Just Do It

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 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.

15 Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you. – Titus 2:11-15 ESV

Paul has just given Titus detailed descriptions of the kind of conduct he is to expect from those who have been exposed to sound doctrine. But now, Paul makes it clear that it is not the teaching of sound doctrine that produces life change. An understanding of theology doesn’t save anyone. A good grasp of doctrine will never earn anyone a right standing with God, and it can’t truly transform anyone’s behavior.

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day knew doctrine and theology, but Jesus regularly referred to them as hypocrites. They knew the Hebrew Scriptures that prophesied about the coming of the Messiah but failed to recognize Him when He was standing right in front of them. The reason Paul emphasized the teaching of sound doctrine was because he knew that God had equipped each and every believer with the capacity to apply that doctrine to their lives and experience true life change. And it was all because “the grace of God has appeared” (Titus 2:11 ESV). This is a clear reference to the incarnation of Jesus, the Messiah. Paul made a similar reference when he wrote his second letter to Timothy.

For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time—to show us his grace through Christ Jesus. And now he has made all of this plain to us by the appearing of Christ Jesus, our Savior. He broke the power of death and illuminated the way to life and immortality through the Good News. – 2 Timothy 1:9-10 NLT

God revealed His grace by sending His son to provide mankind with a means of salvation. And notice what Paul says: God saved us and called us to live a holy life. That is exactly what Paul just finished describing to Titus; what a holy life looks like for each and every believer in his local congregation. From the oldest to the youngest, male and female, and even bondservants; there was an expectation of godly behavior made possible by the grace of God. Jesus came, not only to bring salvation but to make possible the ongoing process of sanctification. Paul describes it this way: “training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:12 ESV).

The salvation provided for us by the grace of God and made possible through the death of His Son, is not to be viewed as some kind of entry ticket to heaven. It isn’t a future pass into His Kingdom that has no present significance. No, Paul makes it clear that the grace of God includes our present and continuing transformation into the likeness of Christ. We are to grow in godliness – in the present age.

Paul even seems to indicate that rather than making heaven our hope, we should focus our attention on the inevitable return of Jesus Christ. We are to “look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed” (Titus 2:13 NLT). It is the hope of that promise that should motivate us to live godly lives here and now. And it is the grace of God that provides us with the power we need to pull it off. The apostle Peter reminds us: “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3 NLT).

Jesus Christ died for us, not just to get us into heaven, but to redeem us from the power of sin. And that process begins in this lifetime, not the next. Paul clearly states: “He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds” (Titus 2:14 NLT).

Committed to doing good deeds when we get to heaven? No, right here, right now. Jesus Himself stated: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 ESV). That abundant life begins at the point of salvation, not when we arrive in heaven. It is an ongoing process of transformation that takes place from the moment we place our faith in Jesus as Savior, and it continues until He returns or the Father takes us home at the point of death. And Paul was so confident in God’s promise to transform each and every one of His children into the likeness of Christ, that he told the believers in Philippi: “I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6 NLT).

Titus was to teach these truths to his people. He was to demand that they live lives of godliness, not in their own strength, but in the power and grace of God. Life change is possible. Character transformation is expected of each and every believer. And as far as Paul was concerned, a lack of change within the life of a professing believer was to be met with rebuke, not indifference.

The author of Hebrews wrote, “You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food” (Hebrews 5:12 NLT).

Paul had to remind the believers in Corinth, “when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in the Christian life. I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready, for you are still controlled by your sinful nature” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3 NLT). Spiritual growth in the life of a believer is not optional. Life transformation is an undeniable expectation and unavoidable outcome of the grace of God. Jesus did not die to leave us like we are. He set us free from slavery to sin. That’s why Paul provides the believers in Rome with these powerful words of reminder:

Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace. – Romans 6:12-14 NLT

The grace of God has set us free from the power of sin. We live under the freedom of God’s grace as provided by the death and resurrection of His Son. And Paul goes on to say, “Thank God! Once you were slaves of sin, but now you wholeheartedly obey this teaching we have given you. Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living” (Romans 6:17-18 NLT).

We have been given the grace to live godly lives in the here and now, not just the hereafter. So, let’s do it.

 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Avoiding the Truth Won’t Void the Consequences

“Do not preach”—thus they preach—
    “one should not preach of such things;
    disgrace will not overtake us.”
Should this be said, O house of Jacob?
    Has the Lord grown impatient?
    Are these his deeds?
Do not my words do good
    to him who walks uprightly?
But lately my people have risen up as an enemy;
you strip the rich robe from those who pass by trustingly
    with no thought of war.
The women of my people you drive out
    from their delightful houses;
from their young children you take away
    my splendor forever.
10 Arise and go,
    for this is no place to rest,
because of uncleanness that destroys
    with a grievous destruction.
11 If a man should go about and utter wind and lies,
    saying, “I will preach to you of wine and strong drink,”
    he would be the preacher for this people!
Micah 2:6-11 ESV

Micah, like the rest of God’s prophets, had a very unpopular message to deliver. His words concerning God’s pending judgment were not received well by the people. No one liked hearing that they were guilty of grievous sins against God and stood justly condemned to bear His divine punishment.

The people begged Micah and the other prophets to shut up. They thought that if they could silence the doom and gloom messages of these men, all their problems would go away. The people to whom Isaiah prophesied begged him to simply change the tone of his message.

They tell the seers,
    “Stop seeing visions!”
They tell the prophets,
    “Don’t tell us what is right.
Tell us nice things.
    Tell us lies.
Forget all this gloom.
    Get off your narrow path.
Stop telling us about your
    ‘Holy One of Israel.’” – Isaiah 30:10-11 NLT

They didn’t want to hear the truth, even if it came directly from the lips of God Almighty. Amos, another prophet of God, was told by his contemporaries, “Don’t prophesy against Israel. Stop preaching against my people” (Amos 7:16 NLT). Again, they thought they could change the outcome simply by changing the content of the message. This mindset led to the rise of a virtual cottage industry of false prophets, who gladly told the people what they wanted to hear. They told them nice things. They lied to them. These false prophets took it upon themselves to deliver contradictory yet much-more tolerable messages to the people.

And Micah refers to these naysayers who were demanding that he stop preaching his message of judgment.

“Do not preach”—thus they preach—
    “one should not preach of such things;
    disgrace will not overtake us.” – Micah 2:6 ESV

They were prophesying that Micah should stop prophesying. They were claiming his message to be wrong and theirs to be right. And you can imagine how the people responded to these two competing visions of the truth. They sided with the false prophets. They gladly accepted the lie because it was exactly what they wanted to hear. And because these false prophets claimed to be speaking for God, the people soaked up their message eagerly and without discernment.

Generations later, the apostle Paul warned his young protege, Timothy, about this natural propensity on the part of God’s people to reject the truth for a lie.

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths. – 2 Timothy 4:3-4 NLT

That is exactly what Micah was facing. His audience would prefer to hear him lie than have him speak the truth of God. Micah’s competition was practicing an early form of positive motivational thinking. They were presenting nothing but good news, preferring to focus on what they believed to be their unique position as God’s chosen people. They were counting on the fact that they had a covenant relationship with God Almighty and He was not going to abandon them. It is likely that they turned to the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament, and cherry-picked passages that would support their more positive point of view.

“Today the Lord your God has commanded you to obey all these decrees and regulations. So be careful to obey them wholeheartedly. You have declared today that the Lord is your God. And you have promised to walk in his ways, and to obey his decrees, commands, and regulations, and to do everything he tells you. The Lord has declared today that you are his people, his own special treasure, just as he promised, and that you must obey all his commands. And if you do, he will set you high above all the other nations he has made. Then you will receive praise, honor, and renown. You will be a nation that is holy to the Lord your God, just as he promised.” – Deuteronomy 26:16-19 NLT

But they conveniently avoided any passage that might paint a more negative outcome.

“But if you refuse to listen to the Lord your God and do not obey all the commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come and overwhelm you…The Lord will exile you and your king to a nation unknown to you and your ancestors. There in exile you will worship gods of wood and stone! You will become an object of horror, ridicule, and mockery among all the nations to which the Lord sends you.” – Deuteronomy 28:15, 36-37 NLT

Micah argued with the people, demanding that they not kill the messenger. He was simply telling them the truth and rearticulating the very message that God had conveyed to Moses hundreds of years earlier. This outcome had always been a distinct possibility. In fact, it had been guaranteed by God. If they obeyed His commands, they would enjoy His blessings. But if they chose to disobey, they would suffer His curses. Obedience was optional, but God’s judgment was not.

The people were counting on God’s continuing patience. After all, He had tolerated their sinful behavior for generations, so why not now? But Micah warned that there was a limit to God’s patience. And they had nothing to fear from Micah’s message – if they lived uprightly. But the sad reality was that no one was honoring God with their lives. As a nation, they had turned their backs on God and were guilty of practicing all kinds of egregious sins that were far worse than the pagan nations around them.

And once again, Micah is forced to point out their sins with painstaking clarity.

Yet to this very hour
    my people rise against me like an enemy!
You steal the shirts right off the backs
    of those who trusted you,
making them as ragged as men
    returning from battle. – Micah 2:8 NLT

They treated God’s prophet like an enemy. They mistreated their fellow Judahites, practicing every form of injustice and ignoring God’s calls for mercy, love, and compassion.

You have evicted women from their pleasant homes
    and forever stripped their children of all that God would give them. – Micah 2:9 NLT

Notice that Micah’s indictments have to do with their treatment with one another. He is not just listing their idolatry and their practice of religious pluralism. This wasn’t just about worshiping false gods. It was their rejection of the one true God that led to behavior that was out of step with His divine will. Again, the apostle Paul warned Timothy about a coming day when people would display these same ungodly characteristics.

You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. – 2 Timothy 3:1-5 NLT

When people reject the one true God, they end up displaying behavior that is contrary to His divine will. Idolatry is not just the worship of a false god, it is the embracing of a lifestyle of ungodliness and unholiness. And Paul described what happens when men reject the truth of God and embrace the lie.

Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too. – Romans 1:28-32 NLT

This was the atmosphere in Judah during the days of Micah. The people had fully embraced the lie and had rejected the truth of God’s Word. They knew better. And they surrounded themselves with prophets who would tell them what they wanted to hear. And Micah called them out for their unapologetic search for positive motivational prophets.

Suppose a prophet full of lies would say to you,
    “I’ll preach to you the joys of wine and alcohol!”
That’s just the kind of prophet you would like! – Micah 2:11 NLT

The truth had become relative. And a prophet was anyone who told you what you wanted to hear. But Micah had more bad news for these easily deceived and highly delusional people.

Up! Begone!
    This is no longer your land and home,
for you have filled it with sin
    and ruined it completely. – Micah 2:10 NLT

No amount of false prophets were going to change the truth concerning God’s judgment. Rejection of God’s divine will was possible, but escape from His wrath was not. They could continue to live under the delusion that all would be well, but reality would eventually set in and their fate would turn out just as God had warned. They could choose to ignore the truth, but they could never avoid the consequences.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson