Good evening. This week we are going to read through and study through Titus 1. So let’s just read the whole thing, and then we’ll walk through it verse by verse. Starting in verse 1.
Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior; To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior. This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. They profess to know God, but they
deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.
Let’s pray, and then we will walk back through this together. “Father, we thank You for this portion of Your Scripture that You have left to us graciously, that You have preserved for us, that by Your Spirit You inspired the apostle Paul to write so many years ago. Father, we pray that tonight, as we gather as Your people, that You would give us ears to hear what You would have for us to hear. We pray that You might take what was penned by this apostle 200 years ago and teach us and show us how these words and this letter have implications in our own lives, both individually and corporately as a church. So be honored, I pray. Be glorified. I pray that You would, by Your Spirit, encourage us, that You would correct us where we need it, rebuke us and help us along in our faith. We desire to be more like Jesus Christ. We desire to be ever- increasingly displaying His character, both as individuals and together. So God, use this time and this portion of Your Scripture to that end tonight. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.”
Let’s just start in verse 1, and then we’ll just walk through it together. Paul is the writer, so he introduces himself with a salutation as he does in all of his letters. He says, “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ,for the sake of the faith of God’s elect. . .” So he’s saying, “God has established me to be a servant and to be an apostle for the good of His church, of His people, of His elect.” “. . .and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness,. . .” One writer that I was studying this week said that any knowledge of the truth that doesn’t produce godliness like Paul says here is really a bogus knowledge of the truth. A true knowledge of God, who He is, what He has done, goes beyond just cognitive understanding. A true knowledge of the truth always produces godliness. So I love that Paul put that there. “. . .in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested
in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior.” That’s quite the introduction.
He continues, “To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior. This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order,. . .” As we said last week, the apostle Paul, Titus and a few others went to the island of Crete and they shared the gospel. People came to trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior. So in these different cities on this island, churches were planted. Then later on, Paul and the others left Titus on Crete and went to a different city. Paul is now writing back to Titus. And he’s saying here, “The reason I’m writing you is to instruct you on how to get these churches that we planted together up and established and healthy.” As we talked about last week, he wants to get these churches healthy to a degree that they’re actually making God look attractive to the world around them. So this is what Paul is saying here, “This is why I left you there, so you can take what had been planted by you and me and that you get it established and healthy.”
Let me give you an illustration from my own life. A couple of months ago, I got yard installed or planted. It was just dirt before. It was very, very ugly. One time I was out there trying to water when a neighbor who had lived in the neighborhood for a long time cam up and said, “Hey man, I can appreciate you trying to get your yard looking better. I’ve been around here for 30 years, and I’ve seen people try a lot of different things in this yard and it has never worked.” So I was really appreciative of that encouragement, but went against his counsel and decided to go ahead and go for it and put in a new yard. So a couple months ago, we put one in. I wasn’t there when they actually delivered the pallets of grass, but I heard it was pretty amazing. My wife was telling me about how a semi truck pulled up with all these palates. It took about fifteen people two days working to flatten out the ground and then plant these pallets of grass. It was just amazing. I walked home after they planted it and was just astounded. I’m a guy who has visions about certain things, but my yard was not one of them. So I just had no vision for it. I just thought it was ugly, and I just wanted to prove my neighbor wrong. So when I came home and saw it, I was amazed at how good it looked. Then after a couple of days I realized, “Oh no! I actually don’t know how to take care of this yard that had just been planted.” So I called the guy who owns the company who planted the grass, and I just said, “Hey man, the yard looks awesome. You did a great job. I really appreciate it, but I have no idea what to do now. I have no idea how to take this yard that you guys planted and nurture it to the point it gets healthy.” So I took a pen and paper, and for thirty minutes, he walked me through basic yard care. He walked me through how to take this yard that they planted and get it established, healthy and growing. And that is sort of what Paul is doing here in this letter to Titus. They had planted these churches, and now he’s writing back to Titus saying, “This is what you need to do to take the churches we planted and get them established and healthy, hopefully healthy to the degree that they’re actually making much of God in the way they are living their lives.” That’s what Paul is saying here.
So with that in mind, the very first thing he says here is this. “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you. . .” What was on the forefront of the apostle Paul’s mind is that, in order for these churches to get up, established and healthy, what Titus needed to do was identify healthy leaders who could oversee and care for the church. In other words, a healthy church has to have healthy leadership. That is essentially what he’s saying, and that is at the forefront of his mind. And for those who may not be Christians or may be new to Christianity, let me give you a brief definition of “elder.” Elders are a group of men who have been given the unique responsibility to care for, love and oversee the local church. I think it’s helpful for us just to pause for a moment here and just consider together that this was so crucial to Paul for Titus to find elders and appoint them to oversee and care for these local churches. If it’s that important to Paul, it should be important to us. And I think it’s helpful for us to just stop and think about that. In fact, there are many today who would argue that church structure, organizational leadership in the church and how things are organized aren’t that important and what’s really important is people coming to know the Lord Jesus Christ and believing in Him. I agree. Organizational structure is not as important
as the new birth is, not at all. However, if the Bible has something to say about the way a local church is structured for the good of that local church and for the glory of God, then we ought to listen and it ought to be important to us. As you read here, God through Paul is most definitely saying something about these things, and He’s definitely saying that it is crucial to a church is having healthy, godly, God-ordained leadership.
I mentioned last week how transient our congregation is. There are hundreds of people here who come on Sundays who are either on their way in or on their way out. This is just a very transient campus because of the nature of having students as part of our congregation. We love that. Again, we think it’s a gift from God, that we have the unique privilege and opportunity to model for these students for the time they are here what it means to be a church. We take that responsibility and opportunity very, very seriously. So just as a side note, let me address those of you who are here who are going to be in transition or who are in transition. When you leave the Village and transition to another city and you’re looking for another healthy local church to join, this should be one of the things at the forefront of your mind – how the church is structured in regards to its leadership. You should care about this. Above and beyond whether or not you like the music style, whether or not they have enough programming for your children, one of the things that you should have on the forefront of your mind, as you’re looking for a local church, is the leadership.
We have four membership classes here every year, and at the end of every class, we have time for a Q&A. We’re an elder-led church, I’m always amazed about how many people don’t ask questions about elders and the leadership of the church. I don’t know if that’s because people assume we have healthy leadership, but it’s just not a question they ask very much. I think one of the reasons we don’t talk about that is simply because we don’t share the same burden that the apostle Paul had regarding these things. And we should, be cause in Paul’s mind, you cannot be a healthy local church without having healthy leadership. So Paul is writing to Titus and saying, “Having healthy leadership, having a group of qualified men to oversee and care for the local church is crucial to you establishing these churches and getting them healthy.”
And then he’s going to explain why. So Paul doesn’t just say, “Hey, this is important. You need to do this,” without telling us why. But before he gets into the why, he’s going to describe the type of men who will constitute healthy leaders. This is the type of men who will make healthy leaders, men who have these character qualities and these competencies. And with only a small group of Christians on this island, you may have thought that Paul ant Titus would have had to rest content with finding leaders who just had a little natural authority or natural leadership gifting and common sense, but they didn’t do this. Paul would rather have no leaders at all than leaders whose lives don’t match up to the message. So he goes in before he tells why it’s so important to have healthy leadership and he tells Titus, “This is the type of men you should be looking for.” So look at what he says in verse 6. “If anyone is above reproach. . .” This phrase “above reproach” is really the umbrella that all the other character qualities fall underneath. In fact, one booklet that I read from Grace Community Church said, “The single, overarching qualification of which the rest are supportive is that [the potential elder] is to be ‘above reproach.’ That is, he must be a leader who cannot be accused of anything sinful because he has a sustained reputation for blamelessness. An elder is to be above reproach in his marital life, his social life, his business life, and his spiritual life. In this way, he is to be a model of godliness so he can legitimately call the congregation to follow his example. All the other qualifications, except perhaps teaching and management skills, only amplify that idea.” So this is the umbrella characteristic for these other qualities. Paul says, “You’ve got to get healthy leadership, and the guys you want to look for are guys who are above reproach.”
And then he goes into what that look like at the end of verse 6. “. . .the husband of one wife. . .” There have been a lot of things taught about this. I don’t believe personally that Paul is saying that this has to be a man who has never been married, divorced and remarried. I think he’s talking about marital fidelity and faithfulness here, not one’s past history. Although I do think it’s important, if you have anyone who has been divorced and remarried, to check that out. Because
that could be a cause for someone to not being qualified to being an elder. But I think Paul is more so saying is, “Is he a one woman man? Does he love the wife that he has now? Does he love and care for her? Does he have eyes for her?” And then he goes on to talk about children, assuming that these men have children. He says, “. . .and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination.” In other words, “Is this man leading and shepherding his children in such a way that they are compelled to follow his example and follow his faith?” And in verse 7, he sums up what he’s trying to say here. “For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach.” The main idea he’s trying to get across here is that these men are going to be stewarding the household of God. The point Paul is making is, “If he can’t steward his own family, why would you think that he’d be able to take care of the family of God? If he can’t love, care for and lead his own wife, what makes you think that he’s going to be trustworthy to lead the bride of Jesus Christ? If he can’t care for and shepherd his own children, what makes you think he’s going to be able to care for and shepherd the children of God. Look at these men’s lives at home, because the way they live at home will give you an idea of the probability of them being able to faithfully care for the church of God.” And then he goes on to say, “He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain,. . .” These things must not characterize the men who lead the local church. And then Paul says what should mark them and says, “. . .but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.” Paul is saying these are the characteristics and qualities that must mark the men who are leading God’s people.
And I just want to pause to emphasize that this is not some unattainable, unapproachable tier of Christian living. The elders are not super Christians. That’s not what Paul is saying here. In fact, D.A. Carson, a biblical scholar, said, “The most remarkable feature of the list is that it is unremarkable. It contains nothing about intelligence, decisiveness, drive, wealth, power. Almost everything on the list is elsewhere in the New Testament required of all believers.” For example, an overseer must not be given to drunkenness, which certainly doesn’t mean that the rest of us are allowed to go out and get roaring drunk as Christians. He also says overseers must be hospitable, but then again so must all Christians be as Hebrews 13 says. “So what we must recognize,” Carson continues, “is that the demands of Christian leadership, in the first instance, do not set a Christian apart into exclusive and elitist categories where certain new rules and privileges obtain.” So many times I’ve heard this text preached, that’s the feeling I have walked away with. It’s like these guys are in this elitist group that’s just so set apart that maybe one day I’ll get there. I don’t think that’s what Paul means to say. “Rather, Christian leadership demands a focus of the kinds of characteristics and virtues that ought to be present in Christians everywhere.” And the elders of the church are those who are modeling these characteristics for the rest of the church. One of my seminary professors said it so succinctly. He walked us through the doctrine about church leadership, and he finished by saying, “An elder is someone who, if anyone in the church was asked, ‘What does the Christian life look like?’ those in the church could point to the elder and say, ‘Follow this man around for the next 24 hours, and you’ll see what the Christian life looks like.” That’s what an elder is. You will imperfectly be able to see what the faith looks
like lived out. So this is not some unattainable tier of perfection that some people just make it to and others don’t. We should all be striving to this. But these man are those who can exemplify for the church the Christian life, and thus they can genuinely call the church to follow their example. This is what Paul is talking about.
In fact, the only element in this list of qualifications that is not somewhere else in the Scriptures being applied to all Christians is that the elders must be able to teach. That’s a competency issue; that’s not even a character issue. In verse 9, he says this, “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” So Paul is saying, “These guys have got to believe the gospel and know it in such a way that they can instruct the church about what the gospel is, how the gospel changes us and how we’re to live in light of what God has done through Jesus Christ. And they are also to rebuke those who are false teachers with the truth of the Scriptures. It’s crucial that the elders can do this, because this is part of what it means to oversee the flock, to protect the flock.”
And it’s here that Paul actually begins to get into the why of church leadership. He begins to unpack why establishing healthy church leadership is so crucial to establishing a healthy local church, both then in Crete and now in Denton. Verse 10, “For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party.” The circumcision party were those Jewish converts who were teaching others that they still needed to live under bondage to some of the ritual purity laws of the Hebrew Scriptures. Paul says in verse 11, “They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.” So there were these Jewish converts who were teaching these young Christians in these churches that there were some parts of the Jewish law that needed to be kept in order to be a true Christian. Specifically they were saying that there were some foods that were ritually impure and to be avoided completely. That was a carry over from Judaism and a carry over that Jesus and Paul here in this letter are going to speak to pretty fiercely. So Paul is saying, “That’s why it’s so important to have elders, because you’ve got these false teachers who are teaching these things, and these people are upsetting whole families. For that reason, they have got to be silenced.” As I was reading this, it reminded me of when I was a student pastor
right outside of Portland, Oregon. One of my joyous responsibilities was to take the teenagers to camp every summer. I remember the first summer I was there and took them to camp. I had just started there early in the summer. It was a denomination I was not familiar with, and of course the camp they went to was with the rest of the local churches from this denomination. So I was still trying to meet people and learn the students when we went out to this camp. We got there and the first few days were great in regards to teaching. On the fourth night, this guy got up to teach and began to teach them that there were really two tiers of Christianity. There was an introductory tier and a more spiritual tier. If you wanted to be on the more spiritual tier, there was a particular spiritual gift that you needed to have to really be a super Christian, to really be mature in the faith. To really be able to walk in a way that honors God and is empowered by God’s Spirit, you need to have this particular spiritual gift. And if you don’t have this gift, then you don’t have all that God has meant for you to have. So I’m listening to this and getting angry, because I blatantly disagree with this.
I feel like the Scriptures explicitly teach against this. And I’m watching and thinking, “This won’t go well, because the Scriptures actually say to not do what he’s doing.” So I’m just assuming that this is not going to go well. And he finishes his message and actually finishes by saying, “If you don’t have this gift and you want to go to the next level, then you can come up to the front and we’ll pray for you to receive this gift. We’ll even teach you how to receive it and walk in it.” Of course all these kids go up there. Afterward about a handful come to me, and they were discouraged, confused and upset. I remember some of them were crying and they were asking me as their pastor, “Am I not a Christian if I don’t have this gift or have never had this spiritual experience this guy is talking about?” It was absolutely devastating and heart breaking. Do you know what these students needed that night? They needed a leader, pastor or elder who could receive them graciously and could tell them why what they just heard was contradictory to the Scriptures and actually then share with them the true gospel. That’s what they needed. If I hadn’t been there, can you imagine what possibly could have happened to these students’ faith if I had not been there to receive them, teach them and to correct this person who was teaching false doctrine? It could have been devastating to the trajectory of these students’ faith. And that’s exactly what Paul’s burden is for these young churches on the island of Crete. There are false teachers who
are teaching, leading people astray and upsetting whole households in these local churches. And Paul’s remedy for the false teaching is for Titus to appoint more true teachers who can shepherd the church, who can oversee her, who can teach the true gospel and who can contradict and refute what’s being taught falsely. That’s why having healthy leadership is so important. Because if you get a young, developing church like ours in the middle of a city like Denton without this sort of covering, without this sort of leaders who can help people along and understand the true gospel and the nuances between the true gospel and false gospels, you’ve got a train wreck on your hands. You have spiritual retardation about to happen. And that’s why Paul has such a burden for Titus to establish healthy leadership in these young churches. That’s why it’s so important that you become a member of a local church and you submit yourself or place yourself under the care and oversight of healthy leaders who can shepherd you, care for you, love you and help you along in the faith. So that’s the why.
And then he goes on to talk more about what he thinks about these false teachers in verse 12. “One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, ”Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.“ This testimony is true.” He’s saying, “These people who are teaching these things are lying.” And then he says, “This shouldn’t surprise anyone on Crete, because even their own prophet said this about them.” Just as a side note, Paul is not here making a racist comment about the Cretans. Racism is a sin, and a true Christian’s conscience is very uncomfortable with ethnic stereotypes of this kind. Paul is not making a general blanket statement about everybody who is of Cretan ethnicity and saying that they’re all idiots. We’re especially sensitive to that as a church, because God has blessed us with such a rich diversity ethnically and in other ways here. So racist comments and stereotyping of groups like that are things that we’re very sensitive about here. But that’s not what Paul is talking about. He’s applying this statement that the prophet made to these false teachers, and he’s basically saying, “In light of what their own prophet said about them, what these false teachers are doing, it is very Cretan of them.” That’s what he’s saying. He’s not being racist.
And then he goes on to tell Titus what to do with these people who are teaching falsely. “Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth.” So the reason he’s encouraging Titus to rebuke these people is not out of animosity or anger, but it’s out of hope. The purpose of rebuke is not punitive but restorative. Paul is saying, “Titus, you need to engage these people who are teaching these false things and engage them in the hope that they would actually see the true gospel and change their mind about what they are teaching and believing.” I think there is a lesson here for us. When you engage in conversations with non-Christians or those who profess to be Christians but teach a different gospel, we do it out of love and we do it with a hope that they will turn to what we see in the Scriptures to be the truth. We don’t engage in those conversations to win an argument or to display our vast understanding of God’s Scriptures. We see this all the time. I think a lot of it has to do with age. A lot of it has to do with maturity regardless of age, but it’s almost like
a lot of our zealous Christians here are like linebackers roaming around, just waiting for someone to teach falsely. And sadly, it comes across that way. People are teaching falsely because they actually believe what they’re teaching. They’re evangelizing in the same way that we evangelize based on what we think is true. So they’re not doing it just to be jerks. So we need to approach people lovingly. We approach them with hope, love and gentleness with a desire to know their position maybe better than they do before we get into throwing them to the side. I have to believe that there are those in this room right now who may have struggled with becoming a Christian because they ran into a Christian who was less than gracious in correcting them and the correction was done not out of love but out of zeal and a desire to be right and prove the other person wrong. That never goes well. In fact, it creates the very opposite of what we’re hoping happens, which is people seeing the truth and walking back into it. So Paul is saying, “These people who are teaching falsely need to be corrected. You need to rebuke them sharply in the hope that they will turn from their ways, turn from these myths that they are teaching and they’ll believe the true gospel.”
And then he goes into why what they’re believing is so devastating in verse 15. “To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.” In other words, he’s telling Titus, “It’s so sad, because these people are teaching that, if you want to be pure, you can’t touch this or can’t eat that. They have missed the point. Purity is not what you touch or don’t touch, taste or don’t taste. Purity is based on whether or not you have given yourself over to faith in what Jesus Christ has done through His life, death and resurrection. That’s what makes you pure. And if you’re in Christ, none of those things can defile you.” And on the flip side he’s saying if you’re not a Christian and you have not been purified by the blood of Jesus Christ, then it doesn’t matter what you touch or don’t touch, because you’re not clean. You’re still in your sin. It’s almost word for word the same thing that Jesus taught His followers and the Pharisees who were around him all the time nitpicking Him as to why His disciples didn’t wash their hands, why they ate this and why they were around these people. In Mark 7, Jesus said, “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” Paul is saying the same thing to Titus. He continues in verse 16, “They profess to know God, but they
deny him by their works.” Essentially these people were believing, thinking and teaching that Christianity is lived from the outside in instead of from the inside out. They were still teaching that you have to do these things so that God will accept you. And of course the true gospel is not that God accepts us because of what we do but that God accepts us because of what Jesus has done. This is what makes Christianity distinct from every other religion in the world. Every other religion in the world operates from the outside in, where it’s, “I obey God, I do these things for God, therefore He accepts me.” Christianity is radically different. It’s the exact opposite. Christianity is, “I’ve been accepted by grace because of what Jesus Christ has done, therefore I obey.” Paul says that anyone who doesn’t understand the difference, anyone who is still trying to approach God from the outside in may profess to know God, by your works, by your very effort in trying to work your way into God’s favor, you’re actually proving that you don’t know Him or understand the gospel. That’s why Paul says, “They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works.” Because they’re denying Him and because they’re trying to lead others to do the same, look at what Paul says at the end of verse 16. “They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.” How horrible. How sad. And then look at what he tells Titus in 2:1. “But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.”
So that’s Titus 1. So to just summarize, Paul is saying, “For a local church to get established and healthy to the point she shines brightly to the world around her, especially to those who aren’t Christians, it’s absolutely crucial to have healthy leadership. The primary role of healthy leadership is to teach and nurture an understanding of the true gospel within the church so that the young church won’t turn away from the truth.” And the implications for our young developing church are just so clear to me. As we hope to mature together, as we hope to resist temptation and be in this city without looking just like this city, as we hope to display the character of God to those around us, we have to come back to this again
and again. The elders of the church, myself included, must continue to keep this before us. Do we understand the true gospel? Do our hearts believe it? I know we get it. I’ve talked about these things and Matt has talked about these things. For most of you, none of this is new information. What I’m interested in is, in the daily moments, are we living in light of it? Are our lives saying and proving that we understand the gospel? In the daily grind, when circumstances hit the fan, do we believe it?
I have a few questions I want to just ask you to get you thinking a bit. In what ways might your actions, despite what you say and profess, show that you actually deny the Lord Jesus? Even though you profess Christ, you get the gospel cognitively, in what ways do you deny the Lord Jesus by the way you live? In what ways are you still trying to live your faith from the outside in, thus proving that you don’t understand the gospel? In what ways are you still trying to live the Christian faith from the outside in instead of the inside out? What are you still looking to outside of Christ to make you righteous and acceptable to God? What is your heart putting its hope in to make you righteous before God? What habit, hang up or past event do you look to and go, “Man, if I could really get it together there, then God would love me”? Do you know what it is for me? A lot of times, my whole spiritual life, how I see myself before God is based on how I treat my wife. So when I’m treating her well, I feel really good about myself and it just bleeds into every other area of my life. I actually think that God likes me better when I am better at loving her. And when I don’t treat her well, I feel like He doesn’t like me as much. And so I’m more prone to not want to go to Him, pray, ask for help and just confess, because I really feel that He doesn’t like me as much because I haven’t loved her well that day. If I stopped to think about it, what I’m really saying is, “I believe that my righteousness, my standing before God is based on how I treat my wife.” Now should I treat my wife well? Absolutely, not as a duty but as a delight. But should I base my righteous on how I treat my wife? No. When I do that, I prove that I don’t get it. I prove that there are still these places in my heart where I’m still looking to other things and other achievements to make me righteous before God. Maybe it’s not a habit or hang up. Maybe it’s a positive. Maybe it’s some positive quality about yourself that you’re tempted to trust in for your worthiness. What are you self-righteous about? What are you prone to look down your nose at other people about? That is a great place to really identify what you’re looking to for your righteousness. What is it that makes you feel acceptable to God because you’re better at it than all these other people? And of course, we use other people to make ourselves feel
better, and we never compare our weaknesses to their strengths. It’s always what we’re really strong at. In what ways have you run away from and may currently be rebelling against God? A classic example of this is people who grew up attending church who eventually stumble into sexual sin at an early age. Because they grew up understanding that sexual purity is important, when they failed in that area, they felt like that was it. Because failing in that area to them, based on their own thoughts and what they saw or heard taught in the church, was the one that would cause God to not love them anymore. So based on their failure, instead of running to God and His mercy, they ran away and just threw themselves headlong into rebellion and sin. But the whole time, they were basing their righteousness on this particular area of their lives, which is important no doubt, but it’s not your achievement in that area that makes you right with
God. It’s Jesus’ achievement in that area that makes you right with God. And because they misunderstood it, they just rebelled and continued to rebel. The sad thing is they just never understood the gospel.
Maybe there are some of you in here who are not Christians. I know there are many different reasons why people don’t believe in Christ as Savior and God, but if you’re not a Christian, I do have to wonder if any of this hits close to any of the reasons why you don’t believe. Maybe you’ve never become a Christian because you are waiting for the day when you’ll feel good enough to actually become a Christian. Friend, I just want to tell you that the heart of the Christian message is not that once we clean ourselves up, we come to God and He accepts us. The heart of the Christian message is we are unable to clean ourselves up. It is impossible to clean ourselves up. So Jesus Christ came to clean up this mess that we’ve made. He came and lived a perfect life, and He died as a substitution and absorbed the wrath of God for our sins, for our unrighteousness. He was buried and raised from the dead three days later, and He has extended an invitation
of grace to trust Him. When you trust Him, He gives you His righteousness. So you are accepted by God, not because of your achievement or your morality, but because of Jesus’ achievements and His righteousness. So if that’s what has been keeping you from being a Christian, I’d love to invite you to be a Christian today. Maybe this is the first time you’ve ever heard the real gospel.
So as we seek to become a healthy church that shines bright in our city, this is where we start and continually return, with a true understanding of the gospel. This message, this distinction is foundational to everything else that Paul is going to say in this letter.
Let me pray. “Father, as we come to the table this morning, we come so grateful and we bless You. I pray that You would take the gospel and You drive it deeper into our hearts. We pray that You would establish us as a healthy church, and we know that this is where it begins, in us believing with all that we are that our righteousness is found in Christ alone, by grace alone. We know that screen saver of the human heart is try to justify ourselves. We’re going to come back to that again and again, and we’re going to have to refresh and remind our hearts that we’re justified by Christ and by nothing else. So do that now. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.”