Pardon and Power
Titus 2:11-14 (ESV) 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, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
Sometimes Lutherans are accused of promoting laziness and aversion to good works, perhaps justifiably so. We correctly shout, “Salvation is by God’s grace alone, received through faith alone, for the sake of Christ alone, without works of the law!” But the part about good works, let’s just whisper that, or leave it out.
However, Martin Luther himself observed that while faith in Christ alone saves, true faith is never alone; it is always accompanied by good works, by crucifying our sinful flesh and rising up to newness of life. And his explanations of the Ten Commandments in the Small Catechism tell us not only which sins to renounce and avoid, but also the good works called for in each commandment.
St. Paul, in Titus 2, also makes it clear that Jesus came to save us not only from sin, death, and hell, but also for something. The grace of God is more than just a “get out of hell free card” that I keep in my pocket to use when I die, and between now and then I can just pretty much live as I please.
The Son of God did not come down from heaven to live a life of poverty so that you can indulge in luxury and laziness. He did not sweat blood in Gethsemane so you can fill your blood with alcohol and sweat it out hung-over. He did not close His eyes in agony so you could fill yours with pornography and lust. He did not stretch out His arms on the cross so yours could embrace a forbidden lover. He did not have nails driven through His hands so you could fill yours with dishonest gain. His feet were not pierced so you could walk alongside evildoers. His tongue did not thirst so you could use yours for gossip and slander. He did not suffer the torments of the cross just so you can be free of the eternal consequences of your sins but in the meantime hang on to your favorite pet sins and live a selfish life devoted to worldly pleasure.
Instead, Jesus gave Himself up for you to ransom you from slavery to the lawlessness of sin; He purified you of your guilt in the waters of Holy Baptism, so that He could make you His own possession, people who are zealous for good works, eager to do excellent deeds, saying “No!” to ungodliness and fleshly lusts, living self-disciplined, respectable, and God-pleasing lives as you eagerly await the return of Jesus Christ to judge the living and the dead and take you into His eternal Kingdom.
The good works we are called to be zealous for aren’t necessarily flashy or spectacular, but are very down to earth, just as our Savior is. Our Lord calls us to do whatever is at hand to do with all our might. In our vocations we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, doing humble good works like Mary and Joseph, caring for Jesus and bringing Him up in the Church. Humble good works like those taught in the Ten Commandments, such as praise of God, prayer, worship, honoring parents, disciplining children, helping a neighbor in need, contributing time, talent, and treasure to the Church, sharing the Gospel with others.
What’s a bit surprising is that the St. Paul says “The grace of God [is]…training us to renounce ungodliness...and to live godly lives.” We might have expected the text to say, “The Law of God has been given, training us to say “No!” to sin.” No doubt, God’s Law does say “No!” to all unrighteousness, and it has a degree of coercive power that helps keep our sinful flesh in check, but it certainly can’t save us or inspire a willing spirit that is eager to lead a godly life. Most of us have a pretty good understanding of the difference between right and wrong, so our problem is less about knowledge of what to do and more about needing the power to do it.
Elsewhere St. Paul says that the Gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). Paul says that the saving grace of God in Christ trains and empowers us to renounce ungodliness and embrace a life of good works. Christ’s grace is not only what justifies us but also what sanctifies us. And He attaches that saving and sanctifying grace to His Word and Sacraments, His Means of Grace given out in the Christian Church.
Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus your Savior and on the good work He has done of saving you. Don’t cut yourself off from the source of your pardon for sins and power for service by neglecting to read the Scriptures and use the Means of Grace, but make zealous use of them, confident that God will continue to work good things through you each day.
Prayer (LSB 824):
1. May God bestow on us His grace,
With blessings rich provide us;
And may the brightness of His face
To life eternal guide us,
That we His saving health may know,
His gracious will and pleasure,
And also to the nations show
Christ’s riches without measure
And unto God convert them.
2. Thine over all shall be the praise
And thanks of ev’ry nation;
And all the world with joy shall raise
The voice of exultation.
For Thou shalt judge the earth, O Lord,
Nor suffer sin to flourish;
Thy people’s pasture is Thy Word
Their souls to feed and nourish,
In righteous paths to keep them.
3. O let the people praise Thy worth,
In all good works increasing;
The land shall plenteous fruit bring forth,
Thy Word is rich in blessing.
May God the Father, God the Son,
And God the Spirit bless us!
Let all the world praise Him alone,
Let solemn awe possess us.Now let our hearts say, “Amen!”