Down South they tell about a Baptist minister who preached about baptism by immersion every Sunday. His congregation agreed with his doctrine, but they were getting pretty tired of hearing about it every week. Nobody wanted to hurt his feelings, but they’d had enough!
The deacons came up with what they thought would be a diplomatic way to solve the problem. They complimented him on his pulpit skills and suggested to him that since he was such a natural preacher they wanted to try an experiment. Just before he stepped into the pulpit, they would hand him a piece of paper with a scripture text on it. Laying it on thick, they said, "We think that you’re so good, that you can preach a great sermon with no preparation at all -- just that slip of paper."
Of course, with an approach like that, the preacher couldn’t bear to turn them down. So, the deacons started searching the Scriptures for a text which couldn’t possibly be related to baptism by immersion. Finally they agreed on the opening verse of Genesis: "In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth." They figured there was absolutely nothing in that text that had anything to do with baptism.
When they handed the text to him, the old preacher read it aloud three times. Then he said, " God created the heaven and the earth If I remember my geography, the earth is one-fourth land and three-fourths water. Water brings me to my subject for the day: Baptism by immersion."
I would like to talk about baptism today. While there are all kinds of views about baptism within the various branches of Christianity, there seems to be agreement about one thing: that baptism is a sort of “entry point” into the life of a Christian.
And so, even though our text doesn’t explicitly mention baptism, it does give us some answers about what it means to be saved. So before we take a look at the more “nitty gritty” details of baptism (which we’ll do next week), I’d like to take a closer look at this passage.
Like his Letters to Timothy, Paul’s letter to Titus is the advice of a “spiritual father” to a young pastor he considers his “true son.” It is a short and practical letter, one in which Paul encourages Titus to cling to right doctrine and to teach his people to live godly lives. Paul continues this theme as he opens the third chapter. “Remind them to be good citizens, and good neighbors, Titus.” “Obey the authorities, be peaceful and gentle to others..”
It is the kind of thing we hear so often – not only from the Bible, but from teachers, parents, and anyone else handing out advice that we may get lulled nearly to sleep.
Then Paul nonchalantly gives the basis for why Christians should do good to their neighbors:
“After all, he says: we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, and wrong. We were slaves to passions and pleasures of all kinds. We spent our lives in malice and envy; others hated us and we hated them
If you’ve been paying any attention at all, your head probably snaps to and you say, “Who, me? I wasn’t foolish or disobedient. I wasn’t a slave to my passions and various pleasures. And I certainly never hated anybody! Well, there was that one boss, but EVERYBODY hated him!”
Maybe some of us have a hard time relating to this descriptive list of a life apart from God. For those of you who had had the privilege of growing up in a strong Christian home, you may have made a “seamless” transition from “church kid” to “church adult” without a lot of messy wandering in between. But that doesn’t necessarily mean his words don’t apply to you.
A number of years ago, rock legend Bob Dylan wrote a song called, “You Gotta Serve Somebody.” The song runs through just about every possible “kind” of person you might want to mention, and then, after every verse, pounds home the message that, regardless of who you are, “You gotta serve somebody; It may be the devil and it may be the Lord, but you gotta SERVE somebody.”
While I wouldn’t want to get a ton of theology from Bob Dylan, I think he is onto something here. Like the apostle Paul, Dylan recognized that people aren’t defined so much by their behavior, their profession, their family, their status, but in the end, they are defined by whom they serve. And while the world out there may boast about how free they are without the constraints of “religion,” they are still serving somebody.
They may be, as Paul says, serving their own passions and pleasures, or they may be serving the Lord, but Dylan’s right, You Gotta Serve Somebody. What Dylan calls “serving the devil” and Paul calls “serving our own passions and pleasures,” doesn’t have to include “big & ugly” sins. It may be the top athlete who can’t resist humiliating those who haven’t been given his gifts.
It may be the good guy who has gradually become so addicted to pornography that he no longer has any interest in relationships with “real” women, who never seem to match up to the images he can call up on his computer.
(Chuck Colson has called Internet pornography “Spiritual Crack Cocaine,” because of how quickly people can become addicted to it and because of how destructive it is to the human soul.)
What does it mean to be enslaved by our own passions and pleasures?
Ask anyone who started carelessly flirting at work until the relationship grew into way more than they ever predicted – and the marriage that meant so much to them crumbled
Ask anyone who made a habit of going out drinking to have fun – or to cover their pain – and lost 15 years of their life before finally having the guts to get themselves to an AA meeting.
Those of us who honestly explore the sinfulness of our own hearts will recognize the person Paul describes. But whether we recognize it or not, those whose lives are lived apart from God are often the slaves to passions and pleasures,
The most innocent pleasures can become our masters if we’re not careful. A doctor recommends one of his patients take up golf in order to relax and get some exercise. It works for the first 9 holes, then after that, his blood pressure rises with every bad shot he makes.Soon he’s screaming at everyone from the groundskeepers to the caddie to the doctor who told him to take up the sport in the first place! Now instead of having golf as a hobby, he has it as a master.
What Paul is trying to communicate here is that, apart from Christ, we are inevitably bound by sin. We may recognize it, or we may not, the end result is the same: Slavery to sin and separation from God. An ugly picture. A trap which seems to have no escape. And there was no escape. Until something happened that changed everything.
Picture the scene from an old Western when there is a vicious brawl going on in the saloon. People are throwing punches and barstools; bullets whiz around the room; the bartender is cowering behind the bar – And then suddenly, the doors swing open and everything gets dead quiet. Fists stop in mid-swing. Everyone’s eyes are riveted onto the man in white who stands at the door, each hand resting on a six-shooter, a look in his eyes that dares anyone to defy him. Everybody moves real slow back to their seats. Peace is restored. The good guy has arrived. And everything is changed.
After showing us the hopeless condition of our own hearts, Paul says, “4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior was revealed, 5 he saved us.” When the Goodness of God shines into a broken life, everything changes. We are saved from the cruel enslavement to sin.
He offers us forgiveness from every sin we’ve ever committed. Not so we can go out and sin more. But so that we can live a life which is free from that entrapment.
How does that happen? Self-discipline? Hard work? Pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps? Not according to the Bible. Verse 5 says: It was not because of any good deeds that we ourselves had done, but because of his own mercy that he saved us, through the Holy Spirit, who gives us new birth and new life by washing us.
Have you ever noticed sometimes Christians can be just a little judgmental? – Or maybe you’ve noticed they can be really judgmental
They are judgmental when they imagine that the reason they are not caught in a web of sin is because they are morally superior to those who have been caught. Anyone who believes that has no understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ. They have no understanding – and no experience – of the grace of God.
People who have experienced the grace of God look at the shattered lives of people caught in the vice grip of sin and say, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” “If it weren’t for God’s grace, I would be in that boat. But because of the goodness and kindness and love of God, I have been saved.”
What is the basis of our salvation? Our upright moral character? No
Whether we help little old ladies to cross the street? Whether or not our good deeds have outweighed our bad ones? No
The basis of our salvation is the character of God. God offers us salvation as a free gift because there is nothing we could ever do to pay for it. What does that salvation involve: a new birth and a new life.
We aren’t just born again to stay spiritual babies. We are born again to live a new life which radiates the love and mercy of God.
The initiation into that life is God’s cleansing of us by His Holy Spirit. Verse 5 says, “the Holy Spirit, … gives us new birth and new life by washing us.”
Literally, he gives us a bath. He wipes the crud off, so we begin our new life in Christ without all that crud. Some of you remember that I said I was going to talk about baptism today, and I’ve been talking for a really long time without mentioning baptism, and you’re getting nervous you’re never going to get lunch! But it’s OK, we’re not THAT far from the end.
Most Bible versions translate this verse something like the New American Standard does, which goes like this: 5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit,
And when they hear, “washing of rebirth,” they think, “baptism”
Certainly the imagery fits: Washing from sin; Rebirth – new life; Resurrection. All those are images associated with baptism. Not only that, but it says He saved us BY the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit.
And so an idea begins to develop that says, “we are saved BY baptism.” It is a tiny little step from that to thinking “Baptism is necessary in order to be saved” – and even, “Someone who is not baptized automatically goes to hell.” The logic seems to work so well.
The only problem: Paul isn’t talking about baptism. He doesn’t mention the word baptism anywhere in this context, in fact, he doesn’t mention it anywhere in this whole letter. Paul knows the word for baptism, it’s used over 90 times in the NT, often in Paul’s letters. This isn’t it.
What Paul DOES tell us, over and over and over again, is that we are saved by God’s grace through faith! We are not saved by God’s grace through baptism. If we were, I think Paul would have used every opportunity to hammer that home to us. But he doesn’t!
When God saves us, NOT ON THE BASIS OF ANY GOOD DEEDS WE HAVE DONE – I have to believe that includes baptism! There is no teaching in the scripture that I am aware of that tells me that baptism, or any other ritual, has power, all by itself to save us. If you think you’ve found one, you tell me and we’ll talk about it! Rituals don’t save us. God saves us, not by water, but by faith in Jesus Christ.
Well then, WHAT GOOD IS BAPTISM? I believe the Scriptures teach that Baptism is not a way to get God’s grace, but it is a symbol of what God has already done!
We are not saved because we are baptized, we are baptized because we are saved. It is a beautiful and a powerful symbol of how we have left behind an old life and started a new one.
As we go under the water, symbolizing death. And we come back up, symbolizing the hope we have in the resurrection. There is the imagery of cleansing.
In our culture, where most of us take showers and baths all the time, that may not be a big deal, But in a time when you took baths only once in a great while, it WAS a big deal!
When we put our faith and trust in Christ, we are washed clean, we trade our old lives for new ones and we receive God’s Holy Spirit.
All of those things are symbolized in baptism
Maybe you’re thinking, “Well, if it’s just a symbol, then it’s not really that important, is it?” The cross that hangs up here is just a symbol – does that mean it’s not important? A wedding ring is just a symbol – does that mean it’s not important? (Ask a married man whose wife sees him take it off before he goes out!)
A Symbol is a tangible representation of an intangible reality. Or, as we often describe baptism, “An outward sign of an inward reality.” To be baptized is to say publicly, “God has touched my life! God has forgiven me! God has changed me! And that change is so wonderful, that I am going to give Him the rest of my life, to transform by His love and power and grace.”
Baptism signifies that we belong:
not to ourselves,
not to our guilty past,
not to our fearful future,
nor to the demonic powers of alcohol or sex or pride or envy or gossip.
Instead in our baptism we tell the world – and remind ourselves – that we are forever, in this life and the next, the sons and the daughters of the god of love and mercy and grace, who gave His only Son to death on a cross, that we might be his.