A Commentary by John Stott
Titus 3:2. a). The need of salvation.
In verse 3 the apostle supplies an unsavoury picture of the state and conduct of unregenerate people. In doing so, he discloses what we ourselves used to be like. Moreover, this is not an exaggeration, but ‘the very exact image of human life without grace’. It is perhaps best grasped as four couplets.
First, *at one time we too were foolish, disobedient*. In other words, we were both mentally and morally depraved. We lacked sense (*anoetos*) and sensibility (*apeithes*). This is elaborated in the next pair.
Secondly, we were *deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures*. Both verbs are passive in form, and so indicate that we were the victims of evil forces we could not control. We were not ‘foolish’ only, but *deceived*. We were not ‘disobedient’ only, but *enslaved*. Doubtless Paul is alluding to the Evil One, that arch-deceiver who blinds people’s minds (E.g. 2 Cor.4:4) and that arch-tyrant who also takes people captive (E.g., 2 Tim.2:26). We were his dupes and his slaves.
Thirdly, *we lived in malice and envy*, which are very ugly twins. For malice is wishing people evil, while envy is resenting and coveting their good. Both disrupt human relationships.
Fourthly, we were *being hated and hating one another*. That is, the hostility which we experienced in our relationships was reciprocal.
Thus a deliberate antithesis seems to be developed between the kind of people Christians should be (1, 2) and the kind of people we once were (3). It is a contrast between submissiveness and foolishness, between obedience and disobedience, between a readiness to do good and an enslavement by evil, between kindness and peaceableness on the one hand and malice and envy on the other, between being humble and gentle and being hateful and hating.
How is it possible to get out of the one mindset and lifestyle into the other, and to exchange addiction for freedom? The answer is given in verse 5: *he saved us*, he rescued us from our former bondage and changed us into new people. The New Testament loves to dwell on this transformation, which salvation entails, by using the formula ‘once we were…but now we are…’ (E.g. Rom.6:17ff.; 1 Cor.6:11; Eph.2:1ff.; Col.3:7ff.).
b). The source of salvation.
If we were truly deceived and enslaved, one thing is obvious: we could not save ourselves. Yet the possibility of self-salvation is one of the major delusions of New Age philosophy. It teaches that salvation comes not from without (someone else coming to our rescue) but from within (as we discover ourselves and our own resources). So ‘look into yourself’, Shirley MacLaine urges us, ‘explore yourself’, for ‘all the answers are within yourself’. And in her subsequent book, which is revealingly entitled *Going Within*, she writes that, ‘the New Age is all about *self*-responsibility’, i.e. taking responsibility for everything that happens, since ‘the only source is ourselves’.
But Paul teaches a different source of salvation. With verse 4 he turns from us in our depravity to ‘God our Saviour’ (1:3; 2:10; 3:4), from our hatred of one another to his amazing love for us. Paul traces our salvation right back to its source in the love of God. *But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared* (4), that is, in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus, *he saved us*. Then at the end of verse 5 Paul mentions God’s ‘mercy’ and in verse 7 his justifying ‘grace’. These are four tremendous words. God’s ‘kindness’ (*chrestotes*) is shown even to ‘the ungrateful and wicked’ (Lk.6:35); his ‘love’ (*philanthropia*) is his concern for the whole human race; his ‘mercy’ (eleos*) is extended to the helpless who cannot save themselves; and his ‘grace’ (*charis*) reaches out to the guilty and undeserving.
Thus salvation originated in the heart of God. It is because of his kindness, love, mercy and grace that he intervened on our behalf, he took the initiative, he came after us, and he rescued us from our hopeless predicament.
c). The ground of salvation.
Granted that God’s love is the source or spring from which salvation flows, what is the ground on which it rests? On what moral basis can God forgive sinners? It is true that in explicit terms this question is neither asked nor answered in Titus 3. Yet it is implicit in the antithesis of verse 4, which declares that *he (God) saves us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy*. Not our righteousness but his mercy is the ground of our salvation. This sharp contrast between the false and the true way of salvation is hammered home in the New Testament by constant repetition (E.g. Lk.18:9ff.; Eph.2:8ff.; Phil.3:7ff.; 2 Tim.1:9).
God does not save us because of his mercy alone, however, but because of what his mercy led him to do in the sending of his Son. His attribute of mercy is indeed the source of our salvation; his deed of mercy in Christ is its ground. This is implied in Paul’s previous statement that *the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared* (14). For this saving ‘appearance’ clearly refers to the historical event of Christ’s coming to save, as in 2:11 and 2 Timothy 1:10. Further, although there is no specific allusion to the cross, this must have been in Paul’s mind, since twice elsewhere in the Pastorals he affirms that Christ ‘gave himself’ for our redemption (2:14; 1 Tim.2:6). The ground of our salvation, therefore, is not our works of righteousness but his work of mercy in the cross.
Tomorrow: Titus 3:3-8. d). The means of salvation.
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.