Paul’s letter to Titus is brief and direct. While many of his letters follow the pattern of instruction (doctrine) and then application (practice), this particular letter dives right into the application of Christian doctrine. In fact, Paul lays out the main theme of his letter in the introduction: truth leads to godliness (1:1). We’ll explore how Paul lays out this theme, but first some introductory information is necessary.
When did Paul write this letter? Probably AD 63-64 after 1 Timothy before 2 Timothy. Where did Paul write? Nicopolis (3:12), which was on the west side of Achaia, modern-day Greece. To whom did Paul write the letter? Primarily, Paul wrote to Titus, but the benediction at the end is plural. This suggests that while Paul is instructing Titus on matters related to Titus’ ministry on Crete, that instruction is important for every believer to hear. With that in mind, let’s dive in to explore Paul’s message that truth leads to godliness.
While Paul does not spend a substantial amount of time on doctrine in this letter, he nevertheless grounds his teaching in important truth. So we must first consider the matter of truth before the matter of godliness. So, what is the truth? Paul sketches it out in his introduction. Paul begins by reminding Timothy that he has been called to be a servant and apostle for a purpose, namely that the faith and knowledge of God’s elect might lead to godliness and hope for eternal life (1:1-2). Paul then says that the truth, which is the basis for our faith and knowledge, is a sure and steadfast anchor for three reasons.
First, this truth came from the unchanging God (1:2) who is not like man that he should change his mind. Second, God has promised eternal life “before the ages began” (1:2). This phrase (repeated in 2 Tim 1:9) reminds Titus that God has always intended to give eternal life to his chosen people. Or to put it another way, salvation in Jesus Christ is not plan B. This leads to the third reason in 1:3, namely that the eternal plan of God to redeem his people became a reality when God revealed (or made known) his good news. This God did through Paul’s preaching to the Cretans.
So, to summarize, the truth as stated in Paul’s introduction is that God has a chosen people whom he has saved by means of his word through preaching. But that’s not all Paul has to say about the truth. He also describes the content of God’s word, i.e. his gospel message, in 3:3-8. These verses are a trustworthy saying (3:8) that form the basis for godliness. What is the content of the gospel then? It is a realization that we are sinful (3:3). Paul lumps himself in with the Cretans as one who was “once foolish” and “disobedient,” among other things. In short, the gospel message begins with an acknowledgement that we all need a savior. But it doesn’t end with the need; rather, it ends with salvation (3:4-7). And this salvation is Trinitarian in nature. As we saw in the introduction, God the Father appointed a time for the revelation of his eternal plan of redemption (3:4). God the Son accomplished this plan of redemption (3:6). God the Spirit applied this redemption to us individually (3:5). And, consistent with what he had said before, this was all for the purpose of making his chosen people heirs “according to the hope of eternal life” (3:7; cf. 1:2).
So the truth of the gospel is summarized in two words: sin and salvation. But that’s just the beginning. In light of sin and salvation, Paul tells Titus that all of this leads to service. The whole picture consists of three words: sin, salvation, and service. Or, to put it the way Paul does in his greeting, truth leads to godliness.
So much for the truth, but what about the godliness? Paul’s consistent teaching is that truth produces inward and outward change in believers. Inwardly, all believers are being trained “to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives” (2:12). That is to say, character changes are evident in God’s people. This is true for everyone in the church, whether that person is an overseer (1:6-8), older man (2:2), older woman (2:3), younger woman (2:4-5), younger man (2:6), Titus (2:7-8), or slave (2:9-10). Paul is clear. Everyone is changed by the truth of the gospel message.
And this change extends outwardly as well. Paul calls believers on multiple occasions to practice good works. This call applies to Titus, who must be a “model of good works” (2:7). It applies generally to all believers who must be “zealous for” (2:14), “ready for” (3:1), and devoted to (3:8, 14) good works. For a preparedness to do good works distinguishes true believers from false ones who are “unfit for any good work” (1:16).
So I hope the point is clear. The great truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ must result in an inward change in character and an outward practice of good works. These are the distinguishing factors between those who are the chosen of God and those who “profess to know God” but “deny him by their works” (1:16).