Like many people who read this blog, I have spent a large part of my life attending Evangelical churches. Most people in these churches see the Bible as a book telling us how to make it to heaven. This is unfortunate, because most of the NT was written to believers who already have eternal life. Only the Gospel of John was written to unbelievers. The other books emphasize the importance of godly living.
Most Evangelicals are heavily influenced by their mistaken view of the Scriptures, which affects how they interpret many passages and often results in misunderstanding an NT author’s intent. An example of this is found in Titus 1:1-2.
Paul left Titus on the island of Crete to appoint leaders within the churches. This leadership would be an important factor in the believers on Crete living godly lives. Paul refers to himself as a slave of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, “according to the faith of God’s elect and the acknowledgment of the truth which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life…” (emphasis added).
How do you suppose most people in Evangelical churches understand the words that I have italicized? How do they interpret faith, elect, the truth, and eternal life in these verses? I think the vast majority would say that Paul is talking about the faith that saves a person from hell and that the elect are the people God has chosen to go to heaven. The truth would be that believers are saved. Eternal life, it is often maintained, would support this way of looking at these verses. Everybody who makes it into the kingdom will have eternal life. In other words, Paul is simply saying that Christians are saved from hell.
Evangelical traditions are so strong that most do not even consider the possibility that these words are referring to something else. My guess is that even some Free Grace folks hold the same view of Titus 1:1-2 that most Evangelicals do. God is simply reminding Titus of the wonderful gift of eternal life that we have by faith in Christ alone.
But I want to challenge us to reexamine those traditions. If we consider the purpose of the Book of Titus, we will question whether Paul is simply telling Titus that believers will be in the kingdom of God. Even in verse 1, Paul speaks of godliness, which most naturally refers to Christian living. In addition, Paul does not simply mention eternal life. He says, “in hope of eternal life.” Believers already have eternal life, so Paul must be talking about something else–something for which we are looking.
There is a way of understanding the words in these verses that is a much better fit for the context. Paul is talking about the faith involved in Christian living, as when, in Galatians, he says that believers are to live by faith (Gal 2:20). This faith is based upon the truth that the Lord and apostles taught–a faith that Jude says we should defend (Jude 3). We would call this the truth taught in the Scriptures. If believers live in this way, they will have a deeper experience now of the eternal life they already have in the world to come. This is the hope that godliness leads to. It causes the believer to look forward to the Lord’s return and to His kingdom. Only then will we enter into the full realization of what eternal life means.
The elect in Titus 1:1 does not refer to people God has chosen, even before they were born, to go to heaven. It refers to the Church. In this introduction to Titus, Paul is saying that the Church is to live in accordance with the truths taught by the Lord and passed on to the apostles. This is what Titus wants to happen on Crete. It is why Paul left him there.
The kind of interpretive glasses people wear when they read the Bible is amazing. They are often unaware that they’re wearing them. We can wear them ourselves. Maybe your theological traditions cause you to read Titus 1:1-2 in a way Paul did not intend. You can decide whether my suggestions in this blog are a much better way to understand these verses. If so, they provide an important lesson for us. Let’s allow the Scriptures to speak for themselves, being aware that we can come to them with cultural and theological presuppositions that might keep us from seeing what the Lord wants us to see.