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GOOD WORKS IN TITUS


One reason that many people shy away from a robust understanding of God’s grace is fear that emphasizing grace will encourage people to sin and to be lax about their service to God. Nothing could be further from the truth. Actually, a healthy and robust appreciation of grace encourages faithful, loving service to God; it does not discourage it at all. In fact, it is more effective in getting people excited about kingdom work than looking at the gospel as a New Law and God’s grace as a “gap-filler” between God’s requirements and our performance.

It should not surprise us that people are suspicious of grace. After all, it seems too good to be true – and always has. Paul wrote in Romans 5:20-21 that

The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

His very next words were:

What shall we say then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! – Romans 6:1-2a

Earlier in that epistle he had written,

But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing His wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.) Certainly not! If that were so, how could God judge the world? Someone might argue, “If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases His glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?” Why not say – as we are being slanderously reported as saying and as some claim that we say – “Let us do evil that good may result”? Their condemnation is deserved. – Romans 3:5-8

When the apostle preached God’s grace, some thought he was encouraging men to sin to magnify grace or to bring greater glory to God by giving Him more sin to forgive!

The same thing happens today when men preach the gospel of God’s grace.

A wonderful antidote to this is the little book of Titus.

The first verse of this book speaks of “the truth that leads to godliness.” One of the problems facing Titus in Crete was  “rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group” (1:10) who “must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach” (1:11).

Paul does not specify exactly what these rebellious people were teaching, but it obviously was not the truth that leads to godliness. We can make a good guess as to what they were teaching because Paul identified them as being “of the circumcision group.”

It was Paul’s refusal to permit Titus himself to be circumcised that led to the Jerusalem Conference (Galatians 2:1-5; Acts 15:5). Circumcision itself was not the issue. The issue was whether or not to require something in addition to the gospel of Christ for salvation. Paul came down hard on the side of the sufficiency of the gospel – that is the death and resurrection of Jesus – for salvation. In this, the Jerusalem apostles and the church there supported him.

Yet, the “circumcision group” who were of “the party of the Pharisees” were relentless in their attack on Paul and the churches he established. If they had their way, the Way of Christ would be nothing more than another sect of the Jews; any Gentiles who obeyed the gospel would also have to be proselyted into the Jewish faith as well. Christ alone was not enough.

In Crete, Paul said they must be silenced. They must instead be “sound in the faith and… pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the commands of those who reject the truth” (1:13-14). Paul’s conclusion about them was:

They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny Him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good. – Titus 1:16.

This doctrine had an appearance of wisdom. Those teaching it had a false humility, which seemed to give credence to their claims (cf. Colossians 2:20-23). So, how did Paul counter it? The second and third chapters of Titus do not directly address the divisive group until you get to 3:9-11. Until that point, Paul gave a pure exposition of the power of the grace of God to change lives.

You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine. – 2:1

This is obviously the same as “the truth that leads to godliness” in 1:1. It is counter to the teaching that led to the Cretans being unsound in faith (1:13). What kind of teaching does Paul enjoin?

Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance. – 2:2

Paul, why should Titus teach this?

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. – 2:11

Paul continued:

Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God. – 2:3-5

Paul, why should we teach things such as this?

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. – 2:11

What about the young men, Paul? Do you have anything special to say to them?

Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech than cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us. – 2:6-8

What makes this so important, Paul?

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. – 2:11

Is there anything else?

Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive. – 2:9-10

Even slaves? Why them?

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. – 2:11

In all of this ethical teaching, Paul’s appeal is to the grace of God – not to “commandments.” Grace is more powerful than Law in leading to godliness. This becomes apparent as he continues:

It [i.e., the grace of God] teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good.

These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you. – 2:12-15

Note the following:

  • Grace teaches us, both to reject ungodly behavior and to adopt self-controlled, upright, godly lives now.
  • Grace sustains us while we wait for the Lord’s return.
  • Christ’s gift of Himself purifies a people for Himself who are eager to do what is good.

All of these have to do with the ethics of Christian living. This thought continues in the final chapter as Paul urges Titus to teach how to live in society – as citizens and as neighbors “ready to do whatever is good” (3:1-2).

At this point he looks back at our common past – as foolish, disobedient, deceived slaves of passion who lived in malice, envy, and hatred (3:3).

What changed things for Paul – and for us?

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. – 3:4-7

It was the goodness and grace of God that changed us. That is why Paul insisted that Titus teach these things.

And I want you to stress these things [see this earlier post on this text – JS], so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone. – 3:8

While teaching about God’s grace and the godliness to which it leads is profitable, there is another type of teaching that  is not profitable:

But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. – 3:9-11

Given the context of the problem in Crete that came from “the circumcision group” and the warning here about avoiding arguments and quarrels about the law, we can (I believe) safely surmise that the heretic (“divisive person” – NIV) here would be those members of the circumcision group who refused Paul’s message of grace. Avoid such people if they will not listen to warnings that come through the gospel of grace. Such people are self-condemned.

It is worth noting that when Paul spoke of law in this last passage, he does not include the article “the.” That is supplied by the translators. Hence, he is not speaking specifically here about THE Law of Moses – but about law in general. Is it not a fact that most of the divisions in the churches of Christ over the past 125 years have come about because of someone demanding others to recognize a law that most frequently is not clearly stated in Scripture but is instead inferred? Those who insist on “lawyering” the Scriptures are the people Paul speaks of in this text. The Greek word he uses is heretic; its English equivalent is divisive person.

The final reference to good works in this book is in 3:14.

Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives.

While this could refer to a productive job that earns income, given the context I am convinced it refers, rather, to the good works and godliness Paul has been speaking about from chapter 1, verse 1. Those with unproductive lives would be those who insist on making the good news of God’s grace into a new law that binds and restricts God’s people by something other than the love of God and neighbor.

SEE ALSO: The Two Covenants and The Indicative Imperative

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