How are you with saying “No” to people or opportunities or temptations in life? It can be difficult, especially for those of us who have people-pleasing tendencies or addictive personalities. Being able to say “No” is vital in many areas of life, and in our series on Titus 2:11-15, Paul brings it up.
In verse 12 Paul says that God’s grace teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions. Because we need to learn to say “No” to them, in this post we’ll take a closer look at what they mean.
First, what is ungodliness? What one person thinks is ungodly another might not, so we need to be clear as to what Paul is referring to. The word Paul uses is defined as “to live in a manner contrary to proper religious beliefs and practice.” (Louw & Nida)
Sounds technical, doesn’t it? What is Paul talking about? Well, before you can know what is “contrary to proper religious beliefs and practices,” you have to know what are proper religious beliefs and practices. Thankfully, Paul has already told us. In a Bible or Bible app, look at verses 1-10 of Titus chapter 2. Remember that section? There Paul describes how the older people in the church are to set the example for the younger people. (You can read my series of posts on that section starting here.) Paul says that the older people in a church family are to teach the younger people how to live. In other words, in Titus chapter 2, verses 1-10, Paul is teaching right practices.
Ungodliness, therefore, would be the opposite of everything you read in Titus 2:1-10. Look at Titus 2:2, for example, and turn all the godly practices listed there into opposites, and you will get a description of ungodliness: getting drunk, being disrespectable, lacking self-control. Now scan down to verse 3 and do the same. Ungodliness is found in people who are irreverent, slanderers, and addicts. Keep going and you find more descriptors of ungodliness: impurity, unkindness, lacking integrity, talking back, stealing, untrustworthy. These are all evidences of ungodliness. Therefore, in Titus 2:11-12, when Paul says we receive God’s gift of grace, that grace is teaching us to say “No” to all those various descriptions of ungodliness. It is also teaching us to say “No” to worldly passions.
What are worldly passions? Passions are desires, lusts, or cravings. Our bodies are created to have these desires. Desires are not automatically evil, however, as we can also desire goodness, beauty, and truth. But look at the word that Paul attaches to desire or passion: “worldly”. The most literal translation of this phrase is “the desires that people of this world have.” (Louw & Nida) If that was all Paul meant, he would be talking about passions in a very neutral sense via the basic human biological desire that we all have. But Paul is not talking about neutral desire here. Otherwise he wouldn’t have said that God’s grace teaches us to say “No” to it.
Some people across the ages have actually misinterpreted Paul here (and in other biblical teaching), believing that all desire is evil. Thus they teach that the best way to live is to abandon or deny all desire. That’s not what Paul is saying. We know this because Paul specifically mentions that God’s grace teaches us to say “No” to worldly desire. Paul is referring to negative or evil desire that is not in line with God’s grace. Because he spent plenty of space in verses 1-10 of chapter 2 on this, we aren’t going to cover it again. Instead, I encourage you to make time this week to dwell on chapter 2, verses 1-10, read the posts on those verses (linked above), and seeking to answer the primary questions we asked in that series of posts: Who is teaching you? Who is discipling you? And in turn, who are you discipling? Who is helping you to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly desire, and who are you helping to do the same?
As I mentioned above, and blogged about previously, there are plenty of disagreements between Christians as to what is godly versus what is ungodly. In Titus 2, Paul is not so much focused on making lists of rules as he wants to encourage the people that God’s grace has appeared to teach us to say “No” to what is ungodly. As a result, Paul continues his teaching in Titus 2:12 by pointing us to focus on what is important: “living self-controlled, upright, godly lives in this present age.”
The best example of that kind of godly life is Jesus himself. I encourage you to spend time reading the stories of Jesus and learning from him how to live. Remember that Jesus himself lives in you, through the filling of his Spirit, and wants his kind of life to enliven and energize your life to look more and more like his.
So often we think about how close we can get to the line of ungodliness without crossing it. Paul here is saying that we should focus on becoming more godly! Let’s turn our gaze away from how close we can get to being ungodly, and look to Jesus, asking him to teach us how to live self-controlled, upright, godly lives in the here and now.
Maybe you desire that kind of life, but you struggle. Maybe you admit that it is difficult to be good. As we continue this series, Paul will talk about a vital process that needs to happen in our lives if we want to live a godly life. Check back in to the next post!