good deeds

Fruitful Faith

14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? 15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?

17 So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.

18 Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.”

19 You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. 20 How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless? – James 2:14-2 0NLT

Without the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, the Christian life would be impossible to pull off. Not only that, without the Holy Spirit, the hope of anyone becoming a Christian would be impossible. It is only by the work of the Spirit that anyone is transformed from darkness to light, from death to life, and from condemned sinner to forgiven saint. Paul told Titus that prior to the Spirit’s divine help, “we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other. ” (Titus 3:3 NLT). And Paul followed up this less-than-flattering portrait of our pre-salvation condition with some very good news.

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. – Titus 3:4-6 ESV

God saved us, out of His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit was made possible because of the sacrificial death of Jesus. His perfect obedience to the will of His Father, demonstrated by His incarnation and, ultimately, His crucifixion, is what made the Holy Spirit available to sinful men and women. And it is the Holy Spirit who gives new life to those dead in their trespasses and sins, enabling them to see for the very first time the wonderful gift of God’s grace as expressed through the sacrifice of His own Son for the sins of mankind. 

Yet, the Spirit is often treated like the red-headed stepchild of the Trinity. We can easily overlook His significance and under-appreciate His role in our spiritual lives. Or we can over-emphasize those aspects of the Spirit’s presence and power that are more flamboyant and fantastic. The gifts of the Spirit can suddenly become our primary focus, causing us to seek those gifts that come with greater authority, increased visibility, and that give us an air of superior spirituality. This was the problem Paul confronted among the believers in Corinth.

It seems that the congregation in Corinth was using the gifts of the Spirit as a litmus test for measuring spirituality. There were those who were guilty of viewing their particular gift as a badge of honor, rather than seeing it as an undeserved byproduct of the Spirit’s presence within them. And those who had the more flamboyant and visible gifts, such as tongues or prophecy, were wrongly assuming that their more spectacular gifts were proof of their superior spirituality. But Paul corrected this misperception.

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us. – 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 NLT

Each and every gift present within the church in Corinth had been given by the Spirit, based on His divine determination alone. It had nothing to do with the spirituality of the one receiving the gift. And just as with the fruit of the Spirit, the spiritual gift given by the Spirit was not intended for the blessing of the recipient.

A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. – 1 Corinthians 12:7 NLT

And every gift was necessary. There was no particular gift that carried greater weight or worth. The gifts, made possible by the Holy Spirit and meted out at His discretion, were intended to bless the body of Christ, not the individuals who possessed the gifts.

To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice; to another the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge. The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing. He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages, while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said. It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have. – 1 Corinthians 12:8-11 NLT

Don’t miss what Paul is saying here. Notice how many times he writes, “the Spirit gives.” There is no indication that any of the gifts are given based on merit. No, Paul states that it is the Spirit who distributes all these gifts and He alone decides which gift each person should have. It’s not based on personality, spirituality, or inherent capability. It is a gift, and it is intended for the well-being of the body of Christ.

So, what does this any of this have to do with the words of James concerning faith and works? Paul is talking about gifts given by the Spirit, and James seems to be talking about practical expressions of faith. Paul mentions such things as tongues, prophecy, healing, wisdom, and discernment, but James focuses on what appear to be more mundane and practical expressions of faith like sharing food or clothing with a brother or sister in need.

But there is a common thread between these two passages, and it has to do with our outward behavior. Both men are dealing with the outer expressions of our inward faith. Paul is discussing spiritual gifts, and James is dealing with practical manifestations of faith. And both men would strongly assert that any hope we have of doing either is based on God, not us. As Paul told the church in Philippi: “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (Philippians 2:13 NLT).

And James told the believers to whom he wrote, “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you” (James 1:5 NLT). James wanted them to know that God was the source of all their needs. Which is why he reminded them, “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father” (James 1:17 NLT).

Both of these men are dealing with the reality of the Spirit’s presence within us flowing out of us in practical ways that end up blessing all those around us. For James, the declaration of faith in Christ that wasn’t accompanied by Christ-like behavior was worthless. It wasn’t true, saving faith. Because saving faith results in the Spirit’s presence and power. And that power is practical, producing spiritual fruit that blesses all those around us and gifts that minister to the body of Christ. And not only that, the power of the Spirit is evidenced by the simple, yet practical ways in which we love and care for those around us.

James will not allow us to over-spiritualize our faith. He will not let us become so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good. Which is why he uses a very practical, real-life illustration to keep us grounded.

Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? – James 2:15-16 NLT

In Corinth, the believers were bickering over who had the most important spiritual gift. They were jockeying for position within the church based on what they believed to be the perceived importance of the various gifts. And, in doing so, they were missing the point entirely.

James was dealing with people who were putting way too much emphasize on their displays of religiosity. They were consumed with impressing one another and intent of giving the appearance of spirituality. But James wouldn’t let them get away with it.

If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. – James 1:26 NLT

They were guilty of showing partiality by showing preference for the haves over the have-nots. In doing so, they were violating the royal law: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (James 2:8 NLT).

The practice of partiality, the desire for prominence, the jockeying for spiritual stature, and the fruitlessness of faith are all constant dangers we face as believers. And Paul and James would both have us understand that any hope we have of avoiding these pitfalls is an awareness of our complete dependence upon the Holy Spirit’s presence and power. He has given us gifts, and they are meant to bless others. He will produce fruit that is meant for the good of others. And His power will result in good deeds being done by us – giving ample evidence that our faith is real.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

The Good and the Bad

8 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. 9 But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 10 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. – Titus 3:8-11 ESV

Paul has just reminded Titus of the core message of the gospel. Jesus Christ appeared in human form as a visible expression of God’s goodness and love. And Jesus proved the love of God by offering His own life as payment for the sins of humanity. His death made salvation possible, not based on mankind’s efforts to live righteous lives, but because of the mercy of God the Father. The death of Jesus on the cross provided a means for sinful man to be cleansed from his sins, and restored to a right relationship with God the Father. And with His resurrection and return to His Father’s side, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to indwell all believers. The result was their “new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5 NLT). And the Holy Spirit’s presence within the life of each and every believer is a guarantee of the eternal life awaiting them.

And Paul tells Titus that this is a trustworthy saying. It is pistos logos. These are words that can be relied upon and believed in. They are true and worthy of our trust because they hold the key to our present effectiveness and our future hope. The reason Paul can place such high expectations upon the believers on Crete is because of the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. His death has made possible a life filled with a never-before-available power to live above and beyond the norms of everyday life. A Christian is a new creation whose purpose for life has been radically changed because of his relationship with Jesus Christ. And Paul expects Titus to hold the believers on Crete to the higher standard that comes with their newfound status as God’s children. Jesus died in order that sinful men might be saved but also transformed. He didn’t just provide us with a clean slate, wiped free from the sin debt we owed. He made it possible for us to live righteous lives, and Titus was to “insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works” (Titus 3:8 NLT).

The good news regarding Jesus Christ is not just about gaining entrance into heaven some day. It’s about the daily manifestation of our faith through tangible works that reveal the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Notice what Paul told the believers in Ephesus:

For we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. – Ephesians 2:10 NLT

Paul insists that every believer is the handiwork of God. The Greek word he used is poiēma, and it refers to “the thing that is made.” Each and every believer is the work of God. No one saves themselves. No one becomes a Christian. The work of salvation is entirely up to God, from beginning to end, just as Jesus told the believers in Rome.

For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory. – Romans 8:29-30 NLT

Paul was consistently emphatic concerning the non-role man’s efforts play in salvation. “Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it” (Ephesians 2:9 NLT). The believer owes his salvation entirely to God.

…because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 1:30-31 ESV

But while man’s works cannot make him a Christian, they can certainly provide evidence that he is one. Which is the point of Paul’s letter to Titus. He wanted the believers on Crete to live their lives in the power of the Spirit, fulfilling His preordained plans He had in place for them. There was work to be done. There were lost individuals who needed to hear the gospel message. There was a divine strategy in place that called for all believers to live in obedience to God’s will and in total submission to His Spirit.

All that Paul has been sharing with Titus was to be considered good and beneficial. This wasn’t pie-in-the-sky-sometime kind of stuff. Christianity wasn’t to be viewed as some future escape plan from eternal torment. It was to be the key to abundant life in the present. And Paul lived his life that way, which is why he could so boldly states: “I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 NLT). Paul fully believed that his old self was crucified alongside Christ, “so that the body of sin might be rendered powerless” (Romans 6:6 BSB). In his own life, he had experienced the reality of his own teaching.

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. – Galatians 5:24 NLT

And if those old passions and desires have been nailed to the cross, it is essential that they be replaced with new passions and desires. The believer’s new nature in Christ should come to the fore, giving evidence of the power of God’s Spirit residing in him. So, all that Paul has instructed Titus to teach the believers on Crete is tied to the good works God has created them to accomplish. That includes submission, self-control, love, patience, temperance, kindness, sacrifice, and a host of other qualities that are in short supply in this world. Paul wanted the behavior of the believers on Crete to reflect what they said they believed.

…anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! – 2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT

Paul expected them to live new lives that reflected their new status as God’s adopted sons and daughters. From God’s perspective, they were new creations, so why would they continue to live as they once did? God had new things for them to do. He had a new way of living in store for them that was intended to prove the reality of their new identities.

Put on your new nature, created to be like God – truly righteous and holy. – Ephesians 4:24 NLT

The sad reality was that the local congregations on the island of Crete were struggling. There were those who had shown up in their assemblies who were causing dissension by teaching unadulterated lies. Arguments were breaking out within their gatherings. Sides were being taken, damaging the unity of the church. And Paul makes it brutally clear what Titus was to do with those who caused divisions within the local church.

As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him… – Titus 3:10 ESV

Remember, the point of Paul’s letter is godly behavior. He is calling all professing Christians to live as who they are: The sons and daughters of God. They are to reflect the character of Christ. They are to devote themselves to good works. Anything that distracts from the objective is to be avoided at all costs. Anyone who distorts or takes away from that goal is to be rejected as being warped, sinful, and self-condemning. These people were guilty of twisting or perverting the trustworthy word of the gospel, and their actions condemned them. As a result, they were to avoided like a plague. The spiritual well-being of the body of Christ was at risk and believers on Crete would find it nearly impossible to accomplish the good works God had for them to do as long as these individuals were allowed to remain in their midst. 

This false teaching is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough! I am trusting the Lord to keep you from believing false teachings. God will judge that person, whoever he is, who has been confusing you. – Galatians 5:9-10 NLT

Paul had no tolerance for false teachers and neither should they. Right living becomes next to impossible when wrong doctrine is allowed to exist. Accomplishing good works is difficult when bad teaching is left unchallenged in the church.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

He Saved Us.

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 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. 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. But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. – Titus 3:1-11 ESV

Having emphasized the grace of God, as revealed in His Son’s incarnation and substitutionary death on the cross, Paul now tells Titus to demand godly, grace-empowered living among the believers on Crete. He is to remind them that their behavior is exhibit Christ-like characteristics at all times. They are to be submissive to rulers and authorities. And that submission should include obedience and a willing to do the right thing at all times. Their speech should be devoid of all slander. Their words were to be used for good and not evil. They were to avoid quarreling, because it produces nothing of value. Instead, they were to exhibit a gentle or patient temperament, showing kindness or meekness to all people. And Paul seems to realize that Titus is going to get push-back from his parishioners, arguing that some people don’t deserve this kind of treatment. So, Paul tells Titus to simply remind the believers on Crete that they were once the same way.

Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other. – Titus 3:3 NLT

Paul was a big proponent of reflection. He saw value in looking back and recalling his pre-salvation status. And he encouraged other believers to do the same. He wrote to the believers in Corinth and reminded them of their condition before coming to faith in Christ.

Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 NLT

The grace of God made possible not only their salvation, but their ongoing transformation into the likeness of Christ. And it was important that they remember just exactly what is was their were saved from. Their ability to love others and see the lost as sinners in need of a Savior would be tied to their understanding of their own undeserving status when they were saved. Paul makes it quite clear.

When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he made us right in his sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life. – Titus 3:4-7 NLT

It was all the work of God. The believers on Crete had not earned their salvation. Their works of righteousness had not put them in a right standing with God. Notice how Paul drives home his point. He emphasizes God’s role in their salvation.

“He saved us…”

“He washed away our sins…”

“He gave us new life and new birth…”

“He generously poured out His Spirit…”

“He made us right…”

“He made us confident that we will inherit eternal life…”

It was all God’s doing. And they were never to forget that fact. As soon as we start believing that we somehow deserved or earned God’ salvation, we begin to believe that we are somehow better than those who are lost and remain unsaved. We see the sins of others as somehow greater than our own. We can become self-righteously superior in our thinking and highly selective when it comes to those whom we show respect, honor, mercy and love. But Paul would have us remember our undeserving status and how God showed us mercy and grace – totally undeserved mercy and grace. He sent His Son to die for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). “God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him” (1 John 4:9 NLT). God loved us while we were at our worst. He didn’t demand that we get our proverbial act together or stop sinning. He saved us while we were mired and enslaved to our sin.

And Paul is telling Titus to demand that the believers on Crete show their gratitude to God for all that He has done by showing mercy, kindness, and respect to all those they encounter. He tells Titus:

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. – Titus 3:8 ESV

They were to devote themselves, literally, to give attention to, good works. They were to be the protectors or guardians of good works, taking seriously their God-given responsibility to live Christ-like lives on this earth. They were to be the hands and feet of Christ, exhibiting the same attitude that He had.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. – Philippians 2:5-8 NLT

Jesus modeled humility and selfless service to others. He was the Son of God, and yet He did not think it beneath Himself to die on behalf of undeserving sinners. So, why is it so hard for us to die to ourselves and to live our lives in humble submission to God, serving those who are undeserving of our love?

Paul ends by providing Titus with a list of things for believers to avoid: “Do not get involved in foolish discussions about spiritual pedigrees or in quarrels and fights about obedience to Jewish laws” (Titus 3:9 NLT). These kinds of things are worthless and a waste of time. They produce nothing of value. They stir up anger and division. The produce pride and dissension. It was these kinds of distractions that the false teachers were bringing into the church. They weren’t unifying the church. They were dividing it. They weren’t encouraging humility and selflessness. They were promoting pride and a sense of spiritual superiority.

But Paul wants Titus and his fellow believers on Crete to remember one thing: God saved them. They had nothing to do with it. And their response should be one of gratitude and a willing submission to love others as they had been loved by God. They were to show grace to others because God had shown grace to them. They were to extend mercy to others, because had showered them with mercy. Our treatment of others should be a direct response to God’s treatment of us. He did not give us what we deserved. He gave us His Son and a means by which we could be made right with Him. He saved us. He washed and renewed us. He poured out His Spirit on us. And He has assured us of our future life with Him. All in spite of us, not because of us.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Totally Committed.

Titus 2

He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds. – Titus 2:14 NLT

The real point of Paul's letter to Titus is to stress and promote changed behavior in the lives of believers. This is not a treatise on behavior modification. In other words, Paul is not condoning that the believers on the island of Crete simply start trying to act differently and modify their actions through self-effort. That would be pointless and futile. No one can truly change themselves by themselves. But what Paul was encouraging Titus to look for and expect was a gradual change in the character and conduct of the people under his care. The inner presence of the Spirit of God combined with a steady diet of the Word of God should produce measurable change in the people of God.

Paul emphasizes that Titus must "teach what accords with sound doctrine" (Titus 2:1 NLT). Paul always made a direct correlation between what someone professed to believe and how they behaved. There was to be no disconnect or disagreement between the two. Orthopraxy – correct practice – was to flow from orthodoxy – correct beliefs. As far as Paul was concerned, the two were inseparable. And so he encouraged Titus to teach and promote the kind of behavior that was in keeping with sound doctrine. "No condition and no period of life is to remain unaffected by the sanctifying influence of the gospel" (J. J. Van Oosterzee, “The Epistle of Paul to Titus,” in Lange’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, 11:15). The Gospel was to be life-altering. It was to affect and infect every area of an individual's life. The Good News isn't just that we get to go to heaven when we die, but that we can be radically reformed in this life. We can live differently in the here-and-now, not just in the hereafter.

Paul wastes no time in getting specific. He tells Titus to "teach the older men to exercise self-control, to be worthy of respect, and to live wisely. They must have sound faith and be filled with love and patience" (Titus 2:2 NLT). Their faith must be practical and visible. They are to "act their age," and to reflect a measure of spiritual maturity that should come with age. All the characteristics Paul lists are marks of maturity.

Titus was to instruct older women "to live in a way that honors God" and expect them to "teach others what is good" (Titus 2:3 NLT). These women were to be mentors to the younger women in the church, teaching them how to live and love well. They were to model godly behavior and encourage younger women through example and exhortation. Godliness should be contagious. Godly conduct is not to be some subjective, arbitrary decision left up to the individual, but is to be based on the Word of God and modeled by those who have a strong faith in God.

Paul went on to instruct Titus regarding young men and even slaves. Everyone was expected to life differently. Godly conduct was not something reserved for the spiritual elite or the professional pastor. It was to be the aspiration and expectation of everyone who called themselves a Christ-follower. Every believer has been "instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures" and to "live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God" (Titus 2:12 NLT). We have been given the capacity to change. God doesn't leave it all up to us. He has placed His Spirit within us and provided His Word to guide us. But we must listen to what the Spirit says and obey what the Word commands. We must seek the wisdom of God in the Word of God. We must desire righteousness over unrighteousness. We must devote ourselves to God rather than to the things of this world. What makes this all possible is a proper perspective. Paul tells Titus to teach those under his care that right living here on this earth is best accomplished when "we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed" (Titus 2:13 NLT). In other words, an eternal focus will allow us to view life on this earth in the proper perspective. Godless living and sinful pleasures will lose their appeal when considered against the reality of our future hope. The more we learn to see ourselves as eternal, rather than temporal, creatures, the easier it will be to focus our attention on pursuing the kind of behavior that reflect who we really are.

The bottom line for Paul was that Jesus Christ "gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds" (Titus 2:14 NLT). He didn't just give His life to take us to heaven. He gave His life to transform us into His own likeness. And while that process will some day be completed in heaven, it is to be an ongoing part of our lives as we live on this planet. Becoming increasingly more like Christ is to be the goal of every individual who claims to be a follow of Christ. Our salvation is to result in our ongoing transformation and sanctification. What we believe about Christ should result in behavior that reflects Christ.

Father, we desperately need for our behavior to accurately reflect our beliefs. Too often, there is a disconnect between the two, which is why so many people refuse to have anything to do with Christianity or Christ. As Your own people, we can be the worst form of advertising when it comes to the Christian faith. We ask that You continue your transformative work in our lives, calling us to live differently and distinctively in this world. Give us an eternal perspective and a passion for godliness. Amen.

Be Ready To Be Used.

Proverbs 3

"Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it's in your power to help them. If you can help your neighbor now, don't say, 'Come back tomorrow, and then I'll help you.'" – Proverbs 3:27-28 NLT

God has us on this planet for a reason. He could have taken us when He saved us, but instead, He chose to leave us here. Rather than some sort of sick joke, God has a purpose for our presence in this world. We are His ambassadors, His representatives, and we have the distinct privilege of acting as His hands and feet, making His love and mercy visible to all those around us. According to the apostle Paul, "God has given us this task of reconciling people to him" (2 Corinthians 5:18 NLT). Because of what God has graciously done for us through Christ, we should be ready and willing to share this message of hope with others. "So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, 'Come back to God!'" (2 Corinthians 5:20 NLT). But not only are we to tell people about the good news of Jesus Christ, we are to act as agents of His love and mercy to all those around us. And that means that we are not only to be ready to share the gospel, but we must be ready to meet needs. These verses in Proverbs are interesting. When they say, "Do not withhold good from those who deserve it," it carries the idea of withholding something from the one to whom it belongs. In other words, you have something that belongs to someone else, and you run the risk of keeping it for yourself. God has given you the responsibility of stewarding something that He intended for you to give to someone else.

This makes me think about the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control. Who is to be the beneficiary of this fruit? You and I? No. The fruit is intended for others. God does not produce patience in my life so that I might enjoy it for me. It is to be shared with those who try my patience. Self-control is not intended for my own benefit, but to bless those around me as I practice it. Each of these characteristics of the Spirit are given to us to share with others. In essence, they are the owners of it and we are simply giving them what is rightfully theirs.

Take it a step further. If God blesses us with material possessions or financial means, does He do so simply for our own good? I don't think so. He gives to us so that we might be able to give to others. Once again, He makes us stewards of His blessings so that we might be ready to share them with those we meet along the way. And according to Proverbs, we are to be ready to help immediately. We are not to delay or postpone our acts of goodness and generosity to another, more convenient time. We are to respond immediately. James gives us the same words of advice and reminds us that our actions are an expression of our faith. "What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, 'Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well'—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless." (James 2:14-17 NLT).

Our faith must have an expression. It must show up in our actions and attitudes towards others. Each day we are given opportunities by God to act as His agents, His instruments of change in the world. We are like vessels through which He pours out His love, mercy and grace to those in our sphere of influence. We are conduits carrying the love of God to those in need, and one of the best ways to help them to see God is for them to experience His love through us as we respond to their physical needs in a timely manner. Our faith must be actionable, our love must be tangible, so that God's presence might be palpable.

Father, through Your Holy Spirit, give me the sensitivity I need to know what I have that others need. Forgive me for selfishly keeping for myself what You intended for others. Help me see the needs of others more keenly and respond quickly. Amen