The Three Legs of the Christian Life

Every stool needs three legs to balance properly. The Christian life is no different. When it comes to maturing as a Christian, there are three areas, three aspects, three “legs” that need to be firmly in place.

First, we must know the truth. Paul says in Titus 1:1 that he is an apostle “for the faith of those chosen of God and the knowledge of the truth…” Knowledge is the foundation of all true faith, whether the object of that faith is a proposition or a person. We must be ever-increasing in our knowledge of sound doctrine. There is an intellectual, rational, cognitive component to the Christian life that we ignore or eschew to our spiritual detriment and harm. Paul was an apostle so that God’s elect might come to know the truth and believe that truth with all their hearts. We never stop learning the truth, deepening in our understanding and experience of it.

Second, we must grow in godliness. Paul continues in Titus 1:1, “…the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness…” The truth is according to godliness. They go together. Where you have one you must have the other. “Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies” (I Cor. 8:1). We can know a lot of facts, but without love – and the rest of the fruit of the Spirit – our knowledge is worthless, pointless, useless, in vain. It’s no accident that Paul speaks in the same breath of those who are “always learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth” and who “hold to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power” (II Tim. 3:5, 7). True knowledge is always accompanied by genuine godliness. We must hold and speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). The “things that are fitting for sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1) are the spiritual graces that ought to mark older men, older women, younger women, younger men, and servants. Grace trains us to live godly in the present age (Titus 2:11-12); that’s why Paul says we are to discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness (I Tim. 4:7). Some people have a long leg of knowledge, and a short leg of godliness. Others have a long leg of godliness, and a short leg of knowledge. Both are unsightly, ungainly, awkward, unbalanced, halting. We should aspire to neither knowledge nor godliness by themselves, but rather to both together.

Third, we must go show (and tell) the love of Christ in good deeds. All the pastoral epistles (especially Titus!) are filled with an emphasis upon good deeds, deeds that are “good and profitable for men,” that “meet pressing needs” (Titus 3:8, 14). We are to be “careful to engage in good deeds.” That is, our lives as Christian can’t stand upon two legs only – sound doctrine and piety – but must have an active, social, merciful, serving, horizontal component as well. Only then do we have the true balance the Scriptures envision for the people of God. These good deeds are never disconnected from our verbal witness to Christ and His gospel, of course, and so showing and telling go together – we demonstrate the love of Christ tangibly in deeds of mercy and goodness, and we declare that love in the proclamation of the gospel of grace. We speak the truth in love. We love in action, and we speak the truth. We go into the world, loving the world and sharing the gospel with the world, that all might be served and that God’s elect might be saved.

These are the three pillars, the three legs of the stool of the Christian life. If you know your American Presbyterian history (nicely explained in Reformed Theology in America, edited by David Wells, especially George Marsden’s Introduction), then you won’t be surprised that these three components, found so clearly in the book of Titus (and in all the Scriptures), approximate the three extremes that American Presbyterians have tended toward: doctrinalism, pietism, and culturalism. May the Lord give us grace not to live as people of extremes, but to be committed to all three aspects of His work in us by His Spirit. Know the truth, grow in godliness, and go show (and tell) the love of Christ in good deeds.

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