The Christian's Responsibility in a Pagan Society
Written by: MacArthur Jr., John Posted on: 04/08/2003
The following message was delivered at Grace Community Church in Panorama
City, California, by John MacArthur Jr. It was transcribed from the tape,
GC 56-23, titled "The Christian's Responsibility in a Pagan Society" Part 1.
A copy of the tape can be obtained by writing, Word of Grace, P.O. Box 4000,
Panorama City, CA 91412 or by dialing toll free 1-800-55-GRACE.
I have made every effort to ensure that an accurate transcription of the
original tape was made. Please note that at times sentence structure may
appear to vary from accepted English conventions. This is due primarily to
the techniques involved in preaching and the obvious choices I had to make in
placing the correct punctuation in the article.
It is my intent and prayer that the Holy Spirit will use this transcription
to strengthen and encourage the true Church of Jesus Christ.
The Christian's Responsibility in a Pagan Society
John F. MacArthur, Jr.
All rights reserved.
We are having a great time studying the book of Titus and I want you to open
your Bible, if you will to Titus, chapter 3. I believe we have come into one
of the most challenging and relevant sections of this brief epistle as we
approach this last chapter. I want to begin this morning to address the
first eight verses, and I want to look at those verses under the title, "The
Christian's Responsibility in a Pagan Society." Before we look particularly
at the text I want to say some things that I trust will create a setting for
our understanding of it.
America is a pagan society. I think all of us have come to the place
reluctantly where we can see that that is in fact the case. We have
experienced as a nation over 150 years of strong Christian Biblical
influence, but that is rapidly declining. People still attend religious
services, they still say they believe in God when they are polled, but there
exists a kind of practical atheism, and at best a situational morality. For
the most part, whatever vestiges of Christian religion still pervade our
culture are weak and compromising, if not cultic and apostate. Some have
said in years past that, "we are living in a Post-Christian America;" perhaps
it could better be said "we are living in a Sub-Christian America." We want
to say, "we are Christians," we just don't want to commit to what
Christianity is. Our Christianity has become hollow. We are clearly pagan,
but we wear the mask of religion. Our nation is now affirming through its
leaders, through its congresses, its legislative bodies, its courts, and its
judges a distinctively anti-Christian agenda. Anything, and everything that
is distinctively Christian is being swept away under the aegis of "Equal
Rights" and "Moral Freedom,"--and as believers, frankly we tend to resent
The Christianity that once was part of the fabric of our nation that created
some cultural props to hold us up and to give us a Biblical morality and some
divine standard in which to judge behavior is now gone. Cultural
Christianity, whatever it was, is dead. Biblical morality is assaulted
constantly. Moral freedom reigns as god. Materialism, family breakup and
breakdown, is epidemic. Abortions go on, sexual evils, drugs, crime, [and]
pagan education is flooding our nation like the Mississippi River, and we
can't come close to coping or dealing with this flood of evil. We have torn
down all of the standards and now we can't figure out what is right, so we
don't know what to teach anybody, so we can't control behavior in the early
years of childhood. We now have a generation of people who have taken the
agenda and are running with it. We don't have enough standards to control
them. We don't have enough police to arrest them. We don't have enough
courts to process them, and we don't have enough jails to keep them in.
For those of us who watched the great revival of the 70's, and I believe it
was, when we saw the tremendous movement that started out known as the "Jesus
Movement," a sweeping movement of campuses and young people, we saw those
great movements of students toward Christ. We saw mass baptisms in the
oceans. We thought it was all going to lead us to days of glory and
blessing. We saw Bibles being translated so that we could have them in a
fresher English translation. We saw the proliferation of books and
publishers, and tapes, and new music, and there was a definite wind of the
Spirit of God blowing in our country.
Those were wonderful days, but the revival of the 70's and the early 80's has
turned into the debauchery of the 90's, and the change is sad. We feel the
sadness and after a while we begin to feel resentment. We don't like what
the President is doing. We don't like his agenda. We don't like his
decisions. We don't like what our Governor and even our Mayor is saying
about homosexuality. We don't like the kinds of things that our Senators and
Congressmen are doing. We are not happy with the decisions that they are
making. We are repulsed by the verdicts that are being rendered in courts
that are exonerating people of criminal intent and act, and are judging
people who had no intended ill, and letting off people who are guilty of
things we think are heinous. We aren't happy with the agenda all the way
down, whether it is the judicial branch, or the legislative or the executive
branch. We are tired of the evolution of freedom to the point where anybody
can do absolutely anything. We are angry that perversion is legalized in our
country and the will of God is blatantly rejected. It's one thing to have
sin, it's something else to redefine it as acceptable human behavior.
I really believe that these are times that can breed not only a sadness in
the life of Christians, but even hostility. I sense that in conversations
and meetings I have at various places with people, [that] first of all we
were sad at the trends and now we are a bit angry about it. We get even
angrier when they decide to raise our taxes so we can fund more of this
agenda. We fear for ourselves, and mostly we fear for our children, and we
fear for our grandchildren--don't we? The worst, we know, is yet to come,
and it is going to come on our children's children.
The question that I want to pose to you this morning is this: "How are we to
respond now that our society is so pagan? How are we to react? What is a
proper Christian response in a pagan culture?"
Paul answers that very question in Titus 3:1-8; that is precisely the issue
here. Titus, as you know, is on the Island of Crete. He is there to set in
order the things that remain in the churches. There were at least 100 cities
on this island, and we don't know how many had churches--but many. He has a
very great responsibility to set the church in order, to ordain godly leaders
against a very corrupt culture. Cretans, you remember, according to chapter
one, verse 12, were basically designated by a prophet of their own as "liars,
evil beasts, and lazy gluttons." Unquestionably, they were engulfed in
idolatry and all of the extant paganism that made up the Greek and Roman
world of the time. Titus, then had these churches as little pockets of
righteousness in a sewer of paganism and needed to instruct them how to react
to the culture around them--very important.
Now just a footnote before we read the text. I hear a lot of talk today
about the church impacting culture. Coming back from Atlanta where I went to
the Christian Booksellers Convention this week, I read a couple of books on
the plane. Both of them had to do with confronting our culture, effecting
and impacting our culture, but frankly, folks, that is not our goal. That is
not our goal! It sounds like a noble goal and I'm sure that there are people
who could see certain noble aspects of it and there may be some. But our
goal is not to impact our culture by changing their moral values. Our goal
is not to impact our culture by creating traditional values [and] family
values through legislation or judicial process. Our goal is not to make sure
that the United States of America adheres to a national policy that equates
to Biblical morality--that is not our goal.
We are not involved in altering social morality. We are not involved in
upgrading cultural conduct. We are interested in people becoming saved--that
is our only agenda. If we are going to change our culture, we are going to
change it from the inside out. You see, the church has one mission--we are a
nation of priests, and a priest had one simple function: to bring people to
God, to usher them into His presence. It is the only thing we are in the
world to do.
Frankly, if people die in a communist government or a democracy it really
doesn't matter if they end up in hell. If they die under a tyrant or a
benevolent dictator--it doesn't matter if they end up in hell. If they die
believing that homosexuality is wrong, or believing that homosexuality is
right and end up in hell--it doesn't matter. If they die as a policeman or a
prostitute without Christ they are going to end up in the same place.
Whether they die moral or immoral will make no difference in their eternity.
Whether they stood on the side of the street with the Pro-Abortion Rights
group and screamed for legalizing and maintaining legal abortions or on the
other side of the street against abortion and screamed to stop the killing,
if they didn't know Christ they are going to end up in the same place.
Right? That isn't the issue--the issue is salvation. The issue is
salvation, and the sad reality is that when the church gets a moralizing,
politicizing bent it usually has a negative impact on its evangelization
mission because then it makes the people hostile to the current system and
they become the enemies of the society, rather than the compassionate friend.
If we are going to see our nation transformed it has to be done from the
inside out--that's our agenda, and so we are hear to preach Christ, and to
know nothing among you except Christ and Him crucified. But behind that
preaching must come some manner of living, some kind of life that makes our
message believable. It is to that which Paul addresses himself in chapter
three; let's read it,
Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be
obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to
be uncontentious, gentle, showing every consideration for all
men. For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient,
deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our
life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when
the kindness of God our Savior, and His love for mankind
appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have
done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the
washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He
poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that
being justified by His grace we might be made heirs according to
the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy statement; and
concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that
those who have believed God may be careful to engage in good
deeds. These things are good and profitable for men.
I want to start with that last line, "These things are good and profitable
for men." What are you talking about? Paul, what are you saying? What I am
saying is, If you live this way it's going to benefit everybody around you.
It's very important how you conduct yourself. In what sense is it good and
profitable for men? Go back to chapter two. In chapter two he was also
talking about Christian conduct, and he says in verse five that "We are to so
live that the Word of God may not be dishonored (verse 8), that our opponent
may be put to shame having nothing bad to say about us." And the end of
verse 10, "that we may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every
What's the point? We want to so live as to exalt the Word of God, shut the
mouth of the critic, and put on display God's saving power. We want the
world to know that God is a saving God; that God transforms people. And how
can we convince them of that? By showing them our transformed lives. Right?
We are to be displaying God's saving power. Now remember that chapter three
follows this wonderful discussion in chapter two, verses 1 to 14. And in
that section, verses 1 to 14 of chapter 2, Paul was also telling Titus that
he needed to instruct the church about their behavior, but in that chapter it
was the behavior among Christians. How we conduct ourselves together as
Christians is going to give a testimony to the world of God's saving,
transforming power. When we live holy, gracious, loving, wise, kind
lives--all of the things he said in chapter two, it is very evident that we
are not like everybody else to the watching world. That is going to make the
Word of God honored; that is going to silence the critics, and that is going
to adorn the gospel of God as a saving God--One who can totally transform
So the way we live within the church and among ourselves is crucial as a
platform for our proclamation. Then in chapter three he is concerned not
with how we live among each other in the church, but how we live in the
society--how we live among non-Christians. How we live in our culture. If
we are going to make God's saving power manifest, we have to make it manifest
in our relations with Christians and with non-Christians. And never is the
time more crucial for careful Christian behavior than when believers are
engulfed in pagan culture. I mean, that's how it was, you understand, don't
you, in Paul's day? There was no cultural Christianity, there was no
Christianity until he introduced it. In the gentile world it was just
blatant, comprehensive paganism, with all of the trappings that Satan could
develop into it. It was totally and exclusively, with the exception of a few
Jews, a Satanic system. All the existing religion, all the existing
ideology, philosophy, and thought, all the existing law and order, all the
existing values, mores, were derived from a non-Christian system. It was
thoroughly pagan until Paul arrived and the clash was so great that it cost
him and many others their lives.
Paul knew what it was like to live in a thoroughly pagan culture, far more
pagan than what we experience, because in our country there is a great force
of truly regenerated people. He knew what it was to be in a world of
abusive, deadly inequality and slavery. He knew what it was to be in a
culture of tyrants, petty dictators who were murderous. He knew what it was
to be under abusive leadership. He knew what it was to see a society
engulfed up to its ears in sexual perversion, the breakdown of the family.
We read in some ancient documents about people who had 26 and 27 wives,
and/or husbands, depending on the situation. The world was literally flooded
with idols [and] petty gods. People were heavily taxed. The tax collectors
were extortionists who took what wasn't justly due them. If anybody
complained they would take their life as soon as look at them. And the world
was full of terrorists, people who were going around executing those who had
done something against them. Even in the Jewish world there were the
zealots, the Secari (sp.), the guys who carried the daggers, and came up
behind the authorities in Israel and stabbed them to death. Terrorism was
everywhere. It was an ugly world.
Paul never ever says in any of his letters, "Now, ladies and gentlemen, we
need to moralize our pagan culture. We need to impact our culture somehow."
No, all he ever said was, "We need to evangelize it." And he wasn't calling
for any kind of protest; he wasn't calling for any kind of contention or any
kind of war against the existing mentality--he was calling for the preaching
of the gospel that transforms the life. But it wasn't just the preaching, it
was the living within the church, and outside the church that gave a platform
that made the message believable. You see, what God had done for the
Christians in Crete He wanted to do for a lot of other folks too. The
conduct of the believers there was crucial to that saving work, that saving
enterprise. So he tells Titus to instruct the people with authority
(remember that in chapter 2:15--with authority regarding their duty in a
Now, first let's look at verse one; he says just two words, "remind them." I
want to point out to you that he is simply saying, "This isn't anything new."
Obviously he had covered this in the past, certainly the folks knew the
responsibilities they had for living in a pagan culture, but they needed to
be reminded and that is a duty that belongs to everyone who stands behind the
sacred desk, as it were, and proclaims the truth to God's flock. We are
basically here to remind you of what you know. The present imperative means
that it is a regular ongoing continuing duty of reminding them. And he wants
to remind them of the necessity for behaving themselves in a pagan society.
Now, what he does in these eight verses is [to] sum it up by asking them to
remember four realities--four great realities. It is wonderfully organized
around these realities:
1. Remember your duty.
2. Remember your former condition.
3. Remember your salvation.
4. Remember your mission.
And if you will remind the people of those four things, it will keep their
behavior, as Peter put it--excellent among the pagans. "Remember your duty,"
and he outlines them in verses one to two. "Remember your former condition,"
and he outlines that in verse three. Then he says, "Remember your
salvation," verses four through seven. Finally, in verse eight he reminds
them, "Remember your mission." If you keep those things in mind, they become
the motivation for living excellently in a pagan world. I wish that I could
give them all to you this morning--well, I could, but I won't, so you will
have to come back next week for the last, but let's take point one.
1. Remember your duty.
What is our duty? We may be hurt, we may be disappointed, we may be angry as
we watch the vestiges of Christian influence die. We may be angry at what we
see happening in the courts, in the congresses, in the executive offices of
our land. What is our response? We may not agree with the decisions that
they are making. Here's what he says, "Remind them to be subject to rulers,
to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed. To malign no
one, to be uncontentious, gentle, showing every consideration for all men."
Seven virtues are listed there--seven virtues.
Now, listen to this, it doesn't matter whether your ruler is Caesar, Herod,
Pilate, Felix, Festus, Agrippa, Stalin, Hitler, Winston Churchill, [or] Bill
Clinton, it doesn't matter who it is--he says, "Be subject. You teach them
to be subject." Rulers were tyrants, they lacked integrity, they were not
noble. Governments made laws and maybe all the laws weren't equitable, just,
and fair, but he says, "You be subject to rulers, to authorities." He is
reiterating a very, very, commonly given Biblical principal.
Matthew 22, the Pharisees were always trying to trap Jesus. They wanted to
trap Him publicly, because they wanted to discredit Him publicly and turn
some element of the population against Him, so they sent disciples to Him
along with the Herodians. They said in verse 16, "Teacher we know that you
are truthful and you teach the way of God in truth and defer to no one, for
you are not partial to any." That was a whole lot of sinful flattery. "Tell
us, therefore, what do you think. Is it lawful to give a poll tax to Caesar
Now, what they are trying to get Him to do is to say it is or it isn't. If
He says that it is lawful, all the Jews are going to hate Him because they
hate Caesar, they hate the poll tax, they hate the whole idea of being a
occupied country ruled by a bunch of pagans. If, on the other hand, He
agrees with the Jews and says, "No, it is not right, it is not lawful before
God to pay tax to Caesar. Don't pay your tax," then they are going to tell
the Romans. One way or the other they are going to get some element of the
power of the populous against him, but Jesus perceived their evil intent. He
said, "Why are you testing me you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the
poll tax." They brought Him a denarius, He said to them, "Whose likeness and
inscription is this?" They said to Him, "Caesar's." And do you know what?
They hated to use those coins, because anything with an image on it
constituted a what? An idol. They hated that, and of course, Caesar was
god, and this was idolatry to them. They hated not only the idea of
taxation, but they hated the idea of the inherent idolatry in it--a graven
image made after a god! It was a violation of the first commandment.
But Jesus was so wise--He said to them, "Then render to Caesar the things
that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." He upheld both, He
said, "On the one hand, pay your tax, on the other hand, this has nothing to
do with God. You must give to God what is God's."
The point for us today is--Jesus paid His tax, even with the inherent
idolatry--He said, "Pay you tax." What were they doing with that tax?
Things that surely Jesus was not pleased with, but the general overall thrust
of government was positive, and Christians are to submit to it.
Go to Romans 13, and here you have one of the most comprehensive statement
about this from the Apostle Paul, the first few verses of chapter 13. Verse
1, "Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities." That's
just a plain and simple blanket statement: everybody is in subjection. It
doesn't matter whether it is a democracy or communist form of government. It
doesn't matter whether it is a monarchy or whether it is a
dictatorship--you're in subjection. Good, bad, whatever form, you're in
subjection to the governing authorities. Then he gives you seven reasons
1. Government is designed by God.
There is no authority except from God and those which exist are established
by God. God has designed human government. He has designed it to exist in a
number of forms, and it is there because of His design for the control of
human life. So, submit! God designed it!
2. Resisting is resisting God.
Verse 2, "He who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God."
3. Resisters will be punished.
End of verse two, "Those who oppose will receive condemnation upon
themselves." So you submit to the government. Why? It is designed by God,
resisting is resisting God, and resisters will be punished.
4. Government is designed to restrain evil.
Verse 3, "Rulers are not a cause for fear for good behavior, but for evil."
Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have
praise from the same. In other words, government is designed to restrain
5. Government is designed to promote good.
Verse 4, "It is a minister of God to you for good, if you do what is evil--be
6. Government is empowered to punish.
"It is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who
practices evil." That is why it "doesn't bear the sword for nothing." God
has given it the right of capital punishment, that is what bearing the sword
means. God has even given government the right to take a life.
7. Submit to the government for conscience sake (verse 5).
Not just because you fear the wrath that is going to come if you disobey, but
for the sake of conscience, because it's right.
So, submit to the government. Why? It is designed by God. Resisting is
resisting God. Resisters will be punished. Government is designed to
restrain evil and promote good. Rulers are empowered to punish. Do it for
conscience sake. Then the sum of it, verses 6 and 7, "So, pay your taxes
(verse 6 says), for rulers are servants of God devoting themselves to this
very thing." Then verse 7, "Render to all what is due--tax to whom tax is
due, custom to whom custom, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor." The
whole point is, God has put government in place and you are to submit to it.
Now, he gives all those reasons, the one reason that he doesn't give is the
evangelistic reason--so that we can live and demonstrate that this world is
not an issue to us. What's the difference how much tax we pay? That's not
our concern. It is not our concern to be worried about legislation. It is
not our concern to be worried about what the president does. It is our
concern to live holy lives and call people to Christ. Our citizenship is in
another world, we are only strangers and aliens here. We'll do whatever we
are asked so that we do not mar our testimony, because that is the greater
and compelling issue.
1 Peter 2 adds the very important note of evangelism. In 1 Peter 2:9 says,
"We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation," and we are to
"proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into His
marvelous light." In other words, we are to demonstrate what salvation looks
like. We are to show people what a saved person is. How do we do it? Verse
12, "Keep your behavior excellent among the pagans." What do you mean by
that? Verse 13, "Submit yourselves, for the Lord's sake to every human
institution: whether to a king, as one in authority, or governors, as sent by
Him for the punishment of evil doers and the praise of those who do right.
This is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of
foolish men." "Honor all men," verse 17, "love the brotherhood, fear God,
honor the king." How you live in a pagan culture is crucial to proclaiming
the excellencies of the One who saved you, to demonstrating your transformed
life--that's the issue. Now that takes us back to Titus again.
The Apostle Paul is saying, "You need to be subject to rulers and authorities
for evangelistic reasons," back down to the bottom of verse 8, "This is good
and profitable for the watching world." Then he says, "You need to be
obedient," verse one, "To be obedient." You are to obey whatever it is they
say. You say, "Are we ever to disobey?" Yes, there is one occasion when we
disobey--that is when they ask us to do what the Bible forbids us to do, or
when they ask us not to do what the Bible commands us to do. The best
illustration of that, as you know, is in Acts, chapter 4. They told the
apostles not to preach, you remember, they summoned them in Acts 4:18,
commanded them not to speak or teach. Peter and John said to them, "Whether
it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you, rather than to God--you
be the judge. You judge whether we obey you or God, for we cannot stop
speaking," they said. Chapter 5, they flogged them, whipped them; verse 40,
ordered them to speak no more; they went on their way from the presence of
the council rejoicing they had been considered worthy to suffer. Verse 42,
"Everyday, in the temple, from house to house, they kept right on teaching,
preaching Jesus as Christ."
There comes a point in time when the state turns against the church and tells
the church not to do what God has mandated it do, then we have to obey God
and suffer the consequence--be it prison or death. The only time that we
disobey is when we have been mandated by Scripture to do something we are
forbidden to do, or not to do something we are being compelled to do. We are
Then he says, the end of verse one, "Remind them to be ready for every good
deed." This is so good. "Remind them to be ready for every good deed."
This is aggressive goodness. This isn't reluctance, saying, "Well, I'm not
going to make an issue. I am going to dutifully grit my teeth and pay my
tax. I am going to keep my anger under control." No, this is an internal
eagerness (the word 'ready' means eager), eagerness to do every conceivable
good deed. Approach life, no matter how volatile the culture is against
Christianity, no matter how pagan it is to the very core, how engulfed in
idolatry and sin it is--we aggressively pursue every good thing as Galatians
6:10 says, "We are doing good to a
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