Titus 3:8 "The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people."
Paul is writing this letter to Titus, who he left on the island of Crete. He has some things he wanted Titus to do there. Paul tells pastor Titus that he needs to insist on a few things. Meaning, these things, whatever they are, aren't optional. They must be insisted on. If these things are insisted on, those who have believed in God (Christians) will be careful to devote themselves to good works. As a bonus, Titus is told, "These things are excellent and profitable for people." Wow! Do you want excellent and profitable things? Do you want to be more careful in your devotion to good works? Well then, lean in. Pull yourself closer to the screen. We are about to get some gospel deliciousness! What are these things?
I am glad you asked! Titus chapter 2 ends with verse 15, "Declare these things." This is important because we clearly see chapter 3 opening up with new things that Titus is to insist on. The things he must insist on are the things found in chapter 3:1-8. Let's take a look.
In verses, 1-2 Paul tells Titus 7 commands. These commands are as good and binding on as they were for the Christians on the in Crete. The Christians on Crete were to live differently than those around them. Cretans had a reputation. There were reputable for being liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons. That's what Paul said in chapter 1. The way of living described here in chapter 3 is a totally different way of living. To live this new way would be to stand out like 6 ft. sixth-grader. Cretan Christians were being called to conduct themselves with honor among a people of dishonor.
What next? Insist on living differently. Got ya Paul. But that's not all. Paul gives us some reasons for our living differently. In verse 3 he reminds the island brothers of who they used to be. The Christian Cretans used to be simply Cretans. Meaning, they needed to remember their former life. That former life was full of foolishness, disobedience, gullibility, slaves to their own feelings and desires, and living day by day in malice and envy. Again, this is not just for Cretan believers. We need to remember that we were culpable products of our sinful environment as well. We stand with our non-believing neighbors and say "We are the same." Christians are not Christians because we cleaned ourselves up. Cretan Christians did not get God's attention by not being honest, loving Care Bears, and hard-working farmers. They were just like their Cretan friends! And so were we. Remember, Titus is to insist on these things and these things are excellent and profitable for us.
"Thanks for beating us up Paul!" The Cretan inside of us cries! But you know this, bad news must come before the good news. If we don't know how bad the bad news is it is impossible to know how good the good news is. Our knowledge of how good the good news is directly related to our knowledge of how bad the bad news is. In keeping with Paul's typical pattern, the bad news comes before the big but.
"But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life." vs 4-7
Look! Behold! See these excellent and profitable things! Notice the places the goodness and loving-kindness of Jesus show up. Jesus arrived, he drew near, when these brothers and sister were at their worst. Jesus did not wait for the people to climb out of the spiritual grave or distinguish themselves as a different kind of Cretan. Jesus showed up while they were at their worst. He chooses to give his attraction to those who are in the gutter. Even to those who don't know they are in the gutter. He drew near. And he did something. He did not try to do something for them. Jesus does not try, he does. He saved them!
The Cretans must hear, no matter how painful it is at first, "He saved us." They were passive in this thing. Something happened to them. Salvation came their way when they least expect it to. Their sin did not repulse Jesus. Jesus saw them, the dead who thought they were living, and he gave them life!
To say Jesus saved us is to say that we did not save ourselves. To those who decry this fact, they are as foolish as those who want credit for receiving a handmade gift. When the recipient of a gift wants credit for receiving the gift, this is the epitome of narcissism. All credit goes to the gift-giver! Come on man! He saved us!
Notice the reason that is giving for the saving work of Jesus. It is stated to the negative. "Not according to works done by us." Jesus did not save us because of anything in us or done by us. Jesus saved us in spite of us! Yes, in spite of us. He goes on to say, we are regenerated and renewed by the Holy Spirit. This was by the very mercy of Jesus and all of it was poured out on us richly through Christ our Savior. This was all done to us so that we would become heirs with Christ. And this all came to us while we were in the gutters of Crete!
Now to the crazy part! We made it back to where we started! "Insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works!" Seriously Paul!? Insist on the fact that their works had nothing to do with their salvation and have nothing to do with keeping their salvation? And do that so they will be careful to devote themselves to good works?" Yup!
Long story short. Do you want to be carefully devoted to good works? Then I must insist on something today. So must you. Your works have nothing to do with God gracing you. Your works have nothing to do with keeping you graced by God.