The marks of a Christian - Titus 3:3-8

This is a family service talk by Nathan Buttery from the morning service on 27th May 2001.

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Now I wonder if any of the younger members of the congregation can help me spot what kinds of animals these are on the screen. Acetate 1: Frog. You can see his webbed feet and bobbly eyes. Acetate 2: Rabbit. This one has long ears and a fluffy tail. Acetate 3: Pig. This one looks very dirty and is pink in colour. Acetate 4: Lion. This one has a large mane, and looks very fierce. Acetate 5: Elephant. And lastly this one has a very large grey body and huge ears.

Now the thing with all animals is that they have some distinguishing marks which help you to know what sort of animals they are. So elephants have big ears, and lions have sharp teeth and big manes. Now the question I want to ask today is how do you know what a Christian is like? What are the marks of being a Christian? Now it is not by physical marks is it? I mean some Christians have big ears, others have hairy manes, though I’ve not come across any who have tails. But there are also people who are not Christians who have large ears. So you can’t work out what a Christian is by people’s appearance. Well our passage for today helps us to understand what a Christian is, what the marks of being a Christian are. It’s nothing to do with what people look like. It’s actually all to do with the inside of a person. So let’s see what Paul tells his friend Titus about the marks of being a Christian.


1) Christians are Imperfect People

(Acetate 6: Titles) And the first mark of a Christian is that they are imperfect people. Christians are not perfect. Now that may come as a bit of a surprise to some people. Surely Christians are nice and good and God loves them because they help other people. Well that’s not the way Paul puts it in his letter. (Acetate 7: Verse) Let me read to you verse 3. Paul is talking about himself and his Christian friends. He says: "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." Now that is not a nice description of someone is it? There are all sorts of nasty words that Paul uses to describe himself and his friends before he became a Christian. He says that he was disobedient, he hated people, and they hated him, he was malicious, which means he was deliberately nasty to people, and he says that he was enslaved by passions. He was No. 1 in his life and anyone who stood in his way would regret it. That was the sort of person Paul was.

But the point is that everyone is in the same boat. Now we may not have done as many horrid things as Paul did, but if look carefully at this list, then we have to realise that we are in the same boat. We too are often foolish. We don’t know everything, even though we sometimes give the impression we do! And we don’t live up to our own standards, let alone God’s. We too hate other people, even if we wouldn’t put it that strongly. Jesus once said that hatred in the heart is the same as murder without the act. This description in Paul’s letter to Titus could be a description of you and me! Christians as much as anyone else are not perfect. Everyone has done something wrong, and no-one comes up to God’s standards of perfection.

And did you notice in verse 5 that Paul says that we cannot save ourselves. Paul says that we are not saved through good things we have done. We cannot save ourselves through doing lots of good things, however good we try and be. Because our goodness is not good enough for God. God wants perfection, and none of us is good enough for God.

Now last week I watched a film called "The Dish". (Acetate 8: The moon). And the film was all about the first man walking on the moon, who was Neil Armstrong on the 20th July 1969. Now the amazing thing was that no-one had ever walked on the moon before Neil Armstrong. And the other amazing thing was that Neil Armstrong couldn’t get to the moon on his own steam. If you have ever seen the film of his spaceship Apollo 11 taking off, then you’ll notice that Neil Armstrong is inside the spaceship, isn’t he? He is not outside jumping as high as he can get to get to the moon. No he needs a rocket to get to the moon. Now it would be very daft if you were to say to me after the service: "Nathan, today I am going to jump to the moon." And so after the service we go outside, and you jump as high as you can to try and get to the moon. How far would you get? A foot off the ground maybe? But imagine that along comes an Olympic high jumper, and he says, "Look, I’m going to give this jumping to moon business a try." And so he jumps as high as he can, and he jumps six foot in the air. The problem is of course, not matter how high you can jump, you can never jump to the moon. It is impossible because the moon is tens of thousands of miles away.

And it is the same with us trying to get to heaven. Now matter how good we are, we can never be good enough for God, for he is perfect, and none of us is perfect. And so the first mark of being a Christian is that you are imperfect, and you must realise it. And all of us fall into that category. Christians are imperfect people.


2) Christians are Forgiven People

(Acetate 6- Titles again) But then the second mark that we discover about Christians from Paul’s letter to Titus is that Christians are forgiven people. We’ve just heard that everyone is imperfect. And the question is, "How can God who is perfect have anything to do with imperfect people like you and me?" We cannot get ourselves to heaven, just as Neil Armstrong cannot get himself to the moon. How can people like you and me be cleaned up from our imperfection? Well of course, when you are dirty, just as we are, then it is vitally important that you use the right method to get clean.

Now this morning I have not brushed my teeth, and I need a hand to decide which brush I will use to clean my teeth. And I have a number of options: (Go through the options and test them!) : A broom; a hairbrush; a dustpan brush; a shoe brush, a cleaning brush? No, of course none of these will help me to get my teeth clean. I need the right brush which is a toothbrush.

And of course if we are to be cleaned up from the wrong we have done, then it is just as important to get the right cleaning agent. And only God can help us. And that is exactly what he has done. Just as NASA provided Apollo 11 to help get Neil Armstrong to the moon, so God has provided us with a way of getting to heaven. (Acetate 7: Verse again) Let’s see what Paul says: "But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour." So what has God done? Paul says he has provided us with a rescue in Jesus Christ. God has saved us because of his mercy. He says that we have been cleaned up. He calls it the washing of rebirth and renewal. It is as if we have born again. We have been given a new life. That’s what baptism illustrates. It is a visual illustration of what God promises through Jesus. It is as if God has washed away all our wrong doing and given us a fresh start. And how does God do that? Paul says it is through Jesus Christ our Saviour. (Acetate 9: The Cross). In other words it is through Jesus’ death on the cross. He died in our place so that we could be forgiven. His death on the cross all those years ago has given us a way back.

Let me show you what I mean. Now I have here a video. And imagine if on this video there was the whole of my life. It says "Nathan’s Life" on the box and on the video. And imagine if it contained not just the things I have done, but also every thought that has gone through my brain and everything I have ever said. Now that would be some video. I tell you now, it would not be fit for a family service, in fact it would not even get into the cinema because it would be so horrible and foul. It would have to be rated at least triple X. So here on this video is my entire life. A terrible thing to watch. But I have also got another video. This one says "Jesus’ Life" on the box and on the video. And imagine that this video contains everything Jesus has ever said and done. It would be a beautiful thing to watch. It would be classified ‘U’ because it would be suitable for all to see, such is its beauty and love. Now when Jesus died on the cross for your and my wrongdoing, it was as if Jesus took my life, and that triple X rated material and took it on himself. He took it away so I would not have to deal with the consequences of my life before God. But in its place he put his life. (Swap videos). And so when God looks at Nathan, he sees Jesus’ life. And when he looks at Jesus he sees my life. Jesus takes the punishment I deserve for my life of evil. And he gives me a brand new life. Forgiven and cleaned up. And that is why Christianity is such good news. And a Christian is someone who has quite simply accepted that incredible offer of Jesus’ on the cross. It’s an offer open to all. A Christian has realised he’s not perfect and a Christian has accepted that forgiveness Jesus offers. They are imperfect people, but they are also forgiven people.


3) Christians are Hopeful People

But then lastly, (Acetate 6: Titles again) we learn from this letter that the third mark of Christians is that they are hopeful people. For being a Christian not only has wonderful benefits now, but the best is yet to come. (Acetate 7: Verse again) Paul says in verse 7 that because of what Jesus has done for us, we have "become heirs having the hope of eternal life." So the brilliant thing about being a Christian is that we have a wonderful future to look forward to. Paul says that Christians are heirs having the hope of eternal life. Now heirs are people who inherit something. (Acetate 10: Necklace) Now some families have precious items which are passed down from generation to generation. Maybe if you are the eldest daughter in your family, you will receive a beautiful necklace which your great great great grandma owned. Or maybe you will receive a mansion in Scotland. I know which I’d prefer! But people who are heirs have something to look forward to. They are hoping for something.

Now often we say we are hoping for something, but we have very little evidence that our hope will be realised. (Acetate 11: Sun) For instance I hope that Bank Holiday Monday will be a lovely sunny day. But what evidence do I have? Maybe the weather man has told me that it will be sunny. But sometimes he is wrong! Or maybe I am hoping that the football team I support will be promoted next season. For some that is a futile and vain hope. There is just no firm evidence to suggest that that hope will be true. So is it the same for the Christian? Is the Christian’s hope of an inheritance in heaven all pie in the sky when we die? Well the answer is no. For the simple reason that the person who has told us is God himself. And God never lies. None of God’s promises have ever been broken, and there is no good reason to think that this one will be either. And also God has given a guarantee that we will be heirs with him in heaven. And the guarantee is that Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus has shown us that death is not the end for the Christian. And we have a wonderful future to look forward to. For the Christian the best is yet to come. We have a wonderful inheritance to look forward to. And there is no doubt whatsoever that God will keep his promise. So Christians are hopeful people, not hoping for something that may or may not happen. But hoping for something that is a cast iron guarantee. Christians are hopeful people.

(Acetate 6: Titles again). So Paul has shown us three marks of being a Christian. Christians are imperfect people, forgiven people, and hopeful people. And the brilliant news is that God’s offer of friendship is open to everyone here. We are all imperfect and we all need rescuing, and God has provided the way back for that to happen. You can be forgiven, and you can be given a hope which is certain. If you’d like to think a bit more, I’ll have some booklets at the back which you’re welcome to take away freely with you. But one thing is certain. This is not an offer to be ignored but the most important decision we can ever make.

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