How are Christians to live in the temporal?

by Mike Ratliff

1 Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. (1 Peter 4:1-2 NASB)

Even though genuine Christians are new creations and have been purchased out of the world through the redemptive work of Christ on the Cross, as they attempt to live godly lives in the temporal, they will come under tremendous pressure to compromise by reverting back to the fleshly way of dealing with life. This way of reacting to circumstances, both good and bad, has emotions as its catalyst motivated by a form of self-righteousness that is manifested through self-exaltation and self-protection. Here we witness ourselves reacting to the good and bad in a way that is little different than we did prior to our salvation. We may even attempt to justify our actions by proclaiming that we are only seeking justice. Pride is the culprit behind this and when we stumble into these sins it is because we are not spirit-filled and, therefore, not humble.

Living in this age, prior to the age to come, is the proving ground for the believer. God uses this life to mature His children, growing them in Christlikeness. We err when we become so temporally focused that we view these sorts of things as if the eternal is not awaiting us. How are we to then live in this evil age?

1 Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, 2 to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men. 3 For 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 3:1-3 NASB)

The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to Titus is a short letter, but it is filled with some very deep teaching about how the Christian is to live and minister in a difficult time and place. In the passage above we read Paul’s instruction to Titus to teach to his congregation about living holy lives in the world. It begins with a exhortation for each of us to be submissive to rulers and authorities. This principle is taught throughout the New Testament. The Christian is to obey the government authorities God has placed over them to the extent that their commands are not to disobey God. This is part of a Christian’s testimony (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:12-17). The obedience spoken of in v1 is referring to the believers obeying magistrates.

What does it mean that the Christian is “to be ready for every good work”? This is a contrast between the genuine believer who is saved unto good works and the false teachers who are “unfit for any good work” (Titus 1:16). One of the purposes of the cross is to create a people “zealous for good works” (2:14). These good works then would be those done by the Spirit-filled Christian (Ephesians 5) because no one can do them who operate in the flesh.

The Christian is “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people” (v2). Christians are to exemplify these godly virtues in their interactions with all people whether they are fellow believers or not. In fact, the emphasis in the way this phrase is worded in Greek is that Paul is telling us to be this way to mankind in general.

All believers were once lost sinners. We have all committed heinous, sinful acts. Therefore, we should be humble in our interactions with the unsaved. Without God’s grace, we would be just as wicked as the worst sinner.

4 But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, 5 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, 6 whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7 NASB)

Here we see that we are in Christ because of God’s mercy, not because we somehow earned or deserved it. We were spiritually cleansed through the “washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” What does this mean? The Greek word translated as “washing” is λουτρόν or loutron. It literally means “bath.” In Ephesians 5:26, it is used metamorphically of the Word of God as the instrument of spiritual cleansing. Here in Titus 3:5 we see the close connection between cleansing from sin and regeneration. Other passages which speak of this are John 3:8, Romans 6:4, and 2 Corinthians 5:17. Salvation brings divine cleansing from sin and the gift of a new, Spirit-generated, Spirit-empowered, and Spirit-protected life as God’s own children and heirs. The Holy Spirit is agent of the “working of regeneration” (Romans 8:2). At salvation, believers are blessed abundantly, beyond measure (Acts 2:38, 39; 1 Corinthians 12:7, 11,13; Ephesians 3:20; 5:18).

8 This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you 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. 9 But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 10 Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, 11 knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self. (Titus 3:8-11 NASB)

Christians should devote themselves to good works. These are works of spirit-filled compassion. These are works of obedience to God with a joyful heart. These are denying self in humble Christlikeness. This requires one to become Spirit-filled (Ephesians 5). The Greek word used in Ephesians 5:18 for “filled” carries two connotations that both apply to the Holy Spirit filling the believer. The first describes the sail of a boat being filled with wind so that it can move as directed by the pilot. The Spirit-filled believer is filled with the wind of the Holy Spirit to move in obedience through each day as directed by God. The other connotation is that of salt permeating meat through the preserving process. The Spirit-filled believer becomes full of the Holy Spirit as they live self-denied and obedient lives full of joy and humility. This is the Spirit-filled walk and this is the requirement to live holy lives in this evil age.

The Spirit-filled believer will not be involved in the foolishness Paul listed in the passage above, however we do need to learn how to deal those who do. In vv10-11, we read of the one who stirs up division. At least once each week I receive an email or comment that the sender obviously meant to cause me to become discouraged or defeated or both. Most of these people sending these at one time or another were allowed to comment here, but lost that right when they refused to repent of the false teaching or their attempt to divide us through whatever they were trying to say. I dealt with them and then prayerfully put their emails on the block list. There is a way that seems right unto man, but it is not God’s way. Most think that what I did there was wrong, but according to vv10-11 above this is how we are to deal with those who refuse to repent of their destructive words and actions.

My brethren, let us devote ourselves to good works, to be ready to do them as the Holy Spirit fills our spiritual sails to move us in obedience to our Lord and God.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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