Dear fellow believers in the salvation we have found in Jesus Christ:
I think that no verse in the New Testament captures the message of Christmas better than Titus 2:11. “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men and teaches us to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.” This is the core of the Christian message—the grace of God. But the grace of God is not found in some philosophy, some great idea, some invention, or some other type of progress. It’s found in a person, in Jesus Christ himself. God became man and was born as a baby in this world, like everybody else. This is the grace of God in person.
But I would like to stress that this is not only about the way of salvation for everyone. Paul goes on to tell us that God’s grace teaches us to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, righteous and godly lives.
That is a very strange thing. How can you change people’s lives through grace? But this is a message Paul stresses again and again. Think of Romans 12:1: “I admonish you by the mercy of God.” We might smile a bit at that suggestion! Can you really admonish children by grace or by mercy? Imagine being a child in that situation. You are supposed to be in bed by 10:00 in the evening, but you know your father is very merciful, so if you don’t go to bed, who cares?
We may think that admonishing or shaping people through grace and mercy is not possible. But that is the core message of Christianity. That is the core message that the church fathers, especially St. Augustine, expressed again and again. This is the message of the Reformation that turned the church upside down.
We are not delivered from living ungodly, worldly lives through judgment, or through people screaming at us, pressuring us, or using human means to fix us. Rather, the only way our lives can change and become holy is by the grace of God. This is the core message we still stand for. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, the grace of God is not a “cheap grace” or a free pass to excuse criminals; it is a path to a transformed life, to complete commitment to God.
Only the grace and mercy of God can change our hearts deeply so that we can love ourselves, love others, and—above all—love God himself.