Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? Every worldview has its own answers to these perennial questions about origin, meaning, and destiny. In Paul’s letter to Titus, the apostle reveals in chapter 2:11–14 how God’s grace transforms us into a holy people—in the past, the present, and the future. By explaining God’s redemptive work in this way, Paul answers those three questions of origin, meaning, and destiny, and each answer is rooted in God’s transforming grace.
God’s Grace in the Past
Paul begins his explanation of God’s transforming grace with the person of His Son. “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people” (Titus 2:11). Instead of stating that Jesus Christ has appeared, Paul used the word “grace” to describe God’s merciful intent to redeem His fallen creation. Beginning in the Garden of Eden, we see the first expression of grace when—instead of putting Adam and Eve immediately to death—the Lord made garments of skins to clothe them by His grace (see Gen. 3:21). Later, when God determined to destroy the evil world with a flood, “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord” (Gen. 6:8, NKJV). The rest of the Old Testament contains other examples of God’s gracious disposition toward undeserving people. The Old Testament prophets reflected God’s gracious character, as reflected in Isaiah 30:18a: “Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you, and therefore He exalts Himself to show mercy to you.” The gracious God gave gracious laws whose shadows pointed to a more gracious Gift. In sacred history, God’s grace provided the sinful Israelites with a pathway back to fellowship with their God. He graciously invited the Israelites to know and live with Him by providing the tabernacle and temple to reveal His heart of gracious redemption. Only through the sacrificial blood of animals would they be restored to the God who lived in absolute holiness in His temple.
In the fullness of time, Jesus came to earth as the supreme expression of God’s grace. “Out of His fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:16–17, NIV). This salvation brings lost humanity back into fellowship with its Creator and is freely available to anyone who believes. The grace of God is most fully expressed in Christ’s death on the cross when He “gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness” (Titus 2:14). Jesus’ perfect life, His substitutionary death, and His powerful resurrection embody God’s grace. Jesus’ death purchased salvation for those who trust in Him alone, as the hymn “Amazing Grace” says: “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound / that saved a wretch like me / I once was lost, but now am found / was blind but now I see.”
God’s Grace in the Present
God’s amazing grace is far more extensive than many realize. It not only saves us from the past penalty of sin but also from the present power of sin. Paul explains that God’s grace is continually “training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:12). Like parents instruct their children, God patiently trains His children to fight sin and practice holiness, since our destiny is “to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29). This means that any message of salvation that offers saving grace without sanctifying grace is “cheap grace.” This phrase was made popular by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor during World War II, who defines it as “the grace which amounts to the justification of sin without the justification of the repentant sinner who departs from sin and from whom sin departs. . . . Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline . . . grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”
Since God’s transforming grace influences everything we think and do, Christians have the transforming power to learn to say “no” to the entire system of “ungodliness and worldly passions” that our culture nurtures. We must resist the temptations that bombard us and display God’s transforming grace by living “self-controlled, upright, and godly lives” (Titus 2:12). We should also be known for the good we do as well as the evil we resist. Jesus “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” (Titus 2:14).
The power for such transformed living comes from God Himself, whose Spirit indwells us to renew our desires and to empower us to obey. “I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezk. 36:27). As God’s new covenant people, we should be marked by kindness, forgiveness, justice, and honesty. Sadly, Christians are known sometimes more for their sinful lives than their good and godly living that God wishes to use to draw people to the gospel: “so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive” (Titus 2:10, NIV). As our culture reflects an ever-increasing degree of the Roman Empire’s decadence, we also have the same opportunity as the ancient church to turn “the world upside down” by gospel-centered living (Acts 17:6).
God’s Grace in the Future
God’s transforming grace saves us from the past penalty of sin, the present power of sin, and the future presence of sin. This ultimate experience of grace will happen when our Lord Jesus Christ comes again to earth as He promised. In spite of the temptations, suffering, and present failures we undoubtedly will experience, we are also “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). In this clear declaration of Jesus’ divinity, Paul points to a future moment when the day of the Lord will reverse the day of mankind. Satan will be consigned to the lake of fire instead of enticing sinners to evil, sinners will be judged instead of thriving, righteousness will be exalted rather than ridiculed, and believers will be reigning with Christ instead of being persecuted. Jesus’ awesome glory will be overwhelming. He is our supreme hope!
Christians today live much like they did when Christianity began. The Roman Empire tolerated all gods except for the one Christians worshiped when they confessed, “Jesus is Lord.” Like them, let’s set our hope fully “on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:13). John Newton reminds us about the three tenses of God’s amazing grace: “’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear / and grace my fears relieved / how precious did that grace appear / the hour I first believed / Through many dangers, toils, and snares / I have already come / ‘Twas grace that brought me safe thus / and grace will lead me home.”
Dr. William Krewson is part-time faculty in the School of Divinity. He can be reached at email@example.com.