We have a Great God and He has a Great Salvation. A good church has a Great Salvation. We’re going to divide this section up into 3 sermons because I want to approach it 3 different ways. This short passage is like a well: it doesn’t span very far across but it is very, very deep. If I was told I could only preach a small passage of Titus and nothing else this would be it. If I was told only one passage from the whole Bible, honestly this would be in the top 2 or 3. Here are the 3 approaches I want to make: 1) The Greatness of God’s Salvation seen in the Greatness of Man’s Sin; 2) The Greatness of God’s Salvation seen in the Greatness of God; and 3) the Greatness of God’s Salvation
The Greatness of God’s Salvation Seen in the Greatness of Man’s Sin (v3)
The first point – and our first sermon – is superb: We see the greatness of God’s salvation when we see the greatness of our sin. Verse 3, “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.”
We must never forget what we’ve been saved from: sin. Paul always remembered, like in Philippians 3:4-9, or 1 Timothy 1:13-14. But Paul loved to remind Christians of their own pasts. He did it not to shame them but as a way of magnifying what a great salvation God has done in their lives. (1 Thess. 1:9; Eph. 2:1-6; 4:17-24; 1 Cor. 6:9-11).
In a weird irony we must see ourselves separated infinitely from our sins but at the same time always keep them close by. Not in a way that creates a guilt complex, for God expects us to be confident that He has saved us from our sins. They are severed from us, no longer part of us. Like a snake may turn around and look at its shed skin and say, “It used to be a part of me, but, now it is left behind”. Or, like when someone gets a haircut and sees their hair laying on the floor they can say, “That is my hair, but, it is no longer part of me.” So we children of God look at our sins and can say, “Those were my sins, but, they are no longer part of me.”
At the same time, however, we must remember those sins of ours because they are what the Lord Jesus Christ has saved us from. What we have been transformed into, in Christ, is the result of what God did to our sins. Colossians 2:13 says, “He nailed them to the cross”. Paul gives a nasty list here in verse 3. I can’t imagine anyone being proud of being described in such a nasty way. I want you to see there is a correlation here between two things: sinners seeing their sin and sinners gratitude towards God. There is a correlation here: The more we recognize the sinfulness of our sin, the more gratitude we will have for God. The less we see our old sinfulness the less gratitude we will have. Paul identifies 8 different traits that belong to our old selves. Let’s look at each one of these 8 as the subject of our sermon. By seeing the utter repulsiveness of these sins more clearly we will
First he says we were “foolish”, meaning we were “spiritually unintelligent, slow to understand and accept moral and religious truth.” We thought that the things of God were foolishness (1 Cor. 2:14) and so how we measured God was how He measured us: Fools.
Secondly Paul says we used to be “disobedient”, which reflected our refusal to obey God. We weren’t about to submit to any authority over us, we were an authority unto ourselves, bound to no man, our own god, and living as we saw fit. This rebellious spirit is the heart of sinful man who rejects God and in who follow the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient (Eph. 2:2).
Thirdly, Paul says we were “deceived”, and that is true. Anyone who is rejecting the truth of God is left with lies as the only alternative. Romans 1:25 says, “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie…” That is what we were – deceived – like the rest of the world who still refuses the truth of God. Like them now, we too were pawns to the Father of lies, Satan, who has led the whole world astray with his lies. They are in the dark, like we were, groping about with no light. For when you reject the All-Wise One, the only Fountain of knowledge, you will be left to live on in the sea of mendacities.
Fourthly, Paul says we were “enslaved”. How ironic that at once we rejected God’s authority thinking we were free to our selves we all the while were actually slaves. Slaves to our passions and pleasures. The endless engine of lusts within us perpetually generates powerful obsessions for sinful indulgences. We lived for whatever felt good and was tantalizing to our appetites. Philippians 3 describes those who live as enemies of the cross of Christ saying “their god is their appetite”. We were that way, living to gratify every itch for sin, every illicit pleasure, serving our lusts because we could do nothing more than obey when our flesh started calling. The notion that someone is free when because they’ve thrown off all restraint is a brilliant trick of the Devil. We have done nothing more than become the slave of our ongoing urges, bound to fulfill every command, working tirelessly towards greater and greater pleasure all while we are being eaten up inwardly as if by devouring termites.
Fifthly, we are said to one time ourselves have lived in malice. Malicious is a vile way to be described. In this verse the Greek scholars say it refers to the desire people have to do evil to others. You want to bring evil into someone else’s life. This is what it says about us, the way we used to be. When someone hears they have a tumor the first thing to find out is if its benign or malignant. Is it harmless or harmful? We were malignant, a harmful tumor in the lives of others wanted to inject evil into their lives. As sin-filled people that’s what we wanted. Romans 1:30 says, “they invent ways of doing evil”. They love evil so much they want to get creative with it, try to express evil in as many ways as they can. Living in malice.
Sixthly, Paul says that we used to live in envy. “Envy is the terrible feeling of displeasure we feel when someone else is preferred, or honored, or promoted or extolled. The viper of envy is malice’s twin. They are an evil pair.” (Phillips, 297).
Seventh, we are told that we used to be hated. I find that one interesting because Paul says that when others hated us he’s counting that as a strike against us. How does that work? Can we help it how others feel towards us? Well, being hated probably relates to the reason why we were hated: because we were all these things. Sinners don’t exactly get along with other sinners because they sin against each other. So, they hate each other. We used to provoke and incite and aggravate people so that people couldn’t stand us. Maybe our arrogance, which whether you’re a Chrsitian or not you can’t stand arrogance in someone. Maybe we were dishonest or exceedingly self-centered. Who knows, but, when Paul says were were being hated by others I think its safe to say we were “hate-worthy.” What Paul is getting at here is that our interaction with people is probably why they hated us. Have you ever noticed how some people actually seem to thrive on being hated?
Lastly, eighth, Paul rounds off our despicable record of depravity with the fact that we not only were hate-worthy, but, we were also hateful. We hated others. It’s the opposite of love. It’s not just that our hearts were void of love towards others, but, in the place of where love should have been there was the opposite: hatred. An intense, passionate, hostile dislike of others. Hate is a most destructive attitude, and a most self-destructive one as well. Hate is a destroyer. Jesus said in Matthew 5:22, “Anyone who is angry with his brother is guilty of murder…” I can’t see why hating someone wouldn’t be related as well. It is the attitudinal equivalent of murder. Hate is the inward feeling of the heart that corresponds with outward act of murder by the hands. A more pithy way to say it is that “Hate is the heart of the hands that murder”.
Conclusion: Several applications:
First, we should not be self-righteous towards the lost. This verse describes what we were before we came to Jesus Christ. Paul says, “At one time we too…” Paul wants us to remember that we can relate to the lost. And we didn’t change because we had it in us to change. We didn’t have the will power or the moral compass to leave that way of life behind. We are only a new person because Jesus Christ has made us into one.
Secondly, in light of the first application, we should have confidence in the life-changing power of Jesus Christ. There is no one whom Jesus cannot save and transform. Let us never write anyone off, no matter how far in sin they are or how long they have stubbornly refused the Lord. As long as they are breathing we keep praying.
Thirdly, as Christians we must live in contrast to all these things now, not in conformity to them. We should loathe ourselves if as Christians we can still be described in this way. Paul treats these 8 descriptions as our past life before Christ, not our current life with Him. Let each of us keep from living so evilly as verse 3 describes.