09 September 2009

"But" - "Not" - and "So That"

by Frank Turk

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

It’s another rich passage we find in Titus from Paul this week, dear Pastor reader, so I want to focus on 3 words here which guide us through this passage – and speak so clearly to the work of a pastor that we must, somehow, get a hold of them.

The main action here, praise God, is “he [God] saved us”. This is of course the foundation of Paul’s message to all the churches and people to whom he writes. But look at what he says here: “he saved us not because of works done by us”. Yes, of course, you think – God did not save us because we deserved to be saved. This is what is meant by the next phrase “but according to his own mercy.”

You know: it’s not “mercy” if you actually deserve to be forgiven – if you have been wrongly accused or have somehow paid your own penalty already.

Not because of works, but by God’s mercy” is the summary statement of the method of the Gospel. And if you’re reading this blog for the first time or something, and you’ve never heard this before, think about the need for God’s mercy in you. Think of your own shortcomings – even if you’re a pretty good person. God didn’t send Jesus for the purpose of dying on the cross because he wanted to make a grand gesture toward people: he did it because people were baby-down-the-mineshaft lost and someone had to go down there and get them.

But dear Pastor reader, consider it: “Not because of works, but by God’s mercy SO THAT being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

The full measure of what it means to be “justified by his grace” and “heirs according to the hope of eternal life” comes up in the next section of this letter, and I know I sort of get boring talking about this, but what Paul is saying here is that somehow we need to be GRATEFUL PEOPLE. Not only did God save us, and not only did God save us not because of our works (meaning: he didn’t save us since our works were so spiffy), and not only was this saving done because God has mercy toward us, but we are now, in his accounting, justified in receiving eternal life.

We are now actually entitled to eternal life because of what God has done for us.

That’s pretty good news, dear pastor – and you could preach that on Sunday in short order. But that’s not half of it, but we are on the verge of the announce of the next generation of Johnson progeny, and I don;t want to have the real preaching get bumped by the happy announcement. We’ll come back to this one next week -- after I win the office pool and Anne & Jedi name the baby "Cornelius Eliasaph Johnson". I was pulling for "Colonel Sanders Johnson", but that seemed too obvious.


DJP said...

It's wonderful news. It's good to have a merciful, gracious, transforming gospel to preach.

olan strickland said...

Not because of works, but by God’s mercy” is the summary statement of the method of the Gospel.

Amen Frank! Although Paul plainly states in Romans that justification is not by works, he also says in Romans 3:24, "being justified by a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus". The word translated "gift" or in other versions "freely" means "without a cause." There was no cause in us for God to grant us justification!

You know: it’s not “mercy” if you actually deserve to be forgiven – if you have been wrongly accused or have somehow paid your own penalty already.

And I would add that it is not mercy if the mercy given is less than legal and therefore illegal.

JG said...

Good word!

Stefan Ewing said...

This is a good lesson in paying careful attention to Paul's use of conjunctions and adverbs!

...That's "good" as in "illustrative," but more importantly, "good" as in "Good News."

I was studying Psalm 79:9 last night. ("...Deliver us and atone for our sins, for Your Name's sake.") It is God alone who can provide the only and all-sufficient atonement for our sins—and the good news is that He has done that very thing!

Us said...

I know I sort of get boring talking about this,

actually no, you don't.

James Scott Bell said...

Oh yes, the wonderful depth of preaching God's grace and mercy. If you don't embrace gratitude in light of that, you've missed the mark somewhere.

ezekiel said...

Good post. Now I have a question or two.

1)It is my understanding that this justification that we speak of happens quickly. That once we are in Christ, we have been justified, made righteous. Apart from works of the law. (Rom 3:28, 4:3-6)

Why then do folks say we are still sinners and will always sin, until we die?

Is it true at that point that "it is no longer I that sin but sin in me"?

2)If anyone can make the case that indeed we are still sinners then how do we deal with Romans 8 if we are still sinners?

I have been working out Phil 3, Romans 3-5,9, Galatians 2-3 and Ephesians 2 for a good while now. Seems I have some RC influence in my SS class and trying to find the right way to counter it. Thanks

FX Turk said...

ezekiel --

What's your pastor say about all that? I can answer, but berfore I do I'm curious about what your pastor says about these things.

Strong Tower said...

So what am I gonna do with all these Purgatory points now?

ezekiel said...

Well Frank, I will let you know assuming I can get an appointment. He is pretty busy you know....

Sorry for the bother. Still a good post though.

David Regier said...

Thanks for the good news, Frank. Wish you had a little more space for the "by," the "whom," and the "through." But that's just because I like reading what you have to say.

Stefan Ewing said...

Strong Tower:

If you've got some supererogatory Purgatory Points stored up that you don't need, I've got a business proposition for you.

"As soon as a coin in the coffer rings..."

David Regier said...

Perhaps we need a supererogatory Purgatory allegory.

DJP said...

Am I detecting some derogatory Purgatory oratory?

Phil said...

I run a montessori that teaches purgatory, and until this meta is ended I remain gravely offended.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for addressing pastors specifically and challenging them to preach the gospel.

"even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life" (John 17:2).

Notice the hina translated 'that' He is the authority (Lord) so that He can save.

For one to think that they had a part in their salvation seems to argue toward self deification.

Thanks for the passage and your comments, I always am encouraged.

mike said...

are purgatory points "rollover points" or do they expire when you do?

mike said...

thing that gets me here,
seems in the circle i live in anyway, often these promises from God are tossed around like good news to everyone. but none of this is really good news to those who don't believe.
seems like sometimes we are dealing with a much wider gate than Christ stated, and therefore more recipients to celebrate with.

David Regier said...

Unless you have an a fortiori purgatory story, this meta vendetta will end in limbo mumbo jumbo.

Done. Sorry, Frank. I used to get in trouble for this stuff in school all the time. And then in staff meetings. Come to think of it, around the dinner table too.

FX Turk said...

We're going to name this thread "the purgatory moratorium story" and never speak of it again, for the sake of God's glory.

Now seriously: how am I the first one to say "for God's glory" in a thread where "ori" rhyme are being tossed around? Are you people reformed or not?

DJP said...


That is a sad, sad story.

Stefan Ewing said...


Strong Tower said...

Why worried,
we're justified not purgatoried.
No matter the tale be hoary,
ne'er dims the vail though gory still heralds the righteous glory of our savior he.

I suppose that wipes out my grace points, Stefan.

philness said...

Glo ray. Glory to God for his Mercy and Grace. And in that order.

baby-down-the mineshaft. He said, baby, down, the mineshaft. Man, that's funny...I can't stop laughing.

Baby down the mineshaft, lost.

Because you know, people were all...baby-down-the mineshaft lost. I'm crying.

leoeris said...

So very sad that modern christians ARE the evil in the world.