Christians live in two spheres and the tremendous contrast between those two spheres often poses a very difficult challenge. On the one hand, Christians are citizens of a heavenly kingdom with Christ as their Lord. On the other hand, they are called of Christ to represent Him in the midst of an age that is passing away and in a world system that is opposed to the plan and purposes of God. They live in the world, but they are not of the world (John 15:19; 17:14, 19). As those who live in this world, they are to live as aliens and sojourners and as ambassadors for the Savior without being contaminated by the age and the world system whose god is the devil himself (Rom. 12:1-2; 1 Pet. 1:17f; 2:11-12; 2 Cor. 5:20). The apostle now addresses this very issue in 3:1-11.
As Augustine wrote in his book, The City of God, there are two cities, the city of man and the city of God. The city of man, being the product of his pride and rebellion against God, reflects man’s dreams, earthly hopes, and values. This is an earthly city, a city of this age and Satan’s world system. It is temporal and fundamentally opposed to God and ultimately ruinous to man.
There is another city, however, “with firm foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10). This is the city of God with God’s values, plan of salvation, and one that endures forever. At the center of this city is the cross or the person and work of Christ who died for our sin. Here is a city that can change the people of the city of man and add stability to their society because of the new life and values that are a part of the city of God. The citizens of the city of God have new life, are a part of an unseen spiritual world, and have their sights set on eternal values.
Concerning Augustine’s city of man, Lutzer writes:
Augustine did not mean that the city of man is destitute of all civil righteousness and justice. Yes, pagans have built great civilizations, thanks to the virtues they inherited as those created in the image of God. Indeed, Christians should be actively involved in the city of man, building it, maintaining it, and working alongside of those headed to destruction. But Christians should also have no illusions about building an earthly utopia, for they must pass this life with continual opposition from the citizens of the city of man. They must march through the crumbling empires of the world, spreading the knowledge of the gospel.149
Looking at our past life as a part of the city of man, the apostle shows us that the city of man as so evident today in America is built on the cult of self-absorption and the desires of man’s fallen nature.
The church always faces the temptation of fighting a legitimate battle in the wrong way. We always are tempted to fight the world with the weapons of the world. We always are tempted to use a sword of steel instead of the sword of the Spirit. And today, that temptation is greater than ever.150
In chapter 3 of Titus, the apostle shows us how the church is to live in the midst of this city of man. As seen in nearly all the New Testament letters written to the church, Titus was written to help God’s people live in a world and age that is a sea of pagan and humanistic values. But significantly, Paul neither calls on us to use the world’s methods nor seek to Christianize the morals of the society. Again, in his book, Why the Cross Can Do What Politics Can’t, Lutzer has an excellent word here:
The second premise of this book is my deep conviction that our so-called culture war is really a spiritual war. In other words, our problems are not fundamentally abortion, trash television, and homosexual values. The roots of our cultural decay is first and foremost spiritual; we must attack the root of this corrupt tree. As always our greatest challenge is theological, not political or cultural.151
As the salt and light Jesus called us to be, we are to seek change from the inside out through faith in the person and work of the Savior and through a personal walk with Him—with His values and priorities and calling. That this is so is clearly evident, or should be, from the way Paul reminds us of our past life, but then points to the theological basis, as in 2:11f, for our spiritual change by the regenerating and justifying work of God (3:4-7). And it is this message that has its hope centered on the eternal that we are to confidently proclaim (vs. 8) rather than any manmade substitutes (vs. 9). Again, let me quote Lutzer:
Today, it is tempting to wrap the cross of Christ in the flag, to equate the American dream with God’s dream for this nation. We have attached a myriad of agendas to the cross of Christ, often clouding the one message that the world needs to hear with clarity and power…152
Incredibly, the church has, for the most part, abandoned the very message that is most desperately needed at this critical hour of history.153
My clear purpose is to challenge the church to confront the world with the one message that is able to transform society, one life at a time. Yes, we must fight social evils; we must attempt to use whatever means we have to clean up our contaminated culture. But all of our efforts will be futile unless we go to the source of our defilement.154
The various exhortations of the first two chapters of Titus largely concern relationships within the church, the body of Christ, “which when seen by outsiders would keep them from ‘maligning the gospel’ (2:5) and perhaps would even attract them to it (2:10).”155 With chapter 3:1-8, however, the apostle broadens the focus to the believer’s behavior in the world where he or she is to function as a good citizen and neighbor. As mentioned, this is in keeping with the Christian’s purpose to function as the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matt. 5:13-16). Verses 1-2 set forth a reminder of two general responsibilities, to government authorities in general (vs. 1) and to all people (vs. 2). Then, as in 2:11-14, the apostle points to the basis or the reasons why such behavior is both called for and possible (vss. 3-7). Again, theology forms the foundation for behavior. With this as the doctrinal motivation, there is then a re-affirmation for good deeds (vs. 8) followed by a statement of reticence or caution against the error of false teachers and the futility of what they proclaim (man’s solutions to life). When men turn away from the central truth of the cross and the grace of God in Christ, it will be futile to truly impact the life for good works and be beneficial for mankind (vss. 9-11).
3:1 Remind them to subject themselves to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work. 3:2 to slander no one, to be non-fighting (peaceable), to be gentle, showing all courtesy (considerateness) to all people (literal translation).
As the above translation demonstrates, the main command here is to remind the Cretans of certain duties that would naturally commend the gospel to those in the world at large. These duties are spelled out by six infinitives (the words in bold) with a sixth infinitive to be understood. This is then followed by a participial phrase (“showing all courtesy”) that could be taken as another command or as pointing to the manner in which all the duties listed are to be carried out or expressed or even to the results that occur when these duties are obeyed. But how are we to understand these duties? Do they all point to the Christian’s responsibilities to government or does “to be prepared for every good work” make a transition from one’s civic responsibilities to government to one’s duties as a good citizen within the world? As Fee suggests, “More likely this is a generalizing imperative that prepares the way for the rest of the list. It could include civic duty, but need not be so limiting.” In this study, the duties of verses 1-2 will be divided between responsibilities to government (vs. 1) and those to all people as good citizens (vs. 2).
3:1 Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work.
As other New Testament passages do, this verse clearly points to the God-ordained place of human government in the affairs of men (cf. Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Tim. 2:1-7;1 Pet. 2:13). Here the apostle simply summarizes three key responsibilities—submission, obedience, and preparation—that promote good government and aid the work of governmental officials as keepers of law and order, which is their God-ordained task. But being faithful to these duties to government is often difficult because, being sinful men and also part of Satan’s world system, rulers are very often corrupt and unjust and fail to accomplish God’s purpose for government. It is easy, then, for Christians to fall into the pattern of the world and to malign and complain and act in rebellion against the government or to find excuses and seek ways to get around government’s authority or their duties to government. As Barclay points out,
Here there is laid down the public duty of the Christian; and it is advice which was particularly relevant to the people of Crete. The Cretans were notoriously turbulent and quarrelsome and impatient of all authority. Polybius, the Greek historian, said of them that they were constantly involved in “insurrections, murders and internecine wars.”156
Hendriksen concurs and writes,
Moreover, from the writings of Polybius and of Plutarch it appears that the Cretans were fretting and fuming under the Roman yoke. It is possible, therefore, that this circumstance had something to do with the precise nature of the present “reminder.”157
So Titus is called on to “remind them” of their duties to government. Because of the historical circumstances just mentioned and because Paul had obviously already taught the Cretan believers on this subject, Titus was to remind them. “Remind” is a present imperative that commands Titus to periodically repeat such teaching to cause them to keep these duties in mind. As those who are responsible to protect and lead the flock of God, church leaders and teachers of the Word often need to remind believers of God’s truth and never apologize for this. Note the following passages.
3:1 Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! To write this again is not a bother for me, and it is a safeguard for you (Phil. 3:1).
1:12 Therefore, I intend to remind you constantly of these things even though you know them and are well established in the truth that you now have. 1:13 Indeed, as long as I am in this tabernacle, I consider it right to stir you up by way of a reminder (2 Pet. 1:12-13).
The first duty is “to be subject.” This is hupatasso, “to rank under” and then “to be subject to.” As with 2:5, the voice of the verb should be understood as middle, “subject yourselves to.” The middle voice in place of the passive stresses the willing nature of the submission. Recognizing this as a divine responsibility, it is to be done willingly as an obedience to God (Rom. 13:1f). It will also be made easier if believers keep in mind the purpose of government as outlined in Romans 13 and if they pray for their rulers according to that purpose (1 Tim. 2:1f).
The apostle uses two abstract terms to designate government without pointing to any specific form of government or person.158 “To rulers” would apply to the Roman emperors, but by further application, it refers to the supreme civil powers in any form of government. “And authorities” takes this to the next level under the supreme commanders’ authority. It refers to deputies of the supreme ruler in the chain of command in any government system. For us, these two designations would refer to everything from the president down to the city government and local police.
“To be obedient” and “ready for every good work” gives further clarification to the meaning and results of “submission” to government as good citizens. “To be obedient” is peitharcheo, which literally means, “to obey authority” and then simply, “to be obedient.” Its use points to the various laws established by government. Significantly, it is used only four times in the New Testament (Acts 5:29, 32; 27:21 and Tit. 3:1) and in two of the places (Acts 5:29, 32), its use points us to the exception and the rule that holds true whenever human government clearly contradicts the higher authority of God and the clear commands of His Word. A classic illustration can be seen in Daniel 3:16-18.
The practical outworking of obedience would include things like paying taxes, being orderly in behavior, displaying honesty in business, and in general, obeying the laws of the land. But submission to government and being a good citizen does not stop with just obedience. It should also include being “ready (hetoimos, “ready, prepared”) for every good work.” Because of the context, this clause should not be limited to good works in the Christian community, but understood as broadening the believer’s responsibility in the world around him as an influence for good in the community. It would certainly include civic responsibility, but should not be limited to that in view of the context that follows (vs. 2).
There is an important contrast here that we should not miss. The fact that Christians can and should be prepared for every kind of good work stands in sharp contrast to the false teachers and the error they advocate. They are “unfit (unqualified, worthless) for any good work” (1:16) because what they advocate or teach is empty, they themselves become “useless and empty (futile)” (3:9). By contrast, believers who stand firmly on God’s truth in Christ rather than the “arguments” and “quarrels” of the false teacher, can become “ready for every good work.” Paul now begins to elaborate on what is meant by “every good work” in the verses that follow.
3:2 They must not slander anyone, but be peaceable, gentle, showing complete courtesy to all people.
The addition of “anyone,” literally, “no one,” which is emphatic by position, suggests that the apostle is broadening this beyond the rulers to include all people. “To slander” is blasphemeo, “to slander, revile, defame, to injure the reputation of by slanderous remarks.” As Hiebert points out, “That does not mean that they are never to talk of and expose the evils of men, for Jesus Himself did so very forcefully. It means that they are not to malign, slander, or speak injuriously of others. Prevailing practices made this a constant snare to believers,…”159
In view of the degenerate moral behavior of many in our government in recent years, especially at the level of our highest office, it has become more and more difficult to refrain from abusive comments. It is right to hate the sin, to even become angry at the sinfulness that undermines the fiber of our society and that sets such a lousy example (cf. Eph. 4:26), but it is wrong for us to express this in ways that demonstrates hatefulness against the person and disrespect for the office. As verses 3-5 will demonstrate, God hates our sin, but in the coming of Christ, He has shown His kindness and love toward us as sinners. This demonstration of God’s love and kindness must temper our comments and attitudes toward others.
“To be peaceable,” is amachos, which literally means, “not fighting, uncontentious, non-combatant.” While “peaceable” is the dynamic equivalent and the goal in mind, it misses the force of amachos. Paul could have used eirenikos (from eirene, “peace”), which means “peaceable, peaceful.” Mache means “a fight, a quarrel, strife, contention.” So an amachos person is one who is not prone to fighting or starting quarrels. This does not mean that a Christian, as a good citizen, will not be ready to stand up for the principles he believes in and even give reasons for the hope that is in him (1 Pet. 3:15), but he is willing to allow others to hold to their opinions and is not one who is always ready to step into the ring with those who disagree with him. Those who are contentious and quarrelsome with their neighbors not only make poor citizens but poor testimonies for the Savior.
But as usual, the negative is quickly followed up with the positive and it is the next two qualities that give a person the capacity to be uncontentious. The Christian is also “to be gentle.” This is epieikes, “yielding, gentle, kind.”
Aristotle said of this word that it denotes “indulgent consideration of human infirmities.” That it denotes the ability “to consider not only the letter of the law, but also the mind and intention of the legislator.” The man who is epieikes is ever ready to tempter justice with mercy, and to avoid the injustice which often lies in being strictly just.160
In essence, then, the epieikes person is the opposite of the one who stands up to the very end for his or her legal rights. Behind this is undoubtedly the spirit of grace and mercy we are to show others just as God has done for us. The apostle will appeal to this in verses 4-7.
“Showing complete courtesy to all people” is the final positive quality that describes the good Christian citizen. As mentioned previously, “showing” is a present participle that could be taken as another command or as pointing to the manner in which all the duties listed are to be carried out or expressed or even to the results that occur when the previous duties are obeyed. “Courtesy” is the Greek prautes, “gentleness, meekness, courtesy, considerateness.” After discussing Aristotle’s comments on this word, Barclay describes it as follows.
… We might put it this way—the man who is praus is the man who is always angry at the right time and never angry at the wrong time.
That brings us to the use of praus which really illumines the whole matter. In Greek praus is used in one special sense. It is used—as is mitis in Latin—for a beast which has been tamed. A horse which was once wild but which has become obedient to the bit and to the bridle is praus.
Now herein lies the secret of the meaning of praus. There is a gentleness in praus but behind the gentleness there is the strength of steel, for the supreme characteristic of the man who is praus is that he is the man who is under perfect control. It is not a spineless gentleness, a sentimental fondness, a passive quietism. It is a strength under control. Num. 12.3 tells us that Moses was the ‘meekest’ man upon the earth, but that same Moses was a man who could act with decision and blaze with anger when the occasion arose.
To such a character no man can attain by himself and his own efforts. Proates is strength under control, but it would be wrong to say that the man who is praus is perfectly self-controlled. He is perfectly God-controlled, for only God can give him that perfect mastery. It should be our prayer that God will make us praus, masters of ourselves, for only then can we be the servants of others.161
Biblically and logically, the Christian can experience such qualities only as they walk by the enabling power of the Holy Spirit so that the Savior is free to reign more and more supreme in his or her life.
Verse 3 begins with the conjunction “for” (omitted by the NIV). This shows that Paul is pointing to the reasons why Christians should obey the duties outlined in verses 1-2 and for living a life that is different from that of the world. The first of the two reasons given is a reminder of what we were before coming to the Savior with the second reason focusing on the kindness and love of God as the powerful source that leads to the change brought about in the Christian’s life. In these verses we see the truth that, as George Whitefield so accurately put it when he saw a criminal going to the gallows, “there but for the grace of God go I.”
3:3 For we too were once foolish, disobedient, misled, enslaved to various passions and desires, spending our lives in evil and envy, hateful and hating one another.
Remembering what we used to be before coming to Christ should be a strong motive for obedience to God and for being more understanding (uncontentious, gentle, courteous) toward the unbeliever. The tendency is to become pharisaic and look down on those whose lifestyle is not like ours. There should be a moral difference, but the issue is not the moral difference, rather the cross is what made the difference. To stress this, Paul uses terms to stress the change. The “for we too were once” of verse 3 must be seen in the light of “but when the kindness of God appeared.” But for the grace work of God, we would still be in the same predicament as the unbelieving world, a predicament graphically described by the apostle.
First, the apostle says, “we too (or also).” By the “we,” which is emphatic in the Greek text, Paul includes himself. This demonstrates the common ground of all Christians regardless of their religious background in the description here of the past life. This is especially significant since Paul had been a very religious person. Unless one’s religious life is based on the cross or faith in the person and work of the Savior, no religion can save us from what we are as sinners.
Second, he says, “we too (or also) were foolish.” “Foolish” is anoetos, “unintelligent, foolish, without understanding.” It is used here of the spiritual blindness of men before coming to Christ and the enlightening work of the Spirit of God. Because of man’s spiritual death, the blinding work of Satan (2 Cor. 4:4), and his condition in sin, fallen man cannot fathom the spiritual things of God (1 Cor. 2:14; Eph. 4:18). This is the root—or at least part of it—while the next conditions, “disobedient, misled, etc.,” point to some of the results.
“Disobedient” is apeithes, and it is part of a word group in Greek that is basically concerned with one’s personal relationship with a person or thing which is established by trust and trustworthiness.162 The problem is one of disobedience to both God and human authority, failing to obey the laws of conscience or the voice of parents or laws of human government. Fundamentally, the root of disobedience to God is unbelief or a failure to be persuaded by the message of God’s truth through natural revelation (Rom. 1:18f) and the special revelation of the Bible. It is this that ultimately leads to disobedience in the other chains of authority in society.
What follows describes the pitiful results of this spiritual blindness and a disobedience that is related to a lack of trust in God. This is not only suggested theologically, but by the use of several adverbial participles that follow and may very well point out the results, the downward spiral of pre-conversion blindness and rebellion. We could translate verse 3 as follows:
For we also at one time were without understanding ourselves, disobedient, with the result that we were deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another.
“Misled” is a present passive participle from planao, “to lead astray, cause to wander,” but in the passive it means “be misled, deceived.” The middle is also possible here, “deceiving ourselves.” When men reject the knowledge of God, He turns them over to their own foolish imaginations with the result they are not only deceived, but that they both deceive themselves and others (see Rom. 1:18f; Eph. 4:17f; 2 Tim. 3:13). This pictures the unbeliever as one who has been deceived or led stray from the path of truth by the various false systems of belief and deceptions of Satan and his world system.
“Enslaved to various passions and desires” takes this to the next downward level. “Passion” and “desire” are not wrong in themselves. The evil comes when they enslave us and when they are outside the will of God. Sexual pleasure is a beautiful gift from God—but only in the confines of marriage. God has given us all things to enjoy but they become wrong when we make them our god and seek from them what only God can truly give us (1 Tim. 6:17-18).
Interestingly, “desires” is the Greek hedone, “pleasure, enjoyment.” “Hedonism,” the philosophy that only what is pleasant or has pleasant consequences is intrinsically good, comes from this Greek term. Ironically, one of man’s greatest misconceptions, as a further product of his own blindness and spiritual unbelief, is the false belief that happiness and security can be found through his own strategies to make life work—through having possessions, power, praise, position, and pleasure. Such a false and futile belief system leads to enslavement. The downward spiral resulting in enslavement to various passions is seen even more clearly in Ephesians 4.
17 This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness (Eph. 4:17-19, NASB).
“Spending our lives in evil and envy” is a further graphic depiction of the downward spiral and of our pre-salvation condition. The resultant sphere in which man spends his life is emphasized in the Greek text. Literally, “in evil and envy, spending our lives.” “Evil” is kakia, “ wickedness, depravity, malignity.”163 It stands opposed to moral goodness and excellence. “Envy” (phathonos, “envy, jealousy”) flows out of that mentality in man that is never satisfied with what he has. When men live by the belief system that happiness is found in the abundance of what one possesses, the grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence, the neighbor’s side—his or her car, spouse, boat, house, furniture and on the list goes. Envy and jealousy begrudges another their good fortune and leads to the next part of the description.
This is seen in the words, “hateful and hating one another.” “Hateful” is stugatos, found only here in the New Testament. It means “hateful” or “hated.” Some have described it as being “odious, repulsive, offensive, and disgusting to others.”164 The further result is “hating one another.” “Hating one another” “marks the climax in the active operation of mutual antagonisms that hasten the dissolution of the bonds of human society.”165
The preceding description, Paul reminds us, is what we all were at one time. This realization must, then, temper our attitudes toward the unbelieving world. Let us not expect from them what we were not ourselves before God saved us as described next in the passage. Thus, our further responsibility is to strive by our walk and words to win the lost to the Savior. That, and that alone, is the only answer to a sick society.
3:4 But “when the kindness of God our Savior appeared and his love for mankind, 3:5 He saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, 3:6 whom he poured out on us in full measure through Jesus Christ our Savior. 3:7 And so, since we have been justified by his grace, we become heirs with the confident expectation of eternal life.”
In these verses, the apostle again teaches us that the only cure for the darkness that has engulfed the world and that once engulfed us is the appearing of the Sun of Righteousness who has not only come to dispel the darkness, but has come with spiritual healing in His wings (Mal. 4:2). And unless the Christian community understands this, we will, as previously stressed, try to fight the moral degeneration of our culture with the weapons of the world. Indeed, many are attempting to use Christianity as a base for moral change without taking people to the foot of the cross and faith in Christ, which is alone the true foundation for change.
… But unless we understand the deeper reasons for our nation’s love affair with violence, immorality, and drugs, we will not be effective in our primary mission and will lose the moral war as well. I agree with T. S. Elliot, who wrote, “To justify Christianity because it provides a foundation for morality for the general culture instead of showing the necessity of Christian morality from the truth of Christianity is a very dangerous inversion. It is not enthusiasm but dogma that differentiates a Christian from a pagan Society.”166
Clearly, the apostle affirms this fact in these verses. He shows us that it is the truth of the Lord Jesus in His life, death, and resurrection that is the foundation for the change that occurred in the life of the Cretan believers. Though God uses such change as a witness to the world, it is always the cross or the truth as it is found in Christ that is the root of change.
3:4 But “when the kindness of God our Savior appeared and his love for mankind,…”
In verse 3, the apostle referred to what we were which implies that this is not, however, what we are now. This change can only be explained by the divine intervention of God. The source of such a change is in God alone. We are the recipients of what He initiated as a Savior God (cf. Ps. 65:5; 68:19; 79:9; 85:4).
Thus again, as in 2:11, the apostle used the term epephane, the aorist form of the verb epiphaino, “to appear, show forth.” It looks back to the historic manifestation of the incarnate Christ. Our word epiphany comes from this term. As previously seen, this term was used of the appearance of the sun which gives light dispelling the darkness. In other words, it is the realization of what God has done in the appearing of Christ that is now pointed to as the greatest motivation and source of enablement to live productive lives amidst the world. This manifestation of the incarnate Christ who came to die for our sin and bring salvation is the greatest evidence of the kindness and love of God our Savior for man.
“Kindness” (chrestotes) refers to God’s “goodness, excellence, uprightness, or generosity.” It speaks of a disposition to be gracious and to bless. “Love of God” (philanthropia) “love for man, kindness.” In this context, it naturally refers to God’s love for man as expressed in the appearing of the incarnate Christ who came to die for our sin and bring us into an eternal relationship with God (see Rom. 5:8).
Indeed, the appearing of Christ revealed God’s kindness and love and His nature and intent as a Savior God who deeply cares about man. But many unbelievers are cynical about such a statement.
God cares about the world.
That statement lies at the heart of the Christian faith. But many unbelievers do not want to hear what we have to say because they believe that the God of Christianity is indifferent to the sufferings of this planet. They believe the gods of New Age religion, the gods of the East, are more compatible with our plight because these deities do not claim omnipotence. A god who resides within us can hardly be responsible for the evils of the world. But the Christian God—the Being who exists independently of the universe, a personal being who answers prayer and supposedly created the universe in the first place—such a being is more culpable. A God who sees human suffering and fails to intervene is hardly worthy of worship.…
We cannot get a hearing from a cynical world unless we can show that God cares, and that because He cares, people matter. False religions proliferate because of cynicism—the conviction that the Christian God has proven to be indifferent to the world’s plight. Even those who would like to believe conclude that God isn’t benevolent, and sadly, it appears as if His followers aren’t either. Many people find Christians to be judgmental, self-serving, and unwilling to be uprooted from their comfortable lifestyles.…
Only at the cross do we see the love of God without ambiguity. Here is God’s farthest reach, His most ambitious rescue effort. God personally came to our side of the chasm, willing to suffer for us and with us. At the cross His love burst upon the world with unmistakable clarity.…167
May we not forget that the behavior called for in 3:1-2 that expresses itself in gentleness and meekness has it root in the realization of God’s love for the world.
3:5 He saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, 3:6 whom he poured out on us in full measure through Jesus Christ our Savior.
The fact that God had to send His own Son into the world to die for our sin should bring the realization that salvation could never be accomplished by human works or any meritorious religious system. If we could in any way work to accomplish our own salvation, the appearing of Christ on the scene of human history would have been an act of futility. That salvation is not by human effort of any sort is strongly stressed by the word order of the Greek text. Literally, the text reads, “Not by works, those168 in righteousness which we ourselves have done, but (by strong contrast) according to His mercy, He saved us.”
As Paul often does, he states the basis of salvation both negatively and positively to make his point.
For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not of works, so that no one can boast (Eph. 2:8-9).
… and be found in him, not because of having my own righteousness derived from the law, but because of having the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness—a righteousness from God that is based on Christ’s faithfulness (Phil. 3:9).
He is the one who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not based on our works but on his own purpose and grace, granted to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but now made visible through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus. He has broken the power of death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (2 Tim. 1:9-10).
First, then, salvation is not by human works whether they be religious, moral, social or whatever form of righteous behavior a person might engage in. This would include things like the sacraments of penance, water baptism, the Eucharist, self-denial, the observance of religious days or even, as in the context of Titus, good works done for others (1:16; 2:7, 14; 3:1, 8, 14). Though this letter calls for good works and though Paul has just pointed to the believer’s changed condition, he makes it clear that “…our present condition of new life is not due to any deed which we performed in the realm of righteousness. The product of our lives could bring only the verdict of guilty when tried by the demands of God and His Law.…”169
Second, salvation is based on the mercy of God. This last clause which is literally, “but according to His mercy, He saved us,” begins with the conjunction alla, which expresses the strongest kind of contrast. It serves to stress the basis of salvation as not of man and wholly of God’s mercy. “According” is the preposition kata, which may point to the standard or norm which governs something and which is often at the same time the reason or cause for what is done.170 The point is that which governs the saving work of God is His mercy, not our works regardless of their nature. “Mercy” is eleos, “mercy, compassion, pity.” As grace stresses the free gift of God’s salvation as the unmerited favor of God, so mercy stresses the pitiable condition of man or God’s pity for man’s sad condition which man cannot assuage because he is totally helpless to deal with his sinfulness and misery. The appearance of the Savior on the scene of human history gives no glory to man, but points instead to God, to His goodness, love, grace, and mercy.
Third, salvation is an accomplished fact. The words, “He saved us” clearly point to our salvation as an accomplished fact. “He saved us” is a tense in the Greek (an aorist) which points to a fact of history. Indeed, in view of the clear teaching of the New Testament, it points to an accomplished and finished work of God on our behalf through the death and resurrection of Christ. Here is an act that, by contrast to the sacrifices of the Old Testament, need never be repeated. It is a finished, once and for all work (see Heb. 9:1-15, especially vs. 12).
It might again be pointed out that in Paul’s theology, the saving work of Christ encompasses not only deliverance from sin’s penalty and the guarantee of heaven, but the provision for sanctification or spiritual growth in Christ-like change—a change that takes place from the inside out because we are made new spiritual creations in Christ. Thus, Paul immediately points us to the means by which this salvation is accomplished.
Fourth, the means of salvation is seen in the words, “by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (3:5b-6a). Paul is not here ignoring or bypassing the death and resurrection of Christ which is at the heart of the gospel (1 Cor. 15:1f). Instead, his reference to this work of the Spirit assumes the death and resurrection of Christ as the foundation for the gift and ministries of the Spirit as a part of the provision of salvation (see John 7:37-39; 14:16-17; 15:26; 16:7-15; Acts 2; Tit. 3:6).
But how are we to understand “the washing of regeneration”? For many, the mention of anything that might be associated with water is immediately seen as a reference to water baptism. As a result, this is another of those passages used to teach baptismal regeneration or that water baptism is necessary for salvation. But such an interpretation should be seen as strange in view of two important facts. First, the immediate context has stressed this salvation is not by works, those in righteousness that we have done. Second, the vast majority of Scripture teaches us that salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone. To add some human work to this is to contradict these clear passages. The rule is that the difficult must be understood in the light of the clear, especially when they are in the vast majority. We must seek other solutions from the context regarding the meaning of those passage that appear to add something else to saving faith.
Not only does the context help here (not by works … which we have done), but Greek grammar may also help us. The fact that there is one preposition used with both phrases, “by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,” suggests these are connected or somehow closely related to each other. Further, “of the Holy Spirit” is a subjective genitive, i.e., a renewal produced by the Holy Spirit. It obviously cannot be an objective genitive, “a renewal that produces the Holy Spirit.” It is the Holy Spirit who brings about the spiritual renewal through the work of spiritual regeneration. But what about the previous phrase, “of regeneration”? This could be an objective genitive, “a washing that produces regeneration” or a subjective genitive, “a washing (a spiritual cleansing) produced by regeneration.” Since both phrases are introduced by one preposition, are both connected by “and,” and since the Holy Spirit is the agent of renewal, the great probability is that we have here two parallel subjective genitives with the second as a further explanation of the first. Thus, the passage very likely means, “the washing (spiritual cleansing) produced by regeneration, even171 the making new accomplished by the Holy Spirit.”
“Washing” is loutron, “a washing, a bath,” that which cleanses. The washing lays stress on the concept of the cleansing needed because of our defilement due to sin. But this should not be seen as a reference to water baptism but instead as a spiritual work of cleansing accomplished by the Holy Spirit based on the death of Christ. As Hendriksen points out,
…Note “through a washing” (loutrovn, ou’), not “through a laver or basin for washing.” The washing referred to is wholly spiritual. It is that of regeneration and renewing, regarded as one concept.”172
“Regeneration” is palingenesia, “rebirth, regeneration.” It is derived from palin, “again,” and genesis, “birth.” Palingenesia is used only twice in the New Testament, here in Titus and in Matthew 19:28. It means to be born again. In keeping with the Lord’s comments as seen in John 3:3, it means to be born either again or from above (anothen). And it is the work of the Holy Spirit who imparts new life to the one who believes (John 3:5). It is used here of spiritual regeneration and refers to the giving of a new life. The two powers that produce the new life are “the word of truth” (Jas. 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:23) and the Holy Spirit (John 3:5, 6; Tit. 3:5). Ephesians 5:26 explains loutron, “the washing,” as a cleansing “by the washing of water with the word.”
God regenerates (John 1:13) according to His will (James 1:18) through the Holy Spirit (John 3:5) when a person believes (1:12) the Gospel as revealed in the Word (1 Peter 1:23).173
As Evans points out,
Regeneration is the impartation of a new and divine life; a new creation; the production of a new thing. It is Gen. 1:26 over again. It is not the old nature altered, reformed, or re-invigorated, but a new birth from above. This is the teaching of such passages as John 3:3-7; 5:21; Eph. 2:1, 10; 2 Cor. 5:17.
By nature man is dead in sin (Eph. 2:1); the new birth imparts to him new life—the life of God, so that henceforth he is as those that are alive from the dead; he has passed out of death into life (John 5:24).174
“Renewing” is anakainosis from ana, “back” or “again” and kainos, “new in quality or kind” but not necessarily new in time. While some see this as a reference to the ongoing sanctifying work of the Spirit, it seems best, as explained previously, to see regeneration and renewing as one concept. While the concept of the sanctification process may be the focus of renewal in other passages (Rom. 12:2; Col. 3:10; 2 Cor. 4:16), that does not seem to be the point in this context. That this is true is supported by the statement of verse 7 which literally reads, “in order that, having been justified (pointing to the cause) by the grace of that one (speaking of Jesus Christ our Savior just mentioned), we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Paul is talking about salvation (vs. 5) from the standpoint of justification which is the basis for eternal life and becoming heirs of God Himself and all of this as a work of God, not man. Therefore:
The impartation of the Holy Spirit makes us new creatures, in contrast to the old condition of life. The Spirit has been bestowed through Christ, who also is called “our Saviour” here. Thus all Persons of the Trinity are involved in the salvation of sinners. The washing and the making new are the two basic elements of our regeneration, both of which are the work of God.175
Towner seems to agree and writes:
Rebirth and renewal describe the work of the Spirit. Rebirth is a coming back to life from death, an apt description of the new life in contrast to the old one of sin and death (v. 3; on the Spirit and [re]birth see Gal 4:29; 1 Cor 4:15 with 2:4). As explained in Romans 6:4-11 and Philippians 3, by faith in Christ one is enabled to participate in Christ’s resurrection life even now. Renewal expresses almost synonymously the idea of “re-creation” (compare 2 Cor 5:17). These two terms bring together the whole change associated with conversion and life in the new age of salvation—restored fellowship with God and new, eternal life.176
… whom (the Holy Spirit) He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior. And so, since we have been justified by his grace, we become heirs with the confident expectation of eternal life.
First, we have the gift of the Spirit poured out richly by the Father through the Son, Jesus Christ our Savior (see John 14:16-17; 15:26-27; Acts 1:4-5). This has a dual effect or force. First, Paul associates the gift of the Spirit as a proof of salvation or justification (Rom. 8:9). He is God’s earnest or down payment of the future glories of salvation (2 Cor. 1:21-22; Eph. 1:14). But second, the Holy Spirit is God’s gift to enable believers to live the Christian life through the ministries of the Spirit in the process of sanctification (Gal. 5:16f; Eph. 5:18f). By mentioning the rich bestowment of the Spirit, the apostle assures us that we have the capacity to do good works and to witness to others by life and lip or walk and talk (Acts 1:8).
So second, we have been justified by His grace. This is seen as the basis or reason we can be confident of being heirs with the hope of eternal life. “Since we have been justified” is an adverbial participle of cause or reason. We have eternal life and are heirs of God because we have been justified. The term “justified” (dikaioo) in this context means “to declare or pronounce as righteous.” Justification is the act of God by which He imputes our sins to Christ and His perfect righteousness to be ours so that we stand acquitted before God and accepted by Him, complete in Christ. But again, lest we miss the point, Paul adds, “by His grace.” Literally, “by the grace of that one,” which is somewhat more emphatic involving the emphatic use of the demonstrative pronoun ekeinos.
Finally, as justified believers, we are heirs according to the hope of eternal life. We must not understand this to mean that we do not have eternal life now. Eternal life is a permanent possession given when one trusts in the person and work of the Savior who died for our sin and was raised as evidence of our justification. The point is that the possession of eternal life brings with it the hope (the confident expectation) that we are heirs of God. An “heir” (kleronomos) refers to one who, as a son, receives something as a possession from his father. A careful study of the concept of our inheritance suggests that there are two aspects of being heirs.
…The inheritance in the Bible is either our relationship with God as a result of justification or something in addition to justification, namely a greater degree of glorification in heaven as a result of our rewards. As is always the case in interpretation, the context of each usage must determine meaning in that context.…177
In this context with the focus on our justification, what is inherited is eternal life itself and having an eternal relationship with God as His children.
Hope (elpis) may refer to the activity, hoping, or to the object hoped for, the content of one’s hope. By its very nature, hope may stress two things: (1) futurity and or (2) invisibility. It deals with things we cannot see or haven’t received or both (cf. Rom. 8:24-25).
Biblically, from the standpoint of the object hoped for, hope is often synonymous with salvation and its many blessings as promised in Scripture, past, present, and future. As in our context here in Titus, this is true even with what we have already received as believers because these blessings come under the category of what we cannot see, at least with our physical eyes (see Rom. 8:24-25). We may see or experience some of the results, but it still requires faith and hope. As an illustration, we do not see the justifying work of God, the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to our account, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit when we are saved, our co-union with Christ, or the eternal life God’s gives us. We believe these things to be realities, but this is still a matter of our hope. We believe in the testimony of God in the Word and this results in the confident expectation that all this is true.
3:8 This saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on such truths, so that those who have placed their faith in God may be intent on engaging in good works. These things are good and beneficial for all people.
“This saying is trustworthy” is a formula common in the Pastoral epistles (cf. 1 Tim. 1:15; 3:1; 4:9; 2 Tim. 2:11). Here it looks directly back to the majestic doctrinal truths of verses 4-7. With verse 8, the apostle again directly addresses Titus, but as before, undoubtedly with the Cretans in mind.
Because the content of these verses are so trustworthy, Titus and all teachers and church leaders have a very important responsibility, one in keeping with the theme of this letter and its focus on good works. When Paul wrote, “I want you to insist on such truths” he was not just expressing a mere desire. “I want” is boulomai, which is a stronger expression than the more frequent thelo, “I desire, will.” Boulomai expresses decisions of the will that occur after previous deliberation or careful thought.178 The reason, of course, is the enablement and motivation that such truth brings when properly grasped or understood.
Titus’ responsibility was to “insist on such truths.” “Insist” is diabebaioomai, “to speak confidently, to affirm, to insist.” The teacher of God’s Word can and should speak confidently and insist on the trustworthiness of the glorious truth God’s gracious salvation as expressed in verses 4-7. This naturally necessitates a clear understanding of these truths plus a firm conviction of their reality. Why is it so important to confidently affirm them? Because there is no message more important or with greater ramifications for all mankind. For both for time and for eternity.
The immediate purpose Paul had in mind was the promotion of godly behavior in believers. This is seen in the words, “so that those who have placed their faith in God may be intent on engaging in good works.” Several important truths are evident here.
First, the promotion of good works via the affirmation of this truth is for “those who have placed their faith (believed or trusted) in God.” “Have placed their faith” is a perfect active participle of the verb pisteuo, “to believe, trust.” The use of the perfect stresses the present state of affairs as a result of past action, that of trusting in Christ. Thus, it stresses the present relationship of one who trusts in God, naturally, of course, through faith in Christ. Trusting in God implies knowing something about Him and living in dependence on Him. Thus, this is a call for good deeds, but never apart from personal relationship and a spirit of faith/dependence on God through the Holy Spirit already spoken of in verses 5-6.
Second, such a relationship of trust should manifest itself in a changed mind set, one “intent on engaging in good works. “Intent” is phrontizo, “to think of, be intent on, be careful or concerned about.” This word is found only here in the New Testament, but it is used often in the papyri and other non-literary sources for the idea of being careful or taking heed to do something like carefully following instructions. Again, the new relationship the believer has with God through Christ and His Word introduces us to a holy God who wants to use us to manifest His character to a fallen world.
Third, the object of this focus or new mind set is seen in the words, “engaging in good works.” “Engage” is an interesting term. It’s an infinitive of the verb proistemi, “be at the head, lead, direct, manage” and then, “be concerned for, care for, busy oneself with, engage in.”179 But the prominent use in the New Testament is that of some form of leadership of those who stand out in front whether of church leaders or of a father who manages his own household (Rom. 12:8; 1 Thess. 5:12; 1 Tim. 3:4, 5, 12; 5:17). Therefore, Kent is probably right when he writes:
Persons who have put their faith in our Savior God are expected to take the lead in good works. Proistasthai means to stand before, preside, superintend, take the lead. (The ASV margin, “profess honest occupations” seems to be unwarranted, since all other uses of this verb in the New Testament are with the usual sense.). Christian faith is intended to change human lives. Christians are to be lights in the world. They should be in the forefront in good works, not dragging their feet while others take the lead. Of course, good works must be the fruit of faith, not a substitute for it.180
Finally, the apostle does not describe the “good works” in view, but this undoubtedly refers to the kind of character mentioned throughout the book, especially at the beginning of chapter three.
The motive for this admonition of verse 8a is spelled out in the words, “These things are good and beneficial for all people.” “These things” refer to the good deeds, but perhaps also the affirmation of the doctrinal teaching that must form the foundation for good deeds.
“Good” is kalos, which Barclay describes as “The Word of Winsomeness.”181 It’s an important word in the NT occurring 101 times.
Wherever this word is found there is the idea of loveliness, of attractiveness, of graciousness, of that which delights the heart and gives pleasure to the eyes.
Further, kalos is the adjective which implies love and admiration. Her citizens who love her called Athens the Beautiful (kalos).…
Still further, although kalos has this essential idea of beauty, it also has the idea of usefulness. The beauty which kalos describes is not merely decorative; it is also useful to men. So Homer, describing Phaeacia, says: ‘A fair (kalos) harbour lies on each side of the city’ (Odyssey t.263). He uses it of a favourable wind. “They embarked and set sail from broad Crete with North wind blowing fresh and fair (kalos)’ (Odyssey 14.299).…
Kalos in Greek also means beautiful and honourable in the moral sense. Homer, speaking of rapacious men, says: ‘It is not honourable (kalos) or just to robe the guest of Telemachus’ (Okyssey 20.294).182
After discussing the use of kalos in classical Greek and in the papyri, Barclay had this to say about its use in the New Testament.
The Christian must be an example of, and zealous for, good works (Titus 2.7, 14). He must be anxious to produce good works, by which his life must be marked (Titus 3.8, 14). Christians must incite each other to love and good works (Heb. 10.24); and they must have a good conscience (Heb. 13.18).
Here is a use of the word kalos which sheds a flood of light on the Christian life. Clearly it is not enough that the Christian life should be good; it must also be attractive.…
From this basic idea of the word kalos there follows an appeal which runs through the whole New Testament.… It stresses the fact that the best advocate of Christianity to the outsider is the sheer attractive loveliness of the life of the true Christian.183
Thus, “good works” are also “beneficial for all people.” “Beneficial” is ophelimos, “advantageous, useful, helpful, profitable.” But what exactly is the benefit Paul had in mind. Naturally, as people express love to one another through various good works, there is benefit to the person doing the good deeds as well as others around them like others members of the body of Christ, but Paul’s outlook is contextually broader than this.
For several reasons it is likely that Paul is speaking from a missionary concern for those outside the faith. First, the unambiguous reference to believers in the first half of verse 8 suggests that the reference to everyone at the end is primarily to unbelievers (the same contrast appears in 3:1-2). Then, as in 2:5, 7-8, 20-11 and 3:2, so also in this case: the importance of the visible attractiveness of the Christian life is that it might point others to belief in God. Paul’s thought is that since God’s love in Christ has transformed the lives of those who have believed (3:3-7), the manifestation of that love in their lives (3:1-2, 8) should have similar results in the lives of others. Mission is one of the primary reasons for the performance of the Christian life in the world.184
As believers in Christ, God has called us to witness to the Savior by life and lip, but when we fail to live godly lives with a deep concern for good works that demonstrate our faith, then what we are or really what we fail to be (Christ-like) speaks so loudly others refuse to hear what we have to say.
There is a magnificent story in Marie Chapian’s book Of Whom the World Was Not Worthy. The book told of the sufferings of the true church in Yugoslavia where so much wrong has been perpetrated by the politicized ecclesiastical hierarchy. That which has gone on in the name of Christ for the enriching and empowering of corrupt church officials has been a terrible affront to decency.
One day an evangelist by the name of Jakov arrived in a certain village. He commiserated with an elderly man named Cimmerman on the tragedies he had experienced and talked to him of the love of Christ. Cimmerman abruptly interrupted Jakov and told him that he wished to have nothing to do with Christianity. He reminded Jakov of the dreadful history of the church in his town, a history replete with plundering, exploiting, and indeed with killing innocent people. “My own nephew was killed by them,” he said and angrily rebuffed any effort on Jakov’s part to talk about Christ. “They wear those elaborate coats and caps and crosses,” he said, “signifying a heavenly commission, but their evil designs and lives I cannot ignore.”
Jakov, looking for an occasion to get Cimmerman to change his line of thinking, said, “Cimmerman, can I ask you a question? Suppose I were to steal your coat, put it on, and break into a bank. Suppose further that the police sighted me running in the distance but could not catch up with me. One clue, however, put them onto your track; they recognized your coat. What would you say to them if they came to your house and accused you of breaking into the bank?”
“I would deny it,” said Cimmerman.
“‘Ah, but we saw your coat,’ they would say,” retorted Jakov. This analogy quite annoyed Cimmerman, who ordered Jakov to leave his home.
Jakov continued to return to the village periodically just to befriend Cimmerman, encourage him, and share the love of Christ, with him. Finally one day Cimmerman asked, “How does one become a Christian?” and Jakov taught him the simple steps of repentance for sin and of trust in the work of Jesus Christ and gently pointed him to the Shepherd of his soul. Cimmerman bent his knee on the soil with his head bowed and surrendered his life to Christ. As he rose to his feet, wiping his tears, he embraced Jakov and said, “Thank you for being in my life.” And then he pointed to the heavens and whispered, “You wear His coat very well.”185
These verses, chapter 3:1-8 have dealt with the believer’s testimony in the world, a world that is divided politically, economically, religiously, culturally, racially, and domestically. In this fragmented world, God has called us to manifest His love through the gift of His Son in a way that not only brings people to a saving knowledge of Christ, but that demonstrates the power of the cross to bring people together in loving relationships. In his book, Why the Cross Can Do What Politics Can’t, Erwin Lutzer has a chapter that points to the cross as a power for reconciliation. His comments in a couple of paragraphs form a fitting close to the believer’s responsibility to manifest the power of the cross as God’s means of not only reconciliation with Him, but of reconciliation with one another.
In such a world, many relationships are either brief, high-intensity encounters which quickly burn themselves out, or casual interactions that do not fill the human desire for love and a lasting connection. Americans are, for the most part, a lonely lot, seeking to fill the void with the latest gadgets or entertainment venues. Deep relationships characterized by loyalty and commitment are few in number and little is done to encourage them. Thus our desires are unmet, and as a nation we keep turning to those solutions that only inflame greater unmet desires.
To where do we turn?
The church is called to model wholesome, caring relationships in a culture that no longer believes that such friendships are possible. Our calling is to eschew that part of our culture that is fueled by a radical individualism that selfishly seeks one’s own “good” at the expense of one’s neighbor. We have to prove that deep and loyal friendships can exist among those who otherwise have racial, cultural, and economic differences. In other words, we are to model oneness for which Christ prayed. It is at this very point that we should be most unlike the world.186
170 Walter Bauer, Wilbur F. Gingrich, and Frederick W. Danker (BAGD), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1979), electronic media.