Just about every preacher is familiar with the Pareto Principle. They may not know it by that name, but they understand how it works. Vilfredo Pareto was an Italian economist who noticed that approximately 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. Later, his principle was expanded to say that, in a wide variety of situations, 20 percent of our efforts produce 80 percent of our results, and 80 percent of our efforts produce 20 percent of our results. Most of us know this as the 80/20 rule.
When the Pareto principle is applied to organizations, like churches, it is said that 20 percent of the people will do 80 percent of the work. And 20 percent of the people will give 80 percent of the money. Which means that 80 percent of the people who attend church are collectively responsible for only 20 percent of the work that gets done and 20 percent of the money that gets contributed.
Now, the exact ratio will obviously vary from church to church; but I think most people would have to agree that these numbers sound about right for most congregations. A large portion of those who attend most churches are not involved in much of anything beyond simply attending Sunday morning worship services every now and then.
Now, I would like to think that, here at Cruciform, the numbers would be a bit different, because we do have a lot of people who are involved and we do have a lot of people who give on a lot of different levels, but in most churches, I think this 80/20 rule holds true.
David Elton Trueblood once said, “Millions are merely back-seat Christians, willing to be observers of a performance which the professionals put on, ready to criticize or applaud, but not willing even to consider the possibility of real participation.”
So, why is it that so many Christians aren’t very involved? I’m sure there are a number of different reasons. For one thing, life is busy and other things just crowd out serving the Lord. But we all have the same number of hours in a week, so it really boils down to priorities. Serving the Lord is just not a priority for many people who attend church.
I can’t judge the motives of anyone’s heart, but I do know that there are many Christians for whom going to church every once in a while is just a nice thing to do that makes them feel good. They would say they believe in Jesus as their Savior, but he’s not really their Lord, because they would never let Christ take control of their time or their money. They keep him compartmentalized in a little drawer of their lives and pull him out whenever it’s convenient. But there are other things that dominate their daily lives. Serving Christ is just not a priority.
This morning, in our study through the New Testament, we come to the book of Titus. And, in this book, Paul talks a lot about “good works”. He says in chapter 1 that the church’s leaders need to have good behavior and good doctrine (Titus 1:6-9).
Then Paul talks about people who were teaching falsely in the name of Jesus, disrupting things in the church. He says in verse 16, “They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.” (Titus 1:16). You can’t accuse Paul of beating around the bush!
But, if evil works prove you don’t really know God, then it’s also true that good works show that you do. If bad actions are the result of false teaching, Paul wants Titus to teach his congregation what kind of actions should follow as a result of good teaching. In short, Paul puts it this way – if you’re a Christian, then act like it. Do good things. He writes in chapter 2, “promote the kind of living that reflects wholesome teaching.” (Titus 2:1, NLT).
Paul goes on to talk about what that kind of living needs to look like for older women, younger women, older men, younger men, slaves, and masters. Regardless of our station in life, we are all called to do good works. In verse 7, Paul says to “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works.” (Titus 2:7). And Paul says that when we do this, we “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.” (Titus 2:10). In other words, our behavior says something to others around us about what we believe about Jesus, either in a positive way or in a negative way.
Then, Paul shares the message of God’s salvation by grace, and he says that we all need to live like we believe it. He wants the church not just to talk the talk, but to walk the walk. He says that God has saved us to be “a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:15).
And then, finally, there’s our text this morning in chapter 3, where Paul says, “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.” (Titus 3:8)
Let’s take a look at this overview of Paul’s letter to Titus, and then I’ll be back to talk about what Paul has to say about the good works we should all be doing.
Play VIDEO (Titus)
Paul says to Titus in chapter 3, verse 8, “I want you to insist on these things.” That tells me that there are some things that those of us who are preachers need to insist on, some things that we really need to stress. And one of those things is found here in chapter 3. Beginning in verse 4,
“But when the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind appeared, he saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us in full measure through Jesus Christ our Savior. And so, since we have been justified by his grace, we become heirs with the confident expectation of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7, NET)
And then, the very next verse is where Paul says he wants Titus to “insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works.” (Titus 3:8)
If I had to sum up what Paul is saying here in just a few words, it would be this – we were saved by God in order to do good works. I want us to take a look at that statement piece by piece.
1. We Were Saved
The heart of this passage is found at the beginning of verse 5. “But when the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind appeared, he saved us.” Three words in English, “He saved us.” In those three simple words, you have the essence of the Christian faith. It’s all about salvation. It’s about God saving sinners.
The word “saved” has become a distinctively Christian term, but in the Greek language, this word referred to a lot of different situations. It was a word that was used to describe rescuing someone from danger. For example, we see it in Matthew 8 where the disciples were in a storm on the Sea of Galilee and they said to Jesus, “Save us, Lord, we’re perishing.” (Matthew 8:25).
They weren’t talking about spiritual salvation, they weren’t talking about Jesus saving their souls. They were talking about being physically saved from a storm that was about to take their lives. So, this word “saved” refers to rescuing someone who is in imminent, serious danger.
In the spiritual sense, though, which is mostly how it is used in the New Testament, it has the idea of being saved from sin, being rescued from sin, from sin’s power, from the penalty of sin. In Luke 19:10, Jesus said that he came “to seek and to save the lost”. Paul said in I Timothy 1:15 that, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”
This word “saved” carries with it both a negative connotation and a positive connotation. Let me explain what I mean by that. Suppose the Coast Guard gets a call that a ship is sinking and they go out to save the people who are on that boat. They not only save them from the danger they are in, the danger of drowning in the ocean. They also save them in a positive way by putting them into their boat, which a place of safety.
In the same way, when God saves us, he not only rescues us from the danger of sin, not only rescues us from the clutches of Satan, not only rescues us from an eternity of damnation. As part of his salvation, he puts us into a place of safety and blessing. He puts us into his church. He puts us into his family. As Paul put it in Colossians 1:13, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.”
And so, those of us who are Christians, we sing about our salvation and we give thanks to God because “he saved us”. Salvation is at the very heart of Christianity, because Christianity is a rescuing religion. It is God saving men and women from their sin and the inevitable and deadly eternal consequences of it. We were saved.
2. By God
“But when the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind appeared, he saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy… we have been justified by his grace” (Titus 3:4,8, NET)
Paul tells us here that there is something that is not responsible for our salvation, and then he tells us there is something that is responsible.
a. Salvation is not the result of the works of righteousness which we have done
There are many who believe and teach that somehow our good works are responsible for our salvation. If you ask someone if they think they’re going to heaven, the answer you will get more than any other is, “Yes, I think I am, because I do a lot of good things, and I don’t do very many bad things.” Because, for most people, that’s the criteria for getting into heaven – being a “good” person.
But, as you go through Paul’s letters, you have to be impressed with how many times Paul makes the point that our good works have nothing to do with our salvation.
Paul said in Romans 4, “When people work, their wages are not a gift, but something they have earned. But people are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners.” (Romans 4:4-5, NLT)
In 2 Timothy 1, Paul says that God “saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time — to show us his grace through Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 1:9, NLT)
In Ephesians 2, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
The problem with trying to do enough good stuff to get into heaven is that we can never do enough. There’s no way to earn it. There’s no way to deserve it. Our salvation is “not by works of righteousness that we have done”.
b. Salvation is the result of God’s kindness, love, mercy and grace.
Paul doesn’t just say that God is the one who saved us, and leave it at that. He uses phrase after phrase to emphasize that it was God’s doing, not ours. It was his kindness, it was his love for mankind, it was his mercy, it was his grace. God saved us, not because we deserved it, not because we earned it, but because of his great love for us.
In Luke 6, Jesus said something that you may not have noticed before. He said, “Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to ungrateful and evil people.” (Luke 6:35).
That’s the kind of God our God is. A God who is “kind to ungrateful and evil people.” God doesn’t love us because we first loved him. He was the one who loved first. And he loves all people, even those people who don’t appreciate what he’s done, even those people who totally ignore what he has told us to do.
And to all of us, he shows his mercy and his grace. Mercy means that God doesn’t give us what we deserve, and grace means that he does give us what we don’t deserve.
Imagine this. Suppose somebody tried to rob your house, but you catch him in the act. But, instead of calling the police, you decide to forgive the thief and let the matter go – that’s mercy. Then, in addition to that, you give him some food and a few dollars to help him out – that’s grace.
You may say, that’s not a very good description of God’s mercy and grace because the thief is a bad person, and no one would ever show mercy and grace to someone in that situation. But that’s exactly the same situation. In fact, if you go back to verse 3, Paul says, “God didn’t show mercy and grace to us because we were good people.” “For we too were once foolish, disobedient, misled, enslaved to various passions and desires, spending our lives in evil and envy, hateful and hating one another.” (Titus 3:3).
Far too many of us, especially those of us who grew up in church, put too stock on that fact that we think we’re good people, and as a result, we have trouble appreciating exactly what God has done for us. But God “saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy.”
c. Salvation involves being born again
“He saved us…through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:5, NET)
What Peter says here sounds a lot like what Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God…. Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3-5).
In Romans 6, when we are baptized into Christ, we are buried with him, and we rise to walk in newness of life. Once you have been saved, there ought to be a change.
We are new creatures with new hearts and new affections. A different person who sees life differently and lives life differently. Life is not like it used to be in any way, shape or form. We have new identity. We have new goals, new desires, new passions, new affections.
But it’s not just the waters of baptism. It’s the renewing of the Holy Spirit. It’s the water and the Spirit, “whom he poured out on us in full measure.” I find it interesting that in these few verses, Paul talks about how God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit all work together for our salvation.
So, we were saved by God….
3. In order to do good works
Verse 8 again, “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.” (Titus 3:8)
This is such an important principle, and I think a lot of Christians miss this. Paul says, “I want to explain to you why you were saved.” If you go to the average Christian and ask them why God saved them, I think most of them would say something like this, “God saved me so that I can go to heaven.” It’s all about me.
But, when we do that, we make the same mistake that the Jews made in the Old Testament. Time after time, God said to the Jews, in essence, “I didn’t save you, I didn’t bring you up out of the land of Egypt and give you the land of Canaan so you could just sit around and enjoy life. I saved you so that you could show the rest of the world by the way that you live what an awesome God you serve.” But the Jews never seemed to get it. And I’m not sure that we do either.
Paul tells us that we were not saved for ourselves. He says we were saved so that we could devote ourselves to good works. Make sure you pay attention to this very fine distinction. Earlier, I said that we don’t do good works in order to be saved. But here we learn that we are saved in order to do good works.
The good works that we do show to other people evidence of God’s work in us. When we do good works, it shows other people evidence that God has changed us. When we do good deeds, we give honor to God. These good works do not save us, but they are evidence that we have been saved.
And so, a Christian will do good works, not out of compulsion, not out of a sense of duty, but out of love. He wants to express gratitude to his Father. He wants to share with others the love and grace that he has been given. Living this way should second-nature for a Christian because his nature has been changed.
But that doesn’t mean it all happens automatically. We have to make the effort. These good works are things that we actually have to do. That’s why we have so many reminders in scripture.
- “Let us not grow weary of doing good” (Galatians 6:9)
- “Set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12)
- “Show yourself to be a model of good works” (Titus 2:7)
- “Insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works” (Titus 3:8)
As Paul says here, our motivation for doing good works is to remember just how much God has forgiven us. Our sinful past should not remind us of our failures – it should remind us of God’s goodness. And if we think about God’s kindness and love and mercy and grace, how in the world can we not respond by doing good works?
But what exactly is a good work? I like what Bryan Wolfmueller has said. He said a good work is something that is:
- Done by faith in God
- Done in obedience to God
- Done for the glory of God
- Done for the benefit of my neighbor
When we do good works, we must do so out of a faith in God, in obedience to what God has told us to do, and it must be done to God’s glory. This third point is important, because we can do good things for a lot of different reasons, but if we are not doing them to the glory of God, then it’s not really a good work.
Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)
If you give to the church just to get the tax deduction, then your motivation is something other than God’s glory, and what you’re doing is not a good work. If you’re helping in a ministry just to get the recognition, then your motivation is something other than God’s glory, and what you’re doing is not a good work.
We were created for God’s glory. We were saved for God’s glory. If our motivation is not a response of love for God and thankfulness to him for our forgiveness, then we have the wrong motivation. That’s what Paul meant when he talked about “adorning the gospel”. Our good works should point to God. Our works should not glorify us – they should glorify God.
And then, fourthly, good works are done for the benefit of our neighbors. When Jesus asked the most important commandment, he said the greatest command is to love God with all your heart. But the second is to love your neighbor. The way we show that we love our neighbors is by doing good works, by helping those who are in need.
Truly good works are not for our benefit. They’re not to sooth our guilt, to bring us attention, to signal to others that we’re good people, to make us feel self-righteous, or anything else that is for us. They are for others. Good works must be for the benefit of our neighbor.
I know that many of us aren’t comfortable with “do this” / “don’t do that” messages. But you can’t get around what Paul said to Titus: “Insist on these things.” Insist on sound doctrine, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works.
Paul doesn’t see any contradiction between God’s grace and our works, when understood correctly. We receive grace and, as a result, our works change. Many people say they think James disagrees with Paul, but the truth is, they say exactly the same thing. James says that faith without works is dead –because the one who is saved will prove that he has faith by doing good.
We are not saved by our good works, but we are not free to live without doing good works either.
Hopefully this morning, as I have insisted on these things that Paul instructed, may those of you who believe in God be careful to devote yourselves to good works. Not out of a sense of duty. Not because of guilt. Not because you have to work to earn your salvation or work to keep your salvation. Do it as a response to the kindness, love, mercy and grace of God that have been shown to you. And as you do these good works, may God be given all the honor and the glory/