Six times in his little three chapter letter to Titus, Paul calls for Christians to be into good deeds (1:16; 2:7,14; 3:1,8,14). The last of these six comes near the end of the book where he says, “Our people also need to learn to engage in good deeds…” (3:14). He even goes so far as to say that the reason Christ Jesus saved us was to redeem us from our lawless deeds “…and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds” (2:14). We cannot miss, then, the fact that God has not saved us just to save us. He intends to make us into a people of active goodness in the world.
And in the context of all this emphasis on good deeds, the apostle writes, “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy…” (3:5). Literally, Paul tells us that our salvation is ‘not from’—‘not sourced in’—any righteous deeds on our part (ouk ex ergōn = “not out of works”). Instead, it is completely according to His mercy (and by the means of a bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit)!
[Huge sigh of relief goes here.]
Boy, is that good news.
If God is to save me on the basis of my good works, I’m sunk. Look at the list that characterizes us prior to the rebirth and renewal of the Spirit: “thoughtless,” “led astray,” “enslaved to various passions and pleasures,” “killing time in wickedness and envy,” “hated,” “hating each other” (3:3). And it’s not as though Paul has the worst non-Christians in mind here. Rather, he is thinking of all people in general. That’s who he has just referred to in verses 1-2; if there is any particular class or kind of people in view, it is the people good enough to be in civic leadership (v. 1). No, if God is going to save anyone, it won’t be related in any way to righteous deeds on their part.
Nevertheless, He saves us for good deeds. Paul insists that Titus insist on this point. Drenched in the Holy Spirit, Christians are to be a people of good deeds. Justified by grace, Christians are to be a people of good deeds. As heirs of the hope of eternal life, Christians are to be a people of good deeds. As those who trust in God, Christians are to be a people who thoughtfully engage in good deeds.
Good deeds. It’s not where our salvation comes from. But it is what our salvation is for.
Lord Jesus, forgive me for my tendency to rest on the laurels of Your merciful salvation. Make me a vessel of Your grace and love in this world. I want to be profitable for people. Father, wash me anew with Your Spirit for this purpose. In Jesus, amen.