Titus’s Charge

Paul, in his letter to Titus, charges Titus to finish establishing the church in Crete:

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— Titus 1:5 English Standard Version (ESV)

As I read the letter, I was struck by how often Paul urged Titus and the people in his congregations to love and good works. Especially, good works.

After speaking about those who are insubordinate, Paul admonishes:

To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, [and] unfit for any good work. Titus 1:15-16 (ESV)

After describing characteristics those in the congregation should display, he admonishes Titus to:

Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. Titus 2:7-8 (ESV)

After a nutshell declaration of our sanctification:

[Our great God and Savior Jesus Christ] who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Titus 2:14 (ESV)

Prior to a description of our justification:

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. Titus 3:1-2 (ESV)

And again, as a bookend to the aforementioned description:

The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. Titus 3:8 (ESV)

And finally:

Do your best to speed Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way; see that they lack nothing. And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful. Titus 3:13-14 (ESV)

Condensing what Paul says about good works:

Good works are acts done for the benefit of others.

Of course, good works don’t save you. They demonstrate your faith in Him.

We were created for good works so let’s go do them.

Heraklion (Crete, Greece): basilica of St Titus

Heraklion (Crete, Greece): basilica of St Titus, 12 June 2009, Marc Ryckaert (MJJR), Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Deluding Influence

Delusion is defined as:

De·lu·sion /dəˈlo͞oZHən/ noun: delusion; plural noun: delusions

An idiosyncratic belief or impression that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality or rational argument, typically a symptom of mental disorder.

“The delusion of being watched.”

“Was her belief in his fidelity just a delusion?”

The action of deluding someone or the state of being deluded.

“What a capacity television has for delusion.”

And, perhaps more directly:

De·lude /dəˈlo͞od/ verb: delude; 3rd person present: deludes; past tense and past participle: deluded; gerund or present participle: deluding

Impose a misleading belief upon (someone); deceive; fool.

“Too many theorists have deluded the public.”

In the second letter to the Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul speaks of deluding influences and the man of lawlessness:

Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.

Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.

Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming.

The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness [emphasis added].

2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 English Standard Version (ESV)

Calvin has much to say about these verses: 1–2, 3–4, 5–8, and 9–12. We’ll concentrate on what he said about verses 11 and 12:

Verse 11 – The working of delusion. He means that errors will not merely have a place, but [that] the wicked will be blinded, so…they will rush forward to ruin without consideration.

For as God enlightens us inwardly by his Spirit, that his doctrine may be efficacious in us, and opens our eyes and hearts, that it may make its way thither, so by a righteous judgment he delivers over to a reprobate mind (Romans 1:28) those whom he has appointed to destruction, that with closed eyes and a senseless mind, they may, as if bewitched, deliver themselves over to Satan and his ministers to be deceived…

Verse 12 – That all may be condemned. That is, that they may receive the punishment due to their impiety. Thus, those that perish have no just ground to expostulate with God, inasmuch as they have obtained what they sought.

For we must keep in view what is stated in Deuteronomy 13:3, that the hearts of men are subjected to trial, when false doctrines come abroad, inasmuch as they [the false doctrines] have no power except among those who do not love God with a sincere heart. Let those, then, who take pleasure in unrighteousness, reap the fruit of it.

When he says all, he means that contempt of God finds no excuse in the great crowd and multitude of those who refuse to obey the gospel, for God is the Judge of the whole world, so that he will inflict punishment upon a hundred thousand, no less than upon one individual.

The participle εὐδοκήσαντες (taking pleasure) means (so to speak) a voluntary inclination to evil, for in this way every excuse is cut off from the ungrateful, when they take so much pleasure in unrighteousness, as to prefer it to the righteousness of God.

For by what violence will they say that they have been impelled to alienate themselves by a mad revolt from God, towards whom they were led by the guidance of nature? It is at least manifest that they willingly and knowingly lent an ear to falsehoods.

But none of this is new. Throughout history and in all lands, God has given over the disobedient.

Roughly seven hundred years before Christ and more than a century and a half before their decreed release by Cyrus the Great, the prophet Isaiah encouraged the future Babylonian exiles to flee from there and, by faith, return to the Promised Land. Speaking of their spiritual blindness, he says to them:

They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand. Isaiah 44:18 (ESV)

Speaking to His disciples about the crowds gathered by the Sea of Galilee to hear Him, the Lord Jesus Christ cites Isaiah (Is. 6:9–10):

And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that

“they may indeed see but not perceive,

    and may indeed hear but not understand,

lest they should turn and be forgiven.”

Mark 4:11-12 (ESV)

Later, during Lord’s entry into Jerusalem prior to the Passover, John recounts what Isaiah said about God’s hardening of hearts as a commentary on those who did not believe in the Lord:

“He has blinded their eyes

    and hardened their heart,

lest they see with their eyes,

    and understand with their heart, and turn,

    and I would heal them.”

John 12:40 (ESV)

Later still, Paul, in his letter to the church in Rome says:

So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. Romans 9:18 (ESV)

This is a clear expression of God’s sovereign kindness and severity.

And yet, He sets Eternity in the heart:

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. Ecclesiastes 3:11 (ESV)

Truly, His ways are past finding out:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! Romans 11:33 (ESV)

Even though we deserve ruthlessness, He Himself seeks to persuade us with rational arguments:

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:

Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;

Though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.

If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land;

But if you refuse and rebel,you shall be eaten by the sword;

For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Isaiah 1:18–20 (ESV)

Then, of course, He speaks to us of an unmerited gift:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:28-29 (ESV)

With Paul (and Isaiah), I say to you: sleeper, awake!

Fall of Rebel Angels - Brueghel

The Fall of the Rebel Angels (1562), Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530–1569), PD in US

Legalistic?

I’ve heard it said that those who profess Christ shouldn’t try to put off the old self and put on the new self, to pursue sanctification, or intentionally obey the word of God.

Paul, in his letter to the Philippian church says:

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Philippians 2:12-13 English Standard Version (ESV)

Some would have you believe that Paul must have been mistaken. John Calvin comments on these verses:

It is God that worketh. This is the true engine for bringing down all haughtiness — this the sword for putting an end to all pride, when we are taught that we are utterly nothing, and can do nothing, except through the grace of God alone. I mean supernatural grace, which comes forth from the spirit of regeneration.

…There are, in any action, two principal departments — the inclination, and the power to carry it into effect. Both of these he ascribes wholly to God; what more remains to us as a ground of glorying?

Nor is there any reason to doubt that this division has the same force as if Paul had expressed the whole in a single word; for the inclination is the groundwork; the accomplishment of it is the summit of the building brought to a completion. …For he does not say that our hearts are simply turned or stirred up, or that the infirmity of a good will is helped, but that a good inclination is wholly the work of God.

…For we acknowledge that we have from nature an inclination, but as it is depraved through the corruption of sin, it begins to be good only when it has been renewed by God. Nor do we say that a man does anything good without willing it, but that it is only when his inclination is regulated by the Spirit of God.

Hence, in so far as concerns this department, we see that the entire praise is ascribed to God, and that what sophists teach us is frivolous — that grace is offered to us, and placed, as it were, in the midst of us, that we may embrace it if we choose; for if God did not work in us efficaciously, he could not be said to produce in us a good inclination.

As to the second department, we must entertain the same view. “God,” says he, “is ̔Ο ἐνεργῶν το ἐνεργεῖν he that worketh in us to do.” He brings, therefore, to perfection those pious dispositions which he has implanted in us, that they may not be unproductive, as he promises by Ezekiel, —

I will cause them to walk in my commandments.” (Ezekiel 11:20)

From this we infer that perseverance, also, is his free gift.

According to his good pleasure. …For Paul has it in view to ascribe everything to God, and to take everything from us. Accordingly, not satisfied with having assigned to God the production both of willing and of doing aright, he ascribes both to his unmerited mercy. By this means he shuts out the contrivance of the sophists as to subsequent grace, which they imagine to be the reward of merit. Hence he teaches, that the whole course of our life, if we live aright, is regulated by God, and that, too, from his unmerited goodness.

With fear and trembling. From this Paul deduces an exhortation — that they must with fear work out their own salvation. He conjoins, as he is accustomed, fear and trembling, for the sake of greater intensity, to denote — serious and anxious fear. He, accordingly, represses drowsiness as well as confidence…

The inference, also, is to be carefully observed: “You have,” says he, “all things from God; therefore be solicitous and humble.” For there is nothing that ought to train us more to modesty and fear, than our being taught, that it is by the grace of God alone that we stand, and will instantly fall down, if he even in the slightest degree withdraw his hand. Confidence in ourselves produces carelessness and arrogance.

…For distrust of ourselves leads us to lean more confidently upon the mercy of God. And this is what Paul’s words import, for he requires nothing from the Philippians, but that they submit themselves to God with true self-renunciation.

Work out your own salvation. …Salvation is taken to mean the entire course of our calling, and that this term includes all things, by which God accomplishes that perfection, to which he has predestinated us by his gracious choice. This no one will deny…

We are said to perfect it, when, under the regulation of the Spirit, we aspire after a life of blessedness. It is God that calls us, and offers to us salvation; it is our part to embrace by faith what he gives, and by obedience act suitably to his calling; but we have neither from ourselves. Hence we act only when he has prepared us for acting.

Addressing the whole issue, James wrote ironically:

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. James 2:18 (ESV)

Know this then, that faith without works is dead.

Papyrus 54: James 2:16-18

Papyrus 54: James 2:16-18, 6th century, Public Domain in US

There, But for God’s Grace and Mercy Through His Providence, Go I

John Calvin

John Calvin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why are we shocked when things like this, this, or this happen?

These sensational stories are tragic, no doubt. Scary, even. But we seem to think we’d never do or even be capable of such heinous acts. Then we bolt our door against our neighbor (rightly or wrongly, I can’t say; that’s up to you). Some believe we’re naturally moral. Still others say: red in tooth and claw.

The scriptures conclude we all fall short of God’s glory. But isn’t this an overstatement of our condition? Aren’t we really good, but just misguided, unmotivated, or low informational?

Paul, in the letter to the Romans, elaborates on what he concludes in case we were unsure:

11 no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16   in their paths are ruin and misery,
17    and the way of peace they have not known.”
18   “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

So, we have no excuse to be shocked at these sensational stories. This is the condition of man. However, if this is so, why then do we not claw and bite until we are no more?

John Calvin, a theologian not often cited now–a–days, suggests in the Institutes of the Christian Religion, book 1, chapter 17, and paragraph 11:

…How comes it, I ask, that their confidence never fails, but just that while the world apparently revolves at random, they know that God is everywhere at work, and feel assured that his work will be their safety? When assailed by the devil and wicked men, were they not confirmed by remembering and meditating on Providence, they should, of necessity, forthwith despond. But when they call to mind that the devil, and the whole train of the ungodly, are, in all directions, held in by the hand of God as with a bridle, so that they can neither conceive any mischief, nor plan what they have conceived, nor how much so ever they may have planned, move a single finger to perpetrate, unless in so far as he permits, nay, unless in so far as he commands; that they are not only bound by his fetters, but are even forced to do him service,—when the godly think of all these things they have ample sources of consolation. For, as it belongs to the lord to arm the fury of such foes and turn and destine it at pleasure, so it is his also to determine the measure and the end, so as to prevent them from breaking loose and wantoning as they list…

So God not only constrains the evildoer but commands him to do His bidding, yet without complicity or taint thrown back upon Him. But why, if we’re this way, are we guilty at all?

Calvin says in the Institutes of the Christian Religion, book 1, chapter 17, and paragraph 5:

… As all contingencies whatsoever depend on it, therefore, neither thefts nor adulteries, nor murders, are perpetrated without an interposition of the divine will. Why, then, they ask, should the thief be punished for robbing him whom the Lord chose to chastise with poverty? Why should the murderer be punished for slaying him whose life the Lord had terminated? If all such persons serve the will of God, why should they be punished?

I deny that they serve the will of God. For we cannot say that he who is carried away by a wicked mind performs service on the order of God, when he is only following his own malignant desires. He obeys God, who, being instructed in his will, hastens in the direction in which God calls him.

But how are we so instructed unless by his word? The will declared by his word is, therefore, that which we must keep in view in acting, God requires of us nothing but what he enjoins. If we design anything contrary to his precept, it is not obedience, but contumacy and transgression. But if he did not will it, we could not do it. I admit this.

But do we act wickedly for the purpose of yielding obedience to him? This, assuredly, he does not command. Nay, rather we rush on, not thinking of what he wishes, but so inflamed by our own passionate lust, that, with destined purpose, we strive against him. And in this way, while acting wickedly, we serve his righteous ordination, since in his boundless wisdom he well knows how to use bad instruments for good purposes.

And see how absurd this mode of arguing is. They will have it that crimes ought not to be punished in their authors, because they are not committed without the dispensation of God. I concede more—that thieves and murderers, and other evil-doers, are instruments of Divine Providence, being employed by the Lord himself to execute the Judgments which he has resolved to inflict.

But I deny that this forms any excuse for their misdeeds. For how? Will they implicate God in the same iniquity with themselves, or will they cloak their depravity by his righteousness? They cannot exculpate themselves, for their own conscience condemns them: they cannot charge God, since they perceive the whole wickedness in themselves, and nothing in Him save the legitimate use of their wickedness

So, it is apparent that Romans 3 is true and we are not only held back from what we could do but others are employed to execute God’s judgments and, yet, are solely guilty of their transgression.

I see the tendency to do wrong in myself all the time. Do you? The only remedy is falling at the feet of the Lord Jesus Christ in surrender because he says: Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.