How does the gospel teach Christians to live and thrive in a secular culture that feeds on deception and ignores the God of all truth? The same way it did for the first century Christians on the island of Crete. In Titus: Life-Changing Truth in a World of Lies, Jeff Dodge explores how Christians are called to share the gospel message with the world—free of do-good, moralistic, try-harder religion.
Dodge draws insight from Paul’s letter to Titus to point men and women to God’s blueprint for what he wants the church to look like. He invites readers to see how the gospel disrupts people and culture, turning the world upside down—or right side-up. While Titus is a very short book in the Bible, it is packed with gospel-rich truth. Dodge describes it as a crash course for what a church (a committed community of Christ-followers) should aspire to be.
We interviewed Jeff Dodge about the Bible study and wanted to share part of that interview with you.
Q: You start the introduction of your Bible study by writing, “Gospel truth isn’t just about soul winning and church planting.” What are some of the other applications of gospel truth as outlined in the short book of Titus?
The apostle Paul was the first preeminent church planter that we encounter. But he also knew that it was vital that pastors and other leaders remain in cities and regions in order to establish and strengthen the churches that had been planted. That is why Titus was sent to Crete, Timothy to Ephesus, etc. They were not to follow Paul in a constant movement of church-planting but were to remain in their locales for the long-term flourishing of God’s church.
These strategies go hand-in-hand. Healthy, flourishing churches are able to send out leaders to plant churches in new locations. Some leaders may do this over and over again. But other leaders are sent in to live among these newly reached communities in order to lay a solid foundation of the gospel and teach the full counsel of God’s Word for the long-term flourishing of the church. The island nation of Crete would not be won to Christ simply by itinerant evangelists hitting the shore and then abruptly leaving, but by Cretans being developed to lead Cretan churches that would exist for millennia.
Q: What was Paul’s purpose in writing his letter to Titus?
Titus was left in an “impossible” situation. A small outpost for the gospel had been established on the island of Crete, and Titus was sent to bring things into order—to get a flourishing network of churches established on the island. But Crete was a spiritual and moral mess when Titus got there. How does Paul instruct Titus to gain some traction and get the church established on solid ground? That is what this book is all about. Very instructive for all of us who live in our own version of Crete today!
Q: What was going on in Crete during the first century? Are there any similarities to our culture today?
The book of Titus begins with the idea that God’s people are to display “truth that leads to godliness” (Titus 1:1). That is the first hint that the environment of Crete was neither honest nor godly. It was an island with many large ports. That meant that people passed by and through Crete on their way to other destinations. Even in our day, these pass-through communities often draw people who want to “play” in sinful ways that they perhaps would not have the freedom to do back at home (wherever home is). These port communities made profit by offering sinful indulgence. In addition, the Cretans had the self-declared reputation of being “liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons” (Titus 1:12). Sounds like a nice place to raise a family!
I live in a university community. We have young adults from all over the nation and world who are live in a riotous way here that they would never be comfortable with back “home.” That sets a pace for the whole city. God’s church has to stand out in these communities—to hold out the hope of truth that leads to godliness—a truth that transforms. Everything that happens in the darkness of unbridled sin always leads to brokenness and heartache. God’s church has hope for a better way.
Q: Why was it so important for Titus to establish leaders for the church in Crete?
Leaders become an important visible illustration of Christlikeness. The character that they display (described in Titus 1:1–9) offers a picture of what it means to follow Jesus. These same leaders are godly examples to follow and are able to teach the truths of Scripture to others. God does not birth people into his family only to leave them orphaned; he has designed the church to be a family—a community of his people that strengthen and support and encourage every member. Leaders guide, strengthen and protect these communities of faith.
Q: What are the virtues consistent with sound teaching that Paul shares in his letter to Titus?
In addition to the character qualities listed in Titus chapter one for leaders, Paul guides Titus to cultivate virtues such as:
- Truth-speaking. In a land of lies, those who speak truth—God’s timeless and pure truth—will shine like a city on a hill. Truth-speaking should be a remarkable & attractive hallmark of every Christian.
- Authenticity. Christ-followers must hold to confessions of truth that are matched by behavior.
- Self-control. This is named three times in this short letter—a sure sign that it is to be evident among God’s people.
- Submission to authority. Christians are in ultimate submission to the lordship of Jesus Christ. Like the apostle Paul, we are “servants of God” (Titus 1:1). But that heart of submission is also evident in the way we submit to bosses (Titus 2:9), to governing rulers and authorities (Titus 3:1), wives are to submit to husbands (Titus 2:5), and to the leaders of God’s church (Titus 1:9, 2:15). Unbelievers are known for rebellion (Titus 1:10), not so the followers of Christ.
- Overall good works (Titus 1:16, 2:8, 3:8).
Again, these are not virtues to be sought after in a legalistic way; they are virtues that should come to the surface from a gospel-transformed heart, “That those who have believed in God might be careful to devote themselves to good works” (Titus 3:8). That order of things is everything: belief precedes life transformation.
Q: What are some common traps of adding to the gospel which result in false teaching?
Sometimes we want to offer a gospel of self-help, circumventing the power of the gospel to transform lives for rules and regulations. Too often the church offers handbooks for Christian living instead of a gospel that changes people from the inside out. Paul knew that Cretans needed the gospel of Jesus Christ, not behavioral modification. The “hope of eternal life” (Titus 1:2) is powerful and catalytic. A spiritual “washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5) was what the church in Crete offered.
False teachers often dissuade followers from looking to Jesus—they want all the attention for themselves. They use their own self-proclaimed “wisdom” and demand allegiance, which ends up bringing more harm than help to those who blindly follow them. Even well-intended Christ-followers must beware of these subtle traps. When we begin to read the call to righteous living (such as we find in the book of Titus) as a heavy burden of duty, rather than an invitation to life that is truly life, we must recalibrate our hearts. The gospel of Jesus Christ is freeing, not burdensome (see Titus 3:8 and Matthew 11:28–30).
Q: The last lesson addresses when people love to argue. That’s certainly a problem we can identify with on a daily basis. What wisdom does Paul offer Titus that we can apply to life today?
If we have ever needed this little book, it is now! Our current cultural climate of “cancel culture” and hotly contested issues (political, economic, medical, racial, etc.) has created hostility on countless fronts. People are drawing lines in the sand all over the place, daring others to disagree with them—especially on social media. Our current world system is rife with polarization, contentiousness, anger and uncivility in the marketplace of ideas.
But there’s nothing new under the sun. Crete was an island state known for “rebellious people, full of empty talk and deception” (Titus 1:10). Sound familiar? But while the world around us might swirl with fiery spats, the Christian must chart a very different course.
Unfortunately, the church often gets sucked into these passionate cultural debates, joining the cacophony of irate voices, often leaving the gospel out altogether. More, Christians often have their own internal debates, which Paul calls “foolish” (Titus 3:9). Tangential issues become fodder for quarrels, and these disputes can erupt into “unprofitable and worthless” arguments. We need to learn how to avoid foolish debates and reject divisiveness in the church (Titus 3:9–11). We need the grace and peace of the gospel of Jesus Christ to be preeminent in the church! Truth leads to godliness, not contention (Titus 1:1).
Q: How does humility relate to truth?
When we embrace the truth of the gospel, it comes from a posture of complete humility. We bring nothing to the table but empty hands, dirty with the sins of our own making. Jesus meets us there in our humble, helpless abandonment and offers us hope, help, and a brand-new life. It is the crazy, unmerited kindness of God that draws us to the gospel (Titus 3:4). He doesn’t reward our good behavior; he sees our humbled soul and pours out his kindness, unconditional love and undeserved acceptance. That humility should not be abandoned the moment we are accepted into the family of God, it should remain as the hallmark of our lives!
TITUS: LIFE-CHANGING TRUTH IN A WORLD OF LIES
In this timely study, Jeff Dodge explores how Christians are called to share the gospel message with the world—free of do-good, moralistic, try-harder religion, while also boldly calling those who believe to a gospel-centered, radical new life of love.