Ministry in Christ's church was never easy even from the start. This morning as we open Paul's letter to Pastor Titus, missionary church-planter to Crete—we look at the description of the cultural background of the congregation Titus served two thousand years ago.

Titus 1:12-13 One of them, a prophet of their own, said, "Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons." This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith (NKJV)

Wow, just think of what a miracle it was to find group of believers saved out of such a godless society. They came from centuries of culture dominated by total ('always') untrustworthiness ('liars'), total out-of-control living ('evil beasts'), and the total undisciplined pursuit of personal lust-filled appetites ('lazy gluttons').

Again we see from these two verses that when the Gospel of Jesus Christ entered the Roman world of the New Testament the landscape was very bleak. Christ's church was born into a sin-warped, sin-darkened world of mixed-up marriages, sin-scarred lives, and confused families.

Paul here quoted a line from a poem by Epimenides, a poet and philosopher who had lived in Crete 600 years earlier. The quotation reveals basic character flaws in the Cretans, giving them a bad reputation for lying, violence, and laziness The reputation of the Cretans was so bad that the verb form of their name (kretizo) was used by the Greeks to indicate lying. Paul applied this familiar phrase to the false teachers.

But men and women who were gloriously saved did not automatically become great wives and mothers, or husbands and fathers. When they came to Christ and were forgiven, God graciously gave them everything they needed to become godly wives, mothers, husbands, and fathers. But, they needed something else. They need worship services that taught them to believe correctly, and then they needed small group discipleship times to learn how to behave correctly. Correct behavior is behavior energized by grace.

This article is available in print in the book The Joy of a Word-Filled Family. I really believe that this insight into the Cretan culture can stir our hearts to glorify the amazing grace and saving power of God.

• If the Gospel of Christ can reach into a culture of people who were the descendents of the wicked, pagan Old Testament Philistines (as in Goliath and David) and build them into grace-energized servants of Christ's church—He can work with anyone.

• If God can make saints out of people who had so descended in their personal character until Paul describes them with this trio of disparaging words "Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons"—He can change anyone no matter how weak, how wicked, how undisciplined.

This letter to Titus should encourage every one of us that God is so wonderful, His grace is so powerful, and we are so in need of His work in our lives. The greatest truth is that He can change us no matter how bad we've been, and no matter how much baggage we brought into our new life with Him.

The Cretan church was saved, bought from the slave market of sin (redeemed), but still had clinging to their lives the garbage of their culture. They had generations of bad habits, false thinking, and warped lives.

What was the plan God had in mind to transform these very un-saintly people? The same plan He has for all of us this morning. Save them by His grace and sanctify them by His Word.

As I worked over this morning's passage for the past two weeks I kept thinking about what the church in Crete must have looked like. Can you imagine congregation after congregation around that island of Crete that Titus had to visit? Each one had some form of the unpleasant odors of un-disposed remnants of fleshly garbage. Each church had newly saved saints who were in varying degrees former totally untrustworthy liars, former totally out-of-control evil beats, and former totally undisciplined, lazy gluttons!

Just like someone who smokes that can't smell the stale odor of smoke that reeked from all their clothing, car or home—so these former pagans couldn't smell all their fleshly habits that needed change. Like garbage left to rot smells until it is disposed of and cleansed away, so Titus was to start a spiritual search and dispose mission into the lives of the Cretans.

God wanted to shine the spotlight of His Word into their lives corporately, and then individually. As any garbage was exposed it was to be denied, and the area exposed to that garbage cleansed and freshened by the power of the sanctifying Spirit of God through His Word. That is the essence of Titus 2:12-14.

Titus 2:12-14 teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. NKJV

Two words stand out in v. 12. The word God chose for "teaching" is the word paideuo which speaks of training a child using discipline as needed. God wants us to be instructed, taught, trained, and whatever else is needed until we say no to sin.

The word "denying" is arneomai and means 'to refuse, reject, not accept, not take an offer of'. This is the word used for Peter's denials of the Lord after Gethsemane (Matthew 26:70, 72); and it is the same word for Moses when he refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter (Heb. 11:24). God wants us to not accept any stinking garbage from the world, He wants us to refuse anything that will foul the fragrance of the worship we are to offer.

The mission Paul sent Titus out to do was to take the new believers and have them scrape off their lives anything that clung to them of the old life, mortify, sanctify, and purify away anything that was not pleasing to God.

The Cretans as new believers were out of whack in one way or another and smelled bad spiritually--their lives, their marriages, and their homes. And that is just the type of material God can use for His marvelous work of salvation. What they needed was long-term sanctification. They were just children-in-the-faith in need of a long bath in God's Word, administered by mothers and fathers-in-the-faith!

This need for removing remnants of garbage that stinks confronted me on Thursday night. I walked into our house for the first time in ten days and it smelled like a dumpster. I prowled around looking for where that horrible smell was coming from. Trash cans were checked, pantry potato bags, fruit bowl, and all came up clear. Then I saw a dark circle on the floor in front of the fridge. When I pulled open the door of that trusted 12 year old appliance there was the finest collection of colorful molds and layers of decay available anywhere in the city. Our compressor had died, and the result was a stinking mess. But because I value that appliance I had only one choice—to get rid of the garbage.

For the next six hours I bagged, hauled, washed, scraped, bleached and scrubbed that old friend in the kitchen until it was pure white again and mold and stink free. Refrigerators have no smell of their own; they just hold objects that begin to smell if allowed to. All it needed was to be washed and renewed and it would be back as good as new.

When Titus came to Crete to pastor Christ's church, it was sometime in the early 60's AD. As he arrived the churches were filled with spiritual lives that smelled like a dumpster. The old rotted flesh of their former ways stood in the way of their progress in Christ. They were bought and paid for but needed the washing of sanctification through God's Word.

There were stinking lives, stinking marriages, and stinking families. Paul proposed to Titus a two-part plan: regular systematic teaching in the church gatherings and private one-on-one discipling sessions for focused applications of the sanctifying Word.

When we study this idea of the older-in-the-faith godly, Titus 2 woman we are describing a woman who has chosen to learn from God how to live her life day-by-day and step-by-step in way that pleases God. Women energized by grace are useful to God.

Titus 2 describes how God works in the life of a believer. When we were saved and the gospel of grace began in our lives, the evidence is seen in the sanctification process. Grace always teaches genuine believers how to say no to sin in any form. When God gets to pick the curriculum for His Church, what does He choose to be taught? He lays down godly character qualities he wants in women.

This article is just one part of a series entitled Energized by Grace and is available free for download or print.  


Dr. John S. Barnett has been teaching the Word of God for over thirty years. For five years he served as Associate Pastor to Dr. John MacArthur at Grace Community Church (Sun Valley, CA) and was also a professor there at The Master’s Seminary and College. After serving in California and Rhode Island, John is presently pastoring and teaching the vibrant assembly of saints at Tulsa Bible Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. John shares his life with Bonnie, his beloved wife, and their eight children.