait for your hope.  Stay with it.  The idea is that if God has accomplished what he did in the giving of his Son, he will be able to accomplish what he promised in the fulfilling of our inheritance.

Fourth, grace teaches us to begin to see ourselves as a part of a treasured people.  Our American individualism is one of the attacks against our relationships together as people of shared faith.  I have had individuals say to me before, “I will obey the gospel, but I am not much of a joiner.”  What they meant by that is “I’m interested in my individual salvation but I don’t want to have anything to do with other saved people.”  Bless our hearts, the Bible doesn’t call on us to join something, but it does say that when we obey the gospel, the Lord adds us to something.  We become a part of a people not who are a burden to our lives but who are treasured to God.  Notice that Jesus, in the giving of himself for us all, did so to redeem us from slavery to iniquity, to buy us back from that awful enslavement and then to purify us, to cleanse us, to clean us up from the contamination of sin.  People who are bought and cleaned up become a people for his own possession, a treasured people to him.  This is a term which ancient rulers were quite familiar with.  If they conquered a territory and they brought home the spoils into their treasury, they would have a treasury for their nation or their empire and then in a part of that treasury they would have their own possession, what was special to them – what belonged to them. 

People who are bought back by the blood of Christ and cleaned up by forgiveness – that is what the church is.  We have obligations to each other.  We are part of each other’s lives.  If someone graduates from high school or college, that is important to us because we share in each other’s lives.  If someone like Sister Loveland at age 94 passes on from this life, that is important to us because this is a person who was a part of our lives for 60 or 70 years here at North National.  There is no way that you can embrace something as valuable as fellowship in God’s family and then not have an obligation to be a part of each other’s lives.  Grace says, “If he would do this for me, then I surely have to pass that love on.”  That grace is to be imitated and it is to be passed on.

In the fifth place, grace teaches us to be earnestly interested in good works.  Look at verse 14 at the end of the verse – “a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”  What Paul means by good works are the kinds of things that he has described in 2:1-10.  He is talking here not merely about programs conducted by the Lord’s people, though those intentional good works are important, but about whether older men learn to be examples of dignified and mature faith, and whether older women have the kind of kindness and graciousness about them that makes them good teachers of younger women; and whether younger women are the kind of persons who can build homes that bless the lives of everyone who is a part of it; and whether young men can be human beings who show respect and self-control and good works in their lives; whether those who serve in the church are models of good works and show integrity and dignity and soundness in their conduct in speech; and whether even people who have obligations that might seem heavy like the slaves did in those days can adorn the doctrine of God in everything.  That’s the good work that Paul is talking about here.  And what he says is that people who go about these opportunities taught by grace bring a certain enthusiasm to the accomplishing of those tasks.  That is what the word for zealous means.  It means that we become people who, while we are waiting for hope, can’t wait to do good works. 

In this letter to Titus it is fascinating to watch the way Paul keeps good works in their proper context.  These are works taught by grace so no one who ever did them would think, “Alright, I worked; now I have earned a reward in heaven.”  You are taught by grace.  You have been given something; therefore you want to give something in the Lord’s service.  The people who lived in Crete were disobedient and unfit for any good work (1:16).  But now, redeemed and purified by Christ, Christians are zealous for good works. 

In the school of grace we learn to say “no” to temptation, to live nobly in this present age, to look forward to our hope and to stay with it, to see ourselves as a part of a treasured people, and to give ourselves earnestly to good works in our lives here.

In 1880 in Britain, a man by the name of Hay Aitken wrote a book which he titled, “The School of Grace.”  It was a book about Titus 2:11-14.  In it, he discussed how these two appearings of Christ are the context in which Christians live.  His grace appeared; his glory will appear.  And Aitken in his book suggested that these two appearings are like two windows in the school of grace.  “Through the western window a solemn light streams from Mt. Calvary and says ‘This is how much God cares and this is what he is willing to give for you.’  And through the eastern window shines the light of sun rising, the herald of a brighter day, the promise of the appearance of glory.”  And Aitken wrote, “Thus, the school of grace is well-lighted, but we cannot afford to do without the light from either west or east.”  (cited by John Stott, p. 196)

We are like people who stand at a point in our lives where we do spiritually what no one can do physically.  We look both ways at the same time.  We look back at his grace and ahead to his glory and do what we should in between.  Wouldn’t you like to make a beginning of doing that today?  Wouldn’t you confess the wonderful name of Christ and be baptized into him for the forgiveness of your sins?  Wouldn’t you devote yourself as a Christian enthusiastically to good works? If we can help you make that beginning, please let it be known today while we stand and sing together.