This sermon was originally preached in 2016.
For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.
Titus 3:3-8 ESV
Paul’s letter to Titus is all about Jesus’ church. The first chapter centered on church leadership, where the apostle addressed pastors, their qualifications, and how to spot false teachers. The second chapter took aim at church members, calling all Christians to make disciples and evangelize the lost. Of course, Paul was quick to remind us that we only share the gospel because we have been saved by the glorious grace of God. We then began the final chapter by discussing Paul’s seven exhortations for living out the gospel in our daily life.
As with chapter two, this penultimate section of our study provides the motivation behind the commands of the previous verses. Even if, under our best effort, we were able to flawlessly obey the exhortations that Paul gave, they would be pointless without the proper inspiration propelling them forward. In other words, good works without a God-loving heart are not godly works.
This is why Paul dives back into the gospel message with these verses. The apostle is entirely aware that our hearts are prone to forget the great grace and mercy that we have received, which can lead us to believe that our works are sufficient for salvation. For this reason, it is important that we remember that God saved us, “not because words done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy.”
REMEMBER YOUR PAST // VERSE 3
As with verse 11 of chapter two, the word “for” here indicates that this section is the reason and motivation behind the exhortations given in verses one and two. The only way for us to sincerely treat others with gentleness and kindness is by first remembering who we were before Christ saved us. The string of descriptions is quite powerful. Before Christ, we were foolish, disobedient, and led astray. We would do well to remember that non-Christians are deceived by other gods (even if that god is themselves); they are led astray from the truth just as we once were.
Paul then emphasizes the slavery of sin. Most secularists today believe true happiness can only be found in chasing our personal passions and pleasures; however, the Bible is clear that these things will destroy us. In fact, Peter goes so far as to say that the passions of our flesh wage war against our souls (1 Pet. 2:11).
Malice, hatred, and envy go hand in hand. They lead into one another, feeding and making the others stronger. The cycle typically begins with envy. Covetousness is the great enemy of joy because joy has its root in contentment, while envy is anti-satisfaction. As we envy others, our joy diminishes, and our hatred and malice toward others begins to crescendo. Not surprisingly, the Bible’s two books about joy, Ecclesiastes and Philippians, also have much to say about contentment. Ecclesiastes 5:18-20 tells us: “Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.” Similarly, Paul wrote to the Philippians about his contentment, saying, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:11-13). In Christ, we leave behind all envy, malice, and hatred for others because we have found true joy and contentment in Him who loved us and gave Himself for us.
REMEMBER YOUR SALVATION // VERSES 4-7
What a glorious contrast to our former days of malice and hatred that God appeared to us with goodness and loving-kindness! Notice that God is full of kindness toward us, and because of that, He is the source of our meekness and gentleness toward others. We simply wish to treat others as God treated us. Philippians 2:3-5 says it like this: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” God was graciously selfless with us, and we are to live likewise with others.
How marvelous is the truth that God saved us! We are far too prone to forget the great grace that we have receive from the Father in being made His children. Paul’s wording here certainly emphasizes the grace in the equation: “not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy.” Even in the midst of his exhortations toward good works, Paul is quick to remind us that those things do not save us. God saved us out of His own mercy, and we did nothing to earn or deserve it. Paul explained this same thought to the Romans: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by this grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins” (3:23-25). Thus, we could not have been saved by works of righteousness because we were incapable of righteousness. God alone is truly righteous, and in great grace, He justified us with the blood of Christ.
Though Paul uses baptismal language with “by the washing of regeneration”, he is likely not referring specifically to baptism itself. Baptism is a step of obedience after salvation, not a means of being saved. Even so, baptism is the most beautiful symbol of God’s grace toward us. By going under the water and raising up, we are reminded that God regenerated our bodies and will regenerate them entirely upon His return. In Christ, we have become new creations. Our previous selves are dead, and we have new life in Christ. Baptism is the greatest symbol of this truth, which is why I believe that Paul is alluding to it. However, Paul’s follow-up of “renewal of the Holy Spirit” emphasizes the actual act of salvation. It is the trifold act of the Godhead that saves us. The Father elects us, Jesus redeems us, and the Holy Spirit dwells in us, making us new.
The indwelling Holy Spirit is too often forgotten by many Christians. Particularly in non-Charismatic denominations, there seems to be a fear of becoming Charismatic should we speak on the Holy Spirit too frequently. Yet notice that Paul sees the Holy Spirit as a rich blessing that has been poured out upon us in Christ. In his book, God’s Indwelling Presence, James Hamilton discusses the uniqueness of the indwelling Holy Spirit to the New Testament and beyond: “In the old covenant God faithfully remained with His people, accompanying them in a pillar of fire and cloud, then dwelling among them in the tabernacle and the temple. Under the new covenant, the only temple is the believing community itself, and God dwells not only among the community corporately (Matt 18: 20; 1 Cor 3: 16; 2 Cor 6: 16), but also in each member individually (John 14: 17; Rom 8: 9– 11; 1 Cor 6: 19)” (Kindle loc: 166). He argues that the Old Testament saints were regenerated by the Holy Spirit (symbolized through circumcision and metaphorically referred to as circumcision of the heart), while New Testament saints have both regeneration (symbolized through baptism and metaphorically referred to as new birth and new life) and the indwelling Holy Spirit. The privilege of having the Spirit in us, not simply with us, is also evidenced by Paul’s statement that we are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). This continually presence of God is how Christ’s promise to be with us until the end entirely fulfilled (Matt. 28:20), and it is our taste of eternal life in the present (Eph. 1:13-14). With God dwelling in us, we are rich indeed!
Paul closes these verses by turning his attention to our future hope. But first he summarizes the theology presented so far as such: “so that being justified by his grace.” If redemption is a financial term for our salvation, justification is a legal term. It means that our sins have legally been paid in full. Justification implies that justice must be served, which is how Jesus’ death satisfied God’s wrath on our behalf.
Yet Paul does not stop at our justification before God, he proceeds to the effect of it: “we might become heirs according the hope of eternal life.” Once more, we remember that hope is predicated upon our faith in God’s future actions. Biblically, hope is unlike our modern idea of it. For us, hope might very well be synonymous with a wish; it is anything but certain. For Paul, hope was entirely certain; it was a thing to watch and wait for, knowing that’s coming was set in stone. With this in mind, Paul claims that we have been justified so that we might have hope of eternal life. Paul describes us being heirs to this hope in Ephesians 1:13-14: “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” This inheritance is our eternal presence with God. The conquering promises of Revelation’s seven churches give an excellent idea of this hope. For instance, to the church of Laodicea, Jesus promised: “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Rev. 3:21). In short, our inheritance is that we get to be alongside Jesus for eternity!
REMEMBER YOUR MISSION // VERSE 8
After presenting the gospel message, Paul turns his focus back to Titus. He urges his disciple to insist on these things. This ought to be Titus primary message to the Cretans and everyone. But why should we insist upon the gospel? Paul gives three reasons. First, it is trustworthy. Second, it is excellent, meaning beautiful, eminent, or admirable. Third, it is profitable. We must never forget that the gospel is beneficial for us. It is not a burden too great to bear, but a yoke that is light (Matt. 11:30).
Again Paul cannot elucidate theology without reminding us of its purpose: “that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works.” We must be ready for good works and be careful to do them. Liefeld writes about this thought: “In passage after passage sound doctrine must be accompanied by a godly life… In Titus doing good is related to the display of a changed life over against the character of opponents of the gospel” (Kindle loc. 7992 & 8026). If we are transformed by God’s love for us, we should long to live out that love to others. “It is fine to work at church, sing in the choir, and hold an office; but it is also good to serve our unsaved neighbors, to be helpful in the community, and to have a reputation for assisting those in need. Babysitting to relieve a harassed young mother is just as much a spiritual work as passing out a gospel tract. The best way a local church has to witness to the lost is through the sacrificial service of its members” (Wiersbe, Kindle loc. 1893).