Titus 3:3-7 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5he 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, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Good morning. Next week we’re going to go back to 3:1 (like I promised) and look more closely at how Christians are meant to engage civil government. That will be our final week looking at the doctrines of Titus 3:1-7. This week, however, we’re going to look more closely at the role of works in our salvation. I have two main points that I hope to show you in Scripture and call you to respond to with all of your lives: 1) Our righteous works play a significant role in our salvation, and 2) We must, therefore, fight with all we have (in the power of the Holy Spirit) to live in righteousness so that we will see God!
Let’s pray. Heavenly Father, create in us a clean heart and renew a right spirit within us. Cast us not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from us. Restore to us the joy of our salvation, and uphold us with a willing spirit (Psalm 51:10-12).
HE DOES NOT SAVE US BY OUR WORKS
How many of you have ever heard the saying, “Other religions are spelled ‘do’, but Christianity is spelled ‘done'”? How many of you have every heard someone cry “legalism!” when the topic of Christian obedience came up? How many of you have ever heard it said that our works play no role in our salvation?
There’s good reason for all of these sayings and concerns. For thousands of years God’s people labored under God’s Law in an attempt to do the good works God required of them, believing that they would be found acceptable to God if they did so. However, the point of God’s Law was always to show God’s people that they couldn’t keep it and therein reveal to them their need for a Savior.
And yet, once again, the idea of earning God’s favor through works of righteousness was so ingrained in the Israelites (in some ways by God’s design) that by the time of Jesus’ ministry and the ministry of the apostles, the idea of receiving God’s favor through grace was almost unimaginable.
And so we find passage after passage—in Paul in particular—pleading with whoever will listen to understand that the salvation of God is by grace, not works. Indeed, that’s the point of v.5 in our text for this morning.
Titus 3:4-5 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness…
Consider several other NT passages as well.
Romans 4:5 And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness…
Galatians 2:16 …we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
Ephesians 2:8-9 by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
2 Timothy 1:9 [God] saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began…
Again, clearly, there is a very important sense in which we can say (Titus 3:5) that we are saved, not by our righteous works, but by grace through faith in the righteous works of Jesus.
This brings us back to a “timeline” that I showed you a few weeks ago. On it we find, what theologians call, “the order of salvation”. The idea behind it is that there are aspects of our salvation (all of which were won by Jesus on the cross) which are past (election, gospel call, regeneration, conversion, justification, adoption), present (sanctification, perseverance), and future (perseverance, death, glorification). In other words, everyone who is trusting in Jesus has been saved, is being saved, and will be saved. Even though most people think of salvation merely in terms of conversion and death (going to heaven), the order of salvation seeks to highlight all of the different aspects of salvation that scripture speaks of.
Now you may remember that I asked you to consider why some of the words are on the top and some are on the bottom. The answer to that question is at the heart of this sermon. When Paul and the rest of the NT authors say that we are not saved by our works, they are referring to the items above this timeline. That is to say, we are not elected (Romans 9:10-12), called (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14), regenerated (1 Peter 1:3), adopted (Ephesians 1:3-6), or glorified (Romans 8:28-30) based on our works, and in that sense we are not saved based on our works. We do nothing to contribute to any of these things. God does them apart from any will or effort on our part (Romans 9:16). It is a great gospel error to suggest that anything we do contributes to anything above the line.
When we find the NT authors, then, proclaiming that salvation is not by our works, they are speaking about the items above the “timeline”. Praise God for this, Grace. Delight in God’s mercy here. As I’ve said repeatedly over the past few weeks find rest in the fact that although there’s nothing we can do to overcome our depravity and save ourselves, God worked in his mercy to wash us and renew us in grace through Christ. Amen!
But what about the items below the “timeline”? They are a part of our salvation. Do our works have anything to do with them? Do our works play any role in our salvation?
HE SAVES US BY OUR WORKS
I want to be careful here. I know that I am in danger of being misunderstood and that misunderstanding here can lead easily to heresy. So let me be clear, we are not elected, called, regenerated, justified, adopted, or glorified by God according to or by any of our works—by anything in us or by anything that comes out of us. In that sense we are not saved by anything we do. That is the sense in which Titus 3:5 is speaking.
And yet, just a few verses later, we read, “The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works” (Titus 3:8). Clearly God expects good works (even zeal for good works (2:14)) from his people.
And so we’re left with the question, what role, then, if any, do our works play in our salvation.
For the rest of this sermon we’re going to consider three things. First, we’re going to look briefly at what the NT has to say about the relationship between our works and the aspects of our salvation that I’ve placed below the timeline (conversion, sanctification, and perseverance). Second, we’re going to consider what’s at stake if we don’t work hard at them. And third, we’re going to consider what hope and strength we have to do the works we’re called to do.
We are not born Christians. All who are Christians became Christians at some point. That is, all people, if they are to be saved, must be converted from spiritually dead, enemy-of-God sinners to alive, children-of-God saints. And so we ask, “Must we do any good work to be converted?”. Consider the following verses (which are just a few examples of the myriad of NT verses which say the same thing):
Acts 16:30-31 …[a man asked’] what must I do to be saved?” 31 And [the disciples] said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
To be saved we must do the good work of choosing to believe in the Lord Jesus.
Romans 10:9 …if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
To be saved we must do the good works of believing and then confessing that Jesus is Lord and that he died and rose from the dead to save us.
Acts 2:38 Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
To be saved we must do the good work of turning from our sins (repenting).
Do not miss this. Anyone who has not decided to do the good works of believing in Jesus, acknowledging Jesus as Lord and risen Savior, and repenting of their sins, cannot be saved. And in this sense, God has chosen to save us by our works.
The second aspect of our salvation that we must work at is our sanctification—or our pursuit of holiness. Again, consider the following verses to this effect:
Romans 8:13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
In the power of the Holy Spirit we must work to put to death the sin that remains in us in order to be saved.
Ephesians 4:22-24 …put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and … be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and … put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
To be saved we must continually do the good work of putting off our old, sinful self and put on our new, godly self. This is a decision we must make and a constant good work we must do.
Hebrews 12:14 Strive for…the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
This one is clearer still. To see the Lord—to be saved—we must work hard (strive) for holiness.
2 Peter 1:5-7 make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.
Clearest yet, we must make every effort (do every possible good work) to grow in virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love.
Do you see this? Do you see from these few sample verses how significant our works are for our conversion and sanctification, which are part of our salvation? Do you see how it is good to be clear and emphatic about the fact that there are certain aspects of our salvation which are accomplished by God alone, but that there are also certain aspects of our salvation which we must work hard at?
Let’s look at the third and final aspect of our salvation which God has chosen to accomplish by our works: our perseverance in our faith and good works.
The bible is clear that salvation is not for those who trusted in Jesus or did a good work, but for those who continue trusting in Jesus and continue doing the good works God requires of us…that is, for those who persevere in trust and obedience.
Matthew 24:13 …the one who endures to the end will be saved.
Jesus himself taught that it is only the one who does the good work of enduring through whatever trials may come that will be saved.
Revelation 21:7 The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. 8
And again, the One who sits on the throne says that to be saved we must continue trusting in Jesus and continue doing works of righteousness.
James 1:12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
In order to receive the crown of life we must do the good works of persevering through trial and standing the test of persecution.
2 Timothy 2:12 …if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us…
To reign with Christ in eternal life, we must endure in our faith and good works.
Scripture is clear and unwavering on the fact that God’s people must persevere to be saved and that we must work in order to persevere.
And so, Grace Church, for your conversion, your sanctification, and your perseverance, work, fight, struggle, toil, labor, make war! Do not fall into laziness or fatalism. Do not think that just because your works didn’t contribute to your election, calling, regeneration, adoption, or glorification that they play no role in your salvation. We are prohibited from working for our salvation in the aspects of our salvation on the top of the timeline, but we are commanded to work out our salvation in the aspects of our salvation below the timeline.
What happens if we don’t work?
So again, what happens if we don’t do these things? If we don’t work for our conversion, sanctification, and perseverance? What happens if we don’t increasingly do works of righteousness?
Romans 2:6-8 [God] will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.
1 Corinthians 6:9-10 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
Ephesians 5:4-5 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous ( that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
Galatians 6:7-8 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.
Hebrews 10:26-27 … if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.
So what’s at stake of we fail to do works of righteousness? Our salvation is at stake.
I’m afraid that too many in our culture, however, have forgotten this. I’m afraid that many have slipped unknowingly into antinomianism (where God does not care about our actions at all). I’m afraid that too many of us are relying on cheap grace. I’m afraid that God’s people have forgotten that our good works are the means by which we work out our salvation and the only true source of assurance of salvation.
There is, rightly, gladness among us as God’s people; but I’m afraid that the lack of attention to the passages in this sermon has robbed us of the gravity that is supposed to go with it. There is joy in our salvation, but there is weightiness as well until Christ returns and our salvation is finally complete. Don’t miss this, Grace. Flippancy has no place in the life of God’s people.
The key to all of this—to doing all of the good works that God requires of us for our conversion, sanctification, and perseverance (indeed, for our salvation)—is that the gospel is the good news that although God calls us to work out our salvation, it is God who works in us to empower our work, and it is the good news of the gospel that as we work in faith, God will accept our imperfect works as righteousness. Grace, is all grace! Some of God’s grace comes to us apart from any of our work and some comes to us enabling us to work, but it is all grace.
That is the point of Philippians 2:12-13, “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
Work, Grace. Work out your own salvation. Do so with fear and trembling. That’s what the fat middle of this sermon was all about. However, do so in the constant knowledge that you are able to do so only because God is graciously working in you to enable you to do the work that he requires from you.
In this sense, then, we are saved by our works, but they are (as Ephesians 2:10 says) works which we were created in Christ Jesus to do, and works which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Or, as Augustine famously wrote, God commands what he wills and he grants what he commands.
Our righteous works play a significant role in our salvation and so we must fight with all we have (in the power of the Holy Spirit) to live in righteousness so that we will see God!
Grace, let’s worship God for the grace of God which chose us before time, calls us from the dead and gives us new life, makes us his children, and restores all that sin has broken in us. And let’s worship God for the grace of God which enables us to do the good works of choosing to trust in Jesus, grow in the holiness of Jesus, and continue in trust and holiness. Indeed, let’s worship God for our salvation. Amen.