For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. Titus 2:11-14
During my lifetime, John 3:16 has been recognized as the #1 verse in the Bible and the basis of most modern, American gospel presentations. Bumper stickers and signs at football games proclaim to all the way to be saved. I’m not going to dispute that this verse is encouraging, but unless it is included with at least the rest of the third chapter of John, I think it tells an incomplete story. In the one verse, we learn that God is loving and sacrificially generous, and that belief in the Son is the difference between perishing and eternal life. All true, but as I said, an incomplete story.
I would like to submit Titus 2:11-14 as a better alternative, in terms of clarity and brevity, for communicating the gospel message. Please allow me to elaborate my thinking:
“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.” Grace is unmerited favor and John 3:16 could be referred to as a great example of what that looks like. Here, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is included in that grace, but it is not the whole picture. And salvation-bringing grace has appeared to all men (humanity). All need it. All have access to it.
“It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passion, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,…. “ IT would be the grace of God referred to in the first verse. As I said, unmerited favor extends beyond the work of the cross and includes the work of the Holy Spirit whom Christ sent to continue what he started. Grace teaches us. We are not left to figure it out by ourselves or be browbeaten by others into modified behavior. Grace teaches us how to say “No” and “Yes”. Before grace begins its instructive work, we cannot even scratch the surface of right awareness of what ungodliness and worldly passions are because they are all we have known. We might be able to identify ungodly deeds we have done, but we cannot know the depths of the motives and thought patterns that grace will point to and teach us to say “No”. And the idea that an unredeemed person can formulate a correct idea of what a self-controlled, upright and godly life is made of is preposterous. We can’t. Only God is qualified to define ‘godly’. But the grace of God can teach us (and this is particularly powerful) in this present age. We will be made perfect on the day of Christ, but we can, with the grace of God, be moving in that direction in this present age.
“….while we wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ,….” When John 3:16 speaks of the promise of eternal life, I have heard most believers elaborate their own ideas of what that includes: health, clean air and sunshine, reunion with loved ones, friends and pets, endless leisure to pursue their favorite activities. But when I read the scripture, the only thing that seems to matter is the Presence. The heroes of the faith and the prophets who had visions of eternity all seem profoundly preoccupied with the glorious appearing and rest all their hope on that. Anything less seems to make for unsubstantial faith.
“….who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” The beginning and completion of the work of grace. Jesus’ death on the cross began the act of redemption – from all wickedness, that we are utterly unable to extract ourselves from – but also to…something new. Too often, the gospel presentation is about what we are rescued from, leaving the what now as a vague idea about being good and going to church until we die and go to that happy place of sunshine and reunion. Here in Titus and truthfully, throughout the Word, we’re told this: “to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” Through the instructive work of grace we are purified, not for our own glory, but to be more intimately identified with Christ, to the point that not only our understanding of what is good is aligned with his, but our desire to participate in doing good becomes singular and without competing interests.
Know many Christians who can be described like that? Does that describe you? It’s not me, yet, but it is the word of my encouragement. Whenever I lose my way or become discouraged at the either the magnitude of my sinfulness or the persistent discipline of the Holy Spirit, I come back to Titus 2:11-14. The grace of God that brings salvation….It teaches us….in this present age….the blessed hope….gave himself for us….to purify a people that are his very own….Grace is still at work and redemption is ongoing. Blessed be He!
Whether I am encouraging my own spirit, instructing another Christ-follower or presenting the gospel to someone who doesn’t know Christ, I find this passage of tremendous value and help. What a great summary of the whole story of the Good News!