Titus had his work cut out for him as he was assigned to put the Cretan church into order. The island of Crete had a history of piracy, and the Cretans were known as “liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” (Titus 1:12). They even had a word coined in their honour (or dishonour): the word “kretizō” or “to Cretanize” was understood to mean “to lie” and to “double deal.”
Despite the Cretans’ reputation, the Gospel found its way into the hearts of some of the people in Crete. It’s not entirely clear how or when the church on Crete was founded, but regardless of its origin, there was a body of believers on this island south of Greece when Paul saw fit to write this letter of instruction and encouragement to his ministry partner, Titus. Paul’s main concern? That the Gospel was going forward in truth, transforming lives and producing good works. False teachers had infiltrated the church, “especially those of the circumcision party” (1:10), who taught that it was necessary for believers to become Jewish before they became Christian. They taught that Christ-followers must also be Old Testament Law-followers. In his letter to Titus, Paul is adamant that the true Gospel is not based on works, but on the mercy of God’s grace (3:3-7).
Ever the evangelist, Paul’s desire was always to see the Gospel going forward. How did he hope the Gospel would go forward on Crete (and really, everywhere)? Through the witness of transformed lives and the good works that naturally flow through those who find their salvation in the grace and mercy of Christ. Considering the life of the typical Cretan, imagine how incredibly the transformed life of a believer would stand out in immoral Cretan society. As Paul instructs Titus to appoint elders in the church, he insists that these elders are to be faithful spouses, capable parents, above reproach, not arrogant or quick-tempered, drunkards or violent, but self-controlled, upright, and holy (1:5-8). As he addressed how the believers on Crete are to live, he repeatedly emphasized self-control (2:2,5,6). Such qualities would stand out to the world around the believers, as self-control and godliness were not characteristics attributed to the people of Crete.
Imagine you are a Cretan, immersed in your ungodly society – it is all you have ever known. Imagine that your best friend/brother/co-worker – someone you have grown up with – changes their lifestyle from the one that you follow to one that has been transformed by the Gospel. Your friend/family member/co-worker used to double-deal, was involved with multiple women, and was known for their violent behaviour, but now they are walking in transformation, dealing honestly, are faithful to their spouse, living in a self-controlled manner. Your friend/family member/co-worker is now walking in good works, inspired by the Holy Spirit powerfully working through them. Imagine the effect this would have on you as a Cretan! Would you not wonder about the source of the change? Might you even dare ask why the transformation? Why the good works? At this point, your friend/family-member has the opportunity to share the Gospel with you. Their life has pointed you towards Christ.
The implications of Titus for today are obvious. We may not live in a culture that has its roots in piracy, but we certainly live in a time when ungodliness is the norm. Walking in transformation and good works inspired by the Holy Spirit continues to be counter-cultural. While this letter was written to Titus on the island of Crete almost two thousand years ago, we too can be inspired by Paul’s heart to see believers walk in transformation and good works – qualities that point others to Christ. As Christ-followers, let us have soft hearts towards transformation, and let us allow the Holy Spirit to direct us in the good works God has prepared for us. Let us point others to Jesus through the witness of our lives, as well as through the sharing of the Gospel.