“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.”
Crete was an interesting place in the first century, which is evident in Paul’s repeating the saying that “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” (Titus 1:12–13a). Notably, it is easy to tie first-century Cretan morals to Cretan religious beliefs. The non-Christians on Crete held some theological views that were unorthodox even for pagans. For example, the Cretans often asserted that the god Zeus was born a man on Crete, attained godhood in return for bestowing certain favors on the island’s citizens, and then later died and was buried there. Few people really believed this, but the lie was perpetuated to get tourists to visit Zeus’ grave. Cretan theology was based on an outright lie, and it inevitably produced a society that played fast and loose with the truth.
Those Cretans who became Christians, however, were not to behave in such godless ways, as Paul has explained time and again in Titus 1:10–2:10. Self-control, reliability, and honesty are all traits that the Cretan Christians were to possess, and they are qualities that God’s people must evidence today. Yet the apostle does not view these characteristics as the starting point of the Christian life but as the result of believing the right things about our Creator and His work. This is plain in today’s passage. Titus 2:11 begins with “for,” telling us that what comes in the next few verses is the reason and basis for Paul’s ethical instruction. We live in holiness because God’s grace “has appeared, bringing salvation for all people” (v. 11). Gratitude for what the Lord has done is the motivation for holiness, and the power for sanctification is the Holy Spirit who regenerates us, gives us faith in Jesus, and indwells us. Holy living is the fruit of salvation; it is not what moves God to redeem us (Gal. 2:15–16; 5:22–23).
By His grace our God has brought salvation for all people (Titus 2:11), but this is no endorsement of universalism as Paul makes clear in other passages (Rom. 2:1–11). Instead, the apostle means that God’s salvation extends to every imaginable person who confesses Christ as the resurrected Lord. Jesus came not to save only one nation; rather, He has come to redeem His people, which includes representatives from every tribe and tongue (Rev. 7:9–10).
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
John Calvin says, “The manifestation of the grace of God unavoidably carries along with it exhortations to a holy life.” We begin to live rightly because of God’s grace towards us, and each time the Lord forgives us we grow more thankful for His mercy and thus more motivated to do His will. He is not required to pardon us once, much less repeatedly. Such abundant grace mercifully leads us to pursue holiness.