Titus: Living at Large (9)

Grace is a vapid concept to our world, hardly the kind of stuff that could save your life. Contrast that with John Newton who, in his best-known hymn, attributes grace with power enough to save a wretch, give sight to the blind, and relieve the soul of white-knuckle fear. Grace is as indispensable to him after salvation as at the moment of salvation: “’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.” Finally, grace is something that is said to “appear,” and to teach: “’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear.”

Newton’s understanding of grace is, in other words, thoroughly Biblical. In our last article, we saw how the Bible grounds our ethical living in the appearing of the grace of God (2:11). And that God’s grace not only appeared in the past, but it educates and enables us in the present, “training us to … live self-controlled … lives in the present age” (2:12, ESV). Grace to Newton and Paul is not a religious concept but a life-changing reality.

In this article we will continue to answer the question: How does grace train us to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives? Laying out the bare bones of verse 14 shows us two further answers. “Who gave Himself for us in order to (1) redeem us from all lawlessness, and (2) to purify for himself a people … zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14, ESV).

This verse contains notes that have already been sounded in the earlier part of the paragraph. “Gave Himself” expands verse 11: “the grace of God has appeared,” while the twofold purpose statement recalls the negative/positive pair in verse 12. The negative aspect is that grace trains us “to renounce” sin (2:12). Christ gave Himself “to redeem us from all lawlessness” (2:14, ESV).

The positive aspect is that grace trains us “to live self-controlled … godly lives” (2:12, ESV).  Christ gave Himself “to purify for Himself a people … who are zealous for good works” (2:14, ESV).

Grace Teaches Us We Are Bought With A Special Price

What could be more life transforming than self-sacrificing love? “Who gave Himself for us.” Such words are too simple to need explanation, but too precious to resist. “Gave,” a word the NT uses repeatedly to describe what God willingly does for us, not what He demands we do for Him. Gave what? The soul-thrilling answers come straight from our Beloved’s lips: “I give you My body, My life, and My flesh” (Luke 22:19, Mark 10:45, John 10:15, 6:51), and in our present verse, “My Self” (see also 1Tim 2:6, Gal 1:4, 2:20, Eph 5:2, 25). There is no danger of prizing the gift over the giver. The Gift is the Giver. Long before the human self-esteem movement was the divine self-giving moment at the cross.

If Christ is the Giver as well as the Gift given, for whom does He give Himself? “For us.” The preposition means “in behalf of, for the sake of.” Calvary proves our Lord’s devotion not only to His Father, but also to us (see Eph 5:2 where Christ gave Himself up “for us” and “to God”), indeed, “for me” (Gal 2:20). To which we can only respond with one last question: “Why lavish love like this, O Lord, on me?” Answer: “To redeem us from all lawlessness.”

Redemption means liberation. “Lawlessness” means sin (1John 3:4). “All” means all. Paul is drawing from Psalm 130:8, as well as the Bible’s whole story of redemption, in order to tell us that Christ died as our representative and substitute to set us free from the power of every kind of sin.

Graces Teaches Us That We Are A Special People

The Lord Jesus’ self-giving not only breaks the power of sin, but also washes away its defilement. Paul now states the purpose of the Lord’s death in positive terms: “to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works.” Paul draws on the OT, this time Ezekiel 37:23. Again Paul uses the word “Himself” in relation to Christ. Putting the two occurrences together yields this: the Lord Jesus “gave Himself … to purify for Himself a people.” There is a sense in which the Lord Jesus not only gave Himself to His Father and for us, but also for Himself. The life-transforming sin-defeating lesson that grace teaches us is that our Lord died in order to make us His special people, “a people for his own possession,” His Church, His Bride, and that He made us so, for Himself.

In contrast to the false teachers, who are big on man-made purity regulations but who are nonetheless defiled, “unfit for any good work” (1:14-16, ESV), grace forms a people who, in gratitude to the One who loves them, are “zealous for good works.” Elsewhere the NT describes people who are zealous for politics (Luke 6:15), religion (Phil 3:6), and the law (Acts 21:20). The zeal in our verse is not fanaticism, however, but enthusiasm.[1] We will look more closely at what these good works are in a future article, but for now, they include the simple behaviors and virtues Titus is to teach in 2:1-10.

“Declare these things,” says Paul, bookending the section with 2:1, “exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you” (2:15, ESV). A whole theology of preaching lies in this verse. The grace of God trains us to say no to sin and yes to godly living, but to do so, it must be declared. Let’s get the message right. Works-based teaching produces disobedience (1:16). Grace-based teaching produces a people eager to do what is good.

[1] John Stott, The Message of 1 Timothy and Titus, 195.