Meditations in Titus: 23: God’s work in us
Titus 3:4-7 But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
We’ve said previously that there are in Titus short passages that succinctly lay out essential doctrines, and these verses are another one of those. The previous verse had been full of the negatives of our old life but now Paul brings it right round to the positives of what God has done for us, the work of the Gospel.
He first of all describes this Gospel work as “when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared.” Jesus coming was first and foremost an expression of the kindness and love of God. It was God’s love that motivated the godhead to devise this plan before the foundation of the world that would entail the Son of God leaving heaven and coming to earth. Behind everything we read in the New Testament is this kindness and love of God. What did he do?
“he saved us.” That is it as briefly and succinctly as you can make it – he saved us! We were lost, helpless and hopeless and Jesus came and saved us. But, says Paul, be under no illusions, it was “ not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” God did this, not because he found righteous people on the earth, because none of us were righteous. We were lost, we were away from God, doing our own self-centred, godless thing and unrighteousness was the outworking in our lives. No, God did this for no other reason than His mercy. Mercy is something that is not earned but just given for no other reason than He wants to. So Jesus coming to die for us wasn’t because God saw something good in us. To the contrary, He saw that there was no good in us and we couldn’t escape this state on our own; we had to have His help
So what has God done in us as a result of Jesus dying on the Cross for us? “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” This is a funny way of putting it because it doesn’t focus on the work of Jesus on the Cross taking our sin and our punishment, but it focuses on the outworking of that work in us, what has happened to us as a result. He reminds us that we have been washed clean and free of our old life by the fact that we have been ‘born again’ and our lives have been completely renewed by this working of the Holy Spirit.
Now why is Paul emphasizing this outworking rather than focusing on the work of the Cross? The reason, I suggest, is because he is emphasizing again and again that the new believers are now completely different people, different from what they used to be and different from all those who lived round about them. He wants to remind them what has happened to them to make them different. He wants them to live out new holy and righteous lives but to do this they need to understand or be reminded that they can do this because they are new creatures in Christ, empowered and made new by his Holy Spirit. This is all about living sanctified lives.
So he emphasises the work of the Holy Spirit, “whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour.” Jesus’ work on the Cross opened the way for us to receive his forgiveness and cleansing so that when we turned to him, Jesus could pour his Holy Spirit into us so that we would be born again and be able live Spirit-empowered lives. Jesus has done all that was needed for us to receive His Spirit and so now all that remains is for us to receive the fruits of his work, or as Paul now puts it, “so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” (v.7)
Jesus’ grace was his act of dying for us so that now we may be justified before the Father – made right in His eyes, just as if we had never sinned, and now we have been put right with the Father, we have now become heirs of all that He has for us, eternal life and all that goes with that, living out our lives here on earth as His sons and daughters and then living with Him in eternity.
So there we are, new people with a future, all because of Jesus’ work on the Cross and the work of his Holy Spirit in us. How wonderful! All we’ve got to do is live out these lives in the recognition and fullness of that.