Passage: Titus 2:11-14
Benjamin Franklin is certainly one of the most fascinating figures in American history. It’s pretty remarkable to consider all of his various achievements. Franklin worked a wide-variety of jobs. He was a gifted scientist and researcher, and of course, he played a major role in the founding of our nation. Franklin was also a gifted writer, and one of the reasons we know so much about him is because he wrote an autobiography. And one of the more interesting facets of this work is Franklin’s explanation of his project to achieve moral perfection. When he was 20 years old, Franklin developed a list of 13 virtues, and he believed that if he could master these virtues, he could achieve moral perfection. He also developed a 13-week plan to get there. Each week, Franklin would focus on developing one of these virtues, and journal his successes and failures. After mastering a virtue over the course of the week, he planned to master the next one the following week, and after 13 weeks to reach perfection. As you probably expected, Franklin’s plan didn’t work. In fact, he continued the project on and off for years but never met his goal. Franklin’s plan is interesting because it is so ambitious but also because it was so intentional. Franklin didn’t merely commit to virtue; he developed a plan to pursue it. As Christians who have been commanded by God to be holy as God is holy, we can identify with Franklin’s goal and with the frustration of falling short. There’s a sense in which Franklin’s project sounds a lot like spiritual growth. But are they the same? In other words, has God called us to basically do the same thing Franklin was trying to do? There are some similarities between Franklin’s plan and spiritual discipline, but there is a massive difference. For one, we aren’t just called to measure up to a human standard of virtue; we are called to conform to God’s holiness. But second, there is an entirely different engine that drives spiritual transformation. Spiritual transformation is not based ultimately in strategy and self-discipline but in the mighty grace of God that begins, continues, and will complete our transformation.
This morning, I’d like to consider a second priority for biblical church ministry. Last week, we discussed the priority of a Word-centered ministry. This morning, I’d like to argue for the priority of grace-centered transformation. To do that, I’d like to consider Titus 2:11–14. Maybe the most important theme in Titus is the significance of good deeds to a Christian’s life. You can see it in our text. Paul emphasizes the importance of good deeds because false teachers who lived wicked lives were influencing the church away from godly living. In response, Titus 2:1–10 lists a number of ethical commands. After listing these commands, Paul wanted to provide a basis for why the church should obey them. What then is the basis for why we should live godly lives?
Verse 11 provides…
The Foundation for Change: Saving Grace (v. 11)
Grace has appeared.
The verse begins by noting that God’s grace has appeared. What grace is Paul talking about and what does it mean that it has appeared? The remainder of the passage defines this grace. Verse 11 states that this grace brings salvation; therefore, it is a saving grace. Verse 12 tells us that this grace is a transforming grace that roots out sin and replaces it with godliness. But v. 14 is especially clear in identifying this grace. This grace is the redemption available to us through Christ’s death. It is the gospel. The fact that this grace appeared means that Paul has in mind the totality of Christ’s life and work. It includes his perfect life, his death for sin, and his resurrection in victory. All of this was an act of grace because apart from Christ, we are lost. The Scriptures are clear that no man can ever reach the goal of perfection that Benjamin Franklin sought. Romans 3:10 states “there is none righteous, no, not one.” No human strategy regardless of how brilliant it may be can every make us perfect. And this is a problem because God is holy and cannot be in the presence of sin. He is also just and must judge sin. And so on our own, man has no hope of reaching perfection or of avoiding God’s judgment. We can never be good enough, and God can’t just ignore our sin. But then the grace of God appeared. The word translated appear is often used of the glorious appearance of a king or deity. The appearance of grace in Christ was a glorious appearance.
The verse goes on to note that Christ’s appearance meaning his perfect life, death, and resurrection brings salvation. Jesus didn’t come to earth simply to set an example. He lived and died to bring salvation. When Jesus died on the cross he took on himself our judgment for sin so that we could receive forgiveness by putting our faith in Christ. We can be saved from hell and receive a home in heaven. And God states that this incredible salvation is available to “all men.” I want to emphasize that Paul is not saying all people are saved. We know this because the rest of the passage sets up a contrast between the lifestyle of those who are saved and of those who are not. Paul is not saying that everyone is saved, but he is saying that anyone who comes to Christ for salvation can be saved. That includes you. There is no one in this room who can reach God on their own, and if you think that God couldn’t possible care that much about sin, then ask yourself why then did Jesus need to die? Jesus died because God must punish sin. Romans 6:23 says that the wages of sin is death. Your sin means that you deserve death, but if you believe on Christ for salvation you can be saved. If you’ve never done that, I pray that you will do it today. But our text goes on to note that the grace that appeared in Christ was intended to do much more than rescue people from hell. The grace that Christ provided is intended to change our lives.
Verse 11 tells us that the foundation of change is saving grace. Verses 12–13 provide the…
Instruction for Change (vv. 12–13)
The subject of the phrase “teaching us” is the clause “the grace of God has appeared.” Therefore, it’s the grace of God that teaches us how to be godly. The gospel includes more than an answer for the judgment of God. The full gospel doesn’t just tell people how they can be rescued from judgment; it also tells them how to live transformed lives. It’s also important to note that this teaching work of grace involves more than head knowledge. It also involves a new power to live a transformed life. We will see that clearly in v. 14. Grace empowers us to pursue a godliness that isn’t possible for those without Christ. For example, before there was GPS, you might occasionally get lost while driving. Maybe at some point, you went into a gas station and asked directions. When you left the gas station you had a better idea where to go. Directions are helpful, but what is even more helpful is if someone acts as your chauffeur. They don’t just tell you where to go, they drive you there. That’s what grace does. God hasn’t just told us what a godly life looks like; grace empowers us to do it. The text then adds 3 things that grace teaches and enables us to do.
First, the grace of God teaches us to…
Deny ungodliness and worldly lust:
This statement has to do with setting aside the lifestyle of the unsaved. When someone receives the grace of God in salvation that grace teaches him to reject “ungodliness.” Ungodliness basically refers to a lack of proper reverence for God. An ungodly person is someone who doesn’t honor God in how that they think about life and ultimately in how they live life. Grace teaches us to reject an ungodly lifestyle. Grace also teaches us to reject “worldly lust.” This is a reference to evil desires or passions that are driven by a desire immediate pleasure that is focused on this life rather than eternity. We see this mindset around us all of the time. People are often consumed by the pursuit of sexual lust, lust for money or things, human praise, and on and on. Ungodliness and worldly lust drive the values lost humanity. But grace teaches us to deny these things. The gospel opens our eyes to the ultimate emptiness of worldly pleasure and to the glory of God the fact that joy and peace are available only in him. The gospel is intended to drive ungodliness and worldly lusts out of our lives. Because of that, a Christian cannot be content to live with a mentality that is little different from the world around us. Grace teaches us to reject these things. And instead…
Paul first mentions sobriety. This word describes thoughtful, self-controlled decision-making. You don’t have to look hard at our culture to see that many people are driven by impulses and feelings. They make decisions based on what feels right or intense desires. They don’t make sound decisions. In contrast, grace teaches Christians to be sober. The idea is that we are self-controlled in how we think and live. We make thoughtful, clear-minded decisions rather than impulsive ones. This mindset is essential to godliness. You simply can’t live a godly life and be driven by emotion and impulse. You must think make disciplined, intentional choices. The second positive trait is righteousness. It focuses primarily on ethical or virtuous living in relation to others. Since the second great command is to love your neighbor, treating others justly and kindly is at the center of godliness. Grace teaches us to serve others and to be upright in all our dealings. Finally, grace teaches us to be godly. Of course, this is the opposite of ungodly. It means to live life with a constant awareness of God and of the fact that he is our master. It is a reverent life in obedience to his Word.
Grace teaches us to reject ungodliness and to replace it with godliness. The third quality it teaches us is to…
Hope in Eternity:
This verse is a beautiful and theologically rich statement. The gospel teaches Christians that our hope is not ultimately tied to this life and the passing pleasures it offers. Rather, we look for the “blessed hope.” This phrase points to the significance and preeminence of this hope over every other dream we may pursue. The remainder of the verse explains what this hope is. It is that Jesus is coming again and will reveal his glory. It’s worth noting that only Jesus is in view in this statement. The phrase “great God and Savior” uses a grammatical construction that always refers to a single person. Therefore, the “great God and Savior” is Jesus Christ. That’s significant because this is one of the clearest statements in the NT of the deity of Christ. Jesus is not just our Savior, he is the “great God.” And Paul states that at the Rapture he will appear and reveal his glory. We will see his majesty and beauty in an awesome display unlike anything we have experienced before. We will be transformed, and we will receive our full inheritance as God’s children. This is the great or blessed hope of God’s children, and Paul says that grace teaches us to look for this hope. This is a great gift because it’s very easy to lose sight of this hope and to live our lives completely wrapped up in the here and now. We easily become consumed with the cares and concerns of this life or the immediate desires of our hearts. These things can dominate our lives and discourage our obedience. The only way the Christian life makes sense and is worth living is if we remain focused on our eternal hope. Grace does us a great favor by helping us look expectantly for Christ’s return.
Verse 12–13 note three lessons that grace teaches us. It teaches us to reject a worldly mindset, to pursue godliness, and to hope in eternity. Remember that the overall purpose of vv. 11–14 is to provide a foundation for why we should obey the ethical obligations of vv. 1–10. Our text is clear that the gospel is intended to transform every aspect of life. The true gospel drives out ungodliness and replaces it with holiness. The true gospel transforms our priorities from being focused on temporal happiness to eternal joy. That’s why if someone claims to be a Christian but is unwilling to submit completely to God’s Word it is doubtful that they really understand the gospel or have received it because the true gospel teaches us to be transformed. There may be someone here today who claims to be a Christian, but you don’t live like heaven is your hope. You have a worldly mindset and disobedient life. If you were really honest with yourself, you would have to say that you are your master, not God. But Jesus said you cannot serve two masters. Either he is your master or he is not. Either grace is teaching you to live the characteristics in our text, or it is not. The true gospel changes everything. The worst thing I could do for you today would be to tell you that you are all right when clearly the gospel isn’t teaching you these things. Regardless of what kind of religious experience you may have had at some point, if grace is not developing godliness in you, then you need to repent and be saved. But these verses are primarily addressed to genuine Christians because while grace teaches us to do these things, they are not automatic. We still have to do them. The NT never teaches that we are to simply sit back and wait for God to change us. Rather, it tells us to “press toward the mark” and to discipline ourselves to godliness. Because of that, we all ought to reflect carefully on these lessons. Where have you begun to tolerate evil desires or practices in your life? Are you allowing yourself to think thoughts that are wicked and ungodly and where are those thoughts manifesting themselves? How are you doing in pursuing these positive qualities? Do you live with a disciplines mind that evaluates life carefully? Are you righteous in how you treat others? Do you treat them with love, patience, and kindness? What would your family say if they were to answer that question honestly for you? And do you long for eternity in such a way that it drives your life, or do you rarely even think of eternity? The message of this text is clear. The gospel isn’t merely intended to rescue us from hell; it is intended to transform every aspect of life. Therefore, we need to pursue godliness, all the while recognizing that we can go nowhere apart from the grace of God.
Verse 14 then pounds home this fact by reminding us of the intent for change in Christ’s death.
Intent for Change in Christ’s Death (v. 14):
Ultimately, everything about the Christian life is centered in Christ. We saw in v. 13, that Jesus is coming again and that our hope as Christians is tied to his return. Verse 14 follows by noting that it’s not just Christ’s return that should drive us to godliness; his death also was intended to change our lives right now. The verse begins by noting the simple fact that Jesus gave himself for us. No one forced Christ to die; he willing sacrificed his life on our behalf. This verse mentions two purposes of the death of Christ, one negative and one positive.
Jesus died to redeem us from sin.
We talked about redemption a couple of Wednesday nights ago. Redemption implies some form of slavery or bondage, and when Jesus died on the cross, he provided for mankind to be freed from bondage to sin. Specifically, Jesus death made it possible for us to be freed from the guilt of sin so that we could spend eternity with God in heaven. But this verse adds another form of slavery that redemption addresses. We are also born into the world enslaved to the power of sin, but Jesus died to redeem us from “every lawless deed.” This phrase simply means life without law; specifically, it is life that is not submitted to God and his Word. It’s life in rebellion. But one of the reasons Jesus died was to rescue us from such a life. Again, the gospel is intended to transform every part of life. It’s intended to lift us out of sin and rebellion. Positively…
Jesus died to purify us for good works.
This statement must be understood in the context of OT theology. Specifically, God set Israel apart from the nations to be his special people. God would dwell with them, and they would to a light to the nations. Because God had a special purpose for Israel, they were to be purified through the sacrificial system. Verse 14 states that God has a similar purpose for us. Jesus died to make us pure or holy so that we would be God’s “special people.” God is clear that if you have been saved, you are not like everyone else. Being a Christian can’t just be a part of your life; it’s all of your life because Jesus died to set you apart from the rest of mankind as his special people. What will this look like? We are to be “zealous for good deeds.” When I think of zeal, I think of someone who is passionate about a cause. At our church in Michigan, there was an older man who loved the Civil War. He studied it all of the time. He participated in reenactments, he came to church dressed as a union soldier sometimes, and if you got him talking about the Civil War, you better plan to be there for a while. The Civil War is a passion for that man. And God said that Jesus died to make us passionate about good works. How passionate are you about doing good deeds? The first part of the chapter talks about setting an example for others of godliness and about investing in the next generation. Are you zealous to be an example of true godliness because you live a consistent life of holiness? Are you zealous to make a difference in your fellow-church members? Again, good deeds are not optional. Jesus died to set us apart to a life of good deeds.
In sum, the message of this text is that saving grace is intended to produce holiness and eternal hope. As I’ve been doing, I’d like to conclude with several applications for us as a church and as individuals.
For Our Church
We must reach people with the gospel before we can disciple them.
Our text is pretty clear that the only foundation for genuine discipleship is that someone has received the gospel. Without the gospel, we might be able to help people reform their lives as Ben Franklin tried to do, but they will spend eternity in hell, and they won’t achieve genuine holiness. The only way we will see people become committed disciples of Christ is if they are truly born again. We better never assume that; otherwise, we’ll be nothing more than a social club. We need power that comes only through the gospel.
We must continually bring people back to the grace of God.
Once we are saved, how do we grow, and how do we help each other grow? There are actually several good answers to that question. The Bible says that we should be motivated by eternity, love for God and others, fear of consequences, and several others things. As well, it teaches that we need to work hard at Christian growth. But we must always recognize that all of these things have to be centered in the grace of God. We need grace to defeat sin and to live righteously, and we must point people to the fact that grace is the answer. And while there are other legitimate motives for pursuing godliness, we must always point people to the grace and goodness of God as the highest motive for our service.
We must have confidence in grace’s power to work.
Our text is clear that when someone receives the grace of salvation it will make a difference. And we ought to believe that. I’m not saying we shouldn’t make strong appeals or confront sin because we should. But we also need to trust God that he will work in his people. We can rest in the fact that transformation is not ultimately up to us.
For Us as Individuals
You should have no assurance of salvation apart from obedience.
I want to simply repeat what I said early. The gospel changes everything. If you are not willing to obey God’s Word, then you should not assume you are right with him. If that’s you, I want to urge you to get it settled today. Turn from your sin and be saved.
Focus on the gospel and draw confidence from the gospel.
It’s easy for us as to get discouraged in our battle against sin and to lose motivation. But remember what Jesus did for you and what he provided. If you are saved, you have grace, so stay encouraged and look to God for help.
Pursue holiness and good deeds.
Let’s go from here today rejoicing in the power of the gospel and committed to living it while looking for Christ’s return.