Public Confession & Repentance
We had an interesting experience at church a few Sundays ago, and it’s caused me to do a little reflection of my own. We had a member to come before the church and openly confess their sin. I’ve never seen this done before in my 4 years of serving at this church. It was during the invitation time, where anyone is invited to come forward to pray, have prayer, join the church, or receive Christ as their Savior. Theologically speaking, our church understands that this is not the only time God is at work, but we recognize the importance of the invitation because it is a time to respond to what we’ve just heard preached from God’s word. This person came forward, convicted by the Spirit through the preaching of the word, and confessed openly before us what they had recently done. Now, for confidentiality reasons I cannot reveal any more than this. But what this individual did really had me thinking, Is openly confessing sin like this biblical? Is it biblical or even helpful to publicly repent the way they did?
From Scripture, I am familiar with the command to “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16a). But this verse seems to advocate for a type of confession that is more personal in nature – one that is more along the lines of “man-to-man” confession. In other words, the kind of confession James is talking about is confession of sin “to one another.” It supports more of a personal confession to possibly one or two people.
At the same time, I think there are times when public confession and repentance are necessary. I think it all depends on how serious the committed sin really is. Here’s the principle I think we should use when determining whether a sin should be confessed publicly before the church:
“But as for confession, I think the principle is that the extent of the confession should match the extent of the sin.” ¹
That’s John Piper quoted above. He was asked the question, “When should we confess sins publicly?” I believe that Piper is on target. If a sin committed is very great, the repentance and confession should also be very great. This is where public confession and repentance comes in.
Not all sins carry the same consequences. There’s a world of difference in the extent of sin, when for example, a leader in the church uses foul language or decides to commit adultery. To the Lord, the sins are equally as offensive; to others, the consequences vary. The consequences of a leader who curses the door upon which he stubbed his toe are far less than the consequences of a leader who lives in an adulterous relationship. You may recall that this exact thing happened with the famous evangelist Jimmy Swaggart.
So with that in mind, as I’ve studied and pondered this unique experience, I want to say first that it took a lot of courage to do what they did. It’s more courage than I can say that I have. And I think there are times and instances where it is helpful and biblical to publicly repent before the whole church, but other times I think that we should not. I think this particular occasion was very appropriate for public repentance – and I believe that it was biblical and helpful. The particular sin they confessed was one that is far-reaching and has terrible consequences – and I believe they did the right thing. The extent of their sin was very great, so they made sure their public confession and repentance was very great as well. And as an aside, they even demonstrated true restoration the next Sunday – the expected results of publicly repenting before the church. It was truly beautiful to witness firsthand.
If only the rest of us could have godly sorrow and repentance like they did over the sins in our lives. We need repentance and godly sorrow like they demonstrated for every sin in our lives – whether the consequences are great or small. I commend them for their courage and for not harboring sin in their lives, but confessing it openly before us. We’re all broken in different ways – God gives us grace to be restored, and we help each other along in the church. The church is a hospital for sinners – a place where we “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).
Regularly Inviting People to Church
On this same Sunday, we had a special occasion at our church where we invited at least one friend to church with us. Lately, our church attendance has been down, and our pastor has challenged us to be more evangelistically-focused. Particularly in the area of inviting people to church. Now, clearly inviting people to church is not evangelism, nor is it a substitute for it. But inviting people to church is a practical component for faithful evangelism. It’s part of the way we build relationships with those we evangelize – and relationships are essential to discipleship.
We got on board with a program known as Invite Your One, directed and founded by Thom Rainer², the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. It’s a church-wide campaign that focuses on inviting at least one person to church with you on a designated Sunday. It’s a practical way to get church members to be more evangelistic and regularly share Christ with people, and invite them to worship at their church. Needless to say, our church was loaded that day – and all of the guests present were friends or relatives of those who invited them. What is truly praiseworthy is that many of the guests returned the following Sunday.
This experience was memorable and it confirmed a belief that I have deeply held for a number of years: building relationships with those we invite to church nearly guarantees they will come. I truly believe that if we will befriend people, saved or unsaved, the likelihood of their church attendance at our churches will increase greatly. People don’t stumble in to churches by random choice these days. In fact, it’s likely quite trustworthy to say that the reason a person goes to one church and not another is because they were invited and welcomed by a friend or relative. They know they will see you when they come – you are the bridge they’ll cross in order to come to your church. They won’t cross a bridge they don’t know.
Once again, this doesn’t replace evangelism – we should preach the gospel relationship or not. But people are more receptive to the gospel when they see it’s transforming power in the life of a friend or relative. And those same people are more receptive to invitations to church services when they are in the life of a friend or relative. So who will you befriend this week? Who is God laying on your heart to evangelize? Who is coming to church with you on Sunday?
“. . . Teaching you in public and from house to house” (Acts 20:20)
Let’s imagine for a moment that, since the birth of Christianity as recorded in the book of Acts, no one ever built a church building. Never. No one took into consideration that a large number of believers could meet in a large building for worship. But believers still need to meet for worship because it’s biblical . . . So where would they meet? The most convenient place would be in homes. That’s the next best thing to gathering for worship in a church building, isn’t it? Bible study and worship in your own home. Well, that’s exactly where the early church met for worship before there was ever one brick laid in construction of a church building (Acts 2:46; 20:20; Rom. 16:5; 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15; Philemon 2).
Many churches are still following this model for “doing church” even today, and they should be because it is both biblical and strategic for reaching people for Jesus Christ with the gospel. First it is biblical. It is biblical because it is usually only a smaller version of our regular corporate worship gatherings at our own local church. The Bible commands and exhorts us to meet together with other believers (Psalm 150:1-6; Matt. 18:20; Heb. 10:25; 1 John 1:7). You cannot be a growing, thriving believer if you’re not attending and participating in a local church somewhere. So meeting in a home for worship and Bible study, or meeting in a community center or restaurant is only a condensed version of what you would normally do with more believers in a larger setting and building. Second it is strategic for reaching people for Christ. Most people today, especially today, have their preconceived assumptions about the church. With this in mind, people are far easier to reach with the gospel in your home or out in public, than they are in the church. When you think about it, that is actually essential to the way evangelism is supposed to be done. People will respond more positively to an invitation to your home than they will an invitation to a church they know nothing about. You can reach them with the gospel in your home, and then they are far more likely to attend your church and continue attending your church. We need to be reaching people with the gospel and bringing them into our churches in non-threatening ways. We’re not changing the message of the gospel, only the means through which we present it. We can have a bonfire at the house, a cookout, we can meet for lunch with a couple of friends, and the list goes on and on – there are several available options for meeting places, which makes it that much more strategic for reaching people for Christ.
So you want to start doing this. You want to get this thing going. You want to be biblical and you want to reach people for Christ through our own home and community. Well, there are at least three things essential to these “in-home” church groups. Three things that you need to keep in mind in order to start and sustain groups in your community or home:
1. Focus. You need a missions-focused church that is on board and ready to do smaller churches in homes. I believe we should excite our church members by sharing with them this model of doing church, and encouraging them to participate in and support it. If no one else in your church is concerned about outreach, you should be concerned about your church – they are destined to close their doors. Your entire church needs to be focused on reaching people with the gospel in this way. It might take some time to get members informed about this, and excited to participate, but your time will be well spent if you do so. This is something that should be consistently promoted in your local church. Both you and your church should have a continual focus on meeting in homes, so that members can participate and do the same thing you’re doing.
2. Training. You need people who are trained, at least in some way, to teach the Bible – leading those Bible studies, able to answer tough questions, able to lead others to Christ, and things of that nature. Someone in your church may have an earnest desire to be involved in small groups that meet in homes, but if they haven’t ever taught a Bible study, they need some type of training where they can learn how to do so. It doesn’t need to be formal Bible college training per se, but they need to know the basics because one day they will teach someone else to be a teacher of the word. You and your church should have people who are fully prepared.
3. Resources. Anytime something like this is done, you need resources. You need financial resources, literary resources, and a place to meet. Your home should be a place where you can meet for Bible studies. If it’s a one bedroom apartment, it’s probably not the best place to meet. Perhaps you can meet in your local park or in a restaurant or coffee shop. You also need literary resources: Bibles, Bible study booklets, books on the Bible, gospel tracts, etc. Those things will contribute to your overall outreach. Many people you will have in your home or meeting place do not have resources like this. All of this will require some type of financial support. Are you financially able to carry out a continuous small group Bible study? Are you financially able to have cookouts or snacks around the table when you meet for fellowship?
Those are a few things to keep in mind as you have “in-home” church groups. Is there anything else would you add?
If you’re like me when you hear the word missions, you probably think back to the Great Commission that Jesus gave the church (Matthew 28:19). Or you might think of those fighting for social justice, or those who sweat and work for years at building projects and digging wells, and feeding the hungry. But missions is even more than that, and missions does not originate with man’s desire for social good, and it doesn’t even originate or begin in the Great Commission. The idea of missions is rooted in the Bible and weaved carefully throughout it’s pages. The Bible teaches us that missions is not man’s idea. Missions is within the nature of God, it is Jesus’ chief reason for coming to earth, and it is the goal of the church. I believe the Bible reveals this to us by way of three major pillars, if you will. Let’s take a look:
I. God is Missional
The Bible teaches that God is missional in both His nature and being, and His plan for mankind. These are inseparable. We see throughout the biblical account that as God seeks after man, His mission is to redeem him. This originates from God’s own character and nature, and is revealed in His promises of redemption in the Old Testament, and the work of redemption culminated in the New Testament. We can see that God is seeking after man to redeem him in just the beginning chapters of Genesis. After Adam had sinned, God came looking for him once he had sinned (Gen. 3:9-13), and then promises future redemption (3:15).
Throughout the Old Testament, we see God in relationship to the patriarchs and to His people, the Israelites—but only because He sought them as His covenant people that He would one day redeem from the curse of sin through His promised Redeemer, Christ. This very truth is promised to Abram (later in Genesis) that through His covenant people who would eventually bring forth the Messiah, “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). So while God first sets the Israelites apart as His chosen people, it is clear from the Old Testament and especially the Psalms, that God is seeking for “all the nations” to praise Him (Psalm 66:4; 67:3; 117:1). The narrative of the Old Testament would be enough evidence to say that God is a missional God who is seeking His people for a covenant relationship with Him.
But the New Testament attests to this fact as well. We read that God desires all people to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4), “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). God’s missional nature and plan climaxes at the highest point through the coming of the Lord Jesus, God Himself, who takes on flesh and bears the penalty for sin in order to accomplish redemption (Luke 19:10; John 3:17; Rom. 3:24).
II. Jesus is Missional
Secondly, it is evident that Jesus is also missional. The Bible implies that Jesus is missional in His purpose for coming to earth, and His work of redemption on the cross. First, the purpose for Jesus’ coming to the earth is missional. Jesus Himself testifies that He has come to “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10), and that He came into the world “in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). Indeed, the Gospels depict Jesus’ main purpose for coming to earth was to redeem man, and the Epistles explain the implications of this redemption, revolving around the truth that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15).
Second, the work of Jesus is missional. He accomplished fully His purpose for coming into the world by dying on the cross and resurrecting in order to reconcile man to a seeking God. His death and resurrection accomplished the mission of God to redeem mankind. Jesus’ work on the cross results in reconciliation to God (2 Cor. 5:18-19), and now believers are “brought near [to God] by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:13; cf. Col. 1:21-22). Jesus’ purpose for coming to earth was missional—He came to redeem mankind. And His work was missional—it did redeem mankind, reconciling us back to God through faith in Christ.
III. The Church is Missional
Finally, the Bible teaches us that the church is missional. The church, being the body of redeemed believers everywhere, is missional in its very structure and origin. The only way that the church can grow is through the goal of missions: making disciples. Jesus commissions His few disciples in Matthew 28 that they are to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (v. 19a). This would not happen by keeping to themselves and being apathetic about sharing the gospel. Empowered by the Spirit, they made disciples and the church grew in only a short time to “about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41).
The church is missional because the only way it can grow is by disciples making disciples. It is within the context of the church that believers are equipped through the teaching of the word, in order to do “the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12). It is the mission of the church to bring the ultimate message of missions—God’s mission to mankind, to others so that God can “bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations” (Rom. 1:5).
A testimony is defined as “evidence or proof provided by the existence or appearance of something.” An example would be, “his blackened finger was testimony to the fact that he had hit it with a hammer.” But in the Christian realm, what we usually mean by testimony is our personal story of conversion, how we came to faith in Christ. It is our testimony of how we came to Jesus.
Many Christians share their testimony with their coworkers, family, and friends – recounting the events that led up to their salvation, and what their life is like now because of salvation. Some Christians aren’t sure how to share their testimony, and many simply do not because of fear of rejection. With that in mind, should we even share our testimony as an evangelistic effort? If we do share our testimony for evangelistic purposes, are there certain things we should keep in mind? Can a personal testimony be used for evangelism?
I would say, yes with certain qualifiers. A genuine salvation testimony will have in it the essential components of the gospel message. If it is a true conversion story, it will tell how conversion takes place. That is, how the gospel transforms sinners. It should include those basic elements of the gospel: realization of the need for Jesus, repentance from sin, and receiving Jesus as your Savior. For example, when I share my story, I make note of the fact that I realized I was a sinner, a turned away from sin once and for all and then placed my faith in Jesus and His finished work for my salvation and eternal life.
I understand, if we were to share our story in a hurry or with someone who we assume knows us personally, we may be tempted to leave out the gospel’s key elements for convenience. It might be a simple, “Jesus changed my life,” or “I gave my heart to Jesus.” However, it seems strange if we were to go through our testimony in a detailed manner with someone, and leave out the essential elements of the gospel message.
So then, a personal testimony “by itself,” should already have the key gospel elements included in it, but a testimony shared carelessly without those elements is not a good means of evangelism. It’s not evangelism at all if it doesn’t include the gospel.
And perhaps it is helpful to add at this point that while a personal testimony should already include the key gospel elements, I think it should lead one to share the key gospel elements as a separate conversation. We should use our own testimony as a bridge to sharing the truths of the gospel. We should begin with listening to someone’s story, sharing our own, and then sharing God’s story. With that being said, sometimes all we have time to share with someone is our own testimony, but if that is the case (and sometimes it will be), I believe we should place much more emphasis on God’s testimony about His Son: the gospel.
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We’ve been studying through Paul’s letter to Titus, looking at how we can have a healthy church. I don’t think there’s anyone out there who doesn’t want a healthy church—in fact, there was a survey conducted of the number one question the pastoral search committee asks its possible pastors. When they are interviewed, they are asked, “Can you grow our church?”¹
As Paul writes to Titus, his fellow worker, about church conduct and church order, we glean from this letter principles to have a healthy church—what the church should be doing and what it should look like. Specifically, we’ve been focusing on the first section, verses 1-4, looking at these verses under a microscopic lens, really. We have made it our aim to not miss a single detail of this paramount text of Scripture. We’ve been seeing from this passage principles for true ministry.
If we’re going to have a healthy church, this a crucial part of it—having a healthy ministry. We’ve been looking at several principles involved in having a successful, fruitful, effective, biblical ministry. Again, these principles are straight from Scripture, not a five-step program, or a book on Christian ministry—these principles are scriptural. They were the principles that God gave to Paul for his ministry, and they are the principles that God gives to us for ours. So far we have looked at two principles that God gives to us, and I want to take a moment to remind you of them:
1. Our Character. Out of verse 1, we read that Paul describes himself as an “servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ.” We saw here that if we’re going to be effective in the ministry of our own local church—it begins with this: we must be servants of God like Paul and Jesus—submitting our wills completely and entirely to God. If we want health in our church, we must be servants of God. If we want health in our homes, we must be servants of God. If we want a healthy, bold witness to our world, we must be servants of God.
2. Our Purpose. We saw from v. 1b that Paul’s purpose in ministry was for people’s faith, and then the building up of that faith: “[an apostle] for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth which accords with godliness.” This too is our purpose, to aim at men’s salvation first, then at their sanctification. To get the fish in the boat and then allow Jesus to do the cleaning. We saw that without knowing our purpose, we won’t know what to aim for in our ministries. If ministry is attempted without a clear, defined purpose in mind, it won’t be effective—and most of all, it will not be biblical because in order for it to be biblical and effective, we must follow and fulfill the purposes that God has given us for ministry.
Tonight we will look at the third principle that God gives to us for ministry: our hope (v. 2). Hope is quite interesting—it does something for us that nothing else in this world can do: Hope alters our perspective on reality by informing us about reality. Hope changes the way we see things by informing us about the way things really are.
Hope is something like what General Smith had in mind while he was being tortured. Many of you know the story. He was a great, never-say-die general who was taken captive by enemies and thrown into a deep pit with his soldiers. This pit was wide, deep, long, and filled with a huge pile of horse manure. As he dove into the manure pile, he cried to his men, “Follow me men! There has got to be a horse in here somewhere to take us out!”
Hope functions to change our perspective on things. When the impossible seems to be the only option, our hope in God is that “with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). In this passage, we will see how important it is to have this perspective. In fact, we will see that our hope is the basis for our ministry, as it was Paul’s. It is what motivates us, it is what gives us the right perspective, and it is what gives us confidence that God is able to do what He promised. And the great part about this is that God has given us hope as a principle for our ministries to our workplace, our families, our church, our community, and our world.
And we absolutely need it—ministry is impossible without it. What we do in ministry is unthinkable, really. I know that sounds pessimistic, but think about it. We are pleading and begging dead sinners to receive life in Christ (Eph. 2:1-3). We are trying to get a dead person to take medicine that will give him life. We are trying to get sinners to go against their nature and trust Christ—it’s not natural. Think about all the people you know who aren’t saved. It is discouraging when our message is constantly rejected. We wonder about them, we weep for them. It’s an impossible task, but the unshakable, unwavering confidence and joy that we have is in the grandest truth in all the universe that God saves. We do not save, God saves. “Salvation belongs to the LORD” (Jonah 2:9), and we have confidence in this God who has the power to save according to His sovereign will. That’s the hope we have.
But let’s see deeper what this great hope is that God gives us for ministry. We’re going follow Paul’s order of describing it by seeing first the object of our hope, then the person of our hope (God), and finally the surety of our hope—God’s sovereign will. After this we will look at a few practical ways to put this principle into action.
The Text: Titus 1:1-4, ESV
“Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, 2 in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began 3 and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior;
4 To Titus, my true child in a common faith:
Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.”
I. The Object of Our Hope (v. 2a)
Notice first the object of our hope: eternal life. Paul says first, “In hope of eternal life.” I think that it is imperative first to notice where this verse is. It really does make a difference. Paul names this principle after he talks about his purposes as an apostle.² Those purposes being, “[to bring about] the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth.” This means that as he carries out his tasks of ministry that is, aiming first at men’s salvation, then their sanctification, all the while — having this hope, never losing it, but always having it on his mind.
It’s also another thing that belongs to God’s elect. Remember what two things belong to God’s elect that Paul described in v. 1? They are those who possess “the faith,” and “the knowledge of the truth which accords with godliness,” and also here, “the hope of eternal life.”
So we can infer from these two truths to say that Paul is really describing the hope that he shared with God’s elect, as he was one of them. While he carries out his ministry with its hardships, difficulties, and victories, he set his mind on this hope. This was a confident expectation of eternal life that he had for himself and for those he ministered to. In fact, this hope was the reason behind everything he did, it was the motivation he had for his mission. It was his confident, future expectation of endless life that the believer will have as a gift from God through Christ Jesus. It was the “gift of God [that is] eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). He describes this hope in other places in Titus as his eager expectation:
“Waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
“So that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:7).
This hope functions in two ways for Paul: for himself, and those he ministers to. First I believe that this hope is what he looks forward to—that’s the way it’s expressed in the text. Second, I believe that his expected goal for those he ministered to was eternal life. He had hope for himself, and hope for those he ministered to.
1. Paul had this hope for himself. When ministry got tough, when people failed him, when people rejected him, he did not despair. Speaking of all the struggles of ministry, being “afflicted in every way,” “persecuted,” “struck down” (2 Cor. 4:8-9), he says in 2 Corinthians:
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (4:17).
Philippians 3:20 expresses Paul’s confident expectation of heaven perhaps more than any other text: “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” He endured more suffering than any of us ever will (lashes, beatings, stonings, etc.). But Paul could sacrifice anything anytime because of this—he knew what awaited him. He could endure any persecution or suffering for ministering to people—he knew what awaited him. What about you? Are your sacrifices joyful because of this expectation of eternal life, or are they drudgery because you have nothing to look forward to? When you are rejected and persecuted for your faith, do you still have this joy? Does this joy determine your response to persecution, or does your sin nature determine your response?
2. Paul had this hope for those he ministered to. We read in Acts 18, that Paul was struggling to share the gospel in Corinth. He was having some great success, but immediately met opposition by some Jews. “they opposed and reviled him” (v. 6), and he likely wondered if he should spend any more time sharing Christ with them. In fact, he said, “From now on I will go to the Gentiles” (v. 6c). But we read a few verses that God said, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people” (vv. 9-10). God promised Paul that there were still people who needed to be saved—people that God would save in His own time. God had people in that city who were His. Because of this we read that Paul didn’t leave, but stayed “a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them” (v. 11)
God’s sovereign election ensured Paul’s ministry—he continued to share the gospel because God promised him that He would bring about the salvation of souls in His own time. God had people everywhere in that city that He had chosen to save, and because He chose them, they would be saved. Paul was to simply continue his ministry and wait for God to do His work. So Paul also had this hope of eternal life for those he ministered to—he expected men to be receptive to the gospel because salvation belongs to the Lord, it is God’s work and He is sovereign over it, bringing it to fruition in His own time.
When I think of hope, I’m thinking of what the great Puritan Thomas Watson wrote about it. I believe he illustrates it well for us: “Hope is an active grace: it is called a lively hope. Hope is like the spring in the watch: it sets all the wheels of the soul in motion. Hope of a crop makes the farmer sow his seed; hope of a victory makes the soldier fight; and a true hope of glory makes a Christian vigorously pursue glory.”³
Praise the Lord! That’s what hope does for us: God promised eternal life for us, so no sacrifice we make for Him in ministry can be too great, and no persecution or rejection can be so great because we have eternity to look forward to. And another thing hope does for us is give us confidence for ministry to the unsaved, as it did Paul. We plant the seed of the gospel expecting salvation of souls, because God has sovereignly chosen to bring about the salvation of many souls. Our hope causes us to enter our areas of ministry to our families, our workplaces, schools, and communities because we expect people to be saved and respond to the gospel.
Do you have that expectation? Are your sacrifices measured by your confident expectation? That is, how often are your daily sacrifices for God determined by the truth that God will usher you into heaven one day? Do you expect people to be saved when you minister to them?
II. The Person of Our Hope (v. 2b)
We’ve seen the object of our hope, which is eternal life. Notice second that the person of our hope is a trustworthy, faithful God. Paul is moving on to talking about God’s person and actions concerning eternal life to prove that our hope of eternal life is unshakable. See v. 2b, “which God, who never lies.” He is attempting to prove the validity of our hope because it rests in God’s character. Paul is giving a strong, reinforcing argument to support the validity of our hope of eternal life because it is based on and sustained by a trustworthy, faithful God. He’s pointing to God for proof that our hope of eternal life is true and trustworthy.
Saying that God never lies echoes the Old Testament; this great truth that God never lies has its roots in the OT:
“God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” (Num. 23:19)
“And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.” (1 Sam. 15:29)
But talking about God this way is also in stark contrast to the culture that Titus ministered in. They were known as a lying culture. Crete was a small island, about the size of Western Kentucky, and the name Crete comes from the phrase: “to play the Cretan,” which in other words meant, “to lie.” So this was a place named because of the prevalence of lying in their culture.4 But notice also in v. 12 of this chapter, Paul says, “One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” Even their religious leaders were proud to admit that everyone on the island was a liar, and they were always that way. We live in a culture just like this don’t we?
Falsehood is all around us. A statistic I read said that 60% of people can’t go ten minutes without lying. 40% of people lie on their resumes, 69% of people lie to their spouses, and without surprise 90% of people lie when dating online.5 Lying is a weakness, and when we discover we’ve been lied to, we feel like we can’t trust that person anymore. We trusted their character enough to believe anything they said. But we don’t have to worry about that with God. When He promises eternal life, He is 100% truthful. He doesn’t lie to us about anything, and He never has to live with the guilt of lying—He never lies; not in the past, not now, and never in the future. He is completely trustworthy. The point that Paul is making here is that our hope is based on God’s trustworthy nature. Our hope is unshakable because it rests in an unchanging, trustworthy, faithful God. Let me tell you a few things this truth about God should do for us: This should encourage us—we’re telling people the truth when we share Christ. This should give us confidence in our hope—it’s a sure thing. This should give us strength and security and rest—our hope rests not on ourselves, not on our good works, not how good we can be, it doesn’t rest on anything but God’s unchanging, immutable, loving, trustworthy, faithful nature. Even when we fail to do our ministry: He cannot fail us: “If we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim. 2:13).
God cannot lie because it is against His nature. It is something He cannot do. It doesn’t go against saying that “God can do anything,” or “God is all-powerful.” Some question if we truly believe that God can do anything, if we affirm that He cannot lie. Thomas Aquinas and Anslem, some ancient church theologians argued that God cannot sin or lie because it is a weakness, not a power. God cannot lie because lying isn’t a power—it’s a weakness.6 Paul’s point is that we can have this hope for ourselves and this hope for those we minister to because it is based on God’s trustworthy character. So when we minister this hope of eternal life to people, we can know that we are telling them the truth, we can know that when God promised to bless our gospel sharing efforts, He meant it. If God never lies He is deserving of our full trust—that is great encouragement for ministry. If you trust God during your ministry efforts, you won’t be discouraged when your efforts aren’t enough.
III. The Surety of Our Hope (v. 2c)
We’ve seen the object of our hope, eternal life, and the person of our hope: an unlying, trustworthy God. Notice third that the surety of our hope is God’s sovereign will. See in this verse finally that Paul describes God’s action concerning the hope of eternal life. What did God do about it? How is it possible? Because “God, who never lies, promised it before the ages began” (v. 2c).
We see here two things: God’s action concerning our eternal life, and the time when those actions took place. That is, eternal life doesn’t come to us abstract, it comes to us graciously through what God has done, and at a cost. We see here that God did something about eternal life, and we see the time when He did something about it. And like our last point, Paul is attempting to build confidence and surety about our hope of eternal life because of God’s trustworthy character first, and second (here) because of God’s action concerning it.
First we see that God promised it. Anytime one makes a promise, it is a personal declaration made to another person that certain conditions will be met. When I asked my fiancée to marry me, it was a promise I was making to her that we would get married. Our relationship is grounded in that promise—we look forward to enjoying union together; all because we promised each other that we would be life partners.
Promises are central to the way God relates to us as well. He has made us so many promises—in fact, the Scriptures function like a promise book God gave to us. But there’s a special promise He made to His people. The promise that He made was that He would save them and be in a relationship with them. It is a covenant God made “before the ages began,” before we were ever born—and not because of anything good in us or foreseen in us, but because of His mercy and free grace. He promised eternal life to His people long ago, in eternity past, “before the foundations of the earth” (Eph. 1:4). This is a hard truth to understand, and theology calls it election.
This is a hard truth to understand, but if we believe that God saves, we must believe it—for He saves according to His plan and will, not ours. This means that our work will always be fruitful—it doesn’t mean that everyone will be saved when they hear our message, but it does mean that we have confidence that God’s word will not return back to Him void (Isaiah 55:11).
Christian conversion takes place because of God’s promise and election. Recall your conversion. Did you plan for that to happen? Did you know and plan to walk up the aisle? Did you know the details of your conversion before it happened? No, because you didn’t plan it. But God did. That’s the beauty of election and God promising eternal life. He is the One who planned it, and He is the one who will finish it and usher us into eternity with Him.
We believe because we were chosen: “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thess. 1:4-5a). Here Paul says that we can confidently be sure that God has chosen us because the gospel has come to us and transformed our lives. And when it comes to our ministry, there are people all around us who might be days away from that moment; weeks away; years away; decades away; but God is using our ministering efforts right now to lead them to that moment, just like He did us. Just like His plan of salvation is His plan in His own time, He has also chosen to use us as His tools to reach people—no other way will they be saved without the preaching of our gospel.
Do you have confidence in God’s promise of eternal life like Paul did in Acts 18? Do you rest in God’s sovereign plan of salvation?
IV. How to Use this Principle in Ministry
We have seen what this principle is, but it is no good to us if we don’t know how to use it. So how can we have this hope of eternal life? How can we develop this kind of perspective for our ministries to our workplace, family, church, community, and world? I offer a few practical suggestions:
1. First, make sure you’re saved. I think this is self-explanatory. You have to have Christ as your Savior and Lord to look forward to eternal life and have this hope, and to share it with the unsaved.
2. Ponder often the truth of eternal life. Read about it in the Scriptures. As Paul says, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). With this principle and great truth in mind, there is no sacrifice too great that we can make if we know that heaven is our home. There is also no persecution or rejection so great that can remove the place Jesus is preparing for us in eternity. Think about this hope at work, at the home, by your bedside. Let it permeate your being.
3. Examine your motive for Christian service. Do you minister to those around you because you are expecting them to be saved? I think we should expect more people to be saved. God is graciously at work in the lives of people everywhere, there are people on your path that God is just waiting for you to share the gospel with them. Our motive and reason for Christian service should be yes, God’s wonderful grace. But here, Paul says that his reason for ministry was this hope of eternal life—that’s one of the greatest expressions of God’s grace. So our motivation for Christian ministry should be joy and gladness in response to God graciously promising us an eternity with Him.
4. Expect people to be saved. Not everyone will believe our message, but God has promised to bless our gospel sharing efforts. If you never expect anyone to be saved, it will damage your gospel sharing efforts. Think of the farmer who doesn’t expect a crop to grow. Will he water the seed? Will he ensure it has the right amount of sunlight? No, and indeed he will not plant it at all. Neither will you share the gospel with someone you expect to reject it and discard it into the garbage. When you share the gospel, expect people to be saved.