“For we too were once foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved by various passions and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, detesting one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind appeared, he saved us – not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy – through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Several years ago, I surprised my wife for her birthday by having one of her very good friends who lives a few hours away drive in for the weekend. It wound up being a very fun and special time, and she was completely surprised. Now, in that instance, surprise guests were a delight for her…but only because I knew they were coming and had prepared appropriately. Absent that, surprise guests would perhaps not have been such a good surprise. We want to know when people are coming – especially important people – so that we can be prepared. When Jesus came, God the Father had told us He was coming and even made a big announcement on the night of His arrival, but we were not prepared. We’re still not. Let’s talk about why His coming is nonetheless a very good thing.
Titus is not one of the New Testament documents to which I’ve given a whole lot of attention in the past. I’ve read through it several times when I’ve read through the Bible as a whole over the span of a year, but that’s about it. I know it was written by Paul to Titus who was serving as a pastor on the island of Crete. I know that it mirrors Paul’s first letter to Timothy in many ways. And that’s about it. As I was reading through my own Advent devotion, though, this passage really caught my eye. Paul lays out here in uncomfortable detail, the surprise of salvation.
He starts here with a list of sinful lifestyles. This is one of those sin lists that we are tempted to ignore when we find them in various places throughout Paul’s letters. We do this because we tell ourselves that he is talking about people who are guilty of all of these things, we mentally pat ourselves on the back for not being guilty of all of these things like some people are, and because of this we exclude ourselves from his attention. Yet such a line of thinking is nothing but a tool from the Devil to keep our attention away from things that we are perhaps very much in need of addressing.
When we see a list of sinful lifestyles like this, we should not imagine Paul was talking about someone guilty of all of them. Instead, we should take each on its own and evaluate our lives. If we are guilty of even one of them, then we are guilty, period. I suspect that if you think very long or hard, you can probably find yourself somewhere on this list, especially your pre-Christ life.
Regardless of where you find yourself here, though, the second part of the passage is absolutely incredible. Because of God’s kindness and love salvation was offered to the world. Paul was writing to a group of believers, thus the past tense. If you are in that group, this should be a fact that generates profound gratitude in your heart and mind. There was nothing about you that made you worth saving. There was certainly nothing about me in that regard. God did it anyway, though, because of His kindness and love. He washed us clean of our sins and renewed our lives by His Holy Spirit. We didn’t contribute to this at all. It was all a gift of His mercy.
But notice the language Paul uses here. He says this all happened when God’s kindness and His love for all people appeared. What do you suppose that means? Weren’t these things always a part of His character? How could they “appear” like this? Because of Jesus. Yes, those things were absolutely always a part of God’s character, but we didn’t understand it. We didn’t expect it. We weren’t looking for it. We were living in a miserable ignorance, mired in our sin and rebelliousness, slowly tearing each other to pieces. Yes, the Jews were looking for the appearance of the Messiah, and some of them associated great moral renewal with His coming, but only along the lines of the Law. They couldn’t imagine more than that. And their understanding of the Law itself had grown so narrow that they really didn’t even have that right. We were living in all the ways Paul describes here and more and there was no sign that anything was ever going to change. We were never going to suddenly become good enough for God.
And then He appeared.
We received a surprise visitor. It was such a surprise that nothing about our world was really ready for Him. Oh, the timing was just right as Paul wrote to the Galatian churches, but we weren’t ready. It was like we had the President show up at our house unannounced with a full entourage and camera crew there to document his visit and the house was a mess, the kids were fighting, the dinner was burning, and we were arguing with one another about something completely insignificant. It was embarrassing to say the least. God knew we were in that kind of a state and appeared anyway. He didn’t expect us to have everything together for His arrival. We weren’t ever going to have everything together for His arrival. He came anyway. The surprise was terrible and wonderful all at the same time. We weren’t remotely prepared, but God came anyway.
It doesn’t have to be that way anymore.
Now, we still aren’t any more capable of making ourselves good enough for God than our forebears were. That’s not the question. If you haven’t yet received Him into your life for the first time, He is still waiting to enter no matter what state you are in. His kindness and love for you remain completely unchanged. But if you have received Him, there is some preparing you can do. His first coming is no longer a surprise. His second coming will be, but not of the same kind in that we know there is a day when He will be coming back. We can be preparing ourselves for that. The Advent season is a perfect time for this. In a season when our culture pushes us to go even harder and faster than we do the rest of the year, you can be different. You can take the countercultural step of slowing down and reflecting on where your life is and how ready you are to receive Jesus when He comes.
Are you living a life that perfectly reflects His righteousness? Or, has your relationship grown a bit staler than it once was, and if you are really honest, you are probably drifting more in the direction of all those things Paul listed out at the beginning of this passage than in the direction of God’s kingdom? Are you being foolish in any way? Has God given some commands you aren’t following? Do you have any places where you are convinced of things that simply aren’t true? Do you find yourself controlled more by various passions and pleasures than the lifestyle of Christ? Do you have any malice or envy in your heart for another person? Do you have relationships that are broken and which you aren’t all that interested in restoring? Where do you need to allow the washing of regeneration and the renewal by the Holy Spirit to be refreshed in your life?
This Advent season, pause from amidst the rat race you would otherwise be running and evaluate which steps you need to take to be better prepared for Jesus’ arrival. Make the changes you need to make so the surprise of His coming is a delightful one.