This article is being published during the week before Easter. Considering the glory and magnitude of what Jesus did for us on the Cross, it might seem glib (or downright inaccurate or false) to say that he did it to give us "the good life."
But if we understand what the BIBLE says constitutes a "good life" (which includes ETERNAL life) and that it was purchased for us by Jesus' blood (and that it's not health and wealth and "self-fulfillment"), we begin to realize just how profound that statement is.
So, of all things that could be said about what Jesus accomplished on the Cross, why the phrase "to give us the good life"?
If you ask most people if they want a "good life," most would answer "yes." But each may have a different concept of what a "good life" is. As Christians, we have to go to what the Bible says.
The pastors in my church just finished preaching through the book of Titus. As it turns out, it's a good book to learn about the good life.
The context is first-century Crete, which was much like twenty-first-century western culture. Tim Chester describes it in his commentary on Titus as "dishonest, harsh, and selfish"; a society that "seeks change and finds truth in many places, but so rarely in the gospel."
Paul is writing to a son in the Lord, Titus, who has been left in Crete to appoint elders who can overcome the influence, opposition, and heresy taught by the Cretans, whom he describes pretty negatively. Paul gives Titus a tough assignment.
This relatively small book covers a lot of territory, but an overarching theme is connecting the gospel's good news to our lives to live a "good life." Tim Chester summarizes it this way:
(Paul's) job was to give people a vision of the truth, and to show how the truth will lead to a wonderful life, a life of godliness. . . The truth that creates a good life is the gospel. That is the truth that brings life and changes life.
In his letter to Titus, Paul points out legitimate age and gender distinctions in the church and offers counsel for each about living the "good life." He has a lot to say about "elders" (shepherds and pastors) and older men and women in the church (indicating he assumes they are a part and actively engaged).
He also addresses young men and young women, so that's pretty much everybody, even the kids—they're mentioned in chapter one.
He also acknowledges the unique roles and gifting of men and women, young and old, and the challenges we all face in living the "good life" as biblically defined in a rebellious, resistant, and sometimes hostile culture.
The second chapter of Titus is particularly relevant to retirement stewardship and how older Christians 'fit' in the life of the church; and not only that—how they can flourish in it.
So, to apply these ideas in the context of retirement stewardship, I'm going to 1) discuss Paul's definition of the "good life"; 2) how the "good life" is lived together with (and for) others; and, 3) how older Christians and retirees can live a "good life."
The "good life"
If you 'google' those words, you'll encounter things like self-mastery, self-fulfillment, self-actualization, and self-satisfaction. It's all about self; looking inward to release our untapped potential to be all we can be or want to be in life.
One article described it in a way that I think would be very typical for many non-Christians:
Living a good life can mean a myriad of things. Your definition of a good life is different from any other person in the world. A good life in its basic form explores the things and feelings that give you joy and satisfaction. It's all about finding purpose and happiness in what you do. . . Every person you have met wants to live a good life. Unfortunately, many still associate living a good life with social status, wealth, and even fame, hoping that material things and money will help them live life to the fullest.
This idea of having the flexibility (and finances) to do whatever you want that gives you joy and satisfaction is common; the worldly good life is all about personal happiness through freedom and enjoyment.
Some of these things aren't necessarily totally bad (at least to the extent you can understand and apply them biblically), but they don't come close to what the Bible describes as the "good life." In Titus, Paul describes it as a life based on "sound doctrine," and how sound doctrine leads to a sound life. And a sound life is as my pastor said, "healthy and fit for purpose; it's sound in faith toward God and love of God and neighbor."
As Paul addresses the various groups that make up the church in Crete, he enumerates several qualities that characterize the "good life." These qualities are prescribed elsewhere in the Bible and generally apply to all believers. They describe spiritually mature people who have experienced a changed life that is being continually transformed into the image of Christ, developing the beauty of godliness that draws others to the Savior.
But here's the thing: spiritual growth as a disciple of Jesus takes time and effort. Our hearts are changed at regeneration and conversion, but we don't instantly become mature. It requires knowledge of sound doctrine (the truths of God's Word) and consistent application to our lives, which takes effort, faith, and a deep reliance and trust in God's sanctifying grace.
The good life is living life as a disciple of Jesus, experiencing God's beauty (his holiness, majesty, and glory) and goodness (his love, compassion, and mercy) while demonstrating the true nature and meaning of the Christian faith to those around us.
Through our lives—both words and deeds—we show an unbelieving (and I would say increasingly confused and sometimes hostile) culture, the captivating beauty and wonder of the gospel that has so captivated our hearts, and how it affects how Christians relate to each other as well as those outside the church.
For the Christian, the "good life" has less to do with finding joy and satisfaction within ourselves or the things of the world (although we can enjoy them with gratitude as gifts from God) and more about living a life changed demonstrably by the good news.
The "good life" is lived with (and for) others
To become part of God's family—the Church universal—we must first be redeemed from our sinful condition (and God's righteous judgmental wrath) and have our relationship restored with the Triune God. This is the essence of the work that Jesus accomplished for us through his life, death on the Cross, and resurrection from the dead.
Paul opens chapter two of Titus with these words: "But as for you (Titus), teach what accords with sound doctrine." Those words, first and foremost, put the focus on the truth (and trustworthiness) of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Each of us was saved because the Holy Spirit one day went on a sovereignly planned mission to conquer our hearts, win our souls, and invade our worlds with the life-changing grace and mercy of the gospel. When we repented, he tore down the idols of our hearts and took his rightful place as Lord of our lives. What we could not master—our sin, with all its guilt and shame—Christ mastered for us by his sinless life and His sacrificial death and resurrection from the dead.
Once we become part of the Church universal (Christ's body), we can be added to a local church; a community of believers. And the spiritual growth that I alluded to earlier isn't a solitary pursuit—it happens in that community through relationships characterized by mutual respect, love, and care.
Tim Chester described this in his commentary when he wrote:
He (Paul) is giving us a vision of a life that touches people in small but decisive ways—a life that has eternal consequences. He is setting out the truly good life.
That means cultivating a life and building a church community built on relationships that bear witness to different values and beliefs, priorities, and a different way of living and relating to one another than the broader society and culture around us.
The church is a family, and just like actual families, the different ages and roles and responsibilities, and experiences and perspectives of members benefit the entire family. One of the beautiful things about a family and the local church is the interaction and relationships between these diverse individuals and groups.
Just as I can show affection to my children and grandchildren, I can also express it toward the younger men and women in my church and young children (like the six and 7-year-olds I teach in a children's ministry class). I relate to my son as a younger man and to young men in my church as younger brothers. My daughter is a younger woman, and the young women I know I treat as younger sisters.
I'm currently leading a discipleship group with four men who are all younger (in two cases, much younger than I am). It's a joy and a privilege, and I certainly have some wisdom and experience to share with them. Still, I have to recognize that discipleship in the church works both ways—the younger among us have ideas, energy, enthusiasm, and fresh perspectives that can inspire, encourage, and help us older folks.
Sure, sometimes there's some tension between the generations, perhaps due to different political or cultural views. But God has a purpose in this: We learn from one another and how to live together in unity despite our secondary differences.
One of the reasons I started this blog was to encourage older Christians to catch a vision of later life focused on others. Consider this verse (Phil. 2:1–4):
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord, and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others.
I am very grateful to be a part of a local church that recognizes and encourages the unique gifts and contributions each gender, demographic, and ethnicity brings to our local expression of the body of Christ.
When it comes to young and old, we try to encourage as much interaction as possible by not having lots of separate meetings for different age groups. (We do have youth meetings, men's and women's meetings, and a college ministry focused on campus evangelism and discipleship. But no matter the group, the goal is integration into the overall life of the church, including the students in the college ministry who may not be here for very long.)
Small groups, bible studies, and discipleship groups are encouraged to be multi-generational and multi-ethnic. That doesn't preclude the formation of informal "affinity" groups, but that's not a major goal.
Older Christians and the "good life"
Titus and the New Testament emphasize a clear principle: sound doctrine and sound and faithful practical Christian living are inextricably linked—the latter flows out of the former. How we live our lives is a direct result of the effects of the truths of God's Word, which, through the power of the Holy Spirit, changes our hearts and minds. That, in turn, leads to changed behavior and a changed life.
In Titus 2, Paul enumerates some Christian virtues (similar to the fruits of the spirit) that he applies to different age groups. The term "older men," taken in context, is relative. To a small child, an older man may be an uncle or a friend of their father. An older man may be his father or a man of similar age to a middle-aged man. So, we shouldn't just assume he is talking to older adults, though that seems to be his primary focus.
As noted previously, Paul lists character qualities that don't automatically develop with age. The opposite can be true. If we're not careful, with age can come cynicism about what really matters in life (the gospel, the church and its mission, relationships, etc.). Other hindrances can be physical and mental weakness, increasing self-focus and self-indulgence, and waning faith and zeal.
The ideas of doctrinal soundness and Paul's instructions on temperance, sensibility, faithfulness, love, and perseverance describe an older believer with a fit faith and a fit love that remains steadfast over the long haul. Paul brings this up at the outset, suggesting that it is a common temptation for older men to diminish over time in their faith, love, and zeal.
As an older guy, I understand these temptations.
But as we grow older, rather than becoming more irritable, easily offended, or hard to live with, the gospel should cause us to become more loving. Rather than becoming more intolerant and hard-hearted towards others, we become more gracious and compassionate.
Despite the cynicism and selfishness that can creep in later in life, this enduring faith and love over the long haul make older men (and women) dignified and respected. Sober-mindedness means that we haven't lost touch with what really matters. Self-control means that we don't allow our flesh to take a "spiritual retirement" in our later years. We want to maintain spiritual zeal and fitness, to remain useful to the king and his service for as long as possible.
It seems that living the "good life" as an older believer has as much (if not more) to do with who we are in terms of character, passions, and disposition that it does what we do (how we work or serve). It is a life lived by someone who has gained much experience and wisdom and lives in light of eternity, knowing that he will one day soon stand before the judge of all things.
Additionally, as we read in Titus chapter 3 verses 1 thru 7, we are told what we are to do with the glorious truths of the gospel. Because we have been saved, regenerated, renewed, justified, and made heirs of eternal life through Jesus Christ, we're instructed to be careful to think and speak well of others and do them good. This idea of good doctrine leading to good works is found throughout the New Testament.
So, the "good life" is one that the gospel has changed. It is a generous, joyful life, not one full of pessimism and cynicism. It is a life that believes and finds great hope in the promises of God. Rather than retiring from the race, older men and women continue to run with endurance with their eyes fixed on the prize (Heb. 12:1–2). Older Christians who have these qualities will stand out in the world and point people, both inside and outside the church, to the beauty of Christ with their good words and deeds.
The life-giving lessons of Titus
The lessons from Titus can help us all (and especially older men and women) to catch a vision of what it looks like to live the "good life" in retirement. They are life-giving—not just in terms of our short lives on this earth but also in eternal life in heaven.
So, it would be good to look at our hearts and lives and evaluate whether we're living "the good life"—living for Christ and his glory and if we love others more than ourselves.
If not, then return to the gospel, and let the knowledge of its truths "lead you to godliness" (Titus 1:1) and teach you to "say no to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age" (Titus 2:11–12). As Tim Chester reminds us:
Grace is not just for the beginning of the Christian life; it is the fuel for the Christian life. . . Instead of self-willed, self-righteous, selfish people, Paul wants godly people who do good works. This emphasis on God's people (young and old) being fit for doing good runs all the way through the letter (Titus 2:11–12,14; 3:1, 8, 14).