What Grace Teaches (Phil Johnson)

Titus 2:11-15   |   Sunday, June 15, 2014   |   Code: 2014-06-15am-PJ

If you pay attention to what's happening in the larger

evangelical community, you're probably aware of a

controversy that is currently brewing regarding sanctification

and the biblical distinction between law and gospel, grace

and works. It has become popular in some circles to teach

that gratitude is the only legitimate motivation for holiness.

If you obey God out of a sense of duty, or fear, or obligation,

then your thinking is legalistic and your obedience is utterly

fleshly and therefore counter-productive to your


That way of thinking is so common that any preacher who

highlights the commands in Scripture is likely to get a

scolding. He'll be told he shouldn't focus on imperatives; if

he does that, he is preaching law. Instead we should leave the

commandments aside and preach the gospel indicatives.

Don't speak of moral duties; don't chastise people for their

failures; don't point to the Bible's commandments; speak

only of what Christ has done on our behalf. Reading some of

the written material that comes from people who hold this

perspective, I sometimes get the impression they think

Christians simply should not be troubled in conscience when

they sin. One book at Amazon.com is being promoted with

Titus 2:11-15 2

ad copy that says the author's goal is to tell Christians "we

can never lead a blameless life, [but] we can relax in

knowing that we are completely forgiven."

Now there is some truth in that. None of us is sinless, and

we can be sure of complete forgiveness. But that's not the

full truth, and it is not what Scripture says about how

Christians are supposed to deal with sin in their own lives.

Scripture never tells us to "relax," or "let go and let God," or

sin so that grace may abound. The Bible's teaching on

sanctification is full of imperatives. The idea that personal

effort has no legitimate role in our sanctification is patently

unbiblical. Here's Peter's counsel on the issue (2 Peter 1:5-7):

"Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and

virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and

self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with

godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly

affection with love." Hebrews 12:14: "Strive for peace with

everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the

Lord." "Strive for . . . holiness"Cbecause without it, you are

not fit for heaven. When the subject is holiness and the

pursuit of personal sanctification, you will not find passive

language in Scripture.

That whole way of thinking is wrong. The tension

between the indicatives and the imperatives in Scripture is

not a question of either/or. It is absolutely true that the finest

What Grace Teaches 3

incentive for holiness is the gospel. So by all means remind

people of their position in Christ. Remind them that they

have been fully and freely forgiven. Remind them that Christ

offered a full atonement for our sins and His righteousness in

exchange for our guilt. Remind them that our own works

contribute nothing to our justification; our good deeds add

nothing to the atonement; and our obedience does not in any

way enhance the efficacy of Christ's work on our behalf.

That should be the theme and the centerpiece of all our

preaching, because it is the very essence of the gospel


But none of that nullifies our moral duty. That's what

establishes our true accountability to God as His redeemed

people and members of Christ's body. That position doesn't

make holiness optional; it makes it more urgent. You have

no basis for claiming to be a believer or thinking you are in

Christ in any sense if you have no desire to pursue

holinessC"to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk

humbly with your God."

And what we find consistently in Scripture when the issue

of Christian duty comes up is that both/and emphasis: "Work

out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who

works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure."

(Philippians 2:12-13). The apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians

15:10: "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace

Titus 2:11-15 4

toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than

any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with

me." You see how he consistently keeps that dual emphasis?

Our perfect standing in Christ doesn't eliminate our duty

to obey Him. Grace doesn't void the proper uses of the law.

God's work in us doesn't eliminate the need for us to serve

and honor Him. And the indicatives in the New Testament

don't nullify the imperatives.

Let me make the point in a different way: if you are

ambivalent about holinessCif you're not the least bit troubled

by the remaining sin in your life; if your sin doesn't trouble

your own conscienceCthat's not because you have a superior

understanding of grace. It could very well mean that you are

not a partaker of God's grace at all. Authentic saving grace is

never indifferent with regard to holiness. And I want to show

you that this morning from Titus 2:11-15.

Titus 2, and we'll cover verses 11-15, with a particular

focus on verses 12-13. Let me make a few preliminary

remarks while you are turning there.

To confound law and gospel is no small error. It's an easy

error to make, and let's be candid: there seems to be

something in the fallen human heart that makes us prone to

that error. It's the error that lies at the heart of every kind of

legalism. I think it is a tendency of every fallen human mind

What Grace Teaches 5

to default towards legalism, and it is right that we should

resist that tendency. There is no more deadly blunder in all of

theology. Some of the strongest words of condemnation

anywhere in the New Testament were aimed at those who

supplanted gospel promises with legal demands (Galatians


So are we clear on this? Legalism is a grave error filled

with all kinds of mischief. For multitudes, legalism is a

damnable delusion.

However, it is also a serious blunder (also condemned in

very strong terms by the apostle Paul) to imagine that the

gospel disagrees with the moral standard set by the law. It is

likewise a grave error to think justification by faith

eliminates the need for obedience. And it is a damnable lie to

tell people that the perfect freedom of God's grace gives

license for unholy living. Good works, obedience to Christ's

commands, and encouragements and admonitions to be holy

are necessary aspects of the Christian life. They are not

necessary (in the way the legalist suggests) to earn favor with

God. In fact, our works are worthlessCtotally impotentCfor

that purpose. But obedience is a natural, and inevitable, and

essential expression of love for Christ and gratitude for His

grace. This is the chief practical lesson we learn from the

principle of grace: grace compels us to love and good works.

Titus 2:11-15 6

Grace constrains us to renounce sin and to pursue


Listen: The gospel is more excellent than the law, but the

two do not disagree. Believing the gospel sets us free from

the law's condemnation, but it does not release us from the

moral standard set by the law. Or to say it another way: the

principle of sola fideCjustification by faith aloneCis not

hostile to good works. The gospel puts good works in their

proper place, but if we properly understand the principle of

sola fide, it should make us zealous for good works; earnest

in the pursuit of holiness; and eager to obey our Lord's

commands. We don't need to be the least bit hesitant to

"provoke [one another] unto love and to good works."

And that's what we're going to see in the passage we're

looking at in this hourCTitus 2:11-15. Let me start by

reading the text, and as I read, listen with these questions in

mind: What lessons do we learn from a biblical

understanding of the principle of grace? What is grace

supposed to be teaching us? In all our talk about

grace-saturated, gospel-focused, Christ-centered ministry,

have we actually understood "grace" properly, or have we

unwittingly fallen in step with "ungodly persons who turn the

grace of our God into licentiousness"?

Now, here's our passage (Titus 2:11-15):

What Grace Teaches 7

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation

for all people,

12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly

passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly

lives in the present age,

13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory

of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,

14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all

lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own

possession who are zealous for good works.

15 Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all

authority. Let no one disregard you.

Let's start with a word about the context and the

circumstances that prompted this epistle. Paul is writing to

Titus, whom he has "left . . . in Crete, [so] that [Titus could] set

in order what remain[ed] and appoint elders in every city" (1:5).

So Titus is training and appointing structured leadership for

the churches in Crete. And Paul sends Titus a short list of

qualifications for the men he is to appoint as elders in the

churches. It's essentially identical to the list given in 1

Timothy 3. The central principle, of course, is that leaders in

the church are "God's steward[s]" and therefore they need to

be morally and reputationally "above reproach." Paul

reiterates that same expression twice at the start of his list, in

1:6 and again in verse 7.

Titus 2:11-15 8

He follows that with a list of specifics that spell out what

it means to be "above reproach." Notice: except for the ability

to teach (which is a gift that is absolutely necessary to fulfill

the calling of an elder) the requirements Paul names are not

skills and talents. They are character qualities. And all of

them have to do with maturity, self-control, and moral


This is the kind of man who is qualified to lead the

church. He is not a clown or a comedian. Not a frat-house

bad-boy or a super-cool trend-setter with celebrity potential

written all over him. Not an entrepreneur, an innovator, or a

motivational speaker. Not a guy with a huge ego and a gift

for being glib. There's nothing here about appealing to one

generation or another; nothing about artistic ability,

educational degrees, political correctness, business acumen,

clothing style, cleverness and creativity, or his knowledge of

popular culture. In other words, the qualifications the Bible

gives for men in positions of leadership include none of the

things churches today tend to weigh heavily when looking

for a pastor.

But the elders Titus was to train and ordain simply needed

to be mature, godly, disciplined men, able to handle the

Word of God accurately and teach its truths to others. Godly

men who are fully mature and steadfast.

What Grace Teaches 9

If you grasp what Paul is saying here and compare it to

the typical 21st-century evangelical church, it should cause a

bit of cognitive dissonance. The strategy Paul is telling

Timothy to use in the church planting enterprise is nothing at

all most of like today's church-planting organizations say is


I cannot imagine that Titus read this epistle and took Paul

to mean that he needed to start teaching classes on

contextualization, sponsoring sex seminars, staging

symposiums on innovation and church marketing, or offering

courses on leadership borrowed from the latest works of

whoever the first-century equivalent of Peter Drucker might

be. It has always mystified me how so many church leaders

today can read the dreck that is published by church-growth

gurus and ministry-philosophy experts today and not see the

glaring discrepancies between what the Apostle Paul

commanded and what is actually being done in mainstream

evangelicalism and the megachurch fringe.

And (I know this is a bit of a digression, but) I want to say

this plainly: The greatest threats to the gospel today are not

government policies that undermine our values, not secular

beliefs that attack our confessions of faith, not even atheists

who deny our God. The greatest enemies of the gospel today

are worldly churches and hireling shepherds who trivialize


Titus 2:11-15 10

And that's not a new problem. It was true even in

apostolic timesCin the very earliest churches. In Philippians

3:18-19, the apostle Paul wrote: "For many walk, of whom I

often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are

enemies of the cross of Christ." One of the chief

characteristics Paul named about these enemies of the

crossCenemies of authentic graceCwas that they "set their

minds on earthly things." They "pervert[ed] the grace of our

God into sensuality." They twisted the idea of Christian

liberty into an opportunity to gratify the flesh. They "[used

their] freedom as a cover-up for evil." In the process, they

trivialized the cross, corrupted the idea of grace, and

perverted the gospel. None of the apostles were squeamish

when it came to calling them out.

And here in our text, Paul employs the principle of grace

itself to refute such a trivialized, worldly, lawless notion of

religion. He says the true lessons we learn from grace fly in

the face of everything that is shallow, worldly, unrighteous,

disobedient, or even merely passive in that deeper-life,

let-go-and-let-God, quietistic sense.

As a matter of fact, Paul is admonishing Titus not to give

in to the trends of secular Cretan culture. Chapter 1, verse 12:

"Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons." That

probably wasn't a politically correct thing to say, even then,

but Paul adds emphatically, "This testimony is true. Therefore

What Grace Teaches 11

rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith." He

was telling Titus that the church is to be counter-cultural,

resistant to the evils and character flaws of secular society.

Church leaders are not supposed to be obsessed with gaining

accolades and admiration from the world.

Instead, Paul says (2:1), "teach what accords with sound

doctrineC"and he goes on to give a series of commands for

specific categories of people in the church: "Older men" (v.

2). "Older women likewise" (v. 3). "Young women" (v. 4).

"Younger men" (v. 6). "Slaves" (v. 9). And Titus as the

missionary church-planting pastor is given a particular

directive: "In all respects . . . be a model of good works" (v.

7)Cespecially for the sake of the young men who represent

future leaders in the church.

Now, notice: verse 1 speaks of "what accords with sound

doctrine," and then Paul goes on to itemize a short-list of

things that we would probably label "practical duties" rather

than the types of things we would designate "doctrinal

truths." See, one of Paul's main points here is that he doesn't

want Titus to spend all his time teaching doctrine as theory,

focusing only on objective biblical, historical, and

theological content at the expense of exhorting the church to

obedience and practical holiness. And I'll be honest with you:

I think that is a peculiar danger in my style of teaching. I

tend to take a didactic approach that's heavy on material truth

Titus 2:11-15 12

and objective doctrineCsometimes I have to remind myself

that's not enough; all Scripture is profitable for practical

exhortation, and we haven't really heard what the text is

saying to us until we listen with an obedient ear. Not merely

with the ear of a scholar, but with servants' ears.

Paul's point is that the vital practical duties of holiness

and obedience are in perfect "accord with sound doctrine."

Calls to obedience and exhortations to virtue are not

inconsistent with the doctrines of graceCmuch less are they

opposed to grace. In the words of verse 10, what Paul has

outlined in this chapter are actions and character qualities

that "adorn the doctrine of God our Savior."

In other words (if you'll allow me to quote the NIV), these

are things that "will make the teaching about God our Savior

attractive"Cnot "attractive" in the sense that they turn the

message into a story the world will like. The gospel is still "a

stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles." Christ

Himself is still "A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense."

His warning in John 15:18-20 still holds true: "If the world

hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you

were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but

because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the

world, therefore the world hates you. A servant is not greater

than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute

you." So in the words of 1 John 3:13: "Do not be surprised,

What Grace Teaches 13

brothers, that the world hates you." You cannot change that

and be faithful. Stop trying so hard to win the world's


And yet, authentic virtue is attractive in the sense that it

captures the attention of the world and gives our message an

undeniable measure of credibility. In that sense, the

cultivation of basic virtue is a thousand times more attractive

than any currently-popular brand of stylish evangelicalism,

hipster religion, or postmodern contextualization.

That's the apostle Paul's strategy for reaching a hostile

culture. And what intrigues me is how he uses the principle

of grace to make his point. In contrast to those who turn

grace into licentiousness, Paul says the biblical principle of

grace teaches us something entirely different.

In fact, I see three distinct lessons Paul says we can learn

from grace. They all have to do with how we live (in other

words, they are practical, not theoretical, lessons). All three

lessons give us instruction and incentives for righteous living

and obedience to the lordship of Christ. That, Paul says, is

what grace ought to produceCnot a lax attitude about virtue

and vice; not a casual acceptance of worldly values; but the

exact opposite. The real fruit of divine grace is a holy life.

The three lessons grace teaches us are outlined for us in

verses 12 and 13, but before we zero in on those two verses,

pay attention to the structure of the larger passage, starting in

Titus 2:11-15 14

verse 11. Did you notice the two occurrences of the word

"appear"? Verse 11: "For the grace of God has appeared."

Verse 13: We're "waiting for . . . the appearing of . . . Jesus

Christ." It's the same basic word in the Greek (just like in

English). The word in verse 11 is the verb form (to appear)

and the word in verse 13 is the noun form (appearance). And

the Greek word has the connotation of brightness (literally,

"to shine forth" or "to be brought to light").

And those two words point to the two advents of Jesus


Verse 11: "the grace of God has appeared." How,

specifically? In the incarnation and ministry of Christ. "For

the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through

Jesus Christ." That's John 1:7, and I think it's important to

stress what John meant when he wrote that. He was not

suggesting, of course, that the Old Covenant was devoid of

grace. He was not saying that grace is something new that

Christ introduced at his first advent. He simply means that

Christ is the very embodiment of divine grace. Moses, on the

one hand, was the lawgiver; Jesus, on the other hand, is the

source and the living representative of God's grace. Law was

the dominant feature of the Mosaic covenant; grace and truth

are the dominant features of the New Covenant. John 1:14:

"The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen

his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace

What Grace Teaches 15

and truth" (John 1:14). Moses was the representative and

instrument through which the law was handed down on stone

tablets. Christ is the Person in whom grace and truth are

incarnated. But Moses and Christ are not adversaries. Quite

the contrary. Christ came as the fulfillment of everything

Moses ever wrote about.

And that includes the law. Grace fulfills the law, it does

not overthrow it. Jesus Himself said this at the start of His

Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:17): "Do not think that I

have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come

to abolish them but to fulfill them."

So grace "appeared" in a unique and definitive way

through the incarnation and atoning work of Christ. Paul

refers to this again in Titus 3:4-5: "When the goodness and

loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us . . . "

The word "appearing" in Titus 2:13 (of course) is a

reference to the second advent of Christ: "Our blessed hope,

the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus

Christ." Now, we don't have time to go into detail on this, but

the way Paul words that statement is instructive. Here's an

example where the King James Version is less helpful and

virtually all the modern translations get it exactly right. This

is a reference to one Person, not two: "our great God and

Savior, Jesus Christ." It's an affirmation of the deity of Christ,

and it's an exact parallel to the expression found at the end of

Titus 2:11-15 16

verse 10: "God our Savior." Jesus Christ is both our God and

our Savior. It is His appearing in glory that we await.

Meanwhile, we live between those two adventsCthe two

"appearings." At the end of verse 12 Paul refers to that

time-span between the two appearings as "the present age."

So he points us to the past, when "the grace of God . . .

appeared." He wants us to live "in the present

age"Cexemplifying the virtues of grace in the hectic here and

now. And he wants us to keep an eye expectantly on the

future, as we "[wait] for our blessed hope," the return of God,

our Savior in His full resplendenceCwhich will be the final

culmination of both grace and glory.

In other words, there are past, present, and future

dimensions to grace, and the present dimension is the main

focus of our text. While we live between these two advents,

grace takes us to school. This whole "present age" is the

school of grace. And I see three main lessons grace teaches

us. They are all hard lessons, because they run contrary to

the natural tendencies of our fallen flesh, and we have to

keep re-learning these lessons daily. But here they are.

Lesson number 1. Grace trains us:

What Grace Teaches 17


Verses 11-12: "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing

salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and

worldly passions." Now, I need to comment on verse 11, but

we cant linger there. Obviously, this text is not saying that

grace brings salvation to each and every person who ever

lives, because Jesus repeatedly and expressly taught that "The

gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and

those who enter by it are many" (Matthew 7:13). Jesus'

descriptions of the final judgment always included urgent

warnings that many in that day will be told, "Depart from me,

you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his


So Titus 2:11, is not teaching any doctrine of universal

salvation. The King James Version translates the text so that

it says "the grace of God . . . has appeared to all men." But

here, too, I think the majority of modern translations have it

right. It's "salvation to all men." The ESV says, "salvation for

all people." And that has to be read in its own context. Notice

the conjunction "For" at the beginning of the verse. It ties the

statement to what preceded itCand it's that long list of

people-categories. "Older men . . . Older women . . . young

women . . . younger men . . . [and] slaves." "For the grace of

God has appeared, bringing salvation for all [kinds of

peopleCall] people [old men, old women, young girls,

Titus 2:11-15 18

younger men, and slaves alike], training us [all] to renounce

ungodliness and worldly passions."

That is the first lesson we learn under grace as our

instructor: "to say 'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions."

That's a direct quote from the NIV again, and it's a pretty fair

rendering of the sense of the text. The Greek verb is

arNEomai, meaning "deny" or "refuse," or "disavow."

It's a strong word, like the English synonym I've used:

repudiate. Not as strong, perhaps, as the word Paul

occasionally uses elsewhere: "mortify." Romans 8:13: "Put to

death the deeds of the [flesh]." Colossians 3:5: "Put to death

. . . what is earthly in you." Galatians 5:24: "Crucif[y] the flesh

with its passions and desires." The sense, however, is exactly

the same. "Repudiate ungodliness and worldly passions." How

forcefully should we repudiate such things? Just go ahead

and put them to death. Exterminate them.

That is the first lesson grace teaches us. It's what

repentance is all about: the total, unconditional renunciation

and disavowal of fleshly works and worldly desires.

Now, this is not optional. The notion that repentance is

optional is the very same lie that was at the center of the

lordship controversy. No-lordship doctrine is found mainly

in old-school dispensationalist circles. But it is a close cousin

to a type of thinking that is currently popular in certain

segments of the contemporary Reformed community: The

What Grace Teaches 19

idea is that every demand for obedience and every appeal for

holiness is by definition legalistic, pietistic, moralisticCand

therefore such things are to be avoided as if they were a

serious threat to the gospel and the principle of grace.

That is a foolish way to think. We all understand (I hope)

that sanctification is not effortless and automatic. Yet we

also realize that "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives

in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son

of God."

If you think every appeal for holiness sounds like

legalism, you've got a problem. On the other hand, if you

think the actual remedy for defeat in the Christian life is to

double down and work harder at achieving holiness, you've

got a problem, too. Above all, you have a skewed view of

grace if you think grace eliminates any necessity for

holiness. You have a skewed view of grace if you think grace

simply overthrows righteousness in favor of free-and-easy

forgiveness. Whether you think that brand of so-called "free

grace" sounds dangerous or you think it sounds fun, if you

think grace renders all moral duty moot, you don't

understand grace at all.

Contemporary evangelicals are dangerously susceptible to

both legalism and license, because evangelicals have been

toying with a superficial understanding of grace for

Titus 2:11-15 20

generations. The problem goes back, I think, more than a


Grace was first degraded into an escape-hatch from hell.

Then it was portrayed as a means of personal fulfillment.

Nowadays it is generally perceived as a principle that

nullifies the need to be or do right. That's what some people

think grace is: A principle that nullifies the need to be or do

right. I'm tempted to say that may be the dominant idea in the

contemporary evangelical attitude toward sanctification. It is

a flat-out lie, and it is emphatically refuted by the apostle

Paul right here: "the grace of God [teaches] us to renounce


Notice: this first lesson alone makes a stark contrast to the

conventional notion of grace. Grace is not a syrupy sentiment

that makes us always passive and positive. Grace itself is

dynamic. It is the active expression of God's favor. It is

undeserved favor. More than that, it is the exact opposite of

what we do deserve. But it is a potent, powerful force. By

grace God lays hold of undeserving sinners, unites them

spiritually with Christ, clothes them with His righteousness,

awakens their dead souls, removes their stony hearts and

gives them a living, tender heart of flesh, and blesses them

"with every spiritual blessing."

And the very first response grace elicits from the

regenerate heart is a negative confession: we "renounce

What Grace Teaches 21

ungodliness and worldly passions." In other words, the first

motion of our repentance is a gift from GodCa work of

grace. Every aspect of authentic repentance is motivated and

energized by grace. The person who has not repented has not

received grace at all.

We speak of "irresistible grace." I like that expression,

because it conveys the sense that grace is dynamic, not

passive. But it's also subject to misunderstanding. When we

say grace is "irresistible," we don't mean God employs

coercion or duressCdragging us or arm-twisting us to Christ.

Grace is irresistible in the same sense that I find my wife

irresistible. Not that she threatens or forces me to bend to her

will, but that I am captivated in a very positive way by her

inherent appeal.

In a similar but even more profound way, divine grace

draws us to Christ by attraction, not by constraint. And if you

have been drawn to Christ by graceCif you truly love

HimCyou will hate everything that opposes him. That is how

the same grace that draws us to Christ teaches us "to

renounce ungodliness and worldly passions." This, I think, is

the very same truth Paul has in mind in Romans 2:4 when he

says that "God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance"

You've heard of Martin Luther, and how he nailed his 95

theses, on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.

Listen to the very first of his 95 theses. He wrote, "When our

Titus 2:11-15 22

Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said 'Repent,' He called for

the entire life of believers to be one of repentance." We

"renounce ungodliness and worldly passions" on a daily basis,

and it is grace, properly understood, that instructs us to

repent at the beginning of our Christian life, and then

prompts and energizes daily repentance from then on. That is

lesson number one that we learn from grace: to repudiate the

works of the flesh. Here's a second lesson. Grace teaches usC


Second half of verse 12. Grace trains us "to live

self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age."

Notice the threefold stress on sobriety, righteousness, and

godliness. The first term is from a Greek word that literally

refers to soundness of mind. Its connotation is self-control,

moderation. The King James Version says "soberly," and the

New American Standard Bible says, "sensibly." All those

ideas are inherent in the word. The ESV says

"self-controlled," and that's a decent English synonym. The

idea is not merely temperance and moderation, but wisdom,

prudence, circumspectionCclarity of mind. It's describing a

virtue whose chief benefit accrues to the individual himself.

Grace trains us to be clear-headed and to exercise cautious


What Grace Teaches 23

The second term describes a virtue that defines our

relationships with others: Grace trains us "to live . . .

righteously." The ESV and the NIV use the word "upright."

To quote the great Baptist theologian John Gill, this speaks

of living "'righteously' among men, giving to every man his

due, and dealing with all according to the rules of equity and

justice; as being made new men, created unto righteousness

and true holiness; and as being dead to sin, through the

death of Christ, and so living unto righteousness, or in a

righteous manner; and as being justified by the

righteousness of Christ, revealed in the Gospel." That covers

every dimension of righteousnessCboth practical and

forensic. But because the context clearly is about how we

live our lives, I think the stress here is on our dealings with

our fellow human beings. "Upright" living is the fruit of

grace's training.

And then the third term, "godly," by definition has a

Godward focus. So grace teaches us our duty with respect to

God, our neighbor, and ourselves. Keep that in mind. We'll

come back to it.

This third word ("godly") is an adjective meaning "pious."

The Greek word is etymologically the exact opposite of the

word translated "ungodliness" earlier in the verse.

"Ungodliness" is aSEBeia. "Godly" is euSEBos. They are

negative and positive forms of the same root. Grace teaches

Titus 2:11-15 24

us to shun impiety and live piously. This is all very simple

and straightforward. Paul is not giving Titus some complex

and mysterious idea. It's quite simple: Grace (authentic

biblical grace; not the shabby modern evangelical substitute,

but the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ) teaches us to repudiate

the works of the flesh and cultivate the fruit of the Spirit.

Paul teaches this very same idea in Galatians 5, where he

contrasts the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit.

Galatians 5:18-24:

But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

[Of course, believers are not under the law, but under

grace. So what Paul is doing in this passage is making

a clear contrast between what the flesh produces under

the yoke of the law, versus what the Holy Spirit

produces in us through the liberty of grace. Listen to

the contrast. And notice that the only commodity our

fallen flesh can produce is corrupt works. But the

Spirit's work in us is called "fruit," and it's entirely


19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual

immorality, impurity, sensuality,

20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger,

rivalries, dissensions, divisions,

21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn

you, as I warned you before, that those who do such

What Grace Teaches 25

things will not inherit the kingdom of God. [Those are the

very things Titus 2:12 says we repudiate: "ungodliness

and worldly passions." Now here are the things we


22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience,

kindness, goodness, faithfulness,

23 gentleness, self-control; [and notice this:]against

such things there is no law. [Again: grace and law are

distinct, but they are not in disagreement. Paul goes on

in Galatians 5:24 to say this:]

24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified

the flesh with its passions and desires.

In other words, what defines us as Christians is this very

thing: that we do repudiate the works of the flesh. Grace, not

the law, is what trains us and motivates us and empowers us

to do this. And at the same time, Grace teaches us to cultivate

the fruit of the Spirit.

So, lessons 1 and 2 that we learn in the school of grace:

To repudiate the works of the flesh; to cultivate the fruit of

the Spirit; and now thirdC

Titus 2:11-15 26


Here is the key distinction between law and grace. For

any thoughtful, self-aware, honest worshiper, the effect of

the law alone, apart from grace, is sheer terror. Because we

are sinners, the law threatens sinners with utter destruction.

But grace fills us with expectation and anticipation for

blessings that will last eternally. Verse 13: "Waiting for our

blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and

Savior Jesus Christ."

In short, the eschatology of grace is different from the

eschatology of law. Where the law pronounces

condemnation and swears eternal vengeance, grace

pronounces a blessing and promises eternal reward. Grace

teaches us to live in the light of that hope.

All the lessons grace teaches us are incentives for

holiness: our hatred of unrighteousness, the debt we owe to

Christ's righteousness, the reward we are promised in

eternityCall of these things are incentives for us to "renounce

ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled,

upright, and godly lives in the present age."

And notice: this was Christ's own aim in redeeming us in

the first place. Verse 14: "[He] gave himself for us to redeem us

from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his

own possession who are zealous for good works."

What Grace Teaches 27

Now, don't tell me that there's anything inherently

legalistic about being zealous for good works. And don't tell

me grace rules out any kind of good works. Zeal for good

works is the ultimate objective of grace.

Now bear in mind: this passage covers all tenses and all

perspectives: past, present, and future. Self, others, and God.

In every respect except one, the lessons of grace are in

perfect agreement with what the law tells us. They say the

same thing. Both law and grace say we should "renounce

ungodliness and worldly passions." Both law and grace say we

should "live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the

present age." Both law and grace humble us and show us the

virtue of self-control. Both law and grace say we should live

righteously and love our neighbor as we love ourself. Both

law and grace instruct us to love the Lord our God with all

our heart, soul, mind, and strength. In every respect, grace is

in agreement with the commands and directives of the eternal

moral law of God. Don't ever entertain the thought that law

and grace or law and gospel contradict one another.

But there is this one vital distinction between law and

grace, and the difference lies in this third lesson: the law

threatens us with destruction because we cannot obey

perfectly. Grace gives us both the desire and the power to

obey. That is what Philippians 2:13 says: "It is God who works

in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." The will

Titus 2:11-15 28

and the energy for obedience are gracious gifts from God. So

while the law and grace agree in that they both urge us to be

holy, the law can only condemn us for our failure and

threaten us with destruction. Grace is the remedy for our

failure, and it guarantees eternal blessing.

The one key difference, succinctly put, is that the law

cannot give life; it can only bring death. Second Corinthians

3:6: "The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." We are saved

"through sanctification by the Spirit," according to 2

Thessalonians 2:13. The gracious work of the Spirit in our

hearts guarantees our sanctification. Listen to Romans 8:3-4:

"God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not

do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and

for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, [And what? thereby

overturned and eliminated the moral imperatives of the law?

No:]in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be

fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according

to the Spirit."

The distinction between law and grace has nothing to do

with the commandments, or the moral content of the law.

What grace eliminates and overturns are the law's curses. As

far as the moral imperatives of the law are concerned, grace

is in full agreement. Paul says so expressly in Galatians 3:6:

""Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not!

For if a law had been given that could give life, then

What Grace Teaches 29

righteousness would indeed be by the law" (Galatians 3:21)."

The problem with the law was our inability and our lack of

desire to will and to work for God's good pleasure. Grace is

the remedy for that.

And the result? Verse 14: That we should be "redeem[ed]

from all lawlessness and [purified for ChristC] a people for his

own possession who are zealous for good works." And there is

nothing the least bit "legalistic" about that zeal.

The command Paul gives Titus in verse 15 has

implications not only for those of us who teach, but also for

every one of you, as you encourage and admonish one

another. This is a command for all of us: "Declare these

things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard