“Sound Doctrine” – Titus 3:4-8a

This long sentence might be a summary of what Paul means by “sound doctrine” in Titus 2:1.  Gordon Fee called these lines “semi-creedal” (1-2 Timothy, Titus, 200)  and nearly all agree that this section was used in some form of liturgy. Paul concludes by declaring this a “trustworthy saying”indicating verses 4-7 that this formulation was well-known to the church.  Since virtually every word can be traced to earlier Pauline writings, it is possible that Paul himself is the source, or someone created the song out of the theology of Paul’s letters. In either case, these few verses are a clear statement of Paul’s understanding of our salvation.

God has acted on our behalf and saved us out of our foolishness (verse 4-5a).  The appearance of the kindness of love of God refers to Jesus. The work of Jesus on the cross is God’s decisive act in history to solve the problem of sin.   Kindness and love are unusual ways to describe God’s motivation for sending Jesus into the world, but the words may reflect the Hebrew idea of hesed, God’s loyalty to his promises and covenant.   Because God is a faithful covenant partner, he acted in Jesus to enable those who are in Christ to keep the covenant in perfection.

Because of Jesus, we can be saved.  The word “saved” is in fact a metaphor which we miss since we use the term so frequently.  We were not just in danger, we were lost and in need to rescue.  In the Psalms David occasionally describes his personal salvation with being pulled out of a flood or a muddy pit, rescued from certain death and set in a level, firm place.

This salvation is not because of“works of righteousness,” rather it is based on the mercy of God.  idea of works of righteousness ought to be understood in the light of the false teachers who likely insisted on things like circumcision or keeping elements of the law.   Rather than a covenant which promises blessings for obedience, this salvation is based entirely on the mercy of God.

This salvation is a rebirth and renewal through the Holy Spirit (verse 5b-6). Paul uses a metaphor in this verse to describe the role of the Holy Spirit in our new birth.  “Washing” (λουτρόν) and the cognate verb (λούω) frequently refers to ceremonial washing which cleanses one from impurity.  The words are used in the context of preparing for worship or entering into the sanctuary.   For example, the verb is used more than a dozen times in Lev 15 in the context of physical impurity. In Lev 8:6 Aaron and his sons are ceremonially washed as they are installed as priests. In Lev 16 the verb is used to describe the washing of the high priest prior to entering the Holy of Holies.

Paul is therefore developing a metaphor which any person living in the first century would have understood.  If we are to be servants of God, we must be cleansed and made holy so that we are able to serve him (as priests in nay religion might have been cleansed).  It is the action of the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation which “washes us” and makes us right with God. He may have in mind a text like Isa 1:16, where the Lord demands the people wash themselves of their sins, or Isa 4:4 where the filthiness of the nation of Israel will be washed away by a “spirit of judgment” and a “spirit of burning.”

Paul therefore has in mind the rebirth or recreation of the person who is dead in their sins; they are “made alive” in Christ through the Holy Spirit. This is a hint of eschatology here as well, since the dawning of the new age is described with this same term (παλιγγενεσία).  This is the same regenerating work of the Spirit found in 1 Cor 6:1 and Eph 5:26.

The result of our rebirth is our membership in God’s family (verse 7).  Verse seven begins with a purpose clause and an aorist passive participle.  Our membership in God’s family is predicated on our having been made righteous, or justified, by God’s grace.  While he does not make the point here, justification by grace is always “not of works, lest anyone should boast.”  The verb is passive, we do not justify ourselves nor can we create our own righteousness, we are dependent wholly on God’s grace and mercy.

Since we have been justified, we are “heirs” in God’s family. This is an allusion to the theme of adoption from Paul’s earlier letters (Romans 8, for example).  “Be what you are, a child of God.”   This status in God’s family is a guarantee of our future hope.  We know that our inheritance is held by God and that our eternal life is secure in him.

Therefore be devoted to doing good (8b).  To be “devoted” to something (φροντίζω) means to think about it, constantly pursue it, perhaps even to worry about it.  This is more than simply “keep it in mind.”  (I find that when someone says “I’ll keep that in mind” they usually mean, “I am going to ignore what you just said and do what I was going to do anyway.”) The word may be translated “pay attention to” doing good works.

It is remarkable that Paul can say in one line that we are not saved by works, salvation is totally an act of God’s grace, yet in the next line say that we need to do good works. But the order of the lines is critically important!   To reverse them is to destroy the foundation of “sound doctrine” described in these verses.

11 thoughts on ““Sound Doctrine” – Titus 3:4-8a

  1. Nice! Also following the line of the liturgical, (which is surely more central than we realize in the NT Letters), Baptism is perhaps also seen sacramentally in Titus 3:4-6, etc. We cannot miss the triune God here either, and perhaps baptismal formula.

  2. I like what you point out at the end P Long. Paul shows us exactly what salvation is, yet doesn’ tjust leave it at that. I find it interesting how often we mix up the order of salvation and works/obedience. Our works and obedience most definitely didn’t save us, God’s grace and mercy did. We can’t just let it rest there though. We’ve been rescued from the “mud” or “darkness” because of God and not because we were able to struggle our way out or save ourselves through our efforts. The simplicity of the gospel message is laid out so beautifully in these 5 verses and it’s a shame that we mix up the order, or don’t follow through on the post salvation living. More often than not, we spend a lot of our time celebrating the fact that we’re no longer in the muck and mire, or obsessing over how we once used to be in the muck and mire. This results in a form of Christianity that involves celebrating and fellowshipping together with other Christians about our salvation, and singing songs to God about how messed up we are, used to be, and how badly we need him to come and be with us so we can “experience” him more and more. Granted, I think this is fine in some balance, but what happens to living out our salvation through good works and leading othes to the saving grace of Christ? I think that we’re really good at staying focused on our very immediate experience of God and relationship to him, but don’t spend much time at all actually living out the salvation that he’s given us.

  3. “To be “devoted” to something (φροντίζω) means to think about it, constantly pursue it, perhaps even to worry about it. This is more than simply “keep it in mind.”” I like this, P. Long. We often are very passive when we go about things. The Gospel must be different. We must be passionate in spreading it, in reading it, and in living it! Living the Gospel is being a light that spreads throughout the world, and it cannot be done well without this devotion as described above. Christianity is a lifestyle that must constantly be sought after. The death and resurrection of Christ and all that comes with it should consistently be at the forefront of our minds. Every time we act, and every time we think, it should be with the mindset of a Law-abiding Christian. We should have passion for the Truth at all times.

  4. I like what P Long points out here: “Since we have been justified, we are ‘heirs’ in God’s family.” Adoption is a topic that is very dear to my heart, since I was adopted. I find it so amazing that God could take a sinner like me and allow me to become part of His family. And it is totally free! He does not treat me like the evil stepmother treats Cinderella! He loves me—sincerely loves me more than I will ever know. He even sacrificed His real Son so that I could become His heir. I am not saying this that I may boast (Eph. 2:9 as pointed out in this blog), I am saying it because I am so overjoyed that God could choose to love me! The best part is that because of this love He has for me, I can show His love to others by doing good to others (Titus 3:8). I do not have to just sit around until He comes back, I can express my love for Him by helping and serving people.

  5. Matychuck, (I’m guessing you want your first name to be left undisclosed) I like the wording of your last sentence: “I do not have to just sit around until He comes back…” Yes, we are saved and our life on earth is relatively short, but that does not mean we should sit back and let time pass by while we do nothing. Then you say, “I can express…” What if we changed it to, “I get to express”? There is no greater love than Jesus paying the ultimate price for our sins, yet we “don’t send much time at all actually living out the salvation that he’s given us” as David said. This should be a privilege , not a task, not a burden. This brings another point to mind. P. Long, I think I understand what you mean when speaking of doing good that being devoted to it might even mean to worry about it, but I find this compromising. I think that if we are worrying about doing good, it becomes just another task, another thing that takes us away from what we want to do. If we are devoted to doing good, we should be in the mindset that we get to do good for the sake of those who do not believe (or those that do), that we get to do good for the sake of Christ.

  6. Yes, the order is so important! Paul very eloquently describes our salvation by grace through faith alone, yet also addresses the response of good works through living out our faith. “To reverse them is to destroy the foundation of “sound doctrine” described in these verses.” (P. Long). This morning in Church my Pastor was talking about the “telephone game” gospel. Where somewhere down the road, the message of the gospel becomes watered down, bits and pieces are forgotten, or things are just outright changed. I think this is a great passage that says it all in one straightforward passage and leaves no room for the message to be watered down or changed. There is so much to be taken out of each phrase P. Long, so I appreciate you breaking it down for us. I love the language he uses in v6 in regards to the “rebirth” and “renewal” we experience by being washed with the Holy Spirit. It was relevant to his audience, and it still holds a very vivid picture for us in how we are washed and made clean with the Holy Spirit. Polhill states, “The symbolism of baptism may be present in the reference to ‘washing,’ but the power and the reality of regeneration is the work of the Spirit, not of the water.” (Polhill, 420).

  7. I do not believe one can be saved by works, but God calls us to store up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19). I think even though Greek can be put in any word order, it cannot be translated the other way as you say P-long, and I am glad you made that point. Having a sound doctrine is more than just works, yet it is more than just having faith, because faith alone can do no good if one does not act on what he/she believes. It would be like me saying that I believe my car can run, but not putting any gas or oil in it, faith only goes so far without action.
    Sound doctrine is a complex yet simple thought and action, having a sound doctrine to me is having the basis and foundation in God aka faith and background and study on God’s word. While acting out what I believe and proving that I will stand up for what I believe and continually doing what God has instructed me to do as a woman, and as a follower of Christ. I will take what Paul has written to Titus in this book and I will apply it to my own life and continually build up my sound doctrine in God.

  8. This passage mirrors Ephesians 2:4-10 in many ways. Both passages say that our salvation is not by our own works, but by the gift of God’s mercy and grace through faith. It is by this that we are to do good works for Christ’s sake. Both passages also say these things in the same order – salvation by grace first, then good works should follow. This shows that Paul’s doctrine is consistent, which is a good argument for the authorship of this letter. But, I think we also have to keep in mind what James says: faith without works is dead (James 2:14). Without faith, our good works mean nothing. But without good works, our faith will become stagnant. Faith and good works go hand-in-hand, but faith must always come first.

  9. When we accept Christ as our savior, it should be a life-changing event. God loved us so much that Christ sacrificed himself to a painful death upon a cross for the sake of our eternity, and so that we could be with him. If we really are understanding of the sacrifice of Christ we should be motivated to live a life pleasing to him. We are not saved in our good works, but just as James points out to us, “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). For someone to be a Christian, and yet have no desire to try and do good to please their savior, or to abstain from sinful ways simply doesn’t make sense. We should live our lives constantly trying to follow God’s will and not ours. How many times do we feel the call to do something for others, or God, but simply ignore it, because we are lazy or thin someone else will do it. God calls us to action. Ephesians 2:10 tells us that we are created for the good works that God has prepared for us ahead of time. I wonder how many good deeds God has planned that have gone unfulfilled…

  10. Paul is making an important statement at the end of this section. Salvation is totally of God. When we are saved we are filled with the Holy Spirit who God “poured out on us abundantly” (1 Tim. 3:6). Being filled with the Holy Spirit we are being transformed. Because of this transformation we are to do good works. Paul says that those who have believed should be the ones doing the good works. If we do not “maintain good works” (1 Tim. 3:8) then we are denying ourselves the work of the Spirit. This is a present problem in the church too many believers are okay with the salvation part but don’t want to do the whole good works thing. They don’t want to be changed. They don’t want to be challenged. They want to be selfish with their salvation. They don’t want to share this with other people.

  11. I Like how Paul frames this as what God has done, what it means, what it results in and finally how we should respond. 1 Tim. 1:15 seems to be the anchor for this sound doctrine in my opinion… I mean this verse centers around the very fact that Jesus Christ came to save sinners… everything that follows in this “sound doctrine” section seems to flow from this idea. Paul seems to be using emotions to evoke a response from the reader/hearer so that they will go and respond to what Christ has done for them… we should do the same… respond to the fact that Christ came to save you!

Leave a Reply