If you’re driving along the 101 freeway in California, you can instantaneously sense your arrival in the small town of Gilroy. You’d smell it. Home to the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival and revered as the infamous birthplace of garlic ice cream, Gilroy is the “Garlic Capital of the World.” Even with the windows rolled all the way up and your car’s vents strategically closed, you’d know you’ve arrived in Gilroy because the sweet smell of garlic wafts pervasively through the air.
As Jesus so memorably describes in Matthew 5, we are the salt of the earth—restored image-bearers who are perhaps not so bold in our smell, but certainly in our witness to the life-changing truth of the Gospel. Our lives should have a distinct Gospel flavor that is instantaneously obvious to those around us who don’t know Jesus. But what does it mean for us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world? What does it look like for us to live out a Gospel witness in a world that is hostile to the truth found in Scripture?
An Ordinary Witness
In Titus 3:1–8, Paul lays out a strikingly simple and rather unremarkable foundation for a sound Gospel witness in the face of our society’s Cretan-like culture that is so vehemently opposed to Jesus and all those who follow Him:
Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.
This ground-level Gospel witness might not be the kind of testimony we picture in our minds. It doesn’t turn heads. It’s not flashy. It doesn’t require us to debate more profoundly, smartly, or astutely than the opposition. We don’t need to have perfectly coifed hair, a quietly expensive outfit, and the ability to vibe crowds of thousands into hearing about Jesus. There is no honor to be had here by defending the King of kings on social media or starting another worldview podcast. We don’t even have to have a theological education to live this way. To be certain, God does use all of these things to bring people to Himself. And to address the adage, we must certainly preach the Gospel and necessarily use words. But in Paul’s view here in Titus, the lifeblood of an effective Gospel witness is far more ordinary and unimpressive than we’d like to admit. It’s comprised of character and behavior we readily assume ourselves to have, but closer self-examination reveals why Paul instructs us here to continually remind ourselves of these things.
Here, a sound witness is an everyday, unscheduled, and unprompted endeavor that demonstrates Christian humility and charity in a variety of ways. It tills Gospel soil. It’s a characteristically winsome lifestyle that exudes Gospel flavor to others around us—the kind of living that makes it no surprise to others when they hear that we love Jesus and that continually and consistently sets the stage for Gospel conversations. It begins with a humble, submissive heart that plays itself out in obedience to governing authorities, trusting that no matter the political climate these individuals are instituted by the God of the universe. It’s a readiness to perform acts of charity and love toward others, using the time and resources God has given us to benefit others. It’s taming our tongue and not speaking evil about other image-bearers in any circumstance, even the loud neighbor or the politician we disagree with. It’s not being pugnacious, contentious, or divisive, but instead being gentle, peaceable, and kind toward others, whether it be on the town square of Twitter or in the literal town square. All of this culminates in a humble posture that shows “perfect courtesy toward all people”—a thorough, thoughtful consideration of others as more important than ourselves.
Thus, to Paul, the core of being an effective Gospel witness is being a humble, everyday signpost that points others to the Celestial City in these simple, unremarkable ways.
Motivated by Mercy
A sound witness comes from a heart that understands firsthand God’s heart toward broken image-bearers. As we examine our witness, we would do well to first recall how we ourselves once were opposed to God and dead in our sin (v. 3). To pause and ponder our former spiritual state deepens our appreciation for the saving work of Jesus, but it also instills patience and empathy with unbelievers as we seek to live out a sound witness before a watching world. This truth is a poignant reminder of the spiritual state of the people in our mission field. Unredeemed sinners will sin, swear, and self-promote, but an infinitely gracious and saving God graciously saves all who believe. This perspective rebukes our hearts from racing to self-righteous judgment—from thinking that somehow those who don’t know Jesus should be able to ride at the same level as our moral high horse. It strips us of any hint of moral superiority or pompous expectation and helps us to humbly live sound lives that give context to the Good News we proclaim. As we recall our own former spiritual state, it’s a powerful reminder that there truly is no one beyond the saving hope offered by our powerful Savior.
A life that demonstrates Christian goodness and lovingkindness toward unbelievers is a direct reflection of the goodness and lovingkindness God demonstrated toward us in the Gospel (vv. 4–7). It is God’s goodwill toward mankind in sending His Son to accomplish the work of salvation that we endeavor to picture every day in our conduct toward unbelievers. As those who have experienced the grace of God firsthand, we are compelled to live and speak the truth that “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy.” This is the hope of eternal life that we others to also have—a confidence that Jesus, the very grace of God that appeared and brought salvation for all people, will appear again in glory. As we consider our salvation and the Savior who accomplished it, our hearts are driven to live in such a way that testifies of the grace of God in how we carry out our existence on His earth. As we’ve received grace and mercy, we live in a way that extends grace and mercy toward others, pointing others to the grace and mercy of God in salvation.
Setting the Table
Our humble hearts, good works, and perfect courtesy before a watching world “are excellent and profitable for people” (v. 8). As Christians, we ought to benefit society and promote good, being like oil to the machine that is God’s world. Christians should make the world a better place. But our good works are excellent and profitable for people in a way far more excellent and profitable than any other way: by God’s grace and power, others will see our good works, come to know and love Jesus, and glorify our Father in heaven. Thus, we humbly and carefully devote ourselves to good works, trusting that our testimony will help others to see how life-changing truth truly changes lives. God may use the faithful character and behavior of our everyday, ordinary lives to make door-opening impressions, change the minds of our worst critics, and break down the preconceived notions of unbelievers about what it means to follow Jesus. By the way that we live our lives, may we set the table for unbelieving friends and family to partake in living water and the Bread of Life—our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.