Pure Things for the Pure
“To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.”- Titus 1:15
With Paul’s reference to “the commands of people who turn away from the truth” (Titus 1:14), it becomes clear that whatever the exact nature of the false teaching Titus confronted on Crete, it involved the imposition of manmade laws upon the people. Again we have to infer as best we can from the epistle what these commandments were, but the apostle’s description of things impure in today’s passage means the false teachers likely emphasized some idea of ritual purity, viewing ceremonial cleanliness as the heart of the gospel. If these teachers were like those whom Timothy faced on Ephesus, these purity laws probably included abstention from marriage and certain foods (1 Tim. 4:3), with only the latter having any kind of basis in the Old Testament.
But whether or not the false teachers tried to justify their legalism through an appeal to the old covenant law or to Jewish legends, they did not understand that with the coming of Christ, the distinction between clean and unclean foods had been abolished. By His work, Jesus made all foods clean (Mark 7:1–23), and every person who has had his conscience purified through faith in Christ and the renewal of the Holy Spirit comes to learn that all things are pure (Titus 1:15) and that nothing God has created “is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:4–5). Ritual purity is no longer a concern for those in Christ Jesus, for the kingdom of God has been inaugurated, and this kingdom “is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17).
In the freedom that Jesus has brought, individuals may choose which foods to eat and which days to celebrate, but they are never allowed to impose their personal choices regarding things “indifferent” on other people (vv. 1–12). Those who would bind the consciences of others where God has left them free reflect a deficient understanding of the gospel at best and at worst a conscience that has not been regenerated to see the true nature of God’s kingdom and its ethics. And those whose hearts remain impure shall by no means ever enjoy the blessed vision of our Creator (Matt. 5:8).
Dr. John MacArthur writes, “If the mind is defiled, it cannot accurately inform the conscience, so conscience cannot warn the person” (The MacArthur Bible Commentary, p. 1,822). Unrepentant legalists focus on matters indifferent because their hearts have not been changed to heed the Spirit’s warnings. Yet we must beware the tendency toward legalism that exists in us all and daily remind ourselves of the freedom Christ has purchased with His own blood.
Passages for Further Study
1 John 3:3