Adorning the Gospel with Godliness and Growing in the Faith:
An Ongoing Study of the Epistle to Titus
How does a church change? Why should a church be concerned about godliness?
The message of Titus focuses upon the godliness of a church that arrays the gospel because it is the gospel that has formed the church and the gospel that transforms the church.
It is clear from Paul’s statements to Titus that there was a rather loose morality in the Cretan churches. That loose morality was detrimental to the testimony of the gospel. There are several examples of the tie between the gospel and godly behavior as well as the converse. In the opening, Paul notes that knowledge of the truth “accords with godliness” (1:1). There are those who profess to know God and yet deny him by “their works.” This class of people is characterized as “detestable, disobedient, and unfit for any good work” (1:16). In other words, there is a quality of life that is commensurate with professing to know God. The older women are to teach the younger to be submissive to their husbands “that the word of God may not be reviled” (2:5). Titus is to be a model of integrity and dignity in his teaching (2:6). Instruction in conduct is given to slaves “so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior” (2:10). Paul’s concern in his instruction to Titus is one way in which the Heidelberg Catechism answers the question why the Christian must still do good works even though we are saved by grace alone through Christ. The final answer to this question is: “and so that by our godly living our neighbors may be won over to Christ” (HC Q&A 86). The godliness of the church lends credibility to the gospel.
How does Paul begin to address this issue of a godliness that adorns the gospel of Christ? What is it that takes a church from an ethic that detracts from the beauty and loveliness of the gospel to one that adorns the gospel with its godliness? He begins with his own apostleship, its purpose, and its basis. It is the apostleship and purpose that I will discuss in the remainder of this installment.
A church changes in its piety because it is according to the purpose of God. Paul identifies himself as a servant (or slave) of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ (Titus 1:1). Thus his purpose in apostleship is according to the purpose of the one whom he serves and the one who “sent” him. The purpose of this servitude and apostleship is two-fold: 1) It is for the sake of the faith of God’s elect; 2) their knowledge of the truth.
The phrase “for the sake of the faith of God’s elect” is a bit vague as to the aim. The context of the letter provides some help to understanding the phrase. Paul is not concerned with the establishment of the church through the preaching of the gospel, which would have the idea of people coming to faith, though he is not unconcerned with this. Instead, the idea is that with regard to a young group of churches that his apostleship is for their progression in the faith. He is concerned with a piety, or godliness, that is keeping with the gospel. When people come to faith in Christ they still have a number of “rough edges” so to speak. As they progress in the faith they grow in the faith. Those rough edges become less and less obtuse. This is Paul’s emphasis in Titus. Though he is tasked with proclaiming the gospel that men and women would come to faith, another aspect of his apostleship is the furtherance of that faith. The purpose of God is that people would grow in the faith.
In addition to growing in the faith, generally speaking, Paul’s apostolic purpose, which is according to the purpose of God, is that the church would grow in its knowledge of the truth. The knowledge of the truth is in accordance with godliness. Error leads down the path of ungodliness. Therefore, apostolic doctrine leads to godliness. Right doctrine and right living are necessarily linked. Piety does not emerge from error, but from right doctrine and right doctrine leads to right living. The pendulum cannot swing to one side or the other. We ought to be warned by the church in Ephesus. They were holding to correct doctrine, but their correct doctrine was not producing a zealous love for the Savior; they had lost their first love (see Rev. 2:1-7). The church in Rome sounds the alarm the other direction. Paul writes concerning his brothers “according to the flesh.” They have zeal for God, but “not according to knowledge.” They were zealous for God, but because they had rejected Christ they were going a hundred miles an hour in the wrong direction (see Rom. 10:1-2).
A church changes because it is the purpose of God to transform his people. As Paul states in Romans, those whom God “foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:20). It is not just coming to faith, but it is progressing in the faith and that progression, more specifically, is knowledge of the truth that is in accordance with godliness. To use different theological categories: in the purpose of God, justification and sanctification are linked. Godliness and piety ultimately begin in the purpose of God to make his people into the image of his Son who is the ultimate image bearer of God.