Titus 3:3-4 “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.”
Sin enslaves. It enslaves us to our own passions and pleasures. Since our passions and pleasures look so appealing, because they are simply what we want, we aren’t even aware of our slavery. How often doesn’t the advertising we see invite us to make our passions and pleasures the focus of our lives? How often doesn’t the “pursuit of happiness” become people living in slavery to self? How much doesn’t “being hated and hating one another” describe the polarized society in which we live—right vs. left, conservative vs. liberal, people of faith vs. secular elitists, all screaming at each other and writing nasty things about each other online?
This slavery involves more than greedy or hurtful things people do. It taints our good behavior, too. That’s why Paul must exclude “righteous things we have done” from the salvation formula. More than God is concerned with our outward behavior, he is concerned with the attitude behind the action. Keeping his law has more to do with love than keeping in step with the right rules. Look at the “righteous” things people do. If there is not first faith in God, then the actions reveal no love for him, no matter how good they look. “Without faith it is impossible to please God,” the Bible tells us. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart,” is the first and greatest commandment.
Doing good things to win God over further sullies our motives. If we do good to pay for our sins and earn a place in heaven, how does that show any love for the Lord? How does that show any love for people we may be helping? Aren’t we just loving ourselves? The crook pays off the authorities so that they will look the other way when he is doing his dirty work. Christians can fall into this same “dealing” with the Authority, trying to trade three good behaviors for permission to keep one evil one. Using God while we are looking out for our own selfish interests isn’t “righteous.” We see, then, that there is no possibility of doing anything truly righteous, moved by pure love for the Lord, until he has taken care of this matter of salvation. Only after his love, grace, forgiveness, and eternal life are an established fact he has given us as a gift, do we stop trying to selfishly earn them on our own.
“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us…” This salvation is all God’s work. It appeared when Jesus did. The Lord has taken everything Jesus did and made it mine. He has taken everything I have done and made it Jesus’ own. Jesus lived the only truly righteous, pure, and loving life the world has ever seen. His life counts for me. To God none of my faults and failings are visible anymore. Jesus died in payment for my sins. I died with him there. His death counts for me, and I will never need to make that payment again.
This salvation is more than a mathematical formula in God’s great accounting system. Paul says that here God’s kindness and love appeared. He did this because of his mercy. More than cold, hard facts, these are warm and living proof God’s care for us is deep and heartfelt. Here we find the faithful Friend who will never turn away from us. Here we find the Savior whose love is so great, patient, and free nothing could ever stop it. He makes no external demands on us. He sets up no criteria we must first meet. He requires not one single thing to make us worthy. Purely out of his love, kindness, and mercy, he gives us salvation. He gave his very self for it. He left us nothing more to do.
Sin enslaves, but God saves. It is all a matter of his mercy.