Paul was instructing Titus on how he should pastor the Church in Crete. His instruction was consistent with his other letters to the churches. There is much to remind us of how we should live our lives.
“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.”
But Paul doesn’t just list do’s and don’ts of Christian living, rather he delves into why our lives as Christians are not like the lives of those who do not believe in God. Paul tells us how at one time we were no different than anyone else. “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” (Titus 3:3).
Many of us would attempt to soften Paul’s words in our own lives. We don’t like to see ourselves painted as ever having been this way. Maybe we could be described as slaves to passions and pleasures, but having the intent to do evil and cause harm to others and hating one another? God tells us through Paul that this is in fact how we were.
“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,”
Here are the meat and potatoes of this chapter (and of the whole Bible). Paul states we were hated by others and hating others in our former days, but then God began to work with us. He saves us, not because we are good, but because He is good. God, in His great love for us, sends His son, Jesus Christ, to come and die in our place in order to fulfill the law of God and redeem us from our sins. Jesus redeems us. We are not saved in any way because of any acts of righteousness we have done, but because of Jesus’ righteousness.
Notice what Paul says next. We are saved by the “washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” We were bad, then we were saved by Jesus, and with that, there was regeneration and renewal that took place through the Holy Spirit. What Paul is telling us is that there is a change that takes place in believers once they have been saved. You must have repented of your former way of life. You must be “born again” and become a new creation. As that new creation, we no longer live a life of disobedience, malice, and hating one another. The Holy Spirit which comes to reside in us at regeneration begins to change our hearts and attitudes to reflect the heart and attitude of God. It is a transformation that takes a lifetime to bring us to perfection, but it begins immediately. We should start to notice a difference in ourselves.
Paul says to Titus, “The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people” (Titus 3:8). One of the signs of our regeneration is that we have a desire not only to no longer sin, but to do good works. We desire to do the kind of things our Father in heaven does. We join him in His work of showing love to those around us.
Is that what we see in our life as a believer? Are we no longer living as we used to in sin? Are we producing good works? Are we reaching out to those around us in grace and love, first to our spouse and our family, and then to those others around us? Harder yet, are we learning to love those who hate us? Are we at least getting closer in that area? If we aren’t, we need to stop and ask ourselves if we are truly saved.
There have been many Christian preachers that have erroneously taught that all we have to do is say a little prayer asking Jesus into our life and we will be saved. That is part of receiving salvation, but importantly there must be a repentance of our sins first. We must recognize that we are sinners and need God to redeem us from our sins. We ask Him in at that point to save us, and through the process of regeneration and renewal, change us forever.
Prior to my getting saved, I was hated by others, and I most definitely expressed hatred toward others. I used manipulation like a Stradivarius. I was deftly skilled at moving people and at hurting them. I was fueled with anger all the time and was hard to be around. My mom once told me how she dreaded to hear the sound of the school bus turning the corner in the afternoon because she knew that I was on it. I feel bad now for how she must have felt.
The good news is, I’m not that way anymore. Christ in my life has changed me, sometimes quickly, but usually in slow, steady progressions. I’m not saying that I’m perfect. My human nature still trips me up from time to time. But, I desire now to be like my Father. I don’t want rage and malice in my life. Instead, I want to do good works, not because it earns salvation – I already have that, but rather because I want to be like my Dad.
Paul says it again: “And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful” (Titus 3:14). Do we reflect this? It is a sign that a transformational change manifested by the Holy Spirit is continually happening in us, a desire to live without sin and to actively love one another as our Father does. Let’s ask God to help us be more intentional in this work of the Spirit in us.