Another truth we see in Titus 2:11–12 is that salvation and spiritual discipline are inseparable. The grace that brings salvation to us also disciplines us. It does not do the one without the other. That is, God never saves people and leaves them alone to continue in their immaturity and sinful lifestyle. Those whom He saves, He disciplines. Paul said this another way in Philippians 1:6: “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
This thought is both encouraging and sobering. It is encouraging because it assures us that our spiritual growth is not left to our initiative, nor is it dependent upon our wisdom to know in which areas and in which direction we need to grow. Rather, it is God Himself who initiates and superintends our spiritual growth. This is not to say that we have no responsibility to respond to God’s spiritual child-training in our lives, but it is to say that He is the one in charge of our training.
Of course, God will use others, such as our pastors and other mature Christians, as His agents, and He will use various means, primarily His Word and circumstances, to discipline us, but He is the one who takes the ultimate responsibility. And as the one who is infinite in wisdom, He knows exactly which means to use in our lives at any given time. Our response then should be to trust Him and obey Him, and, to use words from the writer of Hebrews, to pray that He will “work in us what is pleasing to him” (13:21).
At the same time this inseparability of God’s grace and spiritual discipline is a sobering truth. One has only to look around at Christendom, particularly in the United States, to see that there is a vast multitude of people who claim to have trusted in Christ at some time but do not seem to have experienced any of the discipline of grace. They may have walked an aisle, signed a card, or even prayed a prayer, but grace is not teaching them to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions, let alone to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives. Essentially, their lives are no different today than they were before they professed to have trusted Christ.
As I think of these people, I am reminded of the words of Hebrews 12:8, “If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.” And Jesus Himself said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). It is not those who have merely made a profession, but those in whose lives there is evidence of God’s Fatherly child-training, who are the inheritors of eternal life.
This sobering truth should be reflected upon by each of us. Is God’s grace disciplining me? The apostle Paul said, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5). And the apostle Peter exhorted us to “be all the more eager to make [our] calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10). Are you truly trusting in Jesus Christ as your Savior as He is presented in the gospel that we studied in chapter 3? Is there any evidence that you have died to the reign of sin through union with Jesus Christ? And is the grace of God at work in you to discipline or train you so that you are growing spiritually? If your honest answer is “no,” I urge you to come to Him believing His words that “whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37).
Let me be clear at this point. We do not pursue holiness or the evidences of God’s discipline to attain salvation. That would be salvation by works. Rather, God’s discipline in our lives, and the desire to pursue holiness on our part, be it ever so faint, is the inevitable result of receiving God’s gift of salvation by faith. As Martin Luther is so often quoted as saying, “We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.”
Many of us have friends and relatives who profess to be Christians but in whose lives there appears to be no evidence of the discipline of grace. Oftentimes we cling to a frail hope that such persons are believers because they made a profession at some time, despite the lack of any evidence of the Spirit’s work in their lives. It seems parents are especially prone to this form of denial regarding children who show no evidence of a genuine work of grace.
We certainly cannot determine the reality of another person’s salvation, and we can never say a certain individual is not a Christian. Nevertheless, we should not be naive in the face of a lack of evidence of any spiritual life. Instead of clinging to what may well be a false hope, we should pray earnestly that God will bring that person to salvation, or if perchance He has, will begin to manifest the discipline of grace in the person’s life.