In this series, I have been discussing our responsibility as Christians to society. Though we are tempted to politicize our mission and try to “reclaim” the morals of society, our real job is to evangelize. This requires living good and obedient lives as a compelling testimony to the people around us. Last time, I explained why willing subjection to authorities is a necessary aspect of evangelistic living. But it’s not only our attitude toward society’s authorities that’s important; it’s our attitude toward society’s evils, too.
For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. (Titus 3:3)
Before we get slanderous, and before we get cantankerous, and before we get contentious and angry and inconsiderate, and before we start asserting ourselves and fighting against the culture and attacking the unsaved as if they were the enemy, we need to remember that we were exactly like them before God saved us.
Before God intervened, we ourselves were foolish, ignorant, and disobedient. We were enslaved to various passions. We spent our lives in malice and envy. We were hateful and self-consumed. This is how unconverted people are, and this is how every Christian once was.
If we ever forget what God saved us from, we risk expecting more from the unsaved than we should. Unbelieving family will act like unbelievers. Unbelieving politicians will act like unbelievers. They aren’t going to abide by biblical morality, because they are enslaved to their sin. They aren’t going to understand truth, because they are blind to spiritual reality.
It makes sense that our culture is the way it is, because unsaved people can’t help but be deceived and enslaved. They can’t help but be blind to God, rebellious to His law, and resistant to His truth. They can’t help but feed on perverse treatment of other people. Selfishness and hostility come naturally to them, because that is the nature of unconverted humanity. So before we damn them, we need to remember why they are like this and that we were once just like them.
But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7)
As saints, we no longer fit the picture of wickedness in Titus 3:3. But this isn’t because we pulled ourselves up by our moral bootstraps, or because we were clever enough to figure out the right way to live on our own. No — the only reason we are different is the kindness of God and His love for mankind. His mercy, and not our good deeds, has saved us from our sin.
For the sake of dealing humbly with unbelievers, we need to remember that we had no hand in saving ourselves. God was the one who saved us, washed us in regeneration, and renewed us through His Holy Spirit.
So then, how do we live rightly in this world? We live by remembering every day that our responsibility as Christians is not to change culture, but to reach the lost with the truth of the gospel. We do this winsomely by being subject to earthly authorities. And we do this humbly by remembering that these people who act immorally in our society are acting according to their natures, by remembering that we once acted that same way, and by remembering that God is the one who saves.
If we really learn to live this way, the effects will be powerful. At the end of these instructions, Paul says, “Concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men” (Titus 3:8).
If we live the way Paul describes, it will lead to good and profitable things. We will abound in good deeds, and these deeds will be a brilliant testimony to a dying world, showing the truth and beauty of Christ.