Summary: We’re only clean because God, in HIS mercy, washed us clean.
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.