If you were to ask the average Christian, “How can you become more self-controlled, more upright—essentially, more in line with God’s will?” what would the answer be? Greater will power, perhaps. Or maybe more theological knowledge. Having accountability partners. Maintaining a consistent quiet time. The list goes on.
What if you asked the Apostle Paul? His answer would be clear: you change when you experience the grace of God. “The grace of God,” Paul says, “train[s] us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives” (Titus 2:11–12). How does God’s grace do this? By focusing our attention in three directions:
The gospel points UPWARD, redirecting our worship.
Sin problems don’t start as sin problems. They start as worship problems. At the root of all sin, as the Apostle Paul explains, is the colossal mistake of “giving the glory of God to created things” (Romans 1:23). The Hebrew word for glory (kabod) carried the connotation of “weight.” The Greek word for glory (doxa) hints at ideas of majesty and beauty. Put the two together and you get a good idea of the problem: we gave a weightiness and a beauty to things more than we gave to God. As Matt Papa says in Look and Live, sin is simply worship misdirected.
To change sin at the heart level, which is where God wants to change it, he has to change what we worship. As Paul Tripp puts it, “If we worship our way into sin, we have to worship our way out.” The gospel, and the gospel alone, does that, redirecting our worship and reigniting our passions. It points us upward to a God who is better and more glorious and more satisfying than any of our pathetic idols.
The gospel points BACKWARD, restoring our gratefulness.
Every now and then, someone tries to identify one sin as the core sin, the one really bad guy that leads to everything else. I’ve seen people point the finger at pride, at lust, at envy. What I hardly ever hear is what Paul says in Romans 1:21: “They did not honor God as God or give thanks to him.” Thanklessness! Did I hear you right, Paul?
This may not seem obvious at first, but think about it. When you lack gratitude, not only do you rob someone of the glory that belongs to them; you also convince yourself that you could have gotten on fine without them. I’ve heard Tim Keller describe it like plagiarism. When you plagiarize, you steal credit that belongs to someone else. But that’s only half of the problem. The other half is that you also deceive others into thinking you’re someone you aren’t. If I were to find some lost C.S. Lewis book manuscript in a relative’s attic and publish it as my own, that may impress some folks. But when the publisher comes asking for more, I’m in a bind.