Why do you work? Well, it depends on what kind of work, doesn’t it? We work for our bosses to get a paid, for a good review and for promotion. If we don’t work, we will likely lose our job. As students, we work to get to the next standard or to earn that degree. If you don’t pass those exams, you fail. But, what about working for God? Why do you work for God?
In Titus 2:1-10, Paul commands us to work at being righteous and godly individuals. God wants the Christians in Crete and us to behave in a holy way in order to preserve the reputation of the church and promote the glory of God in the world. Remember at the beginning of Titus 1, Paul tells us that he is a servant and Apostle – a worker for God – because he has been captivated by the truth of the gospel. Paul was schooled in grace and now he has become a teacher of grace to the church. Paul’s writings do not make sense without presupposing the primacy of God’s grace in the Christian life.
So when Paul calls the Cretan Christians, and us, to behave in the first part of Titus 2, his commands must be understood in the context of grace. The “sound doctrine” that Paul calls Titus to teach in Titus 2:1 is the gospel of grace. At the heart of the gospel is the truth that God has graciously forgiven sinners on account of the death of Jesus. But the gospel also teaches that the Holy Spirit graciously transforms us into the image of Christ. In other words, the gospel can be summed up as our justification and our sanctification in Jesus Christ. In justification, God declares sinners righteous by faith in Jesus. Justification is primary and has logical priority in our salvation. In turn, sanctification is the fruit or evidence of our justification. It is a work of God’s grace by his Holy Spirit in which we are changed more and more into the image of Christ. However, it is important to remember that sanctification is an ongoing work of God in us. It is always imperfect and incomplete in this life.
In our passage this morning, Titus 2:11-15, Paul calls us to be zealous for good works because we are anchored in the past, present and future reality of God’s grace toward us in Jesus Christ. We are to obey patiently out of gratitude to God who has purified us of our sins in Christ and given us the hope of eternal life.
Working in view of the appearance of grace (vv11-12)
At the beginning of v11, Paul’s use of the preposition “for” tells us that what he is about to say is closely tied to what he has just said in the preceding verses. He has just finished calling men and women, young and old, and slaves, to behave in such a way that adorns “the doctrine of God our Saviour.” Even a slave, someone who has few rights and is despised by society, must obey the Word of God by living a life of self-control and moderation. But how can this be so? There must be something special about the doctrine or teaching of God’s Word that can motivate such behavior. Brothers and sisters: that something special is the grace of God – God’s unmerited favour – that has “appeared” in history in Jesus Christ. In Jesus, Paul writes, God has brought “salvation for all people.”
It is this knowledge and reality of our salvation in Christ – Paul tells us in v12 – that “trains us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.” Here Paul gives us a window into how sanctification works: even in one of the dirtiest places this world has ever known.
Remember that the Christians on the island of Crete were immersed in one of the most debased and licentious human cultures that have ever existed. There was no end to the tantalizing list of vices that could tempt Christians. So why not give in? Why did they not just gratify their lusts and passions with reckless abandon? Why don’t we do the same in Cape Town today? The answer is: because of God’s love and goodness toward us. Consider how the holy and infinite God of the universe has condescended from his throne of glory and redeemed us at the cost of slaying his Only Begotten Son. Consider how God’s promise of salvation made to the Patriarch Abraham has finally been fulfilled for us in Jesus. Consider how despite the idolatry and exile of OT Israel, God never ultimately abandoned his promise or his people. Consider how despite our sinful waywardness and wickedness, God has never relented in pursuing us in love and mercy.
Our salvation is the reality that we have been delivered out of this world of sin, death and destruction, and become united to God. We are new creatures in Christ. We are indwelt by the power of the Holy Spirit that has come down from heaven. Therefore, our lives are no longer defined by our sinful nature, which belongs to this evil age that is passing away. This is the knowledge that trains us to live godly lives – not fear of judgment; not more positive thinking; not a better self-image… not anything that can be found in us or in this world.
Working in anticipation of grace (v13)
In vv11-12, we see that Paul focuses on how the past appearance of God grace, and its ongoing implications (benefits) for us today, should motivate us to pursue obedient lives. As we continue on in this one long sentence that stretches from v11 to v14, Paul gives further motivation for holy living in v13, which is “our blessed hope” of the future appearance of “the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.”
Now, we wouldn’t need hope if the Christian life were not a difficult one. Think about it, for one there are false teachers we have to deal with. The world oftentimes ridicules us, if not hates us, for our faith. Some of us have jobs that are like a legal form of slavery. Marriages can be difficult. Society is violent. We get sick. We suffer in many ways, while oftentimes our non-Christian neighbor is getting rich and fat. What makes matters worse is that like the Christians in Crete, we too can feel like our lives are like wading through a cesspool of immorality. It is little wonder then that the Scriptures tell us that this world is not our home. The Apostle Peter tells us that we are strangers and exiles here.
It is not easy to live out the Christian life. We can grow weary. It can be tempting at times to just glut ourselves on the illicit pleasures of this life, and forget the consequences; forget our reputation; forget our families; forget the church; forget God. This is why Paul is careful to root the Christian life on the one hand in the appearance of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. God has saved us. We have eternal life… But we don’t enjoy the full reality of our salvation in this life, and hence the tension and difficulty that we so often experience. We groan in anticipation of our final redemption…
This is why Paul brackets both sides of the Christian life with God’s grace. God’s grace has appeared once in Jesus Christ bringing salvation and it will appear again, for a second time, at the end of the age. In other words, we can obey God patiently through the difficulties of this life because we wait expectantly for the final consummation of our salvation in the coming glory of Jesus Christ. By faith, we can turn our backs on the fleeting sinful pleasures of this live and pursue godliness because God promises that in his presence is fullness of joy and in his right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16)!
Working with an understanding of grace: past, present and future (v14)
Beloved of the Lord Jesus, do you see how Paul’s call to godly living here is all of grace? Do you see how Paul is calling us to be holy workers because we have already been graciously worked upon by the Triune God? God the Father has elected us from before the foundations of the world to be his own possession. Just at the right time in history, Jesus Christ paid the penalty for our sin at the cross. Through the mysterious workings of God’s Holy Spirit, we have become united to God the Father through the mediation of the Son. And the Holy Spirit is our guarantee that one day we will, just like Jesus, overcome death and be raised to new life.
The role of the Holy Spirit in this present life is to always witness to the Jesus Christ through the Word of God. This is what the Spirit does in v14, when he declares through Paul that Jesus: “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and purify for himself a people zealous for good works.” Here Paul fills out in more detail the nature of the salvation that God promised ages ago and has now been fulfilled in Jesus. I think Paul’s words here are carefully chosen in light of the Jewish false teachers and their misunderstanding of what it takes to be saved.
Recall that in the OT, God’s people were repeatedly chastised and eventually judged by God for not keeping the laws for purity and separation given in the Mosaic Covenant. No matter how hard they tried, Israel could not become righteous enough to please God. This is why they had to trust God’s promise made to Abraham that he would one day deliver his people from their sin through Messiah. Listen to the prophecy of Ezekiel in Ezekiel 36:22-27, which is an elaboration of God’s unconditional covenant of grace that he made with Abraham (in Genesis 15): “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”
The reason why I quote from this passage in Ezekiel is because, when read in light of Titus 2, it captures magnificently for us the unfolding and fulfillment of God’s gracious work of salvation toward his people, including us today. Brother and sisters, the reason why Paul can exhort the Christians on the island of Crete to live lives of obedience; the reason why Paul can command us to pursue self-controlled and upright lives is because of God’s previous work for us and in us in Jesus Christ. Our redemption teaches to abstain from lawlessness because our sinful nature was crucified with Jesus at the cross. Jesus absorbed the curse for our lawless deeds in his body at Calvary. Our redemption teaches us to pursue purity because we are already pure in Jesus. Our redemption teaches us that we are “zealous for good works” because we are indwelt by the power of the Holy Spirit that produces the fruit of righteousness in us.
Beloved, friends, our salvation is all of grace: both our justification and our sanctification. To deny grace is to deny the gospel and to still be in your sins. Without God’s grace toward us and at work in us, our obedience is a stench in God’s nose. Let us, therefore, heed God’s Word to us this morning. Let us work out God’s grace towards us and in us so that our lives may be trophies of his salvation in this fallen world. For our lives as Christians are a testimony to the world that God’s grace does indeed triumph over sin: even in places like Crete and Cape Town. We testify by our godly living that God’s righteousness does indeed reign and will one day triumph finally over sin, death and hell. It is indeed a grand calling to be God’s servants in this world, to represent the church, profess the gospel and vindicate his holy name. God has saved us for this purpose. Let us therefore obey him zealously out of gratitude, for the honor and glory of his name. Amen.
Simon Jooste, RCSS morning service (January 27, 2013)