There is no doubt that Titus 2:11-14 and its companion, 3:4-7, are two of the great theological passages of the New Testament. These texts deal with salvation (past, present, and future), with Christology (the person and work of Christ), and Pneumatology (the person and work of the Spirit), but central to their focus is the practical ramifications of this gracious working of God on behalf of all people. In the process of developing the theme of God’s gracious work on our behalf, these two passages set forth the reasons why believers in Christ can and should live a godly Christian life. As to 2:11-14, there are few passages in the New Testament which so beautifully and vividly point us to the transforming power of both the first and second epiphanies (appearances) of Christ as does this passage. In these verses are truths that cry out to be communicated (cf. 2:15) because of their tremendous implications on human life for both now and in the millennial and eternal futures.
But as we examine this passage (2:11-15), we dare not overlook its place and purpose in the message of this epistle. The book of Titus strongly stresses the need of good works in the lives of Christians. In fact, this note is sounded over and over again either by way of terms like “godliness” (two times) “good deeds” or “good works” (four times) or by a list of moral qualities that characterize godly leadership and behavior (three times [cf. 1:1, 6-9, 16; 2:1-10, 14; 3:1-3, 8, 14]). For a book of three short chapters, this is a strong emphasis. Thus, as the title of this section implies, these verses provide the theological foundation, means, and motivation (the “declaration”) for the previous instructions (the “exhortations”) of 1:10-2:10. At the end of the last section, verse 10, the apostle demonstrated his concern that Christians do credit to the teaching of God our Savior before a lost world. With this mention of God our Savior, Paul launched into a declaration of God’s gracious and saving activity which he defined as the appearing of the grace of God that brings salvation for all people, a reference to the first advent of Christ.
When the Son of God became a man, he made visible in a fresh, totally compelling way the grace, kindness, and love of God of which all the Scriptures testify. As Paul writes in 2 Ti 1:9-10, “Grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”124
But what God did for us in the appearing of Christ is not in the least way a matter of cold irrelevant doctrine or theology for Paul went on to show that this appearance of the grace of God has within itself the inherent capacity to instruct us to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age.
When David Brainerd, the outstanding missionary to the American Indians, was summarizing his ministry among them and message to them, he said, “I never got away from Jesus and him crucified in my preaching. I found that once these people were gripped by the great evangelical meaning of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf, I did not have to give them any instructions about changing their behavior.”125
Closely linked to this instruction for godly living is another vital element, one found in the future and glorious appearing of the Lord Jesus for His people—the blessed hope. Thus, the glorious appearing of the Lord Jesus with all that this will mean to Christians forms another strong motivation for godliness as we wait or look expectantly for the sure reality of His return. So then, both the first and second appearances of Christ, when properly grasped and focused on, form a strong appeal and motivation for godliness and good works.
Here then is a passage with a strong emphasis on the past, present, and future elements of the salvation God has given us in Christ, but the central thrust is on the impact that a proper grasp of this glorious salvation should have on our present lives in the purpose of God—a people who are God’s very own possession and who are zealous for good works. It is no wonder, as David Brainerd discovered, that the apostle Paul wrote:
2:1 When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come with superior eloquence or wisdom as I proclaimed the testimony of God. 2:2 For I decided to be concerned about nothing among you except Jesus Christ, as one who had been crucified (1 Cor. 2:1-2).
2:11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people.
The Connection With the Preceding: Paul introduces this section (vss. 11-14) with “for,” the Greek gar, a conjunction used to express cause, inference, continuation, or an explanation. Verses 11-14 stand as an explanation for the preceding ethical section (vss. 1-10), but especially verse 10, the appeal to do credit to the teaching of God our Savior in everything. In other words, the fact that God is our Savior and the appeal to transformed living are both based on the historic appearing of the grace of God in Christ.
We might also note that verses 11-14 form a single sentence in the Greek text. Some translations (NET Bible, NIV) have broken these verses down into several sentences because of the length and complexity of this passage. However, the length and interconnectedness of the Greek text does two things. First, it suggests the majestic nature of the truths of these verses. As the apostle thought on the appearance of the grace of God, one thought immediately led to another. Second, this interconnectedness shows a special relationship that exists in the truths stated in these verses that are related to one another to produce the transforming effect of godliness. This will be seen in the exposition that follows.
The Essence of What Has Appeared: The essence or nature of what has appeared is twofold: it is gracious and historic.
First, that which has appeared is defined as “the grace of God.” It may seem strange to speak of grace as appearing, but this is a clear reference to the first coming of Christ in His entire earthly life—birth, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven (cf. 2 Tim. 1:10; Tit. 3:4). This declares that Christ is the grace of God personified and the epitome of God’s grace. In giving the Lord Jesus, we have that which man could never accomplish. “Grace” is charis, “unmerited favor, kindness,” and stresses that the salvation spoken of here through Christ is based on the unmerited favor of God; it provides a redemption that is free, one based not on human merit or religious works or moral good deeds, but on the gracious gift of God through faith alone in Christ alone (cf. Rev. 21:6; 22:17; Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:4-5).
Second, the fact that “the grace of God has appeared” points us to the historic past, an objective fact of history, as the source of salvation. “Appeared” is emphatic in that it stands first in the sentence and represents a past historic event or group of events viewed as a single whole.126 In Greek, it’s the aorist form epephane of the verb epiphaino, “to show forth, appear.” This word is “… used particularly of divine interposition, especially aid; and of the dawning of light upon darkness.”127 Our word epiphany comes from this word.
There is a beauty and energy in the word epiphane, hath shined out, that is rarely noted; it seems to be a metaphor taken from the sun. As by his rising in the east and shining out, he enlightens, successively, the whole world; so the Lord Jesus, who is called the Sun of righteousness, Malachi 4:2, arises on the whole human race with healing in his wings. And as the light and heat of the sun are denied to no nation nor individual, so the grace of the Lord Jesus, this also shines out upon all; and God designs that all mankind shall be as equally benefited by it in reference to their souls, as they are in respect to their bodies by the sun that shines in the firmament of heaven.128
Thus, the picture is that of Jesus Christ as the Sun of Righteousness breaking forth in human history to penetrate the moral and spiritual darkness of the world. Those who were “the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light; and on those sitting in the region and the shadow of death a light has dawned” (cf. Matt. 4:16). “Men could never have formed an adequate conception of that grace apart from its personal manifestation in Christ, in his incarnation and atonement.”129
Bob Woods, in Pulpit Digest, tells the story of a couple who took their son, 11, and daughter, 7, to Carlsbad Caverns. As always, when the tour reached the deepest point in the cavern, the guide turned off all the lights to dramatize how completely dark and silent it is below the earth’s surface. The little girl, suddenly enveloped in utter darkness, was frightened and began to cry. Immediately was heard the voice of her brother: “Don’t cry. Somebody here knows how to turn on the lights.”
In a very real sense, that is the message of Titus 2:11-14. In fact, that is the message of the gospel, the good news of what God has done for man in the person and work of Jesus Christ: Through the manifestation of God’s Son, He has shined forth in the darkness of our sinful and fallen world. Light is available, even when darkness seems overwhelming. The Bible is written against the backdrop of this spiritual darkness that floods the world. This is the root of the ungodliness and moral degeneracy that envelops us and any society that ignores God and seeks to live apart from the light of His revelation to us in the Bible and in Christ.
The Results and Scope of What Has Appeared: The results and scope are seen in the words “bringing salvation to or for all people.”
The NIV, however, states that God’s grace that brings salvation has appeared to all men, thus suggesting a universal appearance. The question is whether “to all men” goes with “appeared” (as in the NIV) or with the adjective soterios (“that brings salvation”). Grammatically “to all men” can be taken either way, but the latter makes better sense and correlates with the clear teaching of 1 Timothy 2:4, 6; 4:10. In each case the reference to God as Savior (cf. 1 Tim. 2:3; 4:10; Titus 2:10) prompted Paul to affirm the universal availability of salvation through Christ. To side with the NIV, on the other hand, introduces an idea foreign to the New Testament and to common sense, since the gospel itself has patently not “appeared” to all men (unless “all men” means all kinds of people and not every single person).131
The word order of the Greek text with Paul’s teaching in other places in the pastoral epistles as just mentioned in the quote above (cf. 1 Tim. 2:4, 6; 4:10), supports our understanding of the text to proclaim the universal scope of salvation for all who would respond to the grace of God in faith. Its saving effect depends on one’s personal response in faith as brought out in the last statement of 1 Timothy 4:10, “who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.” This truth brings out a two-fold responsibility: (1) to seek to evangelize all men and (2) to stress that the ethical or life-changing truths of the gospel apply equally to all people regardless of their nationality, religious background, social or economic status, or gender.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Rom. 1:16).
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28).
2:12 It trains us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.
The very essence and scope of this grace salvation brought to us in the appearing of Christ is highly instructive for the Christian life especially as it is seen in this present age. This present age (in contrast to the one to come with the return of Christ) is one that is totally opposed to the very nature, values, and purposes of God, but a grasp of God’s salvation in its past, present, and future aspects, instructs Christians in a different direction with life-changing results.
“Trains” is paideuo, “to bring up, train, educate, discipline.” In the Greek text, “trains” is a feminine participle that modifies the feminine noun grace. It is in the present tense which stresses the ever present work of the training of grace. Paideuo basically means “to train a child” and encompasses all that is involved in the training process—teaching, correction, discipline, and encouragement. Here the grace of God is practically personified in its work to bring believers to spiritual maturity in keeping with the character of God and the very essence of His saving work in Christ.
But how does the appearance of the grace that brings salvation train and correct us? By the very purposes of salvation that are seen in the coming of Christ and His death for sin. The apostle highlights this in verse 14, “He gave himself for us to (literally, “in order to”) set us free from every kind of lawlessness and to purify for himself a people who are truly his, who are eager to do good.” In addition, one should also consider Hebrews 2:14 and 1 John 3:5 and 8.
With the words, “to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age,” we see that this training work of grace has two sides or directions to it, one negative and one positive. Literally, the text says, “training us that, having denied (or by means of denying) ungodliness and worldly desires, we should live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age.”
The negative side is seen in the words “to reject godless ways and worldly desires.” “Reject” is arneomai, “to deny, say no to, to repudiate or abjure.” In summary, two things are mentioned. The first is “ungodliness.” This is asebeia, “a lack of reverence for God that expresses itself in a complete disregard for God in thought and in actions.” By contrast, a godly person is one whose life revolves around the worship and service of God. Adam Clarke defines this word as:
All things contrary to God; whatever would lead us to doubt his being, deny any of his essential attributes; his providence or government of the world, and his influence on the souls of men. Every thing, also, which is opposed to his true worship; theoretical and practical atheism, deism, and irreligion in general.132
The second thing to deny is “worldly desires.” “Worldly” is kosmikos from kosmos, “order, world, the universe as an ordered system.” Kosmos is used in the following ways: (1) It is used of the inhabitants of the earth or the mass of mankind as it is arranged in tribes and nations (Acts 17:24-26; John 3:16; 1 Cor. 4:9; 1 John 2:2; 2 Pet. 2:5); (2) It is used of the order or arrangement of the heavens or the earth and all things in it (Acts 17:24-26; 2 Pet. 3:6; John 11:9; 1 Tim. 6:7); (3) But kosmos is especially used in a very specialized way of the vast system or arrangement of human affairs which always stands opposed to the will of God and is controlled by Satan who is called the ruler of this world and the god of this world (age) (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; 17:15-17; 2 Cor. 4:4) .
This world system is promoted by Satan and conformed to his ideals, aims, methods and character. It is in opposition to God, to the Word of God, to God’s grace, and the purposes of the Savior. This world system is used by Satan to seduce men from God and to contaminate their lives with Satan’s system and values. Ultimately, the design of this world system is the elimination of dependence and trust in God, His Word, and His grace through the person and work of the Savior. A further design is to nullify, as much as possible, the impact of the church on mankind by contaminating it with this satanic world system.
Thus, kosmikos means “pertaining to this world, of this world” and “worldly desires” refers to desires that are promoted by this satanic world system and are naturally at variance with God and His purposes for us in Christ.
Then, the positive side is seen in the words, “to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.” “Self-controlled” is sophronos, an adverbial form related sophron used in 1:8, 2:2, 5 and sophroneo in 2:6. “Upright” is dikaios, “justly, uprightly, in a just manner.” “Godly” is eusebos, “piously, godly, reverently.” It is just the opposite of the ungodliness expressed and explained above. We should note that in these last three adverbs we have three changed relationships:
1. “Self-controlled” naturally relates to one’s personal life so that we are free under God’s control to overcome life-dominating patterns.
2. “Upright” relates to one’s relationship with others or to our neighbor in fairness, integrity, honesty, and truthfulness.
3. “Godly” naturally pertains to one’s relationship with God in that one’s life is centered on Him as the primary object of worship and on His will and purposes. This forms the foundation and source of motivation and control for the other two relationships.
Paul then adds, “in this present age.” “Age” is aion, “age, epoch, a time span.” By mentioning this present age, the apostle wants us to think in terms of two things: of the nature of this present age as contrary to God’s purposes and the way He wants us to live, and, as the next verse will stress, to think in terms of the temporary nature of this age for a glorious age is coming. Zondervan’s Expository Dictionary of Bible Words has some excellent comments on the term aion.
Often aion indicates an “age,” or “epoch.” Then it focuses our attention on a time span marked by some distinctive or moral characteristics. According to Scripture, the underlying idea of history is that time and events flow in a series of successive ages toward God’s intended culmination (Mt 13:39; 28:20; 1 Co 10:11; Heb 9:26).
… Descriptions of “this” age focus on characteristics of the human societies within which Christians are called to live. “This age” is not only the undetermined period of time between Christ’s first and second comings; it is also the spiritual and psychological state of a humanity that ignores all that God has done in Christ to redeem mankind.
As a spiritual and psychological state, this age is evil (Gal 1:4). Its wise men and its philosophers are blind to God and ignorant of him, for they scornfully reject the crucified Christ (1 Co 1:20-25). The principles by which this age operates are “foolishness in God’s sight” (1 Co 3:19), for lost humanity is blinded by illusions that are sponsored by Satan, the unacknowledged “god of this age” (2 Co 4:4).
The Bible’s exciting news about this present age is that God has invaded it and mankind’s dark territory (Eph 6:12). Jesus has acted to rescue us (Gal 1:4), not by removing us from the world but by calling us to share in a divine transformation. Believers actually taste “the powers of the coming age” (Heb 6:5), for God is at work now to transform us into Jesus’ likeness (2 Co 3:18), and he will do so fully at the resurrection (1 Jn 3:2-3). Our calling is to “live godly lives in this present age” (Tit 2:12), refusing to be “conformed to this world” (aion, Ro 12:2). Instead of conforming, we are to open our lives to God, permitting him to reshape our attitudes and perspective. We thus learn to live by God’s principles rather than by the subtly distorted principles that infuse human society, and we experience God’s blessings now and in the age to come (Mk 10:29-30; Lk 18:30; 1 Ti 6:19).133
This dual emphasis expressed in the negative and the positive emphasis of 2:12 is very much in keeping with Paul’s practical instructions on the Christian life in his other epistles. Compare Romans 6:5-14 (putting to death and bringing to new life); Ephesians 4:22-32 and Colossians 3:8-14 (putting off and putting on); and Galatians 5:16-26 (the works of the flesh versus the fruit of the Spirit). This reminds us that the Christian life never consists of just the negative things we don’t or should not do. Instead, the negative must be replaced with Christ-like character. The goal is the positive replacement of the old manner of life with new Christ-like behavior that is in keeping with the purposes and accomplishments of His death and resurrection (see 2:14).
Based on the spiritual issues involved (the purposes and accomplishments of the death and resurrection of Christ) and the grammar of the text,134 Paul is showing us that living godly lives with the kind of character this calls for cannot be done without self-denial or the repudiation of the kind of life-style that is contrary to the character of God and the nature of the salvation He has given us in Christ. Plainly put, we must learn to say no to that which is contrary to a people who are God’s special redeemed possession. By the power of the indwelling Spirit of God or the Spirit-controlled life and the Christian’s new position in Christ, the old life is to be put to death that the new might take its place.
2:13 as we wait for the happy fulfillment of our hope in the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Having mentioned this present and temporary age, the apostle quickly moved to the age to come that will be ushered in with the glorious appearing of the Savior. This is to be another strong motivation to godly living, a fact that is even more obvious in the Greek text. “As we wait” represents the translation of another adverbial participle that is dependent on the previous verb, “that we should live.” We could easily translate it, “we should live … by waiting expectantly for the happy fulfillment of our hope (literally, the blessed hope)…” The participle points us to one of the means by which we are to live in this present age, by living with a view to the return of Christ. Waiting for the blessed hope provides added incentives that enable us to live godly lives in this present age.
The object we are to wait for is described as “the happy fulfillment of our hope in the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” or literally, “the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
First, the use of the article ten with “blessed hope” and its absence with “glorious appearing” plus the fact both are connected by “and” (the Greek conjunction kai) shows that the blessed hope and glorious appearing are one and the same event. In Greek grammar, this is what is often referred to as the Granville Sharp rule.135 The point is that the blessed hope is the glorious appearing of the Savior.
Second, the Greek text literally reads, “the appearing of the glory.” The question is how should this be understood. Should it be taken as the NET and NIV, “the glorious appearing,” as an attributive genitive explaining the nature of His appearing? Or should it be understood as the RSV and NRSV, “the appearing of the glory” with the glory being the subject manifested, the what. In this view, “of the glory” refers to the product of His appearing, the revealing of God’s glory. In favor of “the glorious appearing” is the fact that the attributive genitive is very common in the New Testament as in “the steward of unrighteousness” meaning “the unrighteous steward” (Luke 16:8) or “the body of sin” meaning “the sinful body” (Rom. 6:6) or “the freedom of the glory” meaning “the glorious freedom” (Rom. 8:21). Further, especially in the pastorals, the concept of “appearing” (whether the verb epiphaino or the noun epiphaneia) is consistently applied to the Lord Jesus Himself either in His first or second coming (see 1 Tim. 6:14; 2 Tim. 1:10; 4:1, 8; Tit. 2:11, 13; 3:4; 2 Thess. 2:8).
Third, His return is called “the blessed hope” because Christ’s return or appearance for the church ushers in a time of great blessing as promised over and over again in Scripture. It is blessed because of all that the Savior’s return will mean to us as believers in Christ. His coming for us means translation (the rapture of the church to meet the Lord in the air), transformation or glorification (glorified resurrection bodies), reunion (meeting loved one and friends who have died in the Lord), examination and remuneration (evaluation for and the giving of rewards for faithful service), and reigning with Christ in the glorious future that follows (1 Thess. 4:13f; 2 Tim. 2:10-13; 1 Cor. 3:12-13; 4:5; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 2:16; 3:21; 5:10).
Fourth, and most important, is the way this verse describes Jesus Christ. He is described as “the great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Some have understood that two persons are in view here, the Father (“the great God”) and His Son, (Jesus Christ our Savior) as seen in the translation of the KJV, “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.”
Various arguments have been used in an attempt to get around the fact this is a clear affirmation of the deity of Christ, but the same point of grammar (the Granville Sharp rule) that shows “the blessed hope and glorious appearing” are one and the same event applies here as well. That only one article governs the two nouns, God and Savior, shows us only one person is in view, namely, our great God and Savior who is Jesus Christ. This verse is very precise and is a clear example of the grammatical rule discussed in footnote above.136 Further, nowhere in the New Testament is the term “appearing” or epiphany, used with reference to God the Father nor is He portrayed as coming with the Lord Jesus at the time of Christ’s return. Towner summarizes some of the arguments in favor of the interpretation that two persons are in view, God the Father (the great God) and Jesus Christ (our Savior):
In favor of the second interpretation: (1) It is unusual, perhaps unprecedented (compare Rom 9:5), for Paul to refer to Christ as “God.” (2) It is argued that in the epiphany passages of the Pastorals there is a tendency to distinguish between God and Christ (1 Tim 6:13-14; 2 Tim 1:9-10). (3) Paul tends to emphasize Christ’s dependence upon God in the pastorals, so that a reference to Christ as God would be out of character.137
But Towner quickly adds:
On the whole, grammatical and background considerations recommend the first interpretation. It is best to conclude, therefore, that the blessed hope is the hope in God’s ultimate manifestation of glory in the return of Christ. Paul affirms that Christ is God. The use of epiphany language (“appearance”) in this passage for both events of Christ not only implies the “helping” character of these events but also characterizes the present age between them. What began with Christ, salvation and a new manner of life (vv. 11-12), will be brought to completion only with his return (v. 13). The present age, and life in it, thus takes its meaning from these two reference points. The past reference point is certain, historical; it is the substance of the gospel message. The future reference point is based on the past event, but its time is uncertain, requiring hope and the expectant look.138
In the name Jesus we have reference to His humanity and with the name Christ He is identified as the Messiah of the Old Testament. Here is one who is both God and man united together in one person, God incarnate (Isa. 7:14; 9:6; 11:1; Micah 5:2; Luke 1:32; John 1:1, 14, 18; Phil. 2:5f).
In summary, the motivation for good works, so much a theme of the book of Titus, looks both ways—to the past and to the future. We should be motivated to faithful service and good works as we (1) reflect back on what Christ has done for us and why, and (2) as we wait expectantly for His blessed and glorious appearance for us. This glorious coming is one of the prominent themes of the New Testament. Realizing the impact the return of the Savior could have on his audience who were going through trials, James wrote, “You also be patient and strengthen your hearts, for the Lord’s coming is near. Do not grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be judged. See, the judge stands before the gates!” (Jam. 5:8-9). Likewise, urging his readers to live godly lives by setting their sights on both the Lord’s return and on his past work, Peter wrote,
1:13 Therefore, get your minds ready for action, by being fully sober, and set your hope completely on the grace that will be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1:14 Like obedient children, do not comply with the evil urges you used to follow in your ignorance, 1:15 but, like the Holy One who called you, become holy yourselves in all of your conduct, 1:16 for it is written, “You shall be holy, because I am holy.” 1:17 And if you address as Father the one who impartially judges according to each one’s work, live out the time of your temporary residence here in reverence. 1:18 You know that from your empty way of life inherited from your ancestors, you were ransomed—not by perishable things like silver or gold, 1:19 but by precious blood like that of an unblemished and spotless lamb, Christ. 1:20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was manifested in these last times for your sake. 1:21 Through him you now trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God (1 Pet. 1:13-21).
In 1 John, the apostle John had the same dual emphasis (the past and present work of Christ) as a motivation to a godly life through fellowship with the Lord:
2:28 And now, little children, remain in him, so that whenever he appears we may have confidence and not shrink away from him in shame when he comes back. 2:29 If you know that he is righteous, you also know that everyone who practices righteousness is fathered by him.
3:1 (See what sort of love the Father has given to us: that we should be called God’s children—and indeed we are! For this reason the world does not know us: because it did not know him. 3:2 Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. But we know that whenever it is revealed we will be like him, because we will see him just as he is. 3:3 And everyone who has this hope focused on him purifies himself, just as Jesus is pure).
3:4 Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; indeed, sin is lawlessness. 3:5 And you know that Jesus was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.…
3:8 The one who practices sin is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was revealed: to destroy the works of the devil.
2:14 He gave himself for us to set us free from every kind of lawlessness and to purify for himself a people who are truly his, who are eager to do good.
In 1:10, Paul spoke of the teaching of God our Savior and, since salvation depends on the coming of the One promised in the Old Testament, he immediately spoke of the appearing of the grace of God bringing salvation. As we have seen, this is a clear reference to the appearance of Christ on the scene of human history. He then spoke of the blessed hope, the future appearing of Jesus Christ whom he described as the great God and Savior. With this second mention of the title Savior, Paul focuses our attention on that which forms the basis of our hope and the reason we should live godly lives in this present age—the voluntary, sacrificial, substitutionary, redeeming, purifying gift of Himself (a reference to His death) on our behalf.
First, the verb “He gave Himself for us to free us” calls to mind the Lord’s own statement in Mark 10:45 and the statements of Paul and Peter in 1 Timothy 2:6 and 1 Peter 1:18-20 respectively.
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom (lutron) for many (Mark 10:45; cf. also Matt. 20:28)
who gave himself as a ransom (antilutron) for all, revealing God’s purpose at his appointed time (1 Tim. 2:6).
You know that from your empty way of life inherited from your ancestors, you were ransomed (lutroo)—not by perishable things like silver or gold, 1:19 but by precious blood like that of an unblemished and spotless lamb, Christ. 1:20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was manifested in these last times for your sake (1 Pet. 1:18-20).
The Greek words for ransom, lutron, antilutron, and lutroo, carry the idea of providing freedom from slavery by paying a price. That price, of course, was the death of Christ when He shed His blood as God’s substitute lamb in our place. This verse, then, points to the death of Christ as an offering or sacrifice for our sin by which He took our penalty, an offering and a penalty that we could never pay ourselves.
Second, the willing or voluntary nature of this sacrifice is stressed in the words, “He gave Himself.” No one forced Jesus to go to the cross. Out of love for the world and in submission to the eternal plan of the Godhead (Acts 2:23), Jesus Christ willingly became a man and went to the cross to die for man’s sin (see Eph. 5:2; Phil. 2:6-8; Heb. 12:2; John 13:1).
Third, the words, “he gave himself for us” means He gave Himself in our place as our substitute. He bore the penalty that was ours to bear. “For” is the preposition huper which, when used with a noun in the genitive, may mean “for the sake of” in the sense of “for the benefit of.” But it may also carry the idea of “instead of” in the sense of “in the place of.” It carries this last meaning in the following passages:
5:15 And he died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised… 5:21 God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:14, 21).
2:20 I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20).
3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (because it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”) (Gal. 3:13).
5:2 and live in love, just as Christ also loved us and gave himself for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering to God (Eph. 5:2).
Though writing of the use of huper in 2 Corinthians 5:14, Charles Hodge has a comment that is meaningful here. He writes:
In all those passages in which one person is said to die for another or in which the reference is to a sacrifice, the idea of substitution is clearly expressed. The argument does not rest on the force of the preposition, but on the nature of the case. The only way in which the death of the victim benefited the offerer, was by substitution. When, therefore, Christ is said to die as a sacrifice for us, the meaning is, he died in our stead. His death is taken in the place of ours so as to save us from death.139
Fourth, with the words, “to (literally, “in order to”) set us free from every kind of lawlessness and to purify for himself a people who are truly his, who are eager to do good,” the apostle points us to two key purposes of Christ’s death as they pertain to this life in this present age. In doing so, these purposes also show us how the epiphany of Christ in His first advent instructs us toward godly living. For the first century reader living in the culture of that day, this statement brings to mind the picture of being bought out of slavery into freedom by the ransom price paid. Christ’s death not only freed us from the penalty of sin, but from its power and rule over our lives as our task master.
The Savior gave Himself for us with a twofold purpose—one negative and one positive. From the negative standpoint, He died in our place “in order to set us free (to ransom or redeem us) from every kind of lawlessness.” The preposition “from” (apo) suggests a complete or effective removal. “Lawlessness” (anomia) refers to an “active violation of either divine or innate moral principles.” “The apostle John says, ‘Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness’ (1 Jn 3:4). The seriousness of lawlessness is seen in its association with the virulent outbreak of satanic power destined for history’s end (2 Th 2:3, 7-8).”140 And though there are many forms of lawlessness seen in man’s defiance of God’s law, the ransom of Christ effectively sets us free from all these many forms when Christians will appropriate their new life in Christ by faith (Gal. 2:20; 5:16ff; Rom. 6:1ff).
But this negative work is the preparation for the ultimate focus of the purpose of Christ’s atoning sacrifice which is primarily positive—“and to purify for himself a people who are truly his, who are eager to do good.” “Purify” (katharizo, “to cleanse, make clean”) calls our attention to the spiritual and moral defilement so evident in man’s lawlessness.
Sin makes us not only guilty but also unclean before a holy God. The blood-wrought cleansing (1 John 1:7) enables men to be restored to fellowship with God as “a people that are his very own.” Since they have been redeemed by his blood (1 Peter 1:18-21), Christ yearns that they voluntarily yield themselves wholly to him. Such a surrender is man’s only reasonable response to divine mercy (Rom 12:1, 2).141
But the ultimate purpose and grace of this purification is that we might become fit to be a people “who are truly His” or “a people for His own possession” (NASB). The Greek word here, periousios, is a very interesting and instructive term. It means “chosen, special; i.e., something that belongs in a special sense to oneself.”142 Regarding this word, Barclay comments, “It means set apart, reserved for; and it was specially used for that part of the spoils of a battle or a campaign which the king who had conquered set apart specially for himself.”143 Through the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus by which He defeated Satan and his kingdom, we become qualified to be the special possession of God as those who have been delivered from the power of darkness and transferred into the inheritance of the saints in light.
1:12 giving thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light. 1:13 He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of the Son he loves, 1:14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Col. 2:12-14).
2:13 And even though you were dead in your transgressions and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, he nonetheless made you alive with him, having forgiven all your transgressions. 2:14 He has destroyed what was against us, a certificate of indebtedness expressed in decrees opposed to us. He has taken it away by nailing it to the cross, 2:15 and disarming the rulers and authorities, he has made a public disgrace of them, triumphing over them by the cross (Col. 2:13-15).
In the final clause, “who are eager to do good (literally “zealous for good works”),” we see the moral purpose and power of the grace of God in Christ. The Savior has not only delivered us from the penalty of sin and brought us to God as His special people (reconciliation), He has also enabled us to live productively in a fallen world that is characterized by rebellion and self-will. The ultimate goal, as with the nation of Israel (see 2 Sam. 7:23-24), is to bring us into a right and special relationship with God as His very own special people who manifest this relationship by the character of their redeemed lives as a people zealous for good works.
2:15 So communicate these things with the sort of exhortation or rebuke that carries full authority.
Literally, the Greek text reads, “speak these things and exhort and rebuke with all authority,” but the above translation of the NET Bible accurately expresses the meaning of the text. The three duties—speak, exhort, and rebuke—describe Titus’ responsibility and that of those who lead and teach in the church, but “with all authority” shows us how they are each to be done. They are to be done in such a way that each carries full authority because they express the will of God as it is contained in the Word of God. For Titus, part of this authority came from his association with Paul, an apostle, but for us, it is found in the nature of the Bible as God’s Word. In other words, the authority is not in the messenger, but in the message of the Word. It is equivalent to “Thus says the Lord.”
“These things” undoubtedly looks back to the whole of chapter two, but especially to verses 11-14 and the doctrinal truth expressed there. For it is this that forms the basis, the means, and the motivation for the good works enjoined throughout this little book. Why? Because without the dynamic of these glorious truths of salvation, the exhortation to good works and godliness becomes an exercise in futility. It is nothing more than man trying to be good by his man-made religion or ascetic good works which are futile to our condition and faithless to God’s provision (see Col. 2:16-23).
A threefold task is set before Titus and Christian teachers in the body of Christ—(1) proclamation or communication, (2) exhortation or encouragement, and (3) rebuke designed to bring conviction. Each of these are present imperatives that command the action called for. Since Titus was undoubtedly, as Paul’s trained representative, already doing this, the use of present tense imperatives means Paul was calling for a continuance of these actions regardless of the opposition he might face. For us today, these are responsibilities that are to characterize the ministries of the leadership of all local churches if they are going to be faithful to the Word.
“Communicate” is laleo, “to speak, say,” but in a context like this one where it is combined with exhortation and rebuke, it becomes synonymous with teaching or communication in general. As Adam Clarke has commented, “These things speak—That is, teach; for lalei, speak, has the same meaning here as didaske, teach, which, as being synonymous, is actually the reading of the Codex Alexandrinus.”144 Some take the next words, exhortation and rebuke, as pointing to two ways or methods to be used in the communication. In the Greek text, however, they are simply connected together as three responsibilities called for as required by the circumstances—“speak and exhort and rebuke with all authority.”
“Exhortation” is parakaleo, “to encourage, exhort, comfort.” It was used in 1:9 where it was translated “give exhortation” and in 2:6 where it was translated “encourage.” As mentioned previously, depending on the context, parakaleo may have a prospective appeal in the sense of calling on others to obey or respond to certain truths or principles, or it may be retrospective in the sense of “be comforted, consoled, encouraged” in view of what has happened according to the need. Christians need both and teachers need to be sensitive to what is needed in any given situation.
“Rebuke” is elencho, which first means “to bring to the light, expose, set forth.” It refers to the process of exposing someone’s sin in order to bring conviction followed by correction or spiritual change.
The eyes of the sinner must be opened to his sin. The mind of the misguided must be led to realize its mistake. The heart of the heedless must be stabbed broad awake. The Christian message is no opiate to send men to sleep; it is no comfortable assurance that everything will be all right. It is rather the blinding light which shows men themselves as they are and God as He is.145
In the phrase, “with all authority,” “authority” is the Greek epitage, “command, order, injunction.” The idea is with all impressiveness146 because behind what is said by way of teaching, exhortation, or rebuke is the authority of God’s holy Word—assuming, of course, that the communication of the teacher is based on Scripture and not his own opinions or ideas. This is not a call to act in a domineering way as dictator like a Diotrephes (3 John 1:9) or as one who seeks to lord it over the flock (1 Pet. 5:3), but as servant leaders who, acting on the authority of God’s authoritative Word, seek to impress upon the hearers that these things are not optional like a cafeteria where we pick and choose what we want.
Finally, Paul closes this section with “no one must disregard you.” “Disregard” is periphroneo, from peri, “around” and phroneo, “to think.” Thus, periphroneo meant “to think around someone, to overlook,” and then, “to look down on, disregard, despise.” Coming from the apostle, this remark was intended as much for the Cretans as for Titus. The point is that none of us are to seek to reason or rationalize around the authoritative truth of Scripture and its communication to us.
Obviously, neither Titus nor any Christian leader can control the feelings and actions of others. And in this situation Paul anticipated opposition to his delegate’s authority (1:9-10, 13; 3:10). But for his part Titus was to insist on his authority (and not allow others to ignore him or “go over his head”) and behave in a commendable manner (so that no one would question his suitability to lead). Christian leaders should keep in mind that authority and exemplary behavior are to be inseparable.147
The truth we must bear in mind, though, is that the authority of the Christian leader or teacher is not in themselves, but in the truth of God’s holy Word. “The minister’s authority rests in the nature of his message; he is not raised above the truth but the truth above him.”148
126 In form, the verb is an aorist indicative which, in this context, looks at the historic fact of the manifestation of God’s grace in Christ. But the action is viewed as a single whole (a constative aorist) though encompassing many events as in the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. Since this appearance brings salvation, the appearance must refer to the whole of the Savior’s life from His incarnation to His ascension.
130 The meaning of “bringing” is added to soterios whenever, as here, it is followed by a word(s) in the dative case. Since “to all people” is in the dative case, it means something like “bringing or providing salvation to all people.”
134 There is a point of Greek grammar here that is interesting and instructive. The main verb in this sentence is “we should live soberly.” “Having denied” is an aorist adverbial participle, which normally precedes the action of the main verb, especially when it is in the present tense as here.
135 “In Greek, when two nouns are connected by kaiv and the article precedes only the first noun, there is a close connection between the two. That connection always indicates at least some sort of unity. At a higher level, it may connote equality. At the highest level it may indicate identity. When the construction meets three specific demands, then the two nouns always refer to the same person. When the construction does not meet these requirements, the nouns may or may not refer to the same person(s)/object(s)” (Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament, Zondervan, 1996), 272. The three rules necessary for identity are—both nouns are personal, both are singular, and both are common terms, not proper names. While hope and appearing are not personal nouns, appearing is clearly presented here as the blessed hope. In the next clause, “our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ,” all three of the necessary rules apply so that this becomes a clear affirmation by Paul of the deity of Christ.
136 For an in depth discussion of this grammatical rule (the Granville Sharp Rule), see Wallace’s discussion in Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, pp. 272ff. See also the study note in the NET Bible on the BSF Web site in reference to 2 Peter 1:1 for more discussion on the Granville Sharp rule as it applies to Peter’s statement, “the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” The same rule is also seen in 2 Peter 1:11, “our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
139 Quoted from Church Dogmatics, IV, The Doctrine of Reconciliation, Part One (Edinburgh, 1956), 230, by Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, 3rd ed. (The Tyndale Press, London, 1965), 63.
146 Walter Bauer, Wilbur F. Gingrich, and Frederick W. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1979), electronic media.