Pastor Peter Walther / January 10, 2016 / Epiphany 1 - The Baptism of Our Lord
Titus 3:4-7 / Washing and Renewing
It’s sad when we look at our lives and see how we were foolish, we were disobedient, we deceived people and were enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in spite towards other people, even envious of them. We hated when we knew someone didn’t like us, and in doing so hated them right back. In our sin, we failed to be peaceful, considerate, humble, and even loving. That is the sad truth of our sin which rips us away from the only true and selfless love that we know in God. Often our nostalgia for old times obscures the truth of our sin. Sometimes society obscures what is right and wrong. However, when we see society crumbling in small doses, we see what this world is really like. We see the reality. The truth is that apart from God, people degenerate into animals. While speaking to Titus, Paul remembers where we all came from. In verse 3 before our text, He said, “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.”
Somehow in our delusion, we think that we aren’t half bad, that we might just be worth saving. Hear what Paul has to say. He mentions that even the good things that we do still aren’t good enough. To those who think they aren’t bad people, to those who think they aren’t really big sinners, Paul kicks us in the chest and says, Yes you are! You could be sitting in a room by yourself with no stimulation what so ever, no tv, no guns, no tablet, and you might think you aren’t doing anything wrong, after all how could you? God says, nope, you still fail to match up to God’s standards. Our salvation is completely out of our hands.
The contrast is startling: In verse 3, a person is the actor and the failure, but in verses 4–7 that person is merely the recipient, and God becomes the actor. Verses four and five are some of the best passages in the whole bible. I would even put it on par with John 3:16. Sadly it is overlooked, and unfortunately, many translations don’t quite get the whole meaning in there. Not only was God’s love amazing, but it was directed somewhere: to us, to people. The greek word here for love is much like the word for Philanthropy. God loves people. God’s love for you and me, and for all people existed before we even existed. Some loose translations put the verb “to save” at the beginning where it really should be at the end. Now that sounds like a lot of silly grammatical language talk, but the emphasis lies on the fact that God did all those things and loved us before he even saved us.
Paul writes as somebody who has experienced all this. He himself lived in God’s love. These words about the kindness of God our Savior and His love toward all people speak right to the heart of Paul, who we would have viewed as a terrible person, who came from a background of killing Christians. Yet, God loved him, and Paul pour out in his letters how amazed he was that God would love him and give himself up for him. Living as a Christian is so difficult. Our sin haunts our lives. It infects our minds and ruins the good things that God has given us as we are left looking at the wreckage, like a hurricane having destroyed everything in its path. We look at our sin, we see exactly why God shouldn't love us, how we failed to keep his commands. We can only be cleansed by what God has done for us.
Have you ever heard of the Crayola bath crayons? They are for kids playing in the tub. Now, I think people have great philosophical thoughts when either staring out a car window or in the shower. I thought it would be great to invent some type of waterproof chalkboard so that I can just write them down right away in shower. Well, my sister just bought me these bath crayons instead. Close enough. I tried one in the shower but I ended up staining the shower. Even when I tried to wipe it off, it wouldn’t quite come off and it sort of smeared. It wasn’t until I brought out the big guns with the cleaners and bleach did it come off. Have you ever noticed that even when we try to fix our mistakes or our past sins, we only end up smearing the residue. We need a permanent cleaner.
What a relief to remember that even the worst of my sins, the sins that ruined my reputation, the sin that stained my life forever, those have been washed clean because through faith in Christ. God sees us as blood stained children of God. Now, to any parent doing the laundry of their child, that seems like the worst possible analogy because blood is dirty and it stains. But the blood of Jesus has a totally different effect. His blood actually cleanses. He has washed us clean.
In God’s Word, we hear of His love for all people. He wants all people to be saved. But we see something special. We see something intimate. In the sacraments, we hear of God’s love for us personally. It’s like everyone got a gift, but the last gift is brought to you personally. Those are the best kinds of gifts and God gives to us a special gift. He gives to us the washing of rebirth. The “washing of rebirth” as Paul states is baptism. We see from these very words of Paul that baptism isn’t merely a symbol. It isn’t something that YOU do for God. No, God saves people through the means of baptism, where we see that the Holy Spirit works in our heart and gives to us a new life. For many of us, we were baptized when we were little children and brought into God’s family. How awesome it is when adults are baptized! For adults, baptism still is that miraculous bath of the forgiveness of sins. Baptism seals this new life in Christ for the child and the adult. God not only demonstrates his love for you, but he personalizes it for you and washes you.
However, Baptism is a daily process and renewing, in which the Holy Spirit continues to work. This renewing is what we often call sanctification. Baptism isn’t some sort of magic that means you never have to step foot into a church again. No, our baptism reminds us that Satan is deadly and that we need to armor up and bulk up. God doesn’t leave us to fend for ourselves, however, but the Holy spirit is always at work when we hear and read God’s Word. He speaks to our heart and strengthens that faith as we study His Word so that we might turn down the sin that continually bombards our life and tries to tear us away from our Savior. Living a Christian life is a growing process that feels like a war. We are often fighting against what our sinful mind says and fighting against what people try to convince us is silly and old fashioned. Paul reminds his people and us that we were once like the heathens around us. But God had shown us love and mercy. We are no longer called to live that old way because we have been given a new life.
As we grow in our faith, the Holy Spirit works good in us. It’s fascinating that we can’t help but demonstrate that love because we are reminded of the victory that is ours. Here again in our verses, there is not the greatest translation where it says, “Having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” That should really say, “We are already heirs (not we might become).” Through faith, we become heirs. As children of God we wait in hope for the great inheritance that is already ours. Sadly, we can lose that inheritance when we fail to listen to what God has to say about how to live or if we dismiss His Word as unnecessary. We need God’s Word because we need to remember that it is a war out there.
For a culture of skim readers that we have all become, the book of Titus comes in such a short and easy read. The whole letter to Titus is a wonderful reminder and encouragement to us on how Christians should live. I give you the challenge to read this short letter of Titus before you watch the Packer game today! I bet I can read it before you do. God’s Word is how we get the strength to turn down sin as we are washed, renewed, and made stronger.
The point of this letter is to remind Christians how to live, and why. We live out of love for what God has done, so that we don’t lose what Jesus won for us, and also as Paul says in Titus 2, “So that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.” Yes, even Paul said he became different things to win over people, but it was never putting himself in a sinful situation. If your idea of evangelism is to get drunk with people to show how loose Christians can be, that is maybe not the best tactic. Here Paul reminds us of the opposite tactic. Make God’s Word attractive by being different.
The truth is that apart from God, we are horrible and ugly people heading towards destruction. We would be nothing more than animals simply trying to survive. However, through the wonderful grace of God, when we are in his Word, we are washed and renewed. As Christians, we live for God and the victory that he won for us. Amen.
Let us bow our heads in prayers: God, forgive me. I mess up. I deserve to take the consequence and punishment for all my sin. Wash me and make me clean Lord. Take me from the path of destruction and put me back on the path to you. Renew me. Make me whole. Bring me to your Word to see the forgiveness that is mine and help me to live a new life in love for you. Give me the strength to turn down sin and to look to you for strength in the times when temptation is unbearable. Be my strength as I live in your love and grace. Amen.