Meditations in Titus: 22: Our Past Lives
Titus 3:3 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.
One thing I have noticed over the years is that when it comes to testimonies you either have people giving very low-key accounts of how they became a Christian or they give the lurid drink-drugs-sex background testimony that reveals what an awful person they were and how wonderful their conversion was. What we don’t tend to hear are testimonies in terms of the things we now find in our verse above.
I believe the reason for this is that we simply don’t come to a realisation of what we were truly like until some while later in our spiritual life when we have become sufficiently secure in God’s love to be able to face the truth of what we were genuinely like before we came to Christ. In my experience of watching for many years and listening to people I honestly believe there are very few of us who came to Christ aware of these things and convicted because of them. We may have been aware that our life was in a mess and we needed help but the deep seated reasons were not obvious to us.
The first sentence of our verse above speaks of a) the focus of our past lives and b) the fact that we were locked into these things: “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures.” The focus of our past lives had been “all kinds of passions and pleasures.” ‘Passions’ has a feel of emotional desires about it but is also a mind thing. We had set ways of thinking – that were self-centred and godless – meant we were defensive about ourselves, protective of self and out to make self feel good. We thought we were right and got upset if people opposed or contradicted us in our way of thinking and living (which is why Christianity is often seen as a threat and is therefore persecuted).
Hobbies and causes can even be expression of this. Seeking after self-pleasing experiences. I have recently seen secular writing that has suggested that the Western world has tried obtaining pleasure through materialism, and wanting more and more possessions, but has found it wanting and lacking satisfaction, and so is turning more and more to clocking up more and more ‘experiences’, hence so much travel to see ‘new places’ and encounter ‘new cultures’ and enter into their (to us) ‘new experiences. TV series, cult films and so many other ‘media experiences’ are also part of this ‘experience package’. These experiences are our new ‘pleasures’ that Paul speaks about.
To get meaning out of the godless life, people are locked into this seeking for (pleasurable) experiences, they are enslaved by them because they have to have them for without them (from this standpoint) life is meaningless. Satan has deceived people into believing this way about life and so they have become disobedient to God, searching after things in the creation rather than the Creator. How else can you describe them but foolish – senseless, unwise, silly! “Foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved.” What a condemnation and we didn’t realise it until the Holy Spirit started convicting us of the mess we were in, how hopeless and helpless we were, and showing us hope in Jesus.
But Paul doesn’t leave it there, he has specifics in mind of this godless and self-centred life that we used to live: “We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.” Because we were, as we said above, defensive about ourselves, protective of self and out to make self feel good, we so often felt bad about other people, wishing them ill (that’s ‘malice’) and because we gained worth and pleasure through things, we constantly wanted more and more and so often more of what the people next door have (that is ‘envy’). ‘Keeping up with the Jones’’ became, for us, a familiar saying of the new prosperous materialistic world.
But of course such defensive feelings are divisive and our divisions are stoked by, first of all , dislike and then as it grows, hatred. There is racial division, class division and division of rich from not rich. Listen to the chants of demonstrators, one part against another, one group against another. Although they might deny it, strength of feeling indicates hatred. “I hate their way of life,” or “I hate their extreme affluence which is unfair on the rest of us,” and so on.
Life for the unbeliever involves conflict and although that is how we used to live, says Paul, now our lives should be exactly the opposite and none of these things we have been considering should be there in our lives in any form. This is one of the things that distinguishes us from our unbelieving neighbour, and our attitudes and words and behaviour should reflect and reveal faith to all around us. If we can be honest, that is what we once were like, but now we are completely different. Hallelujah!