At Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, where I serve as the pastor, we have recently begun a sermon series on that seldom-preached New Testament epistle, Titus. (Incidentally, I asked for a show of hands of who has ever heard a sermon series on Titus and don’t recall seeing any!).
In this and the following two posts I would like to mention several reasons why we need a series on Titus.
The first is our need to make-up for what I will call a discipleship deficit. It has become a well-worn cliché to describe North American Christianity, in particular, evangelicalism, as a mile wide and an inch deep. That is a rather unflattering way of acknowledging that even though forms of evangelical Christianity are widespread in American cultural and society, the actual depth and substance of our lives is rather thin. Although we’ve been good at winning converts, we’ve not been so good at making disciples. We can fill big churches, but we struggle to grow godly men and women. This is what I mean by our discipleship deficit.
For years Dallas Willard has been emphasizing this very point. In fact, listen to what he says in an article written in 1980 for Christianity Today (included in his Spirit of the Disciplines):
For at least several decades the churches of the Western world have not made discipleship a condition of begin a Christian. One is not required to be, or to intend to be, a disciple in order to become a Christian, and one may remain a Christian without any signs of progress toward or in discipleship.
He then concludes:
So far as the visible Christian institutions of our day are concerned, discipleship clearly is optional.
Why is this? There are doubtless a variety of reasons: some social, some cultural, some historical. But, ultimately, I believe the reason for our discipleship deficit is theological: too many preachers and Bible teachers have taught a truncated gospel, one that fails to draw any real link between faith and obedience, or between grace and good works. Again, I think Dallas Willard nails it when he writes: “Obedience and training in obedience form no intelligible doctrinal or practical unity with the salvation presented in recent versions of the gospel.” The effect is that we can “believe” the gospel but not live like Christians, or “trust Jesus” even though it has very little impact on our life.
The book of Titus, and I hope and trust this sermon series on Titus, will help redress this discipleship deficit by reminding us that the gospel is fully orbed and to embrace grace is to be transformed, necessarily and inevitably, into a doer of good works. For that is what grace does: trains us to renounce a life of sin and seek a life of righteousness (Titus 2:11-14).
Willard, Spirit of Disciplines, p. 258.
Willard, Spirit of Disciplines, p. 259.
Willard, Spirit of Disciplines, p. 259 (emphasis added).