Good Behavior Is Good Theology:

Look for Spiritual Excellence

Tom J. Nettles 

Because those false teachers that Paul has just described are “unfit for any good work,” he now launches into the positive alternative to that kind of error-filled condition. Paul reminded Titus of the genuine piety consistent with the gospel.

Contrasting Purpose for Titus

In contrast to the godless and speculative instruction of the false teachers  “But you” – William Ames defined theology as the “doctrine of living to God.”  Truth about God and godwardness of life cannot be separated in Christian thought.  This passage from Titus assumes and reinforces that idea as potently as any place in the New Testament.  If knowledge of truth does not transform living, then one does not possess true knowledge.  That is one of the most obvious distinctions between Titus and the false teachers he is to oppose, correct, and refute.  Their teaching not only is erroneous in its content because built on personal speculation, but does not translate into a life that delights in God, his Law, his worship, and his rule.  Many times Christian churches foster the idea that one can receive the blessings of forgiveness before God and retain a self-centered unholy life-style.  Paul shows the absurdity of that false proposal as he does in Romans 8:1-17.

Titus is to teach what is fitting, appropriate, for sound doctrine cf. 1:1 “the knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness”;  1 Tim 1:10, 11 “and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the glorious gospel of the blessed God”; 2 Tim 4:3 “people will not endure sound doctrine . . . teachers to suit their own passions” – This has been an emphasis throughout the pastoral epistles.  This should convince us that a doctrine is not really believed if we see no fruit consistent with its substance.  Can a person of uncorrectable arrogance really believe that Christ was equal to God and yet emptied himself for the sake of sinners?  Can a person who consistently indulges the passions of his flesh really believe that the flesh lusts against the Spirit and that the lusts of the flesh wage war against our souls?  Can one who sees himself as superior to others really believe in unconditional election?  Can one who is impatient with others discern the great patience that God had in bringing him to trust in Christ? The gospel carries with it appropriate application for believers in their several spheres of relationship in the church.

Older men  2

Personal conduct – sober, dignified  self-controlled –  Those nearer death should realize more keenly there are no amoral moments, no moments unpervaded by divine presence.  All of us shall soon taste death and see all of our lives in terms of the peculiar moral responsibilities that flow from God’s holiness as expressed in his Law and Gospel.  The compassion of Christ in undergoing punishment for his people and the holiness of God in setting him forth will appear in such unbroken power at that time, that we will marvel both at him for his grace and at ourselves for such careless lives.  Those older should lead in helping all too see that life must be seen in terms of its end.

Christian witness – sound in faith [the faith, the whole body of doctrine], love, and patience; soundness in faith produces love and patience; see 3:1-5  If older men find themselves failing in bodily strength and soundness of health, they should all the more see the necessity of soundness of the soul conformed to the truth of divine revelation.  They will cherish the truth of Paul’s observation, “Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed cay by day. We will look to the “eternal weight of glory” more than the “slight momentary affliction.” (2 Corinthians 4:16, 17). In addition, Paul assumes the theme of unity between truth, affections, and actions in these instructions.  How can one have a healthy confidence in the truth if it is not an expression of love for God and man.  Galatians 5:6 “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.”  The source of true faith is the circumcised heart, that is, the new birth; the clearest demonstration, therefore, of sound faith is its expression of love.  Sound faith arising from love also manifests patience. Paul modeled his conversion as an example of patience.  “But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” 1 Timothy 1:16

Older Women

Personal conduct  conduct as fitting for holiness [hieroprepeis];  Both their tongues and their appetites must be fitted for a higher calling; they must be suited to teach godliness.  Often old age brings bitterness.  Liquor becomes a sedative and gossip becomes the main source of entertainment.  The tongue is made for nobler purposes—for truth, not falsehood; for praise, not complaining; for blessing, not cursing; for edifying instruction, not slander.  An older woman who is saved finds pleasure in seeing the growth of Christlikeness in those younger than she, not in slanderous fault-finding.

Christian witness – teach what is good [kalodidaskalous] and train the younger women, call them to be soberminded.  Instead of the evil of gossip, a practice that shows that the tongue is set on fire of hell [James 3:6], they should teach what is good, (right, beautiful, noble, godly).  So easy it is to be absorbed in baser things, the Christian must place his mind on things above and thus give his tongue new matter for exercise. [cf. Phil. 4:8, 9]  In this way they aid in the restoration of sanity [that is the root meaning of “train”] to minds predisposed to the deceitful lusts of the flesh.  The Amplified version, in fact, translates the phrase, “so that they will wisely train the young women to be sane and sober-minded.” Calvin does not think that what follows should be taken as a catalogue of the things that older women are to teach the younger, but a continuation of instructions to older women.  It seems to me that Paul is giving specific examples of what issues need to be taught.   That means that it serves as instruction also for the older women, for they cannot teach it without embracing the practice.

Husband lovers – a love of esteem and friendship, encouragement;  Fault-finding and impatience gives a message of dissatisfaction, not love. Elsewhere Paul says that wives should see to it that they respect their husbands (Ephesians 5:33).It is conceivable that, in the world, one might respect someone for their honesty and transparency and resoluteness of conviction, but not love them. In that context both love and respect arise from a person’s being pleasing or unpleasing to the personal values of the subject. As Christians, however, in that sphere of the God-ordained type of Christ and the church, we must find a transcendent source for both love and respect. While we find much in the interpersonal relationship that provokes these manners of regarding another, The gospel gives an unalterable standard and source from which both love and respect flow. In that sphere, we cannot say we love but do not respect, nor can we say we respect but do not love.

Children lovers – not as burdens but as blessings and in need of godly guidance.  A. T. Robertson wrote, “This exhortation is still needed where some married women prefer poodle-dogs to children.”

Self-controlled and pure – as she has proper regard for her husband and children, so she must see herself as God’s temple (1 Cor 6:19, 20).  Devotion to one’s husband and children represses any temptation toward wantonness. An unfit self diminishes the true good that one can do for another.

Work at home – the home is fit for hospitality for others and joy for the family and for guests. “Kind” (good-natured generosity) follows so that the wife will know that the home is not an end in itself but a means of expressing kindness – it is to be used not merely observed, it is to put people at ease, not make them nervous.

Submissive to their own husband – this submission does not make her work any less than Christ’s submission makes his work less [cf. 2 Cor 11:3]  This is particularly difficult in the case of an unbelieving husband, but still applies; in fact with more intensity.  Peter says “you wives be submissive to you own husbands, so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.”

Give no ground for criticism  5b  “So that the word of God will not be blasphemed” If outsiders observe a haughty, self-assertive and disrespectful carriage in a self-professed believing woman, if the are gossips and have no sobriety of spirit, their conclusion about the relational tendency of the gospel will be poor—significantly other than the meekness of Christ’s self-abasement for the sake of sinners. An Unbelieving husband will blaspheme—speak with hostility toward the holy things of the gospel—if his wife’s Christianity make her disrespectful and self-willed, and unsubmissive.

Younger Men – self-controlled; This word is used frequently as constituting sanctification;  As well as the presence of the Spirit, the self includes the remaining presence of the flesh, the deceitful and corrosive impact of indwelling sin.  We must walk in the one, that is, the Spirit, and mortify the other, the flesh.  The world makes every appeal it can to the flesh of a young man.  If the world can capture one while he is young and enwrap him in its values, then it has a life-long source of wealth.  A young Christian man must carefully disentangle himself from  the values that reside naturally in the heart of flesh and that have been flattered and strengthened by the world’s approach to him.  These intrinsic tendencies of the fallen nature must be restrained and even put to death by energetic attention to the life engendered by the Holy Spirit.

Titus Himself – he is to exemplify the truth that “Theology is the doctrine of living to God”

Personal conduct – he is to be a model of good works in all things.  Obviously he cannot stress the continuity between faith and conduct if he shows no aptitude for the connection.

Christian witness – His teaching must show integrity, dignity;  Nothing is more distressing than truths of grace taught in an overbearing and haughty way;  Or, on the other had to see such grave realities handled as a piece of entertainment or fodder for the histrionics of the preacher.

his word, that is his daily speech, must be unimpeachable

Give no ground for criticism, that is, such as arises from inconsistency or evil conduct.  Many will speak evil of the truth itself as is abundantly recognized in Scripture. Jesus could not avoid criticism. He was said to cast out demons by the power of the prince of demons. But he could point to his actions (“works”) and ask his accusers to point to any of them that were not consistent with the character and power of his Father ( John 10:25, 26, 32,33) The good deeds of Christians sometimes are represented as evil [1 Peter 2:12];  Given that, we must assure that none speak evil of the gospel because we have conducted ourselves badly.

Slaves 9, 10

Personal conduct – submissive and positively Christian; indisputably trustworthy – This institution has in it the greatest possibility for personal abuse of any relation engendered by a fallen world.  Whereas the Christian slave might well see the injustice or arrogance or impersonal expectations in instructions given by a master, and might well have reason to consider such instructions an unjust imposition, and feel justified in disobedience or argumentation, Paul says be submissive “in everything” well pleasing, and not argumentative. Pilfering would be a great temptation since just remuneration ha no part in the slave-master relation.  One might convince himself that he is not stealing but only taking what is his just due.  Paul says do not do it.  Rather, live within the relationship in a trustworthy manner.  The application here to the present employer-employee relationship holds with even greater tenacity.  We should perform the task that we are assigned, should show ourselves to be competent and trustworthy and not be a grief to those who employ us.  Obviously, we may not deny the faith to please any human being, nor engage in lawless activity as an act of loyalty to the boss, but otherwise, the use of one’s talents, training, and opportunity to make good both the business and those over him n authority is pleasing to the Lord.

Christian witness – doctrine is adorned by such living:  When we demonstrate patience and submission for the sake of doing good, we show that we have higher values than seeking the pleasure and prominence of self.  We are called to a higher way of living by a higher purpose—the glory of God in the gospel.

Foundation and content of instruction—All of the previous instruction gains its motive and model from what follows.

The appearance of the Grace of God

It brings salvation – “Salvation” is an adjective in this unusual use of the word and could be translated “For the saving grace of God has appeared.”  This is salvation in its most comprehensive sense from new birth to glory.  Our corrupt state produced by the fall must be reversed and we must be justly acquitted from our state of condemnation.  The old man in Adam must be replaced by a new man in a suitable savior and the promise of eternal death must be supplanted by the hope of eternal life.  A future filled with the company of devils and increasing hatred must give way to the presence of God in a world of love.

It has appeared to all men – Those among whom we live recognize that our profession demands a singular lifestyle; The translation probably should not say “bringing salvation to all men” but should place  “to all men” as the indirect object of “has appeared.”  For this reason, those among whom Christians live their lives have certain expectations concerning their attitudes and conduct.  They will be quick to point out inconsistencies for their expectations of Christians are much higher than they have for themselves. This relation of he words would be consistent with Paul’s concern that “the word of God may no be reviled” or that “an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.(5, 8).  If, however, one sees the adjective “soterios” as connoting “bringing salvation to all men” then Calvin’s comment is appropriate:  “He expressly declares that salvation come to all men, having especially in mind the slaves of whom he has just been speaking.  He does not mean individuals, but rather all classes of men with their diverse ways of life, and he lays great emphasis on the fact that God’s grace has condescended even to slaves.  Since God does not despise even the lowest and most degraded class of men, it would be extremely foolish that we should be slow and negligent to embrace His goodness.”

The things this grace teaches us 12-14

Renounce ungodliness and worldly lusts – This is the essence of repentance.  In our former manner of life we had no regard for God’s holiness and his sole prerogative to be the object of our worship and affection.  Regeneration brings one to eschew such ungodliness.  The world and its pleasures had the place of God for us, but now, having been replaced by the one true God, the pleasures of the world take their proper place as means by which we see and admire the goodness of God in his creation and we receive these things in their proper relationship and with gratitude.

Live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age – While in this present age, a fallen and rebellious age filled with the perverse use of all God’s good gifts, the Christian learns how to regard each thing in its place.  The atmosphere is poisonous and destructive, pervading every nook and cranny of this present age, pressing every item created by God into the mold of sensuality, popularity, power, self-importance and personal gain.  To think soberly, righteously, and godly means that each aspect of our world undergoes transformation through the inundation of truth.  The Gospel transforms all.  Right and sober thinking, awareness of a true revealed standard of righteousness, and a persuasive sense of the presence and knowability of God combined with a desire to worship and be well-pleasing to him now inform and transform all we do.  Compare Romans 12:1, 2

While waiting for the blessed hope, which is the glorious appearing [same root word used to state the initial appearing of the grace of God in 11] of Jesus.  Sobriety in the present age is greatly enhanced by a pungent realization that it will soon end to be replaced by an age in which righteousness reigns.  This is the objective use of hope.  The substance of hope is Christ himself in his glorious appearing when, according to 1 John 3, we shall see him as he is and consequently be like him.  If we have that hope in us we purify ourselves.

He is our Great God and savior – No one less that God himself in our nature capable;  The grammatical construction here employing one article with two nouns, means that both nouns are used together as in apposition to the name Jesus Christ.  Same type of construction in 2 Peter 1:1 and 11.  Peter and Paul believed that Jesus Christ, the one who appeared in the flesh was and is both God and savior. Jesus is no less than True God from true God, begotten of the Father before all time, that is, not made or created, but eternally co-existent with the Father as son and father must necessarily be co-existent, of the same essence with the Father, while distinguished in the mysterious utter oneness of God by distinct and eternal personal attributes.

He gave himself for us – Paul asserts the substitutionary nature of Christ’s redemptive work.  Lawlessness demands punishment, and we could not be released from the necessity of its infliction unless an acceptable substitute were found.  Christ as God in human flesh is that acceptable substitute.

To redeem us from lawlessness – from our state of condemnation –  That we are unlawful places us under the curse of death.  “So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all  men” Romans 5:18.  But Christ’s acceptable life and sacrifice has rendered that condemnation non-operative “Even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.”  Everyone in Adam is the recipient of his condemnation, while every one in Christ is the recipient of his righteousness.  “For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.” Romans 5:19.

To purify a people as his own possession – from our state of corruption—not only does God remove the condemnation but he removes the gnawing worm of internal destruction that corrupt affections produce.  He then declares, I will be their God and they shall be my people.”  See 1 Peter 2:9  The people for God’s own possession are those that he gave to the son in the eternal covenant and for whom the Son sanctified himself, set himself apart, for the purpose of sacrificial death. With the same certainty that the Son knows the Father and his will and purpose in the covenant of grace and the Father knows the Son and his perfect unity of will  with and joyful submission to the Father’s will in this redemptive covenant, so are those people known and loved that were given to the Son by the Father  to be rede3md by the blood of the eternal covenant. “I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. . . My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:14, 15, 29, 30) They are now his and he loses none of them.  They are God’s own possession and the Spirit is given as a pledge until the time that Jesus appears in glory to claim us.  See also Ephesians 1:14 and Hebrews 13:20, 21.

Zealous for good works – from malignant and destructive to benign and edifying – the zeal for good works increases as inner transformation progresses.  The more a Christian learns of the Scripture, and consequently of the attributes of God and the grace of Christ the more pure and persevering is his desire for seeing Christ honored. Good works are not superfluities of conduct disconnected from biblical holiness, such as rosaries or ritualistic walks or observance of religious sites. Nor does it mean false ascetic practices such as strict observance of some peculiar diet or denial of certain foods at previously stated times of the year. Rather this means a conscientious commitment to the spirituality of the law, and the practice of all things that are consistent with love of neighbor.

Such Teaching is not optional – seamless connection between theology and ethics is our goal

Declare these things –The truths of Christ’s work and purpose undergird the instructions.  The doctrines of grace have a transforming effect and as God’s revealed way of salvation must be preached to saint and sinner alike.  They are converting doctrines as well as sanctifying doctrines.

Exhort and rebuke with all authority – this is no light matter, but at the heart of the apostolic concern; cf. 1:3, 5;  Titus has been left in Crete for this specific purpose, to set things in order.  All the instructions of this chapter, therefore, are part of that orderly arrangement of things that Paul desires to see.

Let no one disregard you – as a special emissary of the apostle, he must be heeded.  Paul has sent this letter in part to arm Titus with authority.  Nothing less than the glory of God in this world is at stake in the conformity of God’s peculiar people to his character and truth.


Truth always may be set in contrast, and at times in stark contradiction, to the thinking of the world.  Christian theology is not a matter of human speculation but of sensible and orderly organization of the things revealed into consistent themes.  Right living can only come from right thinking.

Christian truth not only treats themes to be contemplated intellectually but produces transformation of affections and actions.  The doctrine of living to God does not diminish the importance of rigorous thinking and organization of biblical ideas into coherent arrangement, but sees such rigorous mental work as organically integrated with making hearts fit for the presence of the glorious God.  An appropriate shaping of the life follows as a piece from the godly instruction of the understanding.  I use understanding to mean more than intellectual cognition.  Those that are saved from “this perverse generation” devote themselves to “the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” [Acts 2:40-42] and they are “zealous for good works.”

A Christian will accept misunderstanding and unrealized appreciation in this life in order to adorn the grace of God with a gentle and humble spirit.  Our goal is not to be men-pleasers but to work as unto the Lord.  It is the Lord Christ that we serve, and in so doing our tasks for others will be done with greater stewardship and skill than they otherwise might ever have been done.

The most cruel task-master is the corruption of sin and the greatest fear is the wrath of God.  Christ’s redemption has removed both of these aspects of the curse.  The greatest gifts, therefore, have already been shed abroad in the heart of the Christian by the coming of the Holy Spirit to seal the work of Christ to his people.  In light of having been relieved of the greatest hindrance to life, we accept the providence of our heavenly Father in all other things in this life, knowing that they serve his redemptive purpose for us also.

Hope transforms everything.  Our God and Savior comes. He will judge the world in righteousness.  He will place all things under his feet.  He will transform our lowly body to be made like his glorious body.  The brightness of his appearing will be a marvel even to those who wait expectantly for him and destroy all that exalts itself against his truth.  The present material world will give way in a spectacular manner to an incorruptible New Heaven and New earth that will be characterized, not be the nomenclature of “this present evil age,” but by that splendid appellation “wherein dwelleth righteousness.”

These truths constitute the substance of our teaching.  They speak to the actual God-revealed needs of every person and, because they are not of this age, they transcend all ages.  Because this grace has appeared to “all men” this message transcends all cultures.  Because it is for God’s “peculiar people,” his own possession, any alteration of its content has no warrant.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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