Paul challenged believers to live out their faith in a distinctive manner that glorified God. But what makes such living possible? While we may attempt to fix ourselves, Alistair Begg cautions that self-improvement alone eventually results in our feeling overwhelmed, discouraged, or dishonest. Paul instead taught that God’s indwelling Spirit trains and enables us in godly living as we remember what Christ accomplished for us and anticipate His return.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Titus 2:11. It’s page 998, incidentally, if you are unfamiliar with the way around the Bible and you would like to use one that you have around you there.
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 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.
“Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.”
Well, we said this morning, as we finished, that after a succession of imperatives such as we had considered, it begs the question: How are these things to be fulfilled? How are the older men to live as they should, and the older women to teach and train as they ought, and the younger women to fulfill all of these things? And here in verse 11 and 12 and 13 and 14, we actually have the answer.
And these imperatives, these exhortations, don’t stand alone. They actually never stand alone in Paul. You never have Paul just giving us, in his letters, a series of things that we must do or must refrain from doing and having them just sit there, as it were, all by themselves. He always very carefully either begins with the gospel and shows how it is in the gospel that we have the impetus for doing what God calls us to do, becoming essentially what we are; or, as in this case, he moves from these exhortations, these principles of application in the lives of the fellowship in Crete, and he says, “Now, let me remind you of what it is that makes all of this possible. Let me remind you,” he says, essentially, “of who you are.”
And it is something that we always need to guard against in our own lives, and certainly one needs to do so in one’s preaching. It’s very possible for the preacher to, for whatever reason, simply deliver a series of hortatory demands, constantly urging them on the people—actions or the absence of actions and so on—and for that unwittingly to become divorced from the gospel. And Graeme Goldsworthy—who has been a help, I think, to a number of us on the pastoral team—has certainly been of help to me in this in the last while. And in my black book where I keep notes that have been of particular encouragement to me, I have on page 42 a statement made by Graeme Goldsworthy which reads as follows: “Exhortations without the Gospel Are Legalistic.” And then, underneath that, these words from him: “To say what we should be or do and not link it with a clear exposition of what God has done about our failure to be or do perfectly as he wills is to reject the grace of God and to lead people to lust after self-help and self-improvement in a way that, to call a spade a spade, is godless.”
You get that? If the pastor is simply telling the people what they must do or what they mustn’t do without explaining what Christ has done, both in his life of perfect righteousness and in his making an atonement for all of our sins, then what actually happens is the people begin to think that what they’re supposed to do is fix themselves, change themselves, renew themselves, remake themselves. And so it becomes a tyranny, and it eventually leads people either to become kind of crazy or horribly discouraged, or actually to tell lots of lies that are clearly not true concerning themselves.
And it’s as though here, in Titus, that Paul is able to only go so far along by giving to Titus these exhortations and these directives for the training before he turns them to the grace of God. “For the grace of God,” he says—which is really Paul’s great theme—“has appeared.” The word there is “epiphany” in the Greek, and it refers to the epiphany—to the manifestation of the grace of God in the person of the Son of God in the incarnation: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.” In the Anglican order of service for the year, in the Prayer Book, if you go to the order for Christmas Day, you will find that this reading from Titus chapter 2 is one of the readings for Christmas Day, and expressly on account of the fact that it is here that we have the fulfillment of what is anticipated all the way through the Old Testament—classically in a statement by Malachi, the final book of our Old Testament, where he anticipated a day, as he wrote, when “the sun of righteousness” would “rise with healing in [his] wings.” It’s a metaphor. It’s a picture. But it was anticipating a glory that had not been established in Israel, that wasn’t going to be enjoyed by them in the immediacy of God’s intervention in their lives, but it was pointing forward to a day that would come, when this “sun of righteousness” would appear.
And Paul says to Titus, “Here’s the great wonder of it, Titus, and you must keep this in your preaching: the grace of God has appeared.” The day has dawned. The grace which Paul tells Timothy… If your Bible is open, you can just go back essentially a page, or two pages—2 Timothy 1:9, when Paul is doing something similar with Timothy. He reminds him there in verse 9 that God “saved us,” and he “called us to a holy calling, not because of our works”—here we go—“but because of his own purpose and grace”—now, notice this—“which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior [Jesus Christ], who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” And this statement here in Titus 2 is a more succinct expression of the same thing. But Paul is driving this home: before even the ages began, in a way that it is almost impossible for us to fathom, God was doing this. And the reason for his appearing, as the writer to the Hebrews says, is that “he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.”
And this salvation, Paul says, is a “salvation for all people.” If salvation is to be found anywhere, it is to be found only in Christ. And it is this salvation which is to be proclaimed to all and which is to be received by all who believe. Some people stumble over this because their view and understanding of biblical theology makes them kind of squeamish when they come against things like “all people.” They seem to be concerned that somehow or another, the purposes of God in election will be overturned if we begin to think that this is as it says in the Bible. But it is exactly what it says in the Bible. The hymn that we’ve just sung we sang purposefully: “And I believe if there were sinners as many as the sands on the seashore”—not just the seashores of Florida and California but the seashores of the whole world, says the hymn writer—“I believe if there were sinners more than that, that Christ has made a sufficient atonement for every one of them.” And Shedd, the theologian, puts it like this:
When God calls upon men universally to believe, he does not call upon them to believe … they are elected, or that Christ died for them in particular. He calls upon them to believe that Christ died for sin, for sinners, for the world. … The atonement is not offered to an individual either as an elect man, or as a non-elect man; but as a man, and a sinner, simply.
And John Murray, classically… And I want to quote Murray here. I love to quote John Murray. I look forward to meeting him in heaven. I’ve been to his house where he lived when I was a boy, but I never saw him. He writes, “The passion [for] missions”—for reaching out and telling other people the good news—“the passion [for] missions is quenched when we lose sight of the grandeur of the evangel,” when we lose sight of the vastness of the purpose of God in saving people. “It is a fact,” he says,
that many, persuaded as they rightly are of the particularism of the plan of salvation and of its various corollaries, have found it difficult to proclaim the full, free, and unrestricted overture of gospel grace. They have laboured under … inhibitions arising from fear that in doing so they would impinge upon the sovereignty of God in his saving purposes and operations. The result is that, though formally assenting to the free offer [of the gospel], they lack freedom in the presentation of its appeal and [of its] demand.
If you want to go and find that, you’ll find it in volume 1 of the four volumes of Murray’s writings. It’s on page 59 and then again on page 81.
Enough said on that. Notice that this salvation brings about a transformation. And it says in verse 12 that this salvation, this work of God, bringing us to himself, making us new people—the kind of people we just sang about in our songs tonight—brings us into the school of grace. And in the school of grace, we are trained to say no. In the NIV, it says “teach[ing] us to say ‘No.’” Here in the ESV, it doesn’t have that statement. It says “training us to renounce”—to renounce “ungodliness” and to renounce “worldly passions.”
In other words, when God saves us, he not only justifies us, he not only indwells us by the Holy Spirit, but he begins to conform us to the image of his Son. As C. S. Lewis says, when we come to Jesus Christ, we may feel as though that somehow or another, his purpose was just to take our little lives and make it into a manageable cottage—a sort of nice little dwelling place. He says, “But then you discover that there are hammers and chisels going on at you. There’s all kinds of pieces being knocked off you, and additions being done, and superstructures being changed.” And he says, “And then it dawns upon you that his purpose is not simply to be satisfied with turning you into a cottage, as it were, but in making you into a glorious mansion,” a dwelling place fit for the Holy Spirit, in the same way that… And I guess today it is justifiable for me to refer to Her Majesty, the Queen, again. But when the sign goes up over a residence that bears her insignia, before ever she takes up residence, there is a tremendous amount of work that is done to make it a dwelling place fit for Her Majesty.
And here he says, “The people under your care, Titus, that God has saved, bringing them to himself—they are the ones who are going to discover that they will not be able to sleep their way into heaven,” as one of the Puritan writers put it. And probably the best cross-reference to verse 12 here would be Romans 6:12. Let me quote it to you:
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
Here is the divine impetus once again: the grace of God—“He breaks the power of cancelled sin, he sets the prisoner free.” “Be of sin the double cure, cleanse me from its guilt and [its] pow’r”—so that set free from the abiding ravages and accusations of the Evil One, set free from all the condemnation that is there, we then face the daily battle on three fronts: against the world, against the flesh, against the devil. And we are not entirely successful—often not even close to it. Our acceptance remains in the righteousness and finished work of Christ, but the ongoing work is that work of fashioning us by the Holy Spirit. And it has both a negative dimension to it, and it has a positive dimension to it.
And you will notice it is there in the balance of verse 12: saying no to ungodliness and worldly passions and saying yes to self-control, to upright living, and to godly lives in the present age. So the work of the Spirit is to say to us, “Come on now, Begg. You’re supposed to be living soberly. You’re supposed to be living righteously. You’re supposed to be living in a way that is godly. I haven’t saved you for you to do anything other than that.” And the work of the Spirit within our lives is that constant ongoing work of sanctification so that we might be made increasingly like his Son, whom he loves—the one who has given his life for us, the one who has shed his blood. When we take these emblems to ourselves tonight—the bread as a reminder of his broken body, the blood that was shed in order that our sins might be cleansed—are we then going to go out and live in open rebellion and defiance?
No. The grace of God doesn’t simply make this activity possible; it makes this activity necessary. Because God does not justify those whom he doesn’t sanctify. Sanctification is not an option. When I hear people talk about salvation, they almost inevitably use the word salvation for the experience of being brought to faith in Jesus Christ. There is salvation, and then there is other elements. No! All of these things are under the orb of salvation. Salvation is about what God has purposed from all of eternity in his election, in his predestination, in his justification, in his sanctification, in his glorification. All of that, that he has purposed to do from all of eternity, is now focused in the work of his children. It’s fantastic that he would ever care for us to this degree, that he would continue to work with us in the way that Jesus worked with his disciples, who regularly put one foot in the wrong direction, and yet he continued to pick them up and move them on. Those he justifies he also glorifies.
Now, notice that this is all happening in this present age while, verse 13, we are waiting for another epiphany. It’s the same word: “appearing.” “Epiphany” in verse 11: “the grace of God has appeared,” epiphainō; and again we’re waiting for “the appearing,” the epiphany, “of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”
So here’s the Christian life: we look back to what he has accomplished for us, and we look forward to the day when Christ will appear. And I don’t find many people that like my song—my Timothy Dudley Smith songs. I’m only allowed to have them about—I don’t know, about once every three months at the moment. But I was desperately keen to have it this evening, but I daren’t mention it, because I knew it would get vetoed. But it is such a wonderful song: “When the Lord in glory comes, not with trumpet, not with drums,” you know, “but the sound when he appears will be music in our ears.”
There’s a great danger at this time of a kind of over-realized eschatology. That simply means trying to get everything buttoned up now, trying to live as if it’s all in the now. But it’s not all in the now. It can’t be. There’s too much cancer, there’s too much sadness, there’s too much suffering, there’s too much pain, there’s too much agony to try and convince anybody that we have it all now. It doesn’t work. It’s not supposed to. Because we live between the two epiphanies—that he has come in his incarnation, and he has made atonement for all who trust in him, and he will come again in power and great glory for those who are ready to meet him. And the real indication that we’re ready to meet him is not because we’re able to articulate a particular view of eschatology, but it is that “everyone who has this hope within him purifies himself even as he is pure.” He’s coming back. It would be dreadful to be described by the five foolish virgins, wouldn’t it?
Well, what has he done in his appearing? Verse 14, and with this we stop: we’re waiting for the appearing that will be then as we remember what he has done for us in the past. He “gave himself for us.” He “gave himself for us.” It’s an amazing phrase, isn’t it? He “gave himself for us.” He said, “Father, I’ll take Begg’s sin. Father, I’ll take all of that badness, all of that madness. I’ll take all of that punishment that must justifiably be expended upon a sinner.”
Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned he stood,
[And] sealed my pardon with his blood.
He “gave himself for us.” Why? “To redeem us from all lawlessness,” so that we don’t go out and live in license, so that we don’t go out and say, “The grace of God is such that we can just do anything we want now.” No, the grace of God is such that the only thing that we really want to do is that which acknowledges what he has done, what he is doing, and what one day he will bring to completion.
Because he’s “purify[ing] for himself a people for his own possession.” Jesus, if you like, also sings, “Mine! Mine! Mine!” But he sings it from the other side. And that, for me, is an even more glorious song: to think of Christ in glory singing,
Mine! Mine! Mine!
Father, I know they are mine;
Father, dear Father,
I know they are mine.
And the Father says, “How do you know they’re yours, Son?” He said, “Because I died for them to redeem them from all lawlessness and to make them a people of my very own.”
There is nothing like this in the whole world. There is no story like this. And this is our story, and this is our song, praising our Savior all the day long. He sets us free by making us “a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” And how that zeal works itself out becomes part of the exposition of chapter 3, to which, God willing, we will come.
Father, thank you now that we are able to turn to your Word, the Bible, and discover that it marks out our steps; it corrects, it reproves us, it trains us. And thank you for this passage of the Bible. Save us, Lord, from falling into self-recrimination or hopeless attempts at self-renovation. Help us to look away to Christ, to marvel that he gave himself for us so that he might take our lives from us, so that he might live his life by the Holy Spirit in us and through us. Help us as we end the worship of the day around your Table, as we sing to your praise, and as we seek to encourage one another. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
 Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture: The Application of Biblical Theology to Expository Preaching (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 118, 119.
 Malachi 4:2 (ESV).
 Hebrews 9:26 (ESV).
 William G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology (New York: Scribner’s, 1888), 2:485–86.
 “The Atonement and the Free Offer of the Gospel,” in Collected Writings of John Murray, vol. 1, The Claims of Truth (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1976), 59.
 Murray, 81.
 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952), bk. 4, chap. 9. Paraphrased.
 Charles Wesley, “O for a Thousand Tongues” (1739).
 Augustus Toplady, “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me” (1776).
 See Roman 8:30.
 Timothy Dudley-Smith, “When the Lord in Glory Comes” (1967). Lyrics lightly altered.
 1 John 3:3 (paraphrased).
 See Matthew 25:1–13.
 Philip. P. Bliss, “‘Man of Sorrows,’ What a Name” (1875).
 Anna Hudson, “Dear Savior, Thou Art Mine.”
 Fanny Crosby, “Blessed Assurance” (1873).
Copyright © 2022, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.