Friday, February 18, 2022

Self-Controlled, Upright, and Godly Lives

"For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age..." (Titus 2:11–12, ESV) 

What does it mean to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age? 

Self-controlled (σωφρόνως). This word refers to soundness of mind and judgment.

This word was one of the classical virtues, often translated as temperance or moderation. Unlike the “temperance” movement, it is not defined by abstinence, but by propriety, doing what is proper and properly using things rather than abusing them.

For example, moderation is shown with respect to things like food, drink, clothing, recreation, and sleep by using them as they ought to be used, in accordance with their purposes, as is proper and good.

And not only does moderation involve choosing the middle way between too much and too little, but it is the state of mind that allows you to make such a choice. Rather than being led away by worldly passions, by sloth or gluttony or rage or lust, a temperate person is able to do what is fitting and good and wise.

Upright (δικαίως). This refers to being righteous and just, obeying the moral law and fulfilling your obligations to others. As Jesus said, “whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12).

It is more than not harming your neighbor. It also involves loving your neighbor as yourself. It means fulfilling the duties of your callings.

This includes being honest and faithful, not defrauding anyone. It means being steadfast in promises and agreements, following through on your commitments.

Godly (εὐσεβῶς). More precisely, this word refers to being pious, that is, reverent, devoted, and dutiful before God.

Today the word “pious” can call to mind the image of someone who places all their religion in private devotions or someone who is a self-righteous prig. But it is a good word, and more precise than “godly.” Piety is a union of grateful love and reverent fear that produces dutiful devotion. True piety is born of faith, for by faith we learn gratitude and reverence, beholding the grace and majesty of God.

A popular example of piety in the ancient world was Aeneas, the hero of the Aeneid, the legendary founder of Rome. In that story, he overcame his passions and the passions of others, such as Juno and her storms, the lust of Dido, the wives of his men who sought to burn the ships, and hostile forces and civil discord in Italy. How did he overcome passion? With piety, showing devotion to the gods and his father, especially by embracing the duty they gave him of founding Rome.

A biblical example of someone known as a pious man is Cornelius, the Roman centurion (Acts 10). His piety is described: he feared God, he prayed diligently, gave alms, attended to God’s word, was dutiful in his calling, and led his household in God’s ways.

Moderation, Justice, and Piety
These are complimentary virtues, an apt description of the Christian life:

Moderation especially regards your own things, justice especially regards your neighbor’s things, and piety especially regards God’s things, although all three regard all three areas.

From piety flows justice and moderation. A pious attitude, gratitude and reverence, leads to contentment with your own things and diligence about your duties.

Without moderation, you are led astray. Without piety, your good deeds are profane. Without justice, your piety is hypocritical.

The grace of God is a good teacher, and it trains evil beasts and lazy gluttons (Titus 1:12) to live virtuous lives, in moderation, justice, and piety.

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