I’ve been reading through the apostle Paul’s short letter to Titus over the past week. Last year I actually read through the Bible, but as many have also experienced, the project left little time for deep thought. So this year, I started the project of reading through each book of the Bible twenty times. Titus is the fifth book I’ve gotten to since January 1, 2016. Since I’m doing the short ones first.
As I was reading Titus this week, I was struck by the emphasis on good works from beginning to end (godliness in 1:1, devoted to good works, 3:14).
In the twin peaks of the gospel sections (2:11-14 and 3:4-8), salvation is portrayed not in terms of the substitution of Christ’s death in our place, nor even in terms of erasure of guilt. There’s no mention of forgiveness. But rather, the “salvation that has appeared” is portrayed as an appointment unto a new way of life (2:11-12).
We were brought out of lawlessness in order to be pure and zealous for good works (2:14). And the whole “gospel saying” of 3:4-7 is aimed at provoking devotion to good works (3:8, “…so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works”).
Every major piece of the letter revolves around the exercise of good works. The elder’s way of life should be above reproach. The way of life of the false teachers is denying God by their works; they are unfit for any good work (1:16). The various demographics of 2:1-10 should each learn what kind of actions are in accord with sound doctrine in their particular sphere (2:1, cf. 1:1). And so on.
So what? I think Paul has a few different gears for speaking about the effects of salvation. Other letters from his hand seem to focus more on penal substitution, which I think constitutes the core of the gospel message. But Paul also seems comfortable here in Titus to speak of salvation largely as an appointment to good works.
The challenge is to try to capture this balance in our preaching and teaching, giving the weight to whatever passage we’re in, but also acknowledging the other lenses through which the gospel might be viewed.