The Lessons of Grace — Stephen Hughes

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).  This is a common passage often used to prove that Christians are saved “by grace alone through faith alone.” Grace, however, does not mysteriously come down from heaven to save people. Grace primarily took the form of Christ dying on the cross for us. Secondarily, but just as importantly, grace also took the form of the Holy Spirit teaching us through His word. Without it, we would not know about Christ’s amazing sacrifice, let alone what we must do to be saved.

True faith must include obedience on our part, and true grace must include teaching on God’s. God taught Noah to build the ark to save his family, He taught the children of Israel the Mosaic Law to lead them to Christ, and He taught all peoples today the gospel. In his letter to Titus, Paul wrote about “the grace of God that brings salvation [and] has appeared to all men” (Tit. 2:11). He continued to write about what this grace teaches us: how we ought to live and the reason we as Christians ought to live this way.

How We Ought To Live

In the next verse, Paul explains that grace is “teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age” (Tit. 2:12). Since grace is not mysteriously bestowed upon us, it gives us instructions to follow; since faith necessarily includes obedience, it is our duty not only to believe in that grace, but also to obey it. Paul wrote in another letter, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Rom. 6:1-2). Grace is exceedingly abundant, but it is also precious because it was bought at a price. If we continue in sin, we are treating the sacrifice of Christ on the cross with contempt, and we should not expect a reward when we leave this earth.

There are two things mentioned that we must deny and three we are to embrace. We must deny ungodliness and worldly lusts. These two things are really all-encompassing terms that refer to sin. The Greek word for “ungodliness” is a combination of a negative and the root word meaning “to revere; to worship.” This is a complete lack of piety, reverence, and worship toward God, and it is something that grace teaches us to deny.

Along with ungodliness, we also ought to deny worldly lusts. John described the three major categories of sin, “all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world” (1 John 2:16). Lust is defined as an unlawful desire. The Bible uses the same Greek word to express covetousness, lust, and desire, while in English, we tend to think of these things separately. All desire is not sinful (cf. Luke 22:15), but recall that “each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.  Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death (James 1:14-15).  While desire is not always sinful, we ought to be vigilant to keep it from turning into lust — this is always sinful.  Such things ought to be denied; succumbing to these lusts brings forth death, just as grace teaches us.

Conversely, Paul offers three things that we ought to exhibit: to live soberly, righteously, and godly. There are two families of Greek words that are translated as “sober” in the New Testament, and sometimes both are found in a particular verse. Paul used both in his epistle to Titus, but used only one of them frequently. This Greek word is a combination of two others and literally means “to save the mind.” Paul exhorts Christians of every demographic with this word (Tit. 2:1-8) which culminates later in the chapter when it becomes something that graces teaches to all men (Tit. 2:11-12). The opposite of this would be doing anything that would lead one’s mind to be compromised in any way. This includes abusing alcohol and drugs, both prescription and recreational, but it can also include being “drunk on love”—which is really being carried away by one’s own sexual lusts.

If we remain sober, living righteously and godly becomes much easier. If one is righteous, then he will be innocent, holy, and just. To live godly is to be pious and reverent toward God. We are called to live in this way, and grace teaches us to avoid things that would cause us to neglect righteousness and godliness in this present age.

Christ Will Return

After Paul discusses what grace teaches us to do, he tells Titus that we should be “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Tit. 2:13). This is our motivation to live soberly, righteously, and godly. When Paul was soon to be martyred, he stated that “there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8). The crown of righteousness is waiting for us in heaven if we are looking forward to Jesus’ return. This is our blessed hope, but if we are in sin, we have no reason to look forward to His return—it would mean our doom.

Our only hope is to be “faithful until death, and [He] will give [us] the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). The Christians in Smyrna to whom this was written were persecuted and were most certainly looking forward to Christ’s return, since it would mean the end of their persecution. They would have then received a crown of life, a synonym for the crown of righteousness. This is symbolic of the riches and rewards of heaven. Grace teaches us of Christ’s return and the rewards that would follow the faithful.

The author of Hebrews writes of the alternative. “For if we sin willfully after we have received a knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries” (Heb. 10:26-27). While those who love Christ’s appearing and abide by the lessons of grace will receive the crown of righteousness, those who ignore these lessons have sinned willfully and should expect judgment with fear.

The Hebrews author continues, “Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy …. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?” (Heb. 10:28-29). God views those who have obeyed the gospel but have fallen away as if they have walked all over His dear Son, not recognizing the extraordinary price that He paid for their sins to be forgiven. Not only this, but they have insulted the Spirit of grace, that same grace that teaches us how to live in this present age. Grace will not save if it has been insulted in this manner.

It gets worse for those who fall away. “For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:30-31). Not only will the Lord take “vengeance on those who know not God, and who do not obey the gospel” (2 Thess. 1:8), but also on those who have known Him and have turned away. We do not want to find ourselves in that position on Judgment Day.

Conclusion

Recall Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:8-9, and let us consider the following verse: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). As Paul wrote about the relationship between grace and faith leading to salvation, he also wrote about the good works that we were created to do. He continues this theme in his letter to Titus, saying that Christ “gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works” (Tit. 2:14). Let us always utilize the lessons that grace has taught us concerning how to live this way.  Let us be eager to obey the Spirit of grace and be zealous for the good works that He created us to do. 

Stephen is the Associate Minister at the Seven Hills Church of Christ in Lynchburg, VA.

 

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