The Practice of Godliness

| Titus 3:1-9

Lesson Focus:  This lesson can help you live a godly life.

The Benefit of Godliness:  1 Timothy 4:7-10.

[7]  Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; [8]  for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. [9]  The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. [10]  For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.  [ESV]

[7-10]  Paul makes it plain that it is the good teaching which makes the good minister, and that in two ways, namely that he both instructs people in it and nourishes himself on it [6]. This seems to be a general rule. Behind the ministry of public teaching there lies the discipline of private study. All the best teachers have themselves remained students. They teach well because they learn well. So before we can effectively instruct others in the truth we must have really digested it ourselves. With verse 7 the metaphor changes from the nourishment of a child [6] to the exercise of an athlete: train yourself. Combining Paul’s two metaphors, disciplined eating and exercising are both indispensable for bodily health. It is the same in Christian discipleship. What our spiritual food is he has already clarified. It is the truths of the faith and of the good teaching [6], in other words, the doctrine of the apostles. For this is nourishing. But we are to have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths, for they are spiritual junk food. Turning to the metaphor of exercise, Paul tells Timothy: train yourself for godliness. The basic meaning of godliness is respect or reverence. In the New Testament, it is used exclusively to mean reverence for God and signifies the mingling of fear and love which together constitute the piety of man toward God. Godly people are God-fearing people. They have experienced the Christian conversion from self-centeredness to God-centeredness. How then are we to exercise ourselves for godliness? What spiritual gymnastics are we to undertake? Paul does not go into detail. But the context, and in particular the parallel between nourishment and exercise, together suggest that we are to exercise ourselves in the same way that we nourish ourselves, namely in the Word of God. Certainly it has been a long-standing Christian tradition, belonging to the wisdom of the ages, that disciplined meditation in Scripture is indispensable to Christian health, and indeed to growth in godliness. For nothing evokes the worship of God like the Word of God. In verse 8 Paul emphasizes the importance of spiritual exercise by contrasting it with physical exercise: bodily training is of some value, since it contributes to our physical fitness in this life, but godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. In brief, it prepares us for eternity. This statement of verse 8 about the profit of godliness must surely be the trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance [9]. And we exercise ourselves for godliness because we have our hope set on the living God who is the author and giver of both life and life to come, and is also the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. The precise relation between all people and those who believe has perplexed all commentators. In what sense is God the Savior of all and specially of believers? This is not universalism, since Paul was not a universalist. Nor can it express the difference between the potential (God’s desire to save) and the actual (God saving), since the text says He is the Savior of all, not just that He wants to be. The solution may be in understanding the word especially to mean ‘to be precise’ or ‘in other words’. In this case, Paul is not saying that God saves believers more than He saves others; he is simply modifying his general statement that God is the Savior of all people by adding the limitation that you cannot be saved unless you believe. That is why, when Christians share the gospel, we insist on the absolute necessity of trusting in Jesus Christ for eternal life. If you do not believe in Jesus, then you are not saved; it is as simple as that. Jesus Christ is a Savior only for those who truly believe. Looking back over the first half of this chapter, we can now bring together the two tests which Paul gave Timothy, and which can still be applied to doubtful teaching today. The theological test is the doctrine of creation [4]: does this teaching honor God as the Creator and giver of all good things? The second test is ethical, and concerns the priority of godliness: does this teaching honor God by drawing out our worship? We need have no hesitations about any teaching which glorifies God the Creator and promotes godliness.

The Basis of Godliness:  Titus 3:1-8a.

[1]  Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, [2]  to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. [3]  For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. [4]  But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, [5]  he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, [6]  whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, [7]  so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. [8]  The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. [ESV]

[1-2]  Remind them, Paul begins, for the teaching he is about to give is not new. The churches have heard it before. But there are many warnings in Scripture of the dangers of forgetfulness, and many promises to those who remember. So all conscientious Christian teachers, once they have been delivered from the unhealthy lust for originality, take pains to make old truths new and stale truths fresh. What Titus is to remind the people about concerns their social relationships in the world, first to the authorities in particular [1] and then to everybody in general [2]. Paul has already written to Timothy about the need to pray for those in authority [1 Tim. 2:1ff.]; now he writes to Titus about our Christian duty to obey them. Not that Christian citizens can ever give the state an unconditional allegiance since laws of the state may contradict the law of God. Our first loyalty is to God and if our duty to Him comes into collision with our duty to the state, our duty to God takes precedence [Acts 5:29]. It is not enough, however, for Christians to be law-abiding; we are to be public-spirited as well, to be ready for every good work. According to both Paul and Peter, the state has the double duty to punish evil and to promote good. So God’s people should be ready to cooperate with it in both these areas. The emphasis on whatever is good not only clarifies our responsibility but limits it. We cannot cooperate with the state if it reverses its God-given duty, promoting evil instead of punishing it, and opposing good instead of rewarding and furthering it. From our Christian responsibility towards the leaders of the community, Paul turns to our relationship with everybody in the community. He looks beyond the Christian fellowship to secular society. How are believers to relate to unbelievers? It is essential to see that this is Paul’s concern, for he begins with a reference to no one and ends with a reference to all people. He selects four Christian social attitudes which are to be universal in their application, two negative and two positive. Negatively, we are to speak evil of no one and to avoid quarreling. So we must neither speak against, nor fight against, other people. We are to be neither offensive nor argumentative in either speech or behavior. Positively, we are to be gentle and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. Here then is a very brief delineation of Christian behavior in public life. In relation to the authorities we are to be conscientious citizens (submissive, obedient and cooperative), and in relation to everybody, irrespective of their race or religion, we are to be conciliatory, courteous, humble and gentle.

[3-8]  Paul now spells out the theological reason why we can expect Christians to have a social conscience and to behave responsibly in public life. The only reason we dare instruct others in social ethics is that we know what we were once like ourselves, that God nevertheless saved us, and that He can therefore transform other people too. Without a personal experience of salvation we lack the right, the incentive and the confidence to teach social ethics to others. So Paul now gives a condensed but comprehensive account of salvation. Verses 4-7 is one long sentence that hinges upon the main verb he saved us [5]. It is perhaps the fullest statement of salvation in the New Testament. For here Paul isolates six ingredients of salvation – its need (why it is necessary), its source (where it originates), its ground (what it rests on), its means (how it comes to us), its goal (what it leads to) and its evidence (how it proves itself).

(1) The need of salvation. In verse 3 Paul supplies an unsavory picture of the state and conduct of unregenerate people. In doing so, he discloses what we ourselves used to be like. It is perhaps best grasped as four couplets. First, we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient. In other words, we were both mentally and morally depraved. This is elaborated in the next pair. Secondly, we were led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures. Both verbs are passive in form, and so indicate that we were the victims of evil forces we could not control. We were not only foolish, but led astray or deceived. We were not only disobedient, but slaves. Thirdly, we were passing our days in malice and envy, which are very ugly twins. For malice is wishing people evil, while envy is resenting and coveting their good. Both disrupt human relationships. Fourthly, we were hated by others and hating one another. That is, the hostility which we experienced in our relationships was reciprocal. Thus a deliberate antithesis seems to be developed between the kind of people Christians should be [3:1-2] and the kind of people we once were [3:3]. It is a contrast between submissiveness and foolishness, between obedience and disobedience, between a readiness to do good and an enslavement by evil, between kindness and peaceableness on the one hand and malice and envy on the other, between being humble and gentle and being hateful and hating. How is it possible to get out of the one mindset and lifestyle into the other, and to exchange addiction for freedom? The answer is given in verse 5: he saved us, He rescued us from our former bondage and changed us into new people. The New Testament loves to dwell on this transformation, which salvation entails, by using the formula “once we were … but now we are …”

(2) The source of salvation.  If we were truly deceived and enslaved, one thing is obvious: we could not save ourselves. With verse 4 Paul turns from us in our depravity to God our Savior, from our hatred of one another to His amazing love for us. Paul traces our salvation right back to its source in the love of God. These are four tremendous words. God’s kindness is shown even to the ungrateful and wicked; His love is His concern for the whole human race; His mercy is extended to the helpless who cannot save themselves; and His grace reaches out to the guilty and undeserving. Thus salvation originated in the heart of God. it is because of His goodness and loving kindness that He intervened on our behalf, He took the initiative, He came after us, and He rescued us from our hopeless predicament.

(3) The ground of salvation. Granted that God’s love is the source or spring from which salvation flows, what is the ground on which it rests? On what moral basis can God forgive sinners? Not our righteousness but His mercy is the ground of our salvation. This sharp contrast between the false and the true way of salvation is hammered home in the New Testament by constant repetition. God does not save us because of His mercy alone, however, but because of what His mercy led Him to do in the sending of His Son. His attribute of mercy is indeed the source of our salvation; His deed of mercy in Christ is its ground. The ground of our salvation, therefore, is not our works of righteousness but His work of mercy in the cross.

(4) The means of salvation. On the one hand God saved us according to his own mercy, that is, because of His merciful deed. On the other hand, he saved us by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. Here is a composite expression containing four nouns – washing, regeneration, renewal and the Holy Spirit. What do they mean? Washing is almost certainly a reference to water baptism. All the early church fathers took it in this way. This does not mean that they (nor Paul) taught baptismal regeneration. Most Protestant churches think of baptism as an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, namely of the washing away of sins, and of new birth by the Holy Spirit. But they do not confuse the sign (baptism) with the thing signified (salvation). The next two nouns (regeneration and renewal) are variously understood. Regeneration speaks of a radical new beginning, a new birth. Renewal may be synonymous with regeneration, the repetition being used for rhetorical effect. Or it may refer to the process of moral renovation or transformation which follows the new birth. The Holy Spirit is of course the agent through whom we are reborn and renewed, whom God poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior [6]. The use of both the verb poured out and the aorist tense suggests that the reference is to the effusion of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, and the statement that He was poured out on us denotes our personal share in the Pentecostal gift. Salvation means more than an inward rebirth and renewal, however. It also includes being justified by his grace [7]. Justification is emphatically not the result, still less the object, of our regeneration. These two works of God are rather parallel and concurrent. Salvation includes both. Justification means that God declares us righteous through the sin-bearing death of his Son; regeneration means that He makes us righteous through the indwelling power of His Spirit. So we must never confuse justification and regeneration, our new status and our new birth. Nor should we ever attempt to separate them. For God always keeps both together. He never justifies people without at the same time regenerating them, and He never regenerates them without justifying them. The work of Christ in justification and the work of the Spirit in regeneration are simultaneous.

(5) The goal of salvation. God saved us so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life [7]. As His heirs we cherish the sure expectation that one day we will receive our full inheritance in heaven, namely eternal life, an unclouded fellowship with God. During the present age, although we have received a foretaste of eternal life, the fullness of life is the object of our hope. Yet our hope is secure because it rests on Gods’ promise.

(6) The evidence of salvation. Paul will not leave the topic of salvation without underlining the indispensable necessity of good works in those who profess to have been saved. What kind of good deeds does the apostle have in mind? The reference seems to refer to good works of righteousness and love in general. Good works are not the ground of salvation, but they are its necessary fruit and evidence.

We are now in a position to summarize the six essential ingredients of salvation. Its need is our sin, guilt and slavery; its source is God’s gracious loving-kindness; its ground is not our merit but God’s mercy in the cross; its means is the regeneration and renewing work of the Holy Spirit, signified in baptism; its goal is our final inheritance of eternal life; and its evidence is our diligent practice of good works. We note what a balanced and comprehensive account of salvation this is, for here are the three persons of the Trinity together engaged in securing our salvation: the love of God the Father who took the initiative; the death of God the Son in whom God’s grace and mercy appeared; and the inward work of God the Holy Spirit by whom we are reborn and renewed. Here too are the three tenses of salvation. The past is justification and regeneration. The present is a new life of good works in the power of the Spirit, the future is the inheritance of eternal life which will one day be ours. Once we have grasped the all-embracing character of this salvation, reductionist accounts of it will never satisfy us. We shall rather determine both to explore and experience for ourselves the fullness of God’s salvation and to share with other people the same fullness, refusing to acquiesce, whether for ourselves or others, in any form of truncated or trivialized gospel.


The Devotion to Godliness:  Titus 3:8b-9.

[8] These things are excellent and profitable for people. [9]  But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.

[8-9]  Having offered an eloquent theological summary of the gospel and its inherent motivation to profitable good works, Paul again warned Titus concerning the unprofitable works of the false teachers. The adversative conjunction but marks the contrast between correct theological teaching and its profitable results and false teaching and its unprofitable results. Paul recognized the long-range damage and division within the church resulting from foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law. He specifically instructed Titus on a procedure for handling such matters, making it clear that such behavior would not be tolerated. The reference to the law establishes the Jewish nature of the false teaching. These foolish matters concerning the minutia of the Mosaic law and its Jewish interpretations were divisive (producing arguments and quarrels) and were unprofitable and useless and should be avoided.

Questions for Discussion:

1.         What is godliness? How do we train ourselves for godliness?

2.         What two tests for sound teaching does Paul give Timothy in 4:4-10? Seek to apply these two tests to all the various types of teaching you hear and read in today’s world.

3.         According to Titus 3:1-2, what is our responsibility to those in authority over us and to people in general?

4.         What are the six ingredients of salvation in Titus 3:3-8? Take time this week to think about the meaning and significance of these six ingredients.


The Message of 1 Timothy, John Stott, Inter Varsity Press.

The Message of Titus, John Stott, Inter Varsity Press.

1,2 Timothy, Titus, Thomas Lea, NAC, Broadman Press.

1 Timothy, Philip Ryken, REC, P&R Publishing.