An Exegetical and Applicable Analysis of Titus 3:3-8
Titus 3:3-8 “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared,he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people” [All Scripture will be from the ESV].
Titus 3:3-8 is the message of the Gospel in a form that is both short and sweet. In such few words we still feel the power that is within the Gospel (1 Corinthians 1:17-18). Titus, an evangelist in Crete, was told these words through a letter of Paul. He was told these words to both be encouraged himself and to encourage all the believers he was associated with. You can almost sense Paul’s passion in these words. It’s almost as if you can see him in his old age, imprisoned, and beaten up, declaring the beauty that is Christ and him crucified.
There are three main ideas in this text: The sinfulness of man before Christ (verse 3), the salvation we receive in Christ and the renewal of the Holy Spirit (verses 4-7), and finally, the importance of spreading this good news (verse 8). The Good News of Christianity is evident in this short passage. In this post, I am going to expose the text in a way that we can apply the three main ideas of this passage to our own lives.
The Sinfulness of Man Before Christ
Hendriksen says in his book, New Testament Commentary: I-II Timothy & Titus, that the word “we” refers also to Paul. He says “Paul, too, had been a slave to sin. To be sure, he had been ‘zealous for the traditions,’ but at the same time he had been ‘persecuting the church,’ (see on I Tim. 1:13; then Gal. 1:11-17)” (Page 387). Paul was a sinner! He calls himself the chief of all sinners (1 Timothy 1:15), and the least of the apostles (1 Corinthians 15:9). If Paul, being an apostle, was the assumed foremost of all sinners, so much so that he considered himself to be the least of all the apostles (even having been the one who wrote the largest percentage of the New Testament), then surely we have sin. Paul had a past, but he went on to speak of the forgiveness of all, including himself, in Romans 4:7, saying “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.” Just like Paul was forgiven, we can be forgiven as well! But we will talk more about our forgiveness in the next section.
The point is that we all were, and we all are sinners. Yes, even great men in the Bible were sinners. Abraham and his occasional dishonesty and faithlessness, David and his lustful and murderous attitude, Peter in his violence and lies. The list goes on and on. There is not one natural being in God’s word who was perfect. Perfection belongs to God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Are we better than they? I think not! Hiebert says in Titus and Philemon, “When we recall what ‘we too once were’ (‘we’ emphatic by position), we have reason to be gentle and meek towards the unsaved” (Page 67). Humility is key! God rejects the proud, but he gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5). We did not save ourselves. If we boast, let us boast in Jesus Christ. With that said, we need to practice Colossians 4:5-6 when we approach outsiders, especially. We should speak with grace, seasoned with salt. Yes, repentance is necessary, and if we truly love them, we will encourage them to turn towards God. But we must do this in a way of patience and love, because we too were once controlled by sin, instead of compelled by the love of Christ. We must also apply this to brothers and sisters who are struggling. Help them to fall back in love with Christ, not a religion.
Salvation We Receive in Christ and the Renewal of the Holy Spirit
But when God showed his goodness and loving kindness to us, we were made perfect, even with our imperfections. We transformed from wretched sons of Satan, to precious sons of God. I believe that sometimes we neglect to remember that the one who made every person and everything, considers us to be His children. That’s beautiful, priceless, and only done through grace. God is the only one who can cleanse us of our impurities. We can’t do this ourselves. Should we be lazy, unthankful, or sinful, so that grace may abound? Not at all! We are to present our bodies a living sacrifice; controlled by Jesus’ love! We shouldn’t think we have to earn our salvation. In fact, we shouldn’t think that earning our salvation is even possible. God saved us because He loved us, and wants us to be heirs in His kingdom, and to have eternal life with Him. Ward says in Commentary On 1 & 2 Timothy & Titus, “Two aspects of salvation should be kept in mind. There is the work of Christ, accomplished once and for all on the cross; and there is the human response. The sins of men have been erased, wiped out, obliterated, in two corresponding senses. They have been blotted out- for God (cf Col. 2:14). They can be blotted out- for men. ‘Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out’ (Acts 3:19)” (Page 269).
Our Lord’s grace and mercy saves us through the washing of rebirth and the renewal of the Holy Spirit. We are not saved by baptism, but through the baptism of the Spirit, and in Christ. This baptism of repentance and faith not only cleanses us, but gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit as well (Acts 2:38).
The Holy Spirit constantly renews us and refines us! The Holy Spirit is the agent of our continued sanctification (1 Corinthians 6:11; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2). As long as we walk in the light, and walk in love, God lives in us through the Spirit, and we are perfected in our imperfections. I love 1 John 3:24, “whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.” Also see 1 John 1:7, “but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” In 1 John 5:6 he says, “this is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.” We are now new creatures if we have been baptized into Christ, by His Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13)! Paul says reminds us of that in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”
A minister from the Bethany Bible Church website says in his sermon entitled Heaven’s Citizens on Earth, Titus 3:1-8: A Sermon Message from Bethany Bible Church, “‘Regeneration‘ is something that God does for us only once. It changes our standing before Him forever and makes us brand new creations. But regeneration doesn’t mean we immediately live holy lives. And so Paul says that God also caused us to be saved by the ‘renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior.’ And it’s the indwelling Holy Spirit who enables us to live the life on this earth that pleases Him. You see, you and I do not have the power on our own to live like the kind of good citizens Paul described in verses 1-2. Only Jesus can live a life like that. But God causes the life of Jesus to be lived out progressively and increasingly through us by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. ‘I have been crucified with Christ,‘ Paul said; ‘it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me‘ (Gal. 2:20)”
Arichea and Hatton say in Paul’s Letters to Timothy and to Titus, that you could restructure the words to say “through Jesus Christ our Savior, God poured out abundantly the Holy Spirit on us, so that we might hope to receive eternal life that God has promised us. And we have this hope because, by God’s saving love, He put us into a right relationship with Himself” (Page 305). We come in contact with Christ’s blood in the baptism by the Spirit. The Spirit renews us anytime we stray for as long as we are presenting our bodies a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2). This, of course, isn’t our doing, but God’s. He gives the gift of grace, through Christ. All we do is decide whether or not we are willing to accept it or not. God wants us to be citizens of his eternal kingdom, and heirs, as his children. He does this despite our transgressions.
The Importance of Spreading This Good News
This is the 5th “trustworthy saying” by Paul in the Pastoral Epistles. It is also the final “trustworthy saying” in these books. This saying is the love and kindness of God for us as mankind. The Holy Spirit renews us and makes us a new man. Jesus and His amazing grace is what justifies us; not ourselves. This saying reminds us that through all these things we go through, we have hope of being heirs in a life eternal. We can have confidence in this saying because we know where we are going; whether we die naturally, or by persecution. God is true to His perfect promises!
Paul also wants Titus to remind the church at Crete to be devoted to good works. Faith without works is a dead faith. If we want to live for God, and we want God to live in us, we must be full of loving deeds. “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 John 4:16). If we love, God lives in us! Verse 17 of 1 John 4 says “By this is love perfected in us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.” If God lives in us, we are perfected in our love. If we are perfected in our love, there is no need for fear in the face of judgment. If we have no fear, then we can be confident in anything we do, because we realize we are living for the next life; not this one. Love is the origin of this confidence. Also, Love is how outsiders see God. They see God living in us through love. Having love for each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, and having love for outsiders, is how outsiders see God and know our Father. John 13:35 “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 17:3 “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Guthrie says in Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: The Pastoral Epistles, “The word translated devote (proistamai) usually has the meaning ‘to put before’, which in the middle voice as here means ‘to be forward in’” (Page 219). Paul is stressing Titus to urge the brethren to put good works of love ahead of anything. Both for their own benefits, as well as the hopeful benefit for the outsiders, not only physically, but also spiritually. I believe this should still be a relevant saying even in our generation.
This has become one of my favorite passages, especially while writing this. As I mentioned in the introduction, this passage tells us the Gospel and its power in just six short verses. We talked about how we are all sinners. We have all rebelled against God at some point in our lives, and most likely we struggle intensely. We learned through this text that we should all remember our past struggles, to both encourage us because of our improvements through Christ, and to also humble us while talking to believers or unbelievers who are struggling with sin. We should not show hate to them, but love. We talked about how baptism of the Spirit saves us through faith in Christ. And how once we become baptized, we are anew creature; a spiritual creature; filled with the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit convicts us, but also lives in us to renew us and restore us when we fail. Lastly, we talked about how we should believe in these things, we should have confidence in these things, and we should be inspired and encouraged by these things. We should want that relationship with God, which then influences us to show love to everyone through good works. These are some of Paul’s final words, but in my opinion, these words are also some of Paul’s best. I hope you are as edified as I am by Titus 3:3-8. – Jesse