The role of God’s grace in salvation is well known to Christians. We learn that in the Christian context ‘grace’ does not mean ‘moving in an elegant manner’ – the way most people understand the word, but refers to God’s unmerited favour. Specifically, ‘while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us… being now justified by his blood, we will be saved from God’s wrath through him.’(Romans 5:8-9). In other words we’re saved from God’s wrath by Jesus dying in our place, something He did for us while we were still sinners, i.e. we did not deserve it – it was unmerited favour. Moreover, God even gave us the faith to accept this unmerited favour, ‘by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works’(Ephesians 2:8-9).
But that’s not all God’s grace does for us. Although Paul starts here, ‘the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men’ he continues, ‘instructing us to the intent that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we would live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world; looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ’.
The word translated here ‘instructing’ means more than just passively dictating laws for us to obey in our own strength. It can be translated ‘trains’ or ‘disciplines’; i.e. after we’ve been saved by God’s grace we are actively trained and disciplined by it. The chief agent in this process is the Holy Spirit, on whom we must depend for training into spiritual fitness. Human effort, although important and required, alone will never achieve spiritual growth. Real spiritual growth happens by God’s grace, through the Holy Spirit. The Spirit graciously indwells, motivates and enables us. Our role is to live and walk by His power, as Paul taught the Galatians, ‘walk by the Spirit, and you won’t fulfill the lust of the flesh…’(Galatians 5:16), ‘Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and lusts. If we live by the Spirit, let’s also walk by the Spirit.’(Galatians 5:24-25)
There are three key elements to this training: things to avoid, ‘ungodliness and worldly lusts’, things to work on, ‘live soberly, righteously, and godly’, and a right perspective to adopt, ‘looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ’.
First the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to the ugly reality of ungodliness and worldly pleasures, detoxifying us from the slavish pursuit of such empty cravings. In our dead spiritual state we’re strangely blind to the foolish destructiveness of pursuing such goals, as Paul explains in chapter 3, ‘we were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. But… he saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly, through Jesus Christ our Savior’(Titus 3:3-6).
Next He helps us to ‘live… godly’. This (obviously the opposite of ungodliness) could be defined as God becoming our desire and pleasure. It’s something that doesn’t come naturally to us in our pre-Christian dead spiritual state. It’s ignited in us by ‘the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit’(Titus 3:5) mentioned by Paul above. Miraculously God becomes the object of our desire and love. We enjoy engaging with His mind through Bible study and prayer. We delight in pleasing Him by living ‘soberly, righteously’, i.e. self controlled and obedient ‘godly’ lives.
Finally, we develop a right perspective ‘in this present world’. Most athletes don’t train just for the sake of training, but are spurred on by thoughts of finishing line glory. Just so the Christian. We’re training, ‘in this present world; looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ’. Just as an athlete’s training is helped by keeping in mind the hope of future glory, so is Christian discipleship. As Paul exhorted the Corinthians, ‘Every man who strives in the games exercises self-control in all things. Now they do it to receive a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible.’(1 Corinthians 9:25)
So let us reject and neglect worldly attractions, embrace and cultivate Godly affections and run with the Spirit into eternity with God.