In Paul’s epistle to Titus, the apostle gives his younger protégé instructions for establishing churches on the island of Crete and for forming these former pagans into disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. These were daunting tasks for this man Titus, because the Cretans were products of a corrupt and immoral culture. Their society was marked by lawlessness and they had been steeped in a host of sins and sinful patterns of life and, until the apostle Paul had visited them, they had known nothing of holiness or of the beauty of the one true and living God and His Son Jesus Christ. But now they have heard the gospel and they have believed and (wonder of wonders) they are being gathered into churches and are being appointed as qualified elders (1:6-9). Some of the Cretans have joined the saints and have become members of God’s family.
In 1:12-13 the apostle says:
One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beast, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. For this cause reprove them severely that they may be sound in the faith.
Some brief comments are in order. Paul quotes one of their own, a fellow Cretan, who calls himself and his fellow Cretans “liars, evil beasts and lazy gluttons.” Not flattering, but the Cretan prophet speaks what is common knowledge. Apparently, the Cretans have a widespread reputation for being a pretty disreputable and disgusting lot. It seems to be well-known throughout the region that Cretans were no-goods. Naturally they were not the stuff of saints. They were under no illusion that they were ‘good.’
Paul has clear instructions to Titus for how to disciple the Cretans and to make them fit for heaven: “reprove them severely.” The diagnosis is clear and so the prescription for treating liars, evil beasts and lazy gluttons is to reprove them severely. Be forceful and strict and direct and leave no room for them reverting back to their former lifestyles. The Cretans are habitual sinners and they must have the sin and the lies and the evil driven out of them by severe rebuke.
APPLICATIONS AND LESSONS
FIRST: In our society, which tends to applaud the lowest performers and appears to accommodate and tolerate lawlessness and criminal acts, the tendency can be to make allowances for people because of their backgrounds and to allow people to continue to live as lazy gluttons and liars and to hope that they will gradually be rehabilitated by gentle urgings. This is not what happens here in this letter to Titus because the gospel of Jesus Christ requires that all disciples of Jesus be holy. Paul would have Titus reprove the Cretans severely to make them holy.
In other words, no disciple gets a pass. You will be holy, regardless of where you came from, and the sooner the better. The gospel makes no allowances for ongoing sin (Hebrews 10:26-27). All disciples are to hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:6). “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:16; Leviticus 11:44; 19:2). We know that without sanctification, we will not see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). So, all disciples are to be holy and to pursue sanctification. The true disciple of Jesus must walk (behave) as Jesus walked (1 John 2:6). Notice that none of these verses makes any allowance or exception based on background or based on some personal challenges. Again, all disciples are to be holy, and so you and I are to be holy. We do not get a pass. If your background was immoral and all your role models were disreputable, you do not, for that reason, get a pass. You, too, shall be holy, for all disciples of Jesus are to be holy.
SECOND: The means of sanctification varies according to the needs of the particular disciple, but the goal of sanctification does not vary. What I mean by that is that for some, all that is needed is a gentle rebuke and a few encouraging reminders. But for most, because of our fallen state and because we have come from a lawless and godless past and due to our sinful habits and our ignorance of holiness, the means of sanctification will be more stringent and direct. Severe reproof, strict accountability, strong words and strident demands will be required to correct the course of many. Therefore, we should accept severe reproof as the necessary corrective from someone who loves us too much to leave us where we are. This is so because the goal for each disciple is the same: we are to walk as Jesus walked (1 John 2:6). In this case, the end justifies the means.
THIRD: It is incumbent upon every disciple to identify those specific areas of weakness and vulnerability and sin, and then to devise a defense against an attack in those areas of weakness, so that you will not succumb to “the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:13).” How will you personally purify yourself with hyssop (Psalm 51:7) so that you will be clean?
This is a very practical strategy that seeks to identify areas of habitual, in-grained sin patterns and to expose them and to cut them off at the roots. Where has your life and your poor moral choices sown the seeds of potential sin, of a possible shipwreck? Here the disciple needs to look into their past and into the sins of their parents, particularly the sins of their father, and see where the disciple needs to be “reproved severely.”
Let me illustrate this with the example of my own life. Here I will be speaking to men to show how this principle might work. Some of the sins of my earthly father were these: pornography, adultery, anger, greed and pride. The Bible teaches that these sins will naturally be passed down to the sons to the third and fourth generation (Exodus 34:7), so these sins will almost automatically fall to me as my father’s son. In addition to inheriting my father’s sins and moral weakness, I, too, have made many poor choices and have fed and nurtured various sins by those choices. Lust, pornography, greed, coveting, pride and anger have marked a large time in my adult life and, even though I have come to faith in Christ and hunger and thirst for righteousness, these sins and habits have left their mark and have cut their channels.
THE PRINCIPLE, then, is for the disciple to find the sin tendencies and then systematically and intentionally starve and weaken and cut the roots out from underneath these sins so that they have no power in my life and will not lead to shipwreck. The sin must be attacked and the wickedness and iniquity must be rooted out. In Colossians 3:5 Paul says, “PUT TO DEATH, THEREFORE, WHATEVER IS IN THE EARTH OF YOUR MEMBER – immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire and greed, which amounts to idolatry.” The disciple must be in the process of being reproved severely in areas of sin so that he or she will vanquish sin.
Do you have a plan for intentionally reproving yourself severely?
SDG rmb 12/13/2018