Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.

TITUS 2:12

The period in which we now live may well go down in history as the Erotic Age. Sex love has been elevated into a cult. Eros has more worshipers among civilized men today than any other god. For millions, the erotic has completely displaced the spiritual!

Contributing factors are the phonograph and radio, which can spread a love song from coast to coast within a matter of days; the motion picture and television, which enable a whole population to feast their eyes on sensuous women and amorous young men locked in passionate embrace (and this in the living rooms of “Christian” homes and before the eyes of innocent children!). Add to these the myriad of shrewdly contrived advertising campaigns which make sex the not too slyly concealed bait to attract buyers for almost every imaginable product; and degraded columnists who have consecrated their lives to the task of the publicizing of soft, slinky nobodies with the faces of angels and the morals of alley cats.

Now if this god Eros would let us Christians alone I for one would let his cult alone for the whole spongy, fetid mess will sink some day under its own weight and become excellent fuel for the fires of hell. But the cult of Eros is seriously affecting the Christian church.

When God’s sheep are in danger the shepherd is morally obliged to grab his weapon and run to their defense. For much of this century timidity disguised as humility has crouched in her corner while the spiritual quality of evangelical Christianity has become progressively worse year by year. How long, O Lord, how long?[1]

Salvation From the Power of Sin

instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, (2:12)

As ultimately important as salvation from the penalty of sin is, Paul’s major emphasis in this passage is on salvation from its power. In Jesus Christ, God’s redeeming grace breaks sin’s power and dominion in our lives and gives us a new nature that desires holiness.

Instructing is from paideuō, which carries the closely related meanings of teaching, training, discipling, educating, and nurturing. It is the term from which we get pedagagy. The subject of instructing is“the grace of God,” which, as has been pointed out, is personified in Jesus Christ, the incarnation of God’s grace, who has appeared and brought salvation (v. 11). Revealed and personified in Christ, God’s sovereign saving grace not only is a deliverer but also a teacher, a guide, a counselor. When we were saved, we immediately came under the tutelage of God through His Holy Spirit and through His Word. “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world,” Paul explained to believers in Corinth, “but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words” (1 Cor. 2:12–13). “We have,” the apostle goes on to say, the very “mind of Christ” (v. 16).

In chapter 3 of his letter to the church at Rome, Paul describes the total depravity of every human being apart from Jesus Christ. Quoting from the Psalms, he says: “There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one” (Rom. 3:10–12; cf. Pss. 14:1–3; 53:1–4). Because of that total bondage to sin, “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (v. 18; cf. Ps. 36:1). “A natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Cor. 2:14, emphasis added).

Paul reminded believers in Ephesus of their former condition of uninterrupted sinfulness, saying, “You were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest” (Eph. 2:1–3). It was only because of God’s “being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, [that He] made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus” (vv. 4–6). The person who “is in Christ, … is a new creature; the old things [have] passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor. 5:17).

As emphasized in two of my books, The Gospel According to Jesus (Zondervan, 1988) and Faith Works (Word, 1993), when a person is genuinely saved, truly converted and given new life in Jesus Christ, there is a transformation not only of nature but of living. It is not possible—as those who oppose what they call “lordship salvation” strongly insist—to be saved from the penalty of sin and not be saved from its power and dominion. Because of a Christian’s new nature and the indwelling Holy Spirit, he simply cannot continue to live in unmitigated sin, bereft of any outward evidence of his new, holy, and righteous nature and of the presence of Christ’s own Holy Spirit within him.

By His divine grace, Jesus Christ completely reprograms our computers, as it were. He throws away the old disks and deletes the previous programs and files—all of which were permeated with errors and destructive “viruses”—and graciously replaces them with His own divine truth and righteousness. “I have been crucified with Christ,” Pau l testified to the churches of Galatia, “and 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 delivered Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20).

Scripture does not teach that sinless perfection is possible in the earthly lives of believers. Although Paul could say sincerely, “I am conscious of nothing against myself,” he immediately went on to say, “yet I am not by this acquitted” (1 Cor. 4:4). He clearly testified that he had not “already become perfect.” But “I press on,” he said, “in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:11–14).

Nevertheless, a person who is divinely born again is no longer under the pervasive dominion of sin and of Satan. He has a radical new nature and is called and enabled to reflect that new nature in a radically new way of living. By the work of God the Father, we “are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). The “grace and truth [that] were realized through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17) during His earthly ministry are to be realized and evident in the lives of those who bear His name and His nature. They have “laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created [them]” (Col. 3:9–10).

Our present earthly life is a time of sanctification, a two-sided process of becoming less and less like our old and sinful self and more and more like our new and Christlike self. “Just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness,” Paul explained to believers in Rome, “so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification” (Rom. 6:19).

Because sanctification is both negative and positive, separating believers from sin and to righteousness, so, therefore, is Christ’s gracious instructing of believers.

Negatively, the Lord instructs us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires. Christ’s own power, through the work of His indwelling Holy Spirit, not only warns us about but enables us to resist and renounce sin. “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts,” Paul admonishes, “and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace” (Rom. 6:12–14).

To deny carries the idea of a conscious, purposeful action of the will. It means to say no. It is to confess and consciously turn away from that which is sinful and destructive and to move toward that which is good and godly. It includes the commitment a believer makes when he first acknowledges his sin and receives Christ as Savior and Lord as well as the countless other decisions he makes to deny and forsake the ungodliness and worldly desires that continue to find their way back into his life.

Those who hold the reductionist notion that a person can be delivered from hell without being delivered from sin contradict the clear teaching of Christ and His apostles. Both John the Baptist and Jesus Himself, the Messiah whom John heralded, began their ministries with calls to repentance (Matt. 3:2, 8, 11; 4:17). In the same way, the first work of the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus would send in His name, would be to convict men of sin (John 16:8). After the promised Spirit had descended at Pentecost, those who heard Peter’s sermon “were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins’ ” (Acts 2:37–38).

Christians do not habitually and continually practice sin, because when a person genuinely believes in Jesus Christ, there is a divinely empowered separation from ungodliness and worldly desires. Ungodliness translates asebeia, which here refers to lack of true reverence for and devotion to God. It is “against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven” (Rom. 1:18). A person whose life is characterized by ungodliness cannot be truly saved, no matter how vocal and orthodox his profession of Christ may be.

The apostle John warns: “Little children, let no one deceive you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He [Christ] is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil. No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God” (1 John 3:7–10).

After giving a long list of “the deeds of the flesh … which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these,” Paul declares “that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God …Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:19–21, 24).

Worldly desires refers to sins that, although we may not actually have committed, we nevertheless long to commit. These desires include all of the countless sinful lusts and cravings that characterize the natural man. They include “youthful lusts” (2 Tim. 2:22), “fleshly lusts” (1 Pet. 2:11), and all other “foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction” (1 Tim. 6:9). When we “walk by the Spirit, [we] will not carry out” the worldly desires “of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16).

On the positive side, Christ graciously instructs us to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age. Having been declared and made righteous by our justification through Christ, and made capable of righteous behavior by our confession and God’s forgiveness of sin, we therefore are to practice righteousness in our sanctification. God has ordained our lives in Christ to be lives of ever increasing righteousness, holiness, and goodness. “As sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 5:21).

Sensibly translates the adverb sōphronōs, which carries the basic idea of having a sound mind. Paul has used other forms of that word four previous times in this letter in referring to a quality that should characterize elders/overseers (1:8), older men (2:2), young women (2:5), and young men (2:6). The Christian who lives sensibly has control over the issues of life. As noted in chapter 3 of this commentary under the discussion of 1:8, the sensible believer does not allow circumstances or the irresponsible influence of others to distract him or affect his own judgment. He not only is careful not to become involved in things that are immoral or unspiritual, but also avoids things that are simply trivial and unproductive. By the enablement and power of the Holy Spirit in his redeemed inner person, he brings the unredeemed flesh under control.

Christ also graciously instructs us to live righteously, faithfully obeying the Word of God, the divine standard of what is right, without reservation. And Christ graciously instructs us to live godly, which has the obvious meaning of close fellowship with our heavenly Father.

Our gracious instruction could be seen as three dimensional. The first, living sensibly, could relate to the divine and continuing change within us. The second, living righteously, connects with our changed relationship toward others, both saved and unsaved. The third, living godly, may refer to our changed relationship to God Himself. We are no longer His enemies but His children. We no longer ignore Him, blaspheme Him, or use His name in vain but instead honor Him in reverent adoration, praise, and worship.

All three of those changes, individually and collectively, give distinct evidence in the present age of our spiritual rebirth. They are living and powerful testimony, within the church and before the world, of the saving and transforming power of Jesus Christ.

For many people, the only inducement to listen to the gospel is seeing its transforming power producing holiness, love, peace, and the other fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23) in the lives of believers. As Paul declares a few verses later in this letter to Titus, divinely transformed lives are genuinely “zealous for good deeds” (2:14). Faithful believers are therefore to be “careful to engage in good deeds,” because “these things are good and profitable for men” (3:8). We are saved in order that God might demonstrate His glorious grace, which produces in us the desire to do what is right and good—thereby giving glory to our Lord and righteously impacting the lives of the unsaved in His name. “For this reason,” Paul explained to Timothy, “I found mercy [salvation], in order that in me as the foremost [of sinners, v. 15], Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience, as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life” (1 Tim. 1:16). As our Lord commands, we are to “let [our] light shine before men in such a way that they may see [our] good works, and glorify [our] Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).

Contrary to the contention of the Pharisees and of most manmade religions, no amount of good works can produce a right relationship with God. It is rather the opposite: only a right relationship with God (secured through personal trust in His Son, Jesus Christ) can produce truly good works. “For by grace you have been saved through faith,” Paul explains in his letter to the church at Ephesus, “and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8–10, emphasis added). The transformed living that the apostle describes in Titus 2:1–10 can only become reality through the divine and gracious work of salvation described in verses 11–14.[2]

2. verse 12 The Grace of God in Christ is
the Wise Pedagogue.

The words which convey this thought are: training us in order that, having renounced ungodliness and those worldly passions, we in the here and now may live lives of self-mastery and fairness and devotion.

Grace trains. See on 1 Tim. 1:20. The verb used in the original is from the same stem as is the noun pedagogue. A pedagogue leads children step by step. Thus, grace, too, gently leads and guides. It does not throw things into confusion. It does not suddenly and forcefully upset the social order. For example, it does not abruptly order masters to free their slaves; nor does it unwisely command slaves to rebel forthwith against their masters. On the contrary, it gradually causes masters to see that the encroachment upon the liberty of their fellows is a great wrong, and it convinces slaves that resort to force and vengeance is not the solution to every problem. Grace trains by teaching (Acts 7:22; 22:3), chastening (1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 2:25; then Luke 23:16, 22; 1 Cor. 11:32; 2 Cor. 6:9; Heb. 12:6–11; Rev. 3:19), counseling, comforting, encouraging, admonishing, guiding, convicting, rewarding, restraining, etc.

The purpose of all this is stated first negatively, then positively (which is a Pauline style-characteristic). Negatively, it induces us to renounce or reject (the verb has here the same meaning as in Acts 3:13; 7:35) ungodliness, impiety, wickedness (see on 2 Tim. 2:16). Study the vivid description of “ungodliness” in Rom. 1:18–32 (note the very word in Rom. 1:18; cf. 11:26). Such ungodliness is idolatry plus immorality, both terms taken in their most comprehensive meaning. When grace takes over, the sinner repudiates ungodliness. This repudiation is a definite act, a decision to give up that which is displeasing to God. No one sleeps his way into heaven. Rejecting ungodliness implies the renunciation of “those worldly passions”—strong, sinful desires—as well. (See word-study of the term passion or desire in connection with the exegesis of 2 Tim. 2:22.) According to scriptural usage, such worldly or sinful desires include the following: inordinate sexual desire, the liquor-mania, excessive yearning for material possessions, self-assertiveness (hence, quarrelsomeness, vanity, the lust to dominate), etc. Briefly, it refers to inordinate longing for pleasure, power, and possessions. See also 1 John 2:16, and on Titus 3:3.

Positively, grace trains us in order that “in the here and now” (this present age; cf. 1 Tim. 6:17; 2 Tim. 4:10; then Rom. 12:2; 1 Cor. 1:20; 2 Cor. 4:4; contrasted with the coming age in Eph. 1:21; cf. Mark 10:30) we may live lives which display a changed relation:

  1. to oneself: “selfmastery,” making the proper use of such desires or drives as are not sinful in themselves, and overcoming those that are sinful;
  2. to the neighbor: “fairness,” honesty, justice, integrity in dealing with others;
  3. to God: “devotion,” godliness, true piety and reverence with respect to him who alone is the proper Object of worship.[3]

12 God’s grace, rather than giving license to unbridled liberty, “teaches” (paideuō, GK 4084; cf. 1 Ti 1:10; 2 Ti 2:25) us, first, “to say ‘No’ to [arneomai, GK 766; unlike the false teachers who deny God by their actions, 1:16; cf. 2 Ti 3:5] ungodliness” (asebeia, GK 813; see 2 Ti 2:16; cf. Ro 1:18; 11:26) in general and to a variety of “worldly passions,” and second, to live in a “self-controlled” (sōphronōs, GK 5407), “upright” (dikaiōs, GK 1469; see esp. 1 Th 2:10), and “godly” (eusebōs, GK 2357; cf. 2 Ti 3:12; see also Tit 1:1) manner in the present age. Development of virtue as the purpose and goal of education (paideia) was common in Greek thought (see the references in Johnson, 241). The difference here is that in Christian teaching, it is not human self-effort but divine grace that enables—even requires—virtuous and godly living (cf. Kelly, 245).

While not advocating asceticism (cf. 1 Ti 4:3–5, 7–8; see also Col 2:16–23—as Marshall, 272, rightly points out, “renouncing of worldliness” is not asceticism), Paul’s call to self-denial (properly understood) and a commitment to a godly, disciplined life is in keeping with Jesus’ teaching that his followers must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow him (e.g., Mk 8:34 par.). The pattern of negative instruction followed by positive exhortation is frequent in Paul’s writings (e.g., Ro 6:5–14; Gal 5:16–26; Col 3:8–14). The triad “self-controlled, upright and godly” may contextualize Christian teaching in a Greek context, in which such virtues were highly prized.[4]

2:12 The same grace that saves us also trains us in the school of holiness. There are “No-No’s” in that school which we must learn to renounce. The first is ungodliness, which means irreligion. The second is worldly lusts—not just sexual sins, but also the lust for wealth, power, pleasure, fame, or anything else that is essentially worldly.

On the positive side, grace teaches us to live soberly, righteously toward others, and godly in the pure light of His presence. These are the virtues that should characterize us in this world, where everything about us is going to be dissolved. It is the place of our pilgrimage and not our final home.[5]

[1] Tozer, A. W., & Smith, G. B. (2015). Evenings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1996). Titus (pp. 112–117). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Pastoral Epistles (Vol. 4, pp. 371–372). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] Köstenberger, A. (2006). Titus. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, pp. 618–619). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[5] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2141). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

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