I always have a knee-jerk reaction to the word “should.” Look at this:
“For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God.” Titus 2:11-12
Should? SHOULD? So it’s just a matter of self-effort then? When all the sermons are laid end to end, do they just spell out the words “Try harder.” Is that all you have to give you? There must be more than this.
But look at the Should right here! “We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God.”
But how do we do it? Just grit our teeth? Don’t do this and don’t do that? The text would seem to bear that out: “We are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures.”
Turn from our Pleasures? I knew it. So is Christianity to be defined by negation then? Are we the People who Don’t Do Things? Are we the Not-swearing-Not smoking-Not enjoying Pleasures- Community?
And so we arrive at the first statement: “The Grace of God has been revealed.”
This is the given explanation. This is the empowerment for moral change. The “Grace of God.” It’s such a powerful thing that everything else pales into insignificance.
And it’s a person.
I often recall that delightful Shel Silverstein lyric: “Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”
Listen close to me! God instructed the disciples thus “This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him”!
The context of this verse explains its tone. Titus was never mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, but duly noted in Galatians (cf. Gal. 2:1, 3) where Paul wrote of journeying to Jerusalem with Barnabas, accompanied by Titus. He was later dispatched to Corinth, Greece, where he successfully reconciled the Christian community there with Paul, its founder. Titus was later left on the island of Crete to help organize the Church, although he soon went to what we call Croatia.
Which is to say that he was one of Paul’s Go-to guys, charged with the follow-up from initial mission work. He had a specific mandate to do the instructional and discipling work. Ths explains the flavour of Paul’s words. The opening phrases of the passage are really shorthand for the vital point that barely needed stating: The Grace of God has appeared….in Jesus.
Once that has been understood, everything takes a different tilt. Don’t listen to the should or the shouldn’ts! Listen to the Person.
“You’re trying to help them… that’s a good thing. But you can’t always count on seeing their gratitude,” he said, wanting to comfort her before he added a grain of salt. “You know what Tolstoy said… if you are unhappy with your life, you can change it in two ways… either improve the conditions you live in or improve your inner spiritual state. The first isn’t always possible but the second is… In the end, Alex, people need to go directly to the source of Grace for themselves.”
The source of grace is Jesus. Without that truth, the verse becomes a binding legalism. With it it becomes a wonderful statement of possibility.
It is a terrible smudge on grace and unconditional love to think that God simply winks and smiles at our poor choices; that God must rubber stamp everything we do or else He is unloving. God loves us unconditionally regardless of our performance – good or bad. When God challenges us or corrects us He does not stop loving us. In the safety of His love we can receive correction and challenge without shame or feelings of rejection. Have a look at the incredible encounter between Jesus and a woman exposed and condemned by her sinfulness (in John 8). The Grace of God appeared….and changed everything!
Where God’s grace takes you, grace will increase your capability and your capacity. Grace will empower you.
Lord Jesus, you’ve given us another day, and you’ve set us in Narnia. There are people who still think it’s frozen, and there are people who are longing to be thawed but don’t know it.
God, I pray that what you’ve called us to do would be the subversive work of the kingdom, that we would help participate in the melting of Narnia, and that people would come alive and would drink and dance and sing and just celebrate life in ways that are so marvellous that the world would press its face against the glass and see the redeemed celebrate life.