The text before us this morning is one of those “programmatic” statements that we find from time to time in the Bible. That is, it sums up in a few words the great message of the Bible. Holy Scripture, after all, has a great deal to say about God, man, and salvation. There are many, many trees in this wood! But every now and then we have a text that puts it all in a few words. Such programmatic texts don’t describe salvation the same way necessarily – for it is too great a reality to be summarized adequately in a few words – rather we have summaries here and there that, taken together, give us the broad picture. We depend upon those summations more than we know. For example,
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
“For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Statements like these, in other words, tie things together. They help us see how one thing is related to another: Christ’s death to our faith, God’s grace to our daily living, and so on. Well we have another such statement before us this morning in these magnificent verses at the end of Titus 2. Titus has much of real importance to teach us, but I can assure you that through the centuries is has been these 4 verses – 2:11-14 – that are the reason Christian people, ministers and laymen alike, have most often turned to this little book.
The “for” with which this section begins connects it with what has just been said. The ethical life Paul has just described is rooted in and comes from the grace of God in Christ. The previous section ended with a reference to “God our Savior” and this new section elaborates that teaching about God our Savior as the basis for the kind of life we have just been summoned to live. “The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared…” In that short phrase we have both the incarnation – God the Son coming into the world as a man – and the atonement – his suffering and death to take away our sin. “Has appeared…” Christianity is the proclamation of events in history, the manifestation of the Son of God in time and space! We are not speaking first about ideas but about who Jesus is and what Jesus did.
All of this Paul describes as “grace,” perhaps the key word of his theology. It is God’s grace that saves us, instructs us, and enables us to live according to God’s will. What Christ did for us, what has happened in us as a result, all of this is God’s unmerited and unmeritable love and favor. It is all a gift. And not to us only.
The “to all men” can be read in two ways: the grace has appeared to all men or the grace brings salvation to all men. The facts of history, the grammar and the immediate context all favor the last reading, rather than the reading that appears in our NIV. Christ’s salvation comes to all men. In the context, “all men” refers to the various kinds of human beings who have been considered in the previous verses: young and old, rich and poor, male and female, slave and free. Christ’s salvation has come to them all so all of them may be summoned to live a godly life.
God’s grace educates us in the art of living well. [Guthrie, 198] Self-controlled, upright, and godly lives are what he has just described in vv.1-10. “Self-controlled,” for example, occurs three times in vv. 1-10 and so connects the thought of this section to that of the previous one. When God gives his grace to us, in other words, he has in view the transformation of our lives. Some have suggested that “self-controlled, upright, and godly” as a summary of Christian righteousness express what a Christian’s behavior ought to be toward himself, his neighbor, and God.
V. 12 ended with a reference to “this present age,” but the Christian is interested in more than the present. We put on godliness in this world because we are waiting for the next, for the return of our Savior, and our repudiation of the desires of this present world will find its vindication in the next. There has been one appearing of Christ – the incarnation – there will be a second in due time. We live, theologians say, in the interadventual period, that is between the advents or comings of Jesus Christ.
An enormous amount of ink has been spilt on the interpretation of the last half of verse 13 and, especially, the phrase “our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Is it a reference to two persons (God the Father and Christ the Son) or just to Christ himself? If the latter, this is to be numbered among the several places in the New Testament where there is an explicit identification of Jesus with God. Both the grammar and the use of “appearing” favor the “one person” interpretation. It is Christ, God the Son, whose appearance we are waiting for. We are never said to be waiting for the appearance of God the Father. The word used here – the origin of our word epiphany is always used of Christ in the New Testament and only of Christ. That interpretation is also strongly suggested by the “who gave himself for us” that follows, certainly a reference to Christ only.
“Who gave himself for us…” a characteristically Pauline way of describing the nature and effect of Christ’s death for our sin. Also typical is the “for us,” that is “for us who believe in and follow Jesus.”
There are several different ways in which the work of Christ is represented to us in the Bible. It was propitiation, that is, it turned away God’s holy wrath which was against us on account of our sin; it was reconciliation, it made peace with God who was separated from us on account of our sin; and it was redemption, it delivered us from bondage to sin, death, and the Devil by the payment of a ransom, the ransom being Christ himself. Jesus, remember, said that he had come to give his life a ransom for many. That is the thought here. And once again, the deliverance was achieved in order to accomplish a positive purpose, the transformation of our lives by bringing us into intimate communion with himself. We are a people and we have been redeemed to live as a people who are in a special sense God’s people. Our relationship to him should define our lives!
“A people for his very own,” is language used of Israel in the OT and with the same concern for holiness of life.
This command both to teach and to rebuke occurs frequently in Paul’s pastoral letters. And this work is to be done with all authority. That is, they are to speak as representatives of God himself. Paul applies to Titus here a term, “authority,” that he usually uses with reference to God Himself! The saintly Bishop Beveridge says about Paul’s remark concerning a Christian minister’s authority: “I verily believe that the non-observance of this hath been, and still is, the principal reason why people receive so little benefit by hearing sermons as they usually do. For they look upon sermons only as popular discourses, rehearsed by one of their fellow-creatures, which they may censure, approve, or reject, as themselves seem good.” [In Bernard, 174] How much more must that be true in individualistic America when we have allowed the principle of private judgment to become a first principle of Christian living. More biblical by far is The Second Helvetic Confession of 1566: “The preaching of the Word is the Word of God.”
As I said as we began, we have here a programmatic summary of the Bible’s message, doctrine, or teaching. We have, in a short compass, a history of redemption here: the incarnation, death, by implication the resurrection, and the coming again of Jesus Christ the Son of God. And we have, based upon that gracious work, the profile of the life every Christian is to live while in this world. We are given an account of its origin, its principle, and its power.
It is that life that is the central theme of these few verses, following on vv. 1-10 as they do. They summarize that life that Paul has just described, they root it in God’s grace and Christ’s work, and they locate it in time. This is the life that a Christian lives from the time he becomes a Christian to the time he is taken from this world, either by death or, in the case of some favored generation of believers, by the Second Coming. It is a life of faith, or, as Paul puts it here, of hope, a strong word in the New Testament. The Christian’s hope is the certainty of things not seen, things that are still to come but are sure to come. A great grace, a great God and Savior, a great redemption, a great future and a great calling meantime are all to lead every Christian to be a zealot for good works.
Characteristic of Paul’s teaching of the Christian life in his letters, the Christian life is described here in a double way. It is described both negatively and positively. Think, for example, of Colossians 3:5-10 where Christians are exhorted to “put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature…” – the negative – and then “put on the new self” and “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, and so on” – the positive. Everywhere we have this double action: mortification and vivification; putting to death and bringing to life.
And we have that same double action here. We have it in v. 12. We are called to say “No!” to ungodliness and worldly passions and, and this is the sense of the context, to say “Yes!”to self-control and godliness. We have it again in v. 14. Christ redeemed us both to deliver us from all wickedness and to purify us for himself, to make us eager to do what is good. And we have it still again in v. 15 where Titus is commanded both to rebuke – to clear away the bad – and to encourage – to strengthen what is good. It is not enough to take the bad parts out of a non-functioning car. The new parts must be installed and then adjusted and then put to work. It is not enough for a student to stop being lazy and to quit watching so much TV. He must now acquire the habits of hard work, of attention to his studies, and, of enjoying the intellectual progress that he begins to make.
All right thinking about living the Christian life will embrace this double motion, this action in opposite directions: to put sin to death in our hearts and lives and to bring more and more to expression the new nature that the Holy Spirit, as the gift of Christ, has created in us. As Paul makes a point of saying and then saying again in these few verses, both the deliverance from sin and the putting on of the new man are the gifts of God’s grace and the fruits of Christ’s redemption.
Robert Murray McCheyne once posed the question: “Is Christ more to be loved for justification or for sanctification?” We might well think that a man such as McCheyne, a man who was Christ’s imputed righteousness to the backbone (as he himself once described a minister friend), would say that Christ was more to be loved for justification. But, no; he said that Christ was most to be loved for sanctification, for this is the true end and goal of Christ’s redeeming work. You will notice here that Paul slides right over the forgiveness of our sins. Certainly it is fair to say that forgiveness is assumed here, but what Paul very clearly says is that Christ died to make us holy, to make us a people that are his peculiar possession, a fact made manifest by our zeal to do good works, to do his works while we are in the world.
Well, if sanctification, the renewal and transformation of our lives in godliness, is the better half of salvation, it is certainly the more difficult half of salvation. For every ten Christians who gladly receive forgiveness of their sins, there are many fewer who as gladly devote themselves zealously to saying “No” and saying “Yes” as Paul says here we are to do. Samuel Rutherford wrote in a letter to a friend,
“Sanctification and mortification of lusts are the hardest part of Christianity…. How many of us would have Christ divided into two halves, that we might take the half of him only. We take his office, Jesus and salvation: but “Lord” is a cumbersome word; and to obey, and work out our own salvation, and to perfect holiness, is the cumbersome and stormy north side of Christ; and that we eschew and shift.” [Letters, ccxxxiv]
Or, listen to this from Alexander Whyte. This is his homely reflection on Captain Self-denial in Bunyan’s Holy War, who is put in charge of guarding two of Mansoul’s five gates: the ear-gate and the eye-gate.
“Young Captain Self-denial was a perfect hero at saying No! and at saying No! to himself. It is a proverb that there is nothing so difficult as to say that monosyllable. And the proverb is Scripture truth if you try to say No! to yourself. It takes the very stoutest of hearts, the most noble, the most manly, the most soldierly, and the most saintly of hearts to say No! to itself, and to keep on saying No! to itself to the bitter end of every trial and temptation and opportunity.” [Bunyan Characters, iii, 166-167]
Truer words were never spoken. I read on the plane last week a biography of William Gladstone, the politician and four times prime minister of Victorian Britain. Gladstone was a devout Christian, the product of a Scottish Presbyterian home who became over time a high church Anglican. He was a man who thought deeply about his faith and lived it with seriousness and devotion. As part of a small group of devout laymen, Gladstone dedicated himself to a life of private worship and devotion and of Christian charity. In Gladstone’s case, he became involved in a ministry to the destitute in central London’s Soho district. Included among those Gladstone and others sought to befriend, rescue, and rehabilitate were prostitutes. Some of these young women were attractive and posed a considerable temptation to the young politician. Fully aware of the temptation Gladstone would, from time to time, scourge his back. Whipping himself was, he thought, a way to subdue his flesh, to gain mastery over his desires; to learn to say no. [Bebbington, William Ewart Gladstone, 67] Even the powerful political leader, the sophisticated man of parts, the devout believer, had difficulty saying “No!” Even he felt that extravagant steps such as those were necessary in order to enable him to say No! all the way to the end of his temptations.
We cannot read these five verses, no serious, no devout Christian can read these verses without immediately thinking about how poorly he or she says “No!” to ungodliness and worldly passions. But it isn’t just saying “No!” Hard as that is, it is not enough. It is not enough to say No! One must also say Yes! One must work into his life the positive behavior to which Christians are called. We must perform our duties faithfully; we must love others intentionally and practically and usefully; we must not only deny the vice, we must embrace the virtue.
A famous sermon preached by Thomas Chalmers, the early 19th century Scottish preacher – interestingly, a man who wielded a significant influence over Gladstone through his writings – was entitled “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” Chalmers’ point in that sermon was that love for Christ and a desire to serve him are not only right in themselves, but they serve to drive out what is wrong in us. True Christian love expels the worldly desires, and the sins of the flesh.
There are many experts in the life of faith who will tell you that of the two parts of the action of the Christian life – the negative and the positive, the saying no and the saying yes – it is the positive, the saying yes, that is most important and for this very reason. It is not only half of the life we are called to live – the putting on of holiness and love and purity – it powerfully assists with the other half. As one puts on virtue, one crowds vice and sinful desires out of the heart. The best way for a selfish man to kill his selfishness, to say No! to his habitual concern for himself first and foremost, is to learn to be generous and to fall in love with generosity as he practices it and as the Lord blesses him for it. He must say No! to himself, but it will be the saying Yes! to Christ and his love, it will be replacing his selfishness with Christ’s selfless love for others, that will kill his selfishness dead and keep it dead. And the way to put on that virtue, the way to build it into one’s life, the way to make it more and more a part of who you are is simply to practice it. Do it. Plan to do it and do it. Think about how you can and will do it and do it. Think of the good works that Christ would be pleased to see you do and do them!
But can we? Will we succeed? We’ve tried and failed before. But take notice. Paul’s point here is to remind us that this saying No! and saying Yes! is not first our doing, but Christ’s. There is a reality here to be claimed by all of us. He gave himself to redeem us from wickedness and to purify us to be zealous for good works. And that perfect redemption is complete, finished, entire. There is nothing lacking in the cross or the empty tomb. That redemption has power to achieve in us what Christ intended!
Christ’s giving himself for us means that we can say No! and that we can say Yes! To be sure,we must be taught, encouraged, exhorted, even rebuked. That is what Paul is doing here. If godliness were the automatic and effortless result of Christ’s atoning work, there wouldn’t be all of this exhortation, encouragement, warning, and instruction. But what is perfectly obvious here is that Paul expects not only that we will heed his word but that, heeding it, we will say No! and say Yes! He is not asking us to do anything in our own strength. He is asking us to put into practice what Christ has done for us and given to us. He is asking us, as the older writers used to say, to possess our possessions.
Can an adult become a child again? Of course not. But can an adult act like a child? Most certainly. We have seen adults acting childishly many times. But when an adult acts like a child we very naturally, very sensibly tell him to grow up, to act his age in other words; to act like the adult that he is. Well that is something of what Paul is saying here. You are redeemed from sin and death. You are a new creature in Christ. You have the new creation within you. Now, act like it. Titus, tell them to act like it. Don’t let them get away with not acting like it. They can do it because Christ has done it for them and given both the No and the Yes to them in his cross and in his resurrection.
One thing I can promise you. The Lord will not fail to help his children who, for his sake and in the expectation of his help, seek intentionally and practically to be “zealous for good works.”
John Wesley, in a letter to his niece, Patty Ellison, written in 1777, said,
“Only go on as you have begun. Labor to be not almost but altogether a Christian: and not only an outside but an inside Christian; the same in heart and life. Then you will realize more and more blessings from Him that watches over you for good and observes the faintest motions of your heart towards him, and is ready to bring every good desire to good effect.”
That is the point. Say your No’s and your Yes’s today and every day. Deny yourself what is wrong, what is unworthy of Christ in your heart and life and demand of yourself the performance of that thought, speech and behavior that is pleasing to the Lord. Think about your life. Determine that each day you will be a zealot for good works. And then look back to Good Friday and Easter and look forward to the coming again of the Son of God. Remember what has already been done for you and given to you and in the strength of that live for him. I promise you; in Jesus’ name I promise you, days spent doing that will be the best days you live in this world and the days you will be happiest to recollect after the great day dawns, the glorious appearing of God our Savior, Jesus Christ.