The Kindness of God.

2 Chronicles 33-34, Titus 3

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, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior. Titus 3:4-6 ESV

There are those who believe that the God of the Old Testament is somehow a different God than the one portrayed in the New Testament. The Old Testament God appears to be vengeful, angry, bloodthirsty and violent, while the God of the New Testament is a God of love, mercy and grace. But these oversimplified characterizations are too often based on a less-than-thorough understanding of the nature of God as revealed in the Bible. He cannot be relegated to a handful of character traits or given a label based on a few isolated incidences in Scripture. God is multifaceted, not one dimensional, and we see His full character on display throughout the entirety of Scripture. He is holy, righteous, loving, merciful, patient, quick to judge, jealous, gracious, powerful, tender, forgiving, condemning, permissive and controlling – all at the same time. We don't have to wait until the New Testament and the arrival of Jesus on the scene to discover just how loving, gracious and forgiving God can be. We see it on display in the stories of the Old Testament. Manasseh was a wicked king who “did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger” (2 Chronicles 33:6 ESV). In fact, he “led Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem astray, to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord had destroyed before the people of Israel” (2 Chronicles 33:9 ESV). He was so wicked that God eventually allowed him to fall into the hands of Assyrians, who captured him and took him in chains to Babylon. It was there, in the midst of his darkest days, that he saw the magnitude of his sins, and cried out to God. He “humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. He prayed to him and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom” (2 Chronicles 33:13 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

Manasseh had done nothing to deserve God's grace, kindness and forgiveness. But in spite of him, God restored him. God gave Manasseh a second chance. This man who had done everything in his power to replace the worship of God with the worship of false gods, was mercifully delivered by the very God he had forsaken. When Manasseh found himself bound in chains and living as a captive in Babylon, he didn't call out to any of his false gods to save him. He cried out to God. He humbled himself and repented. He placed himself at the mercy of his God, and he found forgiveness and restoration. When Manasseh's grandson, Josiah, became king of Judah, he proved to be a good king, He did “what was right in the eyes of the Lord, and walked in the ways of David his father” (2 Chronicles 34:2 ESV). He removed the idols and altars to the false gods. He cleansed Judah and Jerusalem. He repaired the house of the Lord. And in the midst of the restoration efforts on the Temple, the book of the Law was discovered. When it was read to Josiah and he discovered just how guilty he and the people of Judah were of living in disobedience to God's commands, he responded with mourning and confession. And God responded to Josiah's repentant, humble heart. “Because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before God when you heard his words against this place and its inhabitants, and you have humbled yourself before me and have torn your clothes and wept before me, I also have heard you” (2 Chronicles 34:27 ESV). God saw. God heard. God responded. Part of what Josiah had heard when the book of the Law was read to him was God's promises of curses if the people did not obey Him. The curses were still going to come, but God was going to spare Josiah from having to live through them. He mercifully told Josiah, “your eyes shall not see all the disaster that I will bring upon this place and it inhabitants” (2 Chronicles 34:28 ESV). God was going to be just and righteous, punishing Judah for its sins. But He was also going to be gracious and forgiving, mercifully sparing Josiah from having to live through the judgment to come.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Even though Josiah was a good king, he was still just as culpable and guilty as everyone else in the nation of Judah. Even he recognized that he was not exempt from the guilt revealed in God's law. They all stood condemned and worthy of God's full judgment and wrath. As a nation, Judah had been unfaithful and disobedient to God's commands. They were corporately condemned to endure God's righteous judgment. And Josiah knew it. He said, “For great is the wrath of the Lord that is poured out on us, because our fathers have not kept the word of the Lord, to do according to all that is written in this book” (2 Chronicles 34:21 ESV). Paul told Titus a very similar thing. He reminded this young man of the corporate culpability of all men as they stand before a holy, righteous, sinless God. “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 ESV). In his letter to the Corinthians believers, Paul described in graphic terms those who would not be allowed to share in the kingdom of God. “Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10 NLT). Then he drops the bomb: “Some of you were once like that…” (1 Corinthians 6:11 NLT). But something happened. Paul reminds them, “But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11 NLT). Paul said a similar thing to Titus. “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” (Titus 3:4-6 ESV). Paul makes it perfectly clear that God saved us, not because we deserved it, but because of His goodness and loving kindness. When we humbled ourselves before God, admitting our guilt and placing ourselves at His mercy, He saved us. He cleansed us. He made us holy. He poured out His Spirit on us.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

No man deserves the mercy of God. No man can earn the favor of God. Like the people of Judah, we all stand before Him as guilty and condemned – “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV), and “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 ESV). But the good news is that “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 ESV). In His kindness, God has provided a way in which man can escape the judgment to come. We can move from the hopeless state of being guilty as charged to being just, righteous and completely forgiven, with our sins completely pardoned. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1 ESV). What an amazing, gracious, kind and loving God we worship. He has made it possible for us to enjoy His forgiveness and undeserved mercy. And what should our response be? Paul gives us the answer. “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” (Titus 3:8 ESV). Because of all that God has done for us, we should long to do all we can for Him, not to earn His favor or wrack up brownie points. But to express our deep gratitude for His undeserved kindness and unmerited love.

Father, Your kindness of beyond comprehension. I was no more deserving of Your grace, mercy and forgiveness than Manasseh or Josiah. At one time I stood before You as guilty and condemned, fully deserving Your righteous judgment. But even in the midst of my guilt, shame, and sin, You saved me. Your expressed Your great love for me by sending Your own Son to die for me. He took my place on the cross and suffered the death I deserved. May I never take that priceless gift for granted. Help me to live in the light of Your incredible love. Give me the strength to live my life as a testimony and tribute to Your mercy and grace. Amen

Faithful, Yet Surrounded.

2 Chronicles 31-32, Titus 2

After all that Hezekiah had so faithfully done, Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah. He laid siege to the fortified cities, thinking to conquer them for himself. 2 Chronicles 32:1 NLT

We can sometimes falsely believe that our faithfulness to God somehow inoculates or protects us from trouble. It is easy to assume that if we do what God has called us to do and live as He has called us to live, we will enjoy a trouble-free life. But Hezekiah's life is a great illustration that this philosophy is not only unbiblical, but dangerous. Chapter 31 of 2 Chronicles outlines Hezekiah's efforts to restore the people of Judah to a right relationship with their God. He ordered the destruction of all the pillars and high places where false god had been worshiped throughout both Judah and Israel. He cut down the Asherim poles and destroyed all the altars where idol worship had taken place. And he did this not only in the nation of Judah, but in Israel as well. Then he reestablished proper worship of God by reorganizing the priests and Levites, and reinstituting the tithing system designed to support these men and their families. Hezekiah “did what was good and right and faithful before the Lord his God. And every work he undertook in the service of the house of God and in accordance with the law and the commandments, seeking his God, he did with all his heart, and prospered” (2 Chronicles 31:20-21 ESV). But this extremely positive assessment of Hezekiah and his faithfulness is followed by the somewhat surprising news that “after these things and these acts of faithfulness,” Hezekiah found himself faced with the prospect of being invaded by the Assyrians. At first blush it would seem that his faithfulness got him little more than an extra dose of trouble. So how would he respond? What would his reaction be to the news that his prosperity was suddenly being confronted with adversity?

What does this passage reveal about God?

God had never promised His people that they would be free from trouble. He had not offered them a trial-free existence devoid of conflict. But He had promised to be with them and to fight on their behalf. Even Jesus had told His disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 ESV). Paul told the believers in Rome, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39 ESV). A relationship with God does not exempt us from experiencing the difficulties associated with life in this fallen world. There will always be enemies who stand against us. There will always be trials that test our faith and expose the true condition of our hearts and measure the level of our trust in God. It is one thing to remain faithful when everything around us is going well. But when trouble raises its ugly head, we tend to get a much truer barometer of our faith.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Hezekiah did not overreact to his circumstances, but he did act. Rather than stand back and whine about his troubles, he took positive steps to prepare for them. We are told that “he planned with his officers and his might men” (2 Chronicles 32:3 ESV). The chronicler makes it clear that Hezekiah “set to work resolutely and built up…” (2 Chronicles 32:5 ESV). He built. He strengthened. He made. He set. He encouraged. Hezekiah got busy. He told the people, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with him, for there are more with us than with him. With him is an arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God, to help us and to fight our battles” (2 Chronicles 32:7-8 ESV). Even when Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, began to taunt Hezekiah and mock God, Hezekiah held his ground. The enemy was attempting to get the people to doubt God's salvation and reject Hezekiah's leadership. But instead of buying into the lies of the enemy, Hezekiah took his situation before the Lord. He had done his part in preparing for the possibility of an invasion, but he knew that God was the key to their ultimate success. And God heard Hezekiah's prayer and answered by sending an angel who struck down 185,000 Assyrians in the middle of the night. We're told that Sennacherib returned home in shame, only to be murdered by his own sons. Hezekiah had been faithful. But the enemies of God are relentless. In this lifetime we will always have to deal with opposition and difficulty. We must always remember that the Lord our God is with us, helping us fight our battles.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Life can be difficult. But God has not left us alone. He has provided us with salvation through His Son. He has filled us with power made possible by His Spirit. He has equipped us with His reliable, infallible Word. Paul reminded Titus that “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:11-14 ESV). We are surrounded. We are threatened on all sides by an enemy who mocks our God and taunts us to give up hoping in His ability to save us. We are constantly being encouraged to pursue ungodliness and worldly passions. But God has said that it is possible to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives – even in this present age. Those of us who have placed our faith in Christ as our Savior, must remain faithful even in the face of all the adversities of life. We must wait faithfully for our blessed hope. God is not done yet. He has not finished what He started. Our ultimate hope is not in this world, but in the one to come. But in the meantime, I must not lose sight of the fact that God is purifying for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works– even in the midst of all the trials and troubles of life.

Father, help me keep my focus on You. Don't let me get defeated or deflated by the troubles I encounter in this life. You are with me and You will fight any battles I face for me. But I must be prepared. Like Hezekiah, I must be willing to do my part. Then I need to trust You. Amen

The Need For Godly Leadership.

2 Chronicles 29-30, Titus 1

He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. Titus 1:9 ESV

Hezekiah was a like a breath of fresh air in the stagnant spiritual environment that had so long plagued Judah. The northern kingdom of Israel had already fallen to the Assyrians and the people had been taken into captivity. Hezekiah's father, Ahaz, had closed down the Temple of God, and led the people of Judah in the worship of false gods. He had built high places for the worship of these false gods all over the land of Judah. But then Hezekiah took the throne, and he proved to be a leader of a different sort. One of his first acts as king was to reopen the Temple. He recommissioned the priests, commanding them to consecrate and cleanse themselves so that they could properly care for and cleanse the Temple. Evidently, since the Temple had been shut down, these men had neglected their duties as the spiritual leaders of Judah. But Hezekiah ordered them to take seriously their God-given responsibility and cleanse the Temple. Then they were able to reinstate the sacrificial system and the worship of God. But one of the most amazing acts of spiritual leadership Hezekiah performed was his call to the remnant left in Israel to return to God. He sent messengers all throughout the land of Israel, begging those who had been left to repent and return. “O people of Israel, return to the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, that he may turn again to the remnant of you who have escaped from the hand of the kings of Assyria” (2 Chronicles 30:6 ESV). He reminded them that “the Lord your God is gracious and merciful and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him” (2 Chronicles 30:9 ESV). Hezekiah not only had a heart for God, but a heart for God's people – even those who were living in open rebellion to Him.

What does this passage reveal about God?

As Hezekiah had told the people of Israel, God is gracious and merciful. He is always willing to forgive. Even after all that the people had done to offend Him, God was still willing to forgive them. He was even willing to pardon those who ate the Passover meal even though they did so in an unworthy manner. It seems that many of the people showed up for the Passover having not properly consecrated themselves. They were ritually impure or unclean. But Hezekiah prayed, “May the good Lord pardon everyone who sets his heart to seek God, the Lord, the God of his fathers, even though not according to the sanctuary's rules of cleanness” (2 Chronicles 30:18-19 ESV). And God heard Hezekiah's prayer and graciously pardoned the people. His concern was the condition of their hearts. Their heartfelt desire to return to Him and worship Him was far more important than whether they had kept the letter of the law. God has always been concerned about the condition of the heart. He had made it clear that adherence to rules and rituals without the heart was worthless. Through the prophet, Isaiah, God had accused the people of Israel of going through the motions. “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men” (Isaiah 29:13 ESV). Many years later, Jesus Himself would say, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone” (Matthew 15:19 ESV). God looks at the heart. He knew the heart of Hezekiah. He could see the hearts of the people. He knew they were sincere and desired to worship Him, even though they may have failed to keep the letter of the law.  

What does this passage reveal about man?

Hezekiah was not just a political and military leader. He was a spiritual leader and he took his role seriously. He knew that the health and future well being of the nation was directly linked to their relationship with God. So he lead the people in returning to God. He called them back to a right relationship with the only one who could save them and protect them. But not everyone was willing to follow Hezekiah's leadership. Many of those living in what was left of the kingdom of Israel refused his invitation to return to the Lord. Even though they had suffered greatly at the hands of the Assyrians and watched as their relatives and friends were taken into captivity, when Hezekiah's messengers arrived inviting them to the Passover, “they laughed them to scorn and mocked them” (2 Chronicles 30:10 ESV). But there were those who did accept Hezekiah's offer and returned to the Lord. Not everything a godly leader does will appear successful. Not everyone will follow. The prophets of God are a perfect illustration of that truth. They faithfully followed the commands of God, telling the people the words of God, but the people would refuse to listen. The people would reject their calls to repent and return. They would ignore their warnings of God's impending punishment. But the prophets remained faithful to their God-given commission. Paul would command Titus to appoint elders in all the towns and villages where churches had been established. And he gave Titus clear criteria concerning the qualifications of these men. They were to be above reproach, not arrogant, quick-tempered, prone to drunkenness, or greedy. Instead, they were to be hospitable, lovers of good, self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. But more than anything, these men needed to be able to “give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9 ESV). God's people require godly leaders – men who are not afraid to speak the truth of God, boldly and unapologetically. Hezekiah was that kind of man.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

The church today is in desperate need of godly leaders. It is filled with complacent and casual Christians who have compromised their faith by growing comfortable with the world. There are many who go through the motions, attending church, even going to Bible studies and other seemingly spiritual activities, but their hearts are far from God. They are ignorant of the truth of God. They remain unrepentant of their sins and their hearts are far from Him. There is a need for godly leaders who will step up and speak out. The people of Judah needed Hezekiah. Had he not lead, the people would have continued to live according the example of Ahaz. Without Hezekiah's leadership, the priests and Levites would have remained unconsecrated and, therefore, unqualified to serve the people. The doors of the Temple would have remained shut and the sacrificial system unavailable. It took a godly leader to turn things around. I pray that I might be that kind of leader. I pray that God will raise up more men and women like Hezekiah in our day. We need leaders who are more committed to the cause of Christ and the call of God than the applause men.

Father, raise up more godly leaders in our day. The church is in an unhealthy state. There are many who claim to be Your people, who “profess to know God, but they deny him by their works” (Titus 1:16 ESV). May You raise up leaders who are unafraid to speak Your truth boldly and call Your people back to You. May our greatest desire be to call the people of God back to a sound faith and a firm commitment to You. Amen

Good Works In Light of God's Grace.

Titus 3

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 ESV

This entire letter to Titus has been focused on the behavior of believers. Paul wanted Titus to understand the vital importance of Christian conduct both inside and outside the local church fellowship. In the final chapter section of his letter, he told Titus to "Remind the believers to submit to the government and its officers. They should be obedient, always ready to do what is good. They must not slander anyone and must avoid quarreling. Instead, they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone" (Titus 3:1-2 NLT). Paul believed that Christians should make the best citizens. Our internal heart transformation, made possible by Christ's death and the Holy Spirit's presence, should result in external behavior modification. Believers should be willfully submissive and focused on doing good works. They should be courteous, gentle and humble in their interactions with others – both inside and outside of the church.

So much of what should motivate us is the grace and mercy we received from God. A believer should never assume an air of superiority or spiritual arrogance. The thought, "but for the grace of God, go I" should constantly be on the mind of the Christ-follower. Paul reminds Titus, "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). While we should fully appreciate out status as sons and daughters of God, we should never forget the reality of our condition prior to coming to Christ. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul gave a long list of all those who would not inherit the Kingdom of God: "those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people" (1 Corinthians 6:9-10 NLT). But before the Corinthian believers could smugly smile and look down their noses at those kinds of people, he reminded them, "some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Corinthians 6:11 NLT). Our pre-conversion condition should be easy for us to remember, because we see it all around us, in the lives of those with whom we live and interact. The lost world is a constant reminder of our former lost state. At one time, we were no better than them. In fact, Paul reminds us that God "saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5 NLT). Mercy, not merit, was the basis for our salvation. So God's grace should motivate us to live graciously among those who have yet to hear and accept the Good News of God's love. We enjoy a right standing with God because of the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross. We also stand to inherit eternal life, rather than eternal condemnation. The reality of those two statements should motivate us live godly lives among the ungodly. Our behavior should be radically different than that of the lost among whom we live. God's good grace should motivate good works among His people that will prove beneficial to all – both saved and lost alike.

Our presence on this earth is intended to be effectual and infecting. We are to be difference makers. God has called us to be salt and light, agents of change in a world of decay and darkness. And our greatest influence will not be through words, but actions. Jesus Himself told us, "Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples" (John 13:35 NLT). The Gospel professed and proven is far more powerful than the Gospel merely proclaimed. Changed lives are the greatest proof of the Gospel's life-changing power. Christ-like conduct among Christ-followers will always be the strongest evidence for our conversion. Our Spirit-empowered transformation should result is a transfiguration of our conduct and character, resulting in a radically different relationship with the world in which we live.

Father, sometimes it is far easier to talk about our salvation than it is to live it out. We can brag about our life change, but fail to model it for those with whom we live. Make our salvation real. Make our conversion tangible, resulting in true behavior change. May our lives be marked by good works that are motivated by Your good grace revealed in our lives through the gift of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Totally Committed.

Titus 2

He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds. – Titus 2:14 NLT

The real point of Paul's letter to Titus is to stress and promote changed behavior in the lives of believers. This is not a treatise on behavior modification. In other words, Paul is not condoning that the believers on the island of Crete simply start trying to act differently and modify their actions through self-effort. That would be pointless and futile. No one can truly change themselves by themselves. But what Paul was encouraging Titus to look for and expect was a gradual change in the character and conduct of the people under his care. The inner presence of the Spirit of God combined with a steady diet of the Word of God should produce measurable change in the people of God.

Paul emphasizes that Titus must "teach what accords with sound doctrine" (Titus 2:1 NLT). Paul always made a direct correlation between what someone professed to believe and how they behaved. There was to be no disconnect or disagreement between the two. Orthopraxy – correct practice – was to flow from orthodoxy – correct beliefs. As far as Paul was concerned, the two were inseparable. And so he encouraged Titus to teach and promote the kind of behavior that was in keeping with sound doctrine. "No condition and no period of life is to remain unaffected by the sanctifying influence of the gospel" (J. J. Van Oosterzee, “The Epistle of Paul to Titus,” in Lange’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, 11:15). The Gospel was to be life-altering. It was to affect and infect every area of an individual's life. The Good News isn't just that we get to go to heaven when we die, but that we can be radically reformed in this life. We can live differently in the here-and-now, not just in the hereafter.

Paul wastes no time in getting specific. He tells Titus to "teach the older men to exercise self-control, to be worthy of respect, and to live wisely. They must have sound faith and be filled with love and patience" (Titus 2:2 NLT). Their faith must be practical and visible. They are to "act their age," and to reflect a measure of spiritual maturity that should come with age. All the characteristics Paul lists are marks of maturity.

Titus was to instruct older women "to live in a way that honors God" and expect them to "teach others what is good" (Titus 2:3 NLT). These women were to be mentors to the younger women in the church, teaching them how to live and love well. They were to model godly behavior and encourage younger women through example and exhortation. Godliness should be contagious. Godly conduct is not to be some subjective, arbitrary decision left up to the individual, but is to be based on the Word of God and modeled by those who have a strong faith in God.

Paul went on to instruct Titus regarding young men and even slaves. Everyone was expected to life differently. Godly conduct was not something reserved for the spiritual elite or the professional pastor. It was to be the aspiration and expectation of everyone who called themselves a Christ-follower. Every believer has been "instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures" and to "live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God" (Titus 2:12 NLT). We have been given the capacity to change. God doesn't leave it all up to us. He has placed His Spirit within us and provided His Word to guide us. But we must listen to what the Spirit says and obey what the Word commands. We must seek the wisdom of God in the Word of God. We must desire righteousness over unrighteousness. We must devote ourselves to God rather than to the things of this world. What makes this all possible is a proper perspective. Paul tells Titus to teach those under his care that right living here on this earth is best accomplished when "we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed" (Titus 2:13 NLT). In other words, an eternal focus will allow us to view life on this earth in the proper perspective. Godless living and sinful pleasures will lose their appeal when considered against the reality of our future hope. The more we learn to see ourselves as eternal, rather than temporal, creatures, the easier it will be to focus our attention on pursuing the kind of behavior that reflect who we really are.

The bottom line for Paul was that Jesus Christ "gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds" (Titus 2:14 NLT). He didn't just give His life to take us to heaven. He gave His life to transform us into His own likeness. And while that process will some day be completed in heaven, it is to be an ongoing part of our lives as we live on this planet. Becoming increasingly more like Christ is to be the goal of every individual who claims to be a follow of Christ. Our salvation is to result in our ongoing transformation and sanctification. What we believe about Christ should result in behavior that reflects Christ.

Father, we desperately need for our behavior to accurately reflect our beliefs. Too often, there is a disconnect between the two, which is why so many people refuse to have anything to do with Christianity or Christ. As Your own people, we can be the worst form of advertising when it comes to the Christian faith. We ask that You continue your transformative work in our lives, calling us to live differently and distinctively in this world. Give us an eternal perspective and a passion for godliness. Amen.

Character Counts.

Titus 1

He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. – Titus 1:9 NLT

Like Timothy, Titus was one of Paul's protégés. He was a Greek Gentile whom Paul had evidently led to Christ. This young man had actually accompanied Paul on several of his missionary journeys and had gained the great apostle's trust, so that Paul was confident in sending him out on his own on numerous occasions as his representative. In fact, Paul had sent him to the island of Crete in order to help establish some sense of order within the churches there, including appointing elders to help him lead. "This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you" (Titus 1:5 NLT). As in the case of Timothy, Paul had to instruct Titus how to deal with false teachers who had become a real problem within the fledgling churches on Crete.

Titus found himself ministering in a place where the reputation of the inhabitants was far from stellar. Paul even quoted Epimenides, a 6th Century BC philosopher and religious prophet who happened to be a Cretan himself. He said, "Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons" (Titus 1:12 NLT). Paul went out of his way to paint a less-than-flattering picture of the people of Crete. He described them as"insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party" (Titus 1:10 NLT). Evidently, not only were the false teachers men of poor repute, so were some of the members of the local churches in Crete. So Paul spent a great deal of time in his letter talking about good works. He wanted Titus to understand just how important good character and moral behavior should be to the life of every believer. Paul commanded Titus to deal harshly and firmly with those whose lives were marked by laziness and lying. He didn't want his young disciple to tolerate the disorder and chaos these kinds of people were bringing into the church. He told Titus to "rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith" (Titus 1:13 NLT). Rebuking and restoration were both to be a part of Titus' ministry on Crete.

One of the first things Titus was to concentrate on was the appointment of elders for the local churches on Crete. Part of the problem of disorder was based on a lack of qualified leadership. So Paul told Titus what to look for in the kind of men needed to help lead the churches there. Notice that Paul's description has much to do with character and says little about Scripture knowledge, academic requirements, business success, or even leadership skills. Instead, Paul mentions qualities and characteristics that would have been visible to all those who knew these men. Titus was to look for the outward evidence of an inward transformation that had taken place in the lives of these men due to their relationship with Christ and their knowledge of the Word of God. Each of them were to "hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sounddoctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it" (Titus 1:9 NLT). In other words, they had to know the truth of the Gospel and the realities regarding God and His redemptive plan for man if they were going to be able to refute falsehood and defend the Good News from attack.

But the real point Paul seems to be making is the contrast of character between these future leaders and those who were doing harm to the church. Those who would lead the church had to be men who were above reproach or blameless. This didn't mean that they had to be perfect or sinless. The Greek word Paul used referred to the fact that these men were to have no glaring character flaws and they didn't live their lives in such a way that it would cause people to point their fingers in criticism, resulting in harm to the reputation of the church. They were to be loving husbands who didn't have reputations for unfaithfulness. They were to be fathers who had proven themselves capable leaders at home, having seen their children come to faith in Christ and who were modeling lives of moral integrity and obedience. Paul went on to say that an elder candidate "must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain" (Titus 1:7 NLT). Instead, he was to be "hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined" (Titus 1:8 NLT).

Titus was going to need help in dealing with the disorder and negative moral influences within the churches on Crete. He couldn't handle it on his own. So Paul emphasized the need for him to find the right kind of men to lovingly lead the flock of God, providing much-needed discipline and modeling the character of Christ to all those around them.

Father, the church needs men of character today. We desperately need those whose lives are marked by moral integrity and faithfulness to help lead and protect Your flock. We are surrounded by those who would love to destroy and distract Your people, and far too often those within the church lack the spiritual maturity to care for themselves. So we ask that You would raise up men and women who are filled with Your Spirit and firmly founded on Your Word to lead Your church. Amen.

Grace From Start To Finish.

Titus 2

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age. – Vs 11-12

The grace of God has appeared in the form of Jesus Christ. He is the ultimate manifestation of God's grace – His undeserved, unmerited favor. God poured out His grace on mankind, instead of pouring out His well-deserved wrath. He offered salvation in place of condemnation and eternal separation. He provided a way out when we were down and out, dead in our trespasses and sins. What an incredible gift we have been given. But His grace doesn't stop at salvation. It includes our ongoing sanctification. God not only provided His grace in the form of His Son so that we might have life everlasting, but life more abundantly – here and now. This grace not only brings salvation, it provides instruction. It teaches us to deny ungodly ways. To "say 'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age" (NIV). But grace doesn't burden us with a list of do's and don'ts. It doesn't turn our sanctification into some kind of works-based, human-dependent attempt at godliness. No, grace shows us that it is not about us at all. It is ALL about God and His provision of everything we need to live the life He has called us to live.

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. – 2 Peter 1:3

Yet many of us as Christians still struggle with living the Christian life. We just can't seem to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions. We have a hard time living self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age. We seem to say, "No" only to say, "Yes" the next time around. We attempt to practice self-control, only to lose control a few minutes later. So what's wrong with this picture? It is that we are failing to learn the lesson grace has to teach us. We can no more transform ourselves than we can save ourselves. Yet we try repeatedly and exhaustively to do just that. We freely accept the notion that God saved us in spite of us. He rescued and redeemed us out of sin and made us His own. But something happened. Listen to what the authors of the book, TrueFaced have to say about this situation:

But, something happened to many of us in the intervening years. We lost confidence that his delight of us and new life in us would be a strong enough impetus for a growth that would glorify God and fix our junk. So, we gradually bought the slick sales pitch that told us we would need to find something more, something others seemed to have that we could never quite get our hands around. Something magical and mystical that we would receive if we tried hard enough and proved good enough, often enough. And so we began learning to prop things up. We went back to trying to impress God and others -- back to posturing, positioning, manipulating, trying to appear better than who we were. Our two-faced life has severely stunted our growth. And broken our hearts. And left us gasping.

Wow! Isn't that where some of us find ourselves? Worn out and gasping for air. We have turned the walk of the Christian life into a laborious, energy-sapping, joy-robbing journey of disappointment. All because we have failed to learn the lessons grace has to offer. Verses 13-14 tell us that our journey toward godliness is not up to us, but it is up to the grace of God in the form of Jesus Christ.

…we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

It is Jesus who redeemed us from a life of wickedness and ungodliness. It is Jesus who purified us with His death on the cross. It is by His power that we are able to stand in the presence of God as righteous. It is because of His grace that we are able to be called children of God and fellow heirs with Him. We are a people of grace from start to finish. We are saved by grace, and able to live godly lives because of grace. In spite of an active sin nature, a powerful enemy, and a world that hates us and longs to see us fail.God's grace is sufficient. God's grace is all we need. Which takes the burden off of me.

So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace. – Romans 11:5-6

Father, thank You for Your grace. Without it I would still be dead in my sins. But I would also be unable to live the life You've called me to live. Thank You for making a life of godliness possible because Your grace is always available. Never let me forget that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Amen


The Heart of a Servant.

Titus 1

From Paul, a slave of God and apostle of Jesus Christ, to further the faith of God’s chosen ones and the knowledge of the truth that is in keeping with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the ages began. – Vs 1 (NET)

Three things jump out of this first verse to me. They set the stage for what is to come in his letter to Titus.

Paul's role

He sees himself as a slave or bondservant of God. For Paul, this was obviously a privilege as he refers to himself repeatedly in this way throughout his letters. He starts off virtually every one of his letters with this description of himself. For Paul, it was a position of honor, not humiliation. And while it is difficult for us as modern Americans to understand this concept, it was not foreign to the average Jew. In fact, it was part of their heritage. According to the NET Bible study notes.:

Undoubtedly the background for the concept of being the Lord’s slave or servant is to be found in the Old Testament scriptures. For a Jew this concept did not connote drudgery, but honor and privilege. It was used of national Israel at times (Isa 43:10), but was especially associated with famous OT personalities, including such great men as Moses (Josh 14:7), David (Ps 89:3; cf. 2 Sam 7:5, 8) and Elijah (2 Kgs 10:10); all these men were 'servants (or slaves) of the Lord.

Paul considered himself in good company when he referred to himself as God's slave or servant. He was serving the God of the universe. What greater privilege and position could one man hold? Do we see ourselves in that same light or have we reversed the roles, viewing God as our personal slave or servant? The truth is, I often see God as my personal valet, asking Him to do for me what I want to have done. I want Him to bless my decisions, fix my problems, clean up my messes, answer my requests, do my bidding, meet my needs, make my happy. Those are not the roles of the all-powerful God, but of a common, everyday servant. I have somehow gotten our roles reversed. Paul didn't suffer from that delusion.

Secondly, Paul refers to himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ. He was a "sent one," a messenger of Jesus Christ, with the responsibility of taking the good news of salvation through Christ to the Gentiles. He served God and represented Christ. Paul understood his role and responsibility and took it very seriously. He did not deviate from it or allow himself to be distracted from it. Yet how easily I can be detoured from my role as a messenger for Jesus Christ. I have the same message to share and the same role to play, yet I can easily forget the fact that I too have been sent into the world as Christ's ambassador. Instead of representing Him, I can fall into the delusion that I represent myself. God serves me and I represent myself. Two very common mistakes for as Christians today.

Paul's responsibilities

Grow in faith - Paul mentions his responsibilities as a slave of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ. First, he says that he is responsible to "further the faith of God's chosen ones" (NET Bible). He understood that he had a responsibility to encourage believers to grow in their faith. Not only was he to share the good news of faith in Christ, he was to see that those who received Christ, grew in Him. Their faith was to increase and grow stronger. And we see this happening from the day the church began. "So the churches were being strengthened in the faith and were increasing in number every day" (Acts 16:5). Paul praised the Thessalonian believers for their increasing faith: "We ought to thank God always for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith flourishes more and more and the love of each one of you all for one another is ever greater. He told the Corinthians believers: "we hope that as your faith continues to grow, our work may be greatly expanded among you according to our limits (2 Corinthians 10:15). Seeing believers grow in their faith was a responsibility Paul took seriously.

Increase in the knowledge of the truth - Paul also knew he was responsible for helping believers grow in their knowledge of the truth. He was not content to simply share the gospel, but knew that believers would need to have a fuller understanding of God's truth to survive and thrive in a hostile environment where falsehood and the lies of the enemy would surround them. Later in chapter two of Titus, Paul says that God"desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." And God wants men to grow in their knowledge of the truth. That is the role of sanctification in the life of the believer. Paul was not content for any follower of Christ to remain as he was when saved, but expected them to grow. Peter felt the same way. "Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation" (1 Peter 2:2). In his letter to the Hebrews Paul says, "Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity" (Hebrews 6:1). Increasing in knowledge of the truth, pressing on to spiritual maturity, growing in respect to salvation. This was Paul's charge and he took it seriously. Do we?

Focused on eternity - Paul's perspective was eternal, not temporal. He kept his eye on the goal: eternity and eternal life. He knew this life did not hold all there was to have. There was more and it was yet to come. Anything he did in this life was focused on the life to come. It was all motivated by a future hope. All that he did was "in hope of eternal life" (Vs 1). We increase in faith and grow in our knowledge of the truth – in hope of eternal life. That is our motivation. If we lose sight of eternity, we lose any reason for growing in our faith or increasing our knowledge of the truth. We begin to live in the here and now. We obsess about the present. The world becomes our focus instead of the world to come. Paul knew perspective was everything in the life of the believer. Without it, we flounder and fail. But how easy it is for us to take our eyes off the goal. So Paul reminds us that he had a responsibility to keep those under his care growing in faith, increasing in their knowledge of the truth and focused on the future. We have the same responsibilities to one another today.

Father, let me have the heart and mind of Paul. Give me the mind of a servant, and the understanding that my role is to help those around me increase in their faith daily, grow in their knowledge of the truth, and place their hope in the reality of eternity. Don't let me get distracted. Keep me focused on the goal and dedicated to the task at hand. Amen