We recognize that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are central and essential to our salvation. Were Christ not made sin in our stead, the wrath of God would justly come upon us (2 Corinthians 5:21). Were Christ not resurrected, we would remain in our sin (1 Corinthians 15:17). The resurrection reveals that the death of Christ was sufficient to satisfy God’s wrath.
The death of Christ, though, not only affects our standing with God. It also affects our living in the world. In Titus 2:14, Paul makes this declaration: “[Christ] 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” [ESV].
Paul writes that Christ “gave himself for us,” revealing that his death was “voluntary, exhaustive, and substitutionary,” as D. Edmond Hiebert points out. Christ’s death was voluntary in that he lay down his life (John 10:18), exhaustive in that he gave of himself completely (John 6:51), and substitutionary in that he died in the place of believers (Galatians 1:4). Christ came to earth “to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).
Paul presents a two-fold purpose for the death of Christ in Titus 2:14. The first purpose is negative: “to redeem us from all lawlessness.” Sinners are enslaved to sin (Romans 6:17), being in rebellion to the law of God. Christ has delivered those who believe in him from that slavery, having freed them to be able to live unto righteousness. Stephen Charnock [1628-1680] maintains, “All our works before repentance are dead works (Hebrews 6:1). And these works have no true beauty in them, with whatsoever gloss they may appear to a natural eye. A dead body may have something of the features and beauty of a living, but it is but the beauty of a carcass, not of a man. . . . Since man, therefore, is spiritually dead, he cannot perform a living service. As a natural death causes incapacitate for natural actions, so a spiritual death must incapacitate for spiritual actions.”
Paul writes to Titus that the second purpose for the death of Christ is positive: “to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” Those who are redeemed have been freed from the guilt of sin and are thereby the unique people of Christ. Concerning the Greek word which is translated as his own possession in the ESV, William Barclay writes, “It means reserved for; and it was specially used for that part of the spoils of a battle or a campaign which the king who had conquered set apart specially for himself. Through the work of Jesus Christ, the Christian becomes fit to be the special possession of God.” God has saved us primarily for his purpose, not for our pleasure.
As “his own possession,” Christians do not grudgingly perform good works out of a sense of obligation or coercion; they zealously perform good works because they are now God’s own possession. Peter understood this distinctive relationship between Christ and believers and between belief and good works: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Likewise, Paul writes in Ephesians 2:10 that Christians are God’s “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
It is not that we lead godly lives because we are supposed to do so and we grudgingly comply. We have been liberated by the death of Christ from the power of sin and are now able to do what before we could not have done. As followers of our crucified and resurrected Lord, may our lives be characterized as being “zealous for good works.”