This sermon was originally preached in 2016.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeemed from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.
Titus 2:11-15 ESV
As a guide for how to organize Cretan churches, Paul’s letter to Titus is also abundantly applicable to us today. We have already studied chapter one in which Paul presented his vision of leadership within the church. His idea of multiple pastors living above reproach lives was in sharp contrast to the false teachers that surrounded them. In chapter two, Paul brought the discussion to church members as a whole, encouraging them toward intentional discipleship and evangelism.
Thus far in Titus, it is easy to notice how many commands and exhortations Paul gives to us. Good works seem to be emphasized much by the apostle with little time spent on defining sound doctrine. These verses, however, give attention to the reason behind every command and work: the gospel. The opening word “for” ties our present text as being the motivation for living a life of discipleship and evangelism.
The reasoning behind God’s commands is never “just because.” He always has a plan and a purpose (even if we may not see it presently). Paul contends that we share the gospel because the grace of God has appeared with salvation for all people. That God did not leave us condemned in sin is truly good news. That God offers that salvation to everyone is even better. We are not to share the gospel because God commanded it; rather, we must do so because God’s offer of salvation is too great to keep to ourselves.
OUR BLESSED HOPE // VERSES 11-14
The apostle jumps straight to the point of the matter: we share the gospel because gracious salvation has been offered by God to all people. In other words, the very nature of the gospel necessitates that we share it with others. We cannot believe that every human will either receive salvation through Jesus Christ or eternal damnation without desiring to proclaim that message to everyone. As Christians, a failure to sharing the gospel can only mean that we either do not actually believe it or we do not really love others. Those are the only two explanations if we refrain from proclaiming the good news that Jesus saves: lack of belief or lack of love.
It is also crucial that we emphasize the word “all” here. Though not everyone will receive the gospel, its truth is for everyone. There is not a single person on this planet who does not need the good news of Jesus Christ. Therefore, we should be vigilant to declare the truth in love whenever we have the opportunity.
Even in sections of theology like this one, Paul cannot refrain from disclosing a doctrine’s application. Here the emphasis is that the gospel trains us in godliness. In believing the truth of Scripture, we must conform ourselves to the pattern of life that it outlines. This means that we renounce, or reject, ungodliness and worldly passions. Our passions are, instead, upon the things of God. In fact, Peter goes so far as to claim that worldly and fleshly passions “wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11). Thus, the battle over what we desire is exactly that—a battle. Whether for war, athletics, or other things, training is difficult; it’s a fight. It requires discipline and work, and spiritual training is no different. Anyone who has spent any length of time in prayer, fasting, and the study of the Scriptures will readily verify the strenuous nature of the growing in godliness. Fortunately, we can always rely upon the truth that the Jesus’ grace is entirely sufficient (meaning we now work from gratitude, not obligation) and that God is training us (He is our coach).
Or we could say it like this: though we are called to work hard, we can only do so because God worked first in us and continues to work through us. With this in mind, we would do well to remember that spiritual warfare is not merely waged over what we do but also what we want. Our desire must be to live lives that are pleasing to the One who graciously saved us.
Let no one claim that the Bible does not refer to Jesus as God after reading verse 13. It is quite explicit here that Jesus is being called both God and Savior. There can be no hesitation after reading this that Paul did not consider Christ to be divine.
In speaking of the deity of Christ, the apostle claims that we are waiting for Jesus’ glory to appear. He speaks of the Second Advent, or second coming, of Christ. Two thousand years past Jesus came to earth as a suffering servant, the God-man dying for His creations. After all, Jesus declared His purpose as such, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). His next appearing will be quite different. Revelation 19 describes the glory of Christ’s return as He comes from the sky riding a white horse, ready to establish His earthly reign over all the nations. It is that glorious appearing that we wait and long for, and we do so because it is the consummation of our hope. With His return, sin and death will receive their final and definitive defeat, forever to be cast away as we live forever with God.
It also important to remember when discussing Jesus’ second coming that we must wait actively. In Acts 1:9-11, we read about the disciples witnessing the ascension of Christ. While stood gazing at the sky, two men in white robes spoke to them saying, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” This provides a needed message to all Christians: our waiting must not become sky gazing. The anticipation that Jesus’ return is nearing must lead us to work hard for the gospel in the present age. Christ gave to us the Great Commission, our marching orders until He returns or takes us to be with Him in death. We display our wait for Christ by doing the work that He assigned for us to do.
Sin is, at its core, the breaking of God’s law. As humans, we have the privilege of knowing exactly what God expects from us, yet we still broke His commands. Since God’s standard is that we would be perfect, our failure to keep His law means that we are in debt to His justice, an eternal debt that we could not pay off. Fortunately, by the mercy of God, He redeemed us. He “has freed us from our sins by his blood” (Rev. 1:5). Or, going back to the theme of grace, Paul describes our salvations as such: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). The emphasis must be placed upon Jesus’ performance of our salvation. He is one that saved because we could do nothing to save ourselves.
Just as the Old Testament sacrifices were supposed to represent the purifying of Israelites through the blood of animals, we have now been entirely cleansed of our sins by the blood of Christ. We have been bought and purified with His blood, and now we are His possession. We belong to Christ as His servants. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 makes this point clear: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” The only reasonable service that we can offer to God after saving us is to be His servants. 1 Peter 2:9 also presses on this theme saying, “But you are chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness and into his marvelous light.” Notice Peter’s words. We were made into God’s own possession that we may proclaim His excellencies. We were saved and purified for the purpose of telling the world about God’s goodness.
Verse 14 ends by saying that God’s people are zealous for good works. This statement lends much information to the balance between faith and works, yet before we discuss it, let us consider the paradoxical nature of Ephesians 2 and James 2. As we noted earlier, Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us that we are saved by faith, not by works, but then James 2:24 says that “a person is justified by works not by faith alone.” Do these two statements contradict one another? Not at all. In fact, Ephesians 2:10 brings works into the equation as well saying, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Thus, works are necessary to display our faith and as the purpose for which we were saved. Let us be very clear that we are NOT saved by works, yet our good works are the visible evidence of our saving faith in God’s grace.
Paul’s statement here reflects that notion. God wants His people to be zealous for good works. The LORD does not want us to be forced into doing good works. He does not care about obligation but rather passion. In Christ, we are meant to be passionate about doing the works of God. What makes us zealous to do the will of God? The goodness of God and His grace toward us should lead us to serve Him passionately out of gratitude and love for Him. In short, we earn no favor with God by grudgingly obeying Him. He desires the zeal of our hearts or nothing at all.
DECLARE THESE THINGS // VERSES 15
It is worth noting that Paul closes the chapter similar to how he opened it. Though the chapter is primarily about how church members should live and why, it is bookended with exhortations for Titus to teach the Scriptures. Paul’s urge to declare these things obviously refers specifically to everything said in the previous chapter, but it also seems to imply the Scriptures in general. The Bible is the vehicle for the gospel; therefore, it is what we must proclaim.
Paul continues his exhortation by encouraging Titus to exhort and rebuke with all authority. The apostle wanted his disciple to teach and act with authority. Of course, this authority did not come inherently from Titus nor did it come from his relationship with Paul. Instead, Titus’ authority was grounded in the message that he declared. For any Christian, though especially a pastor, the Scriptures are our only definite authority for exhorting and rebuking others. Should we rebuke without a firm reasoning in the Bible for doing so, we are quick to find ourselves being unnecessarily harsh toward our brothers and sisters. However, if our words spring from the Word of God, we should obey Paul by letting no one disregard us. If our authority and proclamation is the Bible, then people are not disregarding us but God Himself.