DO WE REALLY NEED TO DO GOOD?
TEXT: Titus 3:3-8 -- For we ourselves also were at one time foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. But after the kindness and 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, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto all men.
In the Name of Jesus, who loves us, who gave His life to free us from sin and the power of Satan, and who gives us His Holy Spirit so that we can shine like stars in the universe, dear Christian friends,
There's something strange about good works. Good works are both vital for the Christian and completely unnecessary for the Christian! Now how can they be both? How can good works and new obedience be an integral part of who and what a Christian is and yet, at the same time, be unnecessary for the Christian? Well our text sheds light on this strange paradox, and by the end of the sermon you'll have the full answer, I promise!
But before we can understand the role of good works in our lives, we have to understand what Paul, by inspiration, is saying to us about what we were like before our baptism or conversion. You see, before we were given new life in Christ through our baptisms, GOODNESS was impossible for us! In fact, we had no idea what "goodness" looked like!
Our text says we were "deceived." Since we had no good of our own, since we had no idea what good was, we did what came naturally. We thought that evil things were good when they were actually phony substitutes for the true good! That's how foolish we were! Anyone with perfect vision could have seen what a mess we were in! But our eyes were clouded. We were blind to the truth.
And yet our situation was even worse than that! If the whole problem were just one of foolishness, there might have been some hope that we'd be able to get out of it ourselves. A foolish man can sometimes see his situation for what it is and make an escape. But in this case, we were trapped in our rebellion, we were slaves to our sinful natures, to the enmity in our hearts toward God -- even as little babies! You see, not only did we NOT WANT to do God's will out of spiritual ignorance and foolishness, we actually hated God! God was our enemy, and we didn't want anything to do with Him. Even if we could have realized what a sad condition we were in, there still would have been no escape from our spiritual rebellion. And if we would have grown older, without being rescued by Christ, our lusts and pleasures, whether they be desires for sex, money, possessions, or whatever, would have grown stronger and held us in ever tighter chains.
And let's not forget Satan. He had full control over our lives, even as infants. And Satan is a cruel and greedy master. He didn't want to set us free, that's for sure! He wanted to keep us as slaves so he could continue to feed on us. He thrives on our evil and our misery. He wanted to destroy us, but he also wanted to enjoy the process! He wanted to stretch out the misery so that even greater damage could be done. He has a hatred for us that's never satisfied. In fact, his very nature is one of lies and hatred. And these are the kinds of things that he, the "father of lies," passes on to his children -- pure evil. (John 8:42-47)
And as we've been saying, this is where we were before Christ came into our lives through the washing of rebirth that our text talks about! We were children of the devil. Instead of God's nature, we had Satan's nature! We were alienated and estranged from the living God!
In our text Paul refers to unbelievers as being hated and hating others. How low can you go? Before our spiritual rebirth, even as little infants, our natures were totally self-centered. Paul speaks of a vicious cycle in our text whereby the unbeliever hates others and the others hate him back -- and that cycle can't be broken without divine intervention! The unbelieving heart is enslaved by self-centeredness, because, being deceived, even the infant believes that he's a god, and that the whole world revolves around him! This is what we are by nature -- without God and without hope. We didn't know where we were at or where we were going. We just lived for ourselves.
Now all of this sounds pretty depressing. We've been Christians for so long it's hard to imagine how anyone could live like that -- a slave to sin, full of hate, and not even having the desire to escape from the whole mess! Of course the reason we think like this today is because long ago, probably when most of us were little babies and didn't even understand the mess we were in, something happened that radically changed our lives. Something happened to change our lost and fallen condition! What happened? God happened! God happened for us when He stepped into human history in the Person of Jesus Christ. And He happened in us when we were set free by the washing of regeneration!
Now what all is behind God's intervention in history, and the change that's taken place in our lives? Well let me explain. It's true that God is a Judge. He hates sin, He wants no part of it, and He has to punish it. But it's also true that God is perfect love, and He doesn't want anyone to be condemned to hell! The Bible says: "God would have all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth." (1 Timothy 2:3,4) And so GOD HIMSELF solved this dilemma by punishing Himself in the Person of Jesus Christ!
Now did He do this because of anything good He saw in us? No way! We didn't give Him any reason to love us or save us! But God planned our escape from prison even though we were unworthy, even though we were ugly creatures, stained with sin! And the only reason He did all this is because of His great, undeserved kindness and love and mercy -- because of His boundless, extravagant love -- love we can't ever return in full! Why God loves us so much is something human reason can't understand. But thank God we don't have to understand it -- all God asks is that we believe it!
Now Paul tells us that when God revealed this love to us in history, a chain-reaction of blessings occurred! First of all, Jesus paid our bills on the cross. Each member of the human race, you see, from the moment of conception, is saddled with a tab that can't possibly be paid! The debt burden is too large and crushing for any of us to pay, even at the beginning of our lives! There's nothing anyone can do about that! Jesus was the only one who could pay the price justice requires. And He willingly did it! He became our Substitute and took our sins with Him to be nailed to the cross. When He was crucified He took all the foolishness and deceit, all the lusts and worldly pleasures, all the self-hate and the hatred of others -- He took it all on Himself! It broke Him, but it didn't defeat Him. He rose from death with our debt of sin paid in full. God's justice was satisfied, and now the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all our sin!
Now having Jesus do all that for us is like having a friend pay off our house or our car -- only greater! And that's just the beginning! Remember that a whole chain reaction of blessings was started because of the kindness of God. There's much, much more! You see, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus made His victory over sin, death, and the devil our victory! Through Spirit-created faith we receive His forgiveness, and we have His life living within us.
Now that our bill of sin is completely paid for, and now that we've been made God's children, we're free to travel the road to heaven! God's ways seem so illogical to the cold, cruel world! God was willing to pay the damning debt of His rank enemies, and that payment included a vacation beyond human imagination! In this case the vacation is eternal -- eternal life in glory! A God who's willing to do all this for us is truly, and in every sense of the word, a Father to us! We don't deserve such love!
Now a father wants his children to have the best of everything -- a comfortable life, a warm house, a college education. Of course God the Father doesn't promise that we'll always have these material comforts, but He does promise His constant care -- and He does promise eternal life. Before we were brought to faith in Jesus heaven was beyond our grasp. We were in the custody of a false father -- Satan. We were juvenile delinquents! But when Jesus served our time, He paid our sentence in full! And now, through faith, we're reunited with our real Father -- God! And now God can do all the things He's ever wanted to do for us! Now He gives us the eternal life He wants us to have. And it all begins in this life -- right here and now -- the moment we believe and trust in Jesus!
But like all good fathers, God doesn't just want us to live, He wants us to grow! He wants us to mature and learn and help others to live and grow! Our false father, Satan, wanted us to spread evil. But God, our real Father, wants us to spread the saving truth! He wants us to be doing good. He wants us to be productive children.
The only problem is -- we can't do it! We can't be good on our own! Now you might ask, "Then how can God expect us to go around doing the good things He's created us for?" Again, the answer lies with God. We can't begin to obey the commandments and do works of ministry by our own power -- but He is the power!
You see, another one of the blessings God gives us in this chain reaction is the Holy Spirit. This is very important! Because it's only through the Holy Spirit's power that we can live a new and radically different life in Jesus Christ. When we were brought to new life in Christ we still kept our sinful human nature, you see. But something else was created within us to do battle with that nature. The Bible calls this the "new creation." (2 Corinthians 5:17) And now, by the Spirit's power, our spiritual attitude has changed! Instead of looking to ourselves, we now live for Christ, and look to Him for our help. Our life is in Christ, and so we come to Him to receive power for the new life that only He can give in His Word!
And now that we have this power, God encourages us to use it to the fullest, just as our earthly fathers encouraged us to be our very best! He doesn't want us to just sit idly-by, or to be enslaved to the old sinful nature again. If you plant a fruit tree, you wait for it to grow. Then you wait for it to bear fruit. And God desires the same from us. Like any father He wants His children to grow up and be useful.
Now that He's paid our bills for us through the works of Christ, now that He's given us new life, an eternal life because of His undeserved love for us, now that He's given us power through the Holy Spirit, we have the strength to knock down the roadblocks that Satan throws in front of us! An open door of opportunity for life and exciting service in God's Kingdom lies before us! We'd be foolish not to take the blessings and run! And we're running toward a goal! We're running to do those things that God wants us to do so that many more can be brought to Him. In fact, good works are things that we MUST DO if we're really Christians! Remember I said at the beginning of the sermon that I'd explain why good works are both necessary and unnecessary for a Christian!
That word "MUST" is a sticky word, isn't it? That sounds an awful lot like law. Isn't it true that it's only faith in Christ that saves people? Isn't it true that we don't have to do a single, blessed thing to receive eternal life -- just believe on Jesus by the power of the Spirit? Isn't it true that eternal life in heaven is a totally free gift that God gives to sinners? YES it's true! ABSOLUTELY it's true! This is the most solid and dependable fact in all the universe!
But we have to understand, the word "MUST" has nothing to do with our salvation! We don't do good works to earn our way into heaven. God has already given us heaven as His free gift in Jesus! And yet we MUST do good works in the sense that we can't help ourselves! We're the righteousness of God in Christ! The Holy Spirit lives and works within us. Therefore, good works flow out of us just as naturally as the Mississippi flows from North to South! We're still sinful human beings, but we're different now than we were before God's love broke through! The Holy Spirit now motivates us to do God's will! Apart from Christ we're lost and aimless -- but now that we're in Christ, we explode in a life of good works!
By the grace of God we're now, all of us, good trees! A good apple tree MUST bear good apples. Nobody stands over the good tree with a whip, forcing it to bear good fruit. Nobody stands by the tree, dangling a reward in front of it to make it bear. It simply bears good apples because it's a good tree, and for no other reason! (Matthew 7:16-20) In the same way we produce good fruit, because the Spirit of God now dwells within us, filling us with the love of Jesus Christ! (Galatians 5:22-25)
You see, this is why good works are both necessary and unnecessary. They're completely UNnecessary for salvation! There's no way we could ever be good enough to merit salvation! But we MUST do good works because we can't help ourselves! Obedience to Christ's will is a by-product of our salvation, and it's evidence of our salvation! It's a signpost to the unbelieving world, showing them that by God's grace, Jesus Christ has made us His own!
And good works please God! Of course He doesn't love us any more or any less on account of what we do or don't do. His love for us is constant. His salvation is absolutely free and unearned. But still it gives Him pleasure to see us living the new life.
God is perfect. In Christ you and I are declared to be perfect, even though we're not! And yet, with our new and glorious status as children of the King, we strive to obey His commands, however imperfectly, just as dear children strive to obey their loving fathers here on earth. We don't try to obey in order to earn something we already have, we strive to obey because we love the One who's freely given us all things!
And good works are also good for us! In our text Paul says they're profitable! When the people of God do what God desires out of glad and willing hearts, they build each other up. They spread their love to friend and enemy alike, and this is a powerful witness to those who don't yet know Christ! Good works and obedience set us apart, and show who we are as the Body of Christ. (Matthew 5:13-16) With the good that God works through us, we help our neighbor, we enrich our own lives, and we build up the Body that we all belong to!
When a Christian visits the sick, a fallen soul is lifted up with words of encouragement from the Gospel. When a Christian is diligent in reading the Word of God, he himself is lifted up and blessed! When a Christian strives to live a life of love according to the Ten Commandments, he spares himself from many griefs, and gives a powerful witness to Christ's new life. When we help someone in need, we give a powerful witness to Christ's love. In these and many other ways, good works are profitable! We receive a double blessing here! Living the life of Christ benefits sinful human beings, and they please the One who's saved us by His grace, and help to build up His Kingdom! Good deeds give pleasure to God, and they help us. When a Christian receives the blessing of faith, he receives all of God's spiritual blessings! It's a chain reaction. It's an overflow from God's heart!
It's a good thing to live as children of the King should live. But let's remember why we do it, dear friends. We don't strive to do God's will in order to work our way into heaven. We live that way because heaven is already ours!
So let's concentrate on who we are. Because, you see, when all of us fully realize that we're children of God, bought and purchased with Christ's own blood, then good works will flow out of us, God will look down with pleasure, and we'll be blessed! A good tree cannot bear bad fruit! (Matthew 12:33-35) May God empower us all to show our love for Christ and our fellowman, and our thanks to God for His indescribable free gift, by living a life that abounds in the fruit of the Holy Spirit! Amen.