This article is part of an on-going study. The writer’s intention is to look at each phrase and statement in the letter and to glean a simple understanding of what Paul was writing to Titus about. It might be helpful to read the previous articles either in the printed edition of the magazine or online via www.preciousseed.org.
There are three simple ways of dividing this, the third and final chapter of the epistle. I have noted these below.
The behaviour of the church to the world, Titus 3. 1-11
The conclusion of the letter, Titus 3. 12-15
What we were before salvation, Titus 3. 1-3
What we are after salvation, Titus 3. 4-8
Giving closing guidance, Titus 3. 9-15
The principles of holy living, Titus 3. 1-4
The details of sound doctrine, Titus 3. 5-11
Concluding comments and a benediction, Titus 3. 12-15
I will be looking at each verse in turn and will follow the third suggested division of the chapter.
Good citizenship and the delegated power of politicians, v. 1.
In the New Testament, Christians are explicitly taught that they are to respect and obey the government and civil authorities of the countries where they live. Peter writes in 1 Peter chapter 3, that believers should submit to every human authority. Obedience in this respect is not negotiable, we should respect and obey all authority from the most senior figure in government right down to those who hold offices of state in a delegated capacity. They have to be obeyed, unless they are forcing Christians to disobey the word of God – justification for that viewpoint would take another article to explain. Please note that when Paul is writing to the saints in Rome, he reminds them that governing authorities ultimately get their mandate from God, 13. 1.
In the first verse, Paul asks Titus to tell the believers in Crete to submit to the government and its officers. Remember that the expression ‘to be subject to’ has the idea of order and respect as well as the following instruction to be obedient. The natural inclination of the people of Crete would have been very different to this, as we noted in an earlier article. Salvation changes behaviour as well as beliefs.
Paul not only warns Christians against fighting the authorities but he encourages them to be ready for every good work. If a crisis occurs, then Christians should be ready to help in any way they can. The idea isn’t that of regularly being involved in your community – I think we have other verses which teach that we should be good neighbours and actively do good works – but the point is that we should be ready to help when a need arises.
Radical Christianity in the Community, v. 2.
It is very important that a believer is not known for being a critic and speaking derisively about people. It is a shameful thing when people damage other people’s reputation by gossiping and talking about things that are none of their business. Christians should avoid this type of behaviour. Their words should be kind, they should be peaceable, gentle and not involved in squabbles and quarrels. The Lord Jesus taught that peacemakers are blessed, Matt. 5. 9. This verse is teaching that believers should be known for their complete courtesy to all people. When we fail to behave like this we are demonstrating a lack of humility and understanding of what salvation is about. This was radical teaching, especially to people who by nature where lazy, violent, and liars!
What we were by Nature, v. 3
The phrase ‘we were once’ is very significant. Paul also teaches this truth to the Christians in Corinth. After cataloguing the type of sinners in the city, he ends the list by saying ‘and such were some of you’, 1 Cor. 6. 11. It may sound incredible but conversion changes people radically! The be-lievers in Crete were once foolish, disobedient, misled and enslaved to various passions and desires. Sin has a power that traps people and brings them under its control. They had been the slaves of sin, Rom. 6. 17, but they were now free. Their lives had been full of evil (malice) and envy (jealousy), full of hate and hating one another. The change because of salvation was dramatic.
Sometimes we need to be reminded of what we once were! This should make us appreciate what God has done in our conversion. It is astounding what God does when He saves a soul. Paul writes to the church at Rome, ‘But now being made free from sin, and become servants [slaves] to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life’, Rom. 6. 22.
The Reason for the Change, v. 4.
Change normally has a catalyst! Life doesn’t get automatically better, and people don’t break old habits easily. God intervened in human history, and the effect on those who believe is dramatic. This verse describes God as a Saviour God, a God of revelation, a God of goodness and kindness, and a God who is interested in and acts kindly towards humanity. He is also a God of love, and, in the gospel of Jesus Christ, He is revealed as such. You could read verses 4 and 5 as follows: ‘But … he saved us’. The other phrases define what God does in contrast to what we do not do in the matter of conversion.
Saved by Grace, v. 5a.
This passage is similar to Ephesians chapter 2. It would be useful to compare both passages. The main point is that salvation is not because of what we have done. Our works did not contribute to our salvation. This is made crystal clear in each passage. The best we do does not add anything to our salvation. Salvation is ‘not by works of righteousness which we have done’. The grace of God means that salvation is ‘not of works, lest any man should boast’, Eph. 2. 9.
From a positive perspective, salvation is ‘according to his mercy’. God’s mercy is a pool from which salvation flows. It was a very personal thing for God to do this for us. In the ages to come God will demonstrate, ‘the exceeding riches of his grace, in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus’, v. 7. This describes the outflowing of God’s mercy towards those who believe.
New Life and New Power, v. 5b.
Two things happened to bring about conversion. The ‘washing of regeneration’ and the ‘renewing of the Holy Spirit’. Both are the work of God in the life of an individual. The cleansing power of the new birth took place and the moral renewal of the Holy Spirit was effective.
The new birth has not only brought us into the family of God, but it has dealt with the past. Our sins were washed away and we were born of God, John 3. 5. The new birth is described as washing, or a bath. This is like the picture the Lord Jesus used of conversion in chapter 13 verse 10. He taught Peter that he had been washed, or had a bath at conversion, but that he needed daily cleansing from defilement. It is the same picture of moral cleansing by the word of God as described in chapter 15 verse 3. So, the new birth deals with our sins and brings us into the family of God.
The renewing of, or by the Holy Spirit, is an act at conversion which affects our future. The new birth and new life are the work of the Spirit of God. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, ‘old things are passed away; behold all things are become new’, 2 Cor. 5. 17. William MacDonald in his commentary talks about ‘not putting new clothes on an old man, but putting a new man in the clothes’.1 I think that expresses it well.
The Holy Spirit in Conversion, v. 6.
It is significant that the words that are used to describe the Spirit in relation to the believer are all superlatives. The Spirit was poured out abundantly. The idea seems to be that we received the Spirit in full measure. Interestingly, this was at the instruction of Jesus Christ our Saviour. He, Jesus Christ, is the means by which this was possible. Incidentally, all the members of the Godhead were involved in our conversion – ‘God our Saviour’ in verse 4, the ‘renewing of the Holy Spirit’ in verse 5, and ‘shed on us … through Jesus Christ our Saviour’ in verse 6. The truth of the trinity is also taught elsewhere in the New Testament.2
Heirs with Christ, v. 7.
The outcome of all this activity at conversion is that we ‘have been justified by his grace’. The grace of God has been discussed previously but here we are reminded that the grace of God has justified us. The truth of justification is that we have been acquitted of any guilt that we had before God. As a result, we are righteous, right with God, and have become heirs with the confident expectation of eternal life.
Justification is a big subject and one that is worth considering carefully. This article is not the place to do this. Paul wrote a detailed explanation of this truth to the church in Rome and the churches of Galatia.3
Justification (or salvation) by grace has been explained in the earlier verses of this chapter. Paul is emphasizing in this verse that ‘being justified’ we have become heirs. In other words, we can be confident that we will inherit eternal life. The word ‘hope’ in the New Testament conveys the idea of certainty. It is something that we can be sure will happen at some stage in the future. Again, a visit to Romans chapter 8 will confirm this to be the case.
In verse 8, Paul makes a classic statement – ‘this is a faithful saying’. Titus will be required to emphasize the veracity of the previous truths that Paul has been teaching and to make it clear to the believers that doctrine must be converted into practice. We will deal with this in more detail in the final article of this series.
William MacDonald, Believers Bible Commentary, Titus 3. 5.
Luke 1. 35; Rom. 14. 17, 18; 2 Cor. 13. 14.
In Romans chapter 8 verse 33 we are taught that, ‘it is God that justifies’. In chapter 5 verse 1 we discover that we are justified by faith. Chapter 3 verse 24 states that we are justified ‘by his grace’ and Chapter 3 verse 26 explains that we are justified by believing in Jesus. The basis of our justification is established in chapter 5 verse 9 as being ‘by His (the Lord Jesus’) blood’.