Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Is Everything Biblical Black and White? – Titus 1:15-16

To the pure all things are pure, but to the corrupt and unbelieving nothing is pure; their very minds and consciences are corrupted. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their deeds; they are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good deed. (RSV)
Not Black and White

It’s very easy for me to read this first verse and think that everything in the Bible is black and white. But is that true? If so, then it would seem that all we should have to do to live a godly life is to categorize and list verses and come up with a list of things to do and things to avoid. That is what the Pharisees thought and what did Jesus tell them? He warned them with seven “woes” that they were in big trouble (Matt 23:1-36).

One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. (Rom 14:2 ESV)

While there are some clear commands in the Bible that are absolute and the verse stands on its own as does, “You shall not steal” (Ex 20:15 NIV). The context doesn’t change the meaning and the circumstances of the reader don’t change the need to obey. The pure understand and obey them, the corrupt will try to rationalize them away. On the other hand, there are many things in the Bible that have to be understood in context. Attempting to make every verse a black or white statement leads to legalism and to works. It can lead to futile attempts at perfectionism that end up in frustration and depression because we will never be perfect until we are completely removed from our earthly bodies and will be in heaven. Paul clearly addressed the issue of gray versus black and white in Romans 14. He discussed eating things, worshiping on holy days, and passing judgment about disputable things (Rom 14:1).

But Paul was not discussing disputable things in Titus. If we want to understand Paul’s meaning in Titus 1:15, we must first address its meaning in the current context. We’ve been looking at the qualification of elders and their need to be able to provide sound doctrine and rebuke those who are against it. Opposition comes from rebels, deceivers, and members of the circumcision party. Paul goes one step farther in the contrast by asserting this distinction between pure and corrupt people. Is this really a black and white statement? Does the use of the word all mean that this is an absolutely true statement under all circumstances? There are many Christians who attempt to live their lives in a black and white world. They make statements like, “When the Bible says all, it means all.” In this case, a pure person regards everything as pure. Does that mean that a Christian sees no impurity in the world or does it mean that Christians are always pure? Obviously neither of these things hold true since Paul was a Christian and he could identify sin in himself as well as in false teachers. Anyone who says he never sins is fooling himself (1 John 1:8). There are many other examples of when all doesn’t include everything or everyone.[1] This is to point out that understanding the Bible so that we can make application to our lives is not always as simple as it may seem on the surface.

Pure or Corrupt

And again a voice came to him a second time, "What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy." (Acts 10:15 NASB)

However, this does not explain what Paul means regarding purity. There are various opinions among commentators. Some believe that Paul is again referencing eating clean or unclean food. The emphasis on this also includes the fact that God declared all food clean to Peter and Peter interpreted this to extended to people (Acts 10:28). While this is accurate, some have taken this to mean that once we are saved, we are incapable of sinning. They believe that whatever we do is pure. Therefore, if we steal, it is not a sin because all things are pure to the pure. Others may take the extreme of total separation from the world so that they will only see or be around pure things. Others look on this passage as purely spiritual as we are forgiven of our sins, past, present, and future (Heb 10:2, 10) but not giving license to sin (Jude 4).

Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil. (Rom 16:19 NIV)

Paul commended the Roman church because of their obedience and in doing so gave a hint to this problem of purity. In selecting elders and refuting those who are teaching false doctrine, two things would define purity. The first is being wise about good things. The pure person will look at what is good in doctrine and be obedient to it. He will be able to explain it and encourage others to understand and work though their issues. The second is to be innocent about evil things. That would mean having nothing to do with them, which probably means not excusing or condoning poor doctrine in others along with their resultant behavior that leads whole families astray. But it also means extending grace to those who repent.

An Example

A good example of maintaining a pure attitude or thought in doctrine is the virgin birth of Jesus. Actually the correct terminology would be the virgin conception of Jesus as the Bible does not maintain that Jesus’ delivery was miraculous but that he was simply born (Matt 1:25-2:1; Luke 2:6-7) in contrast to his miraculous conception (Matt 1:18, 20; Luke 1:35). The pure accept that His conception took place without any kind of sexual intercourse, either with a man or with God. “The angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God’” (Luke 1:35 NASU). The pure will reason that since the Holy Spirit does not have a physical body and the power of the Most High caused the conception, then there could not be any intercourse. It must be a miracle whereby the physical egg from Mary becomes a fertile egg without the need for a sperm yet with all the genes that cause Jesus to come as a man and not a woman. Truly, this could only be done by God and is a miracle.

What about the corrupt, how do they view Jesus’ conception? There have been many vile theories. The most common one and one that was probably thrown in Jesus’ face was that he was illegitimate (John 8:41). They think either that Mary and Joseph had relations while engaged or Mary had been fooling around with someone else during the betrothal period. Even a casual reading of Matthew 1:18-25 refutes this theory. On the other hand, some of the worst corrupted thinking advocates that God had physical relations with Mary and produced a son. This would make God an adulterer because Mary was betrothed at the time. Some even go so far as to advocate that Jesus is the product of an alien who visited earth, appeared to Mary as an angle then beguiled her with the story found in the Bible (Luke 1:26-37) and had a sexual relation. The resultant half-alien-half-human accounts for Jesus’ miraculous abilities.

The pure well recognize that Jesus had to be conceived as the Bible says for God to become incarnate. That is the only way that He could be both God and man at the same time. That way, He could stand in our place and be a pure sacrifice for our sins. If God had simply shown up as a man, He would not be the same as us (Heb 2:14-18) and His sacrifice would not have been representative for all humanity (Rom 5:15-19). Jesus also had to be God in every way also, otherwise He would have stayed dead. He claimed to be God (John 10:27-30) and if He were not, then it would have been a lie and He would have had to die for that sin. But, since He is God, God raised Him from the dead (1 Cor 6:14). The corrupt don’t like either of these things because they want to be saved by their own merits, they don’t want to admit to their sin, or they don’t want to be accountable to God. If God were an adulterer, then they would be off the hook for their own sins. If Jesus were not God, then they don’t have to listen to Him.

The Root Problem

For My people are foolish, They have not known Me. They are silly children, And they have no understanding. They are wise to do evil, But to do good they have no knowledge. (Jer 4:22 NKJV)

The problem of evil people distorting good doctrine into evil teaching has been a problem for centuries. St. Gregory of Nazianzus (A.D. 329-390) quoted Jeremiah 4:22 as he was explaining the doctrine of the Holy Spirit in opposition to the strange ideas of some people. He stated, "We certainly have here the arguments of people ‘wise to do evil,’ but unwilling to write what is good" (Oration 31:7). Jeremiah pinpoints the key to the whole problem of people who are corrupt is that they have not known God. As Paul says, “They profess to know God, but they deny him by their deeds” (Tit 1:16 RSV).

If you are wise and understand God's ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. (James 3:13 NLT)

It often comes back to the basics. Faith in Jesus Christ will develop a new life as a believer yields his life to the Holy Spirit. The result is a life filled with good works and demonstration of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). If these things are not evident, then the person is not wise. His corrupt life proves who his father is (John 8:44). God is certainly not his father. Paul says they are unfit for any good deed and this is true because even the things that they do which appear to be righteous are only corrupt in God’s eyes (Isa 64:6).

Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it. (Ps 34:14 RSV) Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom 12:21 RSV)

Where do you stand? Are you like the university English professor who told his students, “If you want to understand the author’s meaning when you read this literature, think dirty.”[2] Do you delight in seeing evil intent in all things or do you see God working in and through His creation to overcome evil. Do you seek to overcome evil with good as you pursue peace? Which type of person would you want to be an elder in your church?

[1] Read the history of the plagues on Egypt in Exodus 7:14 – 10:29. There are many examples where all does not mean all. All the water, even in pots was turned to blood (Ex 7:19) but they were able to dig along the Nile and get water to drink (Ex 7:24). All of the Egyptian’s livestock died (Ex 9:6) from a plague, but in Exodus 9:19, they were told to get their livestock out of the fields or they would die in the hail. The hail stuck down everything in the fields, man, beast, plant, and tree (Ex 9:25). Yet there were still plants and trees with fruit left by the hail for the locust to eat (Ex 10:15).
[2] I sat in on one session of an English literature class at the University of Washington. I don’t remember his name or the class but his statement made an impression on me as I was not a Christian at the time.