15 June 2023

Grace and salvation in the present age.

Titus 2.11-15.

In Titus, Paul presents the Cretan apostle with instructions about how to choose Christian elders in the island’s churches—the mature folks who are gonna assume leadership roles, and guide the next generation to follow Jesus. It’s mainly about what sort of character these people are to have. They’re meant to be fruitful people—not necessarily talented people, educated people, or attractive people. Plenty of pagans put such people in leadership, and look where it gets ’em.

For that matter, plenty of Christians do it too, and this is why whenever pagans think of Christian bishops and pastors, they regularly think of cultish autocrats who charm their way into getting followers and money, but lack any good character. They think of nationalists, white supremacists, sexists who preach toxic masculinity instead of love, homophobes who preach persecution instead of love. They don’t think of people who follow Jesus, and love everyone like Jesus does; they think of hypocrites. And y’know, if we put people into Christian leadership despite anything Paul taught Timothy and Titus, these pagans aren’t wrong. Pagans may not know Jesus, but they like him—so they should like his followers when we’re trying to be like Jesus.

And when we have leaders who are serious about being like Jesus, and we have people who are serious about being like Jesus, we get a healthy church kinda like Paul described in today’s passage.

Titus 2.11-15 KWL
11 For God’s grace is now obvious:
Salvation to all people!
12 Educating us into renouncing impiety and worldly desires;
we should live soberly, fairly, and godly in the present age,
13 patiently awaiting “the blessed hope,”
the appearance of the glory
of our great God and savior, Christ Jesus.
14 He gives himself for us
so he might redeem us from all lawlessness,
and might purify his own unique people,
who are eager for good works.
15 Speak these things.
Encourage and rebuke, with all authority.
No one is allowed to dismiss you.

We get people who preach that God wants to save everybody. Everybody. EVERYBODY. He’s not only interested in the elect; he’s not only trying to save Jews and—whoops!—gentiles somehow got included. He intentionally wants everybody. He created everybody; he wants everybody.

And he wants everybody as-is. “Cleaning up” first implies it’s “cleaning up” which saved us; it’s not. In whatever state you’re in, repent and come to Jesus. Just bear in mind once you come to Jesus, he’s not gonna leave us as-is. The Holy Spirit’s gonna try to grow fruit in us. We’re expected to change for the better. But that comes later. In the meanwhile: As you are. As-is.

And the Spirit will educate us into being like Jesus. Tt 2.12 Ditching impiety, our natural tendency to not give a rip about what God thinks, but only what we think; we gotta live a new lifestyle which submits to God’s opinion about everything. Ditching worldly desires, our natural tendency to get comfortable, please our taste buds, get stoned, entertain ourselves, feel self-righteous, and do all of it at the expense of other people—while, paradoxically, seeking their approval. Nope; the Spirit encourages us to be sober, fair, and godly. We’re meant to become good people—not just by self-righteous Christian standards, but by everyone’s standards. Woe to you when only Christians think you’re a good guy, but everybody else thinks you’re a dick… ’cause yeah, you’re a dick.

Looking forward to Jesus.

Paul expected Jesus’s second coming to take place in his lifetime. All the ancient Christians did. Most Christians ever since Jesus left the earth, did. Because he can return at any time, so they figured, “Why not now?” The sooner the better! Come Lord Jesus; come save the world!

And we still look forward to that. He could return at any time. Even so, don’t be surprised if he holds off for a few more centuries. He’s not finished with the people of this age just yet, still wants ’em to repent, and is willing to delay his return till then. 2Pe 3.9 It’s entirely possible that the first time you see Jesus in person is not gonna be at his second coming; either he’ll specially appear to you, or you’ll see him when you die.

But even if Jesus puts off his second coming for another 20 centuries, there’s still gonna be a second coming. We Christians don’t give up the hope of that. It’ll happen, and it’ll be awesome.

And what do we do in the meantime? We do good.

The world’s a mess. Let’s start cleaning it up! Not through politics; not by seizing power from others, and forcing them to be good too. But by simply being good. By being good examples. By being charitable and loving. By embracing people whom nobody else—especially partisans—wants to. By exercising some of that sobriety, fairness, and godliness which Paul mentioned in verse 12.

We do these good deeds in anticipation of our coming Lord Jesus. Because when he does return, is he gonna see us sitting around doing nothing? Or is he gonna catch us joining hand-in-hand with the nationalists, forcing all the pagans to either swear allegiance to Jesus or leave the country, and setting up a new Inquisition to persecute sinners? Or is he gonna catch us inventing other demented ways to practice a form of Christianity which doesn’t actually follow him at all?

Even if he doesn’t return in our lifetimes, we are gonna see him when we die—and at that time, is he gonna be pleased at what we’ve been doing, or is he gonna be outraged that we turned his good news into evil news, and turned the title “Christian” into something to flinch at instead of welcome?

Jesus saves us from the plague of sin and death so we can be “his own unique people.” Namely holy Tt 2.14 —which means more than simply good; it means we’re uniquely his, and uniquely do things only his followers can do. Like acts of great miraculous power which can do far more for the needy and lost than our own meager efforts ever could. Like eagerly pursuing good deeds; we wanna do them so much, we’re bordering on obsessive. (But hopefully not crossing that border.) We wanna be so helpful. We wanna create little pockets of the kingdom of God right here in this present age; we’re not gonna wait for the age to come.

This is what Christianity should look like. It should look like grace and salvation has come to the world at long last. (Needs a lot of work, doesn’t it?)

“Titus, teach this.”

Verse 15 is kind of its own separate paragraph; a little personal exhortation to Titus from Paul. “Speak these things,” Paul tells him, and “encourage and rebuke” as necessary. Nudge ’em in the right direction; nudge ’em away from the wrong direction.

And “with all authority.” Like all Christians, Titus is expected to fulfill Jesus’s great commission. of making new students of Jesus, baptizing them, and teaching them what Jesus teaches. Mt 28.16-20 Every Christian is a priest of God; every Christian has authority to share what Jesus teaches. But Titus has a unique authority over Crete, ’cause he’s an apostle, sent there by Jesus.

Yeah, some Christians aren’t so sure Titus is an apostle. They think only Paul sent him to Crete, Tt 1.5 not Jesus. But let’s be realistic: You think Paul would’ve sent him to Crete without Jesus’s anointing? You realize that’s the fastest way to tank a mission.

Nope; Titus was authorized by Jesus, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, to supervise the Cretan churches; to basically be their bishop. And in that duty, of course he’s empowered to encourage and rebuke their Christians where necessary.

Nowadays, Christians are in the bad habit of ignoring their church leadership whenever they don’t agree with them. “Oh, you think I oughta stop sleeping with my boss? Well how is that any of your business?” Um… it is their business. If you go to church, it’s ostensibly because you’re trying to follow Jesus, and Jesus wants us to control ourselves. If your sex life is subtly but definitely destroying your life, it’s out of control!—and it’s wrong of your church leaders to not warn you away from it, just like park rangers who don’t wave you away from an agitated mountain lion because “it’s nothing to do with me.” Dismiss such warnings at your peril. Dismiss spiritual advice from your church leaders, likewise at your peril.