Well, Paul’s done it to us again. He’s returned to one of his favorite themes, but one that is sometimes contentious for us: good works. The twin themes of the importance of teaching the apostolic truth and living by good works are here in Titus 3 once more. Still reeling from the battles over justification and good works that occurred in the sixteenth centuries, many Protestants are very suspicious when good works enter into any discussion of the Christian life or of salvation.
And yet St. Paul and James put the two together so incessantly, that they must belong together after all. 3 times in this final chapter to Titus, Paul insists on the necessity of good works. One of Paul’s “faithful sayings” (verse 8) is directly about the necessity of good works: “those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works.” There it is for all to see: if you believe, then you must maintain good works.
There can be no enmity between faith and good works: in fact, I contend that they are necessary parts of the same thing. As I’ve said many times before but will repeat again: “faith = faithfulness.”
Good works are so crucial to the Christian life and to sanctification that Paul repeats it twice more in this same short passage. Verse 1 says for us to “be ready for every good work,” and verse 14 says, “let our people learn to maintain good works.” Because God commands good works in verse 1 (the beginning of the passage), in verse 8 (the middle of the passage), and verse 14 (the end of the passage), we should assume that good works are as central to the gospel as they are to this particular passage.
What Paul actually says in verses 4-7 is that our good works are not the cause of God’s kindness and love. It is God’s mercy (verse 5) and God’s grace (verse 7) that are the causes of our justification and regeneration. However, our good works are an essential part of our salvation, and they are things we are actually required to do to maintain salvation. It is, of course, all of the grace of God, but after He has made you one of His children, you must do something to maintain that salvation. Salvation is therefore not a single moment in time when we were justified but is an entire life and process that includes justification, sanctification, and glorification.
Dallas Willard, in The Divine Conspiracy has a way of making it plain by asking, “Are we to suppose that God gives us nothing that really influences character and spirituality? Are we to suppose that in fact Jesus has no substantial impact on our ‘real’ lives?”
Being persuaded of the necessity of good works, the real question ought to be “How do I maintain good works?” This seems to be Paul’s special focus today: maintaining good works. Too often, however, as Christians we hear over and over again the need to be moral and holy, but without anyone explaining how we are to do this.
The secret to maintaining good works is to maintain a faithful heart. There is absolutely no sense in trying to do good works on our own: everything in the Bible tells us this is impossible. The best we could do is to be like Benjamin Franklin in his Autobiography, in which he lists 12 different vices he wanted to eliminate (of course he didn’t dare to call them “sins”.) His method was to work on getting rid of each one week by week and one by one. He went through the list until he claimed that he had eradicated them. Of course, Franklin’s Autobiography is full of lies, and this is the worst one of all, that a man can get rid of his sins by his own virtues of diligence and self-control.
We must have our hearts transformed, and we would do well by remembering the fruits of the Spirit that will lead to good works: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23.) We can begin to understand how to maintain good works by remembering the good works it is we are supposed to do. There are many such lists in the New Testament, but some are in the books we are just now finishing: the Pastoral Letters of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. Look back at the requirements for bishops and deacons, and for widows, older men, older, women, and young men. These are just some of the good works that you must be careful to maintain in your life and to help maintain in the lives of others.
Entire books could and should be written about how to maintain good works and about holiness (thank God some good ones have been written!) But the one book that is essential is the Bible. The commandment to maintain good works is yet another reason we must read our Bibles every day. There must always be a fresh, Spirit-filled stream of encouragement to good works. We must keep God’s Word constantly before us, and without a daily reading and meditation program of some kind, this will not happen as fruitfully as it should.
But the Bible wasn’t meant to be read only by individuals but in families and especially in churches where God-ordained pastors, teachers, and elders can guide our understanding and help keep us accountable.
Why is it that Paul told Timothy and Titus so many times to guard the teaching? Because this apostolic teaching is God’s means of bringing His Son and new life to His people. And by guarding the teaching and the faith, which also means faithfulness, they will guard their lives.
How can we maintain the good works that God has created and redeemed us for? By guarding the Word of God with our lives and by reading it in the life of the church. And by remembering that we must be doers of that Word and not hearers only, for faith = faithfulness.
Prayer: Father, thank You for pouring out Your kindness and love, and grace and mercy on me abundantly. Thank you for making me an heir of eternal life. By Your grace, may I be enabled to maintain the good works that are a part of life with You.
Point for Meditation: Reflect on God’s grace in sanctifying your life. What means has He especially used in leading you to greater holiness? What teachers of the Word or saintly Christians have been instrumental in your spiritual growth? How can you labor towards imitating their good works?
Resolution: I resolve to meditate on what is necessary for me to more faithfully maintain good works in myself and others.
© 2013 Fr. Charles Erlandson
Category: Give Us This Day