In Paul's introduction to Titus we are given certain keys to understanding the rest of the letter. Specifically, in it Paul makes plain significant aspects of his understanding of God, himself, the Church, and Titus. Undeniably, understanding Paul's understanding of each of these things is crucial to understanding the rest of the letter. Let's pray, then, that God would help us grasp all of this in order that we'd live constantly in light of the effects of the gospel on our lives—the past, present, and future effects of the gospel.
Back in high school and early college I was assigned a lot of books to read. Typically teachers and professors decided on, what they believed to be, a reasonable number of pages to assign each night. I hated reading back then so I loved it when the assigned number of pages included the book's introduction. I loved it because I knew I could skip the introduction as there were never test questions on it. Just like that, my reading time was cut significantly. Obviously I was a poor student.
Even now, though, I've noticed that it's a fairly common practice for people to skip introductions. In fact, my guess is that many do so even when reading the introductions of the biblical texts (even if unconsciously by skimming, rather than really reading them). I want to urge you not to skip introductions—especially the inspired introductions of the bible!
Introductions are crucial in that they typically explain the point and scope of everything that follows. Introductions give the author's reasons to read on and that which the author means us to look for when we do. Introductions often contain the key to unlocking the proper meaning of the body of the text.
Paul's introduction in Titus (1:1-4) is certainly no exception. Needless to say, then, we're not going to skip the introduction in Titus. In fact, we're going to spend at least a couple weeks on it. In it we are given certain keys to understanding the rest of the letter. Specifically, in the introduction to Titus, Paul makes plain significant aspects of his understanding of God, himself, the Church, and Titus and these things are crucial to understanding the rest of the letter.
Let me be a little more specific.
Last week I worked hard to explain that the overall message of Titus is a description of the gospel in effect. Essentially, Paul instructs Titus on how to order the Cretian churches in light of the truthfulness and effectiveness of the gospel, even inside the difficult circumstances they find themselves in.
That's what Titus is about, but what we need to understand, though, is that none of that makes sense apart from Paul's understanding of the God of the gospel. If we don’t understand Paul's God we can't understand Paul's gospel. Similarly, the letter makes no sense apart from Paul's understanding of his role in the gospel and the Church and in Titus's life. What I'm trying to make clear is that it is in this introduction that Paul gives us the keys to understanding all of these things.
This morning, then, as we look at the introduction together we're going to look specifically at the way in which Paul presents his understanding of God in it. Then, in the coming weeks, we're going to look at how Paul presents his understanding of himself, the Church, and Titus in the introduction as well—all as a means of rightly understanding the letter and its role in our own lives. Let's pray that God would help us grasp these things in order to understand the letter as a whole in order that we might live constantly with the glorious truths of the gospel held out in it.
Paul's understanding of God
Imagine someone asking you to take custody of their kids if they were to die prematurely. However they might phrase the request the most significant message they have for you would not be in their words, but in the very nature of the request itself. No one, no matter how sentimental or poetic or wordsmithy or theologically astute they are, has words capable of containing the depth of trust and love and respect and honor communicated by the request to take their kids in their absence. The request in its very nature makes finding appropriately grand words unnecessary.
In many ways, that's what's going on in Paul's introduction to Titus concerning his understanding of the nature of God. In the introduction Paul teaches that God is a sovereign sinless savior and that's the thrust of my sermon. I'm going to use a lot of words to explain this. However, the most impressive thing about the introduction's teaching of these things isn't that they are taught explicitly (even though they are to some degree), but that they are so deeply held by Paul and so intertwined and integral to what he does say that any lack of explicitness only testifies to their truthfulness.
In order to demonstrate this I want to work through God as sovereign, savior, and sinless apart from the introduction first, before circling back around to it. I want to make sure you understand Paul's understanding of these things well enough so that you will be able to appreciate how powerfully they are taught in the introduction even apart from any explicit references to them. In fact, it is what Paul assumes in the introduction concerning the sovereign saving sinlessness of God that makes the strongest case for them.
Let's begin, with an overview of each of these aspects of God's nature before coming back to the introduction.
First, let's consider the sovereignty of God for Paul.
That God is sovereign means (as one theologian puts it) that "God orders everything, controls everything, rules over everything…[It means] that nothing comes to pass except according to His eternal decrees…"(John MacArthur).
I can still vividly remember the first time I was introduced to the idea of God as sovereign. As a new Christian who was largely biblically illiterate, and as someone who had spent his entire life previously steeped in secular philosophy, I—like many others—initially balked (maybe even recoiled) at the idea. I immediately sensed that divine sovereignty and human freedom couldn't coexist. God being sovereign and people being free, I though, were incompatible. And since I "knew" we all have free will, I easily rejected the idea of God as sovereign.
And yet, as challenging and mysterious as the idea of God's sovereignty might be, we simply can't understand Paul's letter to Titus and we certainly can't understand the gospel if we don't understand the fact that God is indeed sovereign. I'm not sure that the bible as a whole is more clear on anything.
Ephesians 1:11 [God] works all things according to the counsel of his will.
Psalm 115:3 Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.
2 Chronicles 20:5-6 You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you.
Job 42:2 I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
Isaiah 46:9-11 I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, 10 declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,' 11 calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.
Psalm 135:5-6 the LORD is great, and…our Lord is above all gods. 6 Whatever the LORD pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.
Again, even though Paul doesn't explicitly use the word "sovereign" in our passage, as we'll see in one minute, it's unmistakably implied by the simple fact that none of the things described in the introduction are possible apart from God being sovereign. The sovereignty of God is so deeply embed in the first four verses of Titus that it is almost impossible to miss. We'll come back to this in just a bit.
To make sense of Titus we need to understand the God of Titus. And the first thing to see is that God is sovereign. Tthe second thing we need to know about Paul's understanding of God: he is savior.
God is sovereign and God is savior.
In Titus 2:11 Paul writes, "The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people." To understand God is to understand him as savior.
There are three keys to understanding what Paul means by this. The first is understanding what we need to be saved from, the second is the means by which God saves us, and the third is what he saves us to.
First, what do we need to be saved from? Consider Paul's answer to this question in his two gospel presentations in Titus.
Titus 2:11-14 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions …to redeem us from all lawlessness.
In this passage we see our need for salvation from ungodliness and worldly passions—from lawlessness.
Titus 3:3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another…
And in this passage we see that our need to be saved from the enmity with God caused by our foolishness, disobedience, wandering, slavery to godless passions and pleasures, malice, envy, and hatred.
In short, Paul understands God as man's savior from man's sin and the death it brings.
The second question, then, concerning God as savior is, how does God save us? To answer this, let's continue on in Paul's descriptions of the gospel.
Titus 2:11-14 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people [through] 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…
God saves by grace. And grace came in glory in the form of his one and only Son, Jesus Christ. The glory and the grace were most clearly seen, and salvation was finally won, when Jesus gave himself up to death on the cross, therein redeeming those who would trust in him from their sins.
Titus 3:4-7 When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
According to this passage God saves his people, not because of our own righteous works, but according to his mercy. God saves his people by graciously washing his people of all their sins, renewing them by his poured out Holy Spirit, having condemned his Son, Jesus in place of sinful man.
Third, what does God save us to?
Titus 2:11-14 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… 14 …and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works
God saves us to renounce ungodliness and worldliness, to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives, and to make us a people who are pure and love doing good works.
Titus 3:4-7 When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us… 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
And in this passage we see that God saves his people to make them just heirs of eternal life!
Indeed, Paul's understanding of God is that of a sovereign savior who works all things according to his will. And again, we cannot understand Paul, his letter to Titus, or the gospel he's been charged to proclaim apart from understanding that.
Finally, Grace, we must understand that Paul's God is sovereign, saving, and sinless.
The sinlessness of God is crucial for two primary reasons. First, because in his sinlessness are his goodness and mercy, and in his goodness and mercy are his desire to save. And second, because it is God's sinlessness that ultimately makes salvation necessary.
First, then, we must understand that in order for God to save his people (in order for the gospel to have its intended effect), God's sovereignty is necessary, but it is not sufficient. As even human history has taught us, sovereignty without goodness and mercy is a terrifying and terrible thing. Hitler and Stalin and were able to effect the amount of evil that they did precisely because they had a degree of sovereignty. An evil person is only to be feared to the degree that they have power to effect their evil.
But, thanks be to God, God is not only sovereign, he is also sinless and therefore he is merciful and good. And in his mercy and goodness is his desire to save a people who have despised and rejected him.
Paul teaches that God is sovereign, God is savior, and God is sinless.
Paul understands God to be a sovereign sinless savior. As I said at the very beginning, I want to close by circling back to the introduction and showing you quickly that it is the fact that Paul assumes these things, and therefore embeds them deeply into his introduction, that makes the most powerful case for them.
Titus 1:1-4 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, 2 in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began 3 and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior; 4 To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.
That God is savior is plain in this text. It is certainly the easiest to see. V.1 tells us that God has called to himself apostles in order to work out faith unto salvation in his people. V.2 tells us that God gives certain hope of eternal life (of salvation) to his people. V.3 tells us that God gives preachers to his people in order to give them his saving words. And vs.3 and 4 explicitly call God "our savior". God saves the elect by grace through faith, given through the preaching of the good news of Jesus Christ. God is savior and these verses clearly teach that. But, again, what's more impressive is that even if you take out any words which explicitly refer to God as savior, the very fact that Paul is writing this letter, the earnestness of the letter, the way in which Paul is spending his life—all of which are made clear in the introduction—all teach God as savior in a fare more profound way .
That God is sovereign is less explicit, but no less clear. It is embedded so deeply in this introduction that it is nearly impossible to miss. It is most evident in the nature of God's salvation. God's sovereignty is seen in that he elects a people—he chooses for himself a people in order that his people might choose him (v.1). God's sovereignty is clear in the fact that he is able to make promises concerning his people even before the ages began (v.2). We see God's sovereignty in the reality that he brings his promises to pass at his proper and appointed time, through his proper and appointed means. We see his sovereignty in the fact that he sent his Son to die, called the apostles (including Paul), and applied the atoning effects of the Son's death to those who believe in him (v.3). And we clearly see God's sovereignty in the fact that he is able to bring grace and peace to his people even in this life as he wills (v.4).
In other words, God's sovereignty is clearly seen in the introduction in the way in which God is said to save his people. Do not miss the fact that these things (this salvation of God) is only possible for One who "orders everything, controls everything, rules over everything…[for One through whom] that nothing comes to pass except according to His eternal decrees…" Only a sovereign being can effect these kinds of things. And only a sovereign being is able to make our hope certain. If God were not sovereign he could not accomplish these things or guarantee that their results would last.
And finally, Paul's understanding of the sinlessness of God is evident from simple passages like 1:2 where Paul declares that God never lies (v.2). No one but God alone can say that because God alone is sinless. And yet, a far more significant and convincing argument for God's sinlessness, though, is found in Paul's introduction in the very fact that God's people need saving.
God's sinlessness is so powerfully implied in Paul's introduction (far more than any explicit teaching of it) in the simple fact that salvation is necessary. Grace, don't miss this: it is God's holiness (sinlessness) that makes hell the just wage for our sin. The reason we need to be saved from our sin is because God has no sin. If God were not sovereign he could not guarantee the gospel's effectiveness and if God were not sinless hell wouldn't be necessary. The gospel exists and we need it because God is holy and we are not. Again, then, Paul's insistence that mankind needs saving is a far more powerful argument for the sinlessness of God than any explicit words could convey.
Paul understands God as a sovereign sinless savior and he makes that plain in what he says, and in many ways even more powerfully by what he doesn't say, in the introduction. And understanding this about God is one key to unlocking the meaning of the rest of the letter.
Again, Grace, this letter is about the gospel in effect. And the point of this sermon is to draw your attention to the God who is our sovereign, sinless, savior, because it is this God who gives the gospel its effect. Let's praise him this morning. Let's throw ourselves upon him for mercy and grace. And let's rejoice in the sure hope he brings us because of who he is.
I'm really excited to begin our series on Titus together this week. It's a great, practical, gospel-fueled book. In this letter, Paul's simple message to Titus is this: because of the gospel's effect on your life, Titus, appoint godly elders and teach them about the effects of the gospel so that they may in turn teach others about the gospel and its effects. More simply still, this letter is a description of the gospel in effect. Let's pray that God would be pleased to make the gospel and its effects clear to us. More so, let's pray that God would cause the gospel to effect good works and eternal life in us.
A couple of months ago something stood out to me about this story that captured my attention and got me thinking. I became curious about answering the question of why the people from the city responded to Jesus the way that they did. It just seemed odd that they would beg for Him to leave as they stood there observing a recent miracle and a display of power from the Son of God. But what I found after more study and more time spent in the passage and commentaries, was that there wasn’t just one response to Jesus in this passage that needed to be unpacked, but three: The demons, the city people and the demoniac.
God has laid on my heart two driving passions in my eldership here at Grace Church. One of those passions is that we would be a great missions sending and missions supporting church. Missions week is coming up in September and you will hear more about that next month. My second passion is that God would use me to excite you to delight in God’s Word.
The reason I have this passion is because one of the most vital ways I have grown in my relationship with Christ has been through my personal, daily time spent meeting him in the Bible. God’s Word is the clearest way by which we can see who he is, what he has done, and what he promises to do in the future. It is the clearest way by which we can see who we are, why we need a Savior, how we are to live and what will happen to us in the future. With that in mind, this sermon is designed to excite you and remind you about the need to personally meet with God on a daily basis at the table of his Word. We will be looking at many passages that talk about God's words.
As I preach for a second week on discipleship from Matthew 28, let's pray that God would see fit to put discipleship (along with all of his charges) into all our bones and to alter all our wiring to love this charge (all of His charges). And let's pray that God would see fit to overwhelm us all with this charge—overwhelm us in the sense of humbling us and helping us to see our total dependence on God, but also in the sense of creating in us joy and awe and wonder and thankfulness and anticipation and confidence for the sake of the glory of the Son, Jesus Christ.