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What Every City Must Have

volume 21, number 37, September 15, 2022

But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.” -Titus 3:4,5

I recently watched a twenty minute documentary called “Streets of Philadelphia, Kensington Avenue, What Happened Today, August, 2021?” There is no commentary, only film footage by someone driving along the street. Trash is everywhere and hundreds of people are sitting or lying down on the sidewalks. There are also many people bending over at the waist for long periods of time. I found out later that the cause is a new street drug called Xylazine which is to be used for sedation, anesthesia and muscle relaxation in horses and cattle. It is not meant for human consumption yet it is the new drug of choice on the streets. The people meander about in a stupor.

In watching this documentary I could not help but say to myself, “There is no hope for these people. There is no hope for the city of Philadelphia. Drug rehabilitation programs will not work. Social programs will not work. Religion will not work. Relocation of the drug addicts and homeless to another part of town will not work.”

Of course, I have known for many years that neither conservative or liberal politics will do any good. I know social welfare programs never change anything, and I also know Christians always like to say, “Just give them Jesus and all will be well.” Nice sounding religious platitudes, however, are not the answer.

Well, then, what is the answer for the city of Philadelphia or my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, or your town where you live?

Consider Paul’s letter to Titus, his “true child in the common faith,” (Titus 1:4). Paul tells Titus to appoint elders in every city on the island of Crete (Titus 1:6). The book of Acts never mentions Paul’s ministry in Crete so his ministry there happened sometime after his first imprisonment by the Romans probably around 64 A.D. (2 Tim.4:16). Paul is writing after he has left Crete and plans to spend the winter in Nicopolis (on the northwestern coast of Greece). Paul never quit laboring for the gospel. Paul was arrested again and was finally executed by Nero around 68 A.D.

What kind of people were on the island of Crete? They were pretty nasty people. In fact Paul quotes one of the Cretan prophets named Epimenides (circa 600 B.C.) who said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts and lazy gluttons,” (Titus 1:12). Then Paul says, “This testimony is true.” So it was common knowledge that you could not trust these people. No doubt a businessman would have a hard time trusting them on a business deal. The word “evil beasts” may be a reference to the Greek mythological figure of a Menotaur (a bull’s head and tail with a human body) which seduced little boys and girls to the labyrinth on Crete. And they were lazy gluttons, gorging themselves on food, drink, sex, and all manner of perversion and wickedness. 

There was no hope for the Cretans. They were like the homeless and drug addicts on Kensington Avenue. And then Paul reminds Titus that they both had once been foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending their lives in malice and envy, hateful, and hating others. This is the status of every person in the world in their natural state. One can be from ritzy Mountain Brook or Shoal Creek or anywhere that is really nice and peaceful; or one can live in inner city Philadelphia or Fairfield where killings happen nearly every day, but all people have the same thing in common. All are without hope and without God in this world. Morality and religion will not set people free. Nor will politics and welfare programs. The only hope is in these words written by Paul to Titus, “But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit,” (Titus 3:4,5).

The people of Kensington Avenue in Philadelphia and those of Country Club Road in Mountain Brook all have the same hopeless condition unless Jesus Christ saves and transforms them, and only the kindness of God and His love for mankind can make that happen. How does He do it? It is a sovereign work of the Spirit. People think they have the key in their back pocket which can set them free from the jailhouse of their sin, but they do not. Only God has the key and only He can open the door to set them free. It comes through the mercy and grace of God. Only the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit will take hold of sinners. This washing and renewal does not come through ceremonial cleansing, religious ritual or baptism, or political or moral efforts. Renewal and transformation only comes by the indwelling Holy Spirit as He makes wretched sinners into wretched saints. Why? Because people are foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved, overcome with malice and envy, and they hate God and man. That was my condition, that was your condition until God showed us mercy.   

Please consider seriously what I am saying—there really is no hope for anyone outside of regeneration by the Spirit. People are far too gone due to original sin, actual sin, indwelling sin, self-righteousness, and religious faith which lacks power. The people of Kensington Avenue and Country Club Road are wandering about in a drunken stupor, running headlong to perdition and they are totally oblivious to it all. They are held captive by the devil but we still tend to think a little religion, a little morality, a little political help can change them. If you think that, even in the slightest, then you are deceived. 

Well then, what is the only hope? The people of Kensington Avenue and Country Club Road must hear the true, full gospel and experience the kindness and mercy of God’s regenerating grace. How will they hear it? We must have evangelists. I am on record saying we need another 1000 open air preachers and street evangelists but I now believe I am greatly mistaken. I have been gravely underestimating the problem. Sin is so pervasive, so perverse, so prevalent in our culture that we must have thousands of street evangelists, and they must preach the full gospel. What is that? I will have more to say about this next week but consider this. Evangelists must go deeply into the doctrine of sin, convincing people by the Spirit that they are indeed hopeless. A full orbed doctrine of sin is little known in today’s Reformed or evangelical church. We must in turn proclaim the greatness of God’s glorious salvation in all its fullness—election, effectual calling, regeneration, conversion (repent and believe), justification, adoption, redemption, reconciliation, expiation, propitiation, positional and progressive sanctification, and glorification. And we must go relentlessly, purposefully, intentionally, humbly, and boldly. Without millions of true conversions I fear we are nearing the end of a once great nation which steadily has rejected God and now finds herself overrun with social, political, and economic problems which defy natural remedies. 


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