In the Letter to Titus – Paul says ‘good works’ a lot. Why?
In light of the book of Galatians, where for to many, it would seem to indicate that works are not of great value for the spiritual life. That by faith and by Grace alone are we enabled to live a Godly life. Works alone then are of no use in ones spiritual life. This is a rough synopsis of only some of the thought coming out of Galatians and the language of Paul.
But even following up with that in his other books it is clear that what he means to say and often does with as much clarity. That no amount of good works ever saved anyone. That only by the goodness of Christ has anyone found adoption into the household of God. (Titus 3:5-7)
That said, the emphasis seems always to be on our endless desire to define “Salvation” into a science of belief, and prayer. Making it as simple as possible for us to add to our numbers and feel better about ourselves. If all I need to do is say a prayer, or believe in my heart then many will gladly do it and go on with their lives unchanged. Fortunately and unfortunately for some that is just not a message to be found in the bible.
Paul is quite clearly emphasizing in most of his work the full picture of salvation. It is not limited to the moment when you pass from death to life but expanded to the whole picture if what it looks like when one passes from death to life. Not that your eternity can not be sealed in a moment. Paul emphasis good works in Titus slowing once to point out that good works are possible because Jesus was ‘good’ first in every way. His good works made it possible for the adoption, salvation, cleansing of “us” for the purpose of good works.
In order to know the real purpose of good works at all then you need to know what the two silly words really mean. What are we to think of when we consider the value of good deeds. The only alternative translation might be “Beautiful Works”. This begins to highlight a theme Paul speaks of often. That from the beginning of time man was created for good or beautiful works.
The Garden was the place where man was created and given the task of creating and nurturing life to make more life and even make it better. (Eph 2:10) Good works touches on more then just religious activity like we might be inclined to think it is when we consider Galatians and the “good works” of the Judaizers. But good works of the rest of Paul’s writing often indicates a much larger concept. That good works is about the creative and endless potential of man. Man made in Gods image means in part, that man has infinite potential for creatively living life and giving life. What a massive influence then Paul letter might have with the despised people of Crete, who may yet walk in a new identity full of “good works”. They are not only encouraged to start in the institute of family life, and church life, but also into the public sphere.
Crete is full of bad works. Full of men and women resembling in almost know way the idea that they are made in the image of a good God. In fact quite the opposite is believed and lived by. They reflect the story that has been told about them.
The church needs to find order first, then the family of Christians, then begin to show good works toward to public sphere. Perhaps Titus is a model for community development.
Paul is not just about starting churches, but about starting organized and healthy churches that have healthy families that find creative ways to make whole cities and governments healthy.
Paul’s “Good Works” then becomes another ‘cargo ship’. It is loaded with a whole story of what Good works really is. It is like sin. Sin has a story. Its not just important to avoid sin because its sinful. But because of what sin really is. Sin is actually connected with the idea of good works. Christians have often settled for “not sinning” when they called to “DO, Good Works”. Its not about what we are not doing so much as about what we are doing for the kingdom of God. Titus is a book written to Titus and his community of believers who need to grasp on to the next step of walking out in good works for their church, family, and cities.
Professor NT Wright affirms some of these ideas himself;
“we find, here in Paul, at least the beginnings of an outline sketch of a Christian responsibility in relation to the wider world, rather than an ethic which is concerned only for the ordering of the household of faith. And I am inclined to think that we should read the passages about ‘good works’ in this light as well: just because other civic benefactors are pagans, that doesn’t mean that Christians shouldn’t ‘do good works’ for their wider society if and when they have the opportunity…” 1
“…They are part of the worldview which Paul believes must characterize the Messiah’s people.”
In other words, Paul was not really someone who in his previous life sought salvation without any knowledge of Gods grace or the importance of ones faith. Something else had been going on in Paul. He is seeing very clearly however that in order for the Jews and everyone else to get on with the next step in Gods plan. Only the messiah could accomplish by faith what no other man was able to. Paul knows now that Jesus made it possible for adoption, for others to become obedient sons of God and begin to bring the Messiah’s worldview to earth. The kind of world that Paul wanted found its full expression in Jesus the Messiah and knew this was what the Messiah had actually initiated in his coming.
Titus is instructed to continue the work of establishing the Messianic Kingdom of God. Beginning with elders for the churches on Crete and finding a strong place in the home, then working its way outward to the general culture and the civic sphere of authority and rulers. The transformation of Crete. An Island that had once been the capital of a large and powerful world civilization was being pointed back to their true greatness as a people. That they were made for the purpose of showing the world their many great works.
Really the people of Crete believe that they are descendants of wicked rulers who had sex with beasts and became beasts. That they were put in their place by the ordered civilization of the Greeks. The gods of Crete were rendered weak and pathetic beasts and the people resembled their gods. They saw themselves as inferior to the greeks and their gods of power and might. They were in need of a corrected story. Who is our true God? Who are our ancestors? What is our identity? How do we rebuild what we have lost?
They needed a new story about their God. They need a new story about their ancestors. They needed this in order to really begin to understand themselves. They needed to know how to begin to rebuild. The answer is God in Christ, that their past is full of potential yet tainted by their own sin, that their identity is found in knowing their origin as created in Gods image, and that God wants to begin the rebuilding process inside of them and then in their families, in their community by way of the church and then by way of their relationship with the established system of Cretan culture.
1. Excerpt From: Wright, N. T. “Paul and the Faithfulness of God: Two book set (Christian Origins and the Question of God). Page 916”
Paul and Titus: A model of Transformation