Every Christian faces the challenge of discerning how to authentically live for Jesus. We’re given a story in our culture. We’re told what it means to live, what we should value; and then there’s the biblical story, which is in in sharp contrast to the story of culture. This makes authentic Christianity difficult to come by.
What is it that makes an authentic Christian? And how can we live as authentic Christians? How can our lives tell a different story, a better story?
For the answers to these questions, we can look to what Paul the apostle told his young apprentice, Titus. Paul had left his young apprentice Titus on Crete, to appoint leaders for the fledgling church(es) there and to inspire them to live authentically for Jesus (Crete is the fourth largest island in the Mediterranean, located southwest of modern Turkey. Paul wrote this letter at some point in the mid-60s AD, between his first and second Roman imprisonments).
In Titus 1:5–9, Paul has explained to Titus how to identify authentic Christian leaders, noting that they must be: (1) capable and respected; (2) loving, in all sphere of life (at home and publicly); and (3) experienced at living as a follower of Jesus (a true disciple of Jesus). From here, Paul told Titus how to discern the difference between a true Christian leader and a trend seeker, by explaining what inauthenticity looks like (Titus 1:10–16).
In Titus 2:1–15, Paul tells Titus how to minister to specific people groups on Crete, explaining what each of them will need to hear. From these very specific instructions, rooted in the cultural issues on Crete, we can derive some principles for how to authentically live as Christians and then apply these principles to our present circumstances, to our lives.
In Titus 2:1–5 (NIV), Paul says to Titus:
“You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine.
Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.
Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.”
Paul first reminds Titus of the value of sound doctrine, which can be defined as that which is consistent with the gospel message—of Jesus’ saving act on the cross and his resurrection—and with the teachings of the apostles (Titus 2:1; compare 1 Timothy 1:10). Paul gives to Titus here a principle that is applicable to all situations: If you want to know how to live, look to the Bible as your guide.
From here, Paul turns to what he believed older men on Crete needed to hear (Titus 2:2). (In the first-century AD, “older men” would have referred to those over age 50.) From this group, we see five practices or disciplines we should aim to have:
Temperance, that is the ability to be restrained or not give into extremes (This seems to imply even consumption habits, such as alcohol [compare Titus 2:3]).
Respect, or worthy of respect.
Self-controlled. This aligns with Paul’s instruction that younger women live pure lives (Titus 2:4).
Sound in faith, knowing and practicing the values of Jesus. This is shown in how we love and what we endure.
The recommendation of Paul for older women is similar to that for older men (Titus 2:3). Likewise, Paul reflects the value of garnering respect in the teachings he offers for younger women (Titus 2:4–5), which in his context would have been women between the ages of 20 and 30, but this also seems to be a general reference to women younger than the older women group (over age 50). In Paul’s first-century context, the values he gives for young women would have all been cultural norms; Paul’s concern seems to be that violating a cultural norm so central to Graeco-Roman culture would have brought unwanted scrutiny to the fledgling church.
What these four values show us is that at its core, Christianity is not just a faith about belief, or about a commitment to a set of religious standards; it is also about practice. It’s about what we do with our time, resources, and energy. Christianity is not just about what’s coming, or going to heaven, but about the now—what will we do with the fact that heaven has come to earth in the personhood of Jesus, the one who suffered, died, and rose on our behalf? What will we do with sound doctrine? That’s the question of Paul for us.
Jesus came to reclaim our entire lives. About this, Paul elsewhere says: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:1–2 NIV).
This reminds me of a line from the band All Sons and Daughters song “Dawn to Dusk:”
Tomorrow’s freedom is today’s surrender
We come before you [and] lay our burdens down
We look to you as our hearts remember
You are the only God
You are our only God.
So let us surrender, lay our burdens down, and embrace the open arms of the God of the universe. Let us authentically live our beliefs.
Photo credit: Unsplash-hannah-busing
John D. Barry is the CEO of Jesus’ Economy, an innovative non-profit creating jobs and churches in the developing world. At JesusEconomy.org, people can shop fair trade and give directly to a cause they’re passionate about, such as bringing the gospel to unreached people groups. John is also the general editor of Faithlife Study Bible and the author or editor of 30 books.