how faith defines us

hfdu

Titus 1:1-4 From Paul, servant of God, and missionary sent by Jesus Christ, representing the faith of God’s chosen ones, and the awareness of the truth which godliness brings; 2 In hope of eternal life, which God (who is free from deceit) promised before the ages began; 3 But he has revealed that promise in our own times through preaching, a task which has been handed over to me by order of God our Saviour; 4 To Titus, a legitimate child representing that shared faith: Grace, and peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour.

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I’m starting a new series of messages today based on Paul’s little letter to Titus.

Titus is not mentioned in the book of Acts, but he is mentioned 13 times in Paul’s letters, which leads me to assume that he was a trusted and valuable member of Paul’s missionary team.

Given what Paul says about the inhabitants of Crete in the letter to Titus, he had his hands full. The Cretans had a reputation of being untrustworthy, lazy, and scoundrels who lacked self-control. In fact they actually had a Greek word kretidzo, which was formed from the name. The word meant to lie. So, the Gentile inhabitants of Crete were going to be hard for Titus to deal with.

But there’s more. The Jewish population at Crete was apparently infested with teachers of that false doctrine that had given Paul so much trouble in Galatia and Rome. Paul called them the troublers. So you had former pagans having trouble living like Christians in a non-Christian culture, and you also had people who were teaching them that they had to become more Jewish to be blessed by God, which goes against the gospel of salvation by grace.

On top of all that, there was a scarcity of leaders in a growing church community. Titus had to find appropriate leaders for churches on the island, train them, and appoint them to head those churches, and he had a limited time to do it. Titus had what you might call a high stress/ high pressure mission.

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So, what can we learn from this little letter – one of the last to be written by the apostle Paul? I’m assuming that Crete was a kind of test case. Titus’ mission was to see if the gospel, and faith in Christ – would work there. Can a community with so many problems actually change simply by believing and living the gospel message? Can the Christian faith change us? Those are the questions I want to ask as we examine the message of Titus in this series.

My hypothesis is that faith can change us. No matter who we are, no matter what our background, no matter how many mistakes we have made in the past, no matter how many questions we have today, faith in Christ can transform us individually and as a community.

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From these first few lines of Paul’s letter we get the impression that the Cretans’ faith in the gospel had already begun to change them. I think this community had put their faith in Christ, and that faith had begun to redefine them as a people. That’s where it can begin with our community as well.

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FAITH DEFINES US BY MAKING US AWARE OF THE TRUTH

Paul sometimes says things that are really quite profound, and if we are not careful we will miss them. This is an example. He uses all the words that we would expect, except he puts them in the wrong order. We might expect Paul to say that recognizing the truth leads to faith and faith leads to godliness. But what Paul says in verse 1 is that both faith and the awareness of truth are the result of godliness. Many miss this fact, and never get real faith or confidence that they know the truth.

It all starts not with a confession of faith, but a commitment to godly living. Submitting to the Lordship of Christ leads to obedience to his commands. The results of that obedience are faith and awareness of the truth. So, if you are struggling with your faith in Christ, there is an answer. That answer is obey what he taught. The resulting godliness with empower your faith and solve your truth issues.

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FAITH DEFINES US BY GIVING US HOPE BEYOND TODAY

Today is a problem for everyone, because none of us totally live up to our own expectations, and we never completely get what we want. But the secret of the Christian life is that there is hope beyond today. That hope rests on the foundation of the faithfulness of God, who promised to make us his everlasting children.

If your faith rests on what is happening in your life today, you are on shaky ground. Because even if you are having a good day, you know it won’t last. You know the other shoe is going to drop, and failure is just around the corner.

But if your faith rests not on your today, but on what God promises for your tomorrow, that faith is based on him, not you. So, even if you are having a bad day, God remains faithful, and you can still end the day encouraged.

You just have to keep telling yourself that God is faithful, and he is not a liar. What he promised is what is going to happen.

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FAITH DEFINES US BY GIVING US PURPOSE FOR TODAY

I like the way Paul narrows the focus of his life and ministry, making it a very simple matter. Reading about Paul in the book of Acts and his epistles, we realise that he had a very important role in the establishment of the early church. He was a missionary, and planted churches all over the known world of his time. He brought around him a large group of missionaries, and put them to work on that same missions task. Titus was one of the members of his team. He trained many of those people, and he oversaw their ministries, as is made clear by epistles like Titus and 1 & 2 Timothy.

But Paul described himself as a preacher. He did not allow the complicated nature of what he did to confuse him as to his purpose. Paul found his purpose in preaching the Gospel. The details as to how he would do it were going to lead him to do what he did. But his purpose was always in the back of his mind. That kept him going when it became no longer possible for him to do this or that. His faith defined him as a preacher. When he could no longer go and preach, then he would write and preach.

Every one of us has to find our purpose, and for each of us it will be different. Ask yourself, what is it that God wants you to do, no matter what. Then, find a way to do it.

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FAITH DEFINES US BY REWRITING OUR PAST

Notice that Paul describes Titus as a legitimate child. Why would he say that? It could be that Titus was not a physical legitimate child, so Paul described him as a spiritual legitimate child. Titus could not change what he was. But his faith in Christ did change what he had become. If I’m reading that right, it makes sense for Paul to send Titus to Crete. His ministry there would be a demonstration of how God can take a messed-up life and make it special and godly and beautiful.

That’s something that faith can do for us. Each of us has things about our life that we regret. But a life focused on Christ, obeying and preaching his word – can rewrite our past. It can turn our past ugliness into something nice and desirable. It can heal our hurts and use them to heal the hurts of others.

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Each of us has a choice. We do not have a choice about all the challenges and difficulties that we face. They are here, and here to stay until Jesus returns. But we do have a choice as to what we allow to define us. We can be defined by our fears or our faith. In Titus, we are challenged to let our faith in Christ define who we are.

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