By Ricky Chelette, Executive Director
“At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” (Titus 4:3-5)
We live in a work oriented world. We spend the majority of our lives seeking to be productive people. As a result, we often apply that work orientation to our faith and salvation. We want to work our way to God’s good graces.
But Paul’s letter to Titus corrects our misconceptions of work and salvation in this powerful passage.
Paul, like all good evangelists, wants Titus to know how we lived our lives before we encountered God so we can appreciate what has been done for us. In Titus 3:3 Paul gives a list to remind: foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures, full of malice, envy and hate. This is, unfortunately, how we live apart from Jesus. We can’t help it, but we are responsible for it. It is sin, living and working its way out in our lives and seeking to destroy us.
But notice what happens in verse 4: “…the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared.”
Is that the first thought you have when you think of Jesus appearing on the scene of humanity? Do you think kindness and love? Or do you think judgment and punishment? And notice that it does not say, Jesus demonstrated kindness and love (though certainly He does), but that the One who appeared was kindness and love. These attributes are not merely actions of our God, they are the essence of who He is.
I’m inclined to think that most of us think of God primarily as judge and punisher, but we are wrong. John tells us specifically in John 3:17 “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”
Jesus showed up on earth and we were able to see the reality of the God who had been relentlessly pursuing redemption and reconciliation with His creation since the beginning of time. His very character of kindness motivated His actions. His embodiment of love covered a multitude of our sins.
But that is not all. Paul goes on to tell us, “but when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” His kindness and love (in the form of God the Son) precipitated a change in our lives. That change transformed us from the kingdom of darkness (all our former ways of living in verse 3), into a kingdom of light– a kingdom of kindness and love! We were “saved.” But how? How did this salvation take place? What did we do?
Here lies the greatest mystery of all and the truth that distinguishes Christianity from all other religious expressions on the planet. Paul makes it quite clear it was not “because of righteous things we had done.” In other words, we did not work our way into this relationship with God. We didn’t pass a test, check off a list of duties, or master a set of skills. The kindness and love of our Heavenly Father decided to act in an incredible way to save us and it had nothing to do with anything we did, but everything about who He is – kindness and love. It was his mercy that saved us!
We need mercy. We long for it every time we sin. It is, to be honest, the attribute of God we are most acquainted with because it is the one we are continually experiencing. We might not realize it, but if we don’t receive mercy on a minute by minute basis we are doomed. His mercy, that never-ending outpouring of kindness and love toward us that empowers our holy living, shields us from the wrath we all deserve.
As one who struggles with sexual temptations and an identity created out of my brokenness rather than my adoption as God’s child, I’m in constant need of God’s mercy. And so are we all. We work so hard to present ourselves as “perfect people,” doing the right things to be pleasing to as many people as we can. We transfer that sense of performance to God and think He operates the same way. He doesn’t.
Do you know the God of kindness, love and mercy? Why are those not the first words you think of when you describe Him? Have you received the kindness, love and mercy he longs to give you? Are you still trying to work your way into earning His love for you? If you sense His gentle wooing in your heart, He has already called you His beloved. Won’t you receive Him? His mercy is for you. His kindness is towards you. His love can transform your heart and life to make you all He has created you to be. Stop working so hard. Receive the kindness and love of God.