3 Crucial Reminders for Christians in a Pagan Culture | A Sermon on Titus 3:1-7

To navigate this life we must remember how we are to live, who we once were, and what Christ has done for us.

In this sermon on Titus 3:1-7 we will consider how we can navigate the increasingly ungodly culture around us with compassion, conviction, and confidence.

In the book of Titus, Paul is instructing Titus to remind these Christians of how they are to live lives pleasing to God in a pagan land of Crete.

Crete was known across the ancient world for its immorality; Paul quotes one of their own poets who claimed “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” How were Christians to live in such a culture? More than a question of personal obedience and sanctification, this is a question of the Great Commission. How does their conduct impact how the Cretans see Christ?

The apostle Paul’s instructions for first-century Christians in Crete remain relevant for us today. What should our response be as spiritual pilgrims living in an increasingly unholy land? This is a very important question, as far too many believers fall into the ditches of either capitulating to the culture or adopting a posture of outright hostility towards it. Both errors are a hindrance to our proclamation of the Gospel.

Some Christians respond with anger, others with despair, and still others become indifferent to the cultural rot all around us.

In helping us rightly engage the world around us, Titus 3:1-7 offers three crucial reminders: a reminder of how we are to live, a reminder of who we once were, and a reminder of what Christ has done for us.

Titus 3:1-7

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. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

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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.

Note that Paul is not giving a brand new instruction here when it comes to the command for Christians to live in these god-honoring ways. He instructs Titus to remind them of how followers of Jesus Christ are to live holy and upright lives in this present world.

Paul lists 7 things that are to characterize the life of all believers – even in a hostile and unbelieving culture.

First, we see that we are to be submissive to rulers and authorities. That is, we are to obey the governmental authorities. We see this same command in Romans 13:1-2:

 “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”

And please remember that Paul is writing to those under Roman rule in the first century. And Paul wrote this to Titus shortly after being released from prison! These Christians had far more cause than we do to bristle at such a command, and yet they are called to submit. So are we.

So far as the rulers and authorities do not command that which God forbids, or forbid what God commands, we are to be submissive. We are, as the next part of the verse says, to be obedient.

Now of course we do not obey if and when laws are unbiblical or we are compelled to disobey God and His Word. In times such as that, we are to join with Daniel, who refused to cease from praying to God; and stand with Shadrach and Meshach and Abednego, who refused to bow down to an idol; and raise our voice with Peter who, when told to stop preaching Christ and Him crucified, said to the authorities “We must obey God rather than men.”

But those are the exceptions. In general, our heart attitude towards the governing authorities is to be one of submissiveness and obedience. The Christian ought to be a model citizen.

And as such, we are to be ready for every good work. The word ‘ready’ here means to be eager. We are to be desirous of doing good works, seeking out opportunities to do them.

Scripture has much to say about good works:

  • In Titus 2 we read that we are to be zealous for good works.
  • Proverbs 3:27 tells us “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.”
  • Ephesians says we were “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

We’re to be ready, willing, and eager to perform every good work. Always be on the lookout for some kindness you can do to someone else. Not that our kindness is a sufficient substitute for explicitly sharing the Gospel, but our kindness points to the truth of the Gospel we profess.

And we are to speak evil of no one. This means to slander, revile, speak profanely of. What a challenge this can be sometimes! Commenting on this verse, Matthew Henry wrote “If no good can be spoken, rather than speak evil unnecessarily, say nothing. We must never take pleasure in speaking ill of others, nor make the worst of anything, but the best we can.” While we must never speak good of that which is evil, we must also not speak evil of anyone.

We are to avoid quarreling – or entering into unnecessary conflict. Sometimes conflict is necessary; In chapter 1 Paul instructs Titus to ‘sharply rebuke’ those Christians who were acting like Cretans. But that doesn’t mean we are to be contentious, always looking for a fight.

Instead, we should be gentle towards others. You are, as Philippians 4:5 says, to “Let your gentle spirit be known to all people.” To be gentle is to be kind, patient, and considerate. Yes, we must take bold stands for Christ and His kingdom. Some Christians act as though Jesus never chased out the money changers from the temple with a whip.

But at the same time, there are many others act as though that’s all He ever did! The fact remains, Christians are not to be known for our quarreling but for our gentleness of spirit towards others.

We can do this by obeying the call to show perfect courtesy toward all people. Perfect courtesy toward all people. This is about meekness, counting others as more worthy than yourself, being considerate, and even patient towards others. Even if they’re a Cretan!

After all, those who set themselves as enemies of our Lord are our enemies as well. So we should act as our Lord has called us to: Love them. Do good to them. Pray for them. Bless them.

When we remember how we are called to live, we will not respond to the fallen world around us with anger or disdain.

But we can’t do any of this without a great deal of humility and compassion. How can we cultivate such a heart attitude, particularly in a world gone wrong? To answer that question, Paul gives us a reminder of who we once were.


For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.

We are to submit and obey and do good works and speak evil of no one and not quarrel and be gentle and show courtesy toward all people – FOR or BECAUSE, we ourselves were once just as they were. We are no better than those who remain dead in their sin – We have merely found forgiveness for our sins in Jesus Christ.

Moreover, an honest man cannot look upon the sins of the unsaved in this world without admitting that he too was once as they were – if not much worse!

Nothing can instill an appropriate humility and compassion towards others like reflecting on who we were before Jesus Christ saved us. And what were we prior to being rescued from our slavery to sin?

  • Foolish – This is not a comment on our intellectual capacity but on our refusal to acknowledge God and obey Him.
  • Disobedient – Always following after our own desires and rejecting God’s law.
  • Led Astray – Which is to say we were deceived, wandering about in darkness.
  • Slaves to various passions and pleasures
    • As Christ said in John 8:34, “everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.”
    • Puritan Henry Scougal rightly observed: “There is no slavery so base, as that whereby a man becomes a drudge to his own lusts”
    • The root word for passions here in the Greek is where we get the word hedonism, which is a pursuit of pleasure above all else
  • Passing our days in malice and envy
    • Malice is intentional lawlessness; we not only violated God’s law due to ignorance, we actively went against conscience to do what we knew to be wrong.
    • Envy is a wicked discontent and a disdain for those who have what we do not. Proverbs 14:30 says “A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot.”
  • Hated by others and hating one another – An unrestrained love of self leads to an unrestrained hatred of others. And when this sin is not kept in check by a desire for self-preservation or by moral awakening leads to the most depraved wickedness.

This is quite the list. You may recognize your life prior to salvation more in one area than in another, but it is abundantly clear that we were all truly were dead in our trespasses and sins.

Remember who you were, Christian. Remember what God has rescued you from!

We are never to look back out our past sins with a sort of perverse fondness, nor should we continue to dwell in shame on that which Christ has forgiven, but we can benefit from taking stock of the absolute wretchedness out of which we were saved.

The greater danger you are in, the greater your appreciation for a first responder who comes to your aid. Likewise, the more accurately we see the miserable condition and eternal danger that we were once in, the greater love you will have for Jesus Christ our Savior. And the more compassion you’ll have towards those still in need of rescue.

So we are to be ready to do good towards others. We’re to speak evil of no one. Even in boldly calling sin sin we conduct ourselves in ways that honor Christ, which avoid unnecessary quarreling. We are gentle and show perfect courtesy to all people. Because the only difference between us and even the worst of sinners is the precious blood of Christ, which we neither earned or deserved.

For we were all under the just condemnation of God for our sin and rebellion. But we who are in Christ did not remain in such a sorry state as this did we? 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:

Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such WERE some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

To be reminded of who we once were is a means of developing humility towards others – by which we can love and serve them as we ought – and gratitude towards God – by which we can love and serve Him as we ought.

We’ve been reminded of how we are to live and who we once were. Finally, let us be reminded of what Christ has done for us.


We’ve seen an unappealing snapshot of who we once were and how we once lived. BUT – this small word represents a seismic shift in our lives, in redemptive history, and in our passage.

BUT when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us…

This appearance is a reference to the incarnation of God the Son – the first coming of Jesus. This phrase “loving kindness” indicates God’s love of mankind, and in the Greek is where we get the word philanthropy. And God does express a great love for His creation, does He not?

Ephesians 2:4-7:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

And so, because of His loving kindness He is not only our God, but He became our savior. He saved us from our enslavement to sin. He saved us from the punishment due to us for our sin. He saved us from an eternity apart from God in hell. As Hebrews 7 puts it, speaking of Christ, He “saves to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him.”

How does such an amazing thing take place? Well, Paul doesn’t want to give a moment to allow the false notion that we somehow brought about this salvation by our own efforts.

He immediately follows up by stating that this salvation is not by works done by us in righteousness…

Salvation does not come by your righteous works because outside of a right relationship with Jesus Christ you haven’t got any.

And even if we could think of an example of some pure, honorable, and righteous work that a person could do, you would still face the insurmountable hurdle that our meager good works can no more erase the debt of sin we have accrued against God than the proceeds of a child’s lemonade stand can eliminate the national debt. It is an absurdity; an impossibility.

Galatians 2:16: a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

Romans 3:20: “by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight”

Ephesians 2:8-9: For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Salvation is not by works. It is received by us according to His own mercy.

One Bible dictionary define mercy as “the self-moved, spontaneous loving kindness of God which causes Him to deal in compassion and tender affection with the miserable and distressed.”             

What a stark contrast to the malice and envy of the unsaved heart we saw in verse 3!

He saved us according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit…

Though in our sins we were filthy, in Christ the Spirit has washed us clean. As the prophet Isaiah said of the coming salvation, “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” And we all must be cleansed.

I recall an apologetics speaker talking about when he came to Christ as a teenager, and his non-Christian mother was concerned he had been brainwashed. He responded by saying “if you knew what was in my brain you would be happy that it has been washed.”

And this washing comes by the regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. The word ‘regeneration’ literally means ‘born again.’ Just as Christ explained to Nicodemus that in order to be saved one must be ‘born again,’ we who were dead in sin must be raised to new life through faith in Jesus Christ.

When this happens, we are renewed. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” While salvation was purchased for us by the Son, it is applied to us by the Spirit. It is, in that sense, of the Holy Spirit.

This regeneration, this new birth and renewal is applied to the individual by the Spirit working faith in us in the redemption purchased by Christ. That is one of the main roles of the Spirit.

And our text goes on to provide more insight: by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.

Note that the text speaks of whom He poured out, not what He poured out. It is always worth reminding ourselves that the Spirit is not an impersonal force but the 3rd person of the Trinity.

This language of the Spirit being ‘poured out’ is not unique to our text. Rom. 5:5 teaches us that “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

What a wonderful window into the workings of the Trinity we have in these verses! God the Father pours out His love to us through the God the Holy Spirit, who imparts faith in us and applies the redemption purchased for us by God the Son.

And all of this is made effectual for the sinner through Jesus Christ our Savior.And only through Jesus Christ our Savior. For “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” Acts 4:12 tells us.

And to what end does the Gospel of Jesus Christ bring us? Why is it that we have be saved, washed, regenerated, renewed? So that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

We have seen the basis of our salvation in verse 5 – that it is by mercy and not works. And we’ve seen the means in verses 5,6 – namely the work of the Spirit in us. And here we have the results of our regeneration. “So that” is a purpose clause, and Paul is showing us what the ultimate end will be of these things:

When we are justified by His grace we become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Justification is when we are declared righteous by God based on the righteousness of Christ being imputed or transferred to us.

And just as it was mercy which motivated God to send His Son to save us from our sins, it is grace that provides us with our justification. Grace is receiving that which you do not deserve, and there is no greater grace imaginable than us not only being pardoned for our sin but being rewarded beyond all comprehension with eternal life in and through and with Jesus Christ.

That is what is spoken of here and elsewhere as our inheritance – we are heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

What a tremendous change has come upon us – we who were enemies of God and slaves to sin now heirs of God? Yes, Galatians 4:7 declares! “So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”

In Christ we have obtained our inheritance, Ephesians 1:11 states.

Our inheritance is nothing short of our full and final salvation: glorification, which is the final and full removal of sin; eternal life in perfect communion with God, freed from the pains and hardships of this life; the full experience of perfect joy, the greatest expressions of what we have of joy in this life are but shadows of the substance that is yet to come.

Oh how needful we are of frequent reminders of what Christ has accomplished for us. But what particular bearing does this have on how we navigate as Christians in a pagan land?

We were rescued from our sinful state not by our effort, but by the mercy and grace of God. We have no cause to boast, nor any cause to doubt that what He has done for us He can do for others. Let that be our heart’s desire as we navigate the difficulties of this world – That Christ would redeem those who have so far rejected Him.

We dare not be the embodiment of Christ’s parable of the unforgiving servant, refusing to show grace and kindness towards those who offend us after we have been shown infinite grace and mercy by Christ.

We were in sin – the depths of which are merely alluded to in verse three. Unable to save ourselves, we were in desperate need of a Savior. And – out of an abundance of love and mercy – Jesus Christ came into this world to save undeserving sinners. Not on the basis of our works, but on the basis of His.

We are no longer slaves to sin but are now slaves of Christ, called to obey Him in all things – including when He commands us to love those who are as we once were.

If Christ can accomplish this for us, He can accomplish it for others. So there is no reason to respond to the pagan world around us with despair. We can proclaim the Gospel in hope that others will also come to know Christ as Savior.

By remembering what Christ has accomplished for us as we read in verses 4-7, and remembering who we once were as seen in verse 3, we can live as we are called to in verses 1-2: to be submissive to rulers and authorities, obedient, ready for every good work, speaking evil of no one, avoiding quarrels, being gentle, and showing perfect courtesy toward all people.

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