Deeper Into the Gospel
The book of Titus is a letter from Paul to a young pastor, urging him to lead his people deeper into the gospel. Paul is concerned about the corrupting influence of false teachers in Crete, and this concern frames the book. He shows that the gospel presents a fundamentally different approach toward God than the false teachers do, one based on hope in God’s grace and not on human accomplishments. Grace produces an entirely different kind of fruit in the lives of believers.
Only a profound experience with God’s grace transforms the heart.
The church in Crete was plagued by two problems: licentiousness and legalism (Titus 1:10–16). Licentiousness is reckless, godless, rule-free living. Legalism is dutiful, strict, dry living. The first takes advantage of the grace of God, the latter seeks to earn it. Though very different in their expressions, Paul shows that licentiousness and legalism grow from the same root: hope in the flesh for personal fulfillment. The licentious person feeds on the lusts of the flesh; the legalist feeds on pride in his flesh. Both paths result in spiritual fatigue, strife, sin, and eventually, hatred of God.
Paul shows that the answer to both licentiousness and legalism is the gospel. The gospel alone gives the security, love, and joy that the human heart craves. The gospel frees us from captivity to the lusts of the flesh and the need to exalt ourselves above others, as the absolute approval of the only One whose opinion really matters has been given to us as a gift in Christ. He is all we need for everlasting joy.
Furthermore, the gospel creates in us something human religion is utterly unable to create: a “longing” for God. The gospel “trains our hearts” to pursue righteousness and to be zealous for good works (Titus 2:11–12). The good news does this not through threat of punishment or promise of reward but by making us stand in awe of the God who gave himself for us. Regulating the flesh cannot curb sinful desire any more than you can tame a wild animal by chaining it. Only a profound experience with God’s grace transforms the heart. The gospel gives us the satisfaction in God that curbs our desire for sin and the security in God that no failures on our part can threaten (Titus 2:11–14; 3:3–7).
Strive for Good
A proper understanding of the gospel therefore necessarily produces joyful, generous, holy living. Where these things are absent, Paul says, so is the power of the gospel. Paul urges the church, therefore, to strive for good works (Titus 2:4, 7, 10; 3:8, 14). When they do so with the motivations of grace, he says, the difference between the gospel and legalism will be made clear.
Paul believes that as the gospel grows deeper in believers, it will grow wider in the world (cf. Col. 1:5–6). Paul’s prescription in this book is not, however, for the Cretan believers simply to try harder at being better. He wants them to believe the gospel more deeply. If they will focus on the roots of the gospel, they will produce the fruits of godliness (Titus 2:10; 3:14).
This article is adapted from the ESV Gospel Transformation Study Bible. Browse other articles in this series via the links below.
Genesis • Exodus • Leviticus • Numbers • Deuteronomy • Joshua • Judges • Ruth • 1–2 Samuel • 1–2 Kings • 1–2 Chronicles • Ezra • Nehemiah • Esther • Job • Psalms • Proverbs • Ecclesiastes • Song of Solomon • Isaiah • Jeremiah • Lamentations • Ezekiel • Daniel • Hosea • Joel • Amos • Obadiah • Jonah • Micah • Nahum • Habbakuk • Zephaniah • Haggai • Zechariah • Malachi
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