This Epistle to Titus, although brief, lacks nothing in doctrinal greatness. One outstanding feature of this letter is the way in which, in each of the three chapters, it sets forth the gospel as a three-fold cord, including within itself a past, a present, and a future aspect.
Thus in the opening verses, 1. 1-2, Paul tells us that his apostleship is:
(i) “according to the faith of God’s elect”: this latter expression takes our thoughts back to the past;
(ii) “and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness (lit, 'godlikeness’)”: this focuses our attention upon the present;
(iii) “in hope of eternal life”: this projects our minds to the future.
Then, in chapter 3, we are told that “the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared”, v. 4: that is past. The present is then stated, “being justified by his grace”, v. 7. Finally, Paul reminds us that all that will be ours as heirs is “according to the hope of eternal life”, v. 7. Although eternal life is the present possession of all who put their faith in the Son of God, nevertheless Paul frequently treats it according to its future display; for the believer, eternal life in all its fulness lies before him. This, then, is the future aspect of the gospel.
Here, in chapter 2, we are reminded that, as to the past, "the grace of God … hath appeared”, v. 11; as to the present, this grace is said to be “teaching us that … we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world”, v. 12; whilst “looking for that blessed hope … “, v. 13, takes our minds on to the future.
The conjunction “for”, 2. 11, connects verses 11-14 with what is set before us in the earlier part of the chapter; it would seem as though all the pillars of exhortation in verses 2-10 are founded upon these concluding verses of the chapter. We need to remember that there can be no true godly living that is not based upon the sound doctrine of the Word of God.
Paul here declared the historical manifestation of the grace of God, “the grace of God … hath appeared”. The grace of God is His unmerited favour towards men, expressing itself in active love. There has been an outshining of God’s grace in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ-indeed, He Himself is the very Personification of the grace of God. The manifestation of this grace commences with the incarnation, but the reference here must not be limited to that alone, for it includes His life, death and resurrection.
The R.V. rendering is perhaps more accurate here, namely, “the grace of God hath appeared, bringing salvation to all men’. God’s grace has not yet, in fact, appeared to all men, but it is laden with salvation for all; this is the point of the statement. God’s salvation is available for all men, not only to a single people like Israel of old, for He is “God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved”, 1 Tim. 2. 3-4. Sadly not all men will be saved, “for all men have not faith”, 2 Thess. 3. 2.
Although God’s grace has brought salvation within the reach of all men, it is said to be “teaching us”, Titus 2. 12, that is, those who have been recipients of God’s grace and have come into the good of His salvation.
The present continuous participle, “teaching”, is used, reminding us that the process is a continuing one; no one ever graduates from the school of God’s grace in this life. The word literally means “to bring up a child”, and in this child-training activity, although instruction plays a prominent part, rebuke and chastisement are often required. Thus the grace that saves is the grace that teaches; we make much of the delivering power of the grace of God, but do we tend to overlook the disciplining power of God’s grace?
The object of this teaching process is then expressed, first negatively and afterwards positively. The negative aspect is “denying ungodliness and worldly lusts”; the tense of the verb “denied”, in the Greek, marks the decisive character of the act. The expression may therefore be rendered, “having denied, once and for all”, but this is, however, carried into effect by a daily denial.
Ungodliness is the very antithesis of the frequently-repeated call to godliness in these pastoral epistles; it indicates a lack of reverence for God and a disregard for His Person.
Worldly lusts are those desires centred in this present world system; they are not necessarily evil, but refer to all such desires as are limited to, and characterized by, this world as estranged from God. Peter mentions “fleshly lusts” and tells us to “abstain” from them, 1 Pet. 2. 11; Paul, when writing to Timothy, speaks of “foolish and hurtful lusts”, 1 Tim. 6. 9, and “youthful lusts”, 2 Tim. 2. 22, and in both instances he warns us to “flee” from them, 1 Tim. 6. 11; 2 Tim. 2. 22. Now, as far as worldly lusts are concerned, he says “deny” them.
Then, in our present passage, follows the positive side, “we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world”. We are to live soberly in relation to ourselves, righteously in relation to other men, and godly as to our highest relationship.
We, as believers, should be marked by sobriety; we are to be right-minded, balanced in our opinions and actions, and certainly not light or frivolous in our attitude. In living righteously, that is, justly and honourably, we acknowledge the claims of others and have due regard to our duty towards our neighbour. We also learn that it is not enough to renounce ungodliness, for our lives must ever be lived in a godly manner, as we own the rights of God over our hearts.
This present world or “course of things” is the sphere where such a life is to be lived. As to our present circumstances, although we live physically in a material world, we are also moving through an evil age. We do well to remind ourselves that we have been delivered from this present evil age by the death of Christ, “who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world”, Gal. 1. 4. We are to prove the truth of this now in our own experience as we continue in this present course of things. Oh that we might respond to the teaching of God’s grace!