“Being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (v. 7).
From first to last, God saves His people by grace alone. In divine election, He chooses men and women in Christ for redemption based on nothing in them but only on account of His gracious choice to set His love on them (Rom. 9:1–29; Eph. 1:3–6). Furthermore, in regeneration, God acts alone and wholly by His grace. He takes hearts dead in sin and makes them alive unto Him, giving them the gifts of faith and repentance (Eph. 2:1–9). Through the reading and especially the preaching of His Word, God by His Holy Spirit makes us born again of imperishable seed (1 Peter 1:22–25). His saving grace finally overcomes the resistance of all those whom He has chosen to redeem, and they are brought to new spiritual life that cannot be lost.
Today’s passage explains that as the Lord applies the salvation purchased by Christ to His people, our justification—being declared righteous and forgiven of sin—is also a work of grace (v. 7). It is impossible to overstate this point, for justification by grace alone through faith alone, apart from our works, is central to the gospel. This is the doctrine that the Protestant Reformers proclaimed against the medieval system of salvation, which said grace is necessary for justification but that our final justification also requires our good works.
When we study texts such as Titus 3:4–7, it is easy to understand why the Reformers were so insistent on the gracious character of justification. As verse 5 tells us, God saved us “not because of works done by us in righteousness.” Paul sets up in this verse the antithesis to justification by grace alone. If justification is by grace, it cannot involve any of our own deeds of obedience, no matter how pleasing to the Lord they may be. To look to the works done by us in righteousness as the root of justification and not the fruit of justification is to take grace off the table. Our righteousness before God is wholly a gift. The righteousness of Christ is a perfect righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21), so not even our best works can be added to it. To try to add any works to the righteousness of Christ is, in fact, to take away from the righteousness of Christ. It is to say that what our perfect Savior has done is not perfect after all.
Our new hearts are a gift. Our faith is a gift. And our righteous status before God is a gift as well. Only by grace do we stand before God unafraid.
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
We will cover justification in more detail in the weeks ahead. For now, let us note how critical it is that we know our good works do not and cannot justify us. The very honor of Christ is at stake in this. If we suggest our works are necessary for justification, we are saying what Christ gives us is insufficient, which denigrates His work. By upholding justification by grace alone, we are honoring the Lord Jesus Christ.