If these are the “things you should teach,” then I intend to be faithful to that apostolic command. Are we in an age of grace? Certainly—“The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). The problem is that too many believers confuse grace with looseness and permissiveness. Take note that salvation by grace (vs. 11) is linked to living holy lives by that same grace (vs. 12).
No biblical writer understood “grace” better than the apostle Paul. He wrote at length on the mercy and grace of the Lord. But Paul also understood that grace has demands on us. Yes, grace is at the heart of our salvation (vs. 11). That same grace “teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions (vs. 12). God’s grace “teaches us…to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives” (12). How long should we say “No” to ungodliness and instead live godly lives? Right up until the Lord’s Second Coming! (13). What is one of the main goals of the Lord’s gracious salvation? “To redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people…eager to do what is good” (14).
These are some things the apostle exhorts us to teach about grace. This is not “Law.” This is not “bondage and legalism,” as some say by way of excuse for loose conduct. This is part and parcel of God’s grace—that is, it commands us to live godly lives, saying “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions. The end result will be a purified people that are Christ’s very own (vs. 14). That is the heart’s desire of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and it is His grace that helps us achieve that godly lifestyle that is pleasing to Him.
The inspired writer of this epistle was addressing born-again “brothers and sisters” … “we…who have received the knowledge of the truth” … “His people.” He strongly warns us believers: “If we deliberately keep on sinning … the Lord will judge His people.”
Those being addressed are born-again brothers and sisters. And the warning to us is not to deliberately keep on sinning. A casual, “it’s all good, God understands” attitude to sin can lead us to the disastrous point where our hearts become “hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13). The tragic end point of that is seen in the warning to us that “The Lord will judge His people” (30). How would you feel about the prospect of facing the Lord at His judgment seat (2 Corinthians 5:10) and having to explain to Him your having taken a relaxed approach to sin in your lifetime? Perhaps in reply Jesus might ask: “Why didn’t you obey my Word that says my grace taught you to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and to live upright, godly lives?” I do not want any of us to have to explain that failure to Jesus when we stand before Him.
There are those "among [us]...who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality.” Grace is not a permission to commit sin. Grace does not mean that God just looks the other way. Jude called that a perverting of God’s grace. I have known of believers living immoral lives who have flippantly justified it by a faulty understanding of grace: “It’s OK, God loves me, He understands,” they say. Oh yes, God does indeed “understand.” He understands the wickedness of sin so well that He sent Jesus His Son to die for our sins! God “understands" sin, that’s for certain. So well, in fact, that He paid the supreme sacrifice in the death of His Son “to redeem us from all wickedness” (Titus 2:14), not to just overlook sinful conduct in His people.
The apostles understood very well how believers might justify sinful conduct by a wrong interpretation of grace. Paul warned: “Do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh.” Peter wrote similar words: “Do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil.”
Remember our main theme today: The Lord will judge His people, and His judgment begins with us. The apostle Paul reminds us that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” We! Believers.
We gain entrance into heaven because we have been saved by grace, through faith (Ephesians 2:8). However, lest we overlook this point, Paul also tells us that there will be a “Day” when the Lord will “test the quality” of our works in a fiery trial. If our works in this life (how we have built on the foundation of Jesus Christ - vss. 11-12) come through the fire like gold, silver, and costly stones, we will “receive a reward.” But if our works burn up in the Lord’s fiery test of their quality, the result will be different. We will “suffer loss but yet will be saved…[like] one escaping through the flames.” I like the “still saved” part, but not the “suffer loss” part. For a believer, what makes the difference? The “quality of each person’s work.”
To those who declare, “I’m not into a ‘works’ trip,” you might want to rethink that in the light of these Scriptures. We are saved by grace, through faith. That is clear. But our works will be judged. What did Paul say will happen as “we” appear before the judgment seat of Christ? We will “receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” Sadly, this message is rarely heard from the pulpits of churches nowadays.
Just saying, “Lord, Lord” does not gain us access to the kingdom of heaven. Jesus said that at the judgment many will be saying, “Lord, Lord…” They will even claim to have prophesied, to have driven out demons, and to have performed miracles. Will Jesus be impressed? No. In fact, He will not even comment on their ministry claims. Rather, He will “tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”
Whom does Jesus say He will reject? The evildoers! “Away from me, you evildoers!” This should give all of us who confess Jesus as Lord sobering pause to reflect. Is Jesus’ Lordship just words that come out of my mouth? Or have I allowed His Lordship to affect my conduct deeply, to bring me increasingly into conformity to His image? Do I take pride in “my ministry” (exorcisms, prophecy, miracles)? Or do I minister as a godly ambassador of Jesus, striving always with His gracious help to pattern my life after His perfect life, and motivated to make all my ministry efforts bring glory to Him?
This verse should make every one of us reexamine any “eternal security” belief that allows a loose, sinful lifestyle. Paul spoke of two aspects of God, His goodness and His severity. Of course, our desire is to experience His goodness, and we certainly have if we have received His salvation through repentance for sin and faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21).
However, Paul strongly warned us that God’s goodness continuing in our lives is contingent upon a very important “IF” — “…toward you, goodness, if you continue in his goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off” (NKJV). That apostolic injunction that we continue in God’s goodness reminds me of Hebrews 10:36, which we looked at above — “You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.”
This is a startling verse! “Without holiness no one will see the Lord.” The tendency of our human minds, steeped in this earth’s liberalism and worldliness, is to react to this with “But, but…” and to conclude that surely God isn’t setting the bar that high. But Jesus surely did. He said that it is the “pure in heart … [who] will see God.” The apostle Paul wrote by the Holy Spirit that the born-again believer is “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” How holy should be our aim? “Like God”! Peter records God’s command: “Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16).
Multitudes of Christians have fallen for an easy, even a cheap, concept of grace that is far from what the Bible teaches. Certainly we are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). But also, as we have seen (Titus 2:11-15) God’s grace is instructional, even disciplinary. The “grace…that offers salvation…teaches us to say ‘No!’ to ungodliness” and to live holy, upright lives in this present age as we await the second coming of the Lord from heaven. And sad to say, this vital biblical truth is routinely avoided by many preachers and teachers in the pulpits of our churches today. Why? This is life-affecting truth! — “Without holiness, no one will see the Lord.”
Just as revival begins with God’s people (Psalm 85:6), so will judgment. Peter soberly reminds us that “judgment must begin at the house of God … It first begin[s] at us.” It is a serious mistake for believers to think that only the lost will experience God’s judgment. No, Peter says it “begins with us.” Paul wrote that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:10). Hebrews 10:30 tells us that “the Lord will judge His people.”
After reading all this you might be thinking, “Is there any hope?” Absolutely! Jesus came to earth to die for our sins and to open for us access to God’s gracious salvation. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter preached, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). The continual apostolic preaching was that “everyone who believes in him [Jesus] receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43).
By repentance and faith in Christ, we are born again. We become God’s sons and daughters (2 Corinthians 6:18). And all is well if we continue in God’s goodness (Romans 11:22) and “make every effort” to pursue a walk of holiness (Hebrews 12:14). Jesus is “able to save completely those who come to God through Him” (Heb. 7:25).
Let us always be mindful of the Lord’s high and holy calling, that is, that in our salvation experience we are born again, we are new creations, made new and “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24). As we “continue to work out [not ‘work for’] our salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12), God will continually give us grace to live a life that is pleasing to Him.
And to such believers, when we meet the Lord face to face, will His blessed words be spoken: “Well done, good and faithful servant! … Come and share your Master’s happiness!” Don’t settle for just getting by lest, when the Lord evaluates your works, you find yourself among those who “suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames” (1 Cor. 3:15). Rather, live for the Lord with full devotion daily, pursuing holiness and the fruits of His Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). And “you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:11).
©2016, James H. Feeney.
Pentecostal Sermons and Bible Studies
by Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.