How People Change: Turning to the Spirit

Sermon by Ed Hartman on September 23, 2018

Titus 3:1-8

Download Audio

I'd like to invite you to take your Bible and turn with me to Titus chapter 3. If you're using the pew Bible in front of you, it's on page 998. As you're turning there, I'd like to make a special word of introduction and welcome. Seated over with Emily to my left are our dear friends from Romania, Don, and Monica. The Lord used the two of them to work alongside of us in planting a church that is worshiping even this day and we're deeply grateful for them.


(Dr. Hartman gives greeting in Romanian.)


That’s not speaking in tongues, but welcoming them in their language with a hope that they feel very much at home with their brothers and sisters in Christ who surround them this evening.


Titus chapter 3. We’ve been in a series for the last three weeks on how people change. How does God actually change us? And what’s our role in that process? And David Felker has done a really beautiful job looking at a series in the life of David that showed how, in a variety of different ways, the Lord works to change His people. I’d like to add one more text in that study, which is the one before us this evening, because this is the one that’s central to all of them. This is a focus on turning to the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, because apart from the Spirit none of the rest makes any difference. Does it? And it is turning to the Spirit that gives fuel and power to every other means that God uses in that life-transforming process.


Paul's letter to Titus, when he's left on the island of Crete where Paul has been, he's planted a number of churches but the churches are in disarray. And Paul says in verse 5, "I have left you there to put in order what remains." And he's asking Titus to do something rather challenging because it's not just that the people, the churches that are planted are in disarray, but the people are in disarray. As a matter of fact, in verse 12, Paul describes the people among whom he's left Titus to work. Verse 12 he says, "One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.'" How would you like that to be your mission field? "And this testimony is true," he goes on to say. It's a tough call that he's put on Titus to minister the Gospel among people desperately in need of change, worshiping in churches desperately in need of change. Actually, they're much like us – people desperately in need of change, personally and corporately.


With that as the context, let me read for us the first eight verses in Titus chapter 3. Paul says:


“Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.”


This is God’s Word. Would you join me in prayer?


Our Father, we ourselves are much like the people among whom Titus is serving. We are people in desperate need of change. We are far worse than we recognize ourselves to be. Desperately in need of rescue, redemption, renewal, renovation. We need Your Spirit. We need the Gospel to work more deeply in each one of our lives. We thank You for Your Word by which You shape us and illumine what otherwise lies hidden. You diagnose the condition, the true condition of our lives, and in the process You promised to make the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ evermore precious to us and evermore active within us. By the power of Your Holy Spirit, would You enable us to see – to see ourselves, to see Your glory, and to see the promise that You’ve made to us, a promise that You will not go back on. In the process, change us and make us ever more perfectly into the image of Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.


It’s true. Down deep, every one of us knows that we are not now as we should be. Any argument? Every one of us knows, I am, you are, not as you and I should be. And that’s a startling realization, especially when you realize how long you’ve been exposed to the truth of God’s Word, how long you’ve lived among God’s people; every one of us knows we are not as we should be. We could all echo what the apostle Paul writes in Romans 7 when he says, “The good that I want to do, I don’t end up doing. No, the evil I don’t want to do, that’s what I keep on doing. Who will rescue me, who will change me, who will renew me from this body of death?” Gratefully he answers his own question and says, “Thanks be to God, through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The Process of Change

But I want you to think about this process of change about which Paul writes, about which you have been hearing over the last three weeks. A theology of change is important for us to wrestle with, especially when you realize that every one of us is right now changing. You don’t have to choose to change; you are changing. As a matter of fact, there is no static place in the Christian life. We are just hovering or treading water or coasting or idling. It doesn’t exist. You’re changing in one direction or another, whether you intend to or not. Lewis Smedes, the Christian psychologist and author once wrote that, “My wife has lived with at least five different men since we were married, and each one of them has been me.” Meaning that every one of us is changing and our spouses have to keep up and adjust to the changes that are going on in our lives. Our kids are changing; our parents are changing. The change is inevitable. You don’t have to choose to change, you are changing. The question is, “In what direction are you changing? Where is the change that’s taking place in your life right now, where is it taking you?” You’re either drifting and dulling and hardening as the book of Hebrews warns us against, or you’re becoming more like Christ. There’s no third category. Let that sink in just for a moment. You don’t have to say, “Okay, now I’m going to change.” You’re changing already.


And frankly, the change can be for the worse. I have a whole list of passages written down here where Biblical writers talk about change that can take us from where we are now to a much worse place. The church I grew up in used to call that backsliding. But listen, even Paul writes to Timothy, 2 Timothy 3, he talks about people who will go from bad to worse, “deceiving and being deceived.” That could be us. Going from bad to worse. And unless we are intentionally moving toward what the Spirit of Christ is setting before us, unless we are active participants in that transformation process, you’re actually by default moving away from Christ. You’re drifting, you’re dulling, you’re hardening. I’m drifting, dulling, and hardening. So the question is not, “I should change,” or “Should I change?” The question is, “In what direction am I now changing and to what end?”


That’s why this passage is so important. It’s written to people just like us. And Paul is able to articulate what kind of change needs to occur in these people and he writes about it all throughout this passage. Specifically, he’s writing to leaders in the church and what changes need to be evident and visibly so to the people among whom they live. But the first eight verses of chapter 3 of this letter to Titus is really unusual, because in the middle of it, verses 4 through 7, in the original language you have one long sentence. If you look at it in the Greek, it’s comma after comma after comma – no periods; one long sentence. It’s what most scholars say is an early Christian creed, a declaration of what is believed. It would be sort of like you write a letter to a friend who’s struggling with something and you’re encouraging him, challenging him, giving him some good advice, and in the middle of this you say, “And you know you can trust God to do this because we believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and to Jesus Christ, His only Son” – and you quote the whole Apostles’ Creed as a means of saying, “You know this is true, right? Therefore, you can believe this is what God will do.” That’s what Paul is doing, most scholars believe.


Ongoing Rescue

The whole passage centers and hinges on one verb in the middle of verse 5 where it says, “He saved us.” Paul is saying you’ve got to have this rock-solid; God saved us. And in talking about something we know took place in the past, he’s also addressing the change that needs to occur in the present and will one day be perfected in the future. In this passage, Paul is addressing the entire sweep of what salvation is, what the rescue is. That word in the Greek that “He saved us” is in other places translated, “to rescue, to heal, to deliver, wholeness, restoration, transformation.” The point of what Paul is driving at is this – God has changed everything for us through the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s not just what He did in the past by rescuing us from the condemnation that our sin deserved, but the rescue is ongoing and the rescue will one day be complete, absolutely, perfectly complete.


John Stott, as he talks about this passage, he says this is the fullest statement of what salvation is that you’ll find anywhere in the New Testament. As a matter of fact, all components of what God is determined to do in salvation are referenced here in this passage. You can look at five basic parts, and I’m going to try to run through them very rapidly and then draw some practical conclusions that I trust will be at work in your life in the week that lies ahead. There is the need for this rescue, the source, the goal, the means, and the evidence of this rescue that God is determined to complete in each of our lives in that process of changing us. The need, the source, the goal, the means, and the evidence.


The Need

Let’s start with the need. Paul goes through a very clear diagnosis of what’s going on in our lives in verse 3. He describes what these people were to whom he sent Titus to work among. And in that verse, in verse 3, you find four pairs, four couplets that are diagnostics. I wish we could take a whole series of sermons to look at each of those pairs because they really diagnose where we are and why the Gospel is so much more needed in each of our lives today. He begins with foolish and disobedient. He’s talking about moral and actual mental depravity. We are foolish and we are disobedient. The second pair – led astray and enslaved. Really it’s deceived and enslaved. One author put it this way. We’ve been the enemies dupes and his slaves. Third, passing our days in malice and in envy. The two go together. Malice is wishing evil upon others. Envy is desiring for ourselves the good that others have received. And they go together, don’t they? And the fourth pair is hated and hating one another – a reciprocal hostility. And when you stop and think about it, you realize this isn’t just their condition; this is so much our condition as we look at where we are and how we compare ourselves to others and what we’re wrestling with in community and even in our own relationships within our own families.


Paul Tripp wrote an article that came out this past week and he titled it, “What a Wretched Man that I Am” and he pulls from Romans 7. He quotes Romans 7 and then he paraphrases it this way:


“I am a mass of contradictions; I don’t want to be, but I am. I preach a Gospel of peace but my life isn’t always driven by peace. I talk about a Jesus who alone can satisfy my soul but I am often so very dissatisfied. I celebrate a theology of amazing grace, but I often react in such ungrace. And if I rest in God’s control, why do I seek it for myself? And even in the moments when I think I am prepared, I end up doing what I didn’t want to do. Irritation, impatience, envy, discontent, anger, self-focus – these are not the fruit of a new life; these are not the way of grace. And so I find this other law operating within me. When I step out with a desire to do good, evil follows me wherever I go. There is this war that rages inside of me between a desire for good and sin itself. There are times when I feel like a prisoner, held against my will. I didn’t plan to get mad in the grocery store but that man made me so mad. I didn’t plan to be discontent, but it just enveloped me in the quietness of my car. That discussion wasn’t supposed to degenerate into an argument, but boy did it ever. I am so thankful for God’s grace, but there is daily evidence that I am still so much in need of help. Summary: I am humbled by the war I cannot win. I’ve been grieved by desires I cannot conquer. I’ve been confronted by actions I cannot excuse. And I have come to confess that what I really need is rescue. So, have mercy on me O God, have mercy.”


That’s the need. We could spend the rest of our time talking about how desperate the need really is beyond even what we ourselves can talk about in public here. Some of it is so hidden that we ourselves don’t even see it.


The Source

But the need takes us to the source. The question is, "Who initiates this rescue?" In verse 4, Paul starts off by saying, "But when the goodness and lovingkindness of God our Savior appeared." Let me think about this – "the goodness and the lovingkindness of God our Savior appeared." You realize that you don't have to coerce God to change the parts of you that you desperately know need to be changed? It's His goodness, His lovingkindness that took the initiative. It was His idea to rescue you and it's His determined purpose to complete the process. In verse 5 He says it's His mercy, verse 7 it's His grace. The point of it is this – salvation originates in the heart of God. He takes the initiative in rescuing us and changing us. You can be absolutely certain of this. God is far more committed to your transformation than you are. He is more committed to finishing the good work He's begun than you believe He is. How do you know? That's exactly what Philippians 1:6 says. Paul says, "I am confident of this very thing: that He who began a good work in you is faithful, and He will carry it on until completion until the day you see Christ face to face." God will not fumble you. He will not get bored. He will not get irritated or edgy or fed-up or tired of the process. He always finishes what He begins. Of that you can be certain because of the source.


The Goal

Third, the goal. What's it leading to? Well, verse 7 says that God saved us "so that we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life." Just like an engaged woman is now a bride-to-be, and once she's got an engagement ring on her finger, once she's pledged to this man that asked her to marry him – "I will be your wife" – she doesn't set up a account anymore; she doesn't look for further dates. She is committed to this one person and she is an heir in hope. She is a bride-to-be. And in the same way, God having begun this new work in us, the goal is that we are heirs according to the hope of eternal life. God will bring us home. The point is, we know how this ends. Right? You've read the last chapter in the book. The last two chapters, Revelation 20 and 21, talk about the new heavens and the new earth. You know how this ends. And because you know what the last chapter is, you can put into context every one of the chapters you're living right now. Right? This makes sense because you know what the last chapter is. That's your story because of Jesus.


The Means

Fourth, the means. How does God change us? Verse 5, “He saved us by the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” Regeneration and renewal both by the Holy Spirit. Regeneration is where He began a new work within us. He took us from being spiritually dead and He made us spiritually alive. He gave us eyes to see what we were otherwise blind to. He removed the heart of stone and gave us a heart of flesh. He inclined our hearts to want to know Him and want to follow His decrees. He gave us new desires. That’s all the work of regeneration – once for all. But He doesn’t stop there. He goes on to the work of renewal where by the Holy Spirit He is continuing the rescue operation. He doesn’t just leave us now spiritually alive to figure it out for ourselves; He is now committed to finishing what He’s begun and He’s doing that today in your life and in mine.


Both the regeneration and the renewal are the work of the Holy Spirit. Verse 6, “Whom God has poured out on us richly, generously, abundantly.” Here’s the point. There’s no scarcity of the Holy Spirit in your life. God did not give you the economy version of the Holy Spirit. You have Him in entirety. The Holy Spirit is yours and He is the means of both the regeneration and the renewal that you’re experiencing today.


The Evidence

And fifth, the evidence. How does this ongoing rescue prove itself? Answer – there will be change, visible change, good change. This is what verses 1 and 2 talk about. "Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, to show perfect courtesy to all people and to be ready for every good work." Verse 8, he finishes with the same theme. He says, "I want you to insist on these things so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works, devoted to a beautifully changed, a visibly changed life where Christ is more and more evident and we are more and more engaged in the good work He has prepared in advance for us to do." Because we're His workmanship, right?


Our Part

So that's the need, the source, the goal, the means, the evidence. And then practically, what's my part? How do you engage with all of this? How does this become the work that I now am committed to doing and participating in. The answer is in the title of this study. It's turning to the Spirit. It's turning to the Spirit. Because Paul says in Colossians 2 verse 6, "Just as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in Him, rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thanksgiving." The point is this. How did you receive Christ? Well, you turned to Him and you said, "I desperately need You." How do you continue to grow in the faith? You turn to the Spirit, you express your need, and you say, "I need You. Would You come? Would You work in this place in my life?" You find yourself in a place where you are overwhelmed, where you have no idea what to do. The temptation is familiar; you know how this is going to work out, and upfront you know this is not going to end well. And you could just go on with the way you're very familiar with, but you can say, "Holy Spirit, I have no way of getting myself out of this or through it, but I turn to You. Please come. Please step in. I need You."


And we're not asking God to do what He's not already promised to do because, in Luke chapter 11, Jesus said, "If you then, though you are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?" I quoted Jeff Thomas last time I preached. Jeff preached at this past April's Twin Lakes Conference, and looking at that verse he says, "Look it comes down to this – ask God for God. Ask God to send God to you. Ask God for the Spirit. Because if you being evil, if you know and delight in giving good things to your kids, how much more will your Father in heaven give His Spirit to those who ask?" Now the logical question is, "Why do I need to ask for what God has already promised to give me? Why do I have to ask for what I already have?" Right? Well, the answer is relatively obvious. Because if I didn't have to ask or if I quit asking and God sent the Spirit anyway to change me, I would assume it's all me. I would say, "Look how compassionate I'm being! Look how kind I'm being. Look how humble I am! Look how gentle I am. Look how patient I am. And that would be my default mode if it wasn't in response to my saying, ‘Holy Spirit come. This is too big for me. This temptation, if You don't step in, I know how this is going to work out. Holy Spirit, I need You. I turn to You.'" And Jesus has said if you ask Him, the Father will send the Spirit to you by whom and by whom alone you will be changed.


I read a tweet by Derek Thomas this past week in which he said this. “The outstretched hand that contains nothing but a plea for mercy is idiomatic of the Christian life.” I’m not entirely sure what idiomatic means, but I would translate it this way. “The outstretched hand with nothing in it but a plea, ‘God, help me,’ that’s the Christian life.” To the day you see Jesus’ face, face to face, that’s the Christian life. “Jesus, I don’t have anything to bargain with, I don’t have any credibility of my own. Would You please help me? This is too big for me. Send Your Spirit. I need Your Spirit. Change me. Rescue me.” This is how the Gospel changes us.


Ask God

I would like to give you this principle – in every place in your life, without exception, in every place in your life where you need change, ask God. He will answer by sending His Spirit. I cannot think of one exception. Let me give you the Biblical warrant for this. I have a page of illustrations. I’ll give you four.



Do you need wisdom? Don’t know what to do? Don’t know what decision – “I don’t know what to do, God. You promised You’d give me wisdom.” Ask God. He’ll give it to you by giving you His Spirit. Why? Because in Ephesians 1:17 Paul says, “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom.”



Do you need security? Do you feel afraid? Do you feel unsettled? Do you not know, “Where do I belong? Where do I fit? I’m restless. I’m uncomfortable even with myself. I need security.” Ask God. He’ll give it to you by giving you His Spirit. Why? Because in Romans 8:15 Paul says, “You did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship and by Him we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” It is the Holy Spirit that enables us to settle in relationship with the one to whom we belong. And we know we’re safe because the Holy Spirit is ours and He enables us to cry out, “Abba! Father!”


Deeper Relationship

Do you need a deeper relationship with Christ? Ask. Ask God and He’ll give you a deeper relationship with Christ. He really will, by giving you the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 1:17, “I keep asking God, the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, that He may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that you may know Him better.” You want to know Him better? You want a deeper relationship? Ask Him. He’ll send you the Spirit by whom you’ll enter into a deeper relationship with Christ.


Bolder Witness

Do you want to be a bolder witness for Christ? Ask God. He will make you a bolder witness by sending you His Spirit. How do I know? 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a Spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline.” It does not matter what needs to be changed in your life, you ask God – He will work by sending His Spirit. So the chief, the core component of change, the kind of change we desperately want and need comes only as we turn to the Spirit. Everything David Felker talked about over the last three weeks is absolutely true. God changes us through spiritual friendship. God changes us as we cling to His covenant promises. God changes us as we tell the truth in repentance. All that is true, but only through the Holy Spirit as we turn to Him. There is no other power to bring about that transition and transformation apart from the Holy Spirit.


God Changing Us

I have one last illustration and then we’re done. Charles Spurgeon once talked about the way God changes us. He looked at a different passage and in the process of looking at that passage used this illustration. He went to Deuteronomy chapter 22 verses 23 and 27. A disclaimer here: this is one of those passages that you say, “That’s in the Bible?” It is unsettling, but Spurgeon used it first and I loved his application. Listen to this passage. Deuteronomy 22 verse 23:


“If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death. The girl because she was in a town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man’s wife. You must purge the evil from among you. But if out in the country a man happens to meet a girl pledged to be married and he rapes her, only the man who has done this shall die. Do nothing to the girl. She has committed no sin deserving death. This case is like that of someone who attacks and murders his neighbor, for the man found the girl out in the country and though the betrothed girl screamed, there was no one to rescue her.”


Wow. Why finish a study on how the Holy Spirit changes us with that passage? It's a graphic picture. Let me summarize it. Two scenarios. In both scenarios, there is a sexual encounter between a girl that's engaged to be married to another man and in both scenarios that girl meets a man, not her fiance, and in both scenarios, they become intimately involved. In one scenario both of them are executed brutally. In the other scenario, only the man is executed. What makes the difference? Answer: in the second scenario, she screamed for help; she cried out for help. That's the only difference.


Look, there are things in your life and mine that need to change. You know it; probably your spouse knows it. Your kids probably know it. Maybe it’s just you who knows it, but there are things that need to change. You can’t change them on your own. The scenario’s not likely to work out well at all. Your only hope is to turn to the Spirit and cry for help. It’s the one thing that will make a difference. God will intervene, but He intervenes as we cry out for help. Your circumstances are unlikely to change. The temptation is unlikely to go away. But God will change you in the process as you cry out for help. “If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give His Spirit to those who ask?”


Let’s pray.


Father, it’s not just that we ourselves were once foolish and disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. It’s not just that’s what we were; it’s still what we are in way too many places in our lives. So would You please have mercy on us? Send Your Spirit to change us. Make us new. Deliver us from the power that still has such weight and force and influence within us. And like the apostle Paul, we say “the good we want to do we don’t end up doing; no, the evil we don’t want to do that’s what we keep on doing. Who will rescue us from this body of death? Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Amen.

© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.

This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.

Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.

To view recordings of our entire services, visit our Facebook page.

Print This Post