The apostle Paul, writing to Titus, a gospel preacher who worked with him, gives us some insight into these questions.
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:11-15).
It is the grace of God that has brought salvation that teaches or trains us in living the Christian life. I have often heard this passage explained that it is the gospel that teaches us how to live, meaning the new Testament Scriptures. Strictly speaking, this is not what Paul said. The New Covenant Scriptures are the medium by which we receive the message of God’s grace and the instruction in how to live.
It is the grace of God itself that is the instruction. It is God’s love for us and his mercy toward us and his wonderful grace that enables our salvation. We wouldn’t know of it were it not for the scriptures, but it is the message of the Bible that saves us and teaches us how to live in this present world.
So what does the grace of God teach us about how to live?
It first teaches us to live in denial! That’s right! We must deny (KJV) or renounce (ESV) ungodliness. Ungodliness is the lack of reverence toward God. It is impiety and sometimes downright irreverence. It causes one to be negatively inclined toward God and his righteousness. The Christian must live in denial of this unwholesome attitude toward our Creator and our Savior.
We are also to renounce worldly passions or lusts. The world is that part of mankind that is alienated from God – is not under his rule or authority. It is characterized by people doing whatever they desire as opposed to what God desires. That desire to please self, whether in sensuality or in pride or in possessions prevents one from seeking what pleases God. Life in the world is ruled by passion and selfish desire. This the Christian must turn his back upon.
In contrast to these things we are to deny, the apostle then names things the grace of God trains us to affirm. We are to be “self-controlled.” A self-controlled life is a disciplined life. It is a life that does not give in to unwholesome, God-denying activities. It is a life that actively seeks opportunities to glorify God and to do good to our fellow man. It is a life in which both the mind and the body are brought into subjection to God’s will. The self controlled individual will not think more highly of himself than he ought, but will think soberly. That means that we must learn to think right.
Furthermore, we are taught to be “upright” or to live righteously. That means to be “just, agreeable to right; properly, as is right” (Thayer). This quality relates primarily to our attitude and actions toward other people. The prophet Isaiah describes the righteous person this way…
“He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly,
who despises the gain of oppressions,
who shakes his hands, lest they hold a bribe,
who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed
and shuts his eyes from looking on evil,
he will dwell on the heights;” (Isaiah 33:15-16a).
Christians are also to live “godly lives in the present age.” Godliness is not, as so often is said, to be god-like. Godliness is having the right attitude toward God – an attitude of reverence and wholesome respect for the Creator of the universe. We become positively inclined toward him. Instead of shrinking back, we press toward him with a worshipful awe.
Those who are taught by the grace of God live expectantly. They have a great hope which they eagerly anticipate. While living in a broken world where there is sorrow and disappointment, the one who has received God’s grace looks forward to a far better world to come – a world in which righteousness is the rule of life.
That hope will be realized at the “appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” We are told that when he comes in judgment on the unbelieving and disobedient in the last day, these will be punished with eternal destruction “away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed,” (2 Thessalonians 1:9-10). Of that judgment Matthew records Jesus as saying, “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:46). We are to live expectantly because HE IS COMING AGAIN!
One more point Paul makes in this passage is that the Christian is expected to live energetically. We are to be “zealous for good works.” This is so because God’s grace teaches us to be active in doing good. God gave us an unimaginably great gift. We can never repay him for his gift, but we can show him our love by being a gift to others, giving ourselves unselfishly and generously. The word zeal means “to boil,” to “throb with heat.” The interlinear rendering of this verse says that we are “people about being [a] boiler of ideal acts.” (ISA) So our lives are to be lived actively and fervently in works of service done for the glory of God. The idea of a passive Christian is foreign to the New Testament description of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.
The things taught by the grace of God are our appropriate responses to being recipients of his grace. He has done so much for us in saving us from our sins by the blood of Jesus that we cannot be neutral or negative regarding all that. We are compelled by conscience and by gratitude to activities that befit the status he has bestowed on us as his children.