When we think of success or greatness in any field, whether it’s entertainment, sports, education, or business, a trait of greatness that is often forgotten is the ability to say no. All leadership gurus affirm this – and so does Scripture.
Read Titus 2:11-12:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people. It trains us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, (NET)
What is Paul saying to Titus about living a successful, or life pleasing to God? I believe several key points can be discerned by studying this passage of Scripture:
- “The grace of God has appeared”
God has shown his unmerited favor to mankind by sending Jesus to live the life we were meant to live, and to die the death we deserve to die. We do well to remember Ephesians 2:8: “For by grace you’ve been save through faith . . .”
This one-word adverb in the original language describes the kind of grace that has appeared – a grace with saving power – and available to all whom believe!
- “[and] instructing/training us”
This is crucial – grace appeared not only to save us in the future, but also to instruct and train us now “in this present life”. This is a present active participle emphasizing the ongoing nature of this training. Never forget – we have something to learn spiritually everyday!
- “to reject ungodliness and worldly passions”
Notice Paul’s counsel here: you can’t live the life you were meant to live until you first say no to your former life – a life focused on “godlessness” and “worldly passions”. Grammatically, the word “reject” is a participle emphasizing that we “said no” or “denied” these things in the past, and that decision should continue each day! The words of Jesus should also come to mind, as recorded in Mark 8:34: “If anyone wants to be my follower, he must deny [“reject” or “say no to”] himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”
- “we can now live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives”
Since we said no to those things, now we must fill our lives with new things. One of the great misconceptions in 21st Century American Christianity today is the belief that God saves us only because he wants us with him in heaven one day. Unfortunately (I don’t mean to burst anyone’s bubble), this is an unbiblical concept (on second thought –burst away!). God did not save you to spend time with you one day in heaven; God saved you to empower you to live the life you were meant to live with him NOW! He presently desires to live with you, and what does that life, or ‘walk’ look like? God wants us to live:
- “self-controlled” or practical, sensible lives
- “upright” or just lives
- “godly” or well-devoted lives to him!
So in other words, our lives, instead of being godless and chasing after worldly passions (or as the Message translation says, living a “godless, indulgent life”), can now be lives in which we live appropriately with ourselves (living self-controlled), with others (living justly in our relationships with others), and living rightly with God (godly).
Is there a better, more successful kind of life? I can’t think of one. So that just leaves one question: what do you need to say no to?