You won’t be able to tell right away, but this is a followup to yesterday’s post about Ephesians and what we should be doing as churches.
The title of this post comes from Titus 2:13-14 where we are told that Jesus died to obtain for himself a special people that are zealous for good works. The purpose of this post is to discuss a reason for an emphasis on good works that many of us do not consider.
A friend of mine wrote a book called Desperation, which deals with overcoming sin, in particular pornography. At the heart of the book, as you can tell from the title, is the issue of desperation.
Many of us are not desperate. We want to overcome sin the way the average person wants to buy a Rolls Royce. It would be great, but the actual doing of it seems so impossible we’re not even going to try.
In most cases, if we read apostolic (from the apostles) or divine (from Jesus) commands, we immediately turn to thoughts of mercy and grace.
That would be right if we didn’t apply it wrong.
Grammar Nazi excursus: I left the -ly off “wrong” because I liked the contrast with “right.”
Here’s how we usually apply it.
We hear, “Jesus commanded such and such.”
We feel guilty. We wonder how we’re going to achieve obedience. Then we remember mercy. We comfort ourselves with the thought that when we sin we have an advocate with the Father, King Jesus the righteous (1 Jn. 2:1).
So far, so good.
Grace is the power of God to overcome sin (Rom. 6:14). We think, and we even say, “By the grace of God I will (eventually) not do this anymore.”
Here is where the problem comes in.
The problem is that what we mean is: “It’s all up to God. Nothing I can do. God will forgive me over and over again, and hopefully, not likely, but hopefully, the grace of God will deliver me from disobedience to that command of Jesus … eventually, I’m sure. Just give me a decade or so, and I’m pretty confident things will be better.”
You can deny you think like that, and I will hope that you are telling yourself the truth. Reality is that most of us, and I’m being honest including myself, are naturally prone to thinking that way every time we are convicted; every time.
We are not desperate. Why should we be? We’re forgiven by the blood of Jesus. If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, his blood will cleanse us from every sin (1 Jn. 1:7).
Among the many problems with this attitude is Paul’s warning that God will not be mocked by ongoing sowing to the growth of the flesh (Gal. 6:7-9). A more direct warning is from John, who tells us not to be deceived about the fact that only those who practice righteousness have the righteousness of Jesus imputed to them (1 Jn. 3:7).
We might be able to find some exegetical or hermeneutical tools to weasel our way out of that warning (thus proving that we fear man rather than God) except that John adds, “Those who go on sinning are of the devil.”
Wow. John is extreme! I’d imagine some of us think he is so extreme that his statements in 1 John ought to be taken with a grain of flavorless salt.
We’re not desperate.
The apostles go out of their way to make us desperate. They do this because the incredible grace of God that delivers us from sin and empowers us for service is for desperate people. They do this because it is to those who walk in the light that God does not impute sin (1 Jn. 1:7).
It takes effort, usually born of desperation, to stay in the blazing light of God.
We’re so used to life in the shadows that we don’t realize that most of us have tasted of the light and run from it.
That last statement is based on 32 years of experience as a Christian. The statements before that are based on Scripture. Since I’ve already explained my premise, I am going to finish with a boring list of Scriptures that only the desperate will want to read.
- The foundation of God stands firm, having this seal: The Lord knows those who are his, and let those who name the name of the King depart from iniquity. (2 Tim. 2:19)
- … who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself his own special people, zealous for good works. (Tit. 2:14)
- This is a faithful saying, and I want you to affirm these things constantly, that those who believe in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable for people. (Tit. 3:8)
- Pursue peace with all men, and holiness, without which no one will see God. (Heb. 12:14)
- (Paraphrased for brevity): Add to your faith virtue, wisdom, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly-kindness, and love. If you don’t do this, you’ll be blinded and forget you were purged from your old sins. If you do these things, however, you will never stumble, you will ensure your calling and election, and you will be given a glorious entrance into Jesus’ eternal kingdom. (2 Pet. 1:5-11)
- The works of the flesh are … (list of sins here) …; those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal. 5:19-21)
- But don’t let fornication, uncleanness, or greed be named among you even once. And walk in love as the King has loved us … For you know that no sexually immoral, unclean, or greedy man has any inheritance in the kingdom of God or the King. (Eph. 5:3-5)
- Let us not grow weary in doing good for in due season we will reap [eternal life] if we do not lose heart. (Gal. 6:9)
- Cramped is the way, and narrow is the gate that leads to life, and there are few that find it. (Matt. 7:14)
- “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father in heaven.” (Matt. 7:21)
- If the righteous are saved with difficulty, where will the ungodly and sinner appear? (1 Pet. 4:18)
- For to this end the King both died and rose, and lived again, so that he might be the Lord of both the living and the dead. (Rom. 14:9)
- He died for everyone so that those who live should live no longer for themselves but for him who died for them and rose again. (2 Cor. 5:14)
- So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh, for if we live according to the flesh, we will die. But if, by the Spirit, we put to death the deeds of the body, then we will live. (Rom. 8:12-13)
- Those who are the King’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Gal. 5:24)
It is true that we should find that in our own effort we are incapable of pleasing God (Jn. 15:5). Heartbroken, we should cry out, “O, wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24).
When we’re there, when we’re desperate, then we will seek, and then we will find there is an answer to our powerlessness: “Thanks be to God, through King Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 7:25). There, in our desperation, we will learn that what the Law could not do, God did, and the righteous requirement of the Law will be fulfilled in us when we walk according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:3-4; Gal. 5:16).
There we will also learn there is a reason that we are told to speak the truth in love to one another (Eph. 4:13-16), exhort one another every day (Heb. 3:13), and consider how to provoke one another to love and good works (Heb. 10:24-25). There is a reason that the Scriptures are said to be useful for “teaching, correction, rebuke, and instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). We need each other’s help, as well as the Holy Spirit’s help, to become “thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17).