“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age...” - Titus 2:11-12
Institutes Book 3, Chapter 7, Section 3, Part a
“In [Titus 2] Paul more clearly, although briefly, delineates the individual parts of a well-ordered life…For after he [presented] the grace of God to hearten us, in order to pave the way for us to worship God truly, he removed the two obstacles that chiefly hinder us. Namely, ungodliness, to which by nature we are too much inclined, and second, worldly desires, which extend more widely. By ungodliness, indeed, he not only means superstition but includes also whatever contends against the earnest fear of God. Worldly lusts are also equivalent to the passions of the flesh. Thus, with reference to both tables of the law, he commands us to put off our own nature and to deny whatever our reason and will dictate.” (3.7.1.a)
Calvin chooses Titus 2:11-14 as the key passage in which to teach the importance of self-denial. It is a good choice because several important ideas are captured in one place. First we see the initiative of God’s grace which brings salvation. Then we see the response of the Christian life – renouncing ungodliness and worldly passions. This leads to a godly life. Calvin sees ungodliness as primarily God-ward - particularly idolatry. He views worldly passions as primarily “human-ward” – how we relate to each other. In this passage then, we have a reference to the two tables of the law (commandments about loving God and commandments about loving our neighbor). The result of learning to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions is that we can embrace “self-controlled, upright and godly lives.” Paul is telling us that grace trains us to say “no” to things (renounce them). He doesn’t hold up fear, or law or justice as things that teach us to say “no”, but rather grace of God which teaches us to say “no.” After we say “no” to ungodliness we can say “yes” to “living a godly life in the present age.”
So, how does grace train us to say no? Perhaps it is easier to see how fear could teach us to say no to ungodliness. If we fear that God will punish us, we would be inclined to say no to sin. In its proper place, that has some value. But how does grace teach us to say no?
Several years ago, a pastor in Boston named Rick Downs asked that same question when preaching on this text. “How does grace teach you to say no to sin?” He was running out of time in the sermon and left it as a take home question. Over the years I have thought back to that on a regular basis. It was thought provoking. I have formed my own answer by now, but I gained so much from the question that I want to intentionally leave this unresolved. Paul tells us in Titus 2 that grace teaches us to say no to ungodliness so that we can say yes to living a godly life. How does that work? Can you trace out the ways in which grace has trained you to say no? (Matt)