Proclaim, serve, and repeat with a never-dulling rhythm

May 20, 2016  |  Craig St. John

By Teena Dare

Ever wonder why Sunday mornings are so repetitive? From the worship liturgy to the all-of-life interviews to the sermon—we hear the same Gospel message again and again…. I’ve endured nearly 8 years of this redundancy, but I keep coming back. Do we just lack creativity; do we need to change it up?

Paul would say no. The author of Titus and much of the New Testament prided himself “to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2).

The Gospel is our beginning and our end. There is nothing in this life that is above or below or beside the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Because the Gospel isn’t just an idea.

In the beginning God, man, and woman dwelled together and were co-laborers, cultivating and caring for the good and beautiful world that God had created. When Adam and Eve chose sin over trust, the effects of that sin took root in every aspect of our world—distorting creation’s ubiquitous goodness. Distorting, but not destroying. God made his world good, and he will make it good again. Every aspect of this material world matters to him—it only continues to exist because he sustains it. The enemy was not victorious, and God has no plans to start over. In fact, after the great flood, God made a covenant with his creation, “When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” (Genesis 9:16). A rainbow, the brilliant spectacle that appears when rain and sun share the sky. God’s original covenant with Abraham was reaffirmed generation after generation, even in the face of brazen rebellion from his people. It was up to him to fulfill his promises.

And so he did. This Gospel story climaxes with the God of the universe dying at the hands of sinful man, breaking free from the bonds of death, and leading the way for all of creation. The Gospel was good news to Paul’s original audience because it was true and because it fundamentally changed all of reality…forever. Paul doesn’t tire of preaching the Gospel, because it will never cease to be the central event in all of human history. The unlying, unchanging God fulfilled his promise and carved out a new way for us to dwell and co-labor with him again. Jesus is the hero in this story; his world is both the subject and setting; and by his grace, he invites us to play a part.

…But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7)

Our God is, was, and will forever be relational—Father, Son, and Spirit bound together by perfect love. He created us to reflect this nature and be bound by love to him and one another. When sin fractured the bonds of love, God could have reprogrammed us to be bound by something else, software perhaps. (Imagine: a bunch of little Siris running around always mysteriously unable to help with anything pertinent.) He could have taken away the authority he gave us as co-laborers in his world. But God, in line with his character, chose to come as a person, to become personal to us once again. He chose to show us kindness…to wash, regenerate, and renew us by his very Spirit, pouring it out liberally through his Son, sealing us with a faithful promise that it would NEVER be taken away. Forever changed by the reality of the Gospel. God planted his flag in the truth that love is powerful and that in order for us to be wholly human, reflecting the image of God, we must be deeply loved.

And finally we get to our lone verse for this week: “The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.” (Titus 3:8)

The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things.

Repetition insists that we pay attention. Paul repeats himself, our pastors repeat themselves, and I now repeat the things they repeat…. But, why? How could saying the same thing over and again really produce something new?

And I repeat…The Gospel fundamentally changed ALL of reality- forever. Therefore, when we talk about roles in the family, civic engagement, art, food, foreign policy, sports, nature, morality, justice—we must start by insisting on the trustworthiness of the Gospel to inform and empower our thoughts and behaviors.

As Riccardo said on Sunday, you can look like an orange and smell like an orange apart from the Gospel. I’ve done many good works for people, desiring human approval or increased righteousness before God. These “ornamental orange” works only leave me wanton for love and acceptance. Not to mention, they will always lead to burnout and are often done at the expense of the ones we love the most. But the Gospel provides another way.

Here’s the thing: when there is literally nothing that we can do to gain better standing with God, when our works add nothing to our righteousness or status as sons and daughters, it is then that we are free. We are free to love because we are wholly loved. And we receive the most unthinkable invitation: to bring joy and blessing to God through our good works, and join him as co-workers in creating and restoring every aspect of life.

…so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works.

Paul doesn’t tell Titus to insist on the Gospel, so that people can feel good about themselves while continuing to do whatever they feel like. Rather he understands that God’s love for us (while we were still sinners) leads us to love him with our minds, hearts, soul, and strength. And in this new Gospel reality, this looks like a life transformed in community by the power of the Holy Spirit. The saying is indeed trustworthy—God is faithful to us through the work of Christ. But do we love him? Have we made ourselves vulnerable to what he has to say to us. Have we invited him to challenge us, heal us, transform us?

One of the most harmful falsehoods of recent evangelical teaching is that one can have faith in God apart from any sort of change in heart or action. Even the demons believe and shudder!  But they don’t entrust themselves to him. By definition, faith is more than believing—it is committing ourselves to an all-consuming, Holy God who is fervently working to redeem us and the rest of his creation. James reiterates, for as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. (James 2:19, 26). Works are the substance, the outworking of a breathing faith in a loving God.

These things are excellent and profitable for people.

How do we let others know about this new reality that we see into? Well, if you’re reading this, you’ve been blessed with the ability to communicate verbally. Jesus is the Word, and he has given us his true story through the words in Scripture. Therefore, a central way to reveal this truth is by telling people about it. But if our words have the sweet smell of citrus, beckoning others to come and taste of the goodness of our God, only to discover that we are bitter and sour inside…If people are spurned by our selfishness, racist attitudes, apathy towards the brokenness in the world or those who are forgotten amidst our self-righteous striving…then we confess a God that can’t be trusted.

And since God restores us through relationship, he calls us to do the same thing. Love others—reveal my nature, your nature. As Riccardo said, we are not called to “drive-by evangelism”. Before the Great Commission, there was the Great Commandment. Our works of love become a light illuminating the truth of the Gospel that changed reality forever. Let’s join together to experience this Gospel so that we can devote ourselves to good works that are excellent and profitable for all people.