I wonder how many of us are more like the Galatian church than we would care to admit. How often do we think, even subconsciously, that something must be added to the perfect finished work of Christ? Paul chides the Galatians regarding how they received the Spirit. Was it by works of the law or hearing with faith? It is utter foolishness to think that what was begun by the agency of the Spirit is now brought to its finish by the agency of the flesh; in other words, by your own efforts (Gal. 3:2-3). When it comes to our godliness, or, to use a theological category, our sanctification, are we more like the Galatians than we care to admit? Do we see the gospel as the gateway, but once the threshold has been crossed, furtherance in the faith rests upon our shoulders? Granted, none of us would actually voice this, but does our practice or attitude toward godliness tell a different tale?
The Basis of Godliness
The godliness of the church is an important matter as Paul writes to Titus. Godliness is not simply a matter of issuing and enforcing commands. If that is where the discussion of godliness begins, it is putting a yoke of slavery upon the church that is doomed to failure. That starting point strips the gospel from our godliness and is the very reason Paul does not begin his letter to Titus with a command, but an uncovering of the basis of godliness. In the last installment we saw that it was the purpose of God that people grow in godliness. Now, in the remainder of the opening of Titus (1:2-4), we see that the basis of godliness is grace.
Godliness is ultimately rooted in God’s eternal plan to save sinners. Paul was a servant and apostle “for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which leads to godliness” (1:1). This is “upon the hope of eternal life” (my translation). The basis is hope of eternal life, which God promised before the ages began. In other words, God’s purpose to bring about the godliness of his people through his chosen means is designed in the eternal counsel of the Triune God. It is God’s design that he would free his people from the penalty, power, and presence of sin through his Son, Jesus Christ.
The security of this promise is in God’s own Word backed by his own character, which is described as “never-lying.” This is a stark contrast from the deities of Crete, especially Zeus who was said to be the “father of Crete.” He was noted for his duplicity and his deceptiveness. Isn’t this the way of all false gods? They never deliver what they promise, whether it’s an idol made from stone, money, power, or anything of the like. God, however, never lies and with regard to the hope of eternal life that he promised in eternity, it will come to pass.
Linking Godliness and Preaching
That which was promised before the ages is now made manifest through the preaching of the apostle Paul. The content of the apostolic preaching discloses the purpose of God to the church. In one sense, Paul was given the gospel by the risen and ascended Christ, but the content of the message given to him is now contained in the canon of the New Testament. Thus, those who proclaim the Word of God stand in the line of the apostle Paul as he passed on the apostolic mandate to preach the gospel to the next generation (see 2 Timothy 4:1-2) and thus to every subsequent generation until the Lord returns.
Grace-based godliness is not only seen in its design in eternity, but also in the means, by which, its effect is produced. Paul stated that his ministry was for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth (v. 1). How is it that they (God’s elect) come to this knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness? It is through the ministry of proclamation. There is a link between godliness and preaching. In other words, not only is God’s eternal purpose manifested through preaching, but God’s purpose is affected through it as well. Paul says it a bit differently in Colossians. “Him [Christ] we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Col. 1:28, ESV). Christ is proclaimed with the purpose being that everyone would be presented mature in Christ. Paul preaches Christ in order that believers would grow in godliness. Preaching is something that comes to you and is not something you do, but a message that is delivered to you, from God, by his messenger. It is not self-generated. Thus, the gracious basis of godliness is clearly seen. It is not what you do, but what God does to you and has done for you.
What is the application of this? Godliness does not begin with us. It is not us doing this or that and then God will grow you in godliness. It is God who first affects his work in us according to his own design by his own means. He is the first cause. Over the course of our lives we grow in godliness. We love one another more. We love Christ more. We fulfill our God-given roles more. We love reading the Bible more. We love praying more. We hate sin more. It is the evidence that the power of sin has been broken in our lives. Our godliness is obtained for us, not by our work in the flesh, but by Christ’s work in the flesh. His life, death, and resurrection have secured our godliness according to God’s design of the hope of eternal life.
For the pastor who faithfully preaches the Word of God to the flock each week, take heart. The Lord is using you to shape his people according to his own purpose. Though there are bound to be times when the fruit of godliness in your congregation may appear to ebb and flow, be faithful to the means God has ordained knowing that you are standing on the sure foundation of God’s design of eternal life in Christ and being used to effect that which Christ secured.
For the congregation member who longs for more godliness and struggles with sin, rest in the finished work of Christ. Don’t fall prey to the deception that if only I do this or that then God will make me more holy or set me free from this sin. God does not promise us the absence of the presence of sin this side of the new creation. What he does promise is that we will grow in godliness because of his grace administered to us on account of Christ’s finished work through his means of preaching each and every week. Attend to the means that God has ordained and he will bring to pass that which he promises for he is the God who never lies.
As a word of caution, the gracious basis of godliness is not a license for complacency. Paul clearly states that we are to “put to death what is earthly in you” (Col. 3:5). God’s grace is both the motivation and the power by which we do struggle against sin in this life.
About David Thommen
David is a graduate of Western Seminary. He serves as the Assistant Director of Western Seminary's Doctor of Ministry program and The Spurgeon Fellowship and teaches in the Bible and Theology department. David also serves on the executive committee of the Northwest Chapter of ETS and has served in Pastoral Ministry for over 10 years. He currently serves as the pastor at New Life Church Robinwood.