Albert N. Martin
When we open up the Scriptures, we find that the kind of religious faith and the kind of Christian experience molded by apostolic preaching is faith and experience, literally percolating with the reality and the hope and the confident expectation of the return of Jesus Christ, with clear and unmistakable identity in bodily, visible form.
John says, “Every eye shall see Him.” As surely as the witness of these apostles affirm the facts of the life and the ministry of Jesus that attested to His identity as Messiah—you think of the sermons in the Book of Acts: “He was approved of God among you by mighty signs and wonders.” As surely as the apostolic preaching and witness affirmed the facts of the life and ministry of Jesus, facts which affirmed and attested His identity as Messiah; as surely as their witness affirmed His death and resurrection as procuring redemption for sinners. We find it again and again in their preaching and in their letters.
So with equal clarity and certainty their witness involved an unmistakable declaration that this Jesus attested as Messiah by His mighty works, this Jesus procuring redemption by His suffering and resurrection, this Jesus would indeed come again, just as the angel said: “This same Jesus, in like manner, as they saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
Because this was true, when we pick up the New Testament documents, particularly the letters sent to these communities of people brought into the faith of Christ through the preaching and testimony of the apostles and those who had received the message of the apostles, we find that the truth of the Second Coming of Christ is not some secondary issue buried away to be taken out occasionally for consideration, but rather we find that their whole experience of the Christian life is molded by this reality: “The same Jesus who went up into heaven shall so come in like manner out of heaven.”
An eager expectation and yearning for the Coming of Christ is part and parcel of normal, Christian experience. The reality of the Coming of Christ becomes the very stepping-off point for exhortations across a whole broad spectrum of the Christian life, and by doing this, what I trust will happen to us is that if we find ourselves out of sync and strangers to that mood, to that atmosphere of New Testament, apostolic, Christian faith and experience, that by the grace of God we’ll get on board.
Some of us have great fears, because we’re aware of the untold pile of rubbish and nonsense surrounding the doctrine of the Second Coming. That wretched movie that was promoted a few months ago, and we were led to believe, as the stuff came to my house that if I, as a pastor, was really concerned with evangelism I’d get all of you, all of you in a furor of trying to get everybody to go see the whole Left Behind series of books. Millions of them have been promoted and sold, or tens of hundreds of thousands. I don’t know if it’s in the millions yet. And you say, “Well, wait a minute, did Pastor Martin get infected with this buzz?” I assure you: no. I have absolutely no sympathy for any nonsensical, non biblical notion about somebody being snatched away and nobody knowing anything about it.
“This same Jesus who was taken up from you shall so come in like manner.” When Jesus comes, it ain’t going to be a secret to nobody. Alright? So please, please, don’t have fears that I’m going to indulge in some kind of wacko consideration of prophetic matters. Not at all. I want us to let the testimony of Scripture come and confront us, that anticipation of the fulfillment of this prophecy by those two angels is indeed part and parcel of the belief and experience of ordinary believers within the orbit of apostolic preaching.
Eagerly awaiting Christ’s return is a distinctive lesson in the instruction of the saving grace of God, according to Titus 2:13. Eagerly awaiting Christ’s return is a distinctive lesson in the instruction of the grace of God.
Turn please to Titus chapter 2. The Apostle has been giving very specific directions to Titus, with respect to the kind of instruction he is to give (as we saw in the previous hour) to the various categories and groupings of people within the churches of Crete. There are old men and older woman, and there are young men and younger women; there are husbands, there are wives, there are servants. So, he is concerned that all of these various groupings of believers be given specific directives for practical godliness.
You see, the apostle Paul didn’t have this notion: just preach the broad strokes and the Holy Spirit will deal with the particulars. No. He didn’t have that mentality. He says now in chapter 2, verse 1: “Speak the things that befit the sound doctrine.” Then he gets very specific—older men are to be marked by these graces, older women by these, etc. Now then, at the end of verse 10, when he’s dealt with servants and how they are to conduct themselves, and says that this is the great end and view, that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things, notice how verse 11 begins: for. For. Whenever you see a ‘for,’ ask ‘why for’? All of this instruction in verses 1 through 10, now the Apostle is saying: “I want to tell you, Titus, and I want you to make plain to the people of Crete, Titus, what lies behind all this specific, concrete, detailed instruction about practical godliness. I want you to know, Titus, and I want the people of Crete to know, Titus, that I have not suddenly become a backslidden Christian who’s become a Pharisaic moralist, and so I’m giving a bunch of ethical instructions.”
There are people in our day who say that if you do anything but preach Jesus and give the broad strokes of the Christian life, you’re a moralist. I reject and resent that description, because if we’re preaching specifics, as Paul does and as Titus is instructed to do, they will always be rooted in the great, redemptive realities of God’s salvation in Christ, and that’s exactly what Paul does here. For this is why you must do this, Titus, and if any of the old ladies and the old men and the young men and the servants ask you: Why in the world all this teaching?’ This is what you tell them: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men.” Literally from the original, “The grace of God has appeared saving to all men.”
God’s grace, in Jesus Christ, has appeared, and in Jesus Christ the salvation suitable to all of these various categories of men, all of these various stations in life. A salvation has been brought in Jesus Christ. “The grace of God has appeared,” not an abstraction, but in a Person. That Person is the Lord Jesus, full of grace, full of truth. “The grace of God has appeared saving to all men.”
But now notice, grace is here described as a teacher, instructing us, taking us under its tutelage; grace that brings salvation to hell-deserving sinners. Grace in the Person and work of Jesus and in the outpoured Spirit, that grace has not only appeared saving to all men, but it comes instructing. What is its instruction? Instructing us to the intent—here’s the negative—that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, turning away from everything that is unlike God. What’s ungodliness? It’s being unlike God. We are to image God! Anything we want, do, think, anyplace we go, any association we enter that is not like God is ungodliness! We are to turn from ungodliness as a pattern of life.
That’s what grace teaches us. When it holds out salvation in Jesus Christ it calls us to repent, to turn away from ungodliness and worldly lusts. That is, lusts, desires, ambitions, passions, appetites that have their taproots not in sanctified human desires—the desire for love, acceptance, sex, food, a blue sky. (We will see it again.) Puffy cumulous clouds. Those desires—sanctified, human desires. Grace does not war with what is natural; it wars with what is sinful!
We are to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, desires, appetites, passions that are framed by life in detachment from God, and under the control of the Devil. That’s wordly lusts. That’s the negative.
Grace comes always teaching us that. Anyone tells you they’ve been saved by grace, they’ve been taught the Word of God, and they’ve not denied ungodliness and worldly lusts—they are self-deceived. Grace never comes silent about ungodliness and worldly lusts. Grace always comes offering salvation not in sin, but from sin.
Denying ungodliness and worldly lusts—that’s the negative, but now look at the positive: we should live soberly and righteously and godly when we get to Heaven after we die? [No.] “That we should live soberly and righteously and godly in this present age.” In this present age in which there is so little sobriety! People live as though they’re going to live forever; they’re not in touch with reality.
A sober man is a man whose brain is not affected by overloaded alcohol, causing him to see pink elephants! A sober man sees one, two, three, four, five sides of an octagon on the rim of his pulpit and he says, “This is a chopped off octagon.” A sober man doesn’t say, “I’m in a circle; I’m in a square.” No. Reality is: one, two, three, four, five planes equal in size, add three more and we’ve got an octagon. A sober man is in touch with what is! Grace teaches us to get in touch with what is; get out of our never-never land of trying to act as though we are nothing but the sum total of our passions and appetites. We are stamped with immortality. We are heading to an eternity in the horrible woes of Hell, or in the unspeakable bliss of Heaven in the face of Christ, in the glory of the New Jerusalem.
The grace of God teaches us to live soberly and righteously. A word despised by our generation. To live righteously means to live right. By whose standard? By the standard of God’s law. You take seriously the Ten Commandments as a summary of what God expects of you in all the length and breadth of those commandments. Touching motives and glances of the eye, and everything that we think and do. Grace teaches us to live soberly, righteously, and godly; to be like God. Where? In this present world.
Bible References: Acts 1:11; Titus 2:1, 10, 11, 13