Insist on These Things (Titus 3:4-8)


For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” – Ephesians 2:10

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We’re about to wrap up the book of Titus. It’s a very short book written by Paul to a pastor he had left to care for the churches on the island of Crete. Titus, like Timothy, was a young associate of Paul’s. Both seem to have been saved as a result of Paul’s preaching. Both assisted Paul in his travels. And later in his ministry, Paul would come to rely heavily on these men to establish the churches that he planted.


Book of Titus


Quick review

Here’s my quick summary of Paul’s letter to Titus. After his opening remarks, Paul tells Titus that church leaders should have good behavior and good doctrine.[1] He says that many people have gone out and taught falsely in Jesus’ name, causing dissension in the church and giving many a false assurance of salvation. They claim to know God but their (bad) works prove they do not. In fact, their evil ways make them unfit for any good work.[2] (Paul didn’t tend to beat around the bush.)

On the other hand, if evil works prove you don't know God, good works show that you do. If those bad actions follow from false teaching, Paul wants Titus to teach his congregation what actions follow from sound doctrine. In short, you’re Christians so act like it. Do good things.[3]

He goes on to give examples of what ‘doing good things that accord with sound doctrine’ looks like for older women, younger women, older men, younger men, slaves, and masters. We are all called to good works, regardless our station in life. Paul calls this “adorning the gospel”, or “adorning sound doctrine”. Our behavior either reflects positively or negatively on Christ and on the good news he brought.[4]

Paul then shares the gospel message of God’s salvation by grace, and says that its result is that it trains us to live like we believe it. He wants the church to walk the talk.[5]

Anthony’s message last week covered the bookends of chapter 3. There, Paul says we are to obey the authorities and generally strive to live like Jesus. In the end he noted that troublemakers of various kinds have caused unproductive divisions within the church and that we ought to have nothing to do with them.


We were saved in order to do good.

In today’s text, Paul continues with the encouragement to do good works. At the end of today’s passage, Paul adds some helpful clarification to help us understand the connection to the other themes in the letter. In verse 8, he says, “In order that believers in your congregation will devote themselves to these good works, I want you to insist on these things.”[6] This is what I’ve chosen for my title this morning: Insist on These Things.

Paul is saying that there are important things that must be stressed if we are to achieve the Godly outcome of good works. These things are found in one long sentence that stretches from verse four through seven.

“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.” – Titus 3:4-7

And, as I previously stated, the next verse is where Paul says he wants Titus to “insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works.

So there’s the core message of chapter 3:  we were saved in order to do good. To understand this properly I’m going to slowly disassemble that phrase.




We who?

Paul was telling Titus what to tell his church. With this in mind, the “we” refers to Christians. From Jesus’ teaching, we’re talking about people who have put their faith in Christ and who follow his commandments[7]. We Christians were saved in order to do good.


Were saved


By whom were we saved?

Who saved us? Look at the language Paul uses.

  • God saved us by his mercy
  • By the actions of Jesus
  • Which the Holy Spirit applied to our lives

Notice the Trinitarian formula Paul has included in this sentence. Many people think that the Trinity isn’t taught in scripture, but right here is overtly Trinitarian language that is easy to miss if you’re not paying attention.

  • God the Father is the instigator
  • Jesus is accomplisher
  • Holy Spirit is applier

This is the pattern throughout scripture. God the Father ordains it, Jesus does it, the Spirit applies it. In this instance, God decreed that he would save us, the son accomplished our salvation, and the spirit applies that salvation to our lives. Christianity is fundamentally Trinitarian. This is sound doctrine. This is a thing we must insist on.


How were we saved

This is where I’ll throw in a fancy theological term: Ordo Salutis. That simply refers to the order in which the components of salvation occur.

Most of us tend to think of salvation as a thing by itself - like an experience, or an event when we are converted. And it may be experienced as that by many, but not by all. And regardless how one experiences it, there is A LOT going on behind the scenes. Conversion is an important part, but it’s not the whole thing. I don’t want to suggest that you need to know this to be saved, but I think it is helpful to understand how the bible talks about salvation.

Paul starts by saying God saved us, then takes out his magnifying glass to see how that happened. By “God saved us” he is not talking about the event at the cross so much as he is talking about the particular moment when we each became aware of and convicted of that truth. That is when God came to us (individually) and saved us (individually) in this context.

Then Paul says we were washed, regenerated and renewed. You may be familiar with songs or bible verses that say God “made us new”, or that he “formed a new heart in us”. These are ways of describing the doctrine of regeneration. Scripture says we were “dead in our sins”[8] and God “made us alive in him”[9]. Jesus had a conversation with Nicodemus about being “born again”[10]. Each of these is talking about regeneration. A heart of stone is turned to a heart of clay[11] - not by my doing, but by the work of God[12].

Once we are regenerated, we are able to respond to God. Formerly we were opposed to him, but after regeneration we were drawn to him. When we respond to the Father’s call, we are converted. This conversion from following self to following Christ means that we are instantaneously justified. By God’s grace we are no longer seen as legally guilty of our sins. God doesn’t forget them, but he no longer holds them against us. In one act, the guilt for our sins is applied to Jesus, and the righteousness that his perfect life attained is applied to us. In a word, we are justified.

Paul says that God justified us so that we could be made part of God’s family for eternity. This isn’t just flowery talk - it’s a vital Christian doctrine called adoption. Beginning very early in the bible we see that Israel was created and chosen by God for a purpose. Those born into the people of Israel were part of God’s salvation plan. As outsiders, we cannot choose our family, but if we are justified we are adopted in to God’s family. No longer are we outsiders or foreigners. Now we are family with equal standing to the Jewish believer. In Romans, Paul talks in terms of the Gentiles being grafted in to the same vine as the Jew[13]. There is no reason left for despair or boasting. The only eternal difference between men is what they did with Jesus. Did they reject him and remain outside for eternity, or did they accept that he was their Lord and their Savior and become grafted in, adopted in to the family?

Lastly, at least in this sentence, Paul alludes to sanctification. This is the process by which we come to be more like Jesus. We love what he loves. We grow in his patience and mercy when dealing with others. We increasingly are offended by what offends him. We increasingly display the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control ). Paul describes this transformation as being conformed into the image of Christ. (Romans 8:29) This process is called sanctification.

These components of regeneration, conversion, justification, adoption, and sanctification are some of the major aspects Paul uses in explaining how we are saved.


In order

But we were not saved for ourselves. Paul says we were saved in order to do good. That doesn’t mean we were saved because we were good. In fact, the seemingly good things we have done did not play any part in our salvation.

How this has been screwed up

This teaching has been distorted and misunderstood a number of ways.


Works as merit

If you’re like me, you’ve probably been confused over this. As a result of the emphasis on grace, it’s possible to take away the message that works are bad. But the bible is loaded with instructions to do good works!  Good works are not bad! In fact, they are expected of the Christian. The misunderstanding is understandable though. A major faction of Jews required circumcision before salvation. Rome required sacraments, allegiance to the Pope, and a complex system of payments to the church before forgiveness was granted and salvation was conferred. Far too many of us today do the same thing when we confuse law and gospel, or works and grace. Works are not the problem. Seeing works as merit is the problem.


Earning salvation

Good works do not save us; that would be merit. Merit implies work that earns us something. Good works do not earn our salvation. We’ve probably all heard that before, but it’s worth repeating. If our behavior got us saved, no one would be saved. God saves us, by himself, by his grace.


Keeping salvation

But even though I know I can’t earn salvation through works, I’ve realized that I have a tendency to think that I keep my salvation through my works. Do I have my quiet time? Do I pray enough? Do I read the bible enough? Do I help the poor enough? Do I attend church enough? Do I fast? Did I lose my temper? Have I done everything I need to do to make God pleased with me? But God does not work that way, and works do not work that way. If our good deeds or obedience kept us saved, no one would stay saved. God upholds our salvation, by himself, without us.


Cause and effect


Works flow from salvation

The other day I was trying to wrestle Mackeson into his car seat. That's not a part of the day that either of us particularly enjoy. Since my mind has been in Titus lately, I invoked Paul and told Mack that he was displaying bad works and he ought to be devoting himself to good works and through his behavior, adorn the doctrine of his father. (This is a true story - feel free to ask Aubrey.)

Mack is young, but we are doing our best to teach him the proper way to behave. Sometimes it goes better than others. Our instruction isn’t a guarantee that he will be a responsible adult, but it is a necessary component of creating a responsible adult.

Good works by us shows to others evidence of God's work in us. When we do good works, it shows other people evidence that God has changed us. Mack doesn't earn my love by behaving and I don’t earn God’s approval by my behavior. But both of us honor our father with our obedience. When we do good deeds, we honor God. These good works do not save us, but they are an indication of salvation.

Good works flow out from good teaching. A believer will do good works, not out of compulsion, but out of love. He wants to express gratitude to his Father. He wants to share the love and grace he has been given with others. It is often second-nature to the Christian because his nature has been changed. But that doesn’t mean it’s all auto-pilot. These works are still things we must do. (Not must in the sense of obligation, but must in the sense that they won’t do themselves!) This is why we have so many reminders in scripture.

  • “Let us not grow weary of doing good” – Galatians 6:9
  • “set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” – 1 Tim 4:12
  • “Show yourself to be a model of good works” – Titus 2:7
  • “insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works” – Titus 3:8

This is not law. The law is a burden. I don’t want to leave you with a burden today! If you leave here feeling like God expects more from you, then I have failed.

Paul calls the law our schoolmaster[14]. It is there to show us the level of perfection that God’s righteousness requires. It shows us how short we fall of God’s grace. That’s why the law must be coupled with the gospel! The gospel says, sure you’ve failed – we all have! But you don’t have to earn your salvation!

The law is a burden, but Jesus said his yoke is easy and his burden is light[15]. This isn’t a message of obligation, but one of freedom. You don’t have to do anything! God has done it all! But still – do good works! You aren’t obligated to do them, you’re free to do them. This passage is a reminder of that. Continue in those good works. Continue to reflect positively upon Christ. Adorn the doctrine. Show Christ and his message to be as good as you know it is.

Also, remember how much you have been forgiven. Our sinful past should not remind us of our failures – it should remind of of God’s goodness. In the words of a great Steven Curtis Chapman song from long ago, “remember your chains”. In reflecting upon the freedom you have, and the debts you’ve been forgiven, how could we not do good works? Would you expect a freed slave to do nothing? Would you think a person whose debt has been eliminated would have no response? Surely a response is appropriate!


To do


Who do?

When we do the good works that we are called to do, there’s an interesting dynamic at work. We do the deeds, and our sanctification ensues, but it is not we who sanctify ourselves.


How do?

God is the one who changes men. We work in the world, but God works in us. As we serve others, he sanctifies us.[16]




What counts as a good deed?

So we’ve established that we are called to do good works.[17] Great. What’s a good work?

I think this is a helpful template from pastor Bryan Wolfmueller. A good work is something that is:

  1. Done in faith in God
  2. Done in obedience
  3. Done for the glory of God
  4. Done for the benefit of my neighbor

I think that grid helps me. Let’s work through them.


Done in Faith in God

The author of Hebrews tells us “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”[18]

The prophet Isaiah said, “we have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.[19]

These are not hope-inspiring passages. If we do not know God and have not been reconciled to him, nothing we do is truly good because it is done while in rebellion to him. The unregenerate man can feed the poor and fight for justice, but if all those involved are opposed to God and destined for hell it’s just rearranging chairs on the Titanic. For our works to be good, we must be saved.


Done in Obedience to God

Good works will be done in obedience to God. Here, Wolfmueller is speaking specifically of the Ten Commandments, but plenty of other biblical teachings bring clarification to this point as well.

If you are helping in a ministry to get closer to a thing or a person that you covet, then regardless how helpful it is you are not doing good because you are coveting.

If you are giving to the church to get the tax deduction or recognition form others, money or reputation may be an idol. If that’s the case, your motivation is something other than God, and what you are doing is not a good work.

If we are disobeying God, our behavior dishonors him.


Done for the Glory of God

Jesus said, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:16

We are created for God’s glory. We are saved for God’s glory. If our motivation is not a response of love of God and thankfulness to him for our forgiveness, then we have a wrong motivation. This is what Paul meant by adorning the gospel. Our works should point to God and reflect well on him. Our works should not glorify us – they should glorify God.


Done for the Benefit of Our Neighbor

When asked for the most important commandment, Jesus said, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” That fits with my last point. He continued by saying, “The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” – Mark 12:30-31

If you’ve gotten past the first three criteria, this one can still catch you.

This one should be fairly obvious. If I give someone money or help them so that they will owe me, I have failed at good works. If I’m hoping that other people notice my gift, that is just as bad. If I give it to them because I am looking to be thanked by them, that’s a problem. When I give, am I really giving for the benefit of my neighbor?

Let’s take a recent and uncomfortable example. Are you condemning the KKK to let people know you’re one of the good guys? Do you feel guilty about your skin color or your economic position? Don’t get me wrong – there are severe and disturbing injustices all around us. But why do we speak up or get involved? Is it because society has informed us what is acceptable, or because we look to a higher standard? Is it because of guilt or because of love?

Truly good works are not for our benefit. They are not to assuage our guilt, to bring us attention, to signal to others that we are good people, to make us feel self-righteous, or anything else that is for us. They are for others. Good works must be for the benefit of our neighbor.


Faith vs. Works?

Hopefully we’re on the same page about works now. They are appropriate, but God is not a scorekeeper. So with that in mind, we can zoom out a bit and get a larger picture of what Paul and others thought about the Christian life.

Once you’re saved, there ought to be a change. We are new creatures[20] with new hearts[21] and new affections[22]. A different person sees life differently and lives life differently[23]. God works in us[24] to bring about this change, but we participate[25] as well. In all of it, the inspiration, the inclination, and the ability to live a holy life comes from God. When describing this process of sanctification, Paul described it as beating his body into submission[26], and pushing forward like a runner completing a race[27]. Only in glory will we be finally and fully sanctified, but the process begins here. God is working on our hearts to point out sin and we do the work of pulling those weeds. Paul calls this “working out our salvation”[28] with the goal of being “conformed to the image of Christ”[29]

I know many of us don’t like hard teachings. We aren’t always comfortable with “do this” / “don’t do that” messages. Many even call that legalism, saying in Christ we are free from the law and free from obligations. I think that is a well-intentioned, but mistaken understanding. Look at Paul’s closing instructions to Titus:  Insist on these things. Insist on sound doctrine, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works.

Paul sees no opposition between God’s grace and our works, when understood correctly. We receive grace and our works change. Many have seen James as disagreeing with Paul, but in fact they are saying the same thing. James says[30] that faith without works is dead – not because doing good is required for salvation, but because the one who is saved will prove it by doing good.

We are saved by grace, through faith.

We are not saved by works, but we are not free from works either.

As long as we tread this earth, you and I do works. Are our works Christ-like or not? Paul’s instruction to Titus assumed that they would be. That’s why he said, “remind them”[31].

Such Were Some of You

Notice also that Paul, Titus, and the rest of the church all the way down to you and me were not always this way. Read v3 again: “For we were once…”. In another letter, he says “for such were some of you[32]. We were once one way, but then God’s grace entered the equation and we were changed. We were one way, but now we are different[33].

  • We. Were. Once.
  • That means formerly.
  • Before Christ.
  • But now, no longer.

Do you remember your chains? Do you remember how you used to be? How we all used to be? We acted that way because of the false beliefs we held. But now that we know the truth, we act differently. There is a direct link between doctrine and behavior. You cannot disconnect beliefs from character.

Sure, we sin sometimes, but we ought to be sinning less than before. If not, something is wrong.

Of course we still sin[34], but sin no longer defines us[35]

Look at some of the things Paul says we once were[36]:

  • Foolish
  • Disobedient
  • Stray
  • Slaves to passions and pleasures
  • Full of malice, envy and hate
  • Sexually immoral
  • Thieves
  • Greedy
  • Drunkards

This is the list that he says will not inherit the kingdom of God[37]. He says that’s how we once were, but we are no longer. Like I said, it’s not that our sin is eradicated, it’s understanding the difference between committing a sin and being enslaved to a sin. Do you grieve over your sins, or do your sins define you? People should never see us and think “liar”, “cheat”, “drunk”, “disobedient”, etc. As Scott Norris said three weeks ago, the world should have nothing evil to say about us[38]. If any of these do apply to us, we have cause for grave concern, and we would do well to spend some time considering who or what our behavior shows to be lord of our lives.



Hopefully this morning, I have insisted on these things that Paul instructed, so that those of you who have believed in God may be careful to devote yourselves to good works. Not because of duty. Not because of guilt. Not because you must work to earn your salvation or work to keep your salvation. Do it because you can. You've been given the freedom to do so. Because the Trinity - the godhead working together - has called you, regenerated you, justified you, and adopted you so that you might not only tell others about God, but show them something about him as well, and in doing so that you might be sanctified by God as you work out your own salvation.















[1] Titus 1:6-9



[2] Titus 1:10-16



[3] Titus 2:1



[4] Titus 2:2-10



[5] Titus 2:11-15



[6] Titus 3:8



[7] John 8:31, 14:15; 1 John 2:4



[8] Ephesians 2:1



[9] Colossians 2:13



[10] John 3:3



[11] Ezekiel 36:26



[12] Titus 3:5



[13] Romans 11:11-24



[14] Galatians 3:24



[15] Matthew 11:30



[16] Philippians 2:12-13



[17] Titus 3:8



[18] Hebrews 11:6



[19] Isaiah 64:6



[20] 2 Corinthians 5:17



[21] Ezekiel 36:26; Romans 2:15, 29, 6:4; 2 Corinthians 3:3



[22] Colossians 3:9; Ephesians 4:24



[23] Romans 8:29



[24] John 17:17; Hebrews 10:10; Philippians 1:6



[25] 1 Peter 1:15; Hebrews 12:14



[26] 1 Corinthians 9:27



[27] 1 Corinthians 9:24



[28] Philippians 2:12-13



[29] Romans 8:29



[30] James 2:14-26



[31] Titus 3:!



[32] 1 Corintians 6:11



[33] Titus 3:3-7; Ephesians 2:1-10



[34] 1 John 1:8-10



[35] Romans 6



[36] Titus 3:3; 1 Corinthians 6:11



[37] 1 Corinthians 6:9



[38] Titus 2:8