“They are liars. They are savage animals. They are lazy gluttons.” No, I am not talking about some of our politicians although this description may be applicable to them. This was St. Paul’s assessment of the people of Crete. Crete was that island in the Mediterranean Sea just south of the southern tip of Greece. Crete is only 156 miles long and from 7 to 30 miles wide. This became the home of one of Paul’s spiritual appointees: Titus. It would be in the midst of this kind of people that Titus would conduct the ministry of Law and Gospel appointing additional men to serve the spiritual needs of this little island. Thus, the letter begins with the qualifications of a pastor.
Yet, in the midst of these people and in the midst of their unsavory life, Paul drops a bombshell of the Gospel, indeed, one of the most concise and clear statement of God’s Grace. It is this statement we consider this day:
HOW DOES GOD SAVE?
- BY GRACE NOT BECAUSE OF WORKS
- BY THE BATH OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.
By Grace, not because of works.
Paul takes a few words to remind Titus and the Cretans about their former life as a contrast to the mercy God has shown them:
For we too were once foolish, disobedient, deceived. We were enslaved to many kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in resentment and jealousy being hated and hating one another.
This is a description of what they were and what the people around them still were. One of the key words in this description is “enslaved.” “Enslaved” means to be in servitude to another. They were once enslaved with no means of freeing themselves. They were enslaved to foolishness. The Greek word means to be mindless and without understanding. The mind then controls the thoughts and will which in the case of the unregenerate, leads to disobedience. They were enslaved to the deception of the false teachings of the paganism all around them. This enslavement bound them to the chains of lusts and pleasures of all kinds, as well as envy and hatred. And most tragically, they were enslaved to Satan. This is the pathetic case of the Cretans. They were helplessly enslaved in sin and the utter darkness unbelief.
However, this is not merely the plight of the Cretans, but the plight of all who are born of the flesh. As Jesus notes in our Gospel, “What is born of the flesh is flesh.” In this letter of Paul, we have a vivid description of the nature of the “flesh.” Should we not rejoice that none of the sinful adjectives described by Paul, apply to us?
- We never do foolish things and let our heart guide us in our actions do we?
- We never follow our own will and thoughts which we know run counter to God’s Word and will, do we?
- And praise God, we never entertain an impure thought of lust or resentment against another, or become jealous of what other have or kindle thoughts of hatred.
- Oh no, we are always tenderhearted…well until someone cuts us off in traffic.
- We are always kind…well to most people who show kindness to us.
- And we are so humble…always thinking of others over ourselves.
- And patient…my goodness how patient we are especially to our spouse.
- And on top of it all, we are the virtue of contentment, never complaining one little bit….well until the weather is to hot or until we feel we are offended by something or when we notice others seem to have goodies we don’t.
- And we are the epitome of forgiveness. Just think of all the people who have thrived under our forgiving and gentle voice…well except for that jerk that gives us the California wave. Aren’t we great people? God should be so proud to have us in His Kingdom as His disciples.
Is it not rather that God should hide His face from us? Is it not rather that God should turn His back on us as He did with Jesus on the cross and let us endure eternally the lake burning with fire and Sulphur? We have shown ourselves to be disobedient and foolish just like the Cretans. Verse 3 is most revealing for it shows the total absence of any goodness in our unregenerate past and the presence of nothing but sin and unbelief.
Dear Christian, in the light of their background as heathens and disobedient Cretans, St. Paul now drops the bombshell of the Gospel. It explodes in their midst and destroys the pride and arrogance of freeing themselves from the bonds of slavery to sin. And it is here this day also to explode in our midst. Here is that bombshell:
But when God our Savior showed how kind He is and how He loves us, He saved us, not because of any righteous works which we have done, but because of His mercy.”
The whole Gospel is compressed into this one sentence. This is like an atomic bomb being dropped on our life of sin and continued sin. Notice the lack of the Law. With these words, the Law is blown up. Notice the lack of any demands on your part. With these words, the demands of the Law become rubble. Notice the use of the words, “kindness,” “love” and “mercy.” With these words, our Savior obliterates our sin, Satan and hell itself. Our blessed Savior saved us, not because we were so delightful in His eyes, but simply because of His love for you the sinner. That love found its expression in the cross of Christ where Jesus suffered the full effects of the Lake of Fire for you. Praise God, you will never see the shores of that lake or have to bathe in it.
BY THE BATH OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.
In speaking of a bath, Paul now turns our attention to the bath our Savior prepared for us:
He saved us by the bath in which the Holy Spirit gives us a new birth and a new life. He poured out a rich measure of this Spirit on us through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we who were justified by His grace might become heirs in keeping with the hope of everlasting life.
The Greek word for “bath” here in the text of St. Paul loutrou or washing. This is the same word Paul uses in connection with Baptism in Acts 22, “Be baptized and have your sins washed away.” Our Savior loves you and all sinners so much that He instituted a special means by which He will accomplish your salvation. The words of Paul are meant to be of eternal comfort as we struggle with our sin: He saved you by the divine act of Baptism. Yes, it makes no sense. But Jesus tells us that already in the Gospel text this morning:
Do not be surprised when I tell you that you must all be born again. The wind blows where it pleases and we hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it is coming from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
But while this bath of the Holy Spirit makes no sense to the human reason, it is the manner in which and through which God wants to save you. This bath or washing effects regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. Regeneration is simply the new birth of which Jesus speaks in our Gospel for today. John speaks of this in his epistles and it is always in the passive. In other words, Baptism is God’s gracious action on the sinner, not the sinner’s action. In your Baptism, you were passive whereas God is active with His mercy on you. God saved you by means of Baptism in which He placed the life, death and resurrection of Christ. That is what Paul means when He says, “Through Jesus Christ our Savior.” Because it is “Through Jesus Christ,” and not through you and your sinful life, you can put that up against all the accusations of Satan, all the feelings of doubt that haunt you because of your sin. God has saved you. As Paul says in verse 8, “You can depend on this statement.”
You see, when Jesus says, “Unless a man is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God,” it is not Law, but Gospel. Christ is inviting us to come to the font. He invites us to drink from that font for the rest of our lives. This is what Paul means when he writes, “The Holy Spirit gives us a new birth and a new life.” Through Holy Baptism, we no longer live the life of a pagan and heathen bound for the eternity of hell. Our life is now bound up in the life, death and resurrection of Christ:
All of us who were Baptized into Christ Jesus, were baptized into His death. Now when we were baptized into His death we were buried with Him so that, as Christ was raised from the dead with the same glory as the Father’s we too will live a new life.
This is a life, not bound to the Law, but one lived under the freedom of the grace of God. God placed, not merely purpose in baptism, but result: “so that we who were justified by His grace might become heirs in keeping with the hope of everlasting life.” Through baptism in the Name of the Triune God, the Holy Spirit writes us into God’s will; we become heirs. That inheritance is more than the riches of this life. That inheritance is eternal life.
So I think I know what you might be thinking. Pastor, do you mean to tell me I have all of this because of Holy Baptism? You mean to tell me that in Baptism my sins disappear, my life is now pleasing to God and I will inherit everlasting life? NO. This is what the God of all creation is telling you. He has put His Name and reputation on the line in Baptism by commanding it be done in the Name of the Triune God. “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit.” His Name stands behind the promises in your Baptism. As Paul says, “You can depend on this statement.” Go in peace. Amen.