I often think of grace in terms of salvation. Paul says that we are saved by grace (Eph 2:8), justified by grace (Rom 3:24), chosen by grace (Rom 11:5), gifted by grace (Rom 12:6; Eph 4:7), redeemed and forgiven by grace (Eph 1:7), among many other benefits that we receive because of the grace of God. I realized recently, though, that I’ve often seen the benefits of grace as being future benefits. But, I had the opportunity to teach from Titus 2 a few weeks ago, and at the end of that chapter, Paul says that grace teaches us to live now…
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11-14 NKJV)
If we remove the adjectives and prepositional phrases in order to get to the basic structure of the sentence, we get the following:
Grace has appeared teaching us [in order] that we should live.
Besides describing grace as that which brings salvation to all men, in this sentence Paul is also telling us that grace teaches us how to live now (“in the present age”). I think this is very important. We are not saved by grace so that we can then live by the law. We are saved by grace so that same grace can teach us how to live. We are not saved by grace so that we can live with God in the future. We are saved by grace so that same grace can teach us how to live with God now.
What does this passage tell us about living by grace? First, the grace that teaches us how to live, is the grace from God that saves. There is no difference between saving grace and living grace. Now, this may sound simplistic, but the implications are huge. If God has given you the grace to be saved, then he has also given you the grace to live.
Next, grace teaches us that we should live a certain type of life – specifically, a life that demonstrates sobriety (self-control), righteousness (uprightness, justness), and godliness (piety). And, this is not a life to be lived for some future, eschatological existence. Instead, the life that grace teaches us how to live is to be lived now, while we are on this earth. If we expect God’s grace to be effective in salvation, we should also expect God’s grace to be effective in teaching us how to live today. This kind of life is no more theoretical or idealistic than is our salvation. If salvation is real, then our self-controlled, righteous, godly life can be real as well.
Grace also teaches us that we must deny certain things as we live. Primarily, we should deny anything that opposes God (ungodliness) and the desires that this world offers (worldly lusts). Again, these are not things that we have to find and remove for ourselves. Because of his grace, we can trust God to point out where we are ungodly and where we are desiring the things of the world. As we learn to walk in the grace of God (the life that grace is teaching us how to live), we will also learn how to deny those things (like ungodliness and worldly desires) that are contrary to God and his grace.
Finally, grace teaches us that in order to live as we should today, then we should live expecting the return of Jesus. Note that every eschatological vision in the New Testament comes with the same purpose: be prepared for Jesus to return at any moment. Or, as Jesus himself said, “Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming”. (Matthew 24:42 NKJV) This is not a time for believers to fear, but it is a time for which believers want to be prepared (grace teaches this!). The coming of our Lord is a blessed and glorious time for believers. Grace teaches us how to live in such a way that we are prepared for his return.
So, to repeat something that I said earlier: God does not save us by grace so that we must then live according to the law. God saves us by his grace so that we can then live according to his grace. If we trust God for salvation, let’s also trust him to teach us how to live. If someone is not living a godly life, don’t teach them to change their behavior. Instead, point them to God and teach them how to live in his grace. If someone is not demonstrating righteousness and justice toward others, don’t try to change them by forcing them to serve others. Instead, point them to God and teach them how to live in his grace.
We trust God and his grace for salvation. Let’s also trust God and his grace to teach us how to live today. Don’t trust rules, trust grace.