Grace-Empowered Initiative or Grace-Excused Inertia?
Topic: Discipleship Passage: Titus 2:11–2:15
One of the movies that’s a Christmastime favorite in the Snapp home is It’s a Wonderful Life and in it there’s a scene where the greedy tycoon Potter has set up a meeting with George Bailey to convince him to come work for him, and at one point Potter describes in vivid detail how the dreams and aspirations George Bailey once had are slowly dying as he finds himself living a life increasingly frustrated and trapped because he’s chained to the Bailey Building and Loan company. Potter ends his description of Bailey’s trapped life by asking, do I paint a correct picture or do I exaggerate?
If you are visiting us this morning we are in a series called Following Jesus and we have been looking at what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. In the very first message of this series I made this statement: Following Jesus calls us into a radical life of faith, dependence, risk, and obedience. And when we look at the gospels we see that when Jesus called men and women to follow him it was radical. It was life-changing. It was transformational. Their lives would never be the same. And we feel that same call on our lives. We feel the call to a life radically committed to serving Christ and His eternal purposes. We feel both a call and a longing to live a risk-filled, love-filled, obedience-filled life for the glory of God.
But at the same time we also feel a very different pull on our heart and life. It’s a pull toward ease and comfort. A pull toward not rocking the boat, not risking the status quo. We find ourselves struggling with the same sins day after day, year after year. We hear a message on evangelism and get geared up to share our faith with those who don’t know Jesus, only to find that when the opportunity comes we don’t open our mouth…again. We want to pray more, read our Bible more, love Jesus more, care for our spouses and kids more, fellowship with other believers more, give to the work of God more, be generous to the poor more, serve more, and witness more. Yet far too often we find that all these intentions fail to happen as we make the same bad choices again and again, sinning in the same ways again and again…and again. We find ourselves discouraged by how little of the transforming power of Christ we seem to be experiencing and how slowly change comes. It can be disillusioning to see the gap between what we long for and what we actually live.
And I can almost hear Potter sneer, do I paint a correct picture, or do I exaggerate?
God’s provision to us in this place is grace. Grace is what we need and through Jesus Christ God has given us grace upon grace. But there can be a misperception about the work of grace in the believer’s life, and inadvertently we can begin to think of grace as an excuse for us to remain the same and not feel badly about it rather than the power for us to change.
Title: Grace-empowered initiative or grace-excused inertia?
Titus 2: 11-15
I. The grace of God both saves and empowers us
Paul grounds the salvation for all people -not meaning that all people are saved, but that salvation is offered to all people- in the two appearances of Christ. The word appear means to suddenly come into view – like the sun rising above the horizon or an enemy suddenly jumping out of an ambush – and the grace of God to save first appeared in the person of Christ when he entered human history as a man, and gave himself (on the cross) for all lawlessness (our sin). And the grace of God to save will be consummated at the second appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. Salvation is the work of God from first to last and it is a work of grace – totally undeserved.
But Paul also intertwines another biblical truth in these verses: the grace that saves us also trains us to live righteously. Verse 14 tells us that Jesus gave himself to purify a people who are zealous for good works. Trained, purified, zealous for good works. That describes the radical life lived for the glory of God that we as disciples are called to, and it is, Paul says, the work of grace. But the question remains: why are we not seeing more of that grace at work in our lives? Why can there be such a gap?
II. The danger of using the grace of God to excuse spiritual inertia
There are two dangerous extremes concerning the grace of God we need to be aware of. One danger is legalism which reduces Christianity to a lot of rules and religious do’s and don’ts and empties the cross of its power by moving our confidence from what Christ did to what we do for Christ. It is toxic and it is deadly and that is why we must always, always preach God’s grace through Christ so our faith is built on His work on our behalf and not our good works.
But there is a danger that comes from the other direction and that is using the grace of God as a justification for spiritual inactivity. Grace becomes a cover for not doing much of anything, and we get tripped up cause instead of seeing grace as empowering us to take spiritual initiative we see it as excusing spiritual inertia.
The definition of inertia is: “The tendency of a body to resist acceleration; the tendency of a body at rest to remain at rest or of a body in straight line motion to stay in motion in a straight line unless acted on by an outside force.
“The tendency of a body at rest to remain at rest…” In other words, if something isn’t moving, it doesn’t want to move. Wives, you see inertia at work every Sunday afternoon when your husband is watching a football game. The tendency of a body at rest to remain at rest. And when they do get up during a commercial to stagger into the kitchen to get a bowl of chips and a soda it’s only because they’re being acted on by an outside force – their hunger. Actually that’s an inside force, but close enough. Sin produces a kind of spiritual inertia in us: even as Christians our flesh resists moving toward God and doesn’t want to pursue spiritual things – it wants to remain at rest. So we feel this tangible resistance to prayer, to reading God’s word, fellowshipping and witnessing.
But there’s another aspect to inertia:… or of a body in straight line motion to stay in motion in a straight line…” Once something does get going in a direction, it wants to continue in that direction.
Ever wonder why there are certain habits you just can’t seem to break and specific sins that you just can’t seem to victory over? You want to get up earlier so you can have more quiet time, but it never seems to happen. You want to make better use of your time but week after week you come to the end of the week and are frustrated because it’s the same story. You want to get out of debt and stop spending money you don’t have but when you see something you want but can’t afford, the credit card comes out and the debt just gets deeper and deeper. Yesterday you resolved not to get angry at your children, but rather lead them with patient instruction; today you got angry at your children again. Last Sunday your heart was stirred to wrap yourself in a towel and serve others, this Sunday, well, not so much.
There is strong resistance to moving toward God, there is strong momentum to continue in the same wrong direction. To break spiritual inertia it must be acted on by an outside force and that outside force is God’s grace! Grace doesn’t excuse spiritual inertia; it empowers us to overcome it!
III. The grace of God trains us…to take initiative!
For the grace of God has appeared… 12training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age … Titus 2:11-12
The grace of God appeared not simply to save us, but to train us. And what the grace of God trains us to do is to take spiritual initiative: we renounce ungodliness, we live self-controlled and godly lives. Grace doesn’t do it for us, grace doesn’t make us do it, grace trains us to do it. If we don’t see the work of sanctifying grace in our lives as empowering us to take godly initiative then we’re gonna wonder, why isn’t God changing me?
ILL: Matt was telling me how on the way to the pastor’s conference he got pulled over by a policeman for speeding. When the officer asked him why he was speeding, he mentioned he and his wife were deep in conversation and he just didn’t notice. The officer responded, “Oh, so it’s your wife’s fault, is it? Maybe I should write her the ticket then. Ma’am, can I see your driver’s license.” He was messing with Matt and let them off with a warning, but we can do that too: why isn’t God working to change me? Why hasn’t He given me the power to overcome that sin or the desire to love Him more?
Oh, so it’s God’s fault. No, the grace of God is the power that enables us to climb out of the rut but we need to climb out of the rut. We will find the power as we begin the climb. The grace of God is the power that enables us to move toward spiritual maturity but we won’t overcome the resistance to spiritual movement until we begin to move.
In some ways it can be very practical and very simple:
• If you’re wasting too much time watching TV, you could pray that God hides your remote or that your TV supernaturally malfunctions that so all it’s able to pick up are reruns of Petticoat Junction. Or you could turn it off. And thank God for grace to do something else more productive.
• If you want to read the Bible more, take initiative to set aside time devoted to read and then pick up your Bible and read it. And you will find yourself growing in your walk with Christ as you do. Simple.
But in another way it’s not so simple and I don’t want to seem to trivialize the momentum that sin has to carry us in the same direction we’ve been going in for years. The ruts run through our hearts and they can run deep.
ILL: Last Tuesday Janice was away for the day so I was homeschooling Matthew, and I started out so patiently I was impressing myself. But at some point I began to get so frustrated that I began to speak impatiently and then harshly to Matt – trying to get him where I wanted him by the force of my anger. As he began to cry I realized what I was doing and had to stop and ask him to forgive me. Which he did. I know better with my head but the momentum of my heart carries me in a sinful direction and I need God’s grace to train my heart in a different direction. The ruts can run deep in our hearts. Maybe for you it’s not anger. Maybe it’s bitterness. Maybe it’s laziness. Maybe it’s lust. Maybe it’s fear of man. And because it reoccurs so many times, we can begin to feel like it’s hopeless – we’ll never change.
As a fellow-learner I want to encourage you that there is grace for you in that place. The grace of God has appeared. God has acted; He has saved you, forgiven you, given you His Spirit. But for us to climb out of the rut, change the direction, follow Christ, we will need to take initiative. Let me quickly share three initiatives we can take to help us overcome spiritual inertia.
1. Believe that God’s grace is powerfully at work in you
It may surprise you that I would identify believing God as an initiative that we need to take. In fact if you’re a real theologically oriented dude, you may be thinking, wait a minute, faith isn’t result of our initiative, it is, as Ephesians 2 tells us, the gift of God. Absolutely right! Faith is a gift of God – a gift of grace. But while grace enables us to believe God, we still need to choose to believe and fight for faith. Faith is where the battle is fought. The greatest objective of the devil is to devour our faith – to cause us to become hopeless and faithless. The greatest and most reoccurring sin of the people of God in the OT was unbelief. Jesus commands us, Have faith in God. Every day it’s a fight for faith. Some days are harder than others. Sometimes we may need to pray like the father of the sick child who cried out to Jesus, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!”
The grace of God has appeared…like the sun rising on the horizon the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ has risen on us, but we see and enjoy that grace by faith. The world doesn’t see him yet. And it is by faith we wait for our blessed hope, the future appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. Don’t put your faith in the “either I have it or I don’t” category – that’s leaving it to spiritual inertia – take the initiative to strengthen your faith in Christ every day. Prayer, Bible reading, fellowship, are essential to faith.
2. Obey the biblical commands that call you to change direction or get moving!
There can be a misperception that any call to obey biblical commands is legalism. But with a foundation of grace, and empowered by grace, we are to obey biblical commands and there is grace to obey, and grace in obeying.
Paul himself encourages the use of grace-filled commands in verse 15: Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you. So if you struggle with anger, it is good for your soul to hear commands such as:
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27and give no opportunity to the devil. Ephes. 4:26-27
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires. James 1:19-20
The Bible is full of such grace-filled commands. Grace doesn’t negate God’s commands, it empowers us to obey them. Do we need God’s grace to obey them? Absolutely, but they also call for our initiative. Do not let the sun go down…be slow to anger…commands that we are take initiative to obey.
Jesus says if you love me you will keep my commands. Grace doesn’t lead us to ignore his commands, it leads us to love them. Learn them, read them, memorize them, pray for grace to obey them.
3. Identify just one or two areas where you will take the initiative to make a change
I heard CJ Mahaney make this point and it has stuck with me. Sanctification isn’t immediate or easy. We can’t change 32 areas at once. Trying to will only lead us to discouragement and giving up. Identify one or two areas where the Holy Spirit seems to be bringing conviction and take the initiative to make a change in that area. As you see real change taking place in that area, your heart will be strengthened with grace to take initiative in another area.
Conclusion: (Call band up)
As we close, I don’t want you to think this is a separate message in a series of messages on discipleship. It looks backward and forward: the message last week on serving – take the initiative. Or several weeks ago on reading the Bible or Matt’s message on loving one another, or in the coming weeks as we look at evangelism or humility, this message should be overlaid on them: following Christ requires grace-empowered initiative.
Be encouraged and don’t lose heart: He who began a good work in you is faithful to complete it unto the day of Christ Jesus. God isn’t going to stop working on you until that day when you see Jesus face to face and you’re perfectly conformed in His image. Don’t forget that we’re still waiting for our blessed hope – the appearing of our Savior. We will need a Savior every day we live until we breathe our last breath.
Identify one or two (or at most three) areas where the Holy Spirit is bringing to mind your need to change, and write them down and share them with someone. And then, with the grace God has given you - take godly initiative to change!