On Titus 3:3

Titus 3:3  •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 8
The apostle now draws a very dark yet true and life-like picture, not merely of what man is here or all over the world, but of what we ourselves were once in our natural state. It is evident that this was intended to strengthen the duty of subjection to authority on the one hand, and on the other the spirit of mild and meek bearing to all mankind, in all those who bear the name of the Lord. Grace was to prevail and display itself all round. This has been far from always the fact among God's children. And no wonder. They have been trained up for the most part under the mistaken assumption that the law is the rule of life for the Christian. The consequence has been that the Christians so formed have manifested the spirit of earthly righteousness, much more than of heavenly grace. Necessarily in the measure of our uprightness we are really characterized by that which governs our thoughts and affections. If error rule there, as communion fails, the walk is proportionably perverted from the will of God.
No maxim more false than that the practical life is independent of the creed. Christ is set forth in the written word as the true rule of Christian life; and as He walked Himself, so He uses all the word of God in the power of the Spirit to create in us intelligence as well as divine motives flowing out of His love. Grace, therefore, is the predominant character of the Christian, the direct and essential opposite of law. Undoubtedly God did of old test Israel by His law, and the commandment is holy, just, and good; but the object was to prove the impossibility of aught good in man, or to be got out of man. This the believer has to learn, and alone does learn, experimentally. On that ground nothing but the grace of God in Christ can deliver from sin, as well as from its consequences; but the practical effect is that the righteous import (τὸ δικαίωμα) of the law is fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. With those who theorize about the law, it begins with ineffectual struggles, and issues in disappointment or delusion.
Hence the importance for us, who, as believers in Christ, are now the objects of divine grace, that we should draw lessons of lowly love, not only from the incomparable grace which has saved us, but from the utter depths of evil out of which we ourselves have been saved. “For we ourselves also were once foolish, disobedient, gone [or led] astray, serving [as slaves] divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, abominable, hating one another” (ver. 3).
To the Greek mind especially, perhaps no description was less welcome than that with which the apostle commences, “our folly.” But this is the truth. Human knowledge has nothing to do with it, save, it may be, by making the contrast more glaring. See a man, on the one hand full of science, sound information, and letters, as in Rom. 3; on the other hand a prey to every falsehood about God, and wholly without, and insensible of, any living relationship with Him. In the beast there cannot be such a link from its nature; there is for it no moral association with God. But a man! He had, even as man, God breathing into his nostrils the breath of life, whereby he became a living soul; he is therefore immediately and ever morally responsible; he was made to obey God, as much as to rule the lower creation. On earth the brute looks down, man alone looks up. Sin has utterly ruined this, whilst the responsibility remains. He has become the slave of a mightier rebel than himself. What “folly” now? and what can the end be?
Accordingly we find the next description of the apostle is “disobedient.” This is the universal condition of man; so he lives and dies in his natural state, never once obeying God here below. From a condition so desperate Christ; Himself the obedient Man, though infinitely more than man, alone delivers, and this by imparting His own life through faith. “He that believeth hath everlasting life.” It is true that this could not avail without Christ's death, which alone removes man's guilt before God by Christ's suffering, Just for unjust, on the cross. Yet even His death could only be a blessed incentive to a new walk here below; and there would be no new life in which the Holy Ghost could act by the word, were that all. The first want therefore of a sinful soul is the breath of a new and spiritual life. But herein was manifested the love of God in our case, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world that we might live through Him. Life in Him is only and always an obedient life; thereby the Holy Spirit separates us from evil from the moment of conversion. For we are sanctified, as the apostle Peter says, to the obedience of Jesus Christ, no less than to the sprinkling of His blood. Without His blood we should be oppressed with the sense of unremitted sins. Spiritual life alone would rather deepen this sense; life could not remove it righteously. It is there that His death by grace comes in effectually for us before God. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son as a propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9, 109In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. 10Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:9‑10)).
Thus the whole work of Christ is necessary for sinful man, and is the incomparable boon which faith enjoys in its fullness; but the practical aim of it all is that we, having died to sins, should live onto righteousness (1 Peter 2) and walk even as He walked here below. “He that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoso keepeth His word, in him verily hath the love of God been perfected” (1 John 2). For man there is nothing good without obedience, yet were we also once as “disobedient,” as we were “foolish” or without intelligence.
Further, we were not only wandering in error, but “deceived,” however highly we may have thought of our independence and shrewd judgment. Nor should one be surprised to learn that so it was. We were part of the world which lies in the wicked one, where the spirit of self-will governs all without exception, Jews or Gentiles, among the sons of disobedience. “We also all once lived in the lusts of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature the children of wrath, even as the rest” (Ephesians wholly ignorant that we were but slaves of one who is a liar and the father of it.
Nor was the evil confined to disease of the mind. We were “serving divers lusts and pleasures “; so much the more bondmen, because we flattered ourselves that we were pre-eminently free. We did our own will and pleased ourselves; we chose our pleasures here or there as we liked. What was this but to be slaves of the devil when we were pursuing divers lusts and pleasures? Our will is his slavery.
Such ways as these exposed us to constant dangers, difficulties, strains and ruffles. Conflict of will broke in upon the calmest surface of amiability; gusts of feeling, yea, of passion, swept us along now and then; in short we were, as Paul says here, “living in malice and in envy,” whatever might be the good opinion we had of ourselves or valued one from another.
Lastly, the apostle does not hesitate to say we were “abominable” as well as “hating one another.” We awakened the horror of other people, spite of all appearances or efforts; and others returned “hate” with no less bitterness of feeling. What a power of evil lay on us! What a reality of shame is alienation from God!