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. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone. (Titus 3:4-8)
In verse 2, Paul instructs us to “show true humility toward all men.” The word translated “humility” refers to meekness, gentleness, and “courtesy” (ESV). At one time we were also non-Christians. Like the non-Christians all around us now, we were pathetic losers who did not know God through faith in Jesus Christ. They are foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved, being hated and hating one another (v. 3). It is easy to despise such unintelligent and worthless people, but we must not become high-minded because we were like them at one time. We have become different not because of our own wisdom, ability, or goodness, but because of God’s kindness revealed to us in Jesus.
Therefore, to show true humility or courtesy toward all men does not mean that we should say that we are also foolish, deceived, enslaved, and so on. It cannot consist in simple self-deprecation, and still less does it consist in an outright denial of the works of Christ and the effects of his grace. For the Christian to say that he is still sick and poor would be like for Bartimaeus to say, “I am still blind” or for Lazarus to say, “I am still dead.” That would not be humble, but wicked and ungrateful. But this is the mentality of many who call themselves servants of Christ.
Instead, verse 4 teaches us that to show true humility or courtesy toward all men means that we credit the source of our salvation and improvement, and declare Jesus Christ as the real reason for our intellectual and ethical superiority over the non-Christians. We confess God’s kindness toward us in that he has rescued us from the non-Christian condition, even as we blast the heretics and the unbelievers with harsh rebukes and insults. God saved us from our miserable condition, “not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” This confession is a pillar of humility, and a foundation for courtesy toward all men.
The non-Christian is foolish, disobedient, deceived, and enslaved. But what about the Christian? What about the one who believes in Jesus Christ? Paul says that he is justified by God’s grace – Jesus has endured his punishment and now he stands before God without condemnation. He is washed by rebirth – not that the washing leads to regeneration, but it is the regeneration that is the washing, and of which water baptism is only a symbol – so that he has been cleansed from filth. He is renewed by the Holy Spirit, whom God has poured out on him through Jesus Christ – he has been altered, and made superior. He is an heir of God, a co-heir with Jesus Christ, and he possesses hope that transcends the present life.
This is what the Christian has received. How could he escape, if he denies this in the name of humility, or belittle it in the name of courtesy? No, he is to exalt it before all men, but credit God alone for it. If anyone wishes to boast, let him boast about Jesus Christ and what he has done for his people.
We must stress these things when we think about our faith and when we teach people about it. We must stress that God’s grace justified us, that regeneration washed us, that the Spirit renewed us, and that we now live as heirs of God, heirs of eternal life through Jesus Christ. We are no longer like the non-Christians – foolish, disobedient, deceived, and enslaved. It is because we stress this difference and because we stress the specific ways that we have been made better that we can also insist that we must adopt a different lifestyle, that is, one in which we devote ourselves to doing what is good.