TITUS 04 - Interpreting & applying the key passage

  • We have now looked at one of the major themes in the letter of Titus: godly character for leaders and all church members.
  • When reading through Paul’s lists of character requirements, one could easily be surprised: Is this really Paul writing?
  • In Paul’s other writings (like Romans, Galatians, Colossians) he stresses that nothing we do can make us more acceptable to God, we are saved by grace only (for example Gal 2:16).
  • It seems that Titus not saying a very different thing, focusing heavily on essential character qualities? Has Paul departed from “preaching grace” and is turning legalistic in the letter of Titus?
  • Paul has up to this point in the letter Paul has listed good character qualities, good attitudes and good behavior.
  • But what is the basis and source of all this?
  • Or said differently: What exactly is the “sound doctrine” Titus is told to teach to the Cretan churches (Tit 2:1)?
  • In order to answer these questions, we need to look at the three key passages in Titus:
The Key Passage                Tit 2:11-13


  • Read Tit 2:11-13: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
  • Note carefully the key words Paul is using.
  • Think about the following questions:
    • Do you see a progression in this passage?
    • What two major roles does Paul say grace has?

findings and thoughts to consider

  • Everything about these verse is important. We will look at them in detail:
  • The sentence starts with a “for”, linking this sentence to everything Paul has said before. Now he will teach the foundation for all those good character qualities.
  • “The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all” – this is a poetic way to refer to Jesus. Jesus is God’s grace that has appeared, bringing salvation to all. So what does grace do? > bring salvation to all. and to whom does grace bring salvation? > to all.
  • “training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions”. What else does grace do? > grace trains us (other translations: disciplines us, teaches us) to renounce impiety and to live in this age lives that are self-controlled, upright and godly. Watch this:
    • 1 grace brings salvation                        > acceptability before God        called “justification”
    • 2 grace brings training, discipline      > changed life                              called “sanctification”
  • When does grace change the believer’s life? > “in this present age”, meaning now, here – not later in heaven.
  • When Paul speaks of grace, he speaks of God’s unmerited forgiveness and mercy given to everyone who has faith without conditions, but this grace is meant to bear fruit, it is means to change our lives.
  • Grace doesn’t mean: ‘I am forgiven, now I can do whatever I want’.
  • Grace is not a cheap guarantee of heaven, which allows the believer to keep going with his sin.
  • Or said differently: God’s grace poses no conditions, but it must lead to consequences.
  • Grace is free, grace is effective.
  • What are the “impiety and worldly passions”? These are things like cheating, deceiving, abuse of power, unjust gain, self-centeredness.
  • All these are visible everywhere, they are so common that we think no other life-style is possible.
  • But God has challenged us to swim against the current.
  • It is hard, but it is possible. We need to commit to doing what is right even if nobody else does it, even if everybody is sure it can’t be done. Show the way, be a model, don’t give up hope.
  • “while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of God” – This is the third aspect: there is a future glory, something powerful and beautiful we look forward to. This completes the list:
    • 1 grace brings forgiveness, acceptance               “justification”         past             we have been saved
    • 2 grace trains us to live differently                         “sanctification”      present       we are being saved
    • 3 waiting for God will bring about the ultimate    “glorification”         future          we will be saved
  • The first has happened (be thankful for it! stand on it! don’t doubt it!). The third will happen and is entirely God’s to worry about (look forward to that!). But the second is where the challenge is for all believers: to live that changed life here and now. That is what we need to focus on (live that!).
  • This is so important that Paul summarizes it again in the very next sentence:
The Second Key Passage                Tit 2:14


  • Read Tit 2:14: “He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.”
  • Note carefully the key words Paul is using.
  • In the light of what you just learned, can you see the same elements in this verse also?

findings and thoughts to consider

  • Again Paul starts with Jesus and the unmerited gift of his forgiveness and redemption.
  • But again: the goal of this acceptance is for him to “purify for himself a people zealous for good deeds”, meaning people who are godly, committed, ready to serve others.
  • The basis of good deeds is grace.
  • Good deeds are not the condition to salvation, they are the consequences of salvation.
  • Paul never said to the Cretans to ‘try harder to be godly as good as they can’, he tells them to stand in grace, to trust in Jesus’ salvation, and to do the good deeds out of sonship, out of gratefulness to God.
  • Note that God purifies a people “for himself”. By cleaning and godliness fellowship with him is possible.
  • He is not after us not because he needs somebody to work for him, but because he loves to have relationship with us, so he builds us up.
  • The same thought comes one more time in Titus:
The third Key Passage                        Tit 3:4-7


  • Read Tit 3:3-6:
    “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
  • Note carefully the key words Paul is using.
  • In the light of what you just learned, can you see the same elements in this verse also?
findings and thoughts to consider
  • Paul starts with a free admission of the selfish persons he was (and we all are) before meeting Christ.
  • Again Paul stresses the unconditional and unmerited grace of God in Jesus, that is the basis for everything.
  • This rebirth (past) brings about a renewal by the Holy Spirit (present), resulting in a changed life now and a hope of eternal life (future).
A Summary

“saves”                                                                 “trains”
JUSTIFICATION                                                SANCTIFICATION
by faith in Jesus                                                by reliance on Jesus and Holy Spirit
freed from sin’s punishment                           freed from sin’s power
one point in time                                               continually till death
unconditional                                                     fruit, result, consequence
SAVING GRACE                                                ENABLING GRACE
focused less on in the Catholic church        focused less on in the Evangelical church

stressed by Paul in Galatians                          stressed by Paul in Titus

So the sound doctrine that needs to be taught to the Cretans by Titus (Tit 2:1), and by the elders after him (Tit 1:9) is to trust in Jesus, to stand on his grace and to live a changed life by his grace and Spirit.

An Illustration
  • Grace is the earth the tree roots in.
  • If a tree is well rooted in the right soil, it will bear fruit.
  • Good deeds is the fruit a healthy tree produces.
  • In order to live our lives well now in this present age and in this world (sanctification), we need to keep our eyes both on the cross of Jesus and all he did (justification) so that we are grateful and motivated by his great love (see left).
  • And we also keep our eyes on the future glory that God has promised us and the hope this brings us (see right).
    In the light of both the cross and the eternal hope we find motivation to be faithful now.
Practical Matters


  • Read Tit 2:14, 3:1-2, 3:8 and 3:14.
  • Note carefully the key words Paul is using.
  • Think about the following questions:
    • What is the similarity of these verses?
    • What is Paul wanting the church to do?
    • For whom are they to do good works?
    • What is Paul wanting the church to be known for?

findings and thoughts to consider

  • Tit 2:14   “zealous for good deeds”
  • Tit 3:1     “be subject to rulers and authorities, obedient, ready for every good work”
  • Tit 3:2     “speak evil of no one, avoid quarreling, be gentle, show courtesy to everyone”
  • Tit 3:8     “that those who have come to believe in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works”
  • Tit 3:14   “let people learn to devote themselves to good works in order to meet urgent needs, so that they may not be unproductive.”
  • For whom are they to do good works?
    • They are to serve each other in the church, but also there is a clear focus on outsiders, on the government, on society in general, on ‘everyone’ (Tit 3:2, 3:8).
    • Paul doesn’t just want the believers in the church to be serve each other (though that is where it all must start), he wants them to be a power for good in their society.
    • Paul doesn’t only want the church to stay pure (or rather: become pure) in spite of a corrupt Cretan culture, he also wants the church to be a role model, displaying a higher morality, a positive force and a blessing to Cretan society.
    • And we know that over time the church in Crete had just that influence.
    • Crete (and also all of Greece) has become a center of Greek orthodox Christianity enduring over twenty centuries till today.
    • How different is this mindset from the one we have today, where as Christians we often want to flee less fortunate societies and settle in what we perceive as better societies.
    • Paul turns the issue around: You make the society you find yourself in into the society you want to have!
    • Paul fully believes in the transforming power of the gospel both in the individual’s life but also in the life of the nation.
Final thoughts on Titus


  • Think about the following questions:
    • What did you learn from the letter of Titus?
    • What new insight did you gain?
    • What has God been challenging you to do in response to his word?

some thoughts (many more could be made)

  • I need to rejoice in my salvation, remember what it means and be in awe of what God has given.
  • I need to live a life worthy or that great salvation. Am I secretly doubting my salvation because I have not been willing to let God change my life? Am I preaching a shallow gospel (‘if you believe in Jesus you will get joy, peace and a ticket to heaven’), which is really self-centered and doesn’t have Jesus’ honor nor Lordship in mind.
  • I need to embrace God’s grace that saved me and God’s grace that trains and disciplines me. I need to embrace that change is essential, it is a sign of health, of development, of strength and it will lead to fruitfulness, integrity, the power to influence and the authority to lead.
  • I need to learn faithfulness in the little things, for it is the basis for everything else. Self-control is essential to consideration of others, ability to listen and understand, fairness and positive influence. I need self-control in all areas, in thoughts, words or actions, in the area of finances, bodily indulgence, sexual desire, power over others etc.
  • I need to not lie, neither to myself nor others.
  • Authority to lead comes by godly character and selflessly serving others, and by nothing else. To model is to influence. Unaccountable, self-indulgent or dominant leadership is never Biblical. Leadership means Christ-likeness.
  • I need to encourage godly character, attitudes and behavior in myself and others. The proof is in daily life, not theological debates.
  • I need to stay away from quarrels, dissensions and divisions.
  • Change is hard, but it is possible. I don’t need to ‘try harder’, but rejoice in my salvation, look to Jesus’ example and ask the help of the Holy Spirit.
  • God wants believers not just to ‘survive’ or ‘stay pure’, but to be an agent of transformation, a person of integrity with the power of influence and the authority to lead both inside the church and outside.