Healthy Teaching Produces Healthy Christians, Part 5: Connecting the Dots.
Godliness has been a major concern of Paul regarding the Cretan churches. Healthy teaching is an absolute essential part of every ministry, but that teaching is supposed to produce healthy and holy Christians. Holiness is not a mark of a mature Christian but is demanded and expected of every Christian. As Paul has combed through the Cretan Christian community, he has made this point over and over again.
The flow of Titus chapter 2 is plainly mapped out and easy to follow. While we’re used to Paul first providing the theological and doctrinal significance before he issues commands and imperatives, the order is reversed here. For the past 10 verses Paul has been issuing exhortations but now, as he closes this argument, he provides the theological basis for all that he has already commanded of the Cretan churches.
What we have here is a thorough explanation in vv. 11-14 and a very pointed final exhortation directed specifically at Titus. In the explanation, Paul answers the question, “why must Christians live godly lives?” by providing four poignant reasons.
Detailed Explanation (vv. 11-14)
The last thing that Paul mentioned in v. 10 was a positive reinforcement. Slaves must submit so that they adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect. We stated plainly that the doctrine of our God and Savior essentially describes what we call the gospel. The gospel message comes with an expectation of transformation. The connection between the gospel message and the assumed transformation has been implicit throughout this chapter, but here Paul, connects the dots in a clear and concise way. His first order of business is to briefly remind Titus and the Cretans just what “the gospel” is.
Because the Gospel has Come (v. 11) – “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men”
This is an explanation of not only v. 10, but of the entire chapter up to this point. Old men, old women, young women, young men, and slaves are to live godly lives for the reason of/because the grace of God has appeared. That term appeared (ἐπιφάνεια/ἐπιφαίνω) from which we get our English term epiphany is a significant term in Scripture. This is a term used to describe the coming of our Lord Jesus in both His first coming (2 Tim. 1:10; Tit. 3:4) and His second (2 Thess. 2:8; 1 Tim. 6:14; 2 Tim. 4:1, 8). The first advent of Christ, His incarnation, ministry, death, and resurrection, is on display here.
The entire first coming of Jesus Christ upon the earth, Emmanuel (God with Us), is here described by Paul as the grace of God. Jesus Christ embodied the unmerited favor of God and brought salvation to all men. We must think carefully about those words to all men. We know that this verse does not teach a universalistic approach to salvation, that all men everywhere have already been saved by Christ. If this were true there would be no reason to preach repentance, for all of Christian ministry would be redundant. Let us first examine the context to understand the meaning.
Paul has just finished going through all manner of people and finished by exhorting the lowest form of society. The point here is not that the gospel has effectually saved every individual, but that the saving and transforming power of the gospel has arrived or appeared to all of humanity. The gospel is not an exclusive message for the rich or poor, for the slave or the freedman, or for the Jew or the Gentile. The gospel has come bringing salvation to the human race.
This is the first reason to pursue godliness. If the gospel has appeared to all men, then all men who have been saved must live as if they have been saved.
Because the Gospel is Clear (v. 12) – “instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age”
The grace of God or the gospel, is not an ambiguous message. John the Baptist had a simple message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2). Jesus had a simple message, “Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk. 1:15). Peter had a simple message, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts. 2:38). The gospel teaches us that we must repent not only of our sinful actions but also our sinful lifestyles.
The English word instructing translates the Greek παιδεύω which means to instruct or to discipline or even to punish. This verb and its cognates have been used to describe the necessary instruction and training required by disciples (2 Tim. 3:16) as well as discipline given to gospel opponents (1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 2:25). The idea of instructing or training is in view here.
Grammatically speaking, Paul states that the gospel instructs us in one specific thing; that is how to live. The term deny (ἀρνέομαι) literally means to say ‘no’ to and actually modifies the verb to live that we see later in the verse. In other words, the gospel teaches us to live by first saying ‘no’ to certain things.
There seems to be a pattern here in the way Paul arranges these two negative characteristics that believers must say ‘no’ to followed by three positive ways of living. The first (ungodliness) and the last (godly) form an obvious antithesis. Broadly speaking we must say ‘no’ to all things that are ungodly and that run contrary to God’s person, nature, and will, while simultaneously living in a way that accurately reflects the character and commands of God. This is a general way of beginning the discussion of gospel transformation, but Paul’s specificity grows as we continue.
Next, we see the gospel also teaches us to live by saying ‘no’ to worldly desires or passions while at the same time to live righteously/justly/accurately/appropriately. These two also form an antithesis but a more precise antithesis that targets our deeds and conduct. To say that we live broadly as godly individuals assumes that the specific deeds we do are righteous. Likewise, to say that we live broadly as ungodly people assumes that we pursue the passions of this world without regard for what is actually and objectively right, correct, or appropriate. This short list is beginning to resemble a chiasm.
Sensibly stands by itself and in the center. This is the 6th time (1:8; 2:2, 4, 5, 6, 12) Paul has used this term (σωφρόνως) or one of its cognates in this letter to Titus. Clearly, it is important to Paul that the Cretan churches become sensible, prudent, self-controlled.
The gospel is a clear message of repentance from the curse to the re-creation. Broadly speaking Christians must say ‘no’ to all that is contrary to God’s good character and live as one who reflects that same character. Objectively, the Christian must say ‘no’ to desires erupting from the curse and must live correctly and rightly. Individually, this requires the Christian to be sensible and self-controlled. The gospel is not ambiguous but is abundantly clear. The gospel transforms cursed sinners into re-created saints. Therefore, Christians must live transformed lives now, in this present age.
Because the Gospel is not yet Complete (v. 13) – “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus;”
This verse and the one to follow single handedly dispels the ludicrous notion that eschatology is somehow of secondary or lesser importance to gospel ministry. Paul here points to the second coming of Jesus Christ as the third reason why Christians must pursue godliness in their current lives.
This verse continues to flesh out what it means to live as the gospel instructs us. Not only are we to deny or say ‘no’ to all forms of the curse, but we are to look for or anticipate the one who will return to undo and reverse that curse. The grace of God has already appeared in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But we are to anticipate the glory of God and His appearing.
The thing we are to look for Paul calls the blessed hope. The object of what we are to hope for is defined for us as the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior. Paul here refers to what Christ Himself told His disciples, “For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds” (Matt. 16:27). This is a wonderful Christological statement that presents Jesus Christ as our great God and Savior and proclaims His coming glory.
It is absolutely necessary that believers have an accurate eschatology. The transforming work of the gospel, the power to undo and reverse the curse, is not yet complete. Christ came once to atone for sin’s penalty and will come again to reverse and undo sin’s curse. It is demanded that we understand this coming day and eagerly anticipate it by living our lives by the truth that the transforming power of the gospel has already begun but is not yet finished.
Show me a church that downplays the importance of eschatology and I’ll show you a people who do not live in eager anticipation of our great God and Savior’s appearing. All of our theology informs our actions. Eschatology is no exception. This idea is expounded upon in the following verse.
Because the Gospel is a Current model for Re-Creation (v. 14) – “who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.”
The “who” in v. 14 is the same great God and Savior who is Jesus Christ of v. 13. Paul goes back to the redemption and atonement of Jesus Christ whereby He gave Himself as the lamb of God in order to take away the sin of the world (Jn. 1:29) and the One whom Yhwh was pleased to crush and who carried our iniquities upon Himself (Is. 53). Yet, Paul is pointing to something that goes beyond the atonement of Christ’s death. He is exhorting godliness by pointing to the reason that Christ offered Himself.
On the surface we see that Christ gave Himself in order to accomplish two things. First, He redeemed us from every lawless deed. There is an obvious implication here. If He died in order to redeem us from lawlessness, how are we to continue living as lawless individuals? In forsaking godliness, we spit upon His sacrifice. But secondly, Christ gave Himself in order to purify or cleanse a people for His own possession. He did not die in our place us only to save us from eternal wrath and hell, but also so that we might be His possession forever.
This single phrase is pregnant with meaning. Paul is borrowing rather heavily from Ezekiel 37:23 which says, “And they will no longer defile themselves with their idols, or with their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions; but I will deliver them from all their dwelling places in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them. And they will be My people, and I will be their God.”
The context of this verse is Yhwh’s explanation of Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones: the vision that examines the spiritual deadness of Israel and promises the spiritual life that Yhwh will one day give His people Israel. This is the future expectation for Israel; that Yhwh will pour out His Spirit upon them, cleanse them from all unrighteousness, and make them His own possession. Ezekiel 37 looks forward to the day when the New Covenant is fully realized and every single one of its blessings is poured out and on display. Paul uses this language to exhort the Cretan church to demonstrate here and now the first fruits of this future reality. In other words, Paul is demanding that the Cretan churches, as new creatures in Christ living in a world that has not yet been made new, display themselves as a model of the coming re-creation. Those who are zealous for good deeds.
These deeds are good (καλός) or beautiful/wonderful and indicative of God’s good creation. Christians must conduct their lives in a way that reflects God’s original good design in creation as they anticipate God’s coming re-creation. The gospel instructs us to live as loyal kingdom citizens as we await the coming King who will bring His kingdom.
Paul’s reasoning is not generic but very pointed. He does not tell Titus to demand godliness of the Cretans simply because God says so. He has very specific reasons. The Cretan Christians must live godly lives because the gospel of Jesus Christ has already been pronounced and is by its very nature a message of transformation. They must live transformed lives because the gospel clearly instructs believers to repent from all ungodliness and to be sensible. This sensible living is so important because the work of the gospel is not yet finished, and they must live expectantly of its completion when Christ returns. As models of the re-creation, their lives will display a shadow and a glimpse of this coming glory to a world that is in desperate need of being made new.
Definitive Exhortation (v. 15)
“These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you.”
This section leaves no room for argumentation. Paul delivers three imperatives to Titus. He must speak these things, exhort these things, and reprove these things. Godliness in light of the full-orbed gospel must be constantly upon Titus’ lips. Holiness in view of Christ’s return must be the standard to which Titus continuously calls the Christians of Crete. And those who balk under this demand to change their lifestyle must be reproved with all authority. Paul speaks for Jesus Christ and Titus speaks for Paul. This an order that comes directly from the top. It is imperative that no one in the Cretan churches disregards this vital message.
The term disregard (περιφπονέω) literally means to speak around or even to think around. The idea is that there may be some who wish to justify their disobedience by circumventing Titus’ instruction. This is simply not an option. If Titus encounters any such individuals, he is to stand in the middle of the road and let no man go around him. Godliness is not optional.
There are so many things to say about this passage that it is difficult to know how to close the loop. I suppose we could boil all of this down to two main points of application. First, while the gospel is a simple message it is not a simplistic message. The gospel is not a canned message that can be printed on a note card but is a description of the entire biblical account from Genesis to Revelation. That account can be summarized in order to put it on a small tract, but understand that is simply a summary. In that sense, every single doctrine is a gospel issue. What we believe about God, man, salvation, the church, and the age to come all impacts the gospel that we preach. There is a zero margin for error in our doctrine because there is a zero margin for error in the gospel we preach. Theology matters.
Second, our lives betray what we actually believe. We may sing the mighty power of God, proclaim His sovereignty in all things, and preach Christ’s future return and reign, but if we live in ungodliness and worldly passions, we actively deny all that we claim to believe. Holiness matters.
May both our doctrine and our deeds be pleasing in His sight. Soli Deo Gloria!