He Saved Us! Paul’s “Plan of Salvation” A Meditation on Titus 3.3-8Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Christian hope, Church, Exegesis, Faith, Grace, Holy Spirit, Love, Paul
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This saying is sure.
I desire that you insist on these things, so that those who have come to believe in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works, these things are excellent and profitable to everyone.” (Titus 3.3-8, NRSV)
Have you ever wished you could start your life over? Be given a clean slate? Or maybe use a magic wand to undo all the mistakes and failures in your life? Most of us know the how the past can be used as a powerful weapon against us. We all want to change our past!
But the reality is l cannot fix the past!
THE NEED TO BE REALISTIC ABOUT OUR PAST (3:3-4)
Most people do not like to honestly evaluate themselves. The process is depressing and painful. We prefer self-delusion that I am OK. But Paul, in good Jewish fashion, does not let us Jesus followers forget where we have come from. Our ancestors routinely confessed their history of unfaithfulness to God (Pss 78, 106, etc, etc).
Self-deception is one of the greatest obstacles to the power of God’s grace in our lives! So Paul says “Be realistic, remember where you came from.” Humans are fallen creatures, disciples are not proud of that. We don’t brag about how low our sin has taken us. We are, however, extremely thankful for being rescued from slavery to sin.
What the world (=those outside of Christ, not planet Earth) still is, we once were! We were foolish and disobedient, deceived and slaves to ungodliness. We were incapable of anything truly good. Our minds were duped by Satan in our sinful state. Because of our deception and slavery Paul says we lived in “malice and envy.” People hated us and we hated them. We hoped the worst for people, we wanted them to fail, indeed we did what we could to make them fail.
The internet bears sad but eloquent testimony to the truth of Paul’s words. This is not a pretty picture of humanity, but it is very realistic. You know in your own life the suffering caused to you and what you have caused others. How jealous we are when overlooked? How badly we treat people when we don’t get our own way?
Remember this is what we lived in — I don’t want to go back to it, do you? I don’t like being a slave to anything but Jesus. Some are slaves to sex or food. Some are controlled by alcohol, tobacco, politics, “religion” or any number of the powers that be. Anything can enslave us and being a slave to anything but Christ is a path to destruction.
Those who minimize the glory of grace usually have not taken honest stock of where they have come from. Remembering forces us to cast ourselves upon the mercy of the Holy One of Israel.
THE NEED TO UNDERSTAND THE GRACE CHANGE IN THE PRESENT (3:5-7)
We all wish for that magic wand to change the past. But God has given us something even better — Grace to change the present! Notice carefully what Paul says to Titus. In verses 5-7 (one sentence in Greek) he shows how all three Persons of the Trinity are involved in our redemption.
“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us…”
This is almost the language of doxology! We did not save ourselves, he saved us. We “got saved.” What do you do? Praise God for his kindness, love and grace.
When did that kindness and love appear? Precisely while we were slaves to ungodly lusts, while we were hating and being hated! That was our condition when the Logos became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth and dwelt among humans to demonstrate God’s infinite love.
God’s love is prominent in four texts on grace in Paul (cf. Rom. 5:8; Eph, 2:4; Gal. 2:20)? It is God’s love that “drove” him to save us in spite of our sin and slavery.
Also Paul calls God our Savior! That is because salvation rests in the hands of God, he always initiates and we receive. People needing rescue do not take credit for the rescue. This is a cardinal truth of both the OT and NT:
God called Noah, God sought pagan Abram, God redeemed sinful Israel, God chose little David, God sent Jonah to Nineveh even when they didn’t ask him, God sent his Son to a world that hated him!
Such is the mystery of Grace, so Paul says “Salvation is God’s work and don’t forget it!”
What happened when that “kindness and love” appeared? Paul tells us, when
“HE SAVED US!”
How did he do that? Paul tells us explicitly in 2:13-14. God saved us through
“our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness..”
He saved us by redeeming us with the Blood of the Lamb! He “redeemed us;” this is an important word we need to understand. In Romans 5 Paul used a ward-picture (reconciliation) from the family. In Galatians 2, he used a metaphor (justification) from the Court Room and now he uses a picture from the Exodus — Redemption! Paul uses these and more because none of them can totally explain or exhaust the Cross.
Redemption was a business term used especially in the purchase of slaves, as Yahweh “purchases” Israel from slavery in Egypt. In fact it was almost a technical term to purchase a slave (John Stott, The Cross of Christ, p. 176). If I wanted to buy a slave in the ancient world I would go to the market place and approach the slave block and bid on a slave. I would exchange my money for the life of the slave thus redeeming him/her. This is also called paying the “ransom.” We still use this term today in much the same way.
Josephus tells us that the Roman general Crassus came to Jerusalem to plunder the Temple in 54-53 B.C. A priest named Eleazar who was guardian of the sacred treasures gave Crassus a large bar of gold worth 10,000 shekels as a “ransom” for the temple treasures (Antiquities xiv. 107).
This is what God did in Jesus did for us. He saw us, enslaved to our useless life, and had compassion on us. We the ones on the slave block of the vandalized world were helpless as could be. We could never free ourselves even if we had wanted. So God, thru Jesus, redeemed us? That is he bought us off the block and set us free! Jesus did for us what we could not do for ourselves! The price for our redemption was his own blood, that is his blood “ransomed” us.
What a great Savior we have. Paul tells us this is how God saved us when his kindness and love appeared–it appeared perfectly at the Cross in Jesus.
Paul explicitly denies that our “righteous things” had anything to do with our redemption. Paul, in Titus, commands us to do good deeds several times so as to make a good impression on non-believers. Here, however, the apostle makes sure no one gets the idea that these deeds count toward our salvation (cf Eph 2.1-10).
It was not our works but because of “God’s mercy’ that we are now redeemed.
Paul has told us the When, the What and now he tells us the Means of salvation. He saved us through “the water of rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (NRSV). The “water of rebirth” (traditionally “washing of rebirth”) and renewal is the MEANS by which we are saved by God’s grace. The word “water/washing” (loutron) is probably a metaphor for baptism, or more likely a metaphor of what takes place in baptism.
These are not two separate events 1) being baptism and 2) coming of the Holy Spirit. “Washing of rebirth” and “renewal of the Holy Spirit” are synonymous (Gordon Fee, God’s Empowering Presence– The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul, pp.781-83).
In baptism we are reborn or renewed by the power of God’s grace through the Holy Spirit. We are washed by him in the Blood of the Lamb: Ananias said to Saul, “what are you waiting for ? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16).
Paul is alluding to the promise in Ezekiel 36:25-27 (LXX) where the Prophet says God will wash us to make us clean and will pour out his Spirit into our hearts so that we will be able to keep his decrees. It is because of the Spirit’s action of renewal in baptism that Alexander Campbell could use a provocative expression, “the Gospel is in the water!” (Campbell, again, following Martin Luther’s lead in this expression). That is baptism proclaims the Gospel of Jesus not human ability or righteousness.
The water does not save, but the Spirit who works in the “water of rebirth” is who saves us. The washing is a Spirit bath, it is the Spirit that cleans, it is the Spirit that “works” in this washing of rebirth. We do not grab the soap and wash ourselves, Paul does not give us that credit. Baptism is grace!
The Spirit is lavishly poured out on us. The God who saves on the basis of his mercy does not scrimp! God will not have his children suffering from anemia. The lavish supply of the Spirit is what makes it possible for us to obey the imperatives in v-8 (which is also the reason for giving the Spirit in Ezk. 36). The Spirit is the Enabler of obedience.
The Spirit is poured out in abundance by Jesus Christ our Savior. The fact that we have the Spirit shows we have been “justified by his grace.” Grace is that awesome gift of God that changes our present. Grace allows us to have our clean slate. But we must be clear, what is grace?
Grace is God’s snowfall in our lives. Our live are like a cow pasture; filthy, muddy and full of dung. Our past is a nasty place! I grew up next to several pastures so I know from first hand experience haw dirty they are. But the magic of snow is that it brings freshness, renewal and most of all beauty — even to cow pastures!
Our lives covered in sin are much like a cow pasture. Our mistakes cannot be covered up by us, no more than a cow pasture can clean itself. But when the snow comes it covers the ugliness of the pasture. It covers the mud and dung leaving a beautiful, spotless blanket covering the ground. What was ugly is now breathtaking. The snow covers the blemishes just as God’s grace covers us. Isaiah, the great Hebrew prophet even compares God’s grace to snow. He said “though your sins be like scarlet, they shall be white as SNOW…” (1:18), that is God’s Amazing Grace! Paul says that we the vandalized people (sometimes the vandalizers!) have been justified by that amazing grace.
We are not justified by works, by getting “it” right, by not not using instruments in worship, by having the right name on a building, by having correct theology. Rather we are “justified by his grace” so that “we might become heirs according to the hope … this saying is sure” (3.7-8). This is why K. C. Moser exclaimed “Grace is the GLORY of God!”
I am no longer a slave to envy, lust, sex, anger, religion or anything else . . . except the Lord himself. By grace I was redeemed from ungodliness and now I have the “hope of eternal life.” As a result of being saved by God we are to “stress these things” (3:8). Paul says:
“Titus, if you want motivated Christians, ones who will work in the Lord’s Kingdom then you need to stress these things.”
Paul does not tell us to stress “why I am a member of the Church of Christ.” Paul does not tell us to stress instrumental music or any number of things that have been the subject of so many debates and so called meetings. Paul says if you want healthy Christians, faithful Christians, then stress what God has done for us! Squeeze us, impress upon us like a stamp, the grace of the Father, the Son and the Spirit who has saved us while we were yet his enemies.
Christians are motivated by grace not fear. We respond to him out of gratitude. It is only when these things are stressed that we as a church will grow and devote ourselves to do good works in the name of the Lord. These good deeds are to make God’s teaching “attractive” to outsiders (2:10).
But Paul makes it clear to Titus, we cannot expect folks to live as God wants them to without stressing the grace of the Triune God.
Do you long to start over? God gives us that chance by making us a new creation through the new birth. The past is over, it has no power over us. God has redeemed us from our sinful pasts and gives us the present.