Text — Titus
Subject – Apostolic Methodology of relating law to Gospel in Titus
Theme – Analysis of the apostolic methodology of relating law to Gospel in Titus.
Proposition – . will hopefully cause us to understand how it is that the Law and Gospel come to us as believers.
Purpose — . Therefore having considered the Apostolic methodology of relating law to Gospel let us rejoice that the Holy Spirit is a teacher who gives us exactly what we need as we look to Jesus Christ for our all.
I sat down to write an introduction to this sermon and instead found a whole different sermon. So, this morning I want us to consider the methodological approach of the Apostle in this book to Titus.
This is not something that should put us off. If we believe that the very words of Scripture are inspired then it ought not to be difficult to believe the way the text is organized and pieced together is inspired as well.
As we consider this section in Titus 3 we are reminded again of the great emphasis we find in Titus on living out the Christian life (vs.8, cmp. Also 2:7, 2:14, 3:1). But we need to again remind ourselves of
1.) That the Apostle still clearly teaches that salvation, narrowly considered, is completely free (3:5)
2.) how the Apostle then provides the motive for works emphasis in an epistle where the Gospel is treated as completely free.
As we have said before, the motive for good works in Titus is not found in moralism considered as an end in itself (consider 2:10). Neither is the motive found in reminding them they are essentially good people – quite to the contrary the Apostle reminds them not of how noble they intrinsically are but rather he reminds them of how ignoble they once were (3:3).
The motive that the Apostle keeps returning to is what God has done in Christ for them (1:1-3, 2:11-14, 3:4-7). The motive he appeals to is one that we all Christians, but we especially who own the Heidelberg catechism should be familiar with – and that is the motive of gratitude.
Methodologically speaking, the Apostle writing to Titus and through him to the Christians in Crete and to us today uses a Kind of Gospel, Law, Gospel approach.
Note in Chapter 1:1-4 we begin immediately with the proclamation to Titus that Christ is Savior (4). That is Gospel. God has done it all by fulfilling His promises of eternal life (1:2).
From there he goes into instruction about what the Christian life should look like in both the leadership (1:5-16) and in the rank & file (2:1-9). That is Law. What God requires.
At that point, he gives them the Gospel again (2:11-15) as he returns to the foundation of why he can make the law appeal that he makes.
From there, in the passage we are considering this morning he returns to a law like appeal (3:1-3). Then immediately (3:4-7) he reminds them again of the Gospel of Grace that God has bestowed upon them that is to provide the motive for their anticipated affirmative response.
So throughout out this book, as believers are instructed through Titus the structural methodology that is used is to remind them of the Gospel in which they stand.
“Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our Savior.”
Then as to methodology, there is an appeal to a certain behavior or lifestyle that should characterize the believers because of how the Gospel has changed them.
So, when dealing with believers we see the pattern, at least here in Titus of,
First, — What God gives – The Gospel
Clearly what God gives is entirely free (3:5). In Salvation, God does all the doing. The triune God receives no assists from us in salvation narrowly considered.
Secondly, — What God requires – increasing conformity to the law out of gratitude for all that God has given.
This methodology is not a great deal different then what we find in Exodus 20 where the Covenant God, dealing with His people, reminds them of Gospel (What God has done) .
“I am the Lord thy God who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of Bondage.”
And from there God goes on to instruct them in what he looks for from His people as a consequence of His unmerited favor.
Thou Shalt Not ..
And here we must remember that as by God’s grace we obey and increasingly conform to Christ, according to Scripture, all of that is worked in us by God’ grace.
Continue to work out your salvation in fear and trembling for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
So . in trying to rightly weigh this structural methodology we would observe.
When the gospel is preached among God’s people, but the law is neglected, God’s people reject discipline, believing Holiness to be disconnected from forgiveness.
Conversely, when the law is preached among God’s people, but the gospel is neglected, God’s people swing to one of two extremes.
1.) Either they become confident in their own ability to please God and so become self-righteous,
2.) Or they despair of ever being reconciled to God and so become depressed.
God’s people thus need both Gospel & Law and Gospel, and Law & Gospel in order to go on with Christ.
Now, having said all that we must emphasize that is the way that God speaks to His people. I would submit to you this morning that God speaks in a different way to those who are not yet part of the covenant community.
Cmp. Romans 1:17 – 3:21
To those yet apart from the covenant community, he does not speak in terms of Gospel and Law and Gospel, but rather in terms of Law and Gospel.
The first word that comes to the unbelieving is what God requires. That is law, and the purpose of the law at this point is not so that the people hearing it would, out of their own ability, move to conform to God’s expectations, (because they can’t) but rather that the people who are hearing it would, out of the illumination of the Holy Spirit’s work, see how hopeless it is that they would ever meet God’s perfect standard and so flee to Jesus Christ who alone can give them the righteousness that is acceptable before God.
Paraphrasing one of the Puritans,
“The law is the needle that pulls through the scarlet thread of the Gospel.”
So, as speaking to God’s People we speak Gospel and Law and Gospel.
As speaking to those outside of the covenant community we speak Law and Gospel.
Now, where things get complicated is in understanding that in every covenant community there are wheat and tares and so the minister may decide to speak to His people at different times with different voices. Some sermons may be Law – Gospel, while other sermons might be Gospel – Law — Gospel.
Now, combine that with the reality that in all of God’s people there resides the tendency to both covenant keeping (putting on the new man) and covenant breaking (having to put off the old man). Even in the Christian there is this self-understanding that we are live in ways that are not pleasing to God (Romans 7), and so the necessity exists at times to even speak to God’s people in terms of Law & Gospel and not Gospel & Law and Gospel.
It is because we remain at the same time sinner at the same time saint that there is a need for the law to be spoken in our lives both in the structure of Law-Gospel and the structure of Gospel – law — Gospel.
The old man of sin that the believer continues to contend with has to be spoken of in terms of Law – Gospel. That is a law word of condemnation. It is the new man rooted in Christ that is spoken to in terms of Gospel – Law — Gospel. That is a word of guidance.
This is just to say that the believer, as he struggles against the Adam that yet remains in him needs to hear the law as usus pedagoicus, while the believer as he makes it his goal to please God needs to hear the law as a moral guide to life.
At those times when we speak in the voice of Law and Gospel, the law is being used (usus pedagogicus) in its tutorial work of convicting us again as sinner, exposing perhaps areas that are still in rebellion in our lives, and leading us again to the Gospel of Jesus Christ who alone can save us. This is a different use than when use the law as a guide to life (usus didacticus). When we use the law that way we are speaking in terms of Gospel and Law and Gospel, which is the way it strikes me that Paul is speaking here in Titus.
Now, we should add that all that we have said this morning is one area that makes Reformed people Reformed and not any number of other stripes.
Gerhardus Vos, a Dutch Theologian of note who lived early in the 20th century, could hint at all that we have teased out this morning by saying,
” The preaching of the law in relation to the concept of the covenant has a somewhat different significance for Reformed Theologians than for Lutherans. The latter scarcely allow a place to the law before the fall. Both before and after regeneration the law has only a negative character, serving to generate repentance and mortification of the old man of sin (That would be speaking in terms of Law Gospel as we have used it this morning). For the Reformed it also serves that purpose, BUT that is not all. Even those among the theologians who strictly separate law and gospel and make the latter to consist wholly of promises – as a matter of fact, those theologians more than others – put emphasis on the fact that the law, as the comprehensive norm for the life of man, also determines man’s relation to the gospel. (This would be speaking in terms of Gospel – Law as we have cited it this morning.) At this point we observe the intensely moral seriousness of the Reformed point of view. Nothing can occur in man’s life where God’s law does not immediately apply and is not impressed strongly on the conscience.”
The law holds an essentially different place for the Lutherans than for the Reformed. Theoretically both agree with the threefold use of the law. The difference lies in the fact that the Lutherans only relate the third use of the law to the remnants of the old nature of the believer, while the Reformed relate it to the new man, who finds in the law a positive rule of life.”
Redemptive History And Biblical Interpretation
And this observation is not just true of Lutherans but also of many others in evangelicalism.
Now, I would submit that all that we have looked at this morning is exceedingly important. It is important because it is clearly Biblical but it is also important because it seems within the Reformed community there are signs of cracks and breakup and part of the reason that this is so is because people want to insist that the methodological structure for preaching as it pertains to God’s people has to be either one of Law – Gospel OR one of Gospel – Law – Gospel when in point of fact, as we have seen this morning, that it might very well be either structure at different times (while avoiding the tendency to want to mix these into one product called Glawspel) if only for the reason that we remain at the same time sinner and at the same time saint.
One thing that should be now concluded is that it is a hermeneutical error to believe that Law and Gospel are in absolute antithesis as the Luthern hermeneutic seems to suggest. Indeed at one point in the Westminster Confession of Faith we can read,
WCF 19.VII. Neither are the forementioned uses of the law contrary to the grace of the gospel, but do sweetly comply with it: the Spirit of Christ subduing and enabling the will of man to do that freely and cheerfully which the will of God, revealed in the law, requireth to be done.
As sinners we need to continue to hear Law – Gospel. This is the good news for who we are as considered in the eschatological ‘not yet’ of this present evil age. This is good news for all of us in Christ who remain sinners and covenant breakers and continue to struggle as Paul did in Romans 7.
As saints we need to continue to hear Gospel – Law – Gospel. This is the good news for those who are considered as living in the NOW of the age to come. This is the good news for all of us who because of the Spirit of Christ’s work so earnestly desire to be covenant keepers and who continue to press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of Christ Jesus.
As we live in this semi-eschatological age we need both the paradigms of Law – Gospel and Gospel – Law — Gospel.
I would conclude this morning that anyone who says it has to be one or the other paradigms to the neglect of either is in danger of ministering to only half of who we are (either sinner or saint as opposed to at the same time sinner at the same time saint). This can only have the unhappy consequence of retarding our maturity in Christ.
Addendum — Implications beyond the personal and individual
We have noted that Lutherans disregard the law in the capacity of sanctification by a methodology (Law/Gospel) which treats the Church only as unbelievers. This can also be true of Baptist/Evangelical churches.
The Reformed methodology is the only one which does not treat believers as aliens to the covenant, and so the Reformed methodology is the only one which affirms our nativity and belonging to the covenant. This implies much in the social order/ people dimension.
This informs us that a people group covenanted to God are identified by God’s law. This means that non-Christian peoples in non-Christian social orders do not have the rights, privileges and immunities that belong to a people (nation) covenanted to God. Those in the covenant have a very different relation to the law than do others. Which of course, means that even if all men are subject to the same law, as subjects, the application of that law is subjective. Not arbitrary, but determined relative to covenanted identity.
In terms of covenant nations, this view would necessarily result not in any universal ‘human rights’, but in ideas like “the rights of Englishmen.”
Constitutions, among these kinds of people groups, delineate between peoples and affirm rights and privileges limited to people of specific identities because those people are in the covenant (and Covenant is not possible apart from law) with God as a people.
By contrast, we should imagine the Lutheran view of law which treats all men as being strangers to the covenant — because it only speaks to them as guilty of law-breakers — as producing only liberal socialist sort of social orders where the state is required to be God walking on the earth. If people cannot have the law delivered to them as Christians (usus didacticus) then the rights, privileges, and immunities of God’s law do not belong to them in any unique way vis-a-vis the way those law given rights, privileges, and immunities belong to any other people group.
Hat Tip — Ehud Would helped me think through the Implications section