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The Christian's Responsibility in a Pagan Society

Written by: MacArthur Jr., John    Posted on: 04/08/2003

Category: Sermons

Source: CCN

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.

                                                            Tony Capoccia


              The Christian's Responsibility in a Pagan Society                                 Titus 3:1-2

                              Copyright 1993                                     by                           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 this.

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 respect."

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 people. 

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 pagan world).

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 or not?" 

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 why:

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 evil.

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 afraid."

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 obedient.

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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