Click here for the reading: Titus 3:4-7.
Paul urges Titus to teach those under his charge to walk in good works. After all, we were once fools and slaves to our passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice, envy, and hatred. Now, however, we belong to Christ. What reasons do people give for doing good works? Do those reasons lead to misunderstanding the Gospel? What reasons do they give for not doing good works or for deemphasizing them? What reasons does Psalm 119 give for walking in good works?
The goodness and kindness of God appeared while we were still in our former lives. Jesus Christ is God’s supreme example of philanthropy, which is the word used in the Greek text. Just as the natives showed kindness to Paul in Acts 28 by lighting a fire for him, the Lord showed us kindness by sending us His Son, welcoming us into the Church. Since we normally associate philanthropy with secular virtue, how does Jesus serve as the supreme example of virtues found in the world? How does the Father sending the Son teach us to walk in kindness toward others? Compare how Paul speaks of God’s kindness in Ephesians 2:1-10.
Salvation, as Paul notes here and elsewhere, is not a matter of our works, but a matter of what God has done for us. Paul emphasizes this point so often in the epistles that it’s easy to overlook it. As Paul noted above, we formerly walked in sin, not in righteousness. Why then does he speak of works and righteousness here? Who is he speaking against? Why does that matter? How do we fall into a similar trap when thinking about righteousness and salvation? After talking about the sins of the world, who is Paul addressing in Romans 2?
God’s mercy expresses itself in a concrete way. Through Jesus Christ, we have received the Holy Spirit. In Baptism, the Holy Spirit regenerates and transforms us, so that we are no longer what we once were. Thus, the Holy Spirit, possessed by few in the time of the Old Testament, becomes the common gift of all Christians through God’s rich mercy. Why should we emphasize the Holy Spirit in connection with Baptism? What is the relationship of each Trinitarian Person to Baptism? How does the gift of the Holy Spirit show God’s mercy toward us? How does the promise of the Spirit in John 14 illuminate this passage in Titus?
Having been washed and renewed through the Holy Spirit, we are justified before God and made heirs of eternal life. Our salvation thus looks forward to the promise of something far greater. God transforms us now to prepare us for what He will do in the age to come. In what ways do some people emphasize either the present or the future reality of salvation over the other? What are the dangers of this one-sided emphasis? How does the birth of Christ, celebrated today, emphasize both? Consider what Paul says about being heirs with Christ in Romans 8.