There is a great temptation to come to the Word of God and view it as a mere rule book for the Christian life. After all, it contains a plethora of commands and instructions for the people of God. We can easily find ourselves focusing on all of the things we can do and immediately apply to our lives. Meanwhile, beautiful, gospel-saturated passages of Scripture quickly become small blips on our spiritual radar as we hastily grasp for more ways we can practically live a more “Christ-like” life. The futility of this type of Bible study is that it tempts us to view the pursuit of holiness as a work we must accomplish on our own rather than a natural fruit of the salvation provided to us by Jesus.
The book of Titus is a prime example. Here in this tiny little letter we have some of the sweetest descriptions of our salvation and sanctification in all of the Bible, and yet, they are often overlooked in favor of the more tangible and “applicable” commands found throughout the letter. We can easily become weighed down by the lofty demands for holiness it makes on our lives and neglect the life-giving gospel truths it claims make holiness possible.
But not today. Today, you and I are going to begin our exploration of one of the most beautiful passages of all of scripture (if you could truly say such a thing) and see how it impacts our ability to obey the lists of commands surrounding it!
These lists literally fill Paul’s letter to Titus–lists that set extremely high standards for the people of God. The young Titus is called to exhort the churches of Crete (the island where he is ministering) to hold fast to sound doctrine and to live in a distinctly Christian manner. Their lives are to be set apart from their surrounding culture: they are to be godly, pure, and above reproach. It is important that they do so, because their lives are to be a reflection of Christ to the unbelieving world around them. Their conduct within society can either help the spread of the gospel or hinder it.
We women find a very useful–and at the same time daunting–explanation of how we are to behave within our families and society for the glory of God (2:3-5). It is daunting because we are by nature sinful, self-centered, and self-worshiping creatures. Virtues like self-control, temperance, kindness, and love do not come naturally to us and yet Paul says that we are to cultivate these characteristics in our lives so that the word of God may not be reviled!
How is it possible that we who were once enemies of God can now bring glory to the gospel of Jesus Christ? How is it that we who were once dead in our trespasses and sins can now honor the Lord through our way of living? How can we hope to act any differently than the women of the world around us? How can we deny our natural, sinful flesh and keep from slandering, being enslaved to alcohol, and instead live lives of reverence, kindness, self-control and love, diligently working and submitting to our husbands as Titus 2:3-5 commands us?
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people…” (Titus 2:11)
Paul triumphantly exclaims that just as the sun rising over the horizon floods the previously black sky with brilliant rays of light, so the grace of God–in the life, death and resurrection of Christ–has appeared to our lost and perishing world! The promise first given to Adam and Eve after they rebelled against their Creator–the promise of a Savior who would rescue their race from the control and penalty of sin–has come and given salvation to all who will accept it.
Salvation has come to us.
Our God stepped down into time and into our world. He become a man and was tempted as we are and yet did not sin. He lived a perfect life, full of the virtues we so desperately desire. He willingly gave himself up to be crucified and there, on the cross was judged by God the Father for the sins of every man who would ever call upon his name for salvation. After paying the penalty for our sins, he was raised from the grave, conquering death and securing eternal life for all of the elect.
This is the grace of God that appeared and changed everything for us.
“Yes! Praise God!” I can hear you saying, “But how does this wonderful gospel impact the way I read Titus 2:3-5? How does it impact how I apply all of the other weighty commands found in scripture?”
To answer these questions we must seek to understand and remember the two primary ways in which we have been saved by Christ: we have been saved from the penalty of our sins and the reign of sin.
He Saved Us from the Penalty of Sin
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13 & 13 ESV)
Let us not forget, You and I were deserving of eternal condemnation for our sins. We stood as guilty, vile offenders in the cosmic courtroom of God. We failed to live according to his standard and most certainly failed to keep the commands found in Titus 2. We did not love as we ought, we did not submit to our husbands as we ought, we did not live self-controlled lives, and yet because of Christ, we will never receive the punishment our sins deserve. None of the ways we failed to live up to the image of a perfect Titus 2 woman will be counted against us because they were counted against Jesus on the cross. He paid the penalty for our sins so that we never will.
Now, we understand that this is true of our past before we repented and believed, but what about our present? What about all the times we will fail to meet these requirements in the future? We still struggle to keep these commands and often fail to live as we ought to, but dear sisters, we need not live in fear that God will ever look upon us in disapproval or anger ever again. When he looks at us, he does not see our failures, but instead, he sees our Savior. He sees Christ–the holy, perfect, virtuous Christ.
Because we need not fear his wrath or disappointment, we are free to pursue the virtues listed in Titus 2 without despairing each time we fail. His grace has appeared and covers each of our transgressions: yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Our Heavenly Father continually looks upon us in love because of what Christ has done.
He Saved Us from the Reign of Sin
For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:18-23 ESV)
Let us also not forget that before coming to Christ there was no way for us to please God in our efforts to obey him. Seeking to cultivate virtues like kindness and purity was futile because our souls were enslaved to sin and bent toward rebellion. Even our most concerted efforts toward godliness were marred by self-worship and self-interest. It was only until we received the grace of God that we could walk in newness of life and joyfully pursue righteousness. It is only because of this grace that appeared that we can now pursue the qualities found in Titus 2:3-5. We must remember what we have been saved for.
When Christ paid the penalty for our sins, he didn’t just forgive us, he freed us. Like prisoners we were once chained to sin, but now Jesus has broken those chains and eternally connected us to himself. Through him, we have gained the ability to pursue righteousness and live in a manner that pleases our Heavenly Father. The word of God tells us that the fruit of our salvation is our sanctification. This means that though we were once slaves to our fleshly, sinful natures, we are now at war with them. What’s more, the promise of God is that we will be victorious in this war through the grace of God!
This marvelous truth encourages and strengthens our souls as we read through a weighty list of virtues like those contained in Titus 2:3-5 because we know that our fight against the flesh is not futile. Though the battles are hard and we often find ourselves giving in to temptation, there is a way of obedience made possible through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. We can seek to be pure, we can seek to be kind because our Savior has made a way for us to do so.
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all…”
And so we find in this one little statement a breadth of truth that our souls desperately need to be reminded of. We have been (and continue to be) forgiven for our sins and we have been saved from the reign of sin in our lives through our God and Savior Jesus Christ.
We can shine like lights in the darkness of our world, pursuing righteousness and displaying the character of Christ, because his marvelous grace has shone into our souls, defeating the darkness and bringing what was once dead to life again.