Titus 3:4-8 – What is Sound Doctrine?

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  were well-known to the church. Since virtually every word can be traced to earlier Pauline writings, it is possible 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.Old Manuscript

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. The 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 Leviticus 15 in the context of physical impurity. In Leviticus 8:6 Aaron and his sons are ceremonially washed when they are ordained as priests. In Leviticus 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 Corinthians 6:1 and Ephesians 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.

13 thoughts on “Titus 3:4-8 – What is Sound Doctrine?

  1. These verses remind me of Ephesians 2:8-10. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, He says that they had been saved through grace by faith. This in and of itself would have been enough to tell them that their salvation is not by works, but through God’s grace. Right after he says these words about grace and faith, he says that we are created to do good works in verse 10. This must have confused some people because it would seem to be contradicting itself in the fact that we were created to do good works. The thing that is the most clarifying is that Paul adds that we are to do the good works IN Christ Jesus. Not for salvation, but as a result of our salvation. We are to be devoted to doing these good works through and for Jesus’ glory.

  2. This is so important to remember. As Christians, it is easy to get all caught up in what we do as a person, and how “strong” we are in our faith. But in reality, while having strong faith and doing good works is very significant, it does not save us from hell, Jesus does. To think we can save ourselves diminishes what Jesus did on the cross for us. As Longenecker states, “The “grace of God” made manifest in Jesus Christ…” (Longenecker 267). Jesus Christ literally manifested the grace of God, not us. It is a beautiful and overwhelming thing to think about.

  3. Too often I think that people forget that belief and practice go hand in hand. James said, “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds” (2:17-18). There is something about belief that demands resolution in action. We do the action because of our belief. I once heard a pastor call them love acts. In a healthy marriage a husband shows his love by doing things for his wife because of the love that he has for her. Drawing out the analogy, we do things for God because we love him. We believe therefore we act. Belief always requires action. Belief without action is pointless.

  4. Gal. 5:16-18 talks about living by the Spirit, but any of us Christians are guilty of not listening to the Spirit. We have a hard time listening because we cannot see the Holy Spirit or talk to Him like we do with each other. As Yoda said when Luke said he would try to lift the ship out of the water, “Do or do not, there is no try.” We need to believe. We also need to trust the Holy Spirit. Luke had to learn to trust his instincts in the force by putting a helmet on to cover his eyes to guard himself from the drone that shot @ him for practice. We get so caught up in our own life & think that we know what’s best & that we have it all figured out & that our plan is the 1 to follow. Take a step back, stop being selfish, read your Bible, & listen. To help start off, when you feel the urge to do something nice for someone (without expecting something back), do it. Open the door for a stranger (or someone you know). Write an encouraging letter to someone who made a positive influence in your life. If you know that someone is having a rough time, spend the time to talk with them & then pray for them out loud right then & there instead of saying that you will pray for them. Those are just some ideas as to where to start. Don’t forget to stop for a few minutes to truly listen to the Holy Spirit.

  5. I think you were spot on about your observation of people doing their own thing and ignoring advice, instead of actually keeping it in mind. You talked about how Titus 3:8b was geared towards being devoted to doing good, and that being devoted really means that we are supposed to constantly be persuing such things. Doing good, praying, seeking God, and loving others as ourselves are the biggest suggestions and commands that the Lord wants us to be following, yet often times we ignore those things. We do not constantly “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17) by which I believe we are being asked to meditate on the Lord, or keep in touch with Him as much as we can. We do not always want to do good, like Titus 3:8 talks about, and instead tend to devote our time to other things when we allow our minds to drift. We do not always seek God’s presence and so on, like 1 Chron. 16:11 says, “Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!” and we do not always love others the as ourselves as Jesus commanded us to do in Matthew 22:39 ( as well as in other places recorded in the Bible). These are all things that Christians ought to be working on, because when Christ is involved we should really be looking at things from an eternal scale rather than an temporal scale.

  6. I agree with the difference between keeping something in mind and actually being devoted. I think that we tend to do that a lot as Christians especially when it comes to praying for each other. We say oh I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers, but usually we just use that as a way to keep the conversation going or empathizing with someone. We should be more soundly devoted to praying for each other and making that a big role in our Christian faith. We also have to keep in mind that just because we fall short sometimes does not make us any less of a Christian. In church service today we learned how we have to find a good balance between trying to invest in being more like Jesus and becoming too prideful in our faith that we think we are more powerful than God. “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring” (Proverbs 27:1).

  7. I find it unbelievably incredible to see God’s love for us when He sends His only son down to pay for our sins. He doesn’t have to sit there and watch Jesus being tortured as he was but He chooses to because His love for mankind and wants everyone who is devoted to God to be saved for eternity. I am not sure if I am totally correct but if I were to think of someone being “washed” of their impurities I would think of someone who is getting baptized or maybe a new found believer in Christ. I really agree on the point of there being a difference between being devoted and keeping something in mind. Personally, in the past when it came to my faith I was sort of one of the keeping it in mind people where I would say I was a believer in God and that was about it. Fast forward to now and I speak to God everyday and am working to make myself more and more Godly as I can which is where the devotion comes in.

  8. I wouldn’t consider it contradictory at all that Paul tells us that Good Works won’t get us into heaven or save us — but we should do them anyways. With the foundation of Christianity being what it is — built on Jesus’ teachings and sacrifice, can it really come as a surprise or struggle for us to accept both? It’s pretty aligned, since Jesus did good works AND saved US. Practice what you preach, and hopefully you’re preaching what you believe. The key to salvation isn’t in our works, it’s in our beliefs. Particularly the belief of Jesus being our savior. We’re also told to love our neighbors – and there’s endless ways to do that in works. I love Paul for outlining where our salvation comes from; growing up in an ELCA church, the salvation concept was really drilled into our young heads (as it is doctrinally sound and important), even if our view of Justification is different. Our saving grace is in our salvation that we recieve through Christ — who also inspires us to do good works for others in love.

    So, in summary;


    • Hey Rowen, I agree that good works alone will not get us into heaven. I think we have to go back to Dr.Sams freshmen theology class and really ask ourselves biblically what it says in order for us to be saved and to go to heaven (maybe). First: we have to ask Jesus into our hearts and to forgive our sins (John 14:14),believe that he died on the cross for our sins (1 Peter 2:24), and repent our sins (and then be baptized).

  9. I’m devoted to going to my Monday Pauline Literature class and not missing one because I would hope to one day leave Grace Bible College and graduate. As described above, devoted means to think about something worry about it and constantly pursue it. I would say I am constantly striving to do my best to graduate soon. On the other hand, I tend to put my devotions on the back burner or keep them in mind if you will. My Pastor says this is attributed to your mental thinking. HIs reasoning is this: You will make time for what’s important to you. This really made me think about the whole idea of thinking about something and being committed to something. If I’m devoted/committed to something then I care about it and I’m invested in it. It made me question how focused I am or am not with my relationship to God.

  10. Sound doctrine is certainly the Gospel message, which is adequately defined and described in Titus 3:4-8, as you explained. Paul mentions elsewhere to Timothy that the sound words they teach are God’s doctrine, “True doctrine is often recognizable by the impact it has on everyday living,” (ESV notes on 1 Tim. 6:3, see also 2 Tim. 1:13). The entire reason the Bible exists is so that God’s sound doctrine can be known to us for us to have a relationship with Him. This sound doctrine is what matters for us, and which shouldn’t be disputed within our community. This sentence gives us the theology of the Trinity, and their work in redeeming us to a renewed relationship with God. Certainly, there are issues that are left to interpretation, like the different views on when Jesus Christ’s Second Coming will happen and where the 1,000-year reign will happen, but not the sound doctrine that is imperative to our salvation. However, I think having a view on the issues left to interpretation is healthy for our growth, 2 Peter 3:18 implores us to grow in knowledge of the Bible, as Jesus is the Word. We just can’t let these interpretations make us lose sight of God’s sound doctrine.

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