Do you have a dark past? Is life feeling messy or difficult right now? If you answered “Yes” to either of these questions, you’re not alone. All of us go through really troubling times. In the middle of it, we can feel a confusing mixture of fear, sadness, pain, longing, despair, and we wonder if things will ever change. Usually we think they won’t.
As we continue studying Titus 3:1-8, Paul is thinking about those dark days in the past when in verse 3 he says, “At one time.” After talking about how the Christians in Crete should be subject to the authorities and live Christianly in the world, Paul has a shift in his flow of thought, drawing their attention to the past. He wants them to be totally different people than he used to be, than they used to be.
When he says, “we too,” he could be talking about himself, which is important because, as a leader, he is owning and admitting his past faults. Paul lists the way he used to live: foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved by passions, living in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.
Paul could be talking about himself because before he became a Christian, he was pretty rough, persecuting Christians. This is very much connected with what he just said in the previous verse about being humble. Christians should be willing to admit our faults. Leaders especially, we need to be committed to admitting where we mess up. It’s hard to admit our faults, though, isn’t it? I sense that in our society we have moved toward less admittance of our faults. It seems to me that people are much quicker to blame others, and not accept fault. We have too few examples of people who screwed up, owned it, confessed it, and strove for penance, reconciliation, healing.
Paul is also not saying that everyone used to horrible, though. But maybe there is at least something on the list that describes how you and I used to be.
Verse 3 is difficult. Who likes to remember our dark pasts? And yet Paul is leading us there, so let’s follow his lead. Look at the words he uses in verse 3 to describe the dark past. Take a moment to dwell on them. For the most part Paul is describing those times when we made a mess of our lives. What was that for you?
A choice to indulge an unhealthy relationship. To engage in addictive behaviors. To cross the line into illegalities, because maybe you were angry, you were hurt, you were maybe trying to impress someone. Maybe people pushed you to act a certain way, and you wanted to be included in their group. Maybe you were deceived by someone and they hurt you.
As Paul says, remember those times when you felt malice, which is a feeling of wanting to hurt someone. Remember those times when you were envious. Maybe a family member or friend was prospering or gaining accolades, while you are working super hard long hours, and seeming like you are not advancing. And envy creeps in. Maybe you had someone at work hate you. Maybe you have someone you hate.
It can get dark, can’t it? Remember the darkness? It’s no fun. Maybe you have some of that darkness even now in your life. Maybe you feel like you are living it now.
And into the darkness something happens.
Look what Paul says in verse 4. God intervened! His kindness and love appeared. It wasn’t us. We didn’t do it. God stepped in. This is so similar to what he said earlier in 2:11 – the grace of God appeared! Praise God! He steps into our darkness!
When we are in the mess and muck of life, even if it is a situation of our own making, we can feel hopeless and alone. But Paul says, God our Savior is loving and kind.
What’s more, Paul says in verses 5-6, God saved us! He steps into our mess and saves us. Not because of our righteousness. Remember the darkness in verse 3, which says we were far from him, the furthest thing from righteousness. Paul says God saved us because of his mercy. We need to spend time dwelling on that too. God is merciful. Even when we used to be living in a mess of our own making, he is still merciful. We don’t deserve it, but he is loving and kind and gives us mercy.
What does mercy involve? Just words? Maybe just a pat on the head? Oh no. Paul says, God saves us so deeply, so thoroughly, from the inside out. We’re talking transformation here. Look at these words he uses:
He saved us through the washing of rebirth
He saved us through renewal of the Holy Spirit whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior.
Rebirth and renewal. We need to talk more about these two!
Paul calls it the washing of rebirth. This is symbolized in the celebration of baptism. The water and act of baptism symbolize the reality that God is doing within us. All that junk we read about in verse 3, all of it is washed clean, and we are reborn. So not only are we cleaned, but we are reborn. We are new people. A new beginning. We’re not the same as we used to be. What Paul is describing is incredibly similar to what we saw him teach last week in chapter 2, verse 14, when he talked about redeeming and purifying us. When Jesus gets in your life, he makes a change!
Check back in as we’ll continue talking about this change in the next post.