“I’ve Been Down That Road Before.”

God’s Grace Has Appeared to Us, In Jesus Christ

“I’ve been down that road before.” said Hank Williams Sr., under the alias of Luke the Drifter. And so we have all been down that road before. What road is it that I’m talking about? It’s the road of foolishness. It’s the road of disobedience. It’s the road of letting ourselves be deceived by various lusts and pleasures It’s the road of living in malice and envy, and hating one another. But, what happened? The kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, in a little toddler on his mother’s knee, to whom the nations gathered to present gifts: of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These were gifts fit for a King: gold, a priest: frankincense, that spice used in the incense of the temple, and myrrh, foreshadowing his sacrificial death that that boy would one day die for the sins of the world. For that boy was no ordinary boy, but the Lord of Glory himself, him who is from the beginning, who was eternally pre-existent with the Father. And how did he make this grace that appeared in Christ the Savior active in our lives? He applied it to us, by the Holy Spirit, who, renewing our will, made us able and willing to embrace Christ the savior by faith, as he was presented to us, in the gospel, that we have heard. Thus, God’s grace was poured out generously upon us, in our hearts and in our lives. We became the righteous ones in God’s sight. Not by works which we had done, but by the righteousness of Christ imputed to us. That same Holy Spirit who made us new, worked in our lives, making us heirs of the promise, true children of our heavenly Father, and is even now making us fit to receive that inheritance by his work in our lives, making us more like our heavenly Father, remolding us in his likeness. So then, knowing what road we’ve been down, and what we’ve been saved from, how ought we to act in the midst of this fallen world towards those who are what we once were, who are like us, except that they have not received the same grace that we have, prior to this point. It is this application that the apostle Paul, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, takes as an opportunity to expound upon the grace of God that appeared to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

Titus 3:1 KJV Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work,
2 To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men.
3 For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another.
4 But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared,
5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;
6 Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour;
7 That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

The grace of God has appeared to us in our Savior Jesus Christ, through whom the Holy Spirit has regenerated us, so that we have been justified and made heirs, according to the hope of eternal life.

The kindness and love of God appeared to us in the person of Christ our Savior.  The word translated “appeared” here is the Greek, epephane, which is where the word, “Epiphany”, comes from, a traditional feast on January 6th celebrating the appearance of Christ as the Son of God and Savior. While in the East the traditional topic of preaching has been on the baptism of Christ in the river Jordan, in the West it is the wise men bringing gifts to the boy Jesus. We can think of a connection between these two passages of Scripture, in that both reveal Christ to be the Savior of the World, the one who is both God and man, the Prophet, Priest, and King, who came to redeem Israel, and the nations.

In Christ, the kindness of the Father has appeared to us. Because of Jesus Christ, it is explained to us. It is set forth. When the Lord Jesus came into this world, and began his ministry in Judea, what was the first thing he began to do? He began to preach. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe the good news!” Mark 1:15 He let us know that the Father loved us, and had sent his only begotten son to save us, not from bondage in Egypt or captivity in Babylon, but from slavery to our own sin, and subjection to death and the devil. If the Lord Jesus had not proclaimed this good news. That was news bout himself, about what he came to do. “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”, Jesus said (Luke 4:24). In him the love of our heavenly Father was made known. It appeared. It epephane.

It appeared not only to his disciples, but to the whole world, when he died on the cross. Jesus said, “And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me.” John 12:32 In him the kind of loving intention of the Father toward us was made known, in that he did not spare his only Son, but gave him up for us, to make u s his sons and daughters. The Lord Jesus appeared to be who he said he was, at his resurrection, and when this message was preached to the whole world, like by Paul in Athens, that Christ is risen from the dead. In this way the kindness and love of God to all men appeared, in that Christ Jesus is the Savior of all men, especially those who believe. And whoever calls upon his name will be saved.

Through Christ, the Holy Spirit has regenerated us.  He has effected a change in our orientation, that manifests itself in our lives. This work of regeneration is the new birth. It is a new beginning, at true change. It translates into faith where there was once skepticism or apathy, and holiness, “set-apart” -ness for God, where there was once only rebellion and indulgence in the sinful flesh. And, although the change is gradual, and holiness is not perfect in an instant, nor, truthfully, at any time in this life for any Christian this side of glory, yet it is a real change, that begins at the moment that the dead sinner is born again of the grace of God, by the powerful act of the Holy Spirit upon the soul, by a miracle of love. It is a washing that makes the dirty clean, and sprinkles the conscience from adherence to dead works of sin or hypocrisy, to serve the living God.  This washing is the reason why the Lord saw fit to give us the sacrament that symbolizes it that uses water, that is, baptism.  Because this regeneration which is signified in baptism is a washing and a cleansing, just like you use water to wash your face.

This work is through Christ, in his redemption accomplished for us, and applied to us. Just as law enforcement officers carry out a court order that the judge makes, so the Holy Spirit applies to the dead sinner the redemption bought for him by Christ on the cross, in the effectual call that produces a new birth in the sinner. This work is in and through Christ from start to finish, so it is all of those for whom Christ gave his precious life, and those only, who receive this grace of regeneration that is explained in this passage. It is not as some have imagined, that there is a disconnect between the father’s electing love from before the foundation of the world, by which he chose some to be saved, and passed by the rest, and the love of God manifest in Christ on the cross. Both are in agreement, in respect to their object, that is, we who are chosen by God. And such that the Father planned, and the Son accomplished, the Spirit applies. So our faith is genuinely a trinitarian faith. Each person of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, works in concert, co-laboring in the blessed divine work of the redemption of sinners.

We have been justified by grace, and made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.  This faith is a gift of God to us. “This [faith] is not of ourselves. It is the gift of God,” says the apostle Paul in Ephesians 2:8. It is by faith that we receive Christ as our Savior. And based on this union that we have with him, the Father has declared us righteous in him. Just as Israel, according to the language of Scripture, was declared to be the “Son” of God in power (Exodus 2:22), in the day that God brought them out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and drown all of the Egyptians in the Red Sea, just as Christ was declared to be the Son of God in power to all the universe, on the day that he rose again from the dead, having left his grave clothes lying there in the stone cold sepulcher, so God has declared us righteous in Christ. Though we are sinners, yet when God sees us, he does not see our sins. No, he sees the righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ, with which he kept the law his entire life, before laying down his life for our sins. He is the One who is called, “the LORD our righteousness.” Jeremiah 23:6 This righteousness of his becomes ours, by means of faith, that is our believing in him, which God has enabled us to do. And this state of being declared righteous the Scriptures refer to as the act of “justification.” It is something that all true believers in Christ have already experienced. “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” declares the Holy Spirit in Romans 5:1.

The grace of God has appeared to us in our Savior Jesus Christ, through whom the Holy Spirit has regenerated us, so that we have been justified and made heirs, according to the hope of eternal life.

Becoming an heir is not something that one earns. It is bequeathed by a will and testament. If you are blessed enough to inherit property or some other right, you didn’t do any work for it. You get it regardless of your personal character or worthiness. So it is with the hope of eternal life, that we have received through Jesus Christ, who died for us, the Testator of the eternal Testament and covenant that he made with us and for us. This gives us a blessed and indefatigable hope, that we who were his enemies have been made heirs of God, and will receive this blessing one day, and be happy with him forever.

However, just as an heir received something he didn’t earn, he may require some preparation to get ready to receive it. He’s got to get his thoughts and plans in order, and maybe even learn a thing or two about property management, personal finance, real estate, business, even agriculture, how to manage a rental property, or simply individual responsibility, so that he can make good use of the property that he is going to inherit. So it is with the heirs of eternal life. It would not do for someone who is to be made an heir of eternal life, who will enjoy God for eternity, to find his pleasure here on earth in the filthy pursuits of this world. If your heart is in the sins of the flesh, and of the eyes, what makes you think that you will enjoy God forever in heaven? Those whom God has justified by grace alone in Christ, he makes ready to receive the kingdom. He does this by progressively altering their desires and pleasures, so that they take delight in him and not in greed, malice, hatred, envy, lust, or those other things with which the world sullies itself, like a pig in the mud who just can’t get dirty enough.

The grace of God has appeared to us in our Savior Jesus Christ, through whom the Holy Spirit has regenerated us, so that we have been justified and made heirs, according to the hope of eternal life.  

Therefore, let us be submissive to the authorities that God has established over us in this world.  It is simply a part of being winsome. Some champions of various causes in the modern world have not learned this lesson, becoming activists to the extreme. This is not a way to win people over to your message. We who have the most gracious message of all, that is reconciliation with the Creator, offered to all people without distinction, through Christ whom he has given to be the Savior of the World, ought to be the most submissive of all to the authorities that God has established in this world: to local governments, and the laws of the land, and law enforcement, and tax officials. For we have a hope that the world does not know. How could we let the petty concerns of this world, because the justice of this world is far less than perfect, to override our concern of the souls of dead sinners, so that we will waste our time fighting the powers that be in this world? Let us practice living peaceful lives, respecting all authorities, knowing that God is working everything for his good pleasure.

Therefore, let us be kind and gracious to all men. If we know the grace of God in Christ to us, which passes understanding, how can we not be gracious to others? It’s logical, but how quickly to we begin acting like somehow we deserve God’s grace? If the Scriptures teach us anything, it’s that we in no way deserve to be God’s chosen people. We didn’t earn it, and so how can we look down upon others who have no received the same grace as we have, when we were once just like they are, and when it is only God’s intervening grace that has made the difference in our lives? Let us not be haughty, walking around with our noses in the air, as if somehow our status of as heirs of eternal life is something that we have earned. For we did not. Even the faith that we have in Christ is a gift of God. So let us be loving and gracious to all people, not matter how annoying and unreasonable they might be. Because we were once exactly the same. Let us show love to them in the way that we act around them, and speak to them, and pray that God would give them the same gift of faith that he has given you. Otherwise, you’re acting as if you’ve never experienced God’s grace in Christ at all. Let us be loving and kind to all people.

The grace of God has appeared to us in our Savior Jesus Christ, through whom the Holy Spirit has regenerated us, so that we have been justified and made heirs, according to the hope of eternal life.  Amen.

The Creator Who Became One of Us to Recreate Us

“Molinos La Mancha” from wikimedia commons

In the third century an insidious heresy infected the the still young Church of Jesus Christ. A presbyter from Alexandria, Egypt named Arius taught a new doctrine about Christ that seemed to make sense to the human mind, in an attempt to make the Lord Jesus more palatable to non-believers. He taught that Jesus the Son of God was the first creation of God the Father, not eternally with the Father. Frequently the motive of evangelism becomes the seed that produces false teaching in the Church, which is all the more reason for us to zealously guard the faith that we have been delivered. Because of the controversy that this teaching, known as “Arianism” produced in the Roman Empire, Emperor Constantine called a council of bishops representing all of the Christian Churches to a city called Nicaea in the year 312 A. D. Notable among the bishops was one St. Nicholas of Myra, who legendarily defended Christ’s divine nature at the council. The result of this godly council of church fathers was a creed, which, with some additions made at the Council of Constantinople some years later, produced what we confess as the Nicene Creed, a statement that summarizes our Christian Faith, especially when it comes to the person of Jesus Christ, who, being eternally begotten of the Father, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, became man, by taking unto himself a true human nature, in the womb of the virgin Mary. He is and remains God and man in one person forever. Following the Council of Nicaea, this doctrine was preached by great men of God such as the Cappadocian Fathers: Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory Nazianzus, and Basil the Great, and by John Chrysostom, that “golden-mouthed” preacher at the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. During this time the festival of the Nativity on December 25th was becoming popular in the churches. The Greek fathers used it as a tool to promote the true doctrine of Christ and to systematically eliminate Arianism by setting aside one day in the year to preach on the birth of the God-man. The chief feature of the festival was the preaching of Christ. As Gregory of Nyssa stated, “What better way is there to celebrate Him who is the Word, than by preaching the Word?” One of the key passages the church fathers used to derive the doctrine of Christ was the opening verses of John’s gospel, which says,

John 1:1 KJV* In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God.

The Greek work here translated “Word” is “Logos.” This is a term that the apostle John, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is borrowing from Greek Philosophy. According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, “Logos” is “(Greek: “word,” “reason,” or “plan”) plural logoi, in Greek philosophy and theology, the divine reason implicit in the cosmos, ordering it and giving it form and meaning.” John makes use of this term from Greek philosophy to teach us that God the Son is that divine reason who controls the cosmos.

In an echo of Genesis 1:1, which begins, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…”, John starts off his gospel with the words, “In the beginning was the Word” aka. Logos. God the Son is from the beginning. He is not becoming as we are. We who are created beings are always changing. Even the cells of our body die and reproduce themselves throughout our lives, so that we are not what we were months ago. In contrast the Word never changes. He is from the beginning. He has no beginning himself. “In the beginning” here indicates that he already existed before anything had begun, meaning that he is without beginning. He was there before anything as we know it, before anything in this mutable creation, existed. He was “with God”, indicating in the original language a close intimacy, that of him who was in the bosom of the Father from the beginning.

3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

This Word is the Creator. It was he who is indicated by Moses in the words of Genesis 1:3, “God said let there be light, and there was light.” There is nothing made that he did not make. He is the Maker of everything that exists, other himself, that is, God.

4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

Light indicates reason and knowledge, the opposite of ignorance and superstition. Not only Does Christ enlighten, illuminate those who come to him, there is no knowledge that anyone has on earth, except that which is a gift from him. Even those who deny and reject him still retain some glimmer’s of God’s image in them, like when they invent efficient data storage systems or paint inspiring paintings on canvas. This skill and knowledge they owe to the Son of God who is their Creator.

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
7 The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.  8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.

John the Baptizer was he who was foretold by the prophet Malachi. He was the one who came in the spirit and power of Elijah, who wore hair clothing and a leather belt just like Elijah the Tishbite. Malachi prophesies of the one who would prepare the way for the LORD YHWH. This is yet another proof that the to whom John pointed his hearers, that is Jesus of Nazareth, is none other than God himself. He prepared the way for the Lord Jesus by preaching repentance, a turning a way from sin to God, to the nation of Israel, preaching in the desert. He pointed his hearers forward to place faith in him who was to come, whose sandals John said that he was not worthy to stoop down and untie.

9 That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.
11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not.

God the Son is the origin of all knowledge. Every human being living in this world, or deceased in the past, owes him all credit for any knowledge that he has. He was rejected, not only by those he had created, but even worse, by the nation of Israel that he had taken under his special care and saved from slavery in Egypt, the people with whom he had made a covenant so that they would be his own cherished possession.

12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:

But for all those who receive him by faith, of whatever nation, he grants the power, the authority, the legal adoption papers, to them as adopted children of their loving heavenly Father. This right or status is procured by faith, which is the open hand that simply receives God’s free gift of Christ the Savior, sent for them.

13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

This faith does not come naturally to man, who is fallen in sin, and would rather shake his fist at God and spit in his face every day than be adopted into his family. But there is a miracle of grace that the Holy Spirit mentions here, that changes the sinner, making the heart new. Then, instead of hating God, the reborn sinner loves and wants to serve him. This change is not achieved by an act of the will. It is a sovereign act of God upon the soul. It is the Lord Jesus who regenerates, who makes sinners to be born again, by his Spirit working in and upon them.

14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

This word was made flesh. He became man in the womb of a young woman named Mary, by taking to himself a full yet previously un-impersonated human nature, in one person. This is a very important teaching of Scripture, as the church fathers that we previously spoke of knew well. They knew that it was only through the Mediator who is fully God and fully man in one person forever, that we sinners can be reconciled to our heavenly Father whom we have offended by sin. The Mediator must be God, and he must be one of us, or he cannot be our Mediator, the Christ. He dwelt among us, or literally, he “made his tent” among us, by taking to himself a human nature.

Christ, being God and Creator, became human in order that those who believe in him will be adopted as sons, those who have been born of God unto faith.

Christ is God.  He is the true God. He is the one who controls the universe. This means that everyone is obligated to obey him, everywhere. No matter who you are or where you come from, Christ Jesus is God of you. You are required to obey him because you inhabit his universe. Because he works everything out exactly according to his plan, those who are his know that nothing can hurt them. He holds them in the palm of his hand and nothing can ever go wrong. They are in his plan and loving grip.

Christ is the Creator.  Everything was made by him. There is nothing in this word that was not made by him. The Creator also has the power to recreate. For although he made everything “very good”, as we learned in Sunday School, yet man has sinned against him. So because of his tender and loving mercy, the Creator became like one of his creatures, in order to restore what had been marred by sin, his image in man.

Christ became a human being in order to bring us adoption as sons of the Father. He accomplished this by dying for us on the cross, taking away the guilt of our sin, and reconciling the Father to us, and us to the Father, so that we would become recipients of the grace of God in him, and beloved children of the Father. The change that he wrought in us is ultimately not dependent upon any contribution of ours or act of our will. It is the gift of God.

Christ, being God and Creator, became human in order that those who believe in him will be adopted as sons, those who have been born of God unto faith.  Therefore, let us believe in him. Let us receive this free gift of God with an open hand, let us receive Christ. Let us trust and believe in him every day, when we sin, when we feel guilty, and when we stumble. For even though we have been born again of our heavenly Father, we are not free from sin in our lives entirely. It is a gradual process of restoration, as God’s image in us is brought back more and more, little by little until the day that we die or that Christ returns, whichever is first.

Let us rejoice in the Savior. We who deserve only the wrath of God, have been adopted as his dear children. Let us rejoice in our Lord Jesus Christ, who became one of us to save us from the wrath of God that we so surely deserve.

If we have experienced his grace, if we truly love our Father, as his own adopted children, we will not be able to keep this good news to ourselves. We who have experienced love will want others to experience it, too. We will take opportunities to share this good news with others, as witnesses to the grace of God, as he gives us opportunity, to friends, neighbors, family, co-workers, and strangers.

Let us beware of false teachers who teach contrary to the doctrine of Christ as revealed in Scripture, who teach like Arius in ancient times that the Son of God was made like Mormonism or Jehovah’s Witnesses, and also shun any thought that he is less than fully human, like the Monophysites of old who thought that Christ was only of a divine nature, and only appeared as a man, for only the One who is God and Man in one person, the God-man, Jesus Christ the Lord, can save us. He is our Mediator.

Christ, being God and Creator, became human in order that those who believe in him will be adopted as sons, those who have been born of God unto faith.  Amen.

The preceding is a synopsis of a sermon preached on December 28, 2014 at the Reformed Fellowship of Bellevue in Bellevue, Nebraska.

*The King James Version is used here since it is free from copyright restriction within the United States.