Resources » The IVP New Testament Commentary Series » Titus » Instructions for Godly Living (2:1-15) » The Basis of Godly Conduct (2:11-15) » The Significance of Christ's Sacrifice (2:14)
The Significance of Christ's Sacrifice (2:14)
The identification of the God and Savior as Jesus Christ at the end of verse 13 leads to a discussion in verse 14 of the actual outworking of God's grace (v. 11). The language of this description was well known and would have immediately struck a chord with the readers; Paul's material combines a saying of Jesus (that the early church made good use of) with well-known citations from the Old Testament, which together explain the significance of Christ's death for the formation of God's people.
Verse 14 describes the death of Jesus Christ as an offering/sacrifice that was made for those who could not make it themselves.
First, the verb gave (and indeed the entire saying—who gave himself for us) portrays Christ's death as a ritual offering made specifically to atone for sins (Rom 4:25; 8:32; compare Gal 1:4). Although here the traditional saying of Jesus is attenuated (compare Mk 10:45; 1 Tim 2:6), the same thoughts are in mind.
Second, the note of willingness is emphasized, for it is said that he gave himself. Consequently, it cannot be said that Christ's death was an accident that took him by surprise. This death had to occur; it was an intrinsic part of God's plan of salvation (Acts 2:23).
Third, the phrase for us reveals that this offering was both representative and substitutionary. In giving himself as a sacrifice, the God-Man represented sinful humans, almost as a modern-day attorney would take a case. Furthermore, his death for us was a death rightly required of people; he stepped in as our substitute and suffered what is rightfully our punishment for sins.
Christ's redemptive death, understood in this way, is without question the ultimate illustration of God's grace. The act originated in God's plan, was executed in behalf of undeserving people and accomplished their salvation. But the theme of Christian living that runs throughout Titus 2 suggests that Paul's focal point in verse 14 is on the purpose or result of this event, which the following clause introduces.
Two metaphors and two Old Testament passages combine to describe the purpose of Christ's sacrifice (of course, from the church's standpoint this purpose is now result!). The first metaphor is that of redemption: the offering was designed to redeem us. For the first readers this statement would have conjured up a picture of being bought out of slavery or servitude through a ransom. It was the practice in ancient warfare for conquerors to make slaves of captives. Redeem described the process of paying for such a prisoner's release. In a different context, slaves might secure redemption by having the right to ownership of them transferred to a god. Either picture naturally suited a description of Christ's redeeming work in the life of a believer: though a person was formerly enslaved to sin (Jn 8:34), Christ himself paid the price of manumission, setting the believer free to serve God. As the imagery of Psalm 130:8 reveals, the servitude or bondage from which we are released is all wickedness (literally, on the Old Testament model, "lawlessness")—a state of complete opposition to God's law.
This description of purpose continues with the metaphor of washing or purification: the offering was designed to purify . . . a people for himself. Here the imagery is not of baptism (compare 3:5; Eph 5:25-26). Rather, as the Old Testament context of the citation suggests (Ezek 37:23), "washing" denotes God's act of purifying or sanctifying his wayward people from the defilement of idolatry—claiming a people out of the sinful world. The early church understood this action to be executed ultimately in the shedding of Christ's blood.
Consequently, God's action in Christ purified a peculiar people of God. This idea goes back to Exodus 19:5, where God's purpose in establishing a covenant with Israel is revealed (Deut 7:6; 14:2; 28:18; compare Eph 1:14; 1 Pet 2:9). In response to God's grace, the new people were to observe God's law (Deut 26:18). In New Testament and Pauline terms this is translated into being "zealous for good works." Salvation results in works of the Spirit (see notes on 1 Tim 2:10).
God's grace (v. 11) in Christ's self-offering (v. 14) has established a special people for God's own possession (v. 14). Set free from sin's bondage and purified, they are able to pursue a manifestly new manner of life, characterized by good works. From the interweaving of Old Testament citations it is clear that the early church viewed itself as being continuous with Israel, the true Israel, enjoying the fulfillment of God's Old Testament promises to his people. Jesus' death is the decisive event in the fulfilling of God's promise to create a special people for himself.
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