The Mystery of Faith and Godliness

1 & 2 Timothy/Titus  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  35:59
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God has give the church a sure pillar and bulwark against unbelief and ungodliness, it is the gospel of Christ's Incarnation, Resurrection and Ascension.

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My wife Lorna loves to read or watch British mysteries. Part of the fun of these mysteries is trying to figure out “who done it” before the detective in the story. In chapter three of 1 Timothy, Paul uses the word “mystery” twice. First is found in his list of the qualifications of a deacon.
1 Timothy 3:8–9 ESV
Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.
Then in the closing verses of the chapter he writes this:
1 Timothy 3:14–16 ESV
I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.
We have already learned in our study of 1 Timothy that Paul is wrote this letter to Timothy to instruct him how to preserve “sound doctrine” and “sound behavior” in the church. We see these two goals laid out for us in verse 15.
1 Timothy 3:15 ESV
if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.
In light of Paul’s goals, it is apparent that the “mystery of faith” corresponds to “sound doctrine” and the “mystery of godliness” corresponds to “sound behavior.”
So what is Paul saying here? Is he teaching that the way Christians can arrive at sound doctrine and behavior is by putting on their Sherlock Holmes hats and by the power of human reason and deduction solve the mystery! Actually, not at all! When we look at how mystery was used in the New Testament and other first century writings we learn that a “mystery” is a truth that was previously only hinted at, but is now fully revealed by the power of God. We see a clear example of this in Paul’s previous letter to the Ephesians:
Ephesians 3:4–5 ESV
When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.
Consequently, there is a body of knowledge about the Messiah that according to Paul in 1 Timothy 3 is able to preserve sound faith and godliness. This is an amazing claim! There is not a Christian here who is not interested in persevering in sound faith and godliness. We have all seen too many people who once professed faith in Christ, but today are in the bondage of unbelief and sin. They are like the man in the iron cage in Bunyan’s Pilgrim's Progress.
The man in the iron cage is Bunyan’s way of portraying the person in Jesus’ parable of the sower who welcomes the gospel at first, but quickly falls away into unbelief. The author of Hebrews gives us an even more frightening warning about such people:
Hebrews 6:4–6 ESV
For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.
Thank God that there is a sure and certain bulwark against such unbelief and ungodliness. This mighty bulwark is the Mystery of Christ found in our text this morning! It is not some strange or esoteric doctrine (like that which was being taught in the Mystery Religions of Paul’s time) but the familiar and publically proclaimed message about Christ.
1 Timothy 3:16 ESV
Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.
Notice that there are three parts to this message about Christ: His Incarnation, His Resurrection and His Ascension. Let us begin with His Incarnation and learn how it protects our faith and godliness.

The Incarnation of Jesus Christ

If you dig deep enough, all major heresies find their root here. Either they make a mistake about Christ’s human nature or they make a mistake about Christ’s divine nature. The confession that Christ was fully man and fully God acts like a pillar upholding the truth and a bulwark defending against attacks to the truth. It is by holding fast to this confession that the church is able to act as a pillar and bulwark of the truth:
1 Timothy 3:15 ESV
if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.
The doctrine of the incarnation is so important because only by being fully divine and fully human was Jesus able to atone for our sins. As the great theologian Anselm of Canterbury reminds us—only a human can pay the price of humanities sin and only God can bear the weight of God wrath against sin.
Not only is the incarnation essential for sound faith and doctrine, but it is the fountain head of all true godliness. It is as we experience God’s love for us at the cross that we become truly loving. It is as we experience God’s forgiveness at the cross that we are empowered to forgive. It is as we see Christ’s humility, that we become humble.
One of the most famous passages in the New Testament that teach this truth is found in Paul’s letter to the Philippians:
Philippians 2:4–8 ESV
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
The mystery of the Incarnation goes even deeper than this, because God has revealed that Christ is still being manifested in the flesh—in the flesh of his people!
2 Corinthians 4:7–10 ESV
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.
As Paul goes no to say in his letter to the Corinthians, this should have a tremendous impact on how we live our lives.
1 Corinthians 6:19–20 ESV
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
This focus on the body leads us to the second great mystery about Christ that guards our faith and godliness—the Resurrection.

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

Here the emphasis is on how the resurrection vindicated Christ. To appreciate the significance of this we need to remind ourselves that the cross was a form of punishment reserved for the worse criminals. For the modern Christian the cross has become a cherished symbol that adorns our places of worship and our necks. However, as the hymn “The Old Rugged Cross” reminds us, in the first century, the cross was a “emblem of suffering and shame.”
Without the confession, “He has risen,” the confession, “He has died for sinners,” would have no power to save. Only by vindicating Christ’s death by the resurrection can we have assurance that Christ’s death has the power to save us.
This doctrine is of such central importance, that this early Christian confession sites a three-fold witness:
The witness of angels.
The witness of those who proclaim the gospel.
The witness of those who believe in the gospel.
The first witnesses to the resurrection were angels.
Matthew 28:5–6 ESV
But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.
Because our unbelieving world counts angels as nothing more than fairy-tail characters, they discount this witness. This only reveals their ignorance of spiritual things. We who believe the word of God are not searching for other intelligent life in the universe, we know that it here all around us in the form of unseen angelic beings. If these beings had not witnessed the resurrection of Jesus Christ, then Jesus Christ would not have been raised from the death. The early church understood this, so it place as witnesses first and foremost the witness of angels!
Next this ancient confession sites the witness of those who proclaim Christ among the nations. This is a reference to all who proclaim or preach the gospel, but especially the apostles. The testimony and faith of the first eye witnesses of the resurrection still serves as a powerful apologetic to the resurrection. The reason why this is as follows: Only their actual witnessing of the risen Lord is able to explain their testimony. They would not be willing to suffer as they did if the resurrection was a lie. Moreover their high moral character and teaching does not jive with a blatant about the resurrection. The apostles were not crazy, nor were they liars—the only possibility that makes sense is that they were reliable witnesses to the resurrection of Christ!
Finally, the confession sites the witness of those who believe. The truthfulness of the resurrection is the only explanation for the transformed lives of millions of people across the centuries and across the globe. If this subjective witness was heard from the lips of an isolated few it could be easily dismissed, but a great multitude of believers beyond count count join with us today in singing our closing song: “You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart!”
Yes, we “serve a risen Savior, He’s in the world today,” but he is also in heaven sitting on His Father’s throne and this brings us to the final mystery we confess: The Ascension of Jesus Christ.

The Ascension of Jesus Christ

The early church simply confessed, “(He) was taken up in glory.” Later, the church added to this confess the words we confessed today in the Apostles’ Creed--”He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father almighty. From thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead.”
Because Jesus has ascended into heaven, he is able to serve as our Prophet who sends his Spirit to “lead us into all truth” (Jn 16:13), as Priest to intercede for us (Heb 7:25) and King to protect us (1 Pet 1:3-5). The hope the ascension provides us gives us the power to persevere in sound doctrine and behavior.
In his second letter to Timothy, Paul sites another early church hymn or confession. As I read it to you, notice how Paul connects Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension to our perseverance and consequently our assurance of salvation.
2 Timothy 2:9–13 ESV
for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.


Did you notice how this second confession ends, “if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.”
I want to take you back to Bunyan’s picture of the man in the iron cage. This man is not in the iron cage because he once had true saving faith and then lost it, but because he confessed a faith he never possessed. A true saving faith can only be revealed to us by God—it is a mystery! You will never get an assurance of salvation by looking at yourself, because more often than not, when you look at yourself you are going to see “faithlessness”. We gain assurance of salvation by looking at Jesus because he is “faithful.”
Where do you see that faithfulness of Jesus? You see it in his incarnation, his resurrection and in his ascension!
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