In our Wednesday study of Paul’s letter to Titus, we have been struck by the consistent emphasis on the importance of good works, or godliness, in the life of the church. The flow of thought in the letter repeatedly comes back to this theme.
Paul begins by saying that his apostleship was for the purpose of imparting a knowledge of the truth “which accords with godliness” (1:1) The first section of the body of the letter reveals that the elders of the church must be godly men (1:5-9). These godly men are needed to silence and rebuke the ungodly people in the church (1:10-16). Chapter 2 begins with the exhortation, “But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine” (2:1). Paul then prescribes what godliness looks like in the various groups of the church—older men, older women, younger women, younger men, and slaves (2:2-10). In 2:11-15, the apostle explains that the grace of God in Jesus Christ came to save people so that He might purify for himself a people for His own possession, “who are zealous for good works.”
Chapter 3 continues the message with an exhortation to “be ready for every good work” (3:1-3). In 3:8, Paul exhorts Titus to be diligent in teaching these things “so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works.” For good measure, he ends the letter with the echo, “let our people learn to devote themselves to good works” (3:14).
Good works, good works, good works. We get the message—the gospel is commended when those who proclaim it live godly lives. But with all this emphasis on the importance of good works, a vital question arises. How is it that we maintain a zeal for good works without good works becoming the main thing? Or, how is it that we maintain a zeal for good works without beginning to trust in our good works? The answer that Paul gives is the gospel.
Toward the end of the letter, when he has already made a very strong plea for good works, Paul brings us back to the gospel, reminding us of two things. First, it is the work of the gospel in our lives that makes good works possible. After recalling the former state of believers – “we were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures…” – he reminds us that the catalyst for radical change was the appearing of the “goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior” who saved us (3:3-5). It is this truth that enables us to live the kind of godly lives to which we are now called.
Second, Paul reminds us that our salvation was in no way a result of our good works. 3:5 reads, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy… In 3:7 he writes that we were “justified by his grace.” There was nothing in us that moved God to save us. Rather, it was something in Him. I love the passage in Deuteronomy 7 where the Lord reveals this truth to the people of Israel: “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers…” Why did God love and choose us? Because He loves us.
Our standing before God is strictly because of His love for us and the redemption that we have in His Son…not because of works done by us. Works are the result of salvation, not the cause of it.
So, God calls us to be zealous for good works, to love doing good. We are to make every effort to be godly (2 Pet 1:5-7). The way that we are able to keep this pursuit of godliness from leading us to trust in our good works is to keep it squarely in the context of the gospel. God saved us by grace so that we might be zealous for good works so that He might be glorified in us.
Posted by Greg Birdwell