Reprove them severely (Titus 1:12-13)

Clearly, Paul had given Titus a hopeless assignment, or at least it appeared that way.

For this reason, I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you. – Titus 1:5

In the best of circumstances this would have been a challenging task, to appoint qualified elders in every city as Paul instructed him, but Titus was not going to the best of circumstances. Far from it. Paul left Titus in Crete, and the Cretans had a well-deserved reputation for being an ornery and belligerent lot.

One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. – Titus 1:12-13

Even the Cretans themselves acknowledge that they are pretty incorrigible, almost as if their gross behavior is a badge of honor. Thus, Titus’ task appears hopeless. For how can “liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” ever become “above reproach” (Titus 1:7) so that they can serve as elders? How can these Cretans, who are by nature vile sinners, become just, devout, self-controlled overseers of a local assembly of the church of the living God?

How, indeed! But this shows Paul’s and Titus’ confidence in the power of the gospel. “The gospel is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).” The apostle believed in the power of the gospel not only to save from condemnation, but also to transform into righteousness. Through the power of the gospel, slaves of sin are changed into slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:18).

HOW DO YOU DISCIPLE A CRETAN?

But we now need to consider the practical challenges of discipling Cretans. Paul knew the nature of the men of Crete (Titus 1:12-13), and he also knew the qualifications of men who could serve as elders in the church (1:6-9), and, for most of the men on Crete, there was a large chasm between their character and the character of the biblical elder. How was Titus to help these men become elder material?

Paul’s instructions to Titus are direct and unambiguous:

For this reason, reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith. – Titus 1:13

Because “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons,” the training program for the Cretan who would grow in grace, who would walk in a manner worthy of the gospel, and who would be sound in the faith is simple. The disciple maker must reprove the Cretan severely. This sounds harsh to our American ears, but these are the divinely inspired instructions of an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. “Reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith.” Sin is driven out of hardened sinners by severe reproof, not by gentle pleading or by appealing to reason. Before the gospel came, the Cretans had long indulged in degrading and disgraceful sin (Ephesians 5:12; 1 Peter 4:3), and now that they were in Christ, it was time for them to be reproved severely. If they would be sound in the faith, and if the church in Crete would display the holiness that the church is called to display (Ephesians 5:27; Hebrews 12:15; Leviticus 11:44, 45; 19:2; 1 Peter 1:15, 16), then their sin needed to be exposed and they needed to be reproved so that they would abandon their evil practices and would embrace obedience to the truth. The Cretan disciple repeated the sequence of reproof-confession-correction-repentance over and over again until holy obedience began to replace open rebellion. Prior to Christ, the life of the Cretan was like an open sewer, but through severe and loving reproof and the power of the Holy Spirit, the moral sewer slowly runs as a clear flowing stream.

But for the Cretan, the key to sanctification is severe reproof, loving reproof that calls sin, “sin,” and insists that the one who names the name of Jesus must walk as He Himself walked (2 Timothy 2:19; 1 John 2:6).

“For this reason, reprove them severely.”

MODERN DAY CRETANS

The reason that I spent so much time talking about Cretans is that these types of believers are near to my heart. You see, when I came to Christ at 31 years old, I had long indulged in sin and my life was a moral sewer. Essentially, I was a Cretan and the best thing that could have happened for my sanctification and for my growth in Christ would have been for a brave man to come alongside me and begin to reprove me severely so that I would be sound in the faith. In God’s providence, that did not happen and, as a result, my sanctification suffered.

Because of our increasingly wicked society, many of those who come to Christ, especially men who come to Christ, come to Christ as Cretans. The days are evil, the sins of the flesh are available at an alarmingly early age and, without the power of the Holy Spirit to restrain them, many give themselves over to the desires of the flesh. Without knowing it, they become Cretans, and when they come to Christ, they need to be reproved severely. Sin has firmly established its residency in their flesh and the way to drive sin out is through severe reproof. The discipler sees sinful habits and reproves severely, and the disciple actively repents, and those who were formerly demoniacs are found seated at Jesus’ feet and are useful to the Master. In all this, God is glorified.

For those who would make disciples in our Cretan-creating world, learn to reprove lovingly but severely the ones you are helping to grow.  

For those who realize they are Cretans and who need help in displaying the holiness which believers are called to display, seek out one who would be willing to reprove you severely so that you may drive the sin out.

SDG                 rmb                 6/2/2021                     #412

An active repentance

When a person first comes to faith in Jesus, there will probably be a period of time before that new disciple realizes the nature of their conversion. The person has been made entirely new in their inner person, and so there will be new ambitions and new affections, and there will be the strange experience of beginning to detest the sin that formerly was so pleasant and to yearn for holiness and righteousness that once seemed so strange and unappealing. You have been born again. New creature in Christ. A child of God with a ticket to heaven. And you have instantly become an enemy to all the ungodly and a target of temptation for all manner of sin. You have passed from death to life (John 5:24).

One of the activities you must learn quickly is the practice of repentance. This is to be an active repentance that is not in word only but plays out as martial combat, a soldier’s resolve against sin, with the attitude that “Only one of us is coming out of this alive.” Sin must be killed, and repentance is the most lethal spiritual weapon to accomplish the execution.

Repentance is the disciple’s most powerful means of holiness, but it is a weapon that requires skill in its use. And where does the new disciple learn to wield this weapon well? My advice to the new believer (or the “old” believer who was never taught about repentance) is to begin becoming familiar with this tool today! Wielded well, this weapon of repentance will yield a harvest of sanctification but left in the scabbard it poses no threat to iniquity. A hunger for holiness with a hatred of sin is the hand that draws the sword of repentance out of its sheath.

DAILY PRACTICE

Daily practice of active repentance establishes skill and readiness in the use of the weapon. Spend the next year in daily active repentance. Identify the sins that remain and that threaten to disqualify you, that would gladly ruin your testimony, and would make a shipwreck of your life. A partial list of potential sins would be: anger, pride, greed, lust, selfishness, hatred, resentment, jealousy, drunkenness, stealing, wasting time, laziness, worry and anxiety, fear of man, judgmentalism, lying, failure to proclaim the gospel, and there are others. Begin with two or three of the sins that most acutely plague you and actively repent of these sins at least once a day

SEE SIN, WIELD WEAPON

As a soldier in active warfare is ever at the ready to shoulder his rifle, so the disciple employs repentance at the first appearance of sin. As a soldier fires a hundred rounds of ammunition at practice targets to be ready for one shot at an enemy, so the disciple constantly practices repentance to fend off the foe.

A NEW SLAVE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS

The believer, whether following Christ for one week or fifty years, has become a slave of righteousness (Romans 6:18). This is a doctrinal fact that is as true as the fact that the believer was formerly a slave of sin. But now that the disciple is enslaved to a new and righteous Master, who is there to teach him how to combat his former sins?

At conversion, the “flesh” is strong and healthy, and the new believer is clumsy with the means of spiritual combat. Truly, “the willing is present in him, but the doing of the good is not (Romans 7:18),” because there has been no training in the fight of righteousness. The new believer needs someone to come alongside to train them in the martial art of repentance.

Surely it is the elders of the church who are to teach the new (and not new, also!) disciple what weapons he now possesses, how to use those weapons effectively, and what tactics the enemy will employ to try to destroy him. The elders of the church should be skilled and practiced at using repentance in their own lives and should have experience teaching others to conquer indwelling sin.

THE ONE WHO DISCIPLES OTHERS

The one who disciples others must himself be skilled in the weapons of war, and the primary weapon for directly attacking sin is repentance. He who would walk in holiness should seek out one who is a master of repentance.

The disciple has begun a war with sin, and the flesh, which formerly served as your accomplice to wickedness, is now to be put to death so that the fleshly voice of temptation will be silenced.

SDG                 rmb                 6/1/2021                     #411

The Cage (Romans 6:20-21)

Going to a college reunion can be an enlightening experience. You get the chance to see people you haven’t seen in thirty years and see what they have done with the last thirty years of drawing breath and taking nourishment on this planet. You may hear, “Oh, wow! You look just the same as you did thirty years ago!” Now, that is probably a bold-faced lie, but it is received with grace, because that is just what you say at college reunions. Another phrase that you may hear at the reunion weekend goes like this, “My, you haven’t changed at all!” This comment would alarm me. “What? You don’t see any change after thirty years? You mean that you still see the same arrogant, profane buffoon that you knew thirty years ago?” I would hope that the comment would sound more like, “You are not the same person you were.”

But the stark reality is that most people do not change. They remain the same “arrogant, profane buffoon” their entire lives. A more wrinkled version of the same person shows up at the forty-year reunion that attended the twenty-year affair. No growth. No change. The question we want to address with this article is, “Why do people not change?”

20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 Therefore what benefit (“fruit”) were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. – Romans 6:20-21

SLAVES OF SIN

The Bible presents the truth that people are “slaves of sin.” Here in Romans 6:20, the apostle Paul states the truth that, “When you (the believers in Jesus) were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.” What that means is that, as a slave of sin, I had no desire to change, and I had no ability to change.

NO DESIRE TO CHANGE

Before I trusted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, I was a slave of sin. I did not know that I was a slave of sin, but slave I was, nevertheless. According to Romans 6:20, I did, however, have some freedom. I was “free in regard to righteousness.” That actually is a strong indictment. “Free in regard to righteousness.” This basically means I was free OF righteousness and free FROM righteousness. At that time, there was not a single shred of righteousness in me to restrain my sin. I was a willing slave of sin and zealously did my master’s bidding. This does not mean I was always actively pursuing sin, but it does mean that I was never pursuing righteousness. Since I was “free in regard to righteousness,” I exercised my freedom by carefully avoiding any taint of righteousness. All this says that one reason I did not change was that I had no desire to change. I enjoyed being unrighteous, so why would I want to change?

NO ABILITY TO CHANGE

But there was another, much more powerful and fundamental reason why I did not change. Because I was a slave of sin, I had no ability to change. The foundational reason I did not change was that I could not change. It was not a question of my lack of desire, it was a question of my utter inability. I was a slave of sin, and there was no one to set me free. I was trapped in the cage that Adam’s sin had built, and I did not have the power to break free. My willpower might allow me to modify my behavior, but the cage of sin prevented me from changing. The same broken man was in a new location or in a different situation, but the same man, nevertheless. This is what it means to be a slave of sin and to be free in regard to righteousness.

And the Bible declares that every unsaved man or woman, boy or girl is trapped in this cage, and you are unable to free yourself. You may be able to modify your behavior for a while, but you cannot leave the cage. You remain helpless, a slave of sin unless and until someone with power opens the cage and sets you free from your slavery.

IF THE SON SETS YOU FREE

There is only one Person with the power to free you from your cage of sin so that you can begin to make fundamental changes, and His name is Jesus Christ.

34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.  36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.John 8:34, 36

For those who have trusted Christ as Lord and Savior, the cage has been crushed and the chains of slavery to sin have been shattered. Now in Christ Jesus, those who were slaves of sin who loathed righteousness have become slaves of righteousness who loathe sin. Those who are in Christ are transformed into the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29). Transformed! What does that mean? Changed! Transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). We are being transformed (changed) from glory to glory (2 Corinthians 3:18). And how can they change? They change because believers in Jesus have been delivered from the domain of darkness (Colossians 1:15) so that they hunger for righteousness (Matthew 5:6).

Jesus Christ changes those who come to Him for salvation. First, He sets them free from the power of sin so that they are no longer slaves to sin. But He also gives them a new heart that desires holiness. So, the believer in Jesus has the ability to change and they have the desire to change. And so, they change.

Has the Son set you free? Have you changed or are you still caged?

If Jesus has made you free so that you are free indeed, your next college reunion will be an interesting experience. ““I don’t remember you, but I do remember a guy that looked a lot like you. But it wasn’t you. No, it definitely wasn’t you.”

SDG                 rmb                 4/22/2021