Sunday’s Sermon — Titus 1:1-4, A Living Church is Shaped by the Gospel

6 Jan

Here is an audio link to Sunday’s sermon — http://westhickorybaptist.webs.com/apps/podcast/podcast/332887 — or you can read the manuscript below.

I took a test online recently that said it could predict where I was from based on a few questions about how I pronounce different words. After 25 questions this test told me that my dialect was most like a person from Winston-Salem. So it got me within an hour of where I grew up and within an hour of where I live today. Not bad. What that test showed me was the power of culture to shape us. I am not conscious of my accent or dialect. I have just picked it up through years in this culture.
We tend to unconsciously adopt a culture based on our upbringing, our comfort level and our interests. And this is true as much in church as in the rest of life. The difference between a living church and a dead church is not about worship styles or church buildings or dress versus casual. The difference between a dead church and a living church is whether our culture as a church is based on our upbringing or traditions or desires or interests or whether it is based on the biblical truth of the good news of Jesus. In other words, living churches are shaped by the gospel, while dead churches are shaped by everything else, whether it is the latest trends or traditions or buildings or money or attendance. Whenever our focus as a church is not on the good news of Jesus, we are on our way to weakness and death as a church.
As we start a new year, then, I think it is a good time for us to look at how we as a church can be a living church as we are shaped by the gospel. There is no better book in the Bible I can think of to show us what that looks like than the little letter of Titus. So for the next 8 weeks, Lord willing, we will be going through this three chapter book, just 46 verses. I encourage you to read through Titus several times in the weeks ahead. I pray that this book will lead us to spiritual breakthrough as a church in 2014.

This morning we’re going to look at Titus 1:1-4, Paul’s introduction to the letter he is writing to Titus. In this introduction, we are going to see how a living church is shaped by the gospel . . .

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, 2 in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began 3 and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior; 4 To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.

Now this is a power-packed introduction, as extensive an introduction as Paul gives in any of his letters. This introduction gives us four truth about the gospel and how it shapes us into a living church. We see first that we are shaped by the Gospel because . . .
The Gospel Changes LIVES (1:1).
Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness,
In this verse, we see that the gospel has changed Paul’s life and that the gospel changes the life of every believer. Praise God for the transforming power of the gospel!
Remember, Paul had been a persecutor of the church. He went from house to house to drag Christians away to prison. But now he is not chasing down Christians in order to persecute them, he is enduring persecution himself in order that many might come to know this Jesus he once hated. He is a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ. He has a master who sends Him out to preach the gospel. The gospel is Paul’s whole life. He says it in Philippians, “to live is Christ.” He says it in 2 Corinthians, “the love of Christ compels us.” Paul is driven to know Jesus and to make Him known. His has been saved to serve and that’s what he spends his life doing.
My next door neighbor growing up had a very colorful name: Fred Smith. I would go to Fred’s front door and ring the doorbell and his mother would answer and I would just stand there. I was so quiet. But when I was saved as a teenager, I went over to her house one day and talked her ears off. I think she was half-surprised I could talk. With Jesus, the whole world opened up to me. My story is a poor reflection of Paul’s but every story of the gospel’s work in a person’s life is a story of transformation. Have you been changed by the gospel? Has the good news of Jesus genuinely changed your life? If it hasn’t, you should question whether you have ever really trusted Jesus.
The gospel didn’t just change Paul’s life, it didn’t just change my life, it changes every life and every heart where it really takes root. That last phrase in verse 1 is important: for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness.
Paul’s mission was for people to believe, know and grow. That is our mission as a church as well. But notice at the foundation of it all is election, God’s choosing and calling of people to salvation. So all our words are empty without the power of God at work. But because God is working to save people, including many of us, we can have confidence that when we are saved we are really saved. How many of you would like to lean on your own ability to be saved? It’s unthinkable. But God does for us what we can’t do for ourselves: He raises the spiritually dead, as Joey read a few minutes ago. And in electing a people to salvation, He takes away all reasons for boasting, all pride, and frees us up to joyfully and humbly serve others. He gets the glory and we get the blessing.
But notice this blessing of faith comes through knowledge of the truth. We are not talking about faith in faith or faith as wishful thinking. Our faith is rooted in God’s sovereign power to save and is based on actions in history God has undertaken in order to save, namely His sending of Jesus into the world. Jesus lived a perfect life, died on the cross in our place, rose again victorious over sin and death and ascended to the Father where He reigns and intercedes for us as our great mediator. You are not saved by your willpower or by your sincerity. You are saved by this grace of God shown to you in His Son. Do you know this grace? Have you understood this good news? Can you say with the hymn writer, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness”?
But God doesn’t just call us and show us the truth, that truth changes us. And here’s one of the key truths Paul is teaching us in Titus: the gospel changes us, it makes us godly, it makes us holy. I think in our church culture, we have far too often put the emphasis on getting people saved without understanding that salvation mean that Jesus changes our lives over time. We try to get people to pray a prayer or to walk an aisle. We want to boast in the number of baptisms we’ve had and we measure success by membership rolls. But we must be careful not to replace substance with statistics. Being saved is not merely a decision. Look how many people there are on our church rolls who are never here. How many people do we have on our membership rolls that never go to church and live like the devil and do we really think they’re saved because they prayed a prayer when they were eight years old? The fruit of my life is an indicator of the condition of my heart and whether my heart is right with God. I know it’s a slippery slope because we’re all sinful and I am certainly not saying we can be perfect. I’m not even saying that true Christians will never have periods of real struggle with sin or coldness toward God in their lives. But I have always liked what John Piper says, “Holiness is not about sinless perfection it is about a persevering fight.” When I look at someone who fails and yet hates their sin, I love them. I feel compassion for them. But when I look at someone who has thumbed their nose at God and lives however they want and doesn’t care about their sin and has no desire for God, I do not hate them. I pray for their salvation, because no matter what card they filled out or how many times they got dunked a life that is not knowing God and is not growing in godliness is a life that is on very shaky ground before the Lord. By saying all this I am not saying we are saved by our good works. What I am saying is that holiness and godliness are indications that we have been saved. They are the fruit of a heart that has been genuinely changed by God. Because the gospel changes lives. And changed lives coming together in a church makes for a changed church. And that’s when church becomes not a social club or a place where we go because we’ve always gone or a school to get our heads filled with religious knowledge or a service organization to help the needy but it becomes a place of celebration where we rejoice in all that God has done for us in Jesus and out of the joy we have in Jesus we go out to share with others in word and action the good news that changes lives. A living church is a church that recognizes and constantly remembers that the gospel changes lives.

The second way we are shaped by the gospel is when we realize that . . .

The Gospel Gives Us HOPE (1:2).

2 in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began
Most Americans think of hope as nothing more than wishful thinking. I hope my friend will call or I hope it will snow this winter or I hope the Panthers will win the Super Bowl. And we just kind of take the word hope as a word that means I really want it but I have no idea whether it will occur and it may very well not occur. But the hope we find in the Bible is not like this. It is not wishful thinking. It is based on something. It is still hope because it is something future, but we have it for sure and it will not be taken away. So biblical hope is like a rock not like a feather. It is solid and weighty and strong.
The hope we have in the good news of Jesus is the hope of eternal life. This is at the heart of the gospel, seen in most people’s favorite gospel verse, John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” A living church rests in the hope of eternal life. And the reason we rest in eternal life, according to verse 2, is because we can trust in the character of God. God promised us eternal life and we shall have it, because God is always true to His Word. He doesn’t lie and He planned it all along, so we shall have it. In fact, we already have it. In John 17:3, Jesus says, “Now this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ Whom You have sent.” So our eternal life with God has already begun the moment we are saved. Still though, we groan through this life. We know God yet we always long for more depth in our walk with Him. We battle sin in this life and never get free of its pull on our hearts. Our bodies break down and we struggle with health. People we love die. There is great suffering in the world. So we long to be free of sin and in the presence of God. And so we hope. And because we hope in a God who is always true to His Word, we know our hope is secure. God’s character is our confidence.
The hope of eternal life is one of the most powerful things in the world because we know in the end God will not fail us. So we can go forward in life with courage knowing that no matter what happens God is with us and we will be with Him forever. Churches that live in the hope of eternal life are strong. They can endure suffering with joy. They can get through the hardest of trials.
Our problem is that we tend to hope in everything but eternal life and we find that all our other hopes let us down. We hope in youth and beauty, only to find the wrinkles appear and the pounds add up and the aches and pains begin. We count on achievement and success only to find it can be taken away in a moment and that there is always someone else farther along the way than we are. In church life, we hope in budgets or attendance or programs or certain people. Whenever we hope in the wrong things we will get poor results. But when we hope in the promise of eternal life, we have strength and security and a positive outlook. Secure and positive people make for a healthy church. Insecurity and negativity kill the life of a church. I was thinking that the problem with an insecure person is that they are always thinking about what’s wrong about themselves and the problem with a negative person is that they are always thinking about what’s wrong about others. But a secure, positive person is thinking about God and what’s right about Him. I pray that we would become a people who are secure and positive. But that comes by beholding the beauty of the Lord in the gospel and finding our hope there.

Third, we are shaped by the gospel when we see that . . .

The Gospel Gives Us PURPOSE (1:3).
3 and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior;
We see in this verse that we have a great message. At just the right time God sent His Son into the world. And Jesus fulfilled all God’s will and saved all His people through His work on the cross and the victory of the empty tomb. We have a great message. Salvation for all who believe. For all kinds of people, people of all races and economic standings, people from every nation, sexually immoral people, gossips, liars, the greedy, the angry, the proud, Christ has come into the world to save sinners. For all who turn away from sin and trust the Savior there is eternal life and abundant life. We have a great message!
And we have a great ministry. Like Paul we are called to share this gospel message with others. God commanded Paul to preach to the Gentiles. God commands us to go into the world and make disciples of all nations. What greater purpose could we serve in life than to be involved in God’s eternal purpose! I am amazed by the word “entrusted” here. Paul was entrusted with his mission and I believe we are entrusted with the great commission. God has given it to us to carry out. How gracious of God to entrust us with His mission.
The Super Bowl is the biggest event in American sports. On February 2, one team will become the champs. They will have reached the mountaintop of their profession. Yet how many of you remember what team won the Super Bowl last year? Raise your hand. What about two years ago? What about five years ago? And how many players from any of those teams can you name? How empty it is to reach the top. There’s nothing wrong with working hard in business or caring for your family. But you have to realize going in that the return on that investment will always be limited. And if you make those kinds of things define who you are you will always end up disappointed. But when you give yourself to the purpose God has for you, living out and proclaiming this great message through ministry, then you find a return that is greater than anything else you can pursue, because it is eternal.
To give your life for this eternal gospel doesn’t mean you have to give up your job. For some of you, your most effective service for the gospel will be living out and sharing gospel hope in your workplace. But it’s a new year and I want to challenge you to think about this. Why are you doing what you are doing? Is it just to make a living? Or is your life tied up with God’s purpose for you? Some of you are looking toward ministry. This is a question you have to ask yourself. Am I doing this for my own glory or for God’s? Do I want the feeling of being “in ministry” or do I simply want to know God and make Him known? There was a great book written for pastors a few years ago called, “Brothers, We are Not Professionals.” The idea being that pastors ought not be CEO types and ought not be focused on a career but should instead be focused on the ministry of the Word in the life of the church. So I just want to urge you to take a careful look at your heart as this year begins. For younger people, are you choosing your future based on what will please your parents? Don’t do it. Most people will tell you, don’t choose your future based on what will please your parents, choose what will please you, but I don’t agree with that either. What I want to urge you to do is to pursue your future with this question always at the front of your mind . . . how can I use my life for God’s eternal purposes? I feel sure that some of us in this room are gifted and called by God to go to the least reached places in this world to take the gospel there. The biggest pull on my own heart when I think about my life is not going to some other church or trying to climb some career step ladder to further ministry. The question I begin to think about when I pause to consider my life’s purpose is simple: how can I stay in America where there is so much opportunity for Christian growth and not go to places where Jesus has been only a little preached? How can I use my life in the most God-honoring way? That is a great question. So often, it is simple faithfulness where God has put you. For some of you older saints, it’s just a question of continuing to grow and continuing to serve. You can’t do what you once did but you can do something. What if God raised up an army of older saints here who spent themselves in prayer for revival in our church? What would happen here? What if everybody took time once a week to call or write or visit or serve somebody in the church? What if we all took time to welcome those who visited the church and to invite others to church? We had a great Christmas cantata this year but there was a reason there were tons of people here for the Christmas cantata. You invited them. You got on the phone and the internet and you invited them. I found it interesting that even though we handed out flyers around our community for the Christmas VBS we did in December, the only visitors we had were people our members personally invited. What if you made it your goal to invite one person to church each week or even each month. I believe God would do great things through that. That is a good New Year’s resolution.
God has given us a great purpose, a message and a ministry worth living and dying for. What are you doing with the treasure entrusted to you? Are you hiding it in fear or are you investing it in others and trusting God for a good return? A church shaped by the gospel is focused on its purpose of knowing Christ and making Him known.

The final way we see that we are shaped by the gospel in this passage is in verse 4. There we see that . . .

The Gospel Gives Us a New FAMILY (1:4).
4 To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.
In this last verse of Paul’s introduction to the letter, we find out the name of the letter’s recipient, Titus. Now we find from the last chapter of this book that while Titus received the letter it was addressed to all the believers with whom he worked on the island of Crete. Titus was Paul’s co-worker in ministry and Paul calls him here, “my true child in a common faith.” The idea of child here may mean that Paul was older than Titus and was kind of a mentor to him. It may also mean that Paul was the one who led Titus to the Lord. Paul only uses this term of three people in the New Testament: Titus, Timothy and the slave Onesimus. It is possible all three of these men came to the Lord under Paul’s ministry.
Regardless of whether this is true though, what we find here is a deep bond of love founded on the gospel. The church is a family. Now many churches will say they are a family today. Most of the time that is because the people in the church are all related. I remember when I first came several people told me, “Watch what you say about people because you’re probably talking to somebody’s relative.” And when I first came here, that was true. But it is not as much like that anymore. There are still a lot of relatives here but more and more there are new people who aren’t related to anybody. And that is a little scary for everybody. If our church will not be family by being all related to each other, what will make us family? Again, in our culture, many churches try to be family by holding on to entrenched traditions or by embracing the latest trends. But what I am always arguing for is what Paul states here in verse four. What should make us family is our common faith. A deep bond of love founded on the gospel is the way forward for our church. Any other way will lead to hostility, rivalry, dissension and ultimately destruction. But if we all get on the same page, the page of loving who Jesus is and what Jesus has done above everything else, we will find a common bond which will unite races, ages, economic classes and maybe even Democrats and Republicans.
When you think about your connection to other church members, do you think first of bloodlines and length of friendship or do you think of shared commitment to God’s purposes and shared love for Jesus? Is there anybody you avoid because they are too old or too young? Too rich or too poor? Too traditional or too theological?
I’m sure most of us would say we are family because of Jesus but I think all too often in most churches what binds us together is not Jesus but any number of other things. A gospel shaped church though is a church that is becoming a family united in Jesus.
I read something this week from Ray Ortlund that gets across the meaning of today’s message so much better than I could so I am going to share it with you today in closing . . . “A gospel-centered church holds together two things. One, a gospel-centered church preaches a bold message of divine grace for the undeserving — so bold that it becomes the end of the law for all who believe. Not our performance but Christ’s performance for us. Not our sacrifices but his sacrifice for us. Not our superiority but only his worth and prestige. The good news of substitution. The good news that our okayness is not in us but exterior to us in Christ alone. Climbing down from the high moral ground, because only Christ belongs up there. That message, that awareness, that clarity. Sunday after Sunday after Sunday.
Two, a gospel-centered church translates that theology into its sociology. The good news of God’s grace beautifies how we treat one another. In fact, the horizontal reveals the vertical. How we treat one another reveals what we really believe as opposed to what we think we believe. It is possible to say, “We are a gospel-centered church,” and sincerely mean it, while we make our church into a law-centered social environment. We see God above lowering his gun, and we breathe a sigh of relief. But if we are trigger-happy toward one another, we don’t get it yet.
A gospel-centered church is a variegated collection of sinners. What unifies them is Jesus, the King of grace. They come together and stick together because they have nothing to fear from their church’s message or from their church’s culture. The theology creates the sociology, and the sociology incarnates the theology. And everyone is free to trust the Lord, be honest about their problems, and grow in newness of life.
The one deal-breaker in a gospel-centered church: anyone for any reason turning it into a culture of legal demandingness, negative scrutiny, finger-pointing, gossip and other community-poisoning sins. A church with a message of grace can quickly and easily stop being gospel-centered in real terms. But when a church’s theological message and its relational tone converge as one, that church becomes powerfully prophetic, for the glory of Jesus.
May the Friend of sinners grant beautiful gospel-centricity in all our churches!” And I say “Amen!” and I hope you do too because this is what God wants for our church, even as Paul desired this for the churches in which Titus was working. And this is what I will work for with all the energy God gives me in 2014. I hope you will join me, so that we would become the living church God desires us to be, that Jesus would reign over every life as Lord and bind us together in gospel-rooted love.

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