The apostle Paul had strong words for the rule-makers in the Galatian church, even to the point of calling them “false brethren” (Gal 2:4). But I don’t know if these folks were truly evil or just a little over zealous in wanting to keep people in line with their focus on the rules. After all, the challenge of how far our freedom goes is still with us today. Are there “false teachers” among us who seek to limit our Christian freedom or do they have a legitimate concern that freedom will be abused and our flesh will be indulged?
One of the ways to address this issue is with the concept of “self-correcting grace”. Paul wrote in Titus chapter 2, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people of His own possession, zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:11-14).
Let’s look at this set of verses very carefully. “For the grace of God has appeared” (the foundation of all that follows is the appearance of God’s grace), “bringing salvation to all men” (God’s grace brought our salvation; deliverance from the penalty and the power of sin), “instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires” (rather than giving us the freedom to indulge in sin, God’s grace actually teaches us – and I might add empowers us – to deny sin; to put the ix-nay on ungodliness and worldly desires. Grace properly understood and embraced helps guide us away from sin.)
Paul continues, “and to live sensibly, righteously, and godly in the present age” (So grace directs us away from sin and toward godliness. Grace, properly understood and applied, is self-correcting. When we are tempted to follow the wrong path, grace corrects us by teaching us to deny sin and embrace godly common sense and righteous living. I like the word sensibly in this passage. It is against common sense for a believer to live in sin and not according to their righteous nature. Properly understood grace, not willpower or the threat of condemnation, brings us back to the righteous path.
And we become people who are “looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed” (Christ’s giving Himself up for us – His finished work on the cross – delivered us from lawless living as our default mode), “and to purify for Himself” (Christ giving Himself up for us made us clean), “a people for His own possession” (Christ giving Himself up for us placed us in His family), “zealous for good deeds” (Christ giving Himself up for us infused us with zealousy for good deeds. He freed us from lawless living and empowered us for righteous living).
That is what this passage, and much of the New Testament, says, “Grace, properly understood and applied, is self-correcting.” What does that look like in practice? We will answer that question next time.