1 Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. 3 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. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 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, 7 so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.Titus 3:1-7
Refresh & Restore Bible Study — May 18, 2023: When the Loving Kindness of God Our Savior Appears – Refresh & Restore | A JustKeithHarris.com Podcast
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- Advent 2022 — December 24 (Christmas Eve Reading for Our Kiddos)
From when we began these Bible studies, it has always been our goal not only to get the Word out to people but to do, as Nehemiah says, read the Bible “clearly” and give the “sense” so that people can understand the reading (Nehemiah 8:8). And in trying to make it clear, there is nothing more important that what it means to be saved – born again – have new life in Christ.
Some in the area of the United States where I live would say that most people they know are Christians because the southeastern region of the United States has been known as or referred to as the “Bible Belt”. Many – far too many – would start their description of what it means to be a Christian with walking an aisle or a this-one-time-at-Vacation-Bible-School story. Others might reference a decision or membership to a church or the family they were born into or their particular political party or social organization. But the Bible has much more for us than those meager (and easily incorrect) descriptions.
What the Bible offers us in Christ is so much more! And, in the places the Bible talks about what it is to be saved, it shows that we go from being lost to being found (Luke 15), from being in danger of eternal condemnation to being saved (John 3:16-17), from being dead in our trespasses and sins to eternal life in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:1-10). When the Bible talks about salvation, it lifts up the Savior and makes much of Him! It lays out clearly that salvation comes by grace through faith in Christ alone through the hearing of God’s Word (Romans 10:17).
Salvation comes to those who are sinners – folks who need to be saved. It does not come for the best or the most worthy but the opposite (1 Corinthians 1:20-31) – folks who need saving. Folks like you and me. We were all born into sin and by our own works and merits are full-blown sinners.
By looking at Paul’s letter to Titus, a young pastor called to the church on the island of Crete, we can see what the Bible tells pastors they are to remind God’s people to be, take a good look at and into ourselves to either remind us what it is to be saved (or what we need to be saved from if we are not), and to make sure we all clearly understand the rescue that God has provided by grace through faith in the mercy of Christ and the power of His Spirit.
A Reminder to God’s People Through Pastors (vv. 1-2)
Paul begins the section serving as our passage today with the command “remind them” (v. 1). The word translated “remind” here would be like jogging one’s memory “perhaps after hints or suggestions” or to “put in mind of [or] bring to remembrance”. The list that follows is something that the church at Crete would have known but either 1) forgotten (or functionally forgotten), or 2) need to keep these things in their minds because they are important.
The list is not exhaustive, but it covers a general spectrum of behaviors that are part of the Christian life. It is important to note here that none of these earn salvation nor do the actions by themselves produce eternal life. No, the behaviors associated with being a Christian are results of being born again – fruit of Christ making dead men and women alive and filling them with His Spirit (John 15:1-8).
The list, ultimately, will contrast with the before Christ stage of the lives of the believers there, but it gives a picture of what God knew the Cretan church needed a reminder to do. Being “submissive to rulers and authorities” reflects a trust that God is sovereign even through earthly leaders and that obeying them when they work for the general good reflects trust in God (Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:13). Being “obedient” – to the Word and the leading of the Spirit – shows the same trust in God; Jesus says that obeying His commandments is a result of being loved by Him and loving Him (John 14:15). Hopefully, you are noticing how these reminders are flowing out of one another – just as the fruit of the Spirit comes from being saved and having the Spirit indwelling in the believer (Galatians 5:22-23).
In the same way obedience leads to readiness for “good works” which the Bible teaches that God has prepared for those who He saves (Ephesians 2:10). The “good works” do not produce salvation, and they are unnatural (opposite of the way sin comes all too naturally to us). Examples of how unnatural good is to humanity is how we have a reminder here to “speak evil of no one” and to “avoid quarrelling” – two characteristics that are all too natural (at least to the human sinner writing this). Those seem like prohibitions for bad behaviors, but they really illustrate what “good work” Christ is calling His people to: gentleness. Why? Gentle, along with “lowly”, is how Jesus described Himself as He invited those who were or are “weary and heavy laden” to come to Him (Matthew 11:28).
So, ultimately, the Cretan church was being reminded to be like Jesus (Philippians 2:5). And nothing shows “perfect courtesy toward all people” like treating them as Jesus would treat them to point them to Him and share His gospel with them!
Recognition That God’s People Have a Past – That Should Be Passing Away (v. 3)
Paul’s reminder of what they should be doing shifts in v. 3 to reminding them what they “once” were like – not just the Cretan believers but Paul, Titus, you, and me, too. It is similar to Paul’s telling the church at Corinth that “such were some of you” before they were “washed”, “sanctified”, and “justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). In fact, until one has been saved there is no “once” – only still is and continues to be. Sometimes when we look at lists like the one found in the previous section (vv. 1-2), we get a glimpse of – as stated above – what some would say it is to act like a Christian. But we need to be reminded that Christianity is not an act.
My pastor, John Goldwater, has had to clarify to our church, Christ Community Church in Grenada, MS, at various times the difference between acting like a Christian and being in Christ (Ephesians 4:17-21). At various times in recent years, we have had children and youth who had no church background or knowledge of Christ acting like – well, acting like children and youth really do. Some of those instances found people remarking and even requesting that the children be taught how to act in church. Now, I am sure that these requests were docile enough and likely well-meaning. But John brought up a good and valid point: some people learn how to act like a Christian, put on an act, and never come to know Christ. If we have such a limited time with these children and youth, many of whom have no parents or grandparents to do the discipleship and instruction needed to point people to Christ (Deuteronomy 6), and our time is better spent teaching them the Word and what it is to be in Christ rather than helping them learn out to act. After all, those who are dead in their trespasses and sins are not made alive merely by acting alive.
Any behavior change that occurs in saved people is not because of some sort of behavior modification discipleship or Sunday school rehabilitation. It is because of the work of God’s Spirit making dead sinners alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:1-10, Colossians 2:13-15, Ezekiel 36:26-27). Every saved sinner has a past, which is why Paul gives this flock reminders so that 1) they remember what God has done for them in Christ and has redeemed them from, or 2) wake them up to the realization that their sinful life is not in their past because they have never passed from death to life.
That’s the funny thing about the differences between the list in v. 3 and the one in vv. 1-2: they are opposites! The contrast either reminds people of who they are supposed to be in Christ or who they ain’t and can’t be without Him saving them! Without Christ – or before He saves you, you are “foolish” (1 Corinthians 1:20, 26-31), “disobedient” (Matthew 7:24-27), “led astray” (John 8:44), “slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy” (Ephesians 4:17-19), and “hated by others and hating one another” (1 Peter 2:12, John 13:35). You can only be reminded to do and be the things from vv. 1-2 if you are in Christ. If you are not in Christ, the qualities in v. 3 are your reality – and there is no act convincing enough to make a corpse capable of genuine life.
The Rescue God Provided Through Faith in Christ by the Power of His Spirit (vv. 4-7)
The next phrase is the most important in the passage, especially considering the stark and damning reality of the previous statement: “But when the loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us”! The conjunction “but” takes everything that comes before it and cancels it out, replacing it with what comes after. In this case – and the case of all humans who are sinners and dead in their sins, the “but” cancels that out when they become saved by grace through faith in Christ! The death is canceled and replaced with life! The lostness is canceled and replaced with being found! That’s good news – the best!
As I stated above, I live in a region of the United States where people have the false impression that everyone is saved or that all the good folks will surely not be shut out of heaven (even though the Bible clearly states that “none is righteous” in Romans 3:10 and that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” in Romans 3:23). One of the best things – one of the few benefits other that Jesus’ return growing ever closer – to happen as the effects of the Fall grow worse and seemingly darker is that the Bible Belt is (or has been) unbuckled. I know that sounds frightening to some, but the Bible Belt was never truly what it seemed to be. There was a lot of acting and not a lot of being.
But, you don’t have to take my word for it. Billy Graham once said that potentially 85% of those who claim to be Christians are not actually born again. W.A. Criswell, a well-known pastor of a few generations ago, said that he was afraid that only 25% of the members of his church were actually genuinely saved. Even at Christ Community, a few years before the pandemic, it became clear that despite faithfully preaching week in and week out, somehow, we had people who did not know how to be saved. So, we had to intentionally teach and “remind” our people what the Bible says about it. And the way the remainder of today’s passage helps us see it clearly.
Paul writes that salvation through Christ is “not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy” (v. 5). As stated above, “none is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). Not only do we “fall short of God’s glory” (Romans 3:23) in our sin, but the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) – our best not only does not save us but earns our death. Until that but God moment when He, “being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us”, makes us alive by saving us by grace through faith in Him (Ephesians 2:4-5), there is nothing we can do to change our position. Dead people can not raise themselves – except for Jesus, of course.
Salvation occurs “by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (v. 5). I want to make a point here to help this be clearer. There are some big words in this section, and it is easy to try and make it complicated but 1) these are Bible words (not church-words or Christian-ese), and 2) they help us clearly see what God has done for those He saves! That word translated “regeneration” here is talking about being born again (John 3:16)! The “renewal” of the Holy Spirit is describing the new life in Christ which is accomplished by the power of His Spirit – which has been prophesied since the Old Testament:
“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”Ezekiel 36:26-27
Those He saves are given new life by Him and continually renewed because His Spirit is within them. And His Spirit is “poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (v. 6). This is not some religious hocus pocus but the reality that God Himself indwells those He saves – not parlor tricks but the power and presence of God!
And the most beautiful aspect of this is when Paul winds up his long, run-on sentence in v. 7 by saying that those he saved are “being justified by His grace [that] we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life”. Because He loves us and is merciful and gracious to us, God not only takes those who are dead in their sins and makes the alive, but takes those who were His enemies in their sin and reconciles them (Colossians 2:19-20) and adopts them into His family as His own children (Galatians 4:4-5)! Such love and cost transcends an act because such actions display great truths.
What a beautiful phrase: “we might become heirs”….
Little that there is to leave them when I die, my kiddos will not have to wonder whether or not they are my heirs. They know who they are in regard to me. I am their daddy. They are my children. There is no “might become” with them. They are mine. Much to my chagrin, you can see me in them and on them. They share mannerisms with me – ears with me – corny humor with me. We share blood. They have my name.
What do you share with God? Is His Spirit in you? Are you cleansed by the blood of Christ the Son? Do you bear His name? If you do, you share mannerisms with Him – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). And there is no act capable of imitating such fruit – maybe one or two aspects some of the time, but not all of it. Only God’s Spirit can produce that fruit.
No one is name-dropping “Keith Harris” to share in the inheritance my kids await, but being saved is more than labeling yourself with His name. It is laying down your life and picking up His. It is recognizing that the only way for a dead man or woman to have life is through the one who raised Himself from the dead. It is trusting and having faith in Who He is and what He has done and all that He has promised to those who believe in Him.
Every service at Christ Community closes with the following verses because, as I said earlier, we are committed to making sure we tell folks how to be saved every week. We know only God can save and that He tells us clearly in His Word how:
- Romans 10:9-10 – …because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
- Romans 10:13 – Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
It is my hope that in reading this week’s Bible study that you either have become sure that you are saved or that you are able to see clearly that you are not. While I hope the latter is not true, I am thankful that you get to read God’s Word and see the salvation – the hope – He offers. May His Word and His Spirit do their work in your life!
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Tt 3:1–7.
 Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000).
 Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000).