The gospel is different than any other religion or worldview out there. How so?
“Religion” says, “I obey, therefore I’m accepted.” That is, when I morally or spiritually perform well, God will bless me and reward me with a good life and even heaven.
The “gospel” says, “I’m accepted through the life and death of Christ, therefore I obey.” That is, my moral and spiritual performance come up short of God’s perfect standard. Therefore, my moral and spiritual performance will not earn God’s blessing. However, Jesus lived a perfect life and died in my place so by faith in him alone, I receive God’s blessing. By faith alone, I get credit for the life Jesus lived and the death he died.
So picture two people. One is deeply religious. The other is gospel-centered. On the surface they both look the same. They are pretty moral and spiritual people. But underneath the surface, they are worlds apart. The deeply religious person, if they’re being honest, is riddled with insecurity because they don’t know if they’ve been good enough. The gospel-centered person, on the other hand, is at peace.
Why the difference?
The religious person is working hard trying to earn God’s approval, but isn’t sure they’ve been successful at it. The gospel-centered person is at peace because they already have God’s approval!
Getting the difference right is vital for experiencing freedom from fear and instead experiencing peace and rest.
1) The foundation of Christian conduct (v. 1)
The foundation of Christian conduct is: sound doctrine.
“But as for you [Titus] teach what accords with sound doctrine” (v.1). As pastor of the church in Crete, one of Titus’ primary roles is that of a teacher. So should it be of all pastors.
After Jesus’ death and resurrection, before his ascension into heaven, Jesus had a conversation with Peter in which he asked Peter, “Peter, do you love me?” Peter said, “yes.” What was Jesus’ reply? “Then feed my sheep.”
What did Jesus mean by that? Peter was to instruct followers of Christ in biblical truth. Peter was to feed the Scriptures to followers of Christ. And Jesus is saying one of the ways Peter expresses his love for Jesus is by teaching people the Scriptures.
As a pastor, if I truly love Jesus, then I will feed you the Scriptures. That’s one of the chief ways I demonstrate love for Christ.
Now, notice the language Paul uses as to the content of Titus’ teaching: “teach what accords with sound doctrine.” In 1:9 Paul says church leaders are to give instruction in sound doctrine. That is, sound doctrine is to be the content of their teaching. But it doesn’t end there. Here Paul says Titus is to teach “what accords with” sound doctrine. That is, Titus is to teach sound doctrine and the implications of sound doctrine which is Christian conduct. Paul then fleshes out the kind of Christian conduct that flows from sound doctrine in vv. 2-9. But the foundation of Christian conduct is sound doctrine.
Let me attempt to illustration this. Let’s say you wake up one morning without a clue as to where you are geographically or what the weather is like outside. Before you leave the house, your loved one says to you, “Hey, it’s -10 outside.” Before leaving the house, what would you do? You would bundle up.
The statement “it’s -10 outside” is sound doctrine. Bundling up is the conduct you take that accords with sound doctrine. The statement “it’s -10 outside” is meant to prompt some kind of action.
This is why instruction in sound doctrine is so incredibly important for you. If you don’t understand the statement “it’s -10 outside” or you just blow it off, it will likely lead to making decisions that are harmful to yourself and others. Or picture this...
Imagine plucking an indigenous tribal leader from the Amazon jungle; transporting him to New York City and dropping him off in Times Square with no knowledge of American culture or the English language. And we leave him there to fend for himself. How cruel would that be? How would he do?
For an Amazonian tribal leader to navigate Times Square with no knowledge of American culture or the English language, is like us trying to navigate through life with no knowledge of sound doctrine. It leads to confusion, angst, often unpleasant consequences.
The foundation of Christian conduct is sound doctrine.
2) The features of Christian conduct (vv. 2-9)
Paul then unpacks Christian conduct that accords with sound doctrine. He does so by addressing five different groups of people in the church: older men, older women, young women, younger men, and bondservants.
Here are the features of Christian conduct that accord with sound doctrine.
To the older men and women of our church, I say this: we have younger people in our church who are looking for role-models of which they want to be able to say: “I want to be like you.”
This is biblical. Emulating role models is a very biblical concept.
"Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church” (1 Cor. 4:16-17).
Older men and older women, show us the way!
There are numerous descriptors Paul uses to describe what kind of Christian conduct accords with sound doctrine. I want to address two more. They aren’t found in this text, but are good examples of how sound doctrine ought to influence Christian conduct.
In American churches today, we often work hard to artificially manufacture community in the church by grouping people together with overlapping similarities. For example, some people may be grouped together based on similar life-stages: newly married small group or young professionals group. Some people are grouped together based on identities: a motorcycle small group; or an arts church. Some people are grouped together based on causes: a church may form a group around people who are passionate about feeding the hungry or stopping sex trafficking. Some churches group people together who have similarities professionally: the “movers and shakers” group.
I understand there can be benefit of affinity based groups. My wife has benefited from being a part of a young moms group throughout our years together. But if that is the sum total of what we call “church community,” that is not gospel-centered community. That is not community shaped by sound doctrine.
Sound doctrine ought to produce gospel-centered community.
A truly gospel-centered community is a gathering of people who have absolutely nothing in common other than their love for Jesus.
Picture a 20-something white man, sports fan, no college education, working a blue collar job being part of a Life Group with a 50-something black woman with a graduate degree, working for a Fortune 500 company who hates sports but can be seen perusing art galleries. When the two of them can spend time in the same small group bible study, we have an example of a gospel-centered community. Why? Because what has drawn them together is not a common education, common career, common life-stage, common affinities. But what has drawn them together is Jesus. This is sound doctrine leading to real life conduct that aligns with that sound doctrine.
We want our conduct in the church to accord with sound doctrine. A great example of that is gospel-centered community.
When it comes to serving in the church, what should sound doctrine lead to? What is the ultimate example of service? The cross. On the cross, Jesus pays an excruciatingly high price in order to give us the greatest gift imaginable. That’s the doctrine of the cross; that’s sound doctrine. Sound doctrine leads to behavior that “accords with” sound doctrine. This should lead us to do that same. To be willing to pay a price for someone else’s good. Did you hear that? Gospel-centered service will lead us to be willing to pay a price for someone else’s good. Maybe it means serving in the church doing something you don’t particularly enjoy in order to benefit someone else. That’s gospel-centered service.
Why not serve in the nursery? “Well, you know, diapers….not really my thing.” I don’t really care of diapers are your thing or not. Hopefully the gospel is your thing. And if it is, the sound doctrine of the gospel leads to saying “even though changing diapers is unpleasant, I’m going to do it because it benefits someone else; it’s a blessing to someone else.”
This is gospel-centered service. Being willing to sacrifice comfort and convenience for the good of others.
3) The fuel for Christian conduct (vv. 11-15)
You will not be successful at Christian conduct that accords with sound doctrine by a shear act of your willpower. You have to be propelled along by a fuel source. Paul gives us a fuel source for Christian conduct in v. 11-12: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age…” For the grace of God has appeared and it trains us to live godly lives. God’s grace is our fuel for Christian conduct. God’s grace empowers Christians to live in a way that accords with sound doctrine.
But what do we mean by “God’s grace?” Bryan Chapell puts it this way, “…grace is about getting God’s richest blessings at Christ’s expense.” This is what makes the Christian gospel so unique. Every other religion, every other worldview out there says you will get blessed when you perform well. So we strive working harder each day to be better than the day before trying to earn blessing. Maybe that’s you. Maybe that’s what you think Christianity is. If I was to ask you, “What makes you a Christian?” How would you respond? If you respond by talking about your religious or moral resume, you actually might not be a Christian. And if you are working hard each day trying to be good so God will bless you here’s what happens. You will feel a deep sense of insecurity because you’re not sure you’ve been good enough. And when you fail, you’ll feel a sense of despair because it’ll feel like you’ll never be good enough. If that’s you, I want to offer you some hope this morning. The gospel is a completely different message with completely different results.
In the gospel, I can take a deep breath and rest because I have been richly and definitively blessed through the life Jesus lived and the death he died for me. I am blessed not because of what I’ve done, but because of what Jesus has done for me. As a Christian, you have been given God’s richest blessing at Christ’s expense. This grace is the fuel source for Christian conduct.
I used to live in the Land of Lincoln. In Illinois legend and facts about this great man can become so intertwined it’s difficult to determine what’s true and what’s not. But the stories of his live seem to consistently reflect the principles of his life and those principles impact us today. One such account relates that Lincoln gathered his meager savings as a countryside lawyer and cast the highest bid for a slave at auction. Having purchased her, he immediately set her free.
Then she asked him, “Mr. Lincoln, are you really setting me free from these chains?”
“Yes,” he said.
“Are you saying that I no longer have to follow a master?” she asked.
“Yes,” he said. “You can go wherever you wish.”
“Then,” she said, “I want to go with you.”
True or not, this account rings with truths we understand. Gratitude for release from slavery sparks loyalty to the one who provided the freedom. God has saved us at a price. The price was the life of his only Son, Jesus Christ. When we understand the price Jesus paid to purchase our salvation, it sparks loyalty to him. The fuel for Christian conduct, the fuel for godly living is the grace of God supremely demonstrated when God gave Jesus to us to live the life we should have lived and die the death we should have died.
You read a title like this one and think, "Yeah, right! Nobody knows that." Well, that may be true, but you'll have to decide for yourself after reading this. I think there's something to be said for the secret I'm about to share.
What makes life unhappy?
Hardship. Suffering. Trials. These make life unhappy. But why? I think one of the reasons hardships make us unhappy is what we think we're entitled to. We believe we're entitled to be happy. That is the default psychological position we all have. So when suffering strikes, it rubs us the wrong way because we really believe we're deserving of prosperity and health.
What else makes life unhappy?
Missing out on pleasure, excitement, and convenience. So it's not just suffering that makes life unhappy, but when the good stuff is missing we're unhappy. Why? For the same reason. Our default psychological position is to believe we are entitled to pleasure, excitement, and convenience. So when it goes missing, we get disappointed and we're unhappy.
So what's the secret to a happy life? Humility.
Humble people don't believe they're entitled to happiness.
Humble people don't believe they're entitled to pleasure.
Humble people don't believe they ought to be immune to suffering.
The result? While they may not respond to suffering by singing along with Pharrell Williams' song "Happy", they are going to be less vulnerable to despair. Humility is the secret to a happy life.