Sunday, October 25, 2009

Renewed by Mercy Alone

Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men. For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men. (Titus 3:1-8, NKJV)
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I love to show pictures of our kitchen to people, especially when they are standing in it. I have one in particular I like to pull up on the computer screen, ask my friends to step back, and then have them look into the kitchen. The reactions are pretty predictable. It really looks like a different kitchen because my wife and I, before we moved into our house, remodeled it completely. It took a great deal of work on our part (we did most of the labor) but the results are very much worth it. And each onlooker can agree, we should feel proud of what we have done and the change that was made.
Sadly, many of us as Christians have a very similar approach to our lives. Yes, we’ve been saved by grace, but after that we like to show the evidence of some very hard, diligent work on our own part. We’ve been faithful in prayer and giving, church attendance and devotions, and the list goes on. We are far different people than who we once were, and we are proud of the change. Paul says to Titus that people like that have forgotten where they came from and who got them there.
Mercy and grace seem to be tricky things for us. We acknowledge their part, and yet we still seem to work so hard to fulfill them. Something within us wants to feel good about what we’ve done, to feel like we’ve earned our position with God or at least a little higher position. It just doesn’t sit well with us that the God of the Universe has given us everything as a free and unearned gift. It all just seems too easy (at least most of the time) and we respond by trying to work it out. And in doing so, we forget who we were and where we came from.
God has provided everything … period. There is nothing to add to His “kindness and love” shown to us through Jesus. We have nothing on the non-Christian, be he good or bad morally, but our participation with God through Jesus as our Savior. We brought nothing to the transaction and can add nothing to it. Any “good deeds” we do now come as a response to the incredible love God displayed to us and serve as acts of worship, not merit. And most of us, in our heads, know this is true. Which leads to the real question … why do we keep living as if our actions determined our position with God?
And this cuts both ways, because while we go on living like we can earn some standing with Him, we look down on the rest of the world and smugly say “They are getting exactly what they deserve.” Therein lies the heart of what Paul writes to Titus. Complacent Christians casting stones at everybody else instead of reaching out in love and reflecting the Kingdom.
As we travel our Crooked Path, God will continually put people in our way who need Him and we can demonstrate that by understanding how they need us as well. It isn’t some socialized version of the Gospel, but a practical outgrowth of our faith and a clear representation that demonstrates we know who we were and the One who has saved us. In reaching out to them with kindness and good works, we reflect God’s mercy and give entry for Him to show His Son so they might be washed and renewed just as we are. After all, it isn’t about us, it’s about grace.

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  1. Are you now or have you ever gone through a “smug Christianity” period in your walk of faith? Can you see how wrong that is? Have you forgotten where you came from?
  2. What would it take to remind you of the renewal and regeneration that comes only from God and His work?
  3. Have you shied away from “good works” because you think they look too much like a socialized version of the Gospel? If we don’t feed and clothe those in need, how else do you expect them to understand the love God has in store and to see Jesus in us?

NKJV - Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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