It’s in the headlines all the time, it seems. Another pastor is finally called out on a pattern of heinous, unrepentant sin. A ministry leader is exposed for embezzlement or fraud. Popular preachers are saying things that don’t seem to fit with what you know about God’s Word and what it means to be a Christian. What is a believer to do when faced with false teachers and teachings? This problem is not new, and the Bible addresses it clearly in many passages, including helpful instructions in the book of Titus.
Who Is Titus in the Bible?
Titus was Paul’s beloved “partner and coworker” (2 Corinthians 8:23) who seems to have been converted through his ministry (Titus 1:4). He had a Greek Gentile background but was not forced to be circumcised (Galatians 2:3), in keeping with the Christian agreement to not require Gentiles to follow Jewish Law before becoming followers of Christ (Acts 15). Titus spent much time in Corinth and was involved with the church there (2 Corinthians 8:6) while continuing to be actively involved in Paul’s ministry and even organizing a fundraising effort for the needy saints in Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 8:10-24).
The book of Titus in the Bible is Paul’s letter to him talking about the truth of God and how it addresses the false teaching that Titus was grappling with on the island of Crete where he had been left to continue to instruct the believers after Paul had moved on to other areas (Acts 14:21-23). The letter makes clear that Paul “expected the gospel to produce real godliness in everyday life, even in Crete...which was known in the ancient world for immorality.” (https://www.esv.org/resources/esv-global-study-bible/introduction-to-titus/). Likewise, the book of Titus still speaks to us today about the power of God in the life of a believer to produce godliness that makes the gospel attractive.
5 Things to Know about Paul's Letter to Titus in the Bible
1. Salvation is based on God’s mercy and grace.
Paul makes himself very clear in his letter to Titus that although believers should be concerned about developing godly character, this is not what saves them. Rather, “When the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, he saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to his mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7).
2. The grace of God empowers believers for godly living.
Because of the loving grace of God, believers are renewed by the indwelling Holy Spirit and it becomes possible for them to engage in good deeds fueled by love, not fear (1 John 4:18). Based on Titus 3:4-7 quoted above, Paul says: “This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you [Titus] to speak confidently so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men” (Titus 3:8). And again at the conclusion of the letter and based upon the fact that the Holy Spirit dwells in believers and desires to grow the fruit of the Spirit in them, Paul reminds Titus: “Our people must also learn to engage in good deeds to meet pressing needs, so that they will not be unfruitful” (Titus 3:14).
3. False teachers are selfish and quarrelsome.
One of the major obstacles Titus was dealing with as he served the church on the island of Crete was the presence of false teachers who were “upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain” (Titus 1:11). They seem to be “factious” (Titus 3:10) and “rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers” (Titus 1:10) who are focused on “foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and dispute about the Law” (Titus 3:9) which Paul deems to be “unprofitable and worthless” compared to a grace-fueled pursuit of “good deeds,” which are “good and profitable” (Titus 3:8). Though these false teachers “profess to know God...by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed” (Titus 1:16).
4. Good teachers are God-centered disciplers of the next generation.
How are the believers on the island of Crete (and also believers today!) supposed to recognize and resist false teaching? Through the process of discipleship through which Christian “sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1) and practices are handed down from one generation to the next. In contrast to the false teachers described in the letter, any “overseer” of the church must be “above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:7-9). All Christians, likewise, are not to be people known for stirring up a quarrel or pursuing selfish gain. Instead, they are to “be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men” (Titus 3:1-2) with the humble remembrance that “we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another” (Titus 3:3).
5. The Christian faith is passed on family-style.
The way that Christian beliefs and practices are passed on is in the context of the church as a family. “Older men,” says Paul, “are to be temperate, dignified, sensible, sound in faith, in love, and in perseverance,” (Titus 2:2), and are to “urge the young men to be sensible” and “in all things show yourself [Titus, as an older man himself] to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us” (Titus 2:6-8). Likewise, older women “are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the younger women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.”
The reason for these beliefs and behaviors and the impetus for passing them on is given at the memorable end of chapter two: “ For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously, and in a godly manner in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, eager for good deeds” (Titus 2:11-14).
When God’s grace transforms believers, the regenerating, purifying Holy Spirit makes them “eager for good deeds” (Titus 2:14). These good deeds and the sound doctrine underlying them stand in stark contrast to the false ideas and selfish, quarrelsome behaviors of the false teachers plaguing the Cretan church. As we face false teachings in our modern day, the best way we can address them is by focusing on God’s empowering grace and how it works itself out in our lives, trusting His Spirit to guide us in ways that are sensible, righteous, godly, and hopeful.
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Jessica Udall holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Bible and a Master of Arts degree in Intercultural Studies. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Intercultural Studies and writes on the Christian life and intercultural communication at lovingthestrangerblog.com.