Phil Johnson at Shepherd’s Conference 2012 – The Lessons of Grace

Titus 2:11-15

A few highlights from Phil Johnson’s message with extensive notes below the video:

  • But, just as emphatically, I despise the common evangelical tendency to write off as legalistic every call for obedience and every summons to holiness as if grace were a sanction for disobedience and immorality and as if the Gospel gave us license to continue in sin that grace might increase. May it never be, Paul said. How shall we, who are dead to sin, still live in it?
  • …it is a serious blunder, also condemned in the strongest possible terms by the apostle Paul, to imagine that the Gospel disagrees with the moral standards that are set by the law. To think that justification by faith eliminates the need for obedience or to think that the perfect freedom of God’s grace gives license for unholy living. All of those things are errors as profound as legalism. Good works and obedience to God’s commands and encouragements and admonitions to be holy; those things are necessary aspects of the christian life. Not necessary in the way the legalists suggest, to earn favor with God. In fact, our works are worthless, totally impotent for that purpose.
  • But, obedience is the natural and inevitable and essential expression of love for Christ and gratitude for His grace and this is the chief, practical lesson we learn from the principle of grace. Grace compels us to love and good works. Grace constrains us to renounce sin and to pursue righteousness.
  • …the Gospel is more excellent than the law, but the two do not disagree when it comes to the moral standard. Believing the Gospel sets us free from the law’s condemnation, but it does not release us from the moral standard set by the law.
  • But if we properly understand the principles of sola fide, it should make us zealous for good works, earnest in the pursuit of holiness, eager to obey the Lord’s commands. We don’t need to be the least bit hesitant to provoke one another to love and good works. If you are hesitant like that, especially in your preaching… shame on you.
  • Paul’s point is that the vital, practical duties of holiness and obedience are in perfect accord with sound doctrine. And calls to obedience and exhortations to virtue are not inconsistent with the doctrines of grace, much less are they opposed to grace.
  • The distinction between law and grace has nothing to do with the commandments or the moral content of the law. What grace eliminates and overturns are the law’s curses. As far as the moral imperatives of the law are concerned, grace is in full agreement.

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Phil Johnson at Shepherd’s Conference 2012, posted with vodpod

Notes from Phil Johnson’s message:

Just 3 years ago I spoke from verses 7 and 8 of Titus 2; that’s where Paul tells Titus:

Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.

That message was titled Sound Words, Sound Doctrine”. It was a plea for purity in doctrine and dignity and soundness in our speech, both words and conduct that are beyond reproach.  That was the example Paul was urging Titus to model for the young men in his flock. In Paul’s time, as now, adolescent males were especially prone to bad language and unhealthy companionships and raunchy jokes and undignified conversation about  indecent subject matter and things like that in a similar vein and those things were undermining the church’s testimony in Crete and it seems that the chief culprits were immature young men. Cretan bad boys. Vulgar talk was then, as it is now, the common tendency of adolescent boys. And not just lewd language but also salacious subject matter and boorish behavior and those are today even, in our culture the main features of typical male adolescent misbehavior.

Unless you’ve been sleepwalking through the past decade, you know that those very same characteristics have become common badges of identity among certain celebrity mega church pastors and their acolytes. My point 3 years ago was that the drift of the evangelical movement is the exact antithesis of what Paul is calling for in this chapter. Worst of all, the problem begins too often in the pulpit.

There has been no end in the media, about evangelical preachers who purposefully use profane language, their sermon series relentlessly exploit risqué, sexually oriented subject matter. They do advertising that is deliberately designed to be suggestive. It is a nationwide problem. Literally, hundreds of churches have been sending out tasteless publicity for sermon series after sermon series on sex.  Honestly, I think it has gotten worst in the last 3 years.

In the current climate of evangelicalism you can’t even whisper a word of disapproval about that without someone, somewhere labeling you as a legalist. If you dare to suggest that Christians should not be trying so hard to please this world’s elite, but instead we ought to cultivate sobriety and godliness and righteousness, a chorus of angry voices will rise up to explain to you that all of this is necessary. It’s what contextualization demands. And it’s the only alternative to the world’s obsession with sex and perversion and so christians need to talk about such things almost non stop in Jesus’ name.

Legalism has become the all purpose evangelical retort to any mention of hones and obedience or good works. And it’s a potent „scare” word and legitimately so. I don’t want to be a legalist. I hate legalism. Legalism as defined in Galatians 5:1 is the error of abandoning our liberty in Christ in order to take on a yoke of legal bondage. To the legalist, good works are necessary to earn God’s favor. And I have no sympathy for those who believe that a person with the weakest conscience or the Bible College with the strictest rules should get to define holiness for everyone. I’m quite happy to let scriptures set the parameters of sanctification. And where scripture is silent, I think we should be too.

The principles of Romans 14 are sufficient to cover questions the scripture doesn’t answer either expressly or by giving us clear principles that may be deduced by good and necessary consequence. Where scripture speaks, in either way, explicitly or implicitly, we need to obey scripture. But, beyond that, we should just shut up. I explore every hint of legalism and I want to make that clear.

But, just as emphatically, I despise the common evangelical tendency to write off as legalistic every call for obedience and every summons to holiness as if grace were a sanction for disobedience and immorality and as if the Gospel gave us license to continue in sin that grace might increase. May it never be, Paul said. How shall we, who are dead to sin, still live in it?

The line of demarcation between Gospel and law is absolutely vital and you will never hear me say otherwise. One of the great advances of the Protestant Reformation came in the way Martin Luther stressed the distinction between law and Gospel. Law is not Gospel and vice versa. And I appreciate those who labor to differentiate between the two. There is hardly any more theological distinction and let me say once more with emphasis: To confound law and Gospel is no small error. It’s an easy error to make and let’s be candid. There seems to be something in the fallen human heart that makes us prone to that kind of error. It’s the error that lies at the heart of every kind of legalism and I think it’s a tendency of every fallen human heart to default towards legalism and it’s right that we should resist that tendency. Galatians 5 urges us to resist that tendency. There is no more deadly blunder in all of theology than to confound law and Gospel.

Some of the strongest words of condemnation anywhere in the New Testament were aimed at those who supplanted Gospel promises with legal demands (Galatians 1:6-9). So are we clear on this? I hate legalism with a holy passion. However, it is a serious blunder also condemned in the strongest possible terms by the apostle Paul, to imagine that the Gospel disagrees with the moral standards that are set by the law. To think that justification by faith eliminates the need for obedience or to think that the perfect freedom of God’s grace gives license for unholy living. All of those things are errors as profound as legalism.

Good works and obedience to God’s commands and encouragements and admonitions to be holy; those things are necessary aspects of the christian life. Not necessary in the way the legalists suggest, to earn favor with God. In fact, our works are worthless, totally impotent for that purpose. But, obedience is the natural and inevitable and essential expression of love for Christ and gratitude for His grace and this is the chief, practical lesson we learn from the principle of grace. Grace compels us to love and good works. Grace constrains us to renounce sin and to pursue righteousness.

Listen, the Gospel is more excellent than the law, but the two do not disagree when it comes to the moral standard. Believing the Gospel sets us free from the law’s condemnation, but it does not release us from the moral standard set by the law.Or, to say it another way, the principle of sola fide, justification by faith alone, that principle is not hostile to good works. The Gospel puts good works in their proper place . But if we properly understand the principles of sola fide, it should make us zealous for good works, earnest in the pursuit of holiness, eager to obey the Lord’s commands. We don’t need to be the least bit hesitant to provoke one another to love and good works. If you are hesitant like that, especially in your preaching, shame on you.

Titus 2:11-15

Listen to the texts with these questions in mind: What lessons do I learn from the biblical understanding of  grace? What is grace supposed to be teaching us? In all our talk about grace saturated, Gospel focused, Christ centered ministry, have we actually understood grace properly? Or have we unwittingly fallen in step with ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness? And, are we as pastors doing a good job in instructing our people in the true lessons of grace?

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13  waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our greatGod and Savior Jesus Christ, 14  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.

15 Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.

Let’s start with the context and the circumstances that prompted this epistle. Paul is writing to Titus, whom he has left in Crete so that Titus could set in order what remained and appoint elders in every city and it’s Titus’ job to identify and train and appoint these men. Paul sends Titus a short list of qualifications for the men he is to appoint as elders in the churches and it’s essentially identical to the list given in 1 Timothy 3. The central principle, of course, is that leaders in the church are God’s stewards and therefore they are to be morally and reputationally above reproach. Paul reiterates that same expression twice, at the start of his list in Titus 1:6 and again in verse 7 and then he follows with a list of specifics that spell out what it means to be above reproach.

Now notice except for the ability to teach, which is a gift that is absolutely necessary for the calling of an elder, the requirement Paul names are not skills and talents. They’re character qualities and all of them have to do with maturity, self control, moral rectitude, character qualities. This is the kind of man who is qualified to lead the church. The type of person Titus was to appoint is a man of character, not a guy with a huge ego or a gift for being glib. There’s nothing here about appealing to one generation or another, nor artistic ability, educational degrees, political correctness, business acumen, clothing style, cleverness and creativity, or his knowledge of popular culture. In other words, none of the things churches today tend to weigh heavily when looking for a pastor. None of those things are part of Paul’s list, but the elders Titus was to train and ordain simply needed to be mature, Godly, disciplined men, able to handle the word of God accurately and to teach the truth of God’s word to others.

If you grasp what God is saying here and just compare it to 21st century evangelical culture, it ought to cause a bit of cognitive dissonance because the strategy Paul is telling Titus to use in church planting enterprise today is nothing at all like today’s church planting organizations say is necessary. I cannot imagine that Titus read this epistle and took Paul to mean that he needed to start teaching classes on contextualization, or sponsoring sex seminars or staging symposiums on innovation or church marketing, or offering courses on leadership that are borrowed from the latest works of whoever the 1st century equivalent of Peter Drucker might have been. It has always mystified me how so many church leaders today can read what is published by church growth gurus and ministry philosophy experts and not see the glaring discrepancies between what the apostle Paul commanded and what is actually being done in mainstream evangelical church leadership, in the megachurch fringe, especially.

The greatest threats to the Gospel today are not government policies that undermine our values or tighten down our freedom; it’s not secular beliefs that attack our confessions of faith. It’s not even atheists who deny our God, but the greatest enemies of the Gospel today are worldly churches and hireling shepherds who trivialize christianity. And that’s not a new problem. It was true even in the apostolic times. In the very earliest churches in Philippians 3:18-19 the apostle Paul wrote: 

18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19  Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.

One of the chief characteristics Paul named of these enemies of the cross, enemies of authentic grace was that they set their minds on earthly things. They perverted the grace of our God into sensuality. Those are Paul’s words, not mine. They twisted the idea of christian liberty into an opportunity to gratify the flesh. They used their freedom as a coverup for evil and in the process, they trivialized the cross, they corrupted the idea of grace and they perverted the Gospel. None of the apostles were the least bit squeamish when it came to calling them out, nor should we be.

Here in our text, Paul actually employs the principle of grace itself to refute such a trivialized, worldly, lawless notion of religion. He says the true lesson we learn from grace, fly in the face of everything that is shallow or worldly or unrighteous or disobedient or even merely passive in that – deeper life, let go and let God, quietistic sense. Real grace teaches nothing like that. As a matter of fact, Paul is admonishing Titus not to give in to the trends of secular Cretan culture. Chapter 1:12 Paul says: Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons, which probably wasn’t a politically correct thing to say even then. But Paul adds, emphatically: This testimony is true, therefore rebuke them sharply that they may be sound in the faith.

He was telling Titus that the church is to be counterculture, resistant to the evils and character flaws of our society. Church leaders are not supposed to be obsessed with gaining accolades and admiration from the world. Instead Paul says in chap. 2:1 Teach what accords with sound doctrine, and he goes on to give a series of commands for specific categories of people in the church: older men (v 2), older women likewise (v 3), young women (v 4), younger men (v 6), and even slaves (v 9). And Titus is the missionary church planting pastor and he is given a particular directive in all respects (v 7), be a model of good works, especially for the sake of those young men who represent future leaders in the church.

Notice in v 1 it mentions what accords with sound doctrine and then Paul goes on to itemize a short list of things we would probably label: practical duties rather than the types of things we would designate doctrinal truths. One of Paul’s main points here is that he does not want Titus to spend all his time teaching doctrine as theory; focusing only on objective, biblical, historical and theological content at the expense of the exhorting the church to obedience and practical holiness.

Let’s be honest. One of the peculiar failings in some of our Reformed and calvinistic churches is just that. We tend to take a didactic approach that is heavy on material truth and objective doctrine and history lectures and things like that, sometimes without ever getting around to practical exhortation.

Paul’s point is that the vital, practical duties of holiness and obedience are in perfect accord with sound doctrine. And calls to obedience and exhortations to virtue are not inconsistent with the doctrines of grace, much less are they opposed to grace. In the words of v. 10, what Paul has outlined in this chapter are actions and character qualities that adorn the doctrines of God, our Savior.  These are things that will make the teaching about God, our SAvior, attractive. Not attractive in the sense that they turn the story into a message that the world would like. The Gospel is still a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles and Christ Himself is still a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense and His warning in John 15:18-20 still holds true:

If the world hates you, know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own, but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you and a servant is not greater than its master.

So in the words of 1 John 3:13: Do not be surprised brothers, if the world hates you. You can’t change that and be faithful. Stop trying so hard to win the world’s affections. And yet, authentic virtue is attractive, in the sense that it captures the attention of the world and it gives our message an undeniable measure of credibility. In that sense, the cultivation of basic virtue is a thousand times more attractive than any currently popular brand of stylish evangelicalism, hipster religion or postmodern contextualization. That is the apostle Paul’s strategy for reaching a hostile culture. What intrigues me is how he uses the principle of grace to make his point, in contrast to those who want to turn grace into licentiousness. Paul says the biblical principle of grace teaches us something  entirely different. In fact, I see 3 distinct lessons Paul says we can learn from grace and they all have to do with how we live. In other words they are practical, not theoretical lessons. All 3 lessons give us instructions and incentives for righteous living and obedience to the Lordhsip of Christ. And that, Paul says, is what grace ought to produce.Not a lax attitude about virtue and vice, not a casual acceptance of worldly values, but the exact opposite. The real fruit of divine grace is a holy life.

The 3 lessons grace teaches us are outlined for us in verse 12 and 13, but before we zero in on those 2 verses just pay attention to the structure of the larger passage that I read, starting in v. 11. Did you notice the 2 occurrences of the word „appear”?

11 For the grace of God has appeared and 13  waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our greatGod and Savior Jesus Christ

It’s the same basic root word in Greek, just like in English and it has the connotation of brightness, literally to shine forth or to be brought to light. Those 2 words, if you think what he is saying there, those 2 words point to the 2 advents of Jesus Christ. In verse 11, „the grace of God has appeared”, how specifically? In the incarnation and ministry of Christ. (John 1:7). It’s important to stress, what John meant when he wrote that. He was not suggesting that the old covenant was devoid of grace, that Christ introduced grace for the first time. He wasn’t saying that grace is something  new that Christ brought at His first advent. He simply means that Christ is the embodiment of divine grace.

Moses, on the one hand is the lawgiver. Jesus, on the other hand, is the source and the living representative of God’s grace. Law was the dominant feature of the Mosaic covenant. Grace and truth are the dominant features of the new covenant (John 1:14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. Moses was the representative and the instrument through whom the law was handed down on stone tablets, in concrete form. Christ is the person in whom grace and truth are incarnated, in concrete form. But Moses and Christ are not adversaries. John isn’t suggesting that.

Quite the contrary. Christ came as the fulfillment of everything Moses ever wrote about and that includes the law. Grace fulfills the law. It does not overthrow it. Jesus Himself said that at His sermon on the mount. Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. And so, grace appeared in a unique and definitive way through the incarnation and the atoning work of Christ and Paul refers to this once more in Titus 3:4-5. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 

There’s that word „appearing” again, and this is a reference to the first advent.  But in Titus 2:13 , the second time that word appears in our passage, it’s a reference to the second advent of Christ. The way Paul words this statement is instructive. This is a reference to 1 person, not 2: Our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. It’s an affirmation of the deity of Christ. It is an exact parallel form of expression to the one found at the end of verse 10: God our Savior. Jesus Christ is both our God and our Savior and it is His appearing in glory that we await.

Meanwhile, you and I live between those two appearings, the advents of Christ. At the end of verse 12 Paul refers to this time span between the 2 advents of Christ as „the present age” and so he points us to the past, first of all, when the grace of God appeared- the historical event of the incarnation of Christ. He wants us to live in the present age, exemplifying the virtues of grace in the hectic here and now and he also wants us to keep an eye expectantly on the future, as we wait for our blessed hope, the return of God, our Savior in His full resplendence, which will be the final culmination of both grace and glory.

In other words, there are past, present and future dimensions to grace and the present dimension is actually the main focus of our text. He wants us to live in the present, while we live between these 2 advents. Grace takes us to school. This whole present age is the school of grace. I see 3 main lessons grace teaches us. They’re all hard lessons because they run contrary to the natural tendencies of our fallen flesh and we have to keep relearning these lessons daily :

(1) Grace trains us to repudiate the works of the flesh.
That is the 1st lesson we learn under grace as our instructor: to say no to ungodliness and worldly lusts.(v 11-12) 11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, Obviously this text is not saying that grace brings salvation to each and every person who ever lives as Jesus has repeatedly and expressly taught that the „gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction and those who enter it are many”. Lots of people are going to be lost and Jesus’ description of the final judgement always included urgent warnings that many in those days will be told, „Depart from me…” So Titus 2 cannot be teaching any doctrine of universal salvation. „Salvation to all people” has to be read in its own context. Who are the ‘all people’? Notice the conjunction for, at the beginning of the verse. That ties the statement to what preceded it and what preceded it is that long list of people categories: older men, older women, young women, younger men and slaves. All these people are being trained to renounce ungodliness and worldly lusts. It’s not (about) ‘all’ people but ‘all kinds’ of people. To repudiate: the Greek word is to deny, to disavow and it’s a strong word like repudiate but not as strong as Paul occasionally used elsewhere – ‘mortify’ (Romans 8:13) put to death the deeds of the flesh (Colossians 3:5) put to death what is earthly in you. Galatians 5:24 – Crucify the flesh with its passions and desires.

How forcefully should we repudiate those things? It’s what repentance is all about. It’s the total, unconditional renunciation and disavowal of fleshly works and worldly desires. THIS IS NOT OPTIONAL. The notion that repentance is optional is the very same lie that was at the heart of the lordship controversy. No lordship doctrine is found mainly in old school dispensationalist circles, but it is a close cousin to a type of thinking that is currently gaining popularity in certain segments of the contemporary Reformed community. The idea is that you have to be careful about calling people to obedience. Every demand for obedience and every appeal for holiness, some would tell you that’s by definition legalistic, moralistic. Those things are to be avoided as if calling people to obedience is a serious threat to the Gospel and to the principle of grace.

If you are alert to what has been happening in the evangelical conversation recently, you know that there is a lot of discussion and debate currently taking place over some of the very same questions we are dealing with here. On the Gospel Coalition website, for example, Kevin DeYoung and Tullian Tchividjian had a friendly and protracted debate on the question of what is the proper motive for obedience? Is sanctification rooted in the Gospel in the doctrine of justification by faith or is the ground of our sanctification ‘union with Christ’? We all understand, I hope, that sanctification is neither effortless, nor automatic. And yet, we also realize that ‘It’s no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God. So, this is a troubling question. What role does my effort play in the process of my sanctification? It’s a fruitful discussion, you should read it. Over at the Reformation21 blog William Evans and Sean Lucas have had a similar exchange of arguments dealing with some similar questions.

How are the commands of the New Testament? The imperatives to be preached in light of the promises of the Gospel, the indicatives? Is it legalistic to stress the imperatives without giving even more stress to the indicatives? Is every appeal for true piety rooted in pietism? And which is the more imminent danger facing the church today? Pietism or antinomianism? Because truthfully, they both are a threat. Those are not easy questions to answer well. There are valid points to be made on both sides of that discussion. This, I think, is one of those debates where the right perspective is ‘both and’ rather than ‘either or’. Both neonomian legalism and antinomian libertinism, both of them are serious Gospel corrupting errors. Both of them stem from a deficient understanding of grace and we ought to avoid them both.

If every appeal for holiness sounds (to you) like legalism, you’ve got a problem. On the other hand, if you think that the only remedy  for defeat in the christian life is to just double down and work harder at achieving holiness, then you’ve got a problem too. Above all, you have a skewed view of grace if you think:

  •  grace eliminates any need for holiness
  • grace simply overthrows righteousness in favor of a free and easy forgiveness

…and whether you think that brand of so called free grace sounds dangerous or you think it sounds fun, if you think grace renders moot all moral duty, you don’t understand grace at all.

Contemporary evangelicals are dangerously susceptible to both: legalism and license because evangelicals have been toying with superficial understandings of grace for generations. The problem goes back, I think, more than a century. Grace was first degraded to be just an escape hatch from hell. And then it was portrayed as a means of personal fulfillment. And nowadays, grace is generally perceived as a principle that nullifies the need to be or do right.

Perhaps some of you think that’s what grace is: a principle that nullifies our need to do or be right and I;m tempted to say – That may be the dominant idea in the contemporary evangelical attitude towards sanctification. You know, because we’re under grace we don’t have to worry about doing right. You’re too troubled about sanctification and that concern you have about holiness is simply a form of legalism. That is a flat out lie.  And it is emphatically refuted by the apostle Paul right here. „The grace of God teaches us to renounce ungodliness”. Now notice, this first lesson alone makes a stark contrast  to the conventional notion of grace. Grace is not  syrupy sentiment that makes us always passive and positive. Grace is dynamic. It is the active expression of God’s favor. It is undeserved favor, more than it is the exact opposite of what we do deserve. But, it is a potent, powerful force. By grace, God lays hold of undeserving sinners. He unites them spiritually with Christ. He clothes them in His own righteousness. He awakens their dead souls. He removes their stony hearts and He gives them a tender heart of flesh and then He blesses them with every spiritual blessing. That’s dynamic.

And the very first response grace elicits from the regenerate heart is a negative confession. We renounce ungodliness and worldly passions. In other words, the first motion of our repentance is a gift from God; it’s a work of grace. Every aspect of authentic repentance is motivated and energized by grace. The person who has not repented has not received the grace of God. We speak of irresistible grace. I like that expression because it conveys the sense that grace is dynamic, it’s not passive. But, it’s also subject to misunderstanding. When you say grace is irresistible, some people think you mean God employs some kind of coercion or force, or He puts us under duress, like dragging us and arm twisting us to Christ. That’s not what irresistible grace means.

Grace is irresistible in the same sense I find my wife irresistible. Not that she threatens and forces me to bend to her will, but it means that I am captivated in a very positive way by her inherent appeal. I find her irresistible. In a similar, but even more profound way, divine grace draws us to Christ by attraction, not by constraint. And, if you’ve been drawn to Christ by grace, if you truly love Him you will hate everything that opposes Him. And that is how the same grace that draws us to Christ teaches us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions. I think this is the same truth Paul has in mind in Romans 2:4 when he says that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance and we do that on a daily basis.

In the famous words of Martin Luther from the first of his 95 thesis: When our Lord and master, Jesus Christ said, „Repent”, He called for the entire life of the believer’s to be one of repentance.  It is grace, properly understood that instructs us to repent at the beginning of our christian life and then prompts and energizes daily repentance from then on.

(2) Grace teaches us to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit

Second lesson of grace. Second half of verse 12: Grace trains us to live (a)self controlled, (b)upright and (c)Godly lives in the present day. Did you notice the 3 fold stress on the sobriety, righteousness and Godliness?

(a)The first word is from a Greek word that refers to ‘soundness of mind’ and it’s connotation is self control and moderation. The idea is not merely temperance and moderation, but wisdom and prudence and circumspection, clarity of mind. It is describing a virtue whose chief benefit accrues to the individual himself. Grace trains us to be clear headed and to exercise cautious self control.

(b)The second term describes a virtue that describes our relationship with others. Grace trains us to live righteously. This covers every dimension of righteousness, both practical and forensic. But, because the context clearly is about how we live our lives, I think the stress here is on our dealings with our fellow human beings. Upright living is the fruit of grace’s training.

(c)And then, the 3rd term- Godly by definition has a Godward focus and so grace teaches us our duty with respect to God, with respect to our neighbor, and with respect to ourselves. This third word – Godly, is an adjective that means pious. The Greek word is etymologically the exact opposite of the word translated ‘ungodliness’, earlier in the verse.  Godliness and ungodliness, they are negative and positive forms of the same word root. Grace  teaches us to shun impiety and to live piously. This is all very simple and straightforward. Paul is not giving Titus some mysterious and complex idea. It is quite simple. Grace, authentic, Biblical grace, not the shabby, modern, evangelical substitute but the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ teaches us to repudiate the works of the flesh and to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit. Same idea Paul teaches in Galatians 5: You know if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Now, of course believers are not under the law. What Paul is doing in Galatians 5 is making a clear contrast between what the flesh produces under the yoke of the law versus what the Holy Spirit produces in us through the liberty of grace. Just listen to the contrast. Notice that the only commodity our fallen flesh can produce is corrupt works. But the Spirit’s work in us is called fruit, because fruit is actually the result of life. It’s nothing like a work. And the fruit of the Spirit is entirely virtuous.

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality… and he names them all. Those are the very things, by the way that Titus 2:12 is urging us to repudiate worldliness and ungodly passions. Now here are the things we are to cultivate. The fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control and again, notice this, how he ends that list. Paul says, „Against such things, theree is no law”.  Again, law and grace are distinct but they are not in disagreement.

And Paul goes on in Galatians 5:24 to say this: Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and its desires. In other words, what defines us as christians is this very thing. We do repudiate the works of the flesh and grace, not the law is what trains and motivates and empowers us to do this. At the same time, grace teaches us to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit.

(3) Grace teaches us to anticipate the blessedness of eternity

Here is the key distinction between law and grace. For any thoughtful, self aware, honest worshipper, the effect of the law alone, apart from grace is sheer terror because we are sinners and the law threatens sinners with absolute destruction. But grace tells us something different. Grace fills us with expectation and anticipation for blessings that will last eternally. Verse 13: Waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. In short, the eschatology of grace is different from the eschatology of law. Where the law announces condemnation  and swears eternal vengeance, grace at that very point, pronounces a blessing and promises an eternal reward. That’s where grace and law differ.

Grace teaches us then to live in the light of that hope and all the lessons grace teaches us are incentives for holiness: our hatred of unrighteousness, the debt we owe to Christ’s righteousness, the reward we are promised in eternity, all of these things are incentives for us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions and to live soberly, righteously and Godly in this present age. And notice, this was Christ’s own aim in redeeming us in the first place, Verse 14- He 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.

Now, don’t tell me there is anything inherently legalistic about being zealous for good works. And, don’t tell me grace rules out any kind of good works. Zeal for good works is the ultimate objective of grace. Now, bear in mind this passage covers all tenses and all perspectives: past, present and future; self, others and God. In every respect except one, the lessons of grace are in perfect agreement with what the law tells us. They say the same thing.

  • Both law and grace say that we should renounce ungodliness and passions.
  • Both law and grace say we should live self controlled, upright and Godly lives in the present age
  • Both law and grace humble us and show us the virtues of self control.
  • Both law and grace say we should live righteously and love our neighbor as we love ourselves
  • Both law and grace instruct us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength

In every respect, grace is in agreement with the commands and the directives of the eternal moral law of God. Do not ever entertain the thought that the law and grace, or the law and Gospel contradict one another.

But, there is this one vital distinction between law and grace and the difference lies in this third lesson. The law threatens us with destruction because we can’t obey perfectly. Grace gives us both the desire and the power to obey. And, that’s what Philippians 2:13 says, „It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure”. The will and the energy for obedience are gracious gifts from God. So the law and grace agree and they both urge us to be holy; the law can only condemn us for our failure and threaten us with destruction. But grace is the remedy for that failure and it guarantees eternal blessings.

And so, the one key difference, succinctly put is that the law can’t give life, it can only bring death. 2 Corinthians 3:5, „The letter kils, but the Spirit gives life”. We’re saved through the sanctification of the Spirit according to 2 Thessalonians 2:13. It’s the gracious work of the Spirit of God in our hearts that guarantees our sanctification. And that is the greatest gift grace gives us. Romans 8:3-4

3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh,[a] God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.[b] And so he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

The distinction between law and grace has nothing to do with the commandments or the moral content of the law. What grace eliminates and overturns are the law’s curses. As far as the moral imperatives of the law are concerned, grace is in full agreement. And Paul says so, expressly in Galatians 3:6 – Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not. For if a law had been given that could give life then righteousness would indeed be by the law (Galatians 3:21).

The problem with the law was our inability  and lack of desire to will and to work for God’s good pleasure. Grace is the remedy for that and the result that we should be redeemed from all lawlessness and be purified for Christ, a people for His own possession, who are zealous for good works. And there is nothing the least bit legalistic about that zeal. Declare these things! Exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.

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7 comentarii (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Phil Johnson at Shepherd's Conference 2012 « agnus dei – english … | churchgrowthissues.com
  2. gabebogdan
    Mar 31, 2012 @ 02:52:07

    he he he
    If you ever go on some calvinistic sites , those guys all talk about puritans, but never mention anything about their search of holiness

    How do you know you are in a carismatic convention?
    All the preachers wear shiny suits and drive Rolls Royce

    How do you know you are in a reformed convention?
    The preachers have big heads on small bodies

    The reason ( in my opinion) why God worked so many miracles in the pentecostal romanian community back in the old days, is because the pentecostals WERE a holiness movement , they preached the right Gospel( repent and believe) and separation from everything that was of the world.
    Even though some fell into the ditch of legalism , most didn’t .
    It is amazing to read some of the writings of the puritans , and how similar was their life and christian practice with the one of our parents…

    It is amazing that Phil Johnson has to preach basic theology to all those big reformed heads ….. 🙂

    • rodi
      Mar 31, 2012 @ 08:27:59

      it is amazing that Phil Johnson has to preach this, but it seems to me that all denominations have slipped away from mentioning and practicing the type of holiness Phil Johnson talks about, mainly because they don’t read their Bibles anymore. Sadly, they pick and choose and „reshape” theology to their own personal „preference”. How else does a Rob Bell (and others) get so much resonance out there among „evangelicals”? It’s certainly not because people have a passion to see everyone get saved, it’s more because they are looking for the perfect little loophole to let them cling to their pet sin(s).

  3. Trackback: correct interpretation of “to the pure, all things are pure” (Titus 1:15) « JRFibonacci's blog: partnering with reality
  4. Trackback: As The World Turns | pickandprintgallery
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