For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.
The teachings concerning gracious salvation are to be believed! And they are to be lived (; ; )! The previous verses have shown how Christians are to live those teachings ( ). Now (in vv. 11-14) the apostle gives the reason why Christians are to live these teachings, why they are to live in a way that harmonizes with what they believe.
Let us note how the instruction of our text makes a lie of the charge that salvation by grace without works makes one careless and profane and “is a cause of indolence and is injurious to godliness, good morals, prayers, and other holy exercises” (Canons V, B, 6). To the contrary, divine grace teaches the godly life, and it enables one to live godly.
What is the life of this present world?
How the Christian lives is important because he lives in the midst of great ungodliness. In the first chapter Paul gave a brief description of the godlessness of the Cretans of that day. In his letter to the Galatians Paul used similar language. He wrote, “our Lord Jesus Christ gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world” (). The Greek words imply an ever-increasingly evil world. Our present world is also evil.
Those who have been graciously saved from their sins still live in this world. Grace does not take them out of it. They are in it, but not of it. Briefly, we note that, while they are not to live in harmony with the present world, neither are they to live isolated physically from it. They are to live out the teachings of sovereign grace while in this world. And the reason why they are to do so is that the nature of the grace that saves them teaches a specific lifestyle of godliness.
The “present world” (literally, the “now age”) is that which has been since Adam’s fall into sin. When he uses the word “age,” Paul is looking at the world from the viewpoint of the history that characterizes it. Further, by calling it the “present” age he implies that there is an other to come. Of that which is to come, Paul speaks in the next verse. In fact, he shows that God’s grace gives us an anticipation and a blessed hope for the appearing of glory in Jesus.
That which characterizes the present world is “ungodliness and worldly lusts.” “Ungodliness” is just that—no awareness of God. The absence of an awareness of God means that there is no consideration of His honor, of His law, and of His justice. Concern for God is replaced with a great concern for self—self-centeredness. What I feel and what I think become controlling elements in my life. It may be expressed as a thinking about what other people might think, but it is ultimately a great concern for self. There is no concern about what God thinks of me and of my actions.
Where there is ungodliness (no awe or reverence for God), “worldly lusts” express themselves freely. The lack of the fear of God results in unbridled lust and excess. This is what Scripture calls licentiousness and lasciviousness. It is any excess that dominates and controls our thinking. Whereas a desire may not be wrong in itself, worldly desires and cravings are always for the things of this world as ends in themselves. Such desires are to be controlled and are not to control us. Desires will control and rule us when there is no fear of God.
The present age is characterized (and increasingly so) by man’s unrestrained desire for what God has forbidden. Natural man seeks to satisfy the evil desires of his flesh.
What does divine grace teach?
There are certain things that will characterize the life of all those who are the object of God’s grace.
First, they will deny ungodliness and worldly lusts. They see the tremendous importance of self-denial. If anyone will come after Jesus, one of the first things he must do is “deny himself” (). The reason this is necessary is because the sinful nature we have as those represented by Adam is ever present with us. It is a nature against which we have to struggle all our life long and it is a depravity that always cleaves to us (Heidelberg Catechism, Q/A 56 and 126). Out of this nature comes no good thing. All of its desires are sinful. Hence, all those who are born again realize that they have to deny themselves.
Second, God’s grace teaches the Christian to be “godly.” This is a most wonderful concept. It means that one lives aware of God’s presence, so that he lives as before the face of God. It is not to be afraid or scared of Him, but to be awed by the knowledge of His love. Amazed that such divine love would be given to me, I am moved to render grateful returns of ardent love to Him who first manifested so great a love to me. This is what it means to live piously and reverentially, to serve Him dutifully, to be devoted to Him and His honor and to His Word and service.
Also, divine grace causes me to live “righteously.” This means to be observant of God’s commands, following God’s law rather than being influenced by the ungodly world or doing what I want to do. It means that I strive to conform my thoughts and desires, my words and actions, to loving service of God. Instead of being self-centered, those who live righteously are those who are governed by what God requires.
Finally, grace leads one to live “soberly.” Spiritual sobriety is to be in control of self, self-disciplined. The sober Christian is well aware of his sinful desires, but he finds in the knowledge of God’s undeserved love the power to live soberly, holding his sinful desires in check. To paraphrase Martin Luther, “We cannot stop birds flying over our heads, but we can stop them from nesting in our hair.”
The power to live godly in this present world is the grace of God
The “grace of God” is God’s undeserved love for sinners. Grace is a great power, a power that saves the recipients from their sin and makes them beautiful as He is. Grace brings salvation—always; it saves. There is no non-saving grace of God! Divine grace effects full and free salvation in Jesus Christ.
Grace brings salvation “to all men.” This cannot mean that every human is saved, for then there would not be a hell. Rather, it means that all kinds of men are saved (the various kinds of people he had referenced in the previous verses): old and young, male and female, free and slave, rich and poor. Salvation is not limited to one nationality, nor to one social class.
This grace that brings salvation to all kinds of men has “appeared.” In the old dispensation God’s grace was limited to the Jews, the physical seed of Abraham. But in Jesus Christ’s pouring out of His Spirit, the gospel of sovereign grace saves men out of every nation, tribe, and tongue.
The appearance of God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ teaches us to live godly in this world. This is true because the salvation that God gives puts us into union with Jesus. That is why salvation by grace consists of the forgiveness of sins and the gift of righteousness, along with the right to eternal life in glory. Salvation by grace is also the power of sanctification, enabling us to do good works. Gracious salvation transforms, enabling us to live a transformed life. The cross of Christ is the power that changes hearts and lives. We are born again; we are made new creatures.
Do you know this grace of God that saves in Christ Jesus? This salvation is for everyone who believes, whether Jew or Gentile, bond or free. This great salvation effects changes already in this present age. It enables us to deny ourselves and to live godly.