For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age (Titus 2:11-12 NIV).

I was recently bored at home flipping through television channels when I came across the movie Saving Private Ryan (1998) on my daughter’s Netflix. I can’t believe it has been twenty-five years since I watched this movie for the first time. How time flies! 

The film is set in France in 1944 during World War II. It’s about a group of soldiers led by Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) on a mission to extricate Private Ryan (Matt Damon) from the war after his three brothers are killed in battle. The army administration realizes the gravity of the grief their mother will experience and orders that Private Ryan be found and sent home to spare his family the loss of all its sons. By the final battle scene, six soldiers, one by one, have sacrificed their lives to save Private Ryan. Captain John Miller dies on the battlefield from gunshot wounds as Private Ryan looks on in horror and disbelief. Miller pulls Ryan close and whispers to him with dying breaths, “Earn this! Earn it!” 

The movie aroused a strange emotion in me. How could I live with myself knowing six people died to save me? How could I ever live with this unpayable debt hanging over my head? How would I emotionally process this overwhelming grace? 

The power of grace should not evoke mere sentimental gratitude. It is much more potent than the pleasant feeling brought on by a Rockwell Thanksgiving painting. Its reward is much greater than appreciation for a day off from work.

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people” (Titus 2:11 NIV).

First, God’s grace is costly.

To save His people, God sacrificed His only Son. What would it be like to sacrifice your one and only son for others? Unimaginable. We see a little glimpse of this angst in Abraham’s life in Genesis 22:2. “ Then God said, ‘Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.’” 

Why was God demanding such difficult obedience from Abraham? Could it be that God was foreshadowing how He would feel about his Son, Jesus Christ, who would eventually come into the world to be sacrificed later? God the Father would abandon his Son to bring salvation to all people. Did God feel the pain of losing his Son? 

The sacrifice of Jesus reminds us that grace is not free. Salvation is costly. There is an enormous price tag attached to it. 

[Grace] teaches us to say No to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (Titus 2:12 NIV). 

Second, God’s grace is the key to our godliness. 

How do we become good people?

How do we become moral and ethical human beings? 

How do we become good Gracists? 

These are universal, religious questions. 

Deep within our hearts, we know we do not measure up. We know that God exists, but we have offended His holiness. Desperately hoping to make amends, we bargain to buy God off with our performance of good works. But we are not transformed; it is only a cold transaction. There is no love for God in our hearts when we are compelled by obligation.

Going back to the movie’s ending, many decades later, as an older man, Ryan, with his wife, visits Captain Miller’s grave at the Normandy American Cemetary in France. In the scene, Ryan is emotional, recalling Miller’s dying words to him. 

Ryan speaks to Miller before his tombstone saying, Every day, I think about what you said to me that day on the bridge. I’ve tried to live my life the best that I could. I hope that was enough. I hope that, at least in your eyes, I’ve earned what all of you have done for me.” Then he turns to his wife and desperately pleads, “Tell me I’ve led a good life. Tell me I’m a good man.” 

His wife replies, “You are.” 

Are we leading good lives? Are we good people? What is our motivation for following Christ and being good? Is it a sense of fear? A sense of obligation?

God gave His only Son freely so that we do not have to earn God’s saving grace (John 3:16 NIV). We are able to be good because God was good first. We act righteously because God was righteous first. We serve because God served us first. God does not demand our love, and we are not obligated to be good. It is our deep sense of gratitude for His grace that compels us to love Him and others and lead good lives. This is the key to our godliness. 

So, tonight I pray again as I lay down on my bed:

“O Lord, Thou hast given so much to me, 

Give one thing more, a grateful heart

Not thankful when it pleaseth me;

As if Thy blessings had spare days:

But such a heart, whose pulse may be Thy praise.” 

– George Herbert.

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