Growing in Love
How do we grow in love? Have you ever thought about this difficult question? In some ways, it’s quite easy to fall in love. In other ways, it’s out of your hands. I remember falling in love with Jess. It was natural and unsought. It just happened. Other people were around, but I fell in love with her. And without much deliberation! So how do we grow in love when it’s somewhat out of our control? Of course you could say love is a choice. You choose to love more. That’s kind of true, but it’s kind of a cop-out too. For love must involve your affections too. Anyone who has given flowers to his wife knows you cannot do it out of just obligation and choice. You must not only choose to love but actually love from the heart too. So how do we love from the heart? We are commanded to love God and love people. That’s the essence of the Christian life, but how? How do we grow in love for God? How do we grow in love for people?
Paul was facing similar questions with the believers in Crete.
They had discovered the gospel and a church had been planted. Love had abounded. Lives were changed. But now things were slowing down. Affections were waning. Sin was creeping in. False teachers were creeping in. Distraction and idle chat were creeping in. How could Paul turn the ship around? How could he stir their affections? How could he get them going in the right direction again? As we’ve looked at Titus 1 and 2, we’ve seen some of how Paul has tried to push and prod these believers. He’s called for the appointment of godly leaders. He’s condemned the false teachers. He’s called for godly living.
But as we come to the close of the final chapter, he only has time to make one last plea, one last push. And the question is: What will he say? How will he stir their affections? How will he spark them on to greater love for God and others? How will he get the engine going again? Let’s listen in.
Titus 3:3 “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.”
Paul begins by reminding them of their story.
This is a hard place to start. For they were a mess in every way. They weren’t free. They were haters and hated. But it’s a necessary place to start because it is the backdrop of the gospel. The beauty of a sunrise comes from the light splitting the darkness. So also the gospel shines brightest as it splits the darkness of sin.
Against the backdrop of sin, Paul brings forth the beauty of the gospel.
[Titus 3:4-7] “4 But when the goodness and lovingkindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 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, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
This is the gospel and it is glorious. Notice it’s many facets.
It is a love anchored deeply in God. “But” highlights the distinction of all we did before (v. 3). “Loving kindness” literally means “love of mankind” (φιλανθρωπία). “Not because of works done by us in righteousness” (v. 5) shows our further inadequacy. “According to his own mercy” (v. 5) anchors his motivation within his character. “Being justified by his grace” (v. 7) reveals the gift nature of salvation.
It is a love poured out completely (Triune). God the Father initiates: “He [God] saved us” (v. 5). God the Son agrees with and volunteers to follow the will of his Father, even to the point of death on the cross: “Through Jesus Christ our Savior” (v. 6). Father and Son then send the Holy Spirit to apply salvation: “[The Holy Spirit] Whom he poured out on us richly” (v. 6).
It is a transforming love. We are resurrected from spiritual death: “By the washing of regeneration…of the Holy Spirit.” We are given new life: “By…the renewal of the Holy Spirit.” We are made heirs: “That…we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
Now, why on earth would Paul review the Gospel?
These people don’t need the gospel. They’re believers. Why the review? These people don’t need the gospel. They just need to get their act together. Imagine if false teachers crept in West Park and started creating divisions. In response, I sat everyone down and said, “Now remember, God loves you.” You would wonder what that had to do with anything.
So why does Paul do it?
First, the Gospel points to the only means of true change, God himself.
The Gospel is not just a headset shift. It’s a real life transformation. It is news about what God has done and will do for you through Jesus Christ. Because of the Gospel, we are in fact…
- Justified: “Being justified by his grace” (v. 7)
- Regenerated: “By the washing of regeneration…of the Holy Spirit” v. 5
- Renewed: “By…the renewal of the Holy Spirit” v. 5
- Heirs: “That…we might become heirs”
Only the Gospel can do this. That may sound exclusive, but only 911 provides rescue. And only the Gospel saves. That’s just the way it is. So all hope of rescue and change and revival and renewal must always start with the gospel. Not programs. Not self-help. Not systems. Not republican or democrat. No set of principles or ethics. Only the Gospel can bring true change.
But still. Why does he go back to the gospel? Presumably, they had all already experienced that change the Gospel brings. Why go back to it?
But before we can answer that question, we need to read the first part of verse 8 and answer another question, one of interpretation.
[Titus 3:8a] “The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things…”
Insist on these things (v. 8a)
Paul says to “insist” on these things, and “insist” is a heavy word. “Insist” is a fine translation, but we should note it takes the heavier side of the English word. It is not the “No, I insist” of etiquette. It is closer to “demand.” (Cf. “speak confidently” NASB; “stress” NIV; “insist emphatically”). Now, the big question is: What are “these things”? I spent about an hour working on this, but it’s a pretty big deal. The short answer is “these things” refers to the Gospel reminder found in vv. 4-7 (Click here for the long answer). That’s a big deal because we now have Paul reviewing the Gospel and then telling Titus to emphatically insist on these things. So our tension just grew worse. So again, why on earth all this fuss?
The answer comes in the second part of verse 8.
Titus 3:8 “The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.”
Insisting on the Gospel actually becomes the method of true change.
Did you see it? Not only does insisting on the Gospel connect us with the means of true change (God), the actual insisting on the Gospel compels us to good works. The two are linked. “so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works” (v. 8). The gospel is both a moment of rescue and a mantra of renewal. A proper understanding of the gospel compels us to a new life, new affections.
Imagine yourself a prisoner of war sitting in a jail cell, chained to the wall. An American soldier comes busting in, declaring victory, the war is over. He opens your cell. He unlocks your chains and heads off to help others. You’re left sitting their in disbelief. You don’t move. The chains still dangle around your ankles. You stare at the open door. At that moment, do you need a book on 5 steps to leaving jail cells? Do you need every last detail of what’s next to move forward? No. You just need the news again. There’s victory! You’re free. Now go live in this new reality!
Or, we might say with the gospel the way forward is the way back. I know this may sound a little kooky, but we recognize this phenomenon in other areas of training. In chess you go forward in complexity. There’s always something more to learn. But in other sports, like tennis, you go back to the basics to go forward. Perfection is already there. It’s just a matter of aligning ourselves to it. So going forward means constantly going back.
So the gospel is the EVENT, the ENGINE, and the END of our salvation journey. Thus Paul can say, “These things are excellent and profitable for people.” That is, they are excellent in themselves. And they have an effect in our everyday lives.
Now we have the answer to our earlier question! How do we grow in our love? How do we become better Christians? How do we grow in our love for God and people?
Love grows in response to loveliness.
How does true love grow? It grows by beholding greater loveliness (J.D. Greear). When I met my wife and fell in love, I was responding to her loveliness. And my love grew as I got to know her more. In the same way, our love for God will grow as we come to a greater understanding of his loveliness in the Gospel.
This is all over the new testament. How could you sell everything and buy a field? By glimpsing a treasure in it? How could you forgive some of their sin? By glimpsing God’s forgiveness of you? Paul always starts with the gospel indicatives and then moves to gospel imperatives. It’s the rhythm of every letter. I think of it most clearly in Philippians 2 where Paul writes, “ So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy,  complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” For this reason, we must insist on the Gospel.
Of course, the opposite is true too, and that’s how Paul ends this section.
[Titus 3:9-11] “9 But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 10 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.”
If insisting on the Gospel transforms lives, then not insisting on the Gospel doesn’t.
“Foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law” It’s not necessarily heresy here. Could be, but not necessarily. This is not as strong a rebuke as the Galatians receive, where Paul refers to the teaching as “another gospel.” But the effect is the same in the end. It corrupts the hearers. It’s a bad investment: “they are unprofitable and worthless” (v. 9). It’s the very opposite of sound doctrine that is “excellent and profitable” (v. 8). It also corrupts the teachers: “such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned” (v. 11). If the false teacher persist in their teaching, we should avoid them: “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him,” (v. 10).
That may sound controversial but it’s common sense. What do you do when someone comes to work with a fever? You get mad! And rightfully so. You know that knowing and avoiding their sickness is will not necessarily prevent you from getting sick. That’s how sickness works. It just takes a germ or two and you’re off to the races. Sick doctrine is the same. Just a few sick seeds and you’re way off down the road.
So then, Paul’s point is crystal clear. We must insist on the Gospel because the Gospel is both the rescue and rhythm of salvation.
We must insist on the Gospel for our church.
Don’t tolerate the five steps mumbo-jumbo. There is a tendency in the modern, American church to teach steps. Now steps aren’t necessarily bad, but we often lose the gospel in the process. Don’t go there! Sometimes we also a see churches highlight minors. We will leave a church over worship style, scheduling, end times prophecy, etc. Find a church that talks more about the gospel than anything else.
We must insist on the Gospel for our world.
We’re in the middle of a cultural revolution right now, but is the answer more laws? No. Insist on sound doctrine. Insist on the gospel. We know this gospel of grace is the antidote of legalism in the church, but it is also the antidote to licentiousness in our culture (and church). Yes, we can take practical steps to promote an ethical culture, but our ultimate and primary hope for true transformation should be in the Gospel.
We must insist on the Gospel for ourselves.
Preach the gospel to yourself. Not self-help. Not distraction. Take everything and run it through the gospel. Gaze on God’s loveliness in the Gospel. Insist on the gospel when you’re tired, insecure, scared, arrogant, dry, prayerless, and watch it compel you to good works, to love for God and love for others.
Insist on the Gospel today!