Built on Truth
Series: Titus: A Church That Lasts
Titus is a book about how the church can really last. So little in our life truly does last, but in the opening to the letter, we find one of the ways the church can last is because it is built on a solid foundation of truth.
The Letters to Timothy and Titus, Philip Towner
We’re beginning a new series this morning through the book of Titus, a letter written by an early church leader named Paul, to a younger leader, Titus, who Paul had left on the island of Crete after proclaiming the Christian message there in order to ensure that the newly established churches there really lasted. That’s what we’re looking at in Titus: A church that lasts. If you were with us for Nehemiah recently, we looked at how God rebuilds His church. But how does that really last? So little in our lives does, after all, right? We get excited at a hobby for a bit, only for the excitement to fade. We try a diet, but don’t stick with it. Some friends seem great, then they move. So how can a church last? In the introduction to the letter at which we are looking today, we see that a church must first be built on a firm foundation. A church exists because the people in it share a common faith, and today we’ll see that our common faith is built on truth: A truth that accords with godliness, an eternal truth, and a truth that makes us family.
A truth that accords with godliness
Paul begins his letter to Titus as he often does, by introducing himself. He first calls himself a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ. He was enlisted in the service of God and commissioned by Jesus Christ Himself to hold the office of apostle, the foundational, authoritative office of the church under Christ. Jesus commissioned him to such an office for the sake of the faith of God’s elect. There is a people chosen by God from all the peoples of the earth, and Paul was sent out by Jesus to bring them to faith in Him. Faith is a word that essentially means trust, but you cannot exercise trust in something or someone you do not know. So Paul mentions a closely related goal here: Their knowledge of the truth. His apostolic commission is to proclaim God’s truth so that God’s chosen people would know it and put their faith in it. That’s the truth upon which our common faith is built.
And, finally in verse 1, it is a truth that accords with godliness, not an abstract truth that has nothing to do with life. It teaches us to be godly, and when rightly embraced, it leads to godly living. Here Paul gives us a little foreshadowing into one of the problems the letter to Titus is meant to address: In Crete, where Titus was ministering, there were people teaching falsehood that rationalized ungodliness. The teaching was false, and it did not accord with godliness. On the other hand, our common faith is built on true teaching, which does accord with godliness, and Paul was commissioned as an apostle for the sake of our faith and our knowledge of that truth that accords with godliness.
And it makes sense that the truth would accord with godliness, because both are rooted ultimately in God Himself, who is true and by definition, godly. However, we tend to separate what God has joined together. So some of us are concerned for godliness, but tend to downplay knowledge of the truth. When we hear people talk about things like difference between God’s essence and God’s persons, between the eternal begottenness of the Son and the eternal procession of the Spirit, or justification by faith alone vs. justification by faith and works, instead of saying, “Huh, I don’t understand that. Can you teach me so I can grow in knowledge of the truth?” we say, “Ok come on; can we talk about something that matters already?” And there are conservative and liberal versions of this: Conservatives say, “I don’t know about all that, but the important thing is you don’t have sex outside of marriage and we all vote republican,” while liberals say, “Why are we wasting our time talking about all this when there are racial injustices to be fought, material poverty to be alleviated, and democrats to be elected?” What they both have in common is this separation of knowledge of the truth from godliness, this idea that what really matters is godly living, not knowledge of the truth.
And do you see, that’s a truth claim itself? We should ask such people, “How did you come to such a knowledge of the truth?” If you actually want to be godly, you ought to strive for a greater knowledge of the truth. I’ve been encouraged at how many of you just recently finished up 8 weeks learning to study the Bible through Colossians because of your desire to know the truth more deeply; I see this in you, and yet I think it’s fair to say that our church and the church in America’s big problem is not that we want to know the truth too much. On the other hand, we must also bear in mind that if we know the truth but it’s not actually leading to godly living, something has gone wrong. It may be that what you believe isn’t actually the truth. Here’s a simple test: If you hear a teaching that tells you in some way it’s ok to disobey things God has clearly commanded in Scripture, that’s false teaching. The Bible’s commands on sexuality? Not important; those were part of a patriarchal, oppressive, system. That’s false teaching. The Bible’s teaching on justice? Not important; that’s just liberal nonsense. That’s false teaching.
So if the teaching you believe isn’t producing godliness, it may be because it’s false teaching. On the other hand, the teaching may actually be true, but if it’s not leading to godliness in your life, you aren’t using it the way God intended for it to be used. What you do with what you know is more important than how much you know. Knowledge can just puff you up if you don’t use it. So knowledge of the truth is like food: You need it to live a godly life, but if you just eat it and never exercise it, you’ll become unhealthy. I know the truth from James 4 that what causes quarrels and fights among us is the idolatry of our hearts. I know the truth that the way out is not simply better communication strategies, but repentance, and a return to worship of the true God. I tell couples this in pre-marital counseling, but if I’m not actually doing that when I get into a quarrel with my wife, I’m not using it as I ought. It’s a truth that accords with godliness; if I really believed it and applied it, it would lead to godliness, but I sometimes don’t.
The truth on which our common faith is built really is like that, too. Do you ever have those moments where you realize, “Man, if I just believed this, I’d never sin again!” Let’s hunger after greater knowledge of the truth, but more importantly, let’s use the knowledge of the truth God has blessed us to have for godliness. The truth on which our common faith is built is a truth that accords with godliness, and it is an eternal truth.
An eternal truth
Paul goes on to say in verse 2 that this faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth is in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began. This tells us something of the central content of the truth: It is a promise of eternal life. Faith is not sight; it’s trust, because it believes a promise not yet seen: Eternal life. We see death all around us, but our common faith is in hope of eternal life, life with God, life without end, eternally extended into the future, which God promised in eternity past. That’s why I’m calling it an eternal truth: It promises a life without end, and it was made before the beginning, “before the ages began” as verse 2 puts it. Before there was time, God promised life that time would never end.
To whom did God make this promise? The clearest referent in context is His elect. There were a people God chose from before the ages began, to whom He promised eternal life. You’re probably sensing that we are approaching our limits of comprehension as creatures; we don’t know what it’s like to exist without time. Yet here is the text in front of us; this is part of the truth that accords with godliness that Paul, and more ultimately God, wants us to know. Life beyond time was promised to God’s elect before time began; our common faith is built on an eternal, unchanging truth. Every few decades the “obvious truth” that everyone in our culture “just knows” changes. In the 1900s the obvious truth was that scientific facts were objective and nothing that couldn’t be proven by science could be accepted as true for everyone. Now the obvious truth is that not even science is objective, but like anything, can be twisted to create and sustain power, and therefore nothing can be proclaimed as true for everyone, except the claim that nothing is true for everyone. You really want to set your faith on that? It’s not so much a question of who will end up on the wrong side of history; it’s a question of when you’ll end up on the wrong side of history. At some point pretty much everything you believe today will be viewed by a later generation as ludicrous and probably even evil.
But there is a truth that was here before any generations, and that will remain after the last. It had no beginning, it will have no end, and we know it’s true because the one who promised it is the God who cannot lie. The Greek there is literally the “unlying” God. We might describe a person as “unassuming” or “unkind”; God is “unlying.” We may say nothing is impossible for God, but at least one thing is: Lying. For God to lie God would have to cease to be God, and God cannot cease to be God. His name is, “I am what I am,” and He will always be what He will be. Our common faith is built on truth because it is a faith in hope of eternal life, which the God who never lies promised. To doubt God’s promise of eternal life is not a benign lapse; it is an assault on God’s very character. It is to accuse the unlying God of lying.
And how do we know this promise? Verse 3 tells us that God manifested the promise at the proper time in his word, the word which Paul preached by the command of God our Savior. Before the coming of Christ, the promise of eternal life existed. Remember, God made it before the creation of anything. However, it was veiled. So you get hints of it in the Old Testament, but you also hear even biblical writers speaking as though they do not expect to live beyond death. With Christ’s death and resurrection from the dead, the veil is removed, and the risen Christ commissions Paul to proclaim the promise of eternal life to whoever would repent and join in this common faith. Thankfully, he not only preached it to Titus and those in Crete, but he wrote it down in this letter and in others, and God the Holy Spirit led others to write it down so that we would have this promise revealed to us in what we now know as the Bible. I can say what I’m saying today because I have these words written down in Titus 1:1-4. Our common faith is built on that, not on me and my ideas.
If you’re here today and this faith is not yet common to you, please listen to this promise of eternal life. You are going to die, just like the rest of us. We die because it is the judgment of God on our sin. But God is called our Savior in verse 3 because He sent His Son to live a life without sin and die for our sins, so that He might inherit eternal life for us, and so that we, through faith in Him, would receive the promise of eternal life. Repent and believe in Him today, and though you die, your soul will go to live with God, and when Christ returns, your body will be raised, reunited with your soul, and you will live with God forever in a renewed earth. Do you see what hope we have in this common faith? Where else do you get such a promise?
Other teachings promise us many things, but here’s another false teaching test. Remember our first test was, “Does it rationalize ungodliness?” Here’s another: “Is it eternal?” It may be true actually that if you hoard all your money and power, it will make you safer. But for how long? Can it save you from death? It may be true actually that if you just succeed enough in your career, people will really praise you. But for how long? It may be true that if you get that person to love you, it will feel really good. But for how long? Don’t put your faith in things that everyone says are true today, but which the next generation will denounce as evil tomorrow. Don’t set your hope on a promise of temporary pleasure, when the God who never lies has promised eternal life. Our common faith is built on an eternal truth. And, finally, our common faith is built on a truth that makes us family.
A truth that makes us family
So after introducing himself, Paul turns in verse 4 and addresses Titus as his true child in a common faith. The faith grounded in this truth is a faith Titus had in common with Paul, a faith common to all of God’s elect, a faith common to us who believe today. And this common faith made Titus a true child of Paul. He wasn’t Paul’s child by biology; Paul had no children in that sense. But he was truly Paul’s child, not by way of earthly life, the life destined to perish, but by way of eternal life, which Titus was born into through Paul’s preaching. Not only did Paul preach the gospel to Titus so that Titus was born again, but he continued to care for and nurture Titus as a true father to a true child. In this sense, all of us who share in this common faith are also true children. We are true children of the apostles, through whom the promise of eternal life was manifested. And we are true children of whoever preached the gospel to us and took responsibility to nurture and care for our spiritual lives.
For some of you, that was your biological parents; praise God. For me, it was a boss at work one summer, then a campus ministry staff person, then a pastor. Remember those who spoke to you the word of God. I remember the 21-year-old who wanted to meet up to help me learn to read the Bible but who I kept cancelling on because I just couldn’t wake up at 7am as a 19-year-old. I remember the 25-year-old who talked me through all my dumb relationship decisions, thought through my theology questions with me, and listened while I told him things I’d never told anyone else. I think now of Pastor Matt at our Manayunk congregation, who patiently walks with me through my existential crises and reminds me of our common faith. Maybe you see ways your fathers and mothers in the faith failed you; there are no perfect parents. But praise God for the ways He did use them, and imitate their faith where it is worthy of imitation. Might you consider even reaching out to them this week to let them know some ways you thank God for their role in your life?
Might you also consider how God may want to use you in this way in someone else’s life? It’s always a beautiful thing when a man who grew up without a dad grows up, gets married, and raises his kids. Whatever your experience of spiritual parenting has been, if this promise of eternal life has been revealed to you and you share in this common faith, you can be a spiritual parent to others, to neighbors, co-workers, family, and friends around you right now who don’t know Christ by proclaiming the promise of eternal life to them and helping them grow in their knowledge of the truth that accords with godliness. This promise of eternal life hasn’t been revealed in nature. It’s been revealed through the apostolic preaching, written down for us in Scripture, and how will any come to eternal life unless we get this message out to them? For our ongoing growth as Christians, I wish there were more older men and women in this church to be spiritual fathers and mothers to us, but there aren’t right now, so I’m committed to being a spiritual father to others. I know a number of the rest of you are as well, along with spiritual mothers. Let’s be a church where spiritual orphans find spiritual fathers and mothers.
Whatever your spiritual parentage, we are a family bound together by a common faith. So grace and peace to you today from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior. In verse 3 God was called our Savior, but here we see more specifically that within the Godhead, it was God the Son, becoming a human in Jesus Christ, who accomplished our salvation. God the Father promised eternal life before the ages began, but the only way we as sinners could receive eternal life was if a sinless person died for our sins and rose to eternal life in our place. Christ Jesus our Savior has done this, and so our faith is built ultimately on Him. He is the truth Paul was commissioned to proclaim. He is the truth that accords with godliness. Some truths are abstract and leave the life untouched, but when you come to know the one who is the Truth, the glorious person of Jesus Christ, you thereby become like Him. He is the eternal truth, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, one in being with the Father, the first heir of eternal life, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Through Him we become not only children of the one who preached this promise to us, or children of the apostles through whom it was revealed, but children of God the Father Himself, and in Him we are the one family that will never end. Our common faith may often be assailed by doubts within and by false teaching without, but it is built on a truth, on the one who is the Truth, that accords with godliness, an eternal truth, and a truth that brings us into a true family with those with whom we share this common faith. Let us then hold fast this truth, and let us join Paul in seeking the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of this truth.