Training for Good Works

Are you training for anything right now? Perhaps you’re learning a new sport or hobby, a different exercise routine, or trying a diet. There is a particular mindset of a person in training. “The main aim of sports training is to prepare a sportsman for the highest possible performance in a main competition in a particular sport/event. Besides this, the following should be considered as the aims of sports training: improvement of physical fitness; acquisition of motor skills; improvement of tactical efficiency; [and] education and improvement of mental capabilities.” (1) As a dog owner, I am a trainer because I want my pup to be his best. There are levels of training: puppy skills, basic, intermediate, and advanced obedience, and then, in my case, AKC good citizen training. Many people who see my dog think he’s already completely trained when he is just at the intermediate stage. Many people would stop here. Tim Challis writes, “Like most people, we planned to train our dogs until they were perfectly behaved, until they could go head-to-head with a police dog and perform just as well. For a little while we made good progress…The initial things were simple enough and it was no great challenge to train the dog, so she was halfway respectable. After that it got much more difficult…we gave up long before the dog could master any of these. In the end we, like most people, settled for a barely-trained but tolerable dog. We settled for good enough.” (2) 

Is Good Enough for Us Good Enough for God?

“God calls us to train ourselves to be godly (1 Timothy 4:7). We do this by killing sin—by killing sin and coming alive to righteousness. We put aside old patterns and habits and come alive to new, better ones. God does not call us to bruise our sin, or injure it, or slap it around a little. God calls us to put our sin to death, and that is a hard business. God assures us that with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit we can do this, to beat it to death, to see its hold on us drastically, radically diminished. But so often we stop short. We train ourselves for a while, but then grow weary when those last vestiges of the sin refuse to die, or when we realize that sin has much deeper and stronger roots than we had expected, or when we realize that we actually kind of like our sin. We end up half-trained, good enough Christians. Yet God calls us to persevere in the battle, to train ourselves thoroughly and completely, to fight for holiness and godliness from the moment of conversion to the moment of death. We answer this call only when we doggedly persevere.” (3) Paul’s letter to Titus is of great help to know precisely what the Lord expects of us. “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) God’s grace through salvation in Christ’s sacrificial redemption purifies and trains us to be zealous for godly works as we await his reappearance in glory. The question is: are we willing to continue our training, renouncing our ungodliness through repentance?

Our Training Rests on God’s Grace

“…See our duty in a very few words; denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, living soberly, righteously, and godly, notwithstanding all snares, temptations, corrupt examples, ill usage, and what remains of sin in the believer’s heart, with all their hindrances. It teaches to look for the glories of another world. At, and in, the glorious appearing of Christ, the blessed hope of Christians will be complete: To bring us to holiness and happiness… Redemption from sin and sanctification of the nature go together, and make a peculiar people unto God, free from guilt and condemnation, and purified by the Holy Spirit.” (4) “One cannot truly claim to be a recipient of saving grace without also being a pupil of ‘training grace.’ This change in lifestyle is rooted in the atonement (v. 14) and the expectation of Christ’s return (v. 13).” (5) But it’s not enough to just know that Christ died for our transformation, to live zealously for him, eagerly awaiting his return. We are to behave and live as those in training for godliness. We are to embrace Christ’s mission for us to be pure and godly through repentance of ungodliness and worldly passions, to produce good works zealously. 

Rejecting worldly passions and ungodliness

We are explicitly being trained by God’s grace “to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (v. 12). How can we reject, deny, and abandon our attachments to this world and it’s godlessness except by repentance? If we are to be more self-controlled internally, upright and honorable with others, and pleasing to God through our obedience, we have to work at it. We work at the Spirit’s pace, not like a dog stubbornly driven by whatever attracts his attention, straining at the leash instead of walking by his owner’s side. What Christ has started in us through our redemption and justification, the Spirit continues through our sanctification with our cooperation. Our training is ongoing until we are taken out of this world, or Christ returns. Our sure hope of Christ’s future reappearance strengthens our will to be more like him. We are in training while “…waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” “The Greek for waiting often carries a connotation of eagerness. Eagerly expecting the return of Christ is the way grace trains Christians to renounce sin and live in a godly way. Setting one’s mind on the truth of Christ’s return impels a person to holiness (1 John 3:2–3).” (6) Jesus Christ paid a great price in his mission to make us pure and godly; now, the Spirit works through our repentance of ungodliness and worldly passions to zealously produce good works. Jesus “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 2:14) We cannot actively engage in ungodly conduct and produce good works, which is our calling.

Our voluntary work is based on our Savior’s voluntary work.

Christ’s “work was voluntary, substitutionary and infinitely costly. Its stated purpose must be regarded as having a dual aspect, namely Christ’s achievement, and the Christian’s obligation. (a) To redeem from: must be given the full meaning of ‘right away from’, and all wickedness must also be given its widest significance. (b) To purify: Sanctification, which is complete in its formal sense, and progressive in its ethical is the goal of the Redeemer’s work. Saints thereby become a people essentially His, who may be identified by their zeal to do what is good.” (7) “Paul anchors his call for godliness in the fact that one purpose of Jesus’ death was to make his people holy. To forsake godliness is to despise the sacrifice of Christ.” (8) [We are] “these people, for whom Christ has given himself, and whom he has redeemed and purifies, are a ‘peculiar people’…Christ’s portion and inheritance, his peculiar treasure, his jewels, whom, as such, he values and takes care of…redeemed and purified by Christ, through the power of his grace upon them, people zealous of good works… not only perform them, but perform them from principles of truth and love, and with a zeal for the glory of God, and the honour of his Gospel; and with an holy emulation of one another, striving to go before, and excel each other in the performance of them.” (9)

Will we embrace Christ’s mission for us to be pure and godly through repentance of ungodliness and worldly passions? Let’s not be half-trained. “…what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.” (2 Peter 3:11-14)

Related Scripture: Psalm 67:1-3; Ezekiel 37:23; 1 Corinthians 1:5-8; Galatians 5:5; Ephesians 2:10; 1 Peter 4:2; 1 John 2:16-17; 3:2-3.

Notes:

  1. https://sssutms.co.in/UploadDocument/EContent/Complete%20Guide%20to%20Sports%20Training.pdf
  2. Challis, Tim, “The Half-Trained Dog,” December 28, 2015  https://www.challies.com/christian-living/the-half-trained-dog/
  3. Challis, Ibid.
  4. Henry, Matthew, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible, Titus 2:11-15, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhn/titus-2.html.
  5. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Titus 2:11–14, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
  6. ESV Study Bible Notes, Ibid. 
  7. Zondervan Bible Commentary, F. F. Bruce General Editor, Titus 2:14, One-Volume Illustrated Digital Edition
  8. ESV Study Bible Notes, Ibid.
  9. Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Titus 2:14 https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/titus-2.html

April 22, 2021           

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