Saturday 4th Dec 2021Lighthouse

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For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety (ungodliness) and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

Titus 2:11-14 

 

 

Thought: 

 

The writings in the New Testament speak of a self-controlled life that is lived with hope in the Glory of God revealed at Christ’s appearance.  This eschatological teaching (put simply the teaching that has to do with death judgement and the end of the age) is often linked with how we are to live in this present age and preparing us for the age to come. This manifestation of the glory of God, in the final age, that we are looking forward to, is the reason why we live a Christ-like life in the present age.

 

Introduction:

 

This morning I want to explore what happens after we believe and ask what are we "here for"? 

 

If salvation and the grace of God was just so we had a ticket to heaven then why are we here now and not there already.  I suggest that it is because we are meant to live here on earth as representatives of Christ and to become genuine human beings, reflecting the God in whose image we were made. We do this with worship on the one hand and in mission, in its full and large sense, on the other; and what we do now is defined not least by "following Jesus." 

 

So question... how does this way of life in the here and now work out and what happens after we believe? 

 

When we first believe, our faith in Christ begins, through the work of the Holy Spirit, a transformation of character which functions as the Christian version of what philosophers have called "virtue.".

 

Virtue is something that ancient philosopher Aristotle proposed as a way to live and develop and become someone whom others looked up to and had a virtuous character.  The idea was that virtuous people make the right choices. Alternative to blind obedience to the rules, or authentic spontaneity, the ‘do what you feels right to you’ attitude, or someone who makes the right choices on the projected or perceived outcome or consequences. 

 

Unlike Aristotle, Christian character development and the transformation into new creations is by the training of the grace of God. Christian virtues included charity, humility and selfless living.  These virtues once developed, will mean that we do indeed "Keep the rules" though not out of a sense of externally imposed "duty." but out of the character that has been formed within us. And it will mean that we do indeed "follow our hearts" and live "authentically” - but only when, with that transformed character is fully operative.

 

Our scripture this morning talks of the training that the grace of God gives us to renounce impiety and worldly passions.  This is all part of the character-forming process as believers. 

 

Once the transformation of our character, which can certainly be hard work upfront, will bear fruit in spontaneous decisions and actions that reflect what has been formed deep within. Of course, this will also transform the world we live in.  

 

The challenge we face as a church is to grow and develop and disciple a generation of Godly people, in all walks of life, whose character has been formed in wisdom and service, not in worldly greed for money or power. 

 

The heart of it - the central thing that is supposed to happen after you believe, the thing that we can call virtue in a new, reborn sense is thus the transformation of character.

 

Three points I want to bring out of this scripture.

 

Outline:

 

  1. Salvation by grace 

 

When we read scriptures on holiness or encouraging Christian’s to behave or develop a Christ-like life, people can be often read as this is salvation by works. This of course doesn’t bear out in the teachings of the New Testament.

 

The gift of salvation is for all. Paul in his letter to the Romans 5 said that many died through the one human trespass, how much more will surely have the grace of God. 

 

Paul describes this as a work of the spirit, and as this gift of grace was revealed through the one man, Jesus Christ, therefore this grace abounded for many. He continues to say that the gift is not like the effect of one human’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the gift following many trespasses brings justification (god making right with him). It was because of the one trespass that death exercised dominion through that one, Paul notes in verse 17

 

How much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

Romans 5:17 

 

 

  1. A whole new life 

 

My second point is that we have a new life. We are the genuine human beings that God has made for himself in his image for both His and our glorification.

 

What does the character of the new life, after we believe look like?

 

How do we, as Christian people, perceive ourselves?

 

How should we order our life together as a church or body of Christ? What makes a Christian community?

 

How do the decisions that we make, as well as the things we do as individuals, influence the world?

 

How do we find our place within the community?  

 

How do we engage with people in a social context both inside and outside our community?

 

And finally, how should we take a stand and influence our political world?

 

The new life that we have in Christ makes us genuinely human as God intended and part of God’s kingdom.

 

Paul would argue that the new identity as a Christian begins with baptism. This is not just a way that one becomes a Christian; it is the rite for becoming part of a new people, the Church. 

 

Its roots are in the ancient Jewish practice of naming a (male) child at circumcision on the eighth day (see Luke 1.59) this was partially adopted by at least some Christians in the first few centuries; 

 

Christians from a very early point replaced circumcision with baptism while retaining the naming aspect of the ceremony. 

 

More commonly today the Christian’s new identity is as one who is now ‘in Christ’, having been ‘baptised into Christ’ (Gal. 3.27) and is made a child of God along with fellow believers.

 

In the New Testament, this was common among new believers thoughts and it was primarily seen as a work of the baptism in both water and spirit. These believers saw themselves as the children of God, the new humanity, the image-bearers of God who are made for his glory.

 

In Romans 8 Paul writes 

 

it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ—if we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

Romans 8:16-17 

 

It is this spiritual witness within that we know we are part of the family of God and joint-heirs with Christ 

 

This is the starting point for how we should be and rather than simply being told what to do, the Christian disciple is given an example to follow: as the scripture says be holy as I am holy. 

 

This is why Jesus did not just provide us with answers but invited people to follow him. ‘Follow me, as it happens, is an absolutely, morally serious proposition. Jesus made disciples, not people who would just know the right answers, but people whose sense of judgement is also transformed.

 

Thomas Aquinas said that being made in the image of God implies ‘an intelligent being endowed with free will and self-movement  Where reason itself flourishes most fully in contemplation and the display of intellectual virtue, the ultimate human goal is realised. there is a further goal toward which the human being is directed. This is blessed grace and friendship with God. 

 

In other words, we Humans were not only made to contemplate and embody the good. 

 

We were made to enjoy and love God, the source of all goodness. 

 

We are meant for a communion that transcends our own lives and those of our neighbours. 

 

This friendship and enjoyment is not something we are capable of attaining on our own but comes to us as a gift of grace from the loving God who created us for this

 

  1. Final redemption 

 

My final point is that this passage talks of the hope of the manifestation of Glory and the final revealing of Christ at end of the age which is central to our thinking as the new-creation people of God.

 

As far as how we act in the here and now and indeed how we react to the world around us is always seen in the light of the end-time hope. 

 

Even Paul when he faced tough situations considered that the sufferings of this present time that he faced were not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 

 

It is important to note that the final redemption of humanity includes all of creation, both heaven and earth renewed.

 

Paul writes that the whole of creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to fruitlessness (humans included who’s work would be fruitless and both creation and human would be subject to decay and death) however there is a hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  So Paul writes 

 

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. 

 

He contended that to define that hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

 

(Romans 8:22-24)

 

humanity and all of the creation will be finally restored, in the meantime, we live in light of that as virtuous beings endowed with grace.

 

Conclusion:

 

To conclude, the life to which Jesus called his followers was the kingdom life more specifically, the kingdom-in-advance life--the life which summoned people to be kingdom agents through the kingdom-means. 

 

We could sum it up the way Peter and Revelation do, echoing the ancient call of Israel: they were to be kings and priests. Going back further to Genesis and the creation, humans calling was to rule as image-bearers and priests.  Now we have that same calling to practice in the new kingdom that will be put eventual position in the glory of the final redemption.

 

Therefore the habits and practices of the hearts and lives of Christ-followers to which we are  called are the same habits and practices which are to be demonstrated in advance of God's fully operational kingdom

 

Christ in his work was indeed turning the world the right way up, cleansing the world so that it would become the dwelling place of God's glory. This was just the beginning so that we as Gods people could start to demonstrate what Christ through the cross and resurrection, then by the spirit God could work through, our hearts, minds, and lives.

 

Central to this was, of course, the baptism which spoke of God's washing and renewal (renewal of heart, renewal of covenant), and the shared bread-and-wine meal which spoke of Passover, (rescue from slavery) of Jesus and his death and resurrection, and again of covenant renewal. Then flowing out from Pentecost and spiritual enablement, these new habits which transformed the heart of individual disciples

 

This is what happens after we believe and defines us as genuine human beings and helps us define what we are "here for"  As we reflect on the God in whose image we were made, and doing so with worship on the one hand and in mission, in its full and large sense, on the other; and what we do now is defined not least by "following Jesus." 

 

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety (ungodliness) and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

Titus 2:11-14 

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