Many passages of the Bible make clear distinction between grace and works, but maybe non more clearly than Titus 2:11-14. How are we saved? Which comes first grace or works? Christianity clearly teaches that works always come as a consequence of God’s grace and our subsequent faith in Jesus. Eternal life is an unmerited gift that God gives to His kids. The recipients of that gift then respond accordingly with good works.
In Titus 2, Paul writes that the “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people”. God moved first. His grace appeared. How did God’s grace appear? It appeared when Jesus was born in Bethlehem as the incarnate Son of God. That grace became much clearer as Jesus fulfilled God’s law by living a perfect righteous life. In a surprise turn of events, that grace confounded people hen that righteous life was extinguished by a premature death on a Roman cross. Following that horrific death, God’s grace was vindicated as Jesus was raised from the dead.
As Jesus left His apostles, He commissioned them to share this grace with the world. And that same grace is shared with others when the gospel of Jesus is proclaimed. That grace is the good news that Jesus died on the cross in place of sinners, so that men and women could be reconciled to God by faith, completely apart from their good works.
But that divine grace does not stop there. The grace of Jesus’ gospel does not finish its work when a person is saved. No, that grace then gets to work. In fact, Paul says that grace trains “us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions”.
How does grace train us? Grace can be compared to a personal trainer at a gym. What is the trainer’s job? It is their job to whip flabby people into shape. Similarly, the grace of God whips Christians into spiritual shape. It teaches us about the danger and ugliness of sin. It leads us to repudiate the wicked passions that are common in the world.
The consequence is that the message of God’s unmerited favor toward us through Jesus apart from our good works, actually serves to motivate us to do good works. The message of all that God did to save us in Christ is the spur to our sides that gets us moving toward holiness and righteous living. It is not a message of earning. We are not trying to compile a resume of righteous deeds in hopes that God might one day accept us. No! The grace of God has already appeared. It appeared in the person and work of Jesus. We have already received it. And having received it, we are trained by it to live holy and righteous lives.
This means we are not celebrating God’s grace when we live however we want to, doing whatever we want to. A life of lawlessness is not a life that is basking in God’s grace. Just the opposite is true. A life of lawlessness is a proof that a person has not received God’s grace in Jesus. Because, ultimately, God’s grace trains us to be holy.
The implication of this truth is very important. The same grace that saves us, trains us. That means God gets all the glory for our salvation and all the glory for our advancement faith. From beginning to end, God is to be praised!
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
(Titus 2:11-14 ESV)