Reality Check

Week of September 2, 2018

The Point:  Our lives should serve as a welcome mat to the church.

Christian Behavioral Standards: Titus 3:1-11.

[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. 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. [10] As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, [11] knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.   [ESV]

The Need for Christian Behavioral Standards [3:1-2].  Paul then took up the matter of standards for Christian conduct with regard to pagan society in general. Whereas his exhortations in 2:1-10 appear to relate more directly to Christian behavior among believers and the impact that such behavior would have on the nonbeliever, Paul then addressed the direct relationship the Cretan Christians were to have with the pagan world. Paul’s instruction to Titus is expressed with the present tense and imperative mood of the verb remind and means ‘keep reminding them’. The choice of this term remind suggests that Paul may already have taught the Cretans concerning their obligations and standards of behavior within a pagan culture. Although his instructions begin by referring specifically to civil authorities [1], this quickly evolves to include all people in general. The instruction that Christians be submissive to the civil government indicates that such authorities are part of God’s overall order for human society. Christians are not exempt from reasonable and appropriate obligations toward the governmental authorities [Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-16]. Paul’s apparent concern for the Christian’s attitude toward the state may reflect the possibility that some Christians wrongly interpreted their allegiance to Christ as being contrary to any allegiance to the state. A proper Christian attitude toward the state requires the Christians to be obedient. Biblical teaching is clear that blind, unquestioning obedience to the state in opposition to God’s law is not required [cf. Acts 5:29]. Yet not only are Christians to be submissive (in attitude) and to be obedient (in actions), but they are also to be ready for every good work. This extends the Christian’s responsibilities from a mere passive posture (obeying laws) to an active, positive involvement in society. This idea is a practical outworking of Jesus’ teaching concerning being the salt of the earth … and the light of the world … that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven [Matt. 5:13-16]. In verse 2 there is an obvious shift in the object of the verb forms from civil authorities to the people in a secular society in general. The objects are stated as no one and all people. Christians are to speak evil of no one. Christians should be careful not to speak evil of or verbally abuse others, who are created in God’s own image and the object of His saving grace [James 3:9]. Christians are to avoid quarreling and to be gentle (kind, forbearing, considerate). They should be willing to defer to others, although it may require them to relinquish some of their own rights. And finally, Christians are to show perfect courtesy toward all people. The Greek term rendered show perfect courtesy is the word for ‘meekness’ or ‘humility’. This rich New Testament term is used descriptively of Jesus [Matt. 11:29; 21:5; 2 Cor. 10:1], included as a fruit of the Spirit [Gal. 5:23], and is repeatedly encouraged as a desirable personal Christian quality [1 Cor. 4:21; Gal. 6:1; Eph. 4:2; Col. 3:12; 1 Tim. 6:11; James 3:13; 1 Peter 3:4,15].

The Theological Basis for Proper Behavior [3:3-8].  [3]  Paul then described the degenerate condition of the pagan society in which Christians had to live. Humankind’s innate sinful nature and the intensity with which it can manifest itself determines the degradation of all human society. Identifying himself and all Christians with sinful and degenerate humanity, Paul emphatically asserted, for we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures. The use of for establishes the logical connection between the statements in 3:1-2 and 3:3-8. Christians, though at one time degenerate and lost, were objects of God’s kindness and love, which resulted in their salvation. Christians are to demonstrate this same kindness and love to lost individuals and society, making Christianity attractive and resulting in the salvation of others. The verb were, placed at the beginning of this sentence, emphatically contrasts the Christian’s former degenerate condition, which is described in verse 3, with the present regenerate condition (but when), which is described in verses 4-7. Paul set forth the unregenerate human condition with eight descriptive characteristics. He stated that we ourselves were once foolish, i.e., unintelligent, senseless. Our minds did not grasp self-evident truths about God. We were disobedient to God and His will for our lives. We were led astray, misled, perhaps by Satan. We were slaves to various passions and pleasures. In Romans 6:6-23, Paul expressly characterized sin in terms of bondage. Malice refers to wickedness, perhaps characterized by ill will to others. Envy denotes a continual dissatisfaction with one’s own position, possessions, or power as compared to that of another. And finally, Paul concluded that we were hated by others and hating one another. These terms, both passive and active, represent the logical results of self-centered, sinful humanity. [4]  This expression of humanity’s depraved condition marks the beginning of the third outstanding theological statement in this brief letter [cf. 1:1-4; 2:11-15]. Having initiated a contrast at the beginning of verse 3 with the words, For we ourselves were once, Paul completed it in verses 4-7, beginning with the words But when. In the Greek text verses 4-7 form one sentence that eloquently summarizes God’s work in humanity’s salvation. God’s goodness includes His generosity and kindness, especially toward humanity and for humanity’s benefit. The term rendered loving kindness denotes God’s love for mankind. The combination of such infinite goodness and loving kindness facilitates our understanding of the grace of God that brings salvation to all men [2:11]. The purpose of the manifestation of God’s goodness and love was to bring salvation; therefore God is referred to as our Savior. [5]  Paul’s assertion, he saved us constitutes the main verb in this lengthy sentence [4-7]. It is the fact of God’s saving action in Jesus Christ that is amplified and explained by each additional clause and phrase. Paul left absolutely no doubt concerning the basis of human salvation. His explanation is presented in the form of a contrast that is indicated by the use of the strong adversative but. The contrast is between humankind’s attempts to achieve salvation through their own effort and salvation as a result of God’s mercy. Paul stated: he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy. The use of the negative not at the beginning of the clause serves to heighten the contrast indicated by the adversative but, as does the explicit use of the personal pronouns us and his. The phrase rendered because of works done by us in righteousness appears to be equivalent to Paul’s more familiar phrase works of the law. Paul could not be more clear in addressing the matter of the basis of salvation: People cannot save themselves! Salvation depends solely and completely on God’s grace, displayed in his own mercy, revealed and achieved by His Son, Jesus Christ, and applied to humankind by the Holy Spirit. The biblical fact that people cannot earn salvation strikes at the very heart of human pride and thus denies people the opportunity of exalting themselves. It is a reflection of this pride that popular conceptions of attaining salvation revolve around “keeping the law,” “doing more good deeds than bad deeds,” or living up to some (usually undefined) “moral standard,” Theologically, the purpose of the Old Testament law is not to show how humans could save themselves. Rather, the purpose of the law is to show humans, that they cannot save themselves and that their only hope for salvation is in the gracious promise of God [Gal. 3:10-27]. Humanity’s sinful acts are the result of a sinful nature. Salvation cannot be attained by suppressing sinful acts, by doing more righteous acts than sinful acts, or by living a better life in comparison to others. Salvation can only be attained by effectively dealing with humanity’s sinful nature. This requires a new birth [John 3:3-8], a transference from being in Adam to being in Christ [Rom. 5:12-19; 1 Cor. 15:21-22], a new creation [2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15]. These metaphors for salvation indicate the radical change in heart that can be accomplished by God alone. This strong, clear, and precise statement in Titus 3:5 concerning the basis of salvation reflects a determined effort by Paul to eliminate any confusion in the minds of the Cretan Christians regarding the role of good works in the Christian life. Thus far in this letter, Paul had emphasized the necessity for good works among Christians and toward the pagan world as a demonstration of the true gospel [cf. 1:16; 2:7,14; 3:1,8,14]. Good works are the result, not the cause, of the saving, transforming power of God’s grace in one’s life. Theologically, they have no saving, transforming power. Paul proceeded, he saved us … by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. The grammatical question centers on the omission of the preposition by before the second phrase, renewal of the Holy Spirit. This omission clearly indicates that the phrase by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, refers to a single event rather than referring to two distinct events. The text indicates that washing is an activity of the Holy Spirit and that this washing involves rebirth and renewal. The Greek term for renewal refers to an internal change, which in this context may suggest a process begun within the believer from the moment of conversion. The second question that has sparked scholarly discussion is whether the term washing refers to the external ordinance of water baptism or to an internal, spiritual baptism. Any suggestion of salvation being attained through the ordinance of baptism is absolutely contrary to Paul’s previous statement regarding the futility of works of righteousness as the basis of salvation. An alternative interpretation is that the washing refers to an internal, spiritual cleansing as denoted by the terms contained in the phrase regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. If this phrase indicates that it is the Holy Spirit who does the washing, then the regeneration and renewal must be an internal, spiritual cleansing. Therefore, washing cannot refer to the external ordinance of water baptism. If washing alludes to baptism in this text, then it is to “Spirit baptism” at conversion and not “water baptism.” [6]  Concerning the Holy Spirit, Paul continued, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior. It is noteworthy that each Person of the Trinity is referred to in this passage and particularly in this text: God poured out the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ. The verb poured out echoes the description of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The additional words on us indicate that the pouring out of the Holy Spirit is not limited to the historic event at Pentecost but rather is shared by all believers. The descriptive term richly suggests that God’s pouring out of the Holy Spirit is totally sufficient for the needs of every believer. This provides a contrast with the limited personal role of the Holy Spirit demonstrated in the Old Testament [2 Cor. 3:2-6]. This generous outpouring of the Holy Spirit is the direct result of the work of Jesus Christ, our Savior. [7]  Having referred to Jesus Christ, our Savior, Paul restated the basis of our salvation with a clause introduced by so that. The phrase being justified by his grace recalls the main verb of the entire sentence, he saved us [5]. The use of the term justified expresses a favorite Pauline expression for salvation [Rom. 3:24; 5:1,9; 1 Cor. 6:11; Gal. 2:16-17; 3:24]. The expression by his grace refers to God’s grace, which is the basis of Christian salvation [2:11; 3:4]. The force of the term rendered so that is applied to the final phrase, which truly expresses the goal, purpose, or result of our salvation: so that … we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The soteriological and eschatological aspects of Christians being heirs is readily apparent in this final phrase. Christian salvation results in adoption into God’s family, which in turn makes believers heirs. This is the soteriological aspect. The eschatological aspect of Christians’ being heirs is understood in the fact that all believers still await their final future redemption and the full realization of eternal life. What has been promised by God in Christ to His heirs has not yet been experienced in the fullest measure [Rom. 8:23-25]. In becoming heirs (through salvation), Christians become possessors of a guaranteed future referred to as the hope of eternal life. This outstanding theological statement in 3:3-7 encompasses the gospel in a nutshell. Beginning with humankind’s lost condition, Paul summarized the elements of salvation from the perspective of God’s work. Each Person of the Trinity is presented as working together to achieve humankind’s salvation. Paul left no doubt that salvation is truly God’s own work. [8]  Paul concluded by stating, the saying is trustworthy. Whether this trustworthy saying includes all or part of verses 4-7 is uncertain. However, in the absence of convincing arguments to the contrary and because of the cogent summary of the gospel contained therein, verses 4-7 probably constitute this trustworthy saying. Having made a strong theological statement in verses 3-7, Paul exhorted Titus, and I want you to insist on these things. Paul’s similar directive to Titus in 2:15 suggests some sense of urgency as well as the possibility that Titus may have needed encouragement to act and speak firmly and confidently. Paul stated his purpose in directing Titus to stress these things. It was so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. Once again Paul connected theological understanding with Christian behavior described as good works. Those who have trusted in God are to be careful (in the sense of paying close attention) to devote themselves to good works. In so doing, they will be like the One in whom they have trusted. Paul observed, These things are excellent and profitable for people. Good works constitute these things. Such intrinsically good works will surely be profitable or useful to everyone.

Final Warning Concerning False Teaching and Division [3:9-11].  [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 and worthless 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. Titus was to avoid divisive discussions or debates. He was to have nothing to do with them if restoration failed after a second warning. Although the issues described appear to be more peripheral and esoteric in 3:9, they certainly suggest a Jewish perspective and mind-set. Even if these errors are less significant in terms of diluting the central issue of salvation, Paul recognized the long-range damage and division within the church resulting from such controversies. He specifically instructed Titus on a procedure for handling such matters, making it clear that such behavior would not be tolerated. [10]  Concerning those persons who promote false teaching, Paul commanded that Titus after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him. Paul described a false teacher as a divisive person, which indicates the destructive nature of those promoting error among believers. Divisions within the church result in believers who are confused, frustrated, angry, and hurt. They become ineffective in ministering to one another and to a lost world in desperate need of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the good works characteristic of genuine Christians. [11]  Because the divisive person refused to change, Titus could know three things concerning this person. First, he is warped. This term means literally “he remains off track.” Second, he is sinful, literally “he continues to sin.” And finally, because he willfully continued in his sin, he is self-condemned. Paul’s use of the rare term “self-condemned” suggests that having refused correction, the factious person actually participates in his own condemnation since he is without excuse.”  [Griffin, pp. 317-329].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Why isn’t it enough for Christians simply to be law-abiding? What else is involved in our relationship with the state authorities? How might this work out in practice for you? When must the believer disobey rulers and authorities? What four commands does Paul give concerning how a believer is to treat all people?
  2. Verses 4-7 present a wonderful summary of salvation. What is the significance of Paul’s use of the strong adversative But in verse 4? What is the basis of our salvation? What is the role of good works in the Christian life? Using these four verses, how would you explain the meaning of salvation to an unbeliever?
  3. How do verses 9-11 apply to you? What does Paul say you should do about a person who stirs up division? How does your church handle people who stir up divisions within your church?


Titus, Hayne Griffin, Jr., NAC, Broadman Press.

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

The Letter to Titus, Philip Towner, Eerdmans.

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