SERMON: The Apostle Paul's Creed (Titus 3:3-8)
1. A Creed of Life
If I were to ask you to write a creed summarising what people believe, what would you say? If I were to ask you to write a creed, which summarised what made you tick, what would come up with? Would the two creeds be the same, or would they be very different?
You know, whenever I read the headlines or watch the news, one of the things I get is a very negative view of the world. There seems to be a lot of people who seem only concerned with looking after themselves. As a consequence the world seems to be full of greed, violence, selfishness and lack of concern for others.
And that’s not just true of groups like Islamic State, or places where people are being persecuted for their faith, it’s also true of our own culture – which tends to be a very me-centred culture – where the main concern is often “what is in it for me”.
Of course, there are some positive stories too, but the news does rather reflect the more negative things in life. And if I were to write a creed which tried to sum up the things that we see and read about – even from a cultural point of view – I would probably come up with something like this:
I believe in putting myself first. I believe in doing what I want, when I want. I believe that God will be there for me, when I want something, and I need call on him only when it suits me. I believe that the world should revolve around me, and that the things that matter are my wealth, and my happiness. And I believe that no matter what I do, when I die I will be with God in eternity.
Creeds… they are formal statements of the things that make us tick. They sum up the basic principles of what we believe – the things that dictate our every action. And, if you think that my creed is too negative, too rough, then think of this: The Apostle Paul also wrote about the things that were important in people’s lives; he too wrote a negative comment about what made people tick.
But fortunately he also provided a positive statement about what it means to be a Christian. And they are both available for us to read in the passage from Titus today.
B. THE APOSTLE PAUL’S CREEDS
1. A Theology of Life (v3)
And if you didn’t like my observations of the world, then you certainly won’t like Paul’s. Because Paul described the behaviour of people – which reflects what people believe – in terms of being ‘foolish, disobedient, misled and slaves to various desires and pleasures’. Furthermore, he describes the world as a place where ‘wickedness and envy, being hateful and hating one another’, is the order of the day.
Now whichever creed – Paul’s or mine – that you think is the most accurate – it’s not a pretty picture. But before we start pointing the finger and saying, ‘that’s other people not us,’ Paul points out, that at one time or another, we were all like that.
So, you see, when we think of the world, it’s not just everyone else who’s gone crazy. It’s not just everyone else who’s gone mad, and we’re exempt. From a theological perspective, and looking through God’s eyes, we’re all the same. Whatever we are like now, at one time we all met that same negative criteria.
2. A Theology for Life (v4-8)
But fortunately for us, Paul doesn’t leave it there. He offers us an alternative; another way of thinking and behaving. And if we were to rearrange the order of this passage, into a format that we would find far more familiar, we would come up with another creed – a theology of life far different from the observation of the world. And this is what it we would find:
I believe in… God (vs 4 & 8). I believe in… Jesus Christ (v6); our saviour (v6); who appeared to us (v4); who saved us (v5). I believe in… the Holy Spirit (v5); who renews things (v5). I believe in … the washing of rebirth (v5); the forgiveness of sins (v 7); that we are heirs of God (v7); and the life everlasting (v7).
Now isn’t that a far more positive and uplifting creed? It describes a belief and a lifestyle very different from the world that we see. It’s a life which begins with our slates wiped clean;
and a life where we are reborn, and have help to live a life fitting for God.
3. The Choice of Alternatives
Now sit the two creeds side by side, and we have alternatives that are as different as chalk and cheese. And I think Paul deliberately put them side by side – so that he could then ask people to choose.
The alternatives… We can continue to be foolish, disobedient, misled and slaves to various desires and pleasures – the kinds of things that we see in our papers, and on the news – the things we witness in the world around us. Or we can accept a life of faith, with God at the centre of our lives – a life in which our slates are wiped clean, and where we are provided with help to live a life fitting for God
And for Paul, it’s either or – not a bit of both.
Of course reading about, and comparing Paul’s two creeds is one thing. But how do you switch from one to another? How do you move from a life of worldly thinking to a life with God at the centre? After all, it’s easy to repeat the details of the story of Jesus’s birth, death and resurrection, and the story of the giving of the Holy Spirit, which are all alluded to in this passage. But simply knowing the story is not enough. So what do we do? How can we make that switch?
Well I’m going to suggest there are two things that we need, both of which are recorded in this passage. We need to have our past slate wiped clean (the forgiveness of sins); and we need to be reborn and renewed to live a different, a more godly life (made possible through the gift of the Holy Spirit).
1. Forgiveness of Sins
So forgiveness of sins… how does that work? How do we change from being worldly to godly? How can we put away the foolishness, disobedience, being misled and slaves to various desires and pleasures? Well the short answer is we can’t – at least not on our own. We need God to help us.
We can’t simply decide to switch from one lifestyle to another – it doesn’t work. And even if we could, we would still be carrying all the dirt we had accumulated up to that point. So, using our own efforts, on our past alone we can never be clean.
Switching from worldly ways to godly ways requires our past, and our sins to be dealt with – everything we’ve done wrong since the day we were born. That’s why the Apostle Paul’s Creed is so important. Because it recognises our inability to save ourselves. It adds in aspects of God’s character which you won’t find in many creeds – God’s grace (vs 4 & 7), and God’s mercy (v 5).
And lest we think that somehow we can cancel out our mistakes by doing good things, Paul tells us (v 5) that even that is not enough.
Now I have been a clergyman a long time. I was made a deacon in 1983 and a priest in 1984. And I cannot remember the number of times I have heard people say that they (or a loved one) have lived good lives, and on that basis they are sure that when they die they will go to heaven. It is a common belief in our culture, and at funerals, in particular, it is very common to hear those sentiments.
And yet that is not what Jesus taught, it is not what the Bible teaches, and it is clearly not what Paul teaches here. The reality is that only God can wipe our slates clean, and only Jesus could pay the price for our sins. And if we suggest otherwise we are simply fooling ourselves.
To be forgiven requires faith; faith in God that he will deal with our sins.
2. Help with living a new life
And when our lives are wiped clean… well that’s when the Holy Spirit really comes to the fore. Because the Holy Spirit – a gift from God to every believer – is the person given to us, to help us in our journey of faith.
According to Jesus the Spirit is given to convict of guilt, to show the way of righteousness, and to prepare for a time of judgement (Jn 16:8-11). His role is also to guide the faithful in all truth, to be God’s messenger, and to bring glory to Jesus (Jn 16:13-14). He will give God’s people power, and enable them to witness (Acts 1:8). And the list goes on…
Now at this point it wouldn’t be too hard to hear an objection or two. After all, “Having been saved, surely we should be able to just get on with living a better life on our own – we don’t need the Holy Spirit.” Unfortunately that is the very attitude behind the problem of sin in the first place – putting ourselves before God. And left to our own devices, we would just continue to be the way that we’ve always been. We would continue with more foolishness, disobedience, being misled, and being slaves.
But there’s a second objection… “If our slates are wiped clean, and if we are being prompted by the Holy Spirit, then how come envy, greed etc. etc. is still evident in the church today?”
Now the problem is this question has a point. Because even within the church we see elements of foolishness, disobedience, being misled, and slaves to various desires and pleasures. And indeed, enslavement to traditions, and the love of the bricks and mortar of our churches are two such examples.
But the reality is that the Holy Spirit doesn’t force us to do things, he doesn’t stop us making mistakes. We are not robots. We have a lot to learn, but we have a lot to unlearn too. Renewal takes time, as the spirit gently nudges and guides us through the rest of our lives.
But the Spirit can be resisted too – we can decide not to follow its promptings. Which is why at the end of this passage Paul encourages us to be careful, to commit ourselves to the Spirit’s leanings – and to devote ourselves to the things of God (v8).
The idea is, that having had the past wiped clean, and having been given the Holy Spirit, we should then go on and be remade and moulded into the people God created us to be.
I believe in the forgiveness of sins, and I believe in the Holy Spirit, are two essential elements of any creed for life. And where those two things are missing, there is only dirt followed by more dirt, which is hardly a recipe for life.
Now I began by asking you to consider writing a creed – indeed two creeds – one for the world, and one for yourself. Then we compared the creed that I proposed for the world, with Paul’s description of a world of foolishness, disobedience, being misled and being slaves. And to our shame, we found that Paul’s description of the world was the description of us all.
For Paul, there is no point in figure pointing. There is no “some are better than others.” We were all tarred with the same brush. But what is important is whether we have shifted from a life based around “what’s in it for me” to a life centred upon God.
There are two elements of Paul’s creed that I have emphasised today; two elements that are at the heart of what Paul had to say – our need for our sins to be forgiven, and our need for the Holy Spirit to show us the way. Both of those things we need, but for both of these things we need to depend upon God.
So, yes, we may all know people who believe that no matter what they do, that when they die they will go to heaven. And we may all know people who believe that leading good lives now, will make up for any past mistakes. But what we have seen is that none of us can get to heaven without God’s help.
We need God’s forgiveness, and we need his guidance. We need both, and we need to rely on God for both. We can’t do either on our own.
So is God’s forgiveness of our sins part of our own personal creed? And does our personal creed include the need of God’s help to live our lives?
Well, I sure it hope it does. Because then we can join in the celebration of God coming to our rescue, and rejoice that we are not left on our own in our ongoing walk with God.
Posted: 18th October 2015
© 2015, Brian A Curtis