After Godliness

Or, Adorning the Doctrine of God Our Savior

Scripture: Titus 1:1-4

Date: May 26, 2024

Speaker: Sean Higgins

I love the Pastoral Epistles; come along and love them with me! Titus is another short book (only 46 verses long) after Habakkuk (56 verses), and we’ll consider it together over these next few months. It’s a book about the influence of the truth on character/conduct/lifestyle, and then how that behavior influences others, both inside and outside the church.

One of the phrases that has most affected my perspective on truth and worldview is in Titus 2:10: “that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.” There is a way to live that shows the beauty of the teaching. This is the burden of the letter to Titus. Starting in the greeting, the knowledge of truth “accords with godliness” (1:1). The “sound doctrine” that Titus is to teach (2:1) could be taken as a mini-encomium of godly character. And the phrase “good works” peppers the letter six times (1:16, 2:7, 14, 3:1, 8, 14).

Our habits of life matter. Our households need examples, the household of faith needs examples, the world needs examples.

Robert Capon wrote that we have lots of principles but “nobody has been showing me pictures. At least not ones I can identify with.” Edmund Burke wrote, “Example is the school of mankind and they will learn at no other.” Peter wrote that elders were to be templates to the flock (1 Peter 5:3), and the first group Paul addresses are elders in Titus 1:5-9. Men of godliness are to lead the way by showing what truth looks like in the flesh. We adorn the doctrine, we wear it in a way that makes it look good.

This book is a personal letter from the apostle Paul to one of Paul’s disciples named Titus, his true child in a common faith (1:4). As usual in first century correspondence, the author identifies himself and greets his reader. This is, certainly, to Titus, but it’s got to be for more than Titus; it’s a “church” book.

Paul left Titus as a young man (2:6-8) on the island of Crete to appoint elders for the churches that Paul had just planted with Titus’ help (1:5). Titus had been traveling and working with Paul, and was especially successful in some back-and-forths with the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 2:12-13, 7:5-7; 8:6-7).

It’d be a good question just how much of the letter bearing his name would have been new information to Titus. Along with reminders, these instructions were public, like speaking loud enough to one kid so that the whole table hears. The Cretan Christians were apparently unorganized (1:5), upset by false teachers (1:11), living in a culture of liars (1:12) and ungodliness, worldly passions, and lawlessness (2:11, 14). The pre-Christian Cretans themselves had been:

foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. (Titus 3:3 ESV)

To start, here is one of the longest opens in any of Paul’s letters.

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior; To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior. (Titus 1:1–4 ESV)

There’s the author, the addressee, and the greeting, but I’m going to drill in on two themes.

The Threefold Aim

Paul was a slave , doing the will of another. He was an apostle , taking the message of another. So he was a preacher according to the command of God.

There are great statements of Paul’s purpose throughout his letters (for example Colossians 1:28 to present every man complete in Christ; Philippians 1:25 for progress and joy in faith). This greeting to Titus has three parts, two for the sake of aims, two objects “to further” (NIV), and then a frame of reference, so: 1) for faith, 2) for knowledge, and 3) in hope.

He was an instrument to bring about the faith of God’s elect . There’s more about God’s sovereign salvation in this paragraph, not least that “Savior” is attributed to both God and Jesus; God saves sinners. It starts with the response of faith; God’s election gifts faith.

Faith is not contentless, not “shapeless” (John Calvin), not feelings-based but based on truth. Along with faith Paul was an instrument to bring about the knowledge of the truth which accords with godliness . What’s not to get carried away with in this phrase? There’s truth, you can recognize it, and it changes your life! Sound doctrine (2:1), and adorning doctrine (2:10), still have doctrine, the teaching, the truth.

AND it’s not merely a mental collection or calisthenics. We’re not to be truth-tubes, just raising the level of our biblical or theological facts and outlines and libraries. True truth has a godly-making effect. Godliness is eusebeian (εὐσέβειαν) - piety, reverence and loyalty to deity. “The total commitment of one’s life to God” (Mounce).

  • “truth which accords with godliness” (ESV)
  • “truth that leads to godliness” (NIV)
  • “truth that produces godliness” (Mounce)
  • “truth which is after godliness” (Tyndale, KJV)

This kind of “after” isn’t about sequence, as in before and after. It’s about pursuit. Some chase after money, after a girl. You, Christian, get after godliness. Get knowledge of truth that gets after spoude/zeal that gets after good works.

”Godliness consists in an exact harmony between holy principles and practices.” (—Thomas Watson)

Part of that godliness is living in hope. Paul was an instrument to bring about the hope of eternal life . The faith and knowledgeable-godliness has hope, a forward-looking certainty. The eternal part includes later and even forever, but true hope changes present choices.

The Trinitarian Promise

The rest of verse 2 and all of verse 3 modify “eternal life.” Eternal life was promised by God and then revealed by God. There’s a contrast between both of God’s activities, one before time and the other at the present time.

The “un-lying God” (ὁ ἀψευδὴς, only here in the NT) promised eternal life before the ages began , “before times eternal.” Some argue that this must be a reference to old times, times of the patriarchs, so back to Abraham (as John Calvin thought), or maybe even back to Adam. The inference is, if the promise was made before Genesis 1:1, then who did God promise?

Around the time I was exposed to the doctrines of godliness/grace I was reading John MacArthur’s commentary on Titus like any other book, starting at the start. And that was the first time I considered the Trinitarian option, where God promised God (see also some other passages like John 6:37, 39; 10:11, 26-30). The Father chose a people to give to the Son. The Son would lay down His life for them, the Spirit would cause them to be born again and seal them. Our eternal life is based on God, God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior” (verse 4).

And then at the proper time manifested in His word through the preaching . There were means to the end, there were timing considerations as well as instrumental choices. The command of God brought Paul to his preaching work, and it is a message of salvation because it’s a message from God our Savior .


Habakkuk rejoiced in God, “the God of my salvation.” And the message to Titus, some 670 years after Habakkuk, is still faith, still godliness, still salvation.

Be after godliness, get after it. Truth is on a quest for godliness, truth runs after it.

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)

We need godly men (elders, older men and women, younger women and men, servants and citizens) as “a people who are zealous for good works” (2:14), a people who adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.


Christian, you’ve been granted faith. You have knowledge of the truth. You live in hope of eternal life, looking to the God who never lies. Get after godliness. In everything adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.


His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. (2 Peter 1:3–4 ESV)

See more sermons from the Titus - Adorning the Doctrine series.