This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men. (Titus 3)
The above Scripture is a classic "proof text" for some who want to mix the pure gospel with a message of human effort. In fact, they want to use all of Titus to back their emphasis on works. But when it is used in that way, the user commits a common error:
Every verse was written in the context of a chapter, which was written in the context of a book, which was written in the context of old covenant or new covenant, which was written in the context of the whole Bible, which was written in the context of grace. Jesus was the plan of God from before the foundation of the world.
The entire book of Titus was written to instruct about how to choose leaders whose lives adorn the gospel, and about training the saints regarding what it would look like to live in such a way as to adorn the doctrine Paul preached (as found in Romans, Galatians, Hebrews, etc.).
What sort of life best describes the God who has made you the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus?
In Titus, Paul again warns about legalists - a fact often conveniently ignored. Far from being a letter about the virtues of human effort, Pauls words are fatherly pearls of wisdom, inspiring a young leader to choose wisely and well who would shepherd God's people. Church leaders should be so consumed with the gospel of Jesus, that they make every decision, choose every course of action in the light of what would promote the gospel and silence its critics.
The utter, unmitigated, sheer glory of grace will make a human being zealous to live in such a way as to be God's visual aid in teaching the world how amazing He is. Jesus went about doing good for the sake of doing good, because He was simply doing what He saw a good God do. He and the Father were one.
This verse is not saying that Paul wants leaders to continually remind the saints to be mindful to work hard, and do Godly things, with no context other than "Godly principle", or "the right way to live versus wrong way to live". This verse is saying that the message of the gospel will produce a people who are prone to living accomplished and hard working lives, being of benefit to everyone, loving their work because it is productive and good - because good works impress lost people, and shame religious critics...not because good works impress God.
It says, in context, that Paul wants leaders to be constantly affirming doctrine and what adorns it, affirming the gospel of grace, the good news of Jesus. Included in this (whether we like it or not) is a respect for authority....
Respect for authority is mentioned first in chapter 3, first in the line of thought, because if respect is not in place, no one's message - not even the faithful sayings of God, communicated through the five fold ministry gifts - will be heard.
Interestingly, it is those who live as a law unto themselves who are the very ones who take this verse, and the whole book of Titus, out of context and try to make it say something it doesn't. They "submit" to almost nothing, not even the laws of hermanuetics, apparently.
If you can bear with me, here is this verse (bolded), in context, in several translations (edited in one little spot, for time's sake).
First the Phillips:
REMIND your people to recognise the power of those who rule and bear authority. They must obey them and be prepared to render whatever good service they can.
They are not to speak evil of any man, they must not be quarrelsome but reasonable, showing every consideration to all men.
For we ourselves have known what it is to be ignorant, disobedient and deceived...
But when the kindness and love of God our saviour dawned upon us,
he saved us in his mercy—not by virtue of any moral achievement of ours, but by the cleansing power of a new birth and the renewal of the Holy Spirit,
which he poured upon us through Jesus Christ our Saviour.
The result is that we are acquitted by his grace, and can look forward in hope to inheriting life eternal.
This is solid truth: I want you to speak about these matters with absolute certainty, so that those who have believed in God may concentrate upon a life of goodness. Good work is good in itself and is also useful to mankind. (Phillips)
The Message (not my favorite, but for the sake of thorough study) ~
Remind the people to respect the government and be law-abiding, always ready to lend a helping hand. No insults, no fights. God’s people should be bighearted and courteous.
It wasn’t so long ago that we ourselves were stupid and stubborn...But when God, our kind and loving Savior God, stepped in, he saved us from all that.
It was all his doing; we had nothing to do with it. He gave us a good bath, and we came out of it new people, washed inside and out by the Holy Spirit. Our Savior Jesus poured out new life so generously. God’s gift has restored our relationship with him and given us back our lives. And there’s more life to come—an eternity of life!
You can count on this. I want you to put your foot down. Take a firm stand on these matters so that those who have put their trust in God will concentrate on the essentials that are good for everyone.Last, the New King James ~
Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men.
For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient...
But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared,
not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior,
that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men.
The gospel of the abundant grace of God, which justified us (past tense) and assures our eternity, makes us care about living lives that adorn the message we are bringing. No one who has really understood the grace of God will be prone to habitually walk in a way that obscures or brings reproach on such a precious thing.
The point is that it is all about the 'faithful saying', it is all about affirming the gospel. This book of Titus, this verse, does not make it all about us and what we do. One is stimulus, the other response. One is primary, the other secondary. One is root, the other fruit.