A Church Planter’s Reflections on Titus: Gospel Story and Doctrine that Trains (2:11-14)
“11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” Titus 2:11-14
Titus 2:11-14 is the theological peak of the letter (though 3:4-7 is a close second). This densely packed section gives us a picture of what God did in the past through Jesus, its impact on our present lives today, and what we should expect in the future. First, we learn of the past work of God. This was a work of grace. Paul tells us that that the grace of God has appeared. God’s grace is His undeserved favor or kindness. It is displayed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and it brings salvation to all types of people (slaves, old and young) [I think this “all types” is the best understanding of the phrase “all people” since Paul just described various types of people, and clearly holds to the idea of elect (1:1)]. This grace is most evidently seen in Jesus who “gave himself for us” (v 14). The idea here is one of substitutionary atonement–Christ dying in our place on the cross. What love! There is no greater love than this! In giving himself, Jesus redeemed us from lawlessness–what we were given to–and he purified us for himself. This is what Jesus did and this is what people need: freedom from slavery to sin and to be washed clean. But this is not only what he did, he also made us his own: “a people for his own possession” (14). It’s important to remember that we belong to Jesus as we plant a church. It keeps us humble and secure. We are in His hand, and no one can take us out of it (John 10:28).
But this past event does something today: it trains us. First, it “trains us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions.” It does this as we see the worthless nature of ungodliness and worldly passions. When tempted with them (lust, pride, jealousy, etc.)–and we are tempted daily—God’s grace helps us to reject them. This happens as we meditate on the gospel and see that sin is contrary to what pleases God and who we are. The grace also equips us to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives. We remember God’s kindness and want to please him through these ways. We’re a new people, Jesus’ people, and we are to be zealous for good works (14). This is really who we are—already/not! Our task as church planters is to encourage Christians to live out who they really are in Christ. The indicative reality empowers the imperative task. And as we do this, it is for life in the “present age”, knowing that right now we are in the in-between: waiting for Jesus to come back even as we are a new creation right now. Till Jesus returns, we seek to be faithful.
The future hope of Jesus returning and our eager waiting is described in verse 13. We eagerly await “our blessed hope, even the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” Paul most explicitly identifies Jesus with God here by calling him “our great God and Savior.” This is an incredible statement! As we plant Cross of Christ Fellowship, I need to remind myself of this, that Jesus really is God. He truly is the eternal Son, the God-Man who is coming back to bring in His Kingdom. Already I have had lots of opportunities to explain this to atheists, New-Agers, Mormons, Hindus, and agnostics who reject this reality or redefine it in an unbiblical manner. But it is a glorious truth that grips the heart and keeps us striving with joy as we plant Cross of Christ Fellowship in downtown Naperville.