The Motivating Power of Divine Mercy
Look for Good Works
Tom J. Nettles
I. A reminder for both passive and active goodness – 1:1,2 – In a fallen world, evil, rebellion against God and his Law, pervades every person and every position. The doing of good, therefore, involves the peeling away of all the layers of evil. The admonition to Christians is to avoid the one and to insert real goodness into all their relationships.
A. Christians are to be submissive to established authority and be obedient to their specific laws. Compare with Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2:12-17
B. Their attitude should be poised to do every good work. Bearing in mind that the Law of God defines what true good is, Christians should be ready to encourage everything that infuses society with this goodness—kindness, gentleness, protection of life, honesty, sobriety, truthfulness.
C. Christians are not to fall into the common manner of discourse in society that is filled with malicious destructive talk. Both in speaking about people and speaking to people Christians must not be destructive. “Speak evil of no one. Avoid quarrelling.”
D. Their manner of interaction with each other and the people of the world (“all people”) should not be intimidating or oppressive, but gentle. Gentleness does not mean lack of conviction or resolution, but a spirit of deference to others and a genuine interest in their well-being. And rather than rudeness or sarcasm even toward those with whom we disagree on important issues, courtesy, nevertheless, should be remarkable in the manner of interaction that we have toward them.
II. A reminder of what we once were – 3:3 – Every person with whom we interact, even the most destitute of kindness could possibly be one of the elect of God. When Paul was arrested in the midst of his hostile course toward Christians and toward Christ himself, he “received mercy, . . . that Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:16)
A. “We ourselves” – In the spirit of Isaiah 53 Paul knows not only from personal experience, but from the very reason for the coming of Christ as revealed in prophecy, that “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one of us, into his own way.” He reminded the Ephesians of this when he wrote, “Among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph. 2:3). The universal sinfulness of mankind is an irrefutable testimony to the connection that all humanity maintains to the sin of Adam, both for condemnation and corruption.
B. The grip of sin on the rational soul. Note the distressing character of the specific words in this description;
1. “Foolish” – One must look at the pervasive biblical idea of foolishness to see the moral devastation involved in such a word. A good place to start would be Proverbs 1:7, 20-33. “Fools despise wisdom and instruction. . . . Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord, would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof, therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way, and have their fill of their own devices. For the simple are killed by their turning away, and the complacency of fools destroys them.” Also James 1:13-18
2. “disobedient” – Choosing one’s own way rather than the way of God’s commands is a manifestation of foolishness. Disobedience plunged the world into its present corruption (Romans 5:19) and continued disobedience creates a dizzying number of individual paths to destruction.
3. “Led astray” or “deceived” Since the first deception of Eve (1 Tim 2:14), deception has been a part of the dynamic of the progressive sinfulness of the race. When Satan deceived Eve, he did not find a wicked heart to deceive. But now, the fallen race fully complies with his deceit and exuberantly joins the parade of self-immolation, for he comes “with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.” God’s just judgment, therefore is that he “sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” This is not a condition with positive prospects, but it is the condition of the world, and was ours before being rescued by sovereign effectual grace.
4. “Slaves to various passions and pleasures” – The fallen man is driven by what can pack the most pleasure into each moment. With no savor for eternal things, all he has is temporal. And, with the exception of some moments in which he may want some quiet and calm, he finds boring those days, or even moments, that are absent of something scintillating, sensational, and provocative. Peter gives a graphic narrative of the world’s feverish insistence on the pursuit of passions and pleasures in 1 Peter 4:2-5. The word for “pleasures” is the word from which we derive the word “hedonism.” Like the other descriptive words in this passage, these manifestations of sin bring with them their own judgment from God. If this slavery does not yield the fruit of pleasure-seeking, it nevertheless establishes a consistent self-centeredness that does not seek God and his glory.
5. Malice and envy are the natural outflow of a life given over to the quest for personal advancement. Others cannot be allowed to interrupt our plans and so our slavery results in aggressive resistance to others, wishing them ill and jealous of their success.
6. The word for “hateful” is a verbal form that seems to carry either active or passive overtones. Perhaps something like “oppressed with hatred” would capture the idea. Oppressed by others, that is “being hated,” or seething with hate so that hatefulness affects one’s view of other people. This idea leads to a reciprocal relationship of hate, “hating one another.” Our relationships with each other provide quite the contrast to the redemptive work of God.
III. A Reminder of the Freeness of Divine Mercy - 3:4-7
A. But – The contrast is purposeful. The reciprocity of hatred in human society contrasted with the unmerited favor of God toward sinners is striking.
B. This movement of redemption toward man arises from the “goodness” of God. God is merciful because he is good. He also is just because he is good. Goodness is intrinsic to God; it is the word used in Romans 2:4, “riches of his goodness” – his goodness can be presumed upon and sinners think that God will not manifest his wrath. But his goodness demands it. His goodness, however, leads also to a purposeful display of love to man [philanthropia] lovingkindness, Men hate one another, but God, overflowing with goodness, places a transforming love, a purposefully exhibited act of grace for the eternal benefit of sinful men.
C. “God our Savior” - When we follow the pronouns we see clearly that this refers to God the Father as “our savior.” 1 Timothy1:1 also calls God, “our savior,’ when it is a clear reference to God the Father. Ephesians 1 has many verbs that predicate the things done by God the Father for salvation—blessed us, chose us, predestined us, blessed us in the Beloved, he lavished upon us, he made known to us, his purpose, he set forth. Now here we see this same truth. We must not forget the absolute unity of the triune God in saving sinners. The operation of grace in Father, Son, and Spirit are quite clear in this passage and the separate personhood but divine activity of each person is emphasized. The specific activity is a fitting expression of, and in a sense determined by, the eternal immanent relations of the triune God.
D. “Appeared” – The appearance of the goodness and philanthropy of God clearly finds personification in Jesus Christ. 2:11 “The grace of God has appeared” and we now wait for another appearing. On the first occasion, when Christ as the manifestation of the Father’s saving purpose appeared, we learn from that event that how it manifests the necessity of unaided unilateral action on God’s part to bring about this salvation.
1. Negatively – Not because of works done by us in righteousness. Had we done works of true righteousness, then they would have their reward, but the truth is we have done no acts of righteousness, nothing that matches the plumbline of the Law, See Romans 3:19, 20 All we reap from the law in the context of our own doing of it is condemnation. Every blessing that comes to sinners in salvation is indeed connected with promises made for perfect obedience to the Law. None of that obedience, however, is ours properly, but is in another. Our doing accomplishes no righteousness, for all that we do is infused with sin, both as unregenerate and regenerate. The regenerate mortify the flesh in increasing measure and bear the fruit of the new birth in increasing measure, but there is the ever-present opposition and discoloration of the flesh putting forth its desires against the Spirit. Neither before nor after the new birth, therefore, do we do works of righteousness to which the reward of eternal life could be attached.
2. “But according to his own mercy” - The benefits, therefore, that accrue to us, come not from wages for performance accomplished by us, but are applied to us on the basis of pure mercy. Mercy is that manifestation of the goodness of God in which he spares the lawbreaker the promised execution of wrath. He does this, moreover, not by any violation of his justice in which every misdeed receives the just recompense of punishment, but according to a plan in which his justice is maintained and displayed in breathtaking and inexhaustibly rich manifestations. In addition, the supplies of all that is needed for eternal life hereafter and holiness here come through this channel of mercy. Look at Paul’s delineation of this.
· The washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit – These are two separate works of the Holy Spirit but the latter continues in the same character and power of the first. Paul has moved immediately to a statement as to how this mercy is first experienced in the life of the sinner. The effect of the new birth often draws on the analogy of a cleansing power, the powerful impact of the effectual operation of the Spirit on the soul in light of the truth of the word. (See Ephesians 5:26; John 3:5; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:22, 23) Regeneration has the effect of repressing the flesh, greatly altering the affections. This constitutes a new principle of choice so that God is more and more loved and his truth is embraced. Having changed the weight of the moral dynamic in the soul of man in regeneration, the Spirit now brings to light carnal commitments and patterns of life that must undergo transformation. This change reflects the covenantal commitment of the Holy Spirit in saving those given by the Father to the Son for his atoning work, and likewise, to the Spirit for his regenerating and sanctifying work. All that are regenerated will as certainly be renewed by the Spirit “And we all with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
· “Whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” – This “rich” pouring out of the Spirit occurred initially at Pentecost. The Spirit was active in the same work of regeneration, sanctifying, indwelling, giving perseverance prior to Pentecost, but his operations increased at Pentecost and subsequent to it. The qualitative work of the Spirit was the same; the great expansion of power characterized these latter days. According to the New Covenant, the people of God are now identified by the work of the Spirit instead of continuity of a fleshly relationship and mark (Philippians 3:3; Ezekiel 36:22-27). This work of the Spirit is heightened and more pronounced since The Messianic work of redemption has been accomplished [Hebrews 9:14-16], the Scriptures explaining this entire phenomenon were being inspired and made operative as truth in the lives of the elect [John 14:25, 26], and spiritual gifting that perpetuates the sustaining of the church in its work in the world [1 Corinthians 12:11; Ephesians 4:3, 4, 10-12). But not only is the entire age characterized by this rich and abundant pouring out of the Spirit, the individuals that are so drawn receive their own portion of that operation of grace – “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5).
· The Father poured out the Spirit, but did this through Jesus Christ. This relationship shows not only the order of the mission of redemption in the world, but the peculiar personal distinctives in the eternal internal relationship. In redemption, the coming of the Spirit in such power awaited the completed work of the Son. Prior to the completion of the redemptive work of Christ, none could be saved and persevere in faith without the saving work of the Spirit. Pre-Pentecost saints were regenerated, sealed and indwelt even as post-Pentecost saints were. Without those works of the Spirit salvation is a moral impossibility. Their faith, the result of the Spirit’s work was placed purely on Christ and his completed work, yet to be done; but subsequent to the completion, the Spirit’s operations increased in abundance and became the mark of God’s people including the Gentiles.
· Note also, that here Jesus Christ is called “our savior” as God the Father was earlier in the passage (4). There is a moral congruity and necessity as well as personally fit element in the different phases of salvation effected by the work of the trinity in each person as well as a participatory aspect of all persons in each element.
· “So that having been justified by his grace.” Not only is the changed heart, affections newly given over to God instead of the world, morally necessary for salvation, but also a complete blamelessness in relation to the law. Jesus Christ is the source of this and he is given us by the grace of God. The meritorious ground of salvation is the perfect obedience and substitutionary dying of Christ so that those that are united with him by the grace of God are justly declared forgiven, not guilty, and acceptably righteous. Paul is so focused on the divine provision and action in all of this that he does not even point to faith, but to grace, as the source of justification. Grace provided it objectively, and grace effected it experientially.
· All of this work was done that sinners might have the reality of eternal life—life in the presence of this triune God that has condescended so amazingly to bring fallen creatures into the orb of his eternal glory, love, and joy. They will exist to the praise of his glory and be filled with the vision of his eternal glory (Ephesians 1:12; John 17:24), they will swim forever in eternal love (John 17:23, 26), and nothing will interrupt or retard their joy (John 15:11, 1 John 1:4, Hebrews 12:2, Matthew 25:21, 23) This hope of eternal life inflames the heart of the Christian for the pure goodness of eternity before God and purifies the entire person for that purpose (1 Thessalonians 5:23; 1 John 3:3)
· All of this is the “faith of God’s elect” and their embracing it with mind and heart is their “knowledge of the truth.” This constitutes the “sound doctrine” to which the overseer must give attention in his instruction.
IV. Another Admonition – 1:8, 9
A. The exposition just given is trustworthy, that is, true in content and worthy of commitment and transformation of life. A person may build his life and his hope for eternity around the truths just expounded.
B. Titus, therefore, must insist on teaching these things. He does not have the prerogative of presenting a self-made message. To this message he is called for this message glorifies God, abases the sinner for the purpose of sincere repentance, produces holiness, and, thus, gives a steadfast hope of eternal life.
C. Paul continued the emphasis on good works (1:16; 2:7, 14; 3:4, 14). Although we are not justified by good works, it is only the love of good works that drives the sinner to Christ and his good works for salvation. Then those so converted pursue that same goodness in their works that they have so cherished in Christ. The one that believes in God, in this triune God who saves sinners, must take special care to devote himself to good works.
D. That pursuit, for that reason, is excellent. It has an intrinsic quality of beauty and proportion and enduring virtue in it. It is also profitable—profitable here in that it inevitably manifests itself in a love of neighbor and actions of mercy and compassion, and profitable hereafter by placing eternity before the heart as the goal of this present life.
E. Avoid all the religious mumbo-jumbo that seeks to derail the pure preaching of the gospel of the grace of God. Anything that seeks to bring in a substitute for the pure and wholesome doctrine of divine righteousness, holiness and grace that issues in the salvation of sinners by forgiveness of sins, justification, sanctification, and eternal life must be avoided as unprofitable. Discussion on such speculative, and false, ideas leads only to confusion. Speculative nonsense substitutes itself for the true substance of salvation that is in Christ alone. Even the Law, which is a schoolmaster to lead us to Christ, is used, to create a path away from Christ and back to human contrivance.
V. Isolation of a Trouble-maker – 10, 11 The person that stirs up division, such as the deceivers described in chapter one, must be admonished, warned, once and then twice. After that, they demonstrate that they have no interest in the truth but only in a following. They must not be tolerated in the body of the church for they will cause departures from revealed truth for the sake of personal advantage. He is self-condemned in that his insistence on his own brand of teaching has shown that he does not know the truth, and is ready to oppose it. He must therefore, not be allowed an audience in the church but must be removed—“Have nothing more to do with him.”
VI. Personal matters and a reiteration of admonition – 12-15
A. The coming and going of people
1. Paul will send Artemas and Tychicus to relieve Titus, so that Titus can meet Paul at Nicolopis, perhaps to strategize for the evangelization of Dalmatia., as seems to have been accomplished according to 2 Timothy 4:10. We know nothing else of Artemas but have several references to Tychicus as an effective worker with Paul (Col. 4:7-9; Ephesians 6:21, 22; 2 Timothy 4:12)
2. Zenas and Apollos – These two men were probably bearers of this letter to Titus. Zenas, as a lawyer [nomikon], was perhaps a Christian that had been well-schooled in Jewish law. That Apollos would be a bearer of this letter for Paul shows that they both knew that they worked together as fellow laborers in the interests of the gospel and for the glory of Christ (See Acts 18:24-19:1; 1 Corinthians 1:12; 2:4-6, 21-23)
B. Christianity’s power of social transformation – Conversion leads to good works, good works necessarily involve love of the brethren and expanding of that principle in love of neighbor. In this way, Christians met the needs of their fellow Christians, were able also to shows kindness to the needy lost around them. In addition they became fruitful in their lives so as to be productive instead of destructive. (Compare Ephesians 4:17-32) Through these acts of goodness, through moral uprightness, through personal trustworthiness and positively productive lives, Christians overcame the hostility of their enemies in the first three centuries and were the chief transforming factor in the remaking of western society.
C. While Paul recognized that many enemies were around and many that were looking for some way to ridicule Christians and what they belied, he relished the fellowship of believers and the love of those that shared the true faith of Jesus Christ. Opponents desiring something bad to say (2:8) will be silenced, but there are also those that “love us in the faith.” This is a great grace indeed, that while some hate us for the faith, others love us in the faith. Either way, grace is the cause. “Grace be with you all.”