Stuck in a Rut
The road shown on the right can be found throughout the Mediterranean world today. The road system the Roman Empire Romans built has outlasted our best modern effort to keep our roads free from potholes (drive Route 20 in Wayland and you’ll know what I mean). Notice the rut on the right side of the picture. This is the idea of being ‘stuck in a rut.’ When Paul writes to Titus in a short and fast-paced ‘to-do list’ (about 30 ‘bullet points’), anyone would feel quite overwhelmed at the enormous task of fixing the deep grooves in the behavioral patterns of the Christian communities on the island of Crete. Titus has to address every age group with Gospel-centered correctives: older men and women, younger folks, and everyone in between (read Titus; it’s an 8-minute read).
So how do you bring about deep behavioral changes in yourself and those around you?
Put it simply Paul relies on the Grace of God, from beginning (our salvation) to end (until Christ’s return). In fact, it’s nothing but the Grace of God that can alter the deepest behavioral patterns in our lives. It’s the grace of God that saves us, and it’s equally the grace of God that trains to “renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled [a serious problem in Crete!], upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:11-14). The operative words are “training” and “waiting.” Training is the equivalent of what a teacher does (we get the word ‘pedagogy’ from the Greek). Only this time the teacher is not the warden of a tough boarding school but it’s the kindness and goodness of God Himself (see Titus 3:5-6). Instead of nagging, bribing, threatening, and being just plain mad at us (try this method and see if it works!), God comes alongside us and gently and patiently leads us to change the deep-seated dysfunctional patterns in our lives by the renewing power of the Holy Spirit. To save us takes a miracle of grace, to change us takes no less than a miracle of grace. Titus (and all of us) needs to know that! Otherwise, he (and we) will get quickly frustrated by the idea of bringing corrective to the Cretans (see Titus 1:12-13; 2:15). But Paul has something else to add and it’s about tempo. When he says, “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,” he’s saying that God sets the tempo, not ourselves, for change in us and those around us. We are waiting for the ‘end game:’ The return of Christ in glory to establish His Kingdom and restore all righteousness. This is why it’s called the “blessed hope.” The very sense of hopelessness we feel when facing our sinful patterns needs to be matched by the hope of the certainty of the glory that is yet to come. So, as we wait for the glory yet to be revealed, He is in the process of changing us. For sure, we respond to His call to obedience (we are not passive in this) but ultimately the deep grooves are removed by the power of the Holy Spirit working in our lives. This calls for patience with ourselves and those around us (Read Romans 8 for a fully developed view of the process).
Reflections for the week:
First things first. Do you really believe that salvation is from the Lord and that it is by grace through faith (=placing your trust in Him) that you have been saved? If not, you need to make this commitment. NO lasting change will ever happen until you have given your life over to Jesus.
Be honest and confront the deep behavioral patterns in your own life (which means maybe you also need to take a break from identifying these patterns in those around you; they will be thankful!).
Do you believe that it is also by grace through faith (= placing your trust in Him) that He will change you?
Do you believe that He sets the tempo for these changes, and not you? For those of us who have walked with the Lord for a while, reflect upon the times in your lives where you have struggled with deep-seated patterns. Remember how through times in prayer and waiting upon the Lord, these patterns of behavior (e.g., character flaws) have been replaced with godliness. So take heart as you recognize persistent patterns in your life now that He is faithful to bring about change. Let the hopelessness become “blessed hope” even as we wait for His coming in glory. There will be a Day when all our sinful patterns will be cancelled out in the new heaven and new earth. Amen, come Lord Jesus (Revelation 22:20).