In chapter 3, Paul calls Titus to keep his focus on the most important matters in church leadership – on responding to God’s grace by doing good works. It’s important to keep things in the right order: first he reminds us that the loving kindgness of God appeared to save us not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but purely of his grace, which we receive through baptism and the Holy Spirit.
Paul always stressed the importance of grace – God’s free gift of unearned and undeserved love, working out in salvation. That meant that he often had to defend his gospel against accusations of playing down the call to good deeds; because our salvation isn’t build on them, it’s easy to argue that they don’t really matter that much. God will accept us whether or not we live well. Paul doesn’t give that point of view much space.
To Paul, salvation always seems to have a ‘so that’ as well as a ‘from’. It’s not just (or even so much that) we’ve been saved ‘from’ the effects of sin as that we’ve been saved ‘so that’ we can live righteously and do good. That doing good seems here to be more important than the details of doctrine, Biblical interpretation and so on. Titus is warned not to let his ministry be sidetracked by ‘stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.’ (Tit.3:9).
I love debates about doctrine, the Bible and so on. But I can’t help recognising that Paul’s right here. As a church we spend so much time on controversies over things that aren’t actually fundamental that we are distracted from the primary task Paul sets Titus here; to respond to God’s grace by doing good to others.
How would it change our faith and church life if we really believed that the point of salvation by grace through faith is that we would be released by the Spirit to do more good works than we would have done if our salvation depended on it in the first place? It might be interesting to find out.