Good Works in Titus

The struggle between good works and faith has deep root in the history of the Church. A key debate in the Protestant Reformation was the role works have in the salvation of a man. In modern times, the lordship salvation debate between John MacArthur and some others in the 1990’s was really a debate about the nature and necessity of works in the Christian life. Numerous Scriptures were used throughout the debates both in the Reformation and in the modern quarrels. James 2:14-24 was beaten to death during the lordship salvation debates. Christ calling His people to obedience throughout the Gospels was also scrutinized. Paul’s letters to Rome, Corinth and Galatia were used on both sides of the argument.

A lesser known letter by Paul gives us some perspective on the issue of good works in the life of the Christian.

Titus was written by St. Paul late in his life, probably between 62-64 A.D. The recipient, a Gentile Christian probably converted by Paul, was left in Crete to finish the work Paul had started there. It is not the most famous New Testament book. It is short and probably preferred by ministers for its pastoral content. You will rarely find it listed in someone’s “favorite books of the Bible” section. Despite its relative obscurity, it has numerous practical exhortations that are worth looking at.

In a recent reading of Titus I found the issue of good works being brought to my attention. Paul’s advice to Titus is particularly important because Titus was a pastor. What was Paul’s exhortation to this pastor on the island of Crete? Did he tell Titus to be very careful about mentioning good works to his people? Did he imply that pressing good works upon the flock will make them legalists, who are earning their way to heaven? Let’s see what was Paul’s admonition to this pastor.

There are seven uses of the Greek word, ergon, in Titus. Normally ergon is translated as work or deed. Here are the seven uses. I am using the New King James Version text.

1:16 They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work.

2:6-7 Likewise, exhort the young men to be sober-minded, (7) in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility,

2:14 who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.

3:4-5 But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, (5) not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit,

3:8 This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men.

3:14 And let our people also learn to maintain good works, to meet urgent needs, that they may not be unfruitful.

The verses that are most familiar to us are the magnificent encapsulation of the Gospel found in Titus 3:4-5. These verses show that works are not the basis or reason for our salvation. It is only because God is merciful and kind that we are redeemed. Works are left out of this equation entirely. Most Protestants are comfortable with these verses.

It is the remaining verses that make us uneasy. Paul is pushy in exhorting Titus to preach good works to his people. Look at the language Paul uses, “a pattern of good works…zealous for good works…maintain good works…maintain good works.” For Paul good works are not a sign of legalism. Good works are the necessary fruit of a Christian life. They are absolutely essential. Get that last sentence and plant it in your mind. Pastors are to exhort their people to good works. Many pastors who are afraid to use this type of language. They fear they will be misunderstood. They fear they will be accused of being Roman Catholic or legalistic. But if we are going to preach Titus 3:4-5, we must also preach Titus 3:8 and 14. Paul did not shrink back from telling his people and his pastors to make good works a priority. A man who wants a ministry like Paul’s must not either.

Legalism can be a problem in churches and must be avoided. However, a greater issue in the modern evangelical church is the failure to be holy, the failure to be zealous for good works. An effective minister will know which way the cultural wind is blowing and fight against it. In our age the danger is not mainly those who create new laws, like the Pharisees, but rather those who reject God’s Law altogether or pick and choose which part of the Scriptures they want to obey. One way a pastor combats this is to preach the necessity of good works.

Structure of I John 1:5-2:2

Here is the structure for I John 1:5-2:2, which form one unit of thought. John give us three different if-then statements that expose a false claim. All three are followed by the correction to that false claim, as well as pointing us to Jesus Christ and his sacrifice on the cross. In these verses John expresses some glorious gospel truths with a wonderful literary structure. I end each section with a paraphrase.


False Claim #1 (I John 1:6-7)
If we say that we have fellowship with God, but walk in darkness
We lie and do not do the truth

We cannot live a life dominated by sin and still claim to be saved.

Truth #1
If we walk in the light as he is in the light.
We have fellowship with one another
Jesus cleanses us from all sin.

A life dominated by righteousness will be seen by our fellowship with one another and with Christ.

False Claim #2 (I John 1:8-9)
If we say that we do not have sin
We deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us

A claim to be without sin (or possibly without a sin nature) will cause us to live in a fantasy land. We will be living a lie.

Truth #2
If we confess our sins
He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness

Regular confession of sin is one of the antidotes to believing ourselves sinless. We can confess our sins with confidence because God has promised to forgive us.

False Claim #3 (I John 1:10-2:2)
If we say that we have not sinned
We make him a liar and his word is not in us.

A claim to be without sin blasphemes God and shows that his word does not live in us.

Truth #3
These things I write so you might not sin
If anyone might sin
We have an advocate with the Father Jesus Christ the righteous
and He is the propitiation for our sins and the sins of the whole world.

We are to strive to be without sin. The previous verses (I John 1:5-10) are not meant to encourage loose living. However, we will sin and when we do we have a present righteous intercessor whose past blood-sacrifice covers all of our sins.

No Growth Without Suffering

Heb5.jpgI am reading J.C. Ryle’s excellent book Holiness. Ryle can be a bit too revivalistic at times, but he is strong where we are weakest: on the need for practical rightousness.  In his chapter on growth in grace he ends by noting that without suffering we would rarely grow.

Last, but not least, if we know anything of growth in grace and desire to know more, let us not be surprised if we have to go through much trial and affliction in this world. I firmly believe it is the experience of nearly all the most eminent saints. Like their blessed Master, they have been men of sorrows, acquainted with grief, and perfected through sufferings (Isaiah 53:3; Hebrews 2:10).

It is a striking saying of our Lord, “Every branch in Me that bears fruit [my Father] purges it, that it may bring forth more fruit” (John 15:2). It is a melancholy fact, that constant temporal prosperity, as a general rule, is injurious to a believer’s soul. We cannot stand it. Sicknesses and losses and crosses and anxieties and disappointments seem absolutely needful to keep us humble, watchful and spiritual–minded. They are as needful as the pruning knife to the vine and the refiner’s furnace to the gold. They are not pleasant to flesh and blood. We do not like them and often do not see their meaning. “No chastening for the present seems to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness” (Heb. 12:11). We shall find that all worked for our good when we reach Heaven.

Let these thoughts abide in our minds, if we love growth in grace. When days of darkness come upon us, let us not count it a strange thing. Rather let us remember that lessons are learned on such days, which would never have been learned in sunshine. Let us say to ourselves, “This also is for my profit, that I may be a partaker of God’s holiness. It is sent in love. I am in God’s best school. Correction is instruction. This is meant to make me grow.”

When do we grow the most?  Is it not often in time of pains, suffering, disappointment, and hardship? When all is well, we are often grateful, but  it is hard to grow. Much like an athlete we must have pressure, pain, increasing difficulty if we are to see results. God like any good father gives us hard things to help us mature.  I find it odd when men come to Christ expecting ease and comfort. The Scriptures are clear: to follow Jesus is often painful and hard.  After all, even our Lord learned obedience through the things he suffered. How much more do we sinful creatures need our Father to send us painful circumstances!

Book Review: WCWBF, Part II-What Exactly is She Proposing?


Earlier I wrote that one basic problem with Mrs. Byrd’s new book, Why Can’t We Be Friends,  is she does not prove that the problem she is addressing, that of men and women in the church not being friends because the church has adopted a worldly mindset, actually exists in large enough numbers and is taught by a large enough group of leaders to be a major issue in the evangelical church. As I read, I found it hard to nail down exactly what she wanted us to do or think. The book meandered a bit and much of what she said, especially in the second half, all parties agree with. So this post is a bit boring, but my goal is to state clearly what I think she is trying to accomplish.

Here is what she cannot be proposing:

First, she cannot be proposing that men and women should become friends in group settings. Most men and women, even when married, are perfectly fine having friendships that are social and public. Couples having dinner together or groups meeting together in a social setting would not violate anything I have read from those opposed to Mrs. Byrd’s suggestions. Most men I know are happy to talk to women in a  public, social setting.  Our church is super-patriarchal, yet we talk with opposite the sex after church, at church picnics, etc.

Second, she cannot be proposing that men and women should work together vocationally. Again, who is saying that men and women should not work together? Perhaps there would be  (and should be) some discussion when there are late nights at the office or road trips. But the idea of men and women working together, even a pastor and female secretary alone at the office for eight hours, is rarely if ever opposed.  I would be overjoyed if work places were a lot less coed. But no doubt I am in a very, small minority.

Third, she cannot be proposing that singles should have opportunities to meet one on one, such as a date. (One of the problems with this book and at least one review I read is they equate developing opposite sex friendships when single and doing the same thing when married. They are different for one obvious reason: the person is no longer single.) There are courtship advocates who may go so far as to say a single man should never be alone with a girl. But that is not the norm. Most of the evangelical church, reformed church, and even courtship advocates are fine, to varying degrees,  with singles being alone with each other on dinner dates, going to movies, driving, etc.

Fourth, despite Douglas Wilson’s tweet about not helping a woman unless her bone was sticking out, I think most men, including Doug, would gladly help a woman if she needed it. I doubt the main point of this book is that men should help women who have flat tires or need their groceries loaded in their trunk.    Continue reading

Book Review: Why Can’t We Be Friends, Part I- Houston, Is There a Problem?

WCWBFWhen one writes a book addressing a specific problem instead of a general overview of a subject they must first prove that the problem exists. For example, if I am writing a general book on how a Christian should approach his vocation,  I might address the Biblical view of work, key passages such as Ephesians 6, some common workplace problems, etc. But if I think there has been a decline in manual labor among Christians and I plan to write a book addressing that decline, I must first prove that such a decline exists, then I must prove that it is a bad thing, and only then can I offer solutions.

Aimee Byrd’s latest book is not general, but specific. She believes there is a problem between men and women in the church. She believes that Christians are being taught by the culture that friendship between men and women is bad. She believes we have adopted the mindset of Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally where we let the threat of sex get in the way of friendship. Continue reading