We Were Once…

1 Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. – Titus 3:1-7 ESV

For the believers on Crete to live consistently godly lives, they were going to have to be constantly reminded of what that kind of life looked like. Their natural human tendency would be to fall back into their old habits and to follow the patterns of this world. So, Paul charged Titus with the task of holding accountable the Christ-followers under his care. Christ-likeness does not come naturally or without effort. They would not become more like Christ without a willing desire to put to death the habits associated with their old way of life. Their new position in Christ should result in a determination to be like Christ. Which is why Paul told the Colossian believers:

So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. – Colossians 3:5 NLT

But Paul knew that the task of putting to death the old nature was impossible without the supernatural assistance of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. – Romans 8:13 ESV

The Holy Spirit provides the power, but the believer must cooperate with and submit to that power. In his letter to the Galatian believers, Paul referred to this partnership as walking, living, and being led “by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16, 18, 26). It is a relationship built on dependence and reliance. The believer supplies the desire to put away their patterns and behaviors associated with their former lifestyle, and the Spirit provides the power to make it possible. It is impossible to defeat the flesh in the flesh. The Holy Spirit’s power is indispensable.

But Paul knew that the human sin nature was a powerful foe, capable of deluding and distracting believers and keeping them mired in spiritual mediocrity.  That is why he put such a high priority on behavior. It wasn’t that their actions could earn them favor with God or make them more acceptable in His sight. It was that the full hope of the gospel message was to be experienced in the Christian’s daily victory over sin. The power of the gospel was to be visibly manifested in life change. And that life change was to have positive and negative expressions.

As Christians, they were to willingly submit to the authorities in their lives, including those within the Roman government. They were to live lives marked by obedience, not just to God, but to those whom God had placed over them, which meant Titus, the elders of the church, and all governmental authorities. And they were to be constantly prepared to do the right thing – what God would have them to do. That is what it means to walk, live and be led by the Spirit.

But godly behavior is also to be characterized by an absence of negative actions. And Paul points uses slander and quarreling as examples. Speaking ill of anyone, especially those in authority, is not acceptable behavior for the Christian. “Instead, they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone” (Titus 3:2 NLT).  One of the important distinctions here is that a lack of slander is not a proof of gentleness or humility. The absence of quarreling in the life of a believer does not necessarily mean they are filled with love. Slander must be replaced with words of encouragement. The desire to quarrel, driven by the need to be right, must be superseded by the desire for unity, and the willingness to die to one’s rights.

Paul knew this call to righteous living was not easy, especially when surrounded by those who were outside of Christ and motivated by their sin natures. And Paul wanted the believers on Crete to know that the only thing that set them apart from their unbelieving neighbors was their relationship with Christ. Before coming to know Christ as Savior, they had all been hopelessly and helplessly lost and incapable of living up to the standard to which Paul was calling them.

Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other. – Titus 3:3 NLT

Their former, pre-salvation condition had not been a pretty one. But something had happened. They had been miraculously transformed by the message of the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us – Titus 3:4-5 ESV

God saved them. And not because of anything they had done to earn that salvation. Their best deeds done on their best day and with the best of intentions were nothing to God. No, God saved them “according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5 ESV). Their salvation had been undeserved and unearned. They had gone from being enemies to heirs of God. They had experienced the unbelievable miracle of redemption, made possible by Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross on their behalf.

Because of his grace he made us right in his sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life. – Titus 3:7 NLT

That reality produced in Paul a visceral reaction. He couldn’t help but respond to the unbelievable truth of what God had done for him by doing everything in his power to live in grateful obedience to God’s expectations of him. He lived to please God. He wanted his life to be a constant expression of his thankfulness to God for the priceless gift of salvation. Because God had graciously provided eternal life for Paul, the least Paul could do was live in grateful submission to God’s will in this life. And it was this attitude of gratitude that led Paul to say:

My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:20 NLT

Paul never got over the shock of what God had done for him. And he wanted the believers on the island of Crete to share his awe of God’s grace by living lives that demonstrated their gratefulness through Spirit-empowered acts of righteousness. God gave His Son so that sinful men and women might experience abundant life – not just in some future eternal state, but right here, right now. His Son died in order to pay the penalty for our sins. He was raised back to life to guarantee our future resurrection, but also as a sign that we have died to sin and share in the power of that resurrection made possible by the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Paul was not calling the believers on Crete to do the impossible. He was reminding them that God’s power to save them was also meant to sanctify them – to transform them into the likeness of His Son. They had been redeemed by Christ, and now they were to seek to live like Christ.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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