A Commentary by John Stott

Titus: 3:3-8.  e). The goal of salvation.

*God saved us*, Paul wrote ….*So that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life* (7). All those whom God has justified and regenerated become his heirs, because he has saved us for this purpose. We are `heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ’ (Rom.8:17). And as his nominated heirs we cherish the sure expectation that one day we will receive our full inheritance in heaven, namely `eternal life’, an unclouded fellowship with God. During the present age, although we have received a foretaste of eternal life, the fullness of life is the object of our hope, and we are its `heirs-in-hope’. Yet our hope is secure because it rests on God’s promise (1:2).

*This is a trustworthy saying* (8a), Paul adds. We have seen that the Pastorals contain five `trustworthy sayings’ (pithy statements which Paul endorses). This is the only one in Titus. In three of them the formula almost certainly relates to what follows (1 Tim.1:15; 3:1; 2 Tim.2:11). But here in Titus (as probably in 1 Tim. 4:9), it seems rather to refer back to what precedes it, that is, to Paul’s `glowing statement’ of salvation. Whether it covers the whole of verses 3-7 or less, commentators differ. Though a longer `trustworthy saying’ than the others, it is still a concise, single-sentence utterance. And Paul endorses it. It is true, he says; it may be trusted.

f). The evidence of salvation.

Although the `trustworthy saying’ formula seems to have concluded Paul’s exposition of salvation, he has not yet finished the topic. He will not leave it without underlining the indispensable necessity of good works in those who profess to have been saved. *And I want you to stress these things* (that is, the essential ingredients of salvation), *so that those who have trusted in God* (and so have been saved by faith) *may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good* (8b).

What kind of good deeds does the apostle have in mind? Because the verb translated `to devote themselves’ (*proistemi*) can have the almost technical sense `to practise a profession’, the RSV margin translates it `to enter honourable occupations’, and the REB margin `to engage in honest employment’. But the context does not require, or even encourage, this meaning. The reference seems to be a more general one to good works of righteousness and love. Although Paul has made it plain in verse 5 that God has not saved us `because of righteous things we had done’, he nevertheless now insists that believers must devote themselves to good works. Good works are not the ground of salvation, but they are its necessary fruit and evidence. It is in this way that *these things are excellent and profitable for everyone* (8c).

The necessity of good works has been noted by several commentators as a major topic in the Pastorals. Robert Karris, for example, has called it `the author’s basis message’. But it is Gordon Fee who has drawn particular attention to it, not so much in the Pastorals in general, as in Titus in particular. `The dominant theme in Titus…is *good works*…that is, exemplary Christian behaviour, and that *for the sake of outsiders*’ and `in contrast to the false teachers’. It is `the recurring theme of the entire letter’.

The expression `good works’ (*kala erga*) occurs fourteen times in the Pastorals. Paul seems to emphasize five points. First, the very purpose of Christ’s death was to purify for himself a people who would be enthusiastic for good works (Tit.2:14). Secondly, although good works can never be the basis for salvation (Tit.2:5; 2 Tim.1:9), they are its essential evidence (Tit.3:8, 14). Thirdly, it is therefore to be expected that all Christians will be `equipped’ and `ready’ to do good works (2 Tim.2:21; 3:17; Tit.3:1), women seeking this special adornment (1 Tim.2:10) and rich people accepting this special responsibility (1 Tim.6:18). Fourthly, since pastoral oversight is itself a good work (1 Tim.3:1), all Christian leaders should be conspicuous for the good works they do (1 Tim.5:25). Widows should not be registered unless they have a reputation for good works (1 Tim.5:10), and every pastor should be a model of good works (Tit.2:7). All this is in contrast to the false teachers who `claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him’ (Tit.1:16). Fifthly, it is above all by good works that the gospel is adorned and so commended to outsiders (Tit.2:9-10).

We are now in a position to summarize the six essential ingredients of salvation. Its need is our sin, guilt and slavery; its source is God’s gracious loving-kindness; its ground is not our merit but God’s mercy in the cross; its means is the regenerating and renewing work of the Holy Spirit, signified in baptism; its goal is our final inheritance of eternal life; and its evidence is our diligent practice of good works.

We note what a balanced and comprehensive account of salvation this is. For here are the three persons of the Trinity together engaged in securing our salvation: the love of God the Father who took the initiative; the death of God the Son in whom God’s grace and mercy appeared; and the inward work of God the Holy Spirit by whom we are reborn and renewed.

Here too are the three tenses of salvation. The past is justification and regeneration. The present is the new life of good works in the power of the Spirit. The future is the inheritance of eternal life which will one day be ours.

Once we have grasped the all-embracing character of this salvation, reductionist accounts of it will never satisfy us. We shall rather determine both to explore and experience for ourselves the fullness of God’s salvation and to share with other people the same fullness, refusing to acquiesce, whether for ourselves or others, in any form of truncated or trivialized gospel.

Tomorrow: Titus 3:9-15.   Final personal messages.


The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Titus. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.