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First Wednesday of Advent
Titus 2:11-14

11For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13while we wait for the blessed hope–the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Self-Indulgence Creates Craving, Grace Creates Self- Control

10th Sunday after Pentecost
Titus 2:11-14

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!  In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, Just “Like a kid in a candy store.”  There’s a well-loved fictional children’s story that goes something like this: a wealthy man owned a factory that made a bunch of candy.  After the factory was closed for 3 years it reopened and began selling tons of candy all over the world.  But, nobody was allowed to see its operations.  But one day the owner announced a special prize.  In 5 of his factory’s chocolate candy bars there was a golden ticket allowing the owner to have an exclusive tour of the chocolate factory.  By chance, a boy named Charlie happens to get the last golden ticket.  5 children and their chaperones are allowed to tour the factory.  The tour begins and before they go on the tour each child has to sign a long contract that the factory is not responsible for any harm that comes to the children.  The tour begins and Augustus falls into a hot chocolate river attempting to drink some of it and must leave the factory.  Veruca is judged to be “bad-nut” by the nut-judging Squirrels and is thrown out of the factory.  Violet impetuously grabs an experimental piece of gum and turns into a giant blueberry and has to leave the factory.  And Mike shrinks himself to the size of a few inches by mischievously trying out an experimental TV broadcast thing.  The only one left is Charlie.  And in the original movie he, too, samples some Fizzy Lifting soda which causes him to float to the ceiling and almost get sucked out a giant exhaust fan.  Fortunately for him, he’s able to get down.  Perhaps you’ve seen the movie or read the book, it’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Surrounded by the lures of candy the children couldn’t resist.  The lure of the sweets, the temptations were just too compelling for the children and they had to have it.  And they were willing to disobey in order to get it.  Whoever coined the phrase “like a kid in a candy store” was right.

But really, is it much different for us?  We live in a society of many, many freedoms.  We enjoy our freedoms and those freedoms enable us to do many things.  We also, in comparison to past civilizations, live in a world of unprecedented wealth and material and luxury.  The combination of these things makes it very accessible for us to be self-indulgent.  There is little keeping us from being over-indulgent with the pleasures and treasures of this earthly life.  There is little hindering us from living without restraint.  The mantra of the world we live in is “There are no limits.  If it feels good, do it!  Gratify yourself!”  Advertising often thrives on it.  How often in one day do we hear things like, “You deserve this, you owe it to yourself to indulge, if it feels good, go ahead!”

I think we’ve all also heard many accounts of self-indulgence or people living with self-control.  I’ve heard of people winning the lottery, taking the lump sum pay out, and squandering it and are broke within a year.  There are magazines that make their living on telling the details of all the Hollywood stars who’ve become popular and wealthy and the have become monsters with terribly messed up lives.  A few years ago I remember the story about a family who was down and out financially and was given a brand new mansion to live in by the show Extreme Home Makeover.  Then, within a matter of years their home was lost to foreclosure.  Why?  The loss of self-control and the takeover of self-indulgence.  The paper is also full of these stories: the desire for more wealth causes someone to steal or embezzle.  The desire to feel better about oneself causes someone to indulge in drugs or alcohol.  The desire for sex causes an unmarried couple to go too far, causes a husband or wife to be unfaithful to his or her spouse, broken homes, broken families, broken lives.

But what about you and me?  Are we innocent in this world of self-indulgence or loss of self-control?  When was the last time you or I lost our temper?  When was the last time we spoke things we shouldn’t have?  When was the last time we charged too much on the credit card or bought something we couldn’t afford?  When was the last time we permitted indecent thoughts or lust to linger in our minds?  When was the last time we over-indulged our body, eating or drinking more than we should have or failing to exercise the temple of the Holy Spirit?  Often self-indulgence involves taking a good blessing of God and abusing it.  Pride convinces us that we deserve all the things that we think will make us feel good.  But the result?  Any striving after the selfish appetites of our sinful nature leads only to a greater craving for more and plunges us into greater spiritual trouble.  Finally, self-indulgence boils down to abandoning what I have already in God and thinking that the pleasures and treasures of this life will give me what only God can give.  Nothing, nothing, nothing in this life can give you or me: lasting joy, lasting peace, lasting fulfillment, lasting meaning, lasting purpose, and lasting significance.  Those things can ONLY come from God.

You and I have failed miserably.  We’ve indulged ourselves more than we could ever count.  We deserve nothing from God but punishment.  And that’s what makes grace grace; pure, undeserved grace.

For the grace of God that brings salvation for all has appeared.  Where did this grace, this rich and undeserved love appear?  It appeared the night the angel proclaimed, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people; today in the down of David a Savior has been born to you, he is Christ the Lord.”  It appeared as Jesus withstood the every one of the devil’s temptations to self-indulgence.  It appeared as Jesus gave Himself in service to others his whole life and never indulged selfish appetites.  It appeared as Jesus hung bloodied and beaten on a cross paying the price for all sins – yours and mine included.  It appeared as that same Savior burst from the tomb of death alive proving the victory was won the payment for sin was made.

And what does this grace do?  “It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.”  But isn’t it God’s law that says, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal?”  Yes, God’s law demands us to say no to ungodliness.  But it’s God’s grace that moves us and motivates us to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions.  It is God’s grace that enables us to reject self-indulgence from the heart.  It’s God’s grace that creates in our hearts the desire for self-control.  We can’t demonstrate godly self-control in our lives unless God’s grace has enabled us to do so.  We can demonstrate self-control for all kinds of reasons.  Even someone who doesn’t believe in God can come to the conclusion that leisure and pleasure have to be contained in order to reach a higher good.  But the Christian who grasps the grace of God thinks not so much about the negative effects of self-indulgence, but thinks about the amazing and rich grace of God and asks, “How could I not live a self-controlled, upright and godly life?”  I have a Savior who’s lived, died, and rose for me!

Add to that what we know: We are waiting for the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.  One day Jesus will return.  And when Jesus returns we’ll see all the worldly stuff we’re tempted to indulge in  for what it really is: temporary and fleeting.  But rather, unlike the fleeting pleasures and treasures of this world, we look forward with a certain hope for an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade kept in heaven for you!

Jesus redeemed us from all wickedness- all our self-indulgent sins and our self-indulgent ways – by Jesus’ blood you have been purified, cleansed, and freed from sin and it’s slavery.  So what do we want to do?  Enslave ourselves to sin again?  Plunge ourselves back into self-indulgence?  No way!  As God’s own dearly loved people how can we not be eager to do what is good?  How can we not strive for self-control?

It’s God’s grace, the gospel, that is the power source for everything we do as Christians.  It’s God’s grace that is the power source for living self-controlled lives.  And what does that mean?  That means empowered by God’s grace we keep our emotions and feelings in check and don’t let them escalate and cause us to lose our temper, become easily angered, or react to someone with rage.  Empowered by God’s grace we can maintain self-control financially as we properly distinguish wants from needs and not let our emotions lead us to indulge in things we can’t afford.  Empowered by God’s grace we can live self-controlled with our bodies by taking care of them by how we eat, by what we put into our bodies, and by what thoughts we allow access in our minds.  Empowered by God’s grace we can live in self-control by guarding our hearts and bodies from sexual impurity.

Like a kid in the candy store we are each surrounded by an enormous buffet of options for self-indulgence.  How do we live?  How can we be self-controlled?  On our own we can’t.  But the grace of God has set us free.  Keep the grace of front and center in your heart, live in light of the fact that Christ came once to redeem us and will come again to take us home.  It’s that grace that assures us that we have all we need in God our Savior that disciplines us to live in self-control and uprightness and godliness.  Remind yourself of this constantly, keep a focus on God’s grace, say to yourself “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”  And may that shape your heart, your tongue, and your actions in Christ this week.  Amen.