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Without a break in the Greek sentence, verse 12 gets right to the point. Christ appeared to "teach" us to live a new life. Thus we might say that "living" or "how to live" is God's curriculum. In this respect, Christ (or God through the medium of his grace) followed a long line of teachers. Moreover, Paul's material employs the Greek teaching model in this description. In Greek thought, education (paideia; here the verbal form of this term occurs) produces virtue. Paul makes good use of this model here, but while maintaining contact with secular ideas, he describes the Christian counterpart to virtue in a way that it is placed on an entirely different level.
1. The new life and conversion (2:12). Part of the earliest gospel message was the call to repent (Mk 1:15). It meant "to change the mind," to leave behind an old way, a godless way, and turn to follow God. Paul's material here uses a different word, "deny." But the thrust is the same. The original language of this verse makes it clear that pursuit of the new life below is actually contingent upon this denial. As the NIV interprets it, say "No," this denial is to be final and almost vocal. Of course, if the event of baptism lay behind this creed, it would indeed have been a vocal pledge.
What is to be denied if we are to pursue life? It is the way of this world. Ungodliness is a general reference to all that is anti-God (3:3). Worldly passions are the sinful impulses that express themselves through the body (1 Jn 2:15-16). Together these two expressions summarize the old life, the life natural to the inhabitants of this world before they have the knowledge of God.
But the appearance of Christ demands that the old way be abandoned. A conscious choice of denial must be made. It is the first step in a new life.
2. The new life (2:12). The goal of God's curriculum is the living of a new life. After the old way has been abandoned, what then? If Christianity ended there, it would consist of a life of avoidance. We could sum it up with a divine "Thou shalt not." But the focus in this passage (and above in vv. 1-10) is actually on "being" or "living," and a far more appropriate and positive summary is "Thou shalt."
As we saw, the Greeks thought that education would lead to virtue. Now Paul translates that into Christian thinking. His translation is really more of a transliteration, for he describes the Christian's new life with three terms that designated cardinal virtues in Greek ethics. In doing this he emphasizes again that Christian conduct should be observable.
The new life is described as self-controlled and upright. We have come across these two terms already in the description of the lifestyle of the church leader (1:8). "Self-control" was to be exercised over the impulses and sensual desires common to human life (see discussion on 1 Tim 3:2). "Uprightness" is a more general description of observable "rightness" in all aspects of life.
If only these two terms were used to describe the qualities of the new life, one might get the idea that Christianity is acting a certain way, putting on an acceptable performance. The third term, however, at least as Paul uses it, takes us beyond that to show that true spirituality is meant. Godly, as a description of life, brings together faith in or knowledge of God and its visible outworking in life ("godliness," 1:1; see notes on 1 Tim 2:2). It is Paul's term for genuine Christianity. Consequently, the life to be lived as a result of Christ's entrance into human history (v. 11) is not only characterized by visible respectability but is also born of the knowledge of God.
Further, it is the antithesis of the old life. Formerly the values of the world shaped life (v. 12), but now a new set of values and goals define life in Christ (compare 3:3-4; Rom 6:20-22; 11:30-32; Gal 1:23; 4:8-9; Eph 2:1-22; 5:8; Col 1:21-22; 3:7-8; Philem 11; 1 Pet 2:10).
Finally, the new life introduced by the appearance of Christ pertains to the present time. Christianity or spirituality is not something that is unattainable or something that is proper to life outside of this world. The time reference in this present age focuses readers' attention on the now. Salvation may not be complete (or completely realizable) until the return of Christ; but it has made possible a new quality of life in this present age. With the Christian possibility goes Christian responsibility to live fully engaged in this world.
3. The new life and the forward look (2:13). While it is true that genuine spirituality is not foreign to existence in this present age, it is also not wholly at home in it. Salvation has begun, but the struggle with sin (and therefore imperfection) hinders the believer from experiencing it in full. Consequently, an important aspect of the new life is the forward look to the culmination of redemption in Christ's return. This is not to be confused with "living in the future" or "living for tomorrow." It is rather an acknowledgment that the Christian's hope is ultimately beyond this world.
Paul's material uses language that was used of kings and emperors to describe the Christian's hope in Christ's future appearance. The blessed hope means "the hope that brings blessing." As the rest of the verse indicates, this hope consists of another "appearance." The NIV's glorious appearing smooths out the cumbersome Greek sentence (literally, "the appearance of the glory of the great God"). However, "glory" is probably not to be taken as an adjective but rather as that which will appear. It picks up the theme of an ultimate manifestation of God's glory at the close of history (Is 24:23; 35:2; 40:5; 58:8; 60:1), which in the New Testament is understood to be the return of Christ (Mt 16:27; 24:30; 2 Thess 1:10).
But there is a question whether the following appellation, our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, is of one person, Jesus Christ, or of two, God the Father (great God) and our Savior, Jesus Christ. Depending on the interpretation, we have either a unique, direct affirmation of the deity of Christ or an unprecedented reference to God's accompaniment of Christ at his Second Coming.
In favor of the first interpretation: (1) In the Greek sentence, one definite article (the) governs the two nouns, God and Savior, which ordinarily would imply a reference to one person. (2) God and Savior was a title current in religious writings during the first century, usually denoting a single deity. (3) The use of epiphany language in the New Testament is primarily limited to Christ, and in the Pastorals there is a strong tendency to describe each "appearance" of Christ in this way (1 Tim 6:14; 2 Tim 4:1; 2 Tim 1:10; 4:8).
In favor of the second interpretation: (1) It is unusual, perhaps unprecedented (compare Rom 9:5), for Paul to refer to Christ as "God." (2) It is argued that in the epiphany passages of the Pastorals there is a tendency to distinguish between God and Christ (1 Tim 6:13-14; 2 Tim 1:9-10). (3) Paul tends to emphasize Christ's dependence upon God in the Pastorals, so that a reference to Christ as God would be out of character.
On the whole, grammatical and background considerations recommend the first interpretation. It is best to conclude, therefore, that the blessed hope is the hope in God's ultimate manifestation of glory in the return of Christ. Paul affirms that Christ is God. The use of epiphany language ("appearance") in this passage for both events of Christ not only implies the "helping" character of these events but also characterizes the present age between them. What began with Christ, salvation and a new manner of life (vv. 11-12), will be brought to completion only with his return (v. 13). The present age, and life in it, thus takes its meaning from these two reference points. The past reference point is certain, historical; it is the substance of the gospel message. The future reference point is based on the past event, but its time is uncertain, requiring hope and the expectant forward look.