In confessionally Reformed discourse regarding the doctrine of salvation (soteriology), great pains are taken to harmonize and synthesize the biblical texts that speak to the various aspects of the gospel. As a result, systematic theology texts tend to invest a lot of effort into explaining the logical order of those aspects through the “order of salvation” or ordo salutis. In turn, our view of the gospel builds on other biblical commitments relative to our doctrines of God (theology proper), man (anthropology), sin (hamartiology), and covenant. Thus, while the following is not an exhaustive explanation of all these elements, I will be working to exegete Titus 3:3–8 with a view towards identifying the chronological and trinitarian basis for gospel assurance. I will work towards some practical applications in light of Titus 3:8’s call for believers to “be careful to maintain good works.”
If we start with Titus 3:3, we see Paul succinctly describe man’s unregenerate state in disturbing terms. When we cross-reference this with the escalation of violence prior to the flood to a point where it was continual and universal (Gen. 6:5, 11–12), and in seeing Paul’s other descriptions of man’s natural sinfulness (Rom. 1:18–32, 3:10–18, 8:6–8; Eph. 2:1–3), scripture is conspicuous in expressing a dim and low view of man’s default condition outside of Christ. As sin affects man’s natural being, it influences his actions, appetites, thoughts, and words. Insofar as sin is inherently irrational, the sinner is “foolish” and “deceived” such that intellectual and moral confusion leads to sinful behavior. Rather than being “subject to rulers and authorities” (v. 1), the unregenerate person is “disobedient” (v. 3b). Given Paul’s view of authority from Romans 13:1–7 and how he reacted to illegal abuses of authority such as his unlawful beating and imprisonment in Acts 16, he is not calling for blind obedience to civil authorities regardless of their legitimacy or lack thereof. We should appreciate our need to obey God first and foremost (Acts 5:29), to honor God with our disposition even when we are in a subordinate position (1 Pet. 4:12–16), and to then uphold the rule of law that magistrates and politicians are sworn to uphold.
Paul continues to describe the impact of sin in three more ways in Titus 3:3b. First, the sinner serves “various lusts and pleasures” (v. 3) rather than being “ready for every good work” (v. 1). When we see the language of servitude, we should contrast slavery to sin as described by John 8:34 and Romans 6 with the emphasis on Christian liberty found in passages like Galatians 5. We have been freed from lust so that we can willingly pursue the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22). Second, the sinner is “living in malice and envy.” Not only does the sinner serve lust, but he lusts after what others have and intends to harm them. Third, sinners are “hateful” in “hating one another.” Again, this speaks to a mental disposition that translates into wretched behavior with devastating consequences for both individuals and societies. Notice Paul’s language of “we ourselves” whereby he predicates these wretched attributes of himself (cf. 1 Tim. 1:15). At the same time, he uses the term “were” to stress the past-tense aspect of this state which leads us into an explanation of how such fundamental corruption could be addressed (cf. 1 Cor. 6:9–11).
In Titus 3:4, Paul identifies the mechanism of our salvation. In a situation where man could not rescue or save himself, God’s “kindness” and “love” graciously appears to mankind in a monergistic act that is both redemptive and revelatory. Among other things, this speaks to a Messianic trajectory that begins with the “Seed” promise of Genesis 3:15 and culminates in Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection. Since this revelation of the gospel is undeserved, it is a gracious act based on divine initiative rather than cooperation between God as creator and man as creature, and therefore, the “But when” at the beginning of the verse is just as glorious as the “But now” of Romans 3:21.
In Titus 3:5, Paul explains the principle and means of our salvation given the “appearance” of God’s “kindness” and “love” in verse 4. He begins with a universal negation of the “works of righteousness which we have done.” Given Isaiah 64:6 which describes sinful man as an “unclean thing” to the point where even his alleged “righteousnesses” are comparable to “filthy rags,” the idea is that not only have we not done the “works of righteousness” that are needed to fulfill God’s law perfectly, but we could never have done them, nor do we even want to do so. Instead, the emphasis falls on God saving us “according to His mercy” whereby God withholds the punishment that sinners deserve from them. How does God exercise His mercy? Through the means of “the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” By this, we see that sinners need to be resurrected from their dead state (regenerated), purged of sin (expiation), and renewed through the Spirit (justification followed by sanctification).
In Titus 3:6, Paul identifies the agency of our salvation. Given the mechanism of God’s kindness and love appearing to man, the principle of mercy, and the means of regeneration, the Father abundantly pours the Spirit on “us” as redeemed sinners “through Jesus Christ our Savior.” While all three Triune persons are present in this verse, the doctrine of appropriations notes that “one person of the Trinity takes on a special or focal role in any external work of the Trinity” . In other words, different aspects of ad extra works like creation, providence, and redemption are predicated of different persons in various contexts. Here, the Son mediates the Holy Spirit’s acts in regenerating and sanctifying sinners in what is a monergistic and trinitarian display of grace, and as such, the abundant pouring of redemptive blessing is effective, thorough, and total in meeting the sinner’s spiritual needs and reversing his sinful condition (v. 3).
In Titus 3:7, Paul highlights one of the consequences of being saved. First, the Father’s saving mercy (v. 5b), the Spirit’s renewal (v. 5c), and the Son’s mediation (v. 6) ensures that our gracious justification is complete and secure. Second, the language of becoming “heirs according to the hope of eternal life” speaks to the biblical doctrine of adoption. As our confession states in 2LCF 12.1: “All those that are justified, God conferred … to make partakers of the grace of adoption, by which they are taken into the number, and enjoy the liberties and privileges of the children of God” . In Ephesians 1:13–14, Paul identifies the Holy Spirit as the seal or “guarantee of our inheritance.” In the preceding context from Titus 2:11–14, Paul links saving grace to our sanctification as we look forward to the “blessed hope and glorious appearing” of Christ. Not only is the wretched condition of verse 3 negated but we receive an abundant profusion of spiritual benefit on an ongoing basis in the present tense that culminates in a future tense “hope of eternal life.” In the words of Ephesians 1:3, we are “blessed … with every spiritual blessing.” In sum, justification necessarily leads to progressive sanctification, and ultimately, an eternal, permanent, and irreversible glorification.
In Titus 3:8, Paul gives us some points of practical application. First, we are told that this “order of salvation” where a “deceived” slave of sin receives “kindness,” “love,” “mercy,” “washing of regeneration,” “renewing,” abundant pouring through Christ, justifying grace, and eternal entitlement is a “faithful saying.” As this is exactly parallel to the “faithful saying” that is “worthy of all acceptance” in terms of the salvific purpose of Christ’s incarnation (1 Tim. 1:15), we are to rest in confident assurance because the gospel is trustworthy. Second, Paul exhorts Titus and subsequent preachers to “affirm” this “faithful saying” of gospel truth “constantly.” This is also parallel to the emphatic imperative to “Preach the word” from 2 Timothy 4:2a. Why does the gospel need to be affirmed constantly? To help believers to be “careful to maintain good works.”
Indeed, the maintenance of good works is intertwined with resisting apostasy and heresy (Titus 3:9–11; 2 Tim. 4:3–4). In the latter sense, we need gospel preaching that confronts errors that we should not believe and promotes what we should believe according to scripture. In the former sense, maintenance is synonymous with perseverance as a long-term, ongoing process marked by care, diligence, and watchfulness. This brings us back full circle to the virtues that Paul identifies in Titus 2:1–10 and 3:1–2 according to the normative use of God’s law. We are not justified by perseverance, but unto perseverance within progressive sanctification leading to glorification. Therefore, a biblical discourse on soteriology promotes sanctification: a “faithful saying” thereof is indeed “good and profitable to men” as an antidote to the issues of v. 3.
In closing, Titus 3:3–8 presents a world of saving benefit and comfort. The passage is truly a mini-systematic theology that is packed with glorious reminders about the covenantal and monergistic basis for our assurance and salvation. It also clarifies the trinitarian grounds for our perseverance, sanctification, and spiritual health. It relays an authoritative basis for church life and the ministry of preaching. Biblical pastorates should be marked by the constant affirmation of the gospel such that sinners are called to saving faith and repentance, saints are called to practical diligence, and the body of Christ is edified. Otherwise, we deny the gospel practically when we fail to affirm it. May God strengthen us as we pursue His will in these things.
Image is of the island of Crete, where Paul instructed Titus to establish churches (Titus 1:5). Image by Stefan Kunze.
 Jake Rainwater, “An Appropriate Pact: The Pactum Salutis and Triune Simplicity,” Credo Magazine, accessed February 28, 2022, https://credomag.com/article/an-appropriate-pact.
 The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, “Of Adoption,” accessed February 28, 2022, https://www.the1689confession.com/1689/chapter-1.