“Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. 3 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. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 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, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.“ Titus 3:1-7
Last week I spent some time at the beach with my family. With two small children, beach time has changed significantly over the years from vegging out staring blankly at the sand and surf to activities ranging from jumping waves to building castles in the sand. Our castles are usually pretty unremarkable, a couple molds for the four corners, a few molds for the walls, and a moat. Comparatively, there is usually someone along the beach that builds an elaborate castle that takes an extensive amount of time, effort, and skill. Regardless of whether it is our meager castle or someone else’s grand replica of the Edinburgh Castle, one truth remains consistent…they will all be washed away by the tide at some point. We work and work building a castle in the sand, sometimes for 30 minutes, sometimes for hours, all to have our efforts washed away sooner or later by the tide.
Much like building castles in the sand are any efforts to earn or work for your own salvation. We can work for a lifetime and find that in the end like tidal waves washing away castles in the sand, good works toward salvation will be burned up at the final judgment. Unfortunately, the majority of people think that by simply being morally good, avoiding scandalous sins, or simply having their good deeds outweigh their bad deeds they will by default “earn” heaven. Many will be in for a rude awakening to find out that living a good, moral life will be as worthless as a sand castle in a hurricane.
In the passage from Titus cited above, we find the proper ordering of good works. First, the inspired Apostle reminds Titus to be ready for every good work and as is his norm, follows this with a brief list of what this may practically look like. Left alone, it may seem as if the Apostle is promoting a good works theology, simply do these things and live right. However, this is not the final word.
Then the Apostle gets to the heart of gospel message by reminding his young protege of how the mercy of God came to them, “4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 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, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior”
In this passage we find the author of salvation – God our Savior; the motivation of salvation – His goodness and loving kindness; the basis of salvation – not works, but God’s mercy; the outworking of salvation – regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit; the source of salvation – Jesus Christ our Savior.
Salvation, as we see here, is entirely a work of God. Additionally, it is entirely a Trinitarian work. Not only do we not contribute to our salvation by good works, but all we have brought to the salvation table is our sin, inherent in our nature and explicit in our thoughts, words, and deeds.
Repentance of sin and faith in Christ are the only sure foundation. Any effort to earn one’s salvation is nothing more than building a castle in the sand. Good works have their place, but they must be built upon the foundation of Christ, the Cornerstone, flowing from a regenerate heart and done with a motivation of love and obedience toward God.