So it seems as though summer break is officially upon us. Longer nights, later mornings, more sweating, more swimming, and more sweet tea are all on the horizon—especially for those younger ones among us.
I remember summer break as being a fantastically fun time during my school days.
I played golf most mornings. My mom, being a teacher, was off school. That meant lots of trips to the movies. I usually didn’t miss one during the summer.
There was the family vacation—most times to the beach, though there were the occasional trips to New York and to Disney World.
And, of course, there was the Fourth of July trip to my mom’s hometown, complete with family, fireworks, and barbeque.
It was always the best time of the year—save Christmases and birthdays—and always a veritable tragedy when it came to an end.
Probably the best part of it all was that I got to do a lot of stuff that I wanted to do.
Going to school was not on that list, shocking that may be. It was almost as though summer was what some people refer to as “me time”.
Now, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that there isn’t really such a thing as “me time”. Becoming a husband and father taught me that.
More importantly, becoming a Christian taught me that. Whatever “time” I have available to me always belongs to someone else, no matter what I say.
But something happened during my formative elementary school years. Actually, it probably all got started even before I came along.
Some call it the “self-esteem movement”. We decided we had spent long enough feeling bad about ourselves as a society. It was time to feel good about ourselves.
I remember in second or third grade. Whitney Houston’s song, The Greatest Love of All, came out. I think we’ve talked about this song a little bit before.
In all my music classes, our teachers were required to teach us this song. We were to know it in and out, to perform it, and perhaps even to internalize it.
Do you remember that song? Don’t worry. I won’t be performing it for you this morning, but I will read you the lyrics. See what you think.
I believe the children are our future.
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
Let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be.
Sounds pretty good, wouldn’t you say? It would be difficult to disagree with words such as these. But let’s continue to listen on.
See if you notice anything else—perhaps something a bit worrisome—as the song continues.
Everybody’s searching for a hero
People need someone to look up to
I never found anyone who fulfilled my needs
A lonely place to be
And so I learned to depend on me
I needed someone to look up to. I couldn’t find anyone to fulfill my needs. It was lonely. So what do I do? I know! I can depend on me!
Without getting into anything specific right now, we can clearly see how this might fly in the face of what we read in the Bible. Let’s continue with the chorus.
I decided long ago, never to walk in anyone’s shadows
If I fail, if I succeed
At least I’ll live as I believe
No matter what they take from me
They can’t take away my dignity
Because the greatest love of all
Is happening to me
I found the greatest love of all
Inside of me
The greatest love of all
Is easy to achieve
Learning to love yourself
It is the greatest love of all
Now, the message of this song—whether it’s intended or not—is that our children ought to focus on themselves.
They ought to live as they want to live. They ought to love themselves over everyone else. After all, that’s the greatest love there is.
Is it an inspirational and uplifting message? You bet it is. Is it also a difficult one to swallow in the context of Christ and His death on the cross? You bet it is.
There’s a different message that’s out there, and it’s been growing for quite some time. It’s infecting the lives of our kids.
But, since it’s been going on for a while, it’s now inundated in adults who grew up with this same message. And here’s that message:
Your life belongs to you alone, and you can do whatever you want with it. Embrace who you are, love everything about yourself, and don’t listen to anyone who wants to change you. Now, let’s think about that for a second.
How would you like to try to parent a child who’s being fed—whether directly or indirectly—a message like that?
Whether or not you are aware, it is incredibly difficult to train a child up in the ways of the Lord, given today’s context and culture.
Beyond that, it’s difficult to live, as an adult, according to God’s ways with that message flitting in and out of our subconscious.
Today’s passage, found in the second chapter of Titus, just might offer us a little bit of capital-T Truth in the midst of all this haziness.
This is a short letter written by Paul to a young pastor, name of Titus, serving on the Mediterranean island of Crete.
Paul encourages this pastor in how to disciple all demographics of a congregation—young and old, men and women.
For now, we’re going to focus on just a few verses, but will probably look at all of chapter 2 for context. Let’s begin reading with verse 11. (Read Titus 2:11-14.)
Remember that Paul is writing to a pastor here. A closer look at the earlier portion of this chapter shows some obvious pastoral instructions.
Make sure that older men remain temperate, dignified, sound in faith, love, and perseverance, according to verse 2.
Make sure that older women are reverent, not gossipers, not drunkards, and wise instructors, according to verse 3.
They also ought to be encouragers for the younger women in the church, based on verse 4. Verse 5 gives instructions to pass on to the younger women.
They are to be sensible, pure, hard workers, kind, and respectful of their husbands.
Young men are to be sensible in all things, according to verse 6. And, if you know young men at all, you know that there is a need for good sense.
Paul also provides instruction for Titus himself, that he should be filled with good deeds, pure doctrine, dignified, and sound in speech.
Finally, Paul gives Titus some instructions for the slaves in his midst. They are to work hard for and submit to their masters.
They are to show good faith, demonstrate integrity, and live in such a way as to please God, in spite of conditions they may well have not preferred.
You see what all of this is, don’t you? These are behavioral instructions. Have this sort of attitude. Make these sorts of choices. Use these kinds of words.
But there’s a shift that occurs when we get to our passage today, which began in verse 11. These verses deal more with belief than behavior.
That’s why I really like this passage. Commentator Donald Guthrie states, “Theology is an indispensable basis for Christian behavior.”
Belief must come first, and then influence behavior. We too often seek to influence behavior first, especially with regard to children—and in regard to those who are outsiders of our faith, lost in their sin.
We’ve got to believe rightly before we will ever behave rightly. Efforts to produce right behavior before right belief may be reasonably successful for a time.
Shame on us if we ever accept “reasonably successful for a time” as a description of the life God has planned for us.
We need to take a good look at this passage to understand what right belief must entail. Look at verse 11 again.
The grace of God has appeared. That’s how it is with grace. It’s a free gift. When Jesus took on flesh, walked this earth, died on a cross, and started the church, the full revelation of God’s grace came forth.
This grace, the scripture says, brought salvation to all people. Now, lest we think that this means that all people will be saved, let’s look at it again.
God’s grace, working through Jesus’ death and resurrection, brought salvation to everybody. Look, you can bring me a lot of things.
You can bring me a bushel of purple hulls or okra, and I will gladly accept them.
You can bring me a bunch of weeds you pulled from your garden, and I’m likely to say, “Thanks, but no thanks.” I won’t accept.
God’s grace has appeared. It has brought His salvation to all people. People can still choose to reject it. They can still choose to reject Him.
Now, this notion that God’s grace brings salvation—that it’s the only way we are saved—doesn’t merely apply to eternal life in heaven one day.
It refers to hear and now. That’s why we read about God’s grace doing something more, in verse 12. God’s grace teaches us.
Look what the grace of God teaches us to say no to: ungodliness and worldly passions. It teaches us to say yes to self-control and lives of integrity.
Do you catch that there? God’s grace teaches us our behavior. Grace comes first.
Then, we must accept that grace through faith. That’s belief. That’s trust. Only then can the behavior come.
But let’s not miss out on this truth that God’s grace is a teaching grace. That grace will one day bring about our blessed hope—the return of Jesus Christ.
We read about that in verse 13. But, for now, this grace is a teaching grace. God’s grace teaches us to live in those ways mentioned in verse 12.
That means that, whenever you stand strong in the face of temptation, it’s only by the grace of God.
Whenever you say no to the ungodly, worldly ideals of idolatry, immorality, and indulgence—it’s only by the grace of God.
Whenever you show self-control in the midst of hostile situations, it’s only by the grace of God.
Whenever someone brags on you for living an upright life of integrity, you better be ready to tell that person, “It’s only by the grace of God!”
Yes, it’s only by the grace of God—demonstrated in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ—that we are even here today.
Paul writes about Him in verse 14. He gave Himself for us. Think about that for a second. That’s a truth that we all kind of know, but we inevitably let slip away.
Eugene Peterson says, “He offered Himself as a sacrifice to free us from a dark, rebellious life.” Yes, He gave Himself for us. We need to look at the “why”.
Yes, as Peterson says, it was to free us from the darkness of our rebellion. Other translations say that His sacrifice “redeemed us from every lawless deed”.
We need to catch this and let it take root. Your efforts and my efforts will never redeem us from our sin—will never free us from the guilt and shame and death.
But there’s more as to why Jesus made this sacrifice for us. The NIV says He did it to purify for Himself a people that are His very own.
The NASB—New American Standard Bible—says that He died on that cross “to purify for Himself a people for His own possession”.
Did you catch that? If you want to be a Christian, you better accept the fact that you are possessed. I know, I know—that term can have negative and scary connotations. But it’s true. We are possessed, by Christ.
Jesus died to make us His. And He is in a constant battle over us. There is another who consistently tries to claim us. Do you know who I’m talking about?
I’m actually not talking about the devil. More frequently, it is ourselves who try to lay our own claim to our lives.
The saying goes, “We are bought with a price; we are not our own.” If that’s not part of your belief, then your belief is wrong.
And if your belief is wrong, eventually your behavior will be wrong. It probably is already. We are not afforded the right to “live as we think we ought to”.
Nor are we ever expected to depend on ourselves for anything lasting or meaningful.
Only God and His grace through Jesus can provide that. If we are possession of someone else, then we really have no rights at all.
Oh, but we love to fight for whatever rights we think we deserve, don’t we? “It’s my life,” is a common cry of this generation—and really any generation.
Often we say that we have prayed about a decision, when really we only weighed the pros and cons and did whatever we thought was best for us.
Yes, Jesus died to save us from sin. But He also died to claim us as His own.
And not only did He die so that we might belong solely to Him, but it was also to create a people who are “zealous for good deeds,” as the NASB puts it.
It doesn’t say that God’s grace makes us into a people who begrudgingly go along with doing good. We are to be zealous for it—eager, willing, and excited.
This is once again where we might get off track. Jesus died to save us. That means I get to go to heaven one day. But now I have to put up with everything here on earth.
I have to help people. I have to give up my time and money. I have to attend church.
I have to…I have to…I have to. But that’s not the message of God’s grace. It changes all those “have to’s” into “want to’s”.
That’s because His grace makes a people zealous and eager to do good. If all your good deeds cause you to moan and groan, let me offer a diagnosis.
You’ve put behavior in front of belief. When you embrace God’s amazing grace, He changes your attitude and perspective.
When you embrace a life as Jesus’ prized possession, He changes your demeanor toward serving Him. If you are burdened by the good works God has laid out for us, you may well still believe that, somewhere deep down, you are your own possession. No one can tell you what to do with your life.
It’s a misguided belief. It must be corrected. We must allow the grace of God to teach us how to live—not just to deliver us into heaven one day in the future.
What is your response to this grace today? (Pray.)