Our Former Lives
“We ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.”- Titus 3:3
Modern evangelicals, in an effort to make the gospel more “appealing” to people, often tell non-Christians their lives will be easier if they receive Jesus. Well-intentioned as such statements may be, they are not based in reality. For even though Scripture is clear that the yoke of Jesus is light (Matt. 11:28–30), it also plainly says that the Christian life is filled with trials. Following Christ in an unbelieving world is certainly rewarding, but it can also be more complicated than we might otherwise like.
Paul recognizes some of these complexities in today’s passage. After telling us to “show perfect courtesy to all people” (Titus 3:1–2), the apostle begins to explain why we owe such a debt even to those who are outside the household of faith. Ultimately, he grounds our obligation to do good to all, even those to whom it is hard to show respect, in the fact that our perfectly holy Lord showed mercy to us (on the cross) even though we are undeserving (vv. 3–7). Titus 3:3 contributes to this thought with its reminder of our former lives outside of Christ. We might object to being courteous toward those who are discourteous, but that is no excuse for ignoring the apostle’s instruction. At one time, we freely embraced the vices of the world — its malice, lusts, and ignorance (v. 3), but if the God of all purity could love us while we were yet sinners (vv. 4–7; see Rom. 5:8), how much more should we be kind to even the most difficult of people?
Paul’s teaching also helps us see that remembering our past estrangement from our Creator is an excellent corrective when we are tempted to look down on others. Recalling our own unworthiness, we see that it is hypocritical for us to expect our neighbor to prove himself worthy before we are kind to him. John Chrysostom writes, “If then, doing well yourself, you are inclined to revile others, consider your own former life and the uncertainty of the future, and restrain your anger” (ACCNT 9, p. 303). Similarly, John Calvin says, “Ignorance of our own faults is the only cause that renders us unwilling to forgive our brethren.” Being one of God’s saints does not put us above loving the unlovable; rather, it must compel us to fulfill the debt of love we owe to others.
Calvin also reminds us that “they who have now been enlightened by the Lord, being humbled by the remembrance of their former ignorance, should not exalt themselves proudly over others, or treat them with greater harshness and severity than that which, they think, ought to have been exercised towards themselves, when they were what those now are.” May the grace of our Lord toward us move us to be full of grace with all people.
Passages for Further Study