This is an edited version of a sermon on the Apostle Paul’s epistle to Titus preached in the Parish Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge.
Here’s an imaginary scenario – the story of a local church over a hundred-year period.
At the start of this time, the church is made up of real born-again Christians, people who have genuinely believed God’s saving good news, his gospel of eternal salvation from sin and death through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And the evidence that they are real born-again Christians is that they are godly people. They’re not perfect but they are leading God-pleasing lives which marks them out from the non-Christian world around them.
But as this generation grows old and dies off, a new generation takes over the church. Amongst these people, Christian morality is assumed and generally practised, but this generation loses touch with the spiritual heart of the God-pleasing life, which is thankfulness for the grace of God in salvation. This second generation become Pharisees – they are outwardly moral, upright, respectable people – but because they have lost touch with the grace of God they have become arrogant. They look down their noses at the non-Christians around them and make little attempt to reach them with the good news of God’s saving love in the Lord Jesus.
Then a third generation takes over the church and this generation reacts against the Pharisaism of the previous one, which earned the church a bad reputation in the community for being snooty and holier-than-thou. This new generation begins to think that the way to improve the image of the church in the community around them is to ditch traditional Christian beliefs and morals and to try to be trendy. As a reaction against the Pharisaism of the previous generation, this generation becomes revisionist, theologically liberal and as a result of embracing revisionism the church becomes no different from the non-Christian world around them.
So over that hundred-year period, you have a church that has gone from real Christianity to revisionism via Pharisaism.
The antidote to that spiritual disaster is to hold on to the gospel as the Apostle Paul so beautifully expresses it in Titus chapter 3v3-7:
‘At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life’ (NIV).
The essential point here is that a proper grasp of the gospel and humility go hand in hand. Notice Paul’s description of himself, Titus, the Christians on Crete and indeed every Christian he knew before they became Christians. ‘At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.’ That is how humanity generally is without the gospel – we are naturally sinful as human beings and this sinfulness expresses itself in how we behave towards other people. Paul says ‘me too’. I was like that – we all were before we became Christians.
But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.
We received the good news of God’s saving love in the Lord Jesus Christ, at the heart of which is his death on the Cross in our place for our sins, bearing the condemnation we deserve.
God’s amazing grace in the Lord Jesus brought salvation to Paul, to Titus, and to every Christian believer. God saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.
So, holding on to the gospel is the antidote to the spiritual disaster that afflicted that imaginary church over a hundred-year period. It’s the antidote to that disaster happening to our church family. It’s the antidote to that disaster happening to us as individual Christians perhaps in a life-time – moving from real Christianity to revisionism via Pharisaism.