There is a famous passage in Paul’s letter to Titus that is often used to explain that God does not save anyone because of their good works: [H]e (i.e., “God our Savior”) saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy. (Titus 3:5 ESV)
This is a very important statement that Paul writes to Titus, and one that we must always keep in mind. We must never slip into thinking or living as if God saves us or accepts us because of our good works. As Paul says, God saves because of his mercy, not because of our actions.
With that said, let’s look carefully at Paul’s statement in context:
Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. (Titus 3:1-8 ESV)
In the passage above, I’ve highlighted the section in which Paul emphasizes that salvation is a work of God according to his mercy, through Jesus Christ, by grace, by the washing and regeneration of the Holy Spirit. Every phrase in the bold section points away from our works as the reason that God saves us.
Now, look at the sentences before and after the bold part of the passage above. In both sections, Paul emphasizes good works. In the first part, he says believers should be ready for “every good work” and lists several different examples. In the last part, he says that those who believed in God should “devote themselves to good works.” In fact, he says good works are “excellent and profitable.”
While we’re thinking about these things, we can’t forget Titus 2:1-15. In that passage (which leads up to the one above), Paul focuses on older men and older women helping younger believers do good things. He even says that God is redeeming a people who will be “zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:14 ESV)
These two passages (Titus 2 and Titus 3) should be a good reminder for us. Yes, in the middle of Paul’s exhortation toward helping other brothers and sisters to do good works, he reminds Titus (and us) that we are not saved by those good works. However, if we stop there, then we will miss that Paul is focusing on good works throughout these two chapters.
For a child of God, are good works important? Absolutely! Are we saved because of those good works? No, of course not. But, they are extremely important.
So, be zealous for good works. Be ready to do every good work. Devote yourself to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people, especially for those of us who are saved by the grace of God.