In the ancient Roman world, a barbarian was anyone who was not Roman. To be Roman was to be civilized, to be part of the broader culture. There was a general sense of shared values and a shared language. To be outside of this accepted norm was to be barbaric. A barbarian could become Roman by being taught the Roman way of being, and therefore embracing a thoroughly Roman perspective on the world. Culture is taught. In Acts 7, for example, Stephen tells us that Moses “was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians” (Acts 7:22). This instruction or training was all-encompassing. It included language and history and religion and warfare and governance and all the things necessary for him to be thoroughly Egyptian. He was taught the Egyptian way of being.
Paul uses that same word—translated “instructed” in Acts 7:22—in his letter to Titus.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.Titus 2:11–14 ESV
He begins by pointing out that God’s grace brings salvation “for all people,” which means all people without distinction. It is not limited to a particular people group, whether tribe or language or people or nation, or even socio-economic group or political party or sex or educational achievement. Those categories are irrelevant when it comes to the grace of God bringing salvation. The grace of God brings salvation to all who will receive it.
Notice what this means. This salvation that comes with God’s grace trains us. It instructs us. It enculturates us. The grace of God that brings salvation trains us to embrace a new way of living. It does not change our culture in the sense that we cease being 21st-century Americans who love tacos and pizza. It causes us to embrace a completely new set of values. Specifically, it trains us “to renounce ungodliness and world passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.”
This training happens as we wait for the return of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. We wait for him because of what he has done for us. Paul says he gave himself for us in order “to redeem us from lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession.” As John wrote, we love him because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).
Notice that it is God who does these things. God caused his grace to appear and to bring salvation for all people. We didn’t do that; he did. God’s grace is what trains us to renounce ungodliness and our worldly passions. We don’t do that; he does. God’s grace trains us to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age. We don’t do that; God does. While we do wait for his appearing, it is because he gave himself for us to redeem us and to purify us for himself. We don’t do that; he does that.
Whenever we begin to look closely at our lives we easily recognize we do not measure up. We want to come up with ways to fight against sin. This impulse is good. We should not place ourselves in situations where temptation might overcome us. A recovering alcoholic may be unwise to hang out in a brewery after work and one who struggles with lust may be unwise to browse the internet when home alone. We can take active steps to avoid sin, but when it comes right down to it, we must look elsewhere for the power to live godly lives. The power to do so is not in us. That power is the grace of God that has appeared, that is actively training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, that is actively training us to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age.
Whenever we’re filled with doubt about our salvation or we’re feeling defeated about our very real inability to overcome sin and to live in a way that honors God completely, we’re looking in the wrong place. Our salvation was never dependent on us. Our salvation—including our on-going, daily rescue from sin!—was never dependent on us. We must look to our great God and Savior Jesus Christ who redeems us and purifies us for himself.
As we pray today, let’s pray for one another to look to Jesus to overcome temptation. Let’s pray for one another to rest in him, to find our identity in who he is and in what he has done and is doing in us. Salvation is his work from beginning to end, so let’s look to him for it. He will thoroughly train us to live for him.