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.
- Can you think of other places in our culture where transformation is a significant theme?
- Do you think Titus 3:3 offers a good description of the human race?
- 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?
- 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?