Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men. For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared.
He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
In this letter to Titus, Paul is plying his apostolic gift in the Church by practicing what he preached, “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2) Paul had left Titus, Paul’s true child in a common faith, in Crete with the delegated task of finding faithful men and appointing them as overseers in each city where he found communities of saints.
Paul was sadly aware that not all turned out to be good stewards of the grace of God. This no doubt saddened him for the sake their souls but it galvanized his determination to preach the pure gospel that was entrusted to him. Paul believed the gospel was discredited as something less than the transformational miracle it was when believers did not bear the fruit of it. He was jealous for the reputation of the gospel. This comes through regularly in his teaching…..
In all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us. Titus 2:7
Urge bondslaves to be subject to their own masters in everything, to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith so that they will adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect. Titus 2:7
To Paul it was inconceivable that transformation would not occur in the life of one in whom Christ had taken up residence. (Remember, we are His temples.) Early Christian history even reveals that the lives of new professing believers were observed for a time until the community had seen evidence of transformation and commitment to the body of Christ. It was not until then that they were baptized. N.T. Wright comments; “Paul saw baptism as the moment when someone was brought into the community marked by the death and resurrection of Jesus. From 1 Corinthians 12 we learn that it is intimately connected, as well, with the gift of the holy spirit.”
Was Paul just down on human nature? Was he just a pessimistic sad sack when he says that men are foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending their lives in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another? Or, was Paul speaking accurately about all human nature prior to regeneration? I believe the latter is clearly the case. Even more intense diatribes by Paul on our depravity can be found in 2 Timothy 3:1-5 and in Romans 1:29-32.
We can learn much about transformation here. While believers are regenerated by Christ’s presence in their lives, holy lifestyles do not just pop out of them. It apparently requires teaching and admonition to stimulate the new life within. And from there it requires the implementation of the will in believing obedience to manifest that new Life. While it might be tempting to think new life is simply a byproduct of our choices, this would be a great error in thinking. New life is manifest because believing obedience connects the will to the eternity that is already within us. To illustrate this I have an example from personal experience.
I was once alienated from a particular person. In my heart I believed this person had harmed me and was committed to bringing me further harm as their opportunities presented themselves. More than anything I wanted to assemble a jury and have this case tried. I wanted exonerated on every count where I had been unjustly accused. I was torqued and loosing a battle with hatred.
My theology and my will were at cross-purposes at this point. More accurately God and I were at cross-purposes. I knew the scriptures said to give thanks for all things, to bless your enemy and pray for them but my heart was essentially saying, “No! This is unfair and I want my day in court!
My standing prayer almost from the conception of my Christian life has been, “Search me Oh God and know my heart, try me and know my anxious thoughts and see if there be any hurtful way in me and lead me in the everlasting way.” Until then, I didn’t know quite what His searching was going to feel like and what kind of hurtful ways it might expose.
While I was being energized in my flesh with anger and self pity and a host of other rotting attitudes, my spirit was crying out for life. I knew I was being tested but I could not find it in myself to let this thing go. I KNEW I was innocent! WHY God is this injustice happening?! But God had me hemmed in because of other inescapable realities: His sovereignty and His intimate awareness and involvement in the circumstances of my heart. Out of sheer misery I finally opened up enough to pray, “What are you saying to me God? Even if it’s hard please speak.”
I was reading in Romans at the time. When I came across 12:18; “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men”, God began speaking directly to my heart. By God’s grace this directive somehow slipped around my defenses and I knew that God was not interested in my vindication. And He was not making any commentary at all about the responsibility of the offending party. He was telling me clearly that I needed to lay my case down (or take up my cross in bible language). I knew I was to go to this person and ask them to forgive me for my wretched sinful attitudes.
When I agreed with God to do this grace flooded my heart. When it came to that unthinkable moment of humbling myself before this enemy, it was honest, innocent and easy. This was a watershed moment in my spiritual life. I discovered that when I engaged my will (very much contrary to my feelings), responding to the Lord in believing obedience, the LIfe that was already in me was there prepared to provide the divine capacity to forgive. This was one my WOW-OMG-GOD moments.
My point is that I didn’t have the benefit of a big inspirational wind pushing me in the direction of reconciliation. No. I wrestled with the Truth in my own heart for more than a year. The truth was that I was in violation of the Laws of Love with my selfish insistance on my own rights. Note: If you have bought into a gospel that caters to your personal rights, I would quickly abandon that particular gospel. It is infected at the root and will never produce eternal fruit.
I had to agree with God that there were hurtful ways in my heart and I had to engage my will to act. This whole messy internal wrestling match preceded the release of God’s grace. Oh, but when God’s grace came, what healing poured into the lives of the previously alienated persons! Grace in generous measures actually spilled over into the network of believers associated with this incident and is paying kingdom dividends even to this date.
Here is part of the mystery I live with. I know that it is by grace that we are saved into eternal life and that it had nothing to do with me but, at the same time, I can also say that when working out that eternal Life within me (with no shortage of fear and trembling), it does depend on me. My will is involved as I love God through believing obedience.
Father raise up the Paul’s and the Timothy’s and Titus’s who can faithfully entrust the true gospel to other faithful men. Raise up those who will remind us of the dynamics of both salvation’s immediate and long term expressions. As heirs, may our inheritance in Christ be so visible in character and deed that all onlookers can see the tangible hope of eternal life. May the cumulative stories of intervention and transformation find their audience in our lost and skeptical world. May the gospel of the kingdom be adorned by the transformed lives of Your true children in the common faith. Amen.