2:11-14 For the grace of God, which brings salvation to all men, has appeared, schooling us to renounce godlessness and worldly desires for forbidden things, and to live in this world prudently, justly and reverently, because we expectantly await the realization of our blessed hope--I mean the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from the power of all lawlessness, and to purify us as a special people for himself, a people eager for all fine works.
There are few passages in the New Testament which so vividly set out the moral power of the Incarnation as this does. Its whole stress is the miracle of moral change which Jesus Christ can work.
This miracle is repeatedly here expressed in the most interesting and significant way. Isaiah once exhorted his people: "Cease to do evil; learn to do good" ( Isaiah 1:16-17 ). First, there is the negative side of goodness, the giving up of that which is evil and the liberation from that which is low; second, there is its positive side, the acquisition of the shining virtues which mark the Christian life.
First, there is the renunciation of all godlessness and worldly desires. What did Paul mean by worldly desires? Chrysostom said that worldly things are things which do not pass over with us into heaven but are dissolved together with this present world. A man is very short-sighted if he sets all his heart and expends all his labour on things which he must leave behind when he quits this world. But an even simpler interpretation of worldly desires is that they are for things we could not show to God. It is only Christ who can make not only our outward life but also our inward heart fit for God to see.
That was the negative side of the moral power of the incarnation; now comes the positive side. Jesus Christ makes us able to live with the prudence which has everything under perfect control, and which allows no passion or desire more than its proper place; with the justice which enables us to give both to God and to men that which is their due; with the reverence which makes us live in the awareness that this world is nothing other than the temple of God.
The dynamic of this new life is the expectation of the coming of Jesus Christ. When a royal visit is expected, everything is cleansed and decorated, and made fit for the royal eye to see. The Christian is the man who is always prepared for the coming of the King of kings.
Finally Paul goes on to sum up what Jesus Christ has done, and once again he does it first negatively and then positively.
Jesus has redeemed us from the power of lawlessness, that power which makes us sin.
Jesus can purify us until we are fit to be the special people of God. The word we have translated special (periousios, Greek #4041 ) is interesting. It means reserved for; and it was specially used for that part of the spoils of a battle or a campaign which the king who had conquered set apart specially for himself. Through the work of Jesus Christ, the Christian becomes fit to be the special possession of God.
The moral power of the Incarnation is a tremendous thought. Christ not only liberated us from the penalty of past sin; he can enable us to live the perfect life within this world of space and time; and he can so cleanse us that we become fit in the life to come to be the special possession of God.