Please turn to Titus 1:10-16. When Paul wrote this letter to Titus, he was living and preaching in a pluralistic and immoral society. We are also living in a pluralistic and immoral society. Not only is this the Word of God, which is useful for every believer’s edification, but even the circumstances of God giving His Word to those congregations in Crete speak to unique circumstances that we face as Christians today. Paul desires these Cretan Christians to adorn the gospel of God’s grace and not to be negatively influenced by the world around them. Therefore, he has called on elders to be appointed in these churches precisely so that they can aid in that process. First, in verses 10-11, Paul calls on Titus and the elders to silence the false teachers. Then, in verses 12-14, he tells Titus and the elders to encourage sound doctrine that leads to godliness. Finally, in verses 15-16, Paul desires for these Christians to understand the process of sanctification and to understand that their actions reveal the condition of their hearts.
I. Silence False Teachers.
In verses 10-11, Paul is telling Titus that the eldership must silence false teaching in the church. He has a zero-tolerance policy regarding teaching that deviates from the Scripture. Paul says that the elders are there to make sure that the teaching that goes on in those local congregations is sound, that it is according to God’s Word, and that it is in accordance with the preaching of Paul and the other apostles. As a result, Paul gives us some of the qualities of these false teachers in verse 10.
First, Paul calls them “rebellious men.” In other words, they do not submit to the authority of the Word. These rebellious men are saying, “If you really want to be a Christian and if you really want to be holy, then you need to believe these myths, and you need to obey these commands, even though God did not command them in Scripture.” Secondly, he calls them “empty talkers and deceivers.” Paul says that they are peddlers of false doctrine. Lastly, he calls them “of the circumcision.” He likely means that they were Christians from a Jewish background who were continuing to insist on certain Jewish popular myths and man-made traditions as necessary for Christian experience.
Paul’s attack on false teaching is alien to the spirit of our own pluralistic age. We think that everybody’s opinion matters, and what would it hurt if we had varying opinions taught in the church. But remember, Paul’s age was pluralistic too. Therefore, he was zealous for sound doctrine because it is crucial for Christian growth. His concern was for these Christians to grow in grace, and they could not do that under bad teaching. And so the very first thing he says is, “Titus, you and the elders fight false teaching. Silence the false teachers. Promote sound teaching in the church.”
II. Encourage Godly Living.
In verses 12-14, Paul says that he wants elders to promote sound doctrine unto godliness. Paul wants these congregations in Crete to be strongly exhorted to be counter-cultural in the way that they think and live. In other words, he wants them to be biblical in their thinking and biblical in their living. Paul even says, “One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.’” Many people would be offended to be described in those terms. However, I think it is a compliment from Paul to these Cretan Christians that he is willing to say that in a letter that he knows is going to be read to them, because those that are Christians are going to say, “Yes, Paul, you’re right. That’s what my culture is like, and I don’t want to be like that. Although I was born here, my citizenship is in heaven. And though I dearly love my Cretan friends and family, my first loyalty is to the Lord Jesus Christ, to my citizenship in heaven; and I don’t want to live like these people live here.” So he tells Titus that he has got to challenge that cultural tendency to dishonesty, maliciousness and laziness. Paul wants Titus to appoint elders who know and love the people, and who are willing to confront them and call them to live as believers in this immoral culture.
III. Understand Sanctification.
In verses 15-16, Paul wants the elders to reckon with how the Holy Spirit works to change believers and grow them in grace. Paul says, “To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled.” Now, why does he say this? Because he tells you in this very passage that there are those in this congregation who are false teachers, who are saying to them, “If you really want to be a good Christian, you need to believe these popular myths; you need to follow these man-made commands, even if the Bible doesn’t say that you need to do these things. If you’ll do these things, you’ll really be a great Christian.”
But the Apostle Paul says, “That is not how sanctification works. Sanctification does not work by ignoring the Bible or by putting popular myths alongside of the Bible.” And so Paul wants Titus to make sure that these elders reckon with that reality. “If we want a holy congregation in Crete, Titus”, Paul is saying, “then they need to understand how the Holy Spirit works.” And how does the Holy Spirit work? The Holy Spirit works by the Word being spoken to consciences, impacting the desires, and transforming the heart of a believer from the inside out so that our outward actions reflect that inward transformation.
In verse 16, Paul says, “They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient, and worthless for any good deed.” Paul is simply repeating something that Jesus said in Matthew 7:15-20, “By their fruits you will know them.” Our life is a diagnostic of what we really believe and what we really desire in our heart. And so elders are not only to understand how the Holy Spirit grows Christians, but that actions are the spiritual diagnostic of the heart. Where the Holy Spirit is working, there will always be an external manifestation of God’s grace in the way we live, in the way we think, and in the way we speak.
Paul’s words are infinitely practical to these Cretan Christians, but they are imminently practical for us as well. We live in an immoral culture, and our great temptation is to try to keep one foot in the world and one foot in God’s kingdom. Instead, Paul is saying, “I want you to live like blood-bought Christians, and the only way you will do that is by the Word.” May God grant that we would pursue holiness relying upon His grace so that with our lives we might adorn the Gospel of grace.