Titus: Evangelistic Ethics (3)

Modern morality is foundationless, floating in mid-air. One philosopher sarcastically summed up its ethical logic as, “Man descended from apes, therefore we must love one another.”[1] The world wants to hold on to the moral values it inherited from Christianity while renouncing their underlying theological foundations. The paragraph beginning in 2:11 is Paul’s way of telling Titus to keep them together: teach (2:1, 15) the ethics (2:1-10) and the theology that undergirds them (2:11-14).

Notice that word “grace.” “For the grace of God has appeared” (2:11, ESV). Notice that first word. In the OT Scriptures, morality is grounded not only in revelation (“thus saith the LORD”) and creation (Gen 1:3, 9:6), but also in redemption (Exo 20:2). The phrase, “the grace of God,” makes clear that Paul is appealing to the latter footing. It is here, at the foundational level, that the false teachers in Crete have it all wrong. It’s because their false teaching is based on Jewish myths and man-made commands, instead of the grace of God (1:10-15), that they are “detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work” (1:16, ESV).

In contrast to the false teachers’ works-based system, the grace of God “appeared,” emphasizing again God’s initiative and action. The verb means to “show oneself, make an appearance,” and the noun epiphaneia, used in verse 13, “refers to a visible and frequent sudden manifestation of a hidden divinity.”[2] Using a culturally relevant term, Paul is saying that the basis for how Christians are to live is the epiphany of God’s grace in the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The greatness of this grace is seen in that it brings “salvation for all people” (2:11, ESV), even for the worst of sinners (1Tim 1:15). It was because of the inclusiveness of God’s grace that Paul faced enormous opposition in his gospel ministry. And so, Paul is quick to point out that this is a grace that not only saves us for eternity, but also trains us in how to live in the present.

GRACE TRAINS US

“The grace of God has appeared … training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (2:11-12, ESV). The grace that saves us is the grace that sanctifies us. On the one hand, it trains us to say “No” to “ungodliness” (a deep disregard for God and the life it produces) and “worldly passions.” On the other hand, grace teaches us to live lives that are holy in regard to self (“self-controlled”), others (“upright”), and God (“godly”).

The gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24) is both the basis of Christian morality (2:11) and the educating power that enables us to live it out (2:12). The word for “self-controlled” in 2:12 is part of a word group that dominates all the other virtues in 2:1-10. There we discovered that part of the motive for living rightly is that it promotes the gospel. The harmonic line of Paul’s letter to Titus is this: beliefs shape behavior and behavior spreads belief; only the gospel can empower the kind of living that in turn adorns the gospel.

This leads to a natural question: how does the gospel empower us? Or, in the language of 2:11-12, how does God’s grace train us to renounce sin and live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives instead? The paragraph reveals at least three ways. In this article we will look at the first.

Grace teaches us that we live in a special time

As already mentioned, the “appearing” word group occurs twice in this paragraph. We can set out the logic of 2:11-13 in the following simplified manner.

The grace of God has appeared, training us to live self-controlled lives in the present age, waiting for the appearing of the glory of our great God.

We live “in the present age” (2:12, ESV) between two appearings. Behind us is the appearing of God’s grace. Before us is the appearing of His glory.[3] Picture a home built between two mountains. Just as life in that home would be affected in every way by the reality of those two mountains, so our life in the present age is to be radically shaped by the appearings of the grace of God and the glory of God that envelop it on either side.

Perhaps we can feel the power these past and future appearings exert on our lives in the present by swapping them out for their secular counterparts. In the secular story, nothingness fills the view in our rearview mirror and the horizon we are destined for. The trajectory of life begins as a mindless accident and terminates in the end of the universe, with nothing but an uphill battle for purpose and meaning in between. Life, in other words, is a tragedy.[4] Does that story train us to live uprightly?

Praise God, reality is far better! Life for the believer is actually a comedy (in the Shakespearean sense of having a happy ending). In our past is the appearing of the grace of God; in our future, the appearing of the glory of God. We look back and see a great mountain of grace: God giving us His only begotten Son. The Son gave “Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession” (2:14, ESV). We look in front of us and see a great mountain of glory: a life of endless joy with the One Who loved us unto blood, in Whom our every longing will be fulfilled. Grace teaches us that we live in a special time indeed.

It is a time marked by “waiting for our blessed hope,” the content of which is “the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (2:13, CSB). The final two words, “Jesus Christ,” stand in apposition to something in the earlier part of the phrase. The question is, to what? There are three options. “Jesus Christ” is to be equated with (1) the word “Savior”; (2) the phrase “our great God and Savior”; or (3) the entire phrase: “the glory of our great God and Savior.” The KJV takes the first view, giving us “the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.” This interpretation can be ruled out by Scripture (nowhere else does the Bible speak of the appearing of two Divine Persons, the Father and the Son), grammar (the Granville Sharp rule applies to this Greek construction to the effect that the two terms “God” and “Savior” refer to one entity, not two), and popular usage (the title “God and Savior” was typically used to refer to one person/deity in the ancient world). The second view is the majority one. But the parallelism with the appearing in verse 11 argues against it (given that the appearing of the grace of God there refers to the Father’s grace, it’s unlikely that the appearing of the glory of God in verse 13 would refer to the glory of the Son), as does the use of the “Savior” title to refer to God the Father on either side of this paragraph (2:10, 3:4). Which leaves the third option: Jesus Christ is the glory of our great God and Savior (Heb 1:3, John 1:14, 12:41, 2Cor 4:4-6).[5] Just as God’s grace appeared in Christ’s incarnation, so one day God’s glory will dawn upon this world at the manifestation of the Lord of Glory.

I remember the period of time between engagement and marriage. Behind me was her “yes” (grace!); ahead of me her “I do” at the wedding (glory). Both events controlled life in between, training me to be self-controlled, preparing a home, waiting with anticipation. It was a special time. It is the same for us as believers. We are waiting for our blessed hope, a Person, our Lord Jesus Christ, the very glory of our great God and Savior. Let us live in the great in-between with discipline and purpose. For the gospel story, the story of reality, ends with a happily-ever-after.

[1] Cited in Timothy Keller, Making Sense of God, 42.

[2] BDAG lexicon.

[3] Some have enjoyed linking Psalms 22, 24, and 23, with the appearing of grace, the appearing of glory, and the intervening present, respectively.

[4] Glen Scrivener in a talk entitled “Is Life a Comedy?”

[5] For the strongest case for this view, see the commentary by Towner, and Gordon Fee, Pauline Christology, 440-448.