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Reading Titus 3 with reality TV

[Here is a shortened version of a sermon/talk I did at my church this morning. Let me know what you think. Or if you were there let me know what you thought. Positive and negative comments are all appreciated, otherwise how can I get better? Just click on the word 'comments' below, thanks :)]

The Big Stuff, Downsize Me, Extreme Home Makeover, What Not To Wear, and Gordon Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares are a selection of TV shows shown in NZ that all follow a similar story line. The plot goes like this: once there was a messy house/overweight person/needy family/unfashionable woman/failing restaurant; but then Sian and Gez/Damian and Lee-Anne/ Ty and team/ Trinny and Suzzana/ Gordon Ramsey appear and bring about a miraculous transformation; so that now the transformed house/body/family/fashion victim/restaurant live a transformed life totally and wonderfully different to what went before.

This desire for and interest in transformation is not a new thing. It's not only the reponse of disgruntled post-moderns who are never satisfied. On Roman Crete (the stated destination of the letter to Titus) they were into transformation too.

Archeology shows that the Egyptian Goddess Isis was worshipped in Roman Crete at the time when the letter to Titus would have been written. Her followers had water 'poured out' onto them to bring them into a mystical rebirth. (There are a number of linguistic clues that suggest Paul may have had this ceremony in mind when he wrote Titus 3. I will deal with those and the implications of that in another post.)

So for those of us who have been exposed either to reality TV or the cult of Isis we can spot a similar plot taking place in Titus 3.

Titus 3:3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating one another.

Here is the mess we are in. Here is the dysfunction. Now the common complaint about this verse is that while it may describe some people it certainly doesn't describe everyone. Dont we all know people, who despite their atheism are moral and content and peace loving, often more so that some Christians we know? I know I do. But here is the thing. What is the difference between your average upstanding Kiwi and a genocidal African? What is the difference between the secretary of the Lions club and a member of the Taliban? Is it one of kind or is it one of circumstance? We as a human race need to admit that we are better doing evil than good. Even if certain individuals are examples of good moral lives they do not outweigh the genocide, injustice, torture, war, child abuse, rape, oppression, degradation and misery humanity is continually practising. Watch the news, Titus 3:3 is what we are.

Titus 3:4-7 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is sure.
Being transformed by someone else is humbling. You can see it in the resistance people put up to their television saviours, they argue with Gordon Ramsey, they refuse to follow Damien's diet, and they wont let Sian throw out that sofa even though it doesn't fit 'the vision.' Why do you think Extreme Home Makeover ships people off to disney land before they destroy the house? But when you are in a real mess, you need intervention. When you are stuck in the bog you can't pull yourself out by your bootstraps, you need to be connected to something or someone who isn't stuck in the same bog. And so at our moment of need, not because of anything we had done, Jesus appears and makes possible our transformation by baptism and the Holy Spirit. We are justified (made right) by grace (God's free giving), have the empowering Spirit of God richly poured out on us, and are made heirs of eternal life (part of God's family with an everlasting hope). This is all done for us, not by us.

But no reality TV show is complete without a final visit months later to see how people are doing after the transformation. To witness their new life. Have they stuck to the diet, have they kept their house tidy, have they followed Gordon's menu advice? The point of the transformation was not just for a different experience for a week or so but to initiate an entirely new way of living.

Titus 3:8 I desire that you insist on these things, so that those who have come to believe in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works; these things are excellent and profitable to everyone.

Titus 3:1-2 Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarrelling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone.

For the Christians on ancient Crete this meant a lifestyle of obedience, peace and politeness. Doesn't sound very radical does it? But the Cretans were a warlike people with a reputation for deceit. Thier national passtimes were piracy and inter-village warfare. These Cretan Christians were being expected to live in way way that was radically counter to the culture in which they lived. We are not saved/rescued from the human tradgedy by doing 'good works.' We are saved so that we can then live a life filled with 'good works.' These good works necessarily run counter to the culture we live in because our nation's culture is dysfunctional, though perhaps not in entirety. As those who have been transformed we need to take advantage of our transformation to live lives that are different. In order to 'be careful to devote' ourselves to good works we must observe our culture and notice those parts of it which which are not compatible with our new life. Here are some suggestions, I'd love to hear yours...

  • Instead of consumerism, let's do stewardship
  • Instead of avoiding suffering, let's spend time with those who suffer
  • Instead of watching the news and doing nothing, let's act on the information we have
  • Instead of thoughtless reactions and sound-bites, let's think more about the things we do and say
  • Instead of obsessing over our leisure, let's obsess over worshipping God and serving others
  • Instead of seeking punishment and retribution, let's seek forgiveness and restoration
  • Instead of individualism, let's exist in community

And remember, this isn't about you trying harder. This is about living in the reality of the transformation that Jesus has accomplished. The empowering Spirit of God has been given richly to us who have been transformed. So let's stop mucking about and live in the new life.


  1. Can you think of other places in our culture where transformation is a significant theme?
  2. Do you think Titus 3:3 offers a good description of the human race?
  3. How would you describe the transformation that Jesus brings (Titus 3:4-7) in language that today's 'person on the street' might relate to?
  4. If you have been transformed by Jesus, what do you think is the most important 'so that' for you? Could you choose something from my list to put into place this week?


  1. Good stuff. Did you focus on Titus 3:4-7 a bit more "live"? That's the Gospel right there and I'd be a little worried that your (excellent) application came across a little bit like an extra bit of law for the week. (However, this is a minor point from a preacher struggling to get the balance right and I recognise you warned against that with your last sentence.)

    Are your church all believers? Any visitors?

  2. Hello Jonathon

    I enjoyed your Sermon and felt you were pretty much on target. In terms of replying to your comment/question regarding are we really any different in terms of Al Quaeda etc then I hope you understand from where I am about to come from, so here goes.

    In terms of principle I actually agree with where you are coming from but I wonder if your comparison interms of action is fair because I think you can make a distinction between someone who has demonstrated (somewhat rather graphically in certains cases) their disregard for human life as in the case of the most recent example in India compared to someone who has broken a minor law for say parking. Certainly each is guilty for their offense but I felt it was like trying to compare a golf ball with a rugby ball and expecting the same sort of results from each ball or each to be function the same way in the same game. Yet I have no doubt that Gods grace and mercy can cover each equally. I certainly agree also with your comment that we like to look for justice (in our own way)n or what we think justice should be. One thing that I know I struggle with at times and I think other Christians do as well is "Mercy and Grace". As he is amongst those who has been shown the greatest mercy and grace then he should also show the greatest mercy and grace. I think you are an intersting person who poses interesting and thought provoking questions to people, well done

  3. Hi Phil, thanks, yes I went into more detail for just about everything, but it was a conscious decision to do more on application than expound the wonderful verses 4-7. There is only so much time, and as there was communion after the message I knew the gospel story would be told again :) Exegetically I wanted to give weight to the fact that the passage both begins and ends with an exhortation to do good works. And it was the practice of a believing congregation I was aiming at (as is Paul), although i hope for the couple of visitors present the transformed life that Jesus calls us to would be a good reason to seek the transformation that Jesus brings. Good question.

    Hi Keith, I wasn't suggesting the deeds of moral kiwi atheists were the same as those of terrorists but that given different circumstances they might well have been. This idea may well need its own post, it is a tricky one. Thanks for your comment, i'll try to be clearer.

  4. Hi Keith,
    I think that we have plenty of examples where moral westerners behave appallingly because circumstances suddenly change. Riots are a perfect example of this. The riots of the 20's and 80's in NZ, the LA riots and the riots following hurricane Katrina each occurred in civilised nations. There is a lot of destructive power in mob mentality - we have to remember that it was this same mentality which killed our Lord and saviour.

    Each of us is capable of committing extreme atrocity, given the right circumstances. We should never under-estimate the grace of God, so therefore, we must be careful about judging the decisions of others in trying circumstances. How can we make a difference to the life of a Sudanese child soldier?

  5. Hi Jonathan,

    I thought that today’s sermon was excellent. Very well prepared, and presented. You also explained the other side of the ‘good works’ discussion. We often hear that we do good works as a love response to what Christ has done for us; however, we seem to hear less often that the life of good works is what we’re actually saved for. Ephesians 2:10 (Russell’s favourite verse, incidently). It tied in very nicely with our theme for the year ‘In His Service’.

    There is one thing that I would have added to the list you read out, but I forgot at the time (hard to believe, since I’m always badgering on about it). It comes under the area of stewardship. It is: Reduce waste. It has really annoyed me that big business has grabbed hold of the global warming thing, and instead of genuinely fighting to reduce the amount of resources used and discarded by the world (particularly the west), it has come up with the system of indulgences known as ‘carbon credits’.


  6. Dear Jonathan,
    Thank you very much for Sunday's sermon and the blog.

    1. Have you thought of doing a series on Redemptive Tansformation...metamorphosis of Superabundant Great Grace? It would be great if you did.
    2. Just like Reality TV's transformations, the Isis cult's transformation was seemingly through a baptism of works - maybe a bit like a flaw in infant baptism. That "transformation" is of the biblical flesh and not the Spirit (as in Titus 3). Spiritual Transformation is eternal, and IN Christ. Wonderful, eh!
    I was blessed to hear of the likely influences Paul dealt with. Makes the Word rooted to reality.
    3. At the end you asked us if we could add to the Titus list of man's bad points. I thought of narcissism. It is the signal disorder of our society. As a one-time Probation Officer, Pastor, itinerant Bible Teacher and writer since the sixties, I have concluded that a strong spirit of narcissism is behind both our unsaved society's spiritual catatonia and spiritual rage. It is, I believe, the cause for society taking increasingly blasphemous side-swipes at God's redemptive providence. I see it behind the cult of celebrity; grandiosity; numbness to need/pain in others; emotional isolation and inconsequentiality; resentment and envy, and banal immaturity. In its sophisticated form it hates God and loves the "father of lies". O the need for "Redemptive Transformation"!!!

    May God richly, deeply bless your ministry of His everlasting and transforming Word.
    (or as I once prayed for a congregation....May the Lord blessly rich you.)


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