Titus 2:11 tells us that “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, TRAINING us…”
That word training seems to stand out. The idea that God’s grace saves us is well understood; the idea that it trains us is less explored.
The grace we’re speaking of is God’s unmerited favor toward sinful people, secured through the life death and resurrection of Jesus. The grace that brings salvation appeared because Jesus appeared. And because of the grace that is found in, with, through, because of, and thanks to Jesus, there is hope for the world. A sinful people can be reconciled to their creator who is making all things new. The cosmic scope of this is important, because grace is not just another lifestyle concept or highly effective habit to try out. It is the defining truth of life. Because the grace of God appeared, everything is different.
So we don’t grow in the faith by moving on from grace as if it were just an elementary idea. We grow by coming back to grace every day, finding that it is still true and in fresh supply. We grow by allowing grace to open our eyes, stir our affections, recalibrate our hearts, guide our steps, and sustain us in the ups and downs.
We are saved by grace into a new life in Christ. We are trained by grace to grow in that life.
In this way, grace is not just transactional (taking our sin and giving us righteousness); it’s also transformational. Grace changes us the moment the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to it and continues to change us as we partner with the Spirit to further understand the “immeasurable riches” and live out the implications in all of life. This is to say, constantly coming back to grace trains us to be a certain kind of people. It trains us to live into our identity as a people rescued out of darkness and “into his marvelous light”, adopted as sons and daughters, welcomed as citizens of his kingdom, sent as ambassadors of that kingdom to the world. We are saved by grace into a new life in Christ. We are trained by grace to grow in that life.
Whether we realize it or not, we are always being trained by something, in some direction, toward some end. And if we’re NOT being trained by the truth of grace, we ARE being trained by the lies of something else. We are constantly surrounded by false gospels (different ideas about what life is all about and where hope is found) and the practices that are born from them. These things pull on our mind, will, and emotions and, like grace, they train us to be certain kinds of people. That is why the church’s worship comes back to grace over and over, to re-orient ourselves.
In his book You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit, James K.A. Smith makes this point: “The practices of Christian worship train our love— they are practice for the coming kingdom, habituating us as citizens of the kingdom of God. Christian worship, we should recognize, is essentially a counter-formation to those rival liturgies we are often immersed in, cultural practices that covertly capture our loves and longings, mis-calibrating them, orienting us to rival versions of the good life.” Being trained by grace is a counter-formation to the training of the world that pulls us away from the beautiful hope found in Jesus.
When we’re trained by grace, in this counter-formation, we become a people who are set apart. In the words of Michael Goheen, the church becomes a contrast community. In his book A Light to the Nations, he states, “Out of a communal life rooted in the gospel that comes to know God’s saving power in worship, preaching, and prayer will flow a community that embodies the new life of God’s kingdom in the midst of its particular culture. We live as part of our culture, and yet as a contrast community we challenge the religious spirits that are incompatible with the kingdom of God.”
So what does it look like when the forces around us train us in a way that is “incompatible with the kingdom of God”? And what does it look like to have our hearts re-calibrated by grace to live as the people of God? Here are a few examples:
- Forever scrolling images on social media of unrealistically perfect lives trains us to feel inferior to others. Grace trains us to feel fully loved and accepted.
- A professional and economic system built on survival-of-the-fittest trains us that we need to use and dominate people. Grace trains us to serve and elevate others above ourselves.
- A constant barrage of advertising campaigns trains us to feel perpetually discontent. Grace trains us to value things properly and remember we’ve been given the greatest possible gift.
- A polarized political conversation trains us to create caricatures of people, believe the worst, and demonize them. Grace trains us to have empathy and seek understanding, to love our neighbor.
- Looking at porn trains us (among other things) to objectify and violate people for our own lusts. Grace trains us that every human being has dignity and value and that love gives and strength protects.
- A culture of blame and litigation trains us to hide our sins and leverage the sins of others agains them. Grace trains us to confess our own faults, seek forgiveness, and forgive others.
- A pattern of being hurt or disappointed by others trains us to trust only ourselves. Grace trains us to surrender control to a loving God.
- A culture of consumerism and waste trains us that everything is disposable (even people) if there are better options to be had. Grace trains us to love and care for who God has placed in our lives and what he has given us.
- A culture of immediate gratification trains us that we should be able to have everything we want right now. Grace trains us in God’s wisdom and timing, and that the best things often come from long, costly processes that bear fruit in season.
- The disconnected nature of online dialog trains us that our actions don’t have consequences, especially how we treat one another. Grace trains us in the weight of our sin and its effect on others.
- Always living for the next escape (e.g. weekend binge drinking) trains us that the only way to get through life is to medicate our hurt. Grace trains us that there is real healing, real purpose, and even joy in the everyday.
- A culture that rejects all authority and all grand narratives trains us to believe that no one should be able to tell us how to live. Grace trains us that we were bought with a price and that Jesus is Lord over all. And that is good news.
Can you think of more examples? How might we be trained by grace to be a contrast community?