Paul tackled one of the most difficult topics for Christians to understand in the final section of his short letter to Titus: justification by grace. Paul wrote:
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. (Titus 3:4-7)
Looking at his statement from a mathematical perspective, Paul was saying that: regeneration + renewal = justification. Regeneration or (spiritual) rebirth “is that free act of God’s mercy and power by which He removes the sinner from the kingdom of darkness and places him in the kingdom of light. In the act itself (rather than the preparation for it), the recipient is passive, just as a child has nothing to do with his own birth” (G3824). Renewal, “by contrast, is the gradual conforming of the person to the new spiritual world in which he now lives, the restoration of the divine image. In this process the person is not passive but is a fellow worker with God.” Paul indicated that the outcome of this life-long process was “being justified by his grace” (Titus 3:7). The Greek word that is translated justified, dikaioo (dik-ah-yoˊ-o) means “to render (i.e. show or regard as) just or innocent” (G1344).
Paul talked at length about justification in his letter to the Romans. He stated in Romans 2:6-13:
Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality. For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.
Paul’s declaration that “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance” (Romans 2:4) was intended to focus his readers attention on the mercy of God which made salvation possible for all who have sinned. Repentance “involves both a turning from sin and a turning to God” (G3341). Therefore, God’s kindness was an important factor in what causes a person to want to repent. Paul went on to explain that we are justified by grace, but the redemption that is in Christ Jesus has to be received by faith in order for God to be able to render a verdict of innocent in each individual’s case. Paul said:
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Paul noted that there is no distinction between Jews and Greeks because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and then, stated that we are “justified by his grace as a gift” (Romans 3:24). What Paul meant by a gift was that God’s grace was given to believers without a cause (G1432). The Greek word doron (doˊ-ron) means “a present; specifically a sacrifice” (G1435).
Paul’s discussion of justification included the motive behind it: God’s love. Paul said, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since therefore we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (Romans 5:6-9). Paul reasoned that because Christ died for us while we were still sinners, his propitiation for our sins would be sufficient to save us from the wrath of God. The wrath of God is a reference to the judgment that awaits those who have not put their trust in Jesus Christ. The book of Revelation gives us a preview of God’s judgment and reveals when it will take place. The beginning of God’s judgment is recorded in Revelation 6:1-17. Verses 12-17 state, “When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars in the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by the gale. The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and powerful, and everyone slave and free, hid themselves in the caves among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”
Paul made it clear that God did not save us “because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy” (Titus 3:5). Mercy “is the free gift for the forgiveness of sins and is related to the misery that sin brings. God’s tender sense of our misery displays itself in His efforts to lessen and entirely remove it—efforts that are hindered and defeated only by man’s continued perverseness. Grace removes guilt, mercy removes misery” (G1656). Paul’s statement that we are “justified by his grace” (Titus 3:7) tells us that grace is necessary for justification to occur. The Greek word that is translated grace in Titus 3:7, charis (kharˊ-ece) refers specifically to “the divine influence upon the heart” (G5485). In the Hebrew language, “The heart includes not only the motives, feelings, affections, and desires, but also the will, the aims, the principles, the thoughts, and the intellect of man. In fact, it embraces the whole inner man, the head never being regarded as the seat of intelligence. While it is the source of all action and the center of all thought and feeling the heart is also described as receptive to the influences both from the outer world and from God Himself” (H3820).
When Saul was anointed King of Israel, 1 Samuel 10:9 tells us that “God gave him another heart.” God didn’t physically replace the organ in Saul’s chest. The Hebrew word haphak (haw-fakˊ), which is translated gave, was being used to convey “transformation” or “change” (H2015). As a result of him receiving a new heart, Saul was “turned into another man” (1 Samuel 10:6). Saul was not the same person on the inside as he was before, but we aren’t told exactly how he was different. The only thing we know for sure is that afterward, the Spirit of God rushed upon Saul, “and he prophesied” (1 Samuel 10:10). Prophecy is speaking or singing by inspiration. The function of the true prophet in the Old Testament was to speak God’s message to the people “under the influence of the divine spirit (1 Kings 22:8; Jeremiah 29:27; Ezekiel 37:10)” (H5012). In Saul’s case, the gift of prophecy was intended to be an outward sign of his anointing and only lasted a short while. After Saul returned home, it says in 1 Samuel 10:14-16, “Saul’s uncle said to him and to his servant, ‘Where did you go?’ And he said, ‘To seek the donkeys. And when we saw they were not to be found, we went to Samuel.’ And Saul’s uncle said, ‘Please tell me what Samuel said to you.’ And Saul said to his uncle, ‘He told us plainly that the donkeys had been found.’ But about the matter of the kingdom, of which Samuel had spoken, he did not tell him anything.” When it was time for him to be proclaimed king before the people, Saul could not be found. 1 Samuel 10:22 states, “So they inquired again of the LORD, ‘Is there a man still to come?’ and the LORD said, ‘Behold, he has hidden himself among the baggage.’”
Saul’s unusual behavior after he was anointed King of Israel suggests that he was reluctant to become Israel’s king. “Saul showed himself to be a man who had no regard for God’s will. Though Samuel had already affirmed that the kingdom would pass from him to another (1 Samuel 13:13, 14), Saul did not repent. He continued to disobey according to his own whims, especially in regard to the battle with the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15:1-3, 9). When Samuel discovered that Saul had kept the sheep alive following the Amalekites victory, claiming that he wanted to sacrifice them to the Lord (1 Samuel 15:21), the prophet declared, ‘To obey is better than sacrifice’ (note on 1 Samuel 15:1-9). Saul admitted to Samuel that he “feared the people and obeyed their voice” rather than doing what God told him to (1 Samuel 15:24). The Hebrew concept of obedience was closely linked to hearing the voice of God. In his final message to the people of Israel, Moses focused heavily on hearing and obeying the voice of the LORD. Moses asked the Israelites, “Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live? Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? To you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD is God; there is no other besides him. Out of heaven he let you hear his voice, that he might discipline you. And on earth he let you see his great fire, and you heard his words out of the midst of the fire” (Deuteronomy 4:33-36).
The Hebrew word that is translated heard in Deuteronomy 4:36, shama (shaw-mahˊ) means “to hear intelligently…Hearing can be both intellectual and spiritual…In the case of hearing and hearkening to a higher authority, shama can mean to obey (Genesis 22:18)” (H8085). Shama is translated obeyed in 1 Samuel 15:24. When Saul said that he feared the people and obeyed their voice, he meant that he regarded their will to be more important than God’s. Saul said to Samuel, “’Now therefore, please pardon my sin and return with me that I may bow before the LORD.’ And Samuel said to Saul, ‘I will not return with you. For you have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you from being king over Israel.’ As Samuel turned to go away, Saul seized the skirt of his robe, and it tore. And Samuel said to him, ‘The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you” (1 Samuel 15:25-28). The neighbor that Samuel was referring to was David, the son of Jesse the Bethlehemite. Earlier, Samuel referred to David as a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). The primary difference between David and Saul was that David wanted to do God’s will.
1 Samuel 16:1-7 indicates that God was looking for a man with a certain kind of disposition to rule over Israel. It says in 1 Samuel 16:1, “The LORD said to Samuel, ‘How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” God said that he had rejected Saul and provided for himself a king. “God will not force man to do His will, so He sometimes must ‘reject’ him…Although God had chosen Saul to be king, Saul’s response caused a change in God’s plan for Saul…As a creature of free choice, man may ‘reject’ God…Purity of heart and attitude are more important to God than perfection and beauty of ritual” (H3988). When Samuel saw Jesse’s son Eliab, he thought he was the one that God intended to make king, “But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart’” (1 Samuel 16:7). God is able to see the motives, feelings, affections, and desires of our hearts. As well as, “the will, the aims, the principles, the thoughts, and the intellect of every man” (H3820), not only of those that God accepts, but also of those that he rejects. God knew that Eliab, who was likely Jesse’s oldest son and the one who would naturally have been assigned a position of leadership, was not the kind of person that could take Saul’s place. Instead, God selected David, Jesse’s youngest son who was responsible for “keeping the sheep” (1 Samuel 16:11).
David and Saul began their reigns as King of Israel with the same advantage, they were both anointed by Samuel. “The Old Testament most commonly uses mashach to indicate ‘anointing’ in the sense of a special setting apart for an office or function” (H4886). “If the verb is used in association with a religious ceremony, it connotes the sanctification of things or people for divine service…The most common usage of this verb is the ritual of divine installation of individuals into positions of leadership by pouring oil on their heads. Most frequently, people were anointed for kingship: Saul (1 Samuel 10:1); David (1 Samuel 16:13; and Solomon (1 Kings 1:34).” In both instances, after they were anointed, it is also noted that “the Spirit of God rushed upon” Saul and David, but in David’s case it says in 1 Samuel 16:13, “the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David from that day forward” (emphasis mine). The Hebrew word that is translated rushed, tsaleach (tsaw-layˊ-akh) means “to push forward…This word generally expresses the idea of a successful venture, as contrasted with failure. The source of such success is God: ‘…as long as he sought the Lord, God made him to prosper’ (2 Chronicles 26:5)” (H6743). This might seem to suggest that David never sinned or did anything to displease the LORD after he was anointed King of Israel, but we know that David didn’t live a perfect life. The Spirit of the LORD was there to keep David on track with his responsibilities as the King of Israel and to make him successful in accomplishing God’s will for the nation of Israel.
David’s personal relationship with the LORD was what set him apart from Saul, as well as, all the other Kings of Israel that followed him. The Apostle Paul’s formula for successful Christian living: regeneration + renewal = justified by grace: shows us that regeneration in and of itself does not produce the effect of justification. Renewal, the gradual conforming of the person to the new spiritual world in which he lives and the restoration of the divine image, requires the person to be a fellow worker with God in the process of sanctification (G3824/G342). Jesus told his followers that a tree is known by its fruit in order to express to them the importance of the Holy Spirit’s work in their heart. Jesus said:
“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:33-37)
In this instance, the word justified refers to acquittal from guilt (G1344). When Jesus said that we will be justified by our words or condemned by them, he meant that our own words will be used as evidence for or against us in the final judgment of mankind. Jesus went on to explain that repentance is necessary for the heart of a person to be changed (Matthew 12:39-42). In his parable of the sower, Jesus indicated that fruit is produced by the cultivation or development of God’s word and then, explained to his disciples, “As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty and in another thirty” (Matthew 13:23).
Jesus’ discussion with a lawyer who wanted to test his understanding of the scriptures resulted in the Lord using the Parable of the Good Samaritan to teach the lawyer that it is impossible for us to be justified without God’s divine influence upon our heart. After the lawyer cited the law that stated we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, Luke tells us:
But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:29-37)
Jesus said that the Samaritan had compassion on the man who was robbed and left half dead. Jesus continually showed compassion to the people that came to him for help. It is likely that Jesus used this characteristic to describe the Samaritan’s actions so that the lawyer would realize that the Samaritan was not acting of his own accord, but was responding to the divine influence upon his heart.