My Ugly Past

While I am seeking the Lord’s direction for my next sermon series, I have decided to preach from passages that the Lord brings to mind during my daily reading. This week I found myself enjoying Paul’s epistle to Titus. It is one of the pastoral epistles which were written to pastors Paul had placed in various cities in which he had ministered. Although this is a little letter, it is full of wonderful truths designed by God to strengthen the Body of Christ. So, listen especially to what we find in Titus 3:1-8.

Since I was a little boy, I was taught that certain actions and attitudes were inappropriate for Christians. For some reason, my parents kept me from listening to rock music, wearing a Mohawk, and chewing tobacco. I didn’t always understand the reasoning behind those rules at the time. If Mr. T could wear his hair in a Mohawk and claim to be an ordained minister, why couldn’t I? Later in life, as I matured spiritually, the reasons for not doing those things became much clearer. I began to understand that the way I live my life communicates something to the world. And if I wanted to give the world a good impression of who God is, my actions would need to line up with what the Bible says about him.

A Christian’s life must show the change God has made in him. This is a basic idea which all Christians should know well. And yet the believers in Crete had to be reminded of this very truth. Why is that? The problem is not that we are ignorant, but that we slowly forget these things. So, let us listen carefully, as Paul explains the reasons for living a good testimony before the lost world.

A reminder about our testimony (1-2)

Our attitude toward authority (1)

Rebellion has always been a struggle for young people. Today the call for anarchy is still being blasted across the media. The lastest is the advertisements on billboards by the telecommunications company Revol. They use the idea of revolution to advertise “your need” for their telephone service and cell phones. While that is a trendy way to advertise their services, it is not the method prescribed for the Christian. Instead, God calls on his children to live a life of submission to authority.

While we do not always agree with the choices made by our government, we have to realize that those in government are placed there by our Sovereign God (Rom. 13:1). Our duty is to submit to the government so long as we are not breaking one of God’s laws. (See my article on Civil Disobedience for a more detailed explanation.) This involves obedience to the laws of the land. What does this involve? Bible commentator Homer A. Kent, Jr., says that “obedience to government obligates believers to observe all civil laws, from traffic regulations to payment of taxes” (The Pastoral Epistles 230). When we choose to disobey the laws of our country, we end up sending a mixed message to those around us. Does God allow rebellion for the sake of convenience? If so, then Christians are no different than the rest of the world.

Yes, there will be laws that we cannot obey. When the government calls for us to stop preaching the gospel, we must obey God rather than men. But how often is that the problem? Instead of worrying about the government, Christians should be ready for every good work. If the law is good, we ought to be upholding it as an example of the change God has made in our lives. Government may seem like a bad thing to you. But when you realize that it is commissioned by God, that should change your perspective. Let’s do our best to support the government God has given us.

Our attitude toward others (2)

A Christian’s good attitude ought to touch other areas of his life as well. The people with whom we work ought to see that Christians are kind, peaceful, gentle, and humble. Those of you who work in an office know that these are not normal attitudes for the lost. So, when you refuse to slander the boss, people will notice. When you refuse to fight and attempt to make peace, people will notice. When you are gentle when others are blunt and unkind, people will notice. When you give credit to God and others instead of yourself, people will notice. And your testimony for the Lord will be a good representation of what God can do.

But then there are the times you come home and begin to complain to your wife. “Those losers at work! They’ll do anything to fight their way up the corporate ladder. You should have heard what so-and-so said about the boss. What a mouth! If I had a nickel for every foul word I heard today, we could retire today!” The problem is that we often forget what we were like before our salvation.

A reminder about our past (3)

While working at Peniel Bible Camp, I met a man who formerly was part of a biker gang. He was a very zealous Christian and prided himself on his evangelistic technique toward bikers. He began the conversation by showing a picture of his former self and using this opening line. “Look at this picture, I used to be a real loser.” That may not be the best method for reaching the lost, but it is a true picture of all of us. Before our salvation, each of us was a lost sinner living in rebellion against God. How much uglier can you get?

Paul describes our past life well. He uses adjectives like foolish, disobedient, deceived, lustful, envious, and hateful. You wouldn’t want any of those on your tombstone. But that is a fitting epitaph for your former self before Christ. Those of you who were saved later in life, may understand this a little more than those who were graciously saved at a young age. Think of the drinking scene and the foolishness that goes along with it. Think of the empty life which the media portrays as such fun. Many are deceived into thinking that this life is all there is. So they live it to the fullest.

Last night I ran over to Walgreens to pick up a few items. As I looked down an aisle hoping to find some black show polish, a large white box caught my attention. It was a game based on the popular television show, Desperate Housewives. What good could come from something like that? This is the lust filled attitude possessed by most of the people in our communities.

Think also about the envy that is out there. People refuse to be content and long for what others have. The neighbor’s house, car, job, spouse, children, television, lawnmower, Weed Whip—you name it—it’s hard to be happy when someone else has what you feel would make you happy. Think also of the hateful attitudes toward others. How strange it is to hear of people who are so filled with hate that he kills the other person. This is our society.

The truth is that we once were exactly like them and maybe worse. Think about that for a while and praise God for what he has done in your life. And the next time you find yourself thinking evil of some lost person’s actions, remember what you were like. It will humble you very quickly.

A reminder about our salvation (4-7)

Paul doesn’t allow us to flounder in the memories of our wicked past. He quickly points out the incredible change God has made in our lives since salvation. What a blessing this section is!

It is because of God’s mercy that any of us have been saved (4-5a).

Whether you lean toward Arminianism or Calvinism, you must admit that your salvation is based on the mercy of the Lord. When you look back on your ugly past and try to figure out why God has saved you, the only answer to be found is God’s mercy. We do not deserve the love God has shown toward us (Rom. 5:6-8). As we were walking away from him in open rebellion, he chose to act on our behalf. In great kindness, he made it possible that sinners could be forgiven and saved from his righteous anger against sin. This is amazing and hard to understand, and yet it is true. God has saved me not because I did enough good actions to pass the test. I failed miserably (James 2:10) and yet God chose to save me.

It is because of God’s work that any of us have been changed (5b-7).

The question remains as to how a sinful person like me could be changed. How could my wilfull rebellion and desire for sin be changed. How could I be changed? It doesn’t seem possible, and yet it is. God did something that changed my life completely, and he can change your life as well.

Paul begins with the idea of washing. There are some stains that just can’t be removed with soap. The syrup that Trenton dripped on my pants at lunch can be removed, but the blue ink pen stain on my red Buckeyes hat cannot be removed. Our sins were like that ink stain. And yet God made the change. He washed us clean by regenerating us. What does that mean?

The term translated as regeneration is the same idea used by our Lord in John 3. He is talking about the new birth. When a sinner is spiritually born again, his sinful past is washed away. This also involves the renewal of the Holy Spirit. Those who believe are made completely new (2 Cor. 5:17). For instance, when I repented of my sin and believed that Jesus died for my sins and rose again, I was changed from the inside out. And it was made available to me only through the Lord Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Paul also talks about justification and sonship (7). Justification “is a word from the courtroom, and means ‘having been pronounced guiltless’ ” (Kent 235). What this means is that in the eyes of the Supreme Judge of the Universe, every born again sinner is no longer viewed as a guilty sinner. How is this possible? The blood of Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God, has been accepted as the payment for our many sins. Because of that, God views us as innocent of any sins we will ever commit. That is amazing but it doesn’t stop there.

Paul reminds us that our justification also provided the way for us to become heirs of the hope of eternal life. An heir is someone who will one day receive what has been willed to him by another. God has made each of his children heir to the same thing—the hope of eternal life. Each Christian will one day share in that same blessed hope which we have not yet completely received. At this moment, we are still living in a sin cursed world full of sin and pain. But one day, we will rejoice together in the presence of our great God and Savior for eternity. That is the hope given to us through the righteousness of Christ.

These are great and precious promises. But what do they have to do with our testimony to the lost? Consider what Paul says in the eighth verse.

Conclusion (8):

After meditating on the wonders of our salvation, it would be easy to forget why Paul said what he did. Consider again what we have covered so far.

  1. A reminder about our testimony (1-2) — Our attitude toward authority and others will affect our testimony of God’s grace.
  2. A reminder about our past (3) — Our memory of our sinful past should explain why the unsaved live the way they do.
  3. A reminder about our salvation (4-7) — The change in our lives is not because of our own efforts but because of the gracious work of God through Christ.
During my ugly past, I lived a double life. When with my friends I acted like any other lost person. When I was with Christian adults, I acted like a Christian. Unfortunately, my duplicity caught up to me when my cursing was heard by an unsaved teen. She looked me in the eye and said, “Are you a Christian?” That surprised me. But before I could respond, she said, “Because if you are, I don’t want any part of it.” That hurt. But it was not until several years later, that the Lord changed my life.

The point of Paul’s three reminders is this:

A Christian’s life must show the change God has made in him.
If the people around you cannot tell the difference between you and someone who has not been born again, they will see no need to follow Christ. Please take a moment to examine your tetimony tonight. Is your testimony to the lost a positive example of what God has done? I hope that it is. But for it to be a positive experience, it will take some dedication on your part. You will need to forsake your old way of life. You must seek to live consistently with the principles of God’s word. And the good thing is that when you do these things, God will be glorified (Matt. 5:16) and people will see what God can do for them.
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