Titus, Trucks and Potato Peel Pie (and lots of other stuff) – Part 4
There are so many things I enjoy about the book, “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society”. The title, for starters. And the dry British humor and unexpected bits that make me laugh out loud, like the description of Juliet and Kit playing “dead bride”. (Makes you want to read the book just to find out what that is, doesn’t it?) The setting in place and time, since for some reason, I seem to gravitate to books set during WWII.
What grates, though, is the way the book caricatures Christians. Adelaide Addison, a Bible-reading, self-proclaimed (every chance she gets) Christian is dour, judgmental, spiteful and sour. Elizabeth McKenna is her polar opposite. Everybody you care about in the book loves Elizabeth. She’s free-spirited, loving, loyal, brave. Not bound by religion, she sometimes stands in judgment on it. Granted, legalism and hypocrisy need to be called out, but the book seems to depict them as the logical outcome of biblical Christianity rather than a distortion of it that they are. Religion in general, and Christianity in particular, in the book, are things the most generous, kind and loving people have risen above. Hear me out. I really, really like the book in many ways, but this false dichotomy is a pretty big fly in the proverbial ointment.
Paul’s letter to Titus paints a very different picture of what Christians’ lives and attitudes are supposed to look like. Really, Paul warns against being like Adelaide Addison. Living “by a totally different value system based on devotion to a totally different God”, as they say in the Bible Project video on Titus, isn’t about fear, self-righteousness, rule-following or trying to please a stern, implacable God – and then trying to force everybody else to conform to your image. In many ways, the character he instructs us to have looks a lot more like Elizabeth McKenna, but grounded in sound doctrine and love for God.
That’s what stands out in Titus 2:11-15. Why are we, as followers of Jesus, supposed to live distinctive lives? Paul gives some of the reasons in verses 5, 8 and 10, which we covered in my previous post. But verses 11-14 get to the heart of it, and it’s way more positive than what the typical caricature of Christians portrays. “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.”
Paul – and, moreover, Jesus – doesn’t want us to be like Adelaide Addison: joyless, mean-spirited, legalistic. Why does Paul say we’re supposed to live distinctive lives based on sound doctrine and self-control? Because of the grace of God! Because of the incredible, undeserved gift God gave us through our God and Savior, Jesus Christ. A gift lovingly given that we receive with gratitude and joy. That grace, when truly embraced, motivates us to recognize the limited value of ungodliness and the pursuit of desires that are grounded in unsound doctrine and won’t lead to lasting, abundant life. God’s grace invites us to recognize what’s of far greater value now and eternally.
When we embrace truth and God’s grace, Paul says we’re eager to do what’s good – what’s in line with what God, who does not lie, says is good – because we love and trust God. It’s not about grovelling or toadying or self-righteousness. It’s about eagerness to be part of the amazing, redemptive things God is doing.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve listened a couple of times to a recording of a presentation Corrie ten Boom gave, probably back in the ‘70s. A woman who risked everything to rescue Jews in Nazi-occupied Holland, who suffered the horrors of the extermination camps and lost many of her family and friends to them, she went on to spend the rest of her life telling people about Jesus and being part of the redemptive work of God. I’ve read her story before, and it’s an amazing one. So most of what she said in her speech wasn’t new to me, although it’s always worth hearing again. But why I’m especially glad I listened to her, and why I’d recommend you do, too, is the joy, love, warmth and passion that comes through so clearly in her voice.
If you think the choice is to be either an Adelaide Addison or and Elizabeth McKenna, you need to hear a Corrie ten Boom. When Paul calls Jesus’ followers to live distinctive lives, he doesn’t say, “For the wrath of God has appeared,” or “For the judgment of God has appeared.” Those things are real and they’re coming, but if we’ve chosen to follow Jesus, those things are in our past. What should motivate us to follow Jesus and live distinctive lives as a result? The grace of God. The hope he gives. Gratitude and eagerness to be part of the amazing things he’s doing.