Telling the Salvation Story
November 7, 2004 | Brian Bill
I’d like to suggest this morning that evil is not so much “out there” as it is “in us,” or at least it used to be for believers. As the Pogo comic strip used to say, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Let’s listen to how God describes depravity in Titus 3:3: “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.”
Last Sunday we were reminded to live out seven virtues in verses 1-2 and now we’re to remember seven vices that are used to describe our lives in verse 3.
Remember What You Were
This verse begins with the phrase, “at one time we too.” In our past, we used to act just like those who don’t know Christ. We need to avoid spiritual arrogance and not look down on those who sin differently than we do. Many of us used to do the exact same thing that lost people are doing today. In order to respond properly to a Cretan culture we must remember our previous condition. Let’s look at this descriptive litany. Let me warn you in advance that this contains some pretty bad news. But hang in there because the good news comes in verses 4-7.
A foolish person lacks understanding, or literally, one who is senseless or “not having a mind.” A lost person is described in Ephesians 4:18: “They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.” No matter how smart someone is, if they are not alive spiritually, they are considered foolish. Proverbs 10:23: “A fool finds pleasure in evil conduct, but a man of understanding delights in wisdom.”
A person apart from Christ is by nature rebellious, willfully disregarding authority. This word refers to one who refuses to be persuaded, or one who persists in doing what he wants to do, no matter what God says. Proverbs 14:9 tells us that “fools mock at sin.” To paraphrase Jonathon Edwards, every unbeliever is hanging by a thread over the fires of hell. And the only thing that keeps them from falling into the flames is the hand of God. Disobedience is nothing more than saying to God, “I dare you to let go.”
This Greek word describes a wandering and is the root for our word “planet.” We are all prone to wander. 1 Peter 2:25 says that before we were saved, we were “like sheep going astray…” I heard someone capture the meaning of this when he said that Jeremiah 17:9 was written with him in mind: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” This individual then said that his biggest problem is not with other people; his biggest problem is with his own heart. Satan, the ultimate deceiver, works at keeping people in the dark as stated in 2 Corinthians 4:4: “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
4. Enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures.
Jesus taught in John 8:34 that those who sin become “slaves to sin.” The nature of sin is that it will make you its slave. Like the country of Crete, our culture is filled with “all kinds” of passions and pleasures, and these sins will enslave as 2 Peter 2:19 teaches: “…for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him.” The phrase, “all kinds” refers to a manifold diversity of longings and unhealthy pleasures. “Pleasure” is from the root word that is translated “hedonism,” which is the belief that indulgence is the chief end of life. We hear this all the time, don’t we? People say things like, “I just want to be happy” or “I deserve to have fun” or “I just gotta be me!” Those who want freedom to do whatever they want will eventually end up in bondage to that which they are pursuing.
5. We lived in malice.
This word basically means “badness in quality.” When we first got married I had some Wisconsin venison in our freezer. We must have kept it in there too long because when we thawed it out, it smelled rotten. Malice is repugnant rottenness that is directed at someone else. A malicious man is one who desires to destroy or causes distress and rejoices in doing so.
Envy is not just wanting what another person has, but also resenting that person for having it. An envious person is never satisfied with what he or she has and will crave continually for more. Proverbs 14:30 paints a vivid picture of envy: “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” D.L. Moody once told the fable of an eagle that was envious of another that could fly better than he could. One day the eagle saw a hunter with a bow and arrow and said to him, “I wish you would shoot that eagle up there.” The man agreed but said he needed some feathers for his arrow. The jealous eagle pulled out a feather and gave it to the man but it wasn’t enough. So he pulled out one after another, until he had lost so many that he couldn’t fly. The archer took advantage of the situation, and killed the helpless bird. If you’re envious of others, the one you will hurt the most by your actions will be yourself.
7. Being hated and hating one another.
The word “hate” means loathsome and detestable. When one lives in slavery to passions and pleasures, others will eventually come to hate him and in turn, this individual will find others to be odious. Hating becomes a way of life and often can’t even be explained.
This is a diagnosis of human depravity. Is there such a thing as evil? Yes, there is, and it lurks within each of us. Last Sunday afternoon I started to get a bad headache that eventually turned into a migraine that I couldn’t shake. My head was still pounding on Monday and I couldn’t figure out why Tylenol wouldn’t take care of it. It was then that I realized that the source of my pain was coming from a tooth. I called my dentist immediately but couldn’t get in until Tuesday. When he finally looked at it, he gave me his diagnosis. Because he’s the expert he could tell immediately what was wrong. All I knew was that I had some pain. The great physician sees our pain and has diagnosed the condition of our souls. We will only get better as we follow His orders.
Remember What You Are
The bad news is that we are sinners. The good news is that there is a Savior. You must first recognize the fact that you are a sinner before you will receive the work of the Savior into your life. That leads us to verses 4-7: “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior 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 Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”
Verse 4 begins with a jarring juxtaposition to our pre-conversion condition. We are in the depths of depravity but the Almighty intervened and saved us. The Bible Knowledge Commentary remarks that Paul’s contrast is startling. In verse 3, man is the actor, but in verses 4-7, man is merely the recipient and God becomes the actor. What man could in no wise do for himself, God initiated for him. Notice that God is the one who takes the initiative: “But…of God…He saved us…because of His mercy…He saved us…the Holy Spirit…He poured…through Jesus…by His grace…might become heirs.”
We are a mess and in distress and God has come to our rescue through the redeeming work of His Son on the Cross
In the original language these four verses are really one long sentence and many commentators believe that this was a creed that the early Christians recited, or even sang out loud. Through repetition, they committed it to memory. I encourage you to do the same. There is only one verb in this sentence, and it’s the main emphasis: “He saved us.” This is the crux of Christianity, for we serve a Savior who saves sinners. This is seen in Acts 2:47: “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” We are a mess and in distress and God has come to our rescue through the redeeming work of His Son on the Cross. At its essence, Christianity teaches conversion through a rescuing relationship. We are lost and therefore must be found. We are enemies of God and need to be at peace. We are enslaved and need to find freedom. We are saved from God’s wrath by God’s redemption.
We’ve mentioned seven virtues and seven vices. In these verses we are introduced to God’s seven-fold divine rescue operation. To be saved means to be rescued from imminent deadly danger as Paul stated in 1 Timothy 1:15: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-of whom I am the worst.”
I can remember when I was in High School and I heard someone use the word “saved.” I had no idea what it meant but I knew I didn’t want to be saved if it meant becoming like the person who used the term. In fact, when I became a Christian a couple years later, someone came up to me and said, “I didn’t know you were saved.” I told him I wasn’t because the word had so much baggage in my mind. I’ve since come to appreciate the significance of this sweet word.
1. We are saved by His kindness.
To be kind means to have “goodness of heart.” The King of Heaven is kind toward unholy people. This is seen clearly in Luke 6:35 where we read that God “… is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” The Anglo-Saxon name for “God” comes from the word “good.” God is good and He is kind, and because He is, He waits patiently for people to respond to Him. Some of us only view God as angry and judgmental and therefore want to avoid Him. Romans 2:4 teaches that when we focus on His inherent kindness, we will be moved to repentance: “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?” In Romans 11:22, Paul paints a picture of both God’s kindness and His judgment. Some of us tend to emphasis one over the other, but they are both important: “Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness.”
In one Dennis the Menace cartoon, Dennis is shown walking away from the Wilson’s house with his friend Joey. Both boys have their hands full of cookies. Joey turns to Dennis and says, “I wonder what we did to deserve this?” Dennis answers with profound insight: “Look Joey, Mrs. Wilson gives us cookies not because we’re nice, but because she’s nice.” The kindness that comes our way from God is not because we’re good but because He is.
3. We are saved by His love.
You matter so much to God that He breaks out into music when He thinks about you
This word for love is not agape, but rather the word from which we get philanthropy. One pastor defines it this way: “pity, compassion, and eagerness to deliver from pain or distress because of strong affection.” This word is illustrated in Acts 28:2 when the men of Malta reached out and helped Paul and the other shipwrecked passengers: “The natives showed us extraordinary kindness…” God shows us extraordinary and extravagant love, not because we deserve it, but because we don’t. God not only feels love toward you; He focused His love through the sending of His Son. Hold on to the promise of Zephaniah 3:17 when you struggle to feel this love: “The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” You matter so much to God that He breaks out into music when He thinks about you.
3. We are saved by His mercy.
Verse 5 is an excellent verse to remember when someone says that they are trying to get to heaven by their own efforts: “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” We need mercy because as we learned in verse 3, we are in a miserable condition. Instead of moving toward God, we are actually moving away from Him.
Friends, listen. You and I are not saved by anything we do. It’s all because of His magnificent mercy. Even Paul, who tried to work His way to heaven by ritual, heritage, and commitment, eventually saw in Philippians 3:8, that all of his efforts were “rubbish,” which really means manure. As Isaiah 64:6 says, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” We need mercy because we are in the cesspool of our sins and the filth of even our good deeds. I love how Micah 7:18 captures this attribute of God: “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.”
4. We are saved by His regeneration.
Notice the second half of verse 5: “He has saved us through the washing of rebirth…” Sometimes I get tired of hearing political commentators and others refer to evangelicals as “born-again” Christians. There is no other kind of Christian. If you’ve not been born again, you are not yet a Christian. And if you are a true Christian, you’ve been born again. Jesus said it clearly to a religious man, who came to Him at night in John 3:3: “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” We’ve all been born once physically but in order to enter the kingdom of God, we must be born spiritually. No matter how religious we might be, we are dead in our sins and therefore need the regeneration that only the Redeemer can give us. 1 Peter 1:23 gives the same emphasis: “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” If you have been saved, your life has been changed. You have become someone you never were before. 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”
5. We are saved by His Spirit.
I love the language in verse 6 used to describe the renewal by the Holy Spirit: “whom He poured out on us generously.” God loves to give a lot when He gives, doesn’t He? I listened to a sermon last week by Dr. Joe Stowell entitled, “The Muchness of God.” His point is that God gives above and beyond all we can ask or think. God is not stingy but is instead abundant in His giving. That’s how Beth is when she serves dessert. She loves to give out big pieces. Since Christ has now died, Isaiah 44:3 is fulfilled: “For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.”
6. We are saved by His Son.
Our salvation is possible only because of the finished work of “Jesus Christ our Savior.” Jesus communicated His mission very clearly in Mark 10:45: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” God’s justice had to be satisfied and since the penalty for sin is death, all the sins of the world were placed on Christ and He paid the price as our sin substitute.
7. We are saved by His grace.
Grace is God’s unmerited favor that pardons us from our guilt. You and I don’t deserve to be forgiven but grace grants us freedom. In his book called, “Speechless,” Steven Curtis Chapman writes: “In the gospel we discover that we are far worse off than we ever thought, and far more loved that we ever dreamed.” Aren’t you grateful for God’s grace? When Paul contemplated this, he broke out into adoration in Ephesians 1:6: “To the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.”
In his book, “What’s So Amazing About Grace,” Phillip Yancey points out that part of our problem is in the nature of grace itself. Grace is scandalous. It’s hard to accept, hard to believe, and hard to receive. Grace shocks us in what it offers. It is truly not of this world.
Grace teaches us that God does for others what we would never do for them. We would save the not-so-bad. God starts with prostitutes and then works downward from there. Grace is a gift that costs everything to the giver and nothing to the receiver. It is given to those who don’t deserve it, barely recognize it, and hardly appreciate it. That’s why God alone gets the glory in your salvation. Jesus did all the work when he died on the cross.
In the end grace means that no one is too bad to be saved. God specializes in saving really bad people. Do you have some things in your background that you would be ashamed to talk about in public? Fear not. God knows all about it, and His grace is greater than your sin. Grace also means that some people may be too good to be saved. That is, they may have such a high opinion of themselves that they think they don’t need God’s grace. God’s grace cannot help you until you are desperate enough to receive it. Romans 11:6: “And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.”
Results of Receiving
Verse 7 gives us three results of receiving what Christ has done for us. We are not like we used to be (foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved, living in malice and envy, and being filled with hate) because we have been saved by His kindness, by His love, by His mercy, by His regeneration, by His Spirit, by His Son, and by His grace. As a result, we are…
This doctrine is discussed fully in the Book of Romans. One example is found in Romans 3:24: “And are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Warren Wiersbe defines it this way: “Justification is the gracious act of God whereby He declares a believing sinner righteous because of the finished work of Christ on the cross. God puts to our account the righteousness of His Son, so that we can be condemned no more.”
Do you know that if you’re saved, you are in line for an incredible inheritance? You don’t deserve this, but you will receive it, again because of His grace. We are beneficiaries of His blessings. This word in the Greek was a legal term. Because of what Christ has done for you, you are an heir of the Holy One.
3. Given the hope of eternal life.
Eternal life begins the moment you are saved. When you die, you will leave the tent of your body, but you will actually live forever. You can count on the promise of Jesus from John 10:28: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.”
What About You?
In verse 3, Paul describes what believers used to be. I wonder this morning if some of you are still in your sins. Perhaps you have not yet received the gift of eternal life. God has done everything for you but you need to respond to Him by placing your full faith and trust in Him. What side are you on?
Pre-Conversion Condition Post-Conversion Condition
Foolish Saved by His Kindness
Disobedient Saved by His Love
Deceived Saved by His Mercy
Enslaved Saved by His Regeneration
Malice Saved by His Spirit
Envy Saved by His Son
Hate Saved by His Grace
Around 175 years ago, a guy named George Wilson was sentenced to die by hanging after he killed a guard while robbing a federal payroll. President Andrew Jackson, feeling gracious and merciful, decided to pardon him. Unbelievably, Wilson refused to accept the pardon. The case became so legally confusing that the Supreme Court had to give a ruling. Chief Justice John Marshall delivered this verdict: “A pardon is a parchment whose only value must be determined by the receiver of the pardon. It has no value apart from that which the receiver gives it. George Wilson has refused to accept the pardon. We cannot conceive why he would do so, but he has. Therefore, George Wilson must die.”
Friends, we have been given a pardon for all that we’ve done in the past. We’ve been given power to deal with the future. And we have the promise of where we’ll spend eternity.
You can do that right now by praying this prayer: “Lord Jesus, for too long I’ve kept you out of my life. I admit that I am a sinner and that I cannot save myself. I am foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved, filled with malice, struggle with envy and find myself hating others. I repent of my sins by changing my mind about the way I’ve been living. I’m not going to close the door when I hear you knocking. I believe and gratefully receive your pardon. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for coming to earth. With all my heart I believe you are the Son of God who died on the cross for my sins and rose from the dead on the third day. Thank you for bearing my sins and giving me the gift of eternal life. I am so grateful for your kindness, love, mercy, regeneration, Sprit, Son, and grace. I receive you into my heart. I confess that you are now Lord in my life. Make me into the person you want me to be. I’m a sinner. You’re the Savior. And now I surrender to you. Amen.”