My friend, Naomi, stands up for asylum seekers. She write letters TO them in custody on Manus Island and other places. And she writes letters FOR them. To newspapers, and the immigration department. She’s even studying to become a LAWYER, so she can work more effectively to help them. And what MOVES her is to hear their stories. About what they endured in their home countries, and what they endured to MAKE it to Australia.
You have to wonder, “What would convince someone to pay all they have?” To leave behind their whole lives? To risk their live and the lives of their children? To spend weeks in stinky, cramped conditions, sea-sick and hungry, on a leaky tub of a boat? All on the SLIM CHANCE that if the boat makes it safely into Australian waters. After waiting for years, they’ll be granted asylum? Why do they DO it?
It might seem strange to US. But not to THEM. To them, it’s OBVIOUS. Because what they’re looking FORWARD TO is so much better than what they leave BEHIND. They’ve left behind bloodshed and war. They’ve left behind poverty and persecution. Famine and danger. So they’ll put up with ALMOST ANYTHING for the chance for something BETTER. The chance for FREEDOM, AND PEACE AND SECURITY. They’re looking FORWARD to something better. And BACK to something they want to LEAVE behind. And they BOTH motivate them IN THE PRESENT.
And it’s like that for US as CHRISTIANS. In Titus ch 3 we see that Christians have SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO. And they’ve also got something to look BACK to. Back to things they’ve left behind. One to PULL them forward, and the other to PUSH them. And BOTH motivate them in the PRESENT.
Look at v3. Paul wants them to LOOK BACK. To what they’ve been saved FROM.
3 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.
It’s not a flattering portrait, is it? But it’s ACCURATE. Not NOW, but ONCE – “at ONE time”. Before they were Christians, Paul and Titus and the rest were FOOLISH. Failing to recognise God from his Word and his Creation and his Son.
And DISOBEDIENT. Failing to respond to God the way they should. Thinking THEY knew better than God. Thinking life was about what THEY wanted, rather than what God decided.
And they were “deceived and ENSLAVED by all kinds of passions and pleasures”. It’s funny isn’t it? Non-Christian People think they’re FREE to live the way they want. And that CHRISTIANS are the ones who are trapped.
It might be the single, pleasure-seeking party lifestyle. Free to BE with whoever they want, doing whatever they want. They don’t want to be TIED DOWN by Christian morality. Constrained. Restricted.
But this verse says that it’s THAT lifestyle that’s slavery. Bound up to live for SELF. Bound up in a life that’s HEADED NOWHERE. That doesn’t LAST. That LIES – that offers life but delivers DEATH. But you don’t need to have a WILD lifestyle to be enslaved.
It’s the same for the good, MORAL non-Christians. You probably know PLENTY of them. But they’re still deceived and enslaved AS WELL. Enslaved by a mortgage, or by materialism, or a lack of contentment, or the need for approval, or the short-sightedness of thinking this world is all there is. But they can’t see that they’re actually SLAVES to the things that they’re free to do. Like a carrot dangling on the end of a stick strapped to a donkey’s back. He can see the carrot, but he can never REACH it. Every step he takes moves the carrot one step further forward TOO.
And it’s the same with the so-called “freedom” of life lived outside God’s plans. It’s not freedom, it’s a TRAP. Trapped by the compulsion to gamble, or to seek pleasure. Unable to break out of the vicious cycle of desire and satisfaction, and greater desire and greater satisfaction. Trapped in the emptiness of seeking SATISFACTION in things that can never truly SATISFY. Or seeking SECURITY in things that can never LAST. Trapped in the powerlessness of WANTING to overcome selfishness and self-centredness. Or to be a better person. But not being ABLE to change. Failing again and again. An inbuilt nature to do things OUR way, rather than God’s way.
And then there’s the slavery of how we treat each other. The cycle of hate and being hated. Like a mouse on a treadmill, achieving nothing but getting dizzy. (See there at the end of v3?)
“We lived in malice and envy, BEING hated and HATING ONE ANOTHER.”
The WORLD says the way to personal success is to DRAG others BACK. You can’t WIN unless others LOSE. It’s just NATURAL to wish them HARM, wish them FAILURE. And if they harm YOU, then success and victory means harming them MORE.
We see it in the gang warfare raging through Sydney the last few years. Personal revenge and justice just escalate as people are hurt, and seek to inflict even GREATER hurt on those who’ve hurt THEM. But there’s no FREEDOM in that. It’s A TRAP. It’s SLAVERY.
That’s what life USED to be like. It’s what it’s STILL like for people who aren’t Christian. So don’t look LONGINGLY at that life. There’s no lasting pleasure there. No freedom. Just slavery. And deception. And foolishness.
And don’t JUDGE those people EITHER. ACCEPT them. Be GENTLE with them, and HUMBLE. Be CONSIDERATE. That’s the point of v3 following v2. The connection is a bit more obvious in the Greek, It says “Show true humility toward all men… FOR YOU TOO used to be just like them.” They MAY be foolish and deceived and enslaved. But you were JUST AS blind. Just as trapped and enslaved and deceived. The DETAILS might have been different, but the broad brushstrokes of the portrait were the same. So you’re on shaky ground to be BLAMING them. Or CRITICISING them. Or JUDGING them. Don’t look down on them, or think you’re any better. HUMILITY is the right response when you’ve been SAVED BY GRACE.
Which is what Paul moves onto NEXT. WONDERFULLY, INCREDIBLY, v3 isn’t where you are NOW. If you’re a Christian, God’s CHANGED the picture. If you’re a Christian, then that picture’s OUTDATED. And the CURRENT portrait’s MUCH better.
Like the before and after photos with Weightwatchers. Or bodybuilders. BEFORE they’re overweight, or unhealthy, or unfit. But NOW, they’re slim, trim, and terrific.
And it’s like that with the portraits Paul’s comparing here. The PRESENT picture is MUCH better than the OLD one. What we’ve been saved FROM (v3). Compared with NOW WE’VE BEEN SAVED.
And in v4 he describes HOW God changed the situation. (Saved BY). For those who are Christian, we’ve been saved by his KINDNESS, LOVE AND MERCY. (At ONE time, we were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved)
4 But when the KINDNESS and LOVE of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his MERCY. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior,
It’s a wonderful description. God responds to our disobedience, ignorance and hate/ with kindness, love and mercy. It’s the ultimate INAPPROPRIATE RESPONSE.
There’s a wonderful scene in the book, and the musical, Les Miserables. Jean Valjean is released from prison. He can’t find anywhere to stay until the Bishop Myriel takes him in. During the night Valjean steals the Bishop’s silverware, and runs away. He’s caught by the police and returned to the Bishop. He’s betrayed the Bishop’s hospitality, and deserves to be thrown back in jail. Instead the Bishop explains to the police that the silverware was a gift. And then reprimands Valjean for forgetting, also, to take the silver candlesticks. He’s rescued, and set on the path to redemption.
It’s AN INAPPROPRIATE RESPONSE. He DESERVES wrath and punishment. But he’s shown mercy and forgiveness INSTEAD.
And God gives us an even GREATER inappropriate response. He returns HATE with LOVE. He shows us MERCY – withholding something we deserve. We DESERVE judgment, but he shows us kindness instead.
And it’s not just a FEELING. It’s an ACTION. V5. His kindness and love EXPRESSED itself in God our Saviour SAVING us. RESCUING us from the SLAVERY we were trapped in. And it’s THAT RESCUE when God’s kindness and love APPEARED.
God’s character is all THEORETICAL until he actually SHOWS that character in SAVING us. In revealing his SON to us. Revealing justice and forgiveness and new life in the death and resurrection of Jesus. It’s like KNOWING that the lifeguard at the beach is a good swimmer. He’s sitting there in his chair. He’s got the uniform on, so he must be a good swimmer. You know it THEORETICALLY. But it’s not REVEALED until you’re getting dragged out to sea in a rip, until you’re exhausted, and your head’s sinking under the waves. Not until you feel a solid grip and a strong arm grabbing you tight and lifting you onto a rescue board. And you’re SAFE. It’s only THEN, the lifeguard’s qualities are REVEALED. Same with God. His mercy, love and kindness are revealed in THE ACT OF SAVING US.
As v5 and 6 explain, he does it by washing us clean. Declaring us forgiven and righteous. He does it by making us NEW PEOPLE through his Holy Spirit poured out generously on us.
We’re NOT who we used to be. We’re no longer FOOLISH. We know whose world it is. And who deserves our allegiance. We’re no longer DISOBEDIENT. Sure, we still fall. But our basic orientation is towards what GOD wants. We’re no longer DECEIVED. God’s opened our eyes. We understand eternity. We understand what SIN is. And GRACE and FORGIVENESS. And we’re no longer ENSLAVED. Instead, we’re set free (RESCUED) to be SLAVES, instead, TO GOD. We’re NEW PEOPLE. Reborn and renewed. And (last part of v6) he does it all THROUGH Jesus Christ our Saviour. On the BASIS of his work on our behalf. That’s how God’s kindness, love and mercy are REVEALED to us. Have you NOTICED that? Have you ACCEPTED it? Have you APPRECIATED it?
If you wonder what God thinks of you. What he’s like. If you’re not SURE. Then spend some time at the foot of the cross. THAT’S where we come to understand God’s character. Where it’s REVEALED to us. That’s LOOKING BACK.
But that’s not all. God doesn’t just save us, make us new, and then leave us as we were. He wants us LOOKING FORWARD. We’ve been saved TO something. There are a whole lot of BENEFITS that come with the new relationship. He says to us, “But WAIT, there’s MORE!” Forgiveness and sonship and his Spirit and assurance and purpose. All those things come NOW. But there’s much more we DON’T see yet.
And so the Christian life is about waiting expectantly for God to deliver on his promises. To trust his word, even when we can’t SEE it. It’s about LOOKING FORWARD. We’ve been saved FROM something. But also saved TO something. V7. God saved us through his Holy Spirit through Jesus…
7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become HEIRS having the HOPE of eternal life.
God promises us an inheritance beyond our wildest dreams. But just not yet. That’s the thing about inheritances. They’re CERTAIN. Promised. But you don’t get them YET. God promises us eternal life. Life lived with the priorities and orientation and perspective of eternity about it. We BEGIN it now, but we don’t get it all until THEN. God promises us wealth and riches. But not NOW. We have to look forward to THEN. He promises us health and wholeness. He promises us restoration and rest and peace. He promises us perfect intimacy without hurt or embarrassment. He promises us no tears or hunger or danger or fear or pain. But not NOW. We have to LOOK FORWARD/ to THEN. To ETERNITY. When everything will be restored and renovated. To the new heavens and the new earth.
It might seem physically impossible, but the Christian life is about looking BACK while looking FORWARD. It’s about looking back to what we ONCE were. What we were saved FROM. And looking FORWARD to what we’ve been saved TO.
And BOTH of them are strong motivations for how we should think and behave IN THE PRESENT. Just like the asylum seekers. Looking BACK to the persecution and hardship. Looking FORWARD to the peace and freedom of Australia. BOTH of these perspectives motivate them IN THE PRESENT to risk the open seas, enduring the seasickness and hunger.
And Paul, as every good pastor does, wants to APPLY the theology. How it makes a DIFFERENCE TODAY. THIS WEEK. He talks about what we’ve been saved FOR. V8. God saved us, justifying us by his grace, so we might become heirs, having the hope of eternal life. V8.
8 This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, SO THAT THOSE WHO HAVE TRUSTED IN GOD MAY BE CAREFUL TO DEVOTE THEMSELVES TO DOING WHAT IS GOOD.
Looking back, and looking forward. Focussing on how God’s saved us, and why. Helps us to do what we’re here for NOW. Which is DEVOTING OURSELVES TO DOING GOOD.
He says it again down in v14. Just to make sure we’ve got the message.
14 Our people must learn to DEVOTE THEMSELVES TO DOING WHAT IS GOOD, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives.
And Ch 2 is all about what doing good LOOKS LIKE for different groups. Being careful to devote yourself to living humbly, sacrificially, honestly, with self-control. So that the world would NOTICE. So that the teaching about Jesus looks ATTRACTIVE. That’s what counts.
How are you GOING with those things? Those ATTITUDES? Or are you coming up with EXCUSES?
Two ways we can go bad with doing good
Perhaps you’re letting yourself get distracted from the main game. Seems like that was happening for Titus. V9. Don’t get side-tracked, says Paul, by arguments about things that don’t matter. Some churches have huge rows about the most insignificant things. Like the instruments you use, or the chairs you sit in. Or the right amount of water to use for baptism. While people all around them are blindly headed for judgment. People all around are deceived and enslaved, living with malice and envy, being hated and hating. And churches are arguing about tea cups and the colour of stained glass windows.
Paul wants NOTHING TO DO with that sort of stuff. Avoid it, he says in v9. It’s unprofitable and useless. V10.
10 Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him.
He’s just wasting your time and your attention and your energy.
We’ve been saved so we can be CAREFUL to DEVOTE ourselves to DOING GOOD. DEVOTE ourselves. Is that what we’re DOING? Or are you letting yourself get DISTRACTED?
We get distracted when we focus on the MINOR things. And forget the MAJOR things. That’s Paul’s point in v8. He’s just reminded Titus of the wonderful good news of what God’s done for us in Jesus. Then he says,
This is a trustworthy saying. I want you to STRESS THESE THINGS.
ONE way we get distracted from doing good, is when we stop reminding ourselves of the GOSPEL. And THE REST of life crowds in, and becomes more important than living a life of gratitude.
People all over Australia today are in church giving God their Sunday mornings. But then once they walk out the door, life goes back to normal. God takes a back seat until NEXT Sunday morning.
God has ONE CORNER of their lives. But everything ELSE is out-of-bounds. Because they don’t KNOW God’s mercy and grace. Or they’ve FORGOTTEN it. Because their church leaders haven’t STRESSED these things. EMPHASISED them. Kept the MAJOR things MAJOR.
And that mistake (treating the IMPORTANT things as UNIMPORTANT) leads to a SECOND mistake. Treating the LESS important things as MOST important. People devote themselves to doing good SO MUCH. That they start to believe that it’s DOING GOOD that SAVES them. But that’s making a DEADLY mistake, isn’t it? It misses the whole point of good works. That it’s by looking back, and recognising how God SAVES you that you RESPOND by doing good works. That good works are what you’re saved FOR.
God’s work saves you FIRST, THEN you do good works SECOND. It’s not GOOD WORKS that saves you FIRST, then God does some work for you SECOND.
Did you see it, there in v5? You don’t save yourself by being good at all. He saved you NOT BECAUSE OF THE RIGHTEOUS THINGS WE’D DONE. But simply because of his MERCY. Completely undeserved.
And the person with true faith in that work/ true gratitude for it/ will do good works in RESPONSE to that. Will DEVOTE himself to them.
Is that the attitude YOU bring to the good works you do? Constant amazement at God’s goodness? Thankfulness and gratitude? And does that SHOW ITSELF in perseverance and humility and non-judgmentalism and patience? Does it show itself in your willingness to STICK AT those good works? Week and week. Year after year. Even though no one else notices. All for an audience of ONE. Because it’s in response to God’s goodness that you’re doing it all IN THE FIRST PLACE? Or is there, instead, a bitterness, or a people-pleasing or self-serving attitude? Or a weariness and frustration?
Look back at what you ONCE were. Look FORWARD to what God’s promised for you. And let those truths MOTIVATE you to live for him NOW. DEVOTING yourselves to what’s good.