1. God’s grace brings salvation to all people (2:11).
When Paul writes, “For the grace of God has appeared,” he is referring to the embodiment of grace in the person of Jesus Christ, who was “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). It is not that God’s grace is missing from the Old Testament. No one was saved in the Old Testament apart from God’s grace. But as John 1:17 states the contrast, “For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.” God rightly could have sent His Son to condemn us and judge us. But instead (John 3:17), “For God did not send His Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”
Zecharias uses the verb appear to refer to the coming of Messiah, whom he calls the Sunrise from on high, who will “shine [appear] upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79). The coming of Jesus Christ was the light of the grace of God’s salvation dawning upon this sin-darkened world.
Paul says that the appearance of God’s grace brought “salvation to all men.” The KJV and the NIV err by translating that God’s grace has appeared to all men. That never has been true, in that there have always been many that have never heard of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.
Rather, Paul means that God’s grace that appeared in the person of Christ offers salvation to all that hear of it. In the context, Paul has just spoken of various groups: older men, older women, younger women, younger men, and slaves. So when he goes on to say that God’s grace brings salvation to all men, he means, “to all types of people, including those whom the world despises, even to slaves.” No one is beyond the reach of God’s grace.
This does not mean that all people are saved or will be saved. The Bible is uniformly clear that there are two separate, final destinations for all people. Those who by God’s grace believe in Jesus Christ as Savior will go to heaven. Those who do not believe in Christ will pay the penalty of eternal separation from God in hell.
But the good news of God’s grace is that no sinner is beyond the reach of God’s grace. The apostle Paul was a persecutor of the church. He called himself the chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:13, 15). But he experienced God’s grace through the cross. If the chief of sinners found mercy, so can you!
But, there is a major hindrance that will keep you from experiencing God’s grace in salvation, namely, your propensity to self-righteousness. Paul says that God’s grace brings salvation to all people. You don’t need salvation unless you are lost and you know that you’re lost. If you think that you’re doing just fine on your own or that you’re going to be able to make it on your own with a little more effort, you won’t cry out for a Savior to deliver you. As Jesus said (Luke 5:32), “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” By “the righteous,” Jesus meant, “the self-righteous.” The self-righteous Pharisees did not see their need for a Savior. Those who knew that they were sinners did.
Suppose that you were standing in a long line at the bank, waiting to deposit your paycheck. Suddenly, I grab you by the arm, jerk you out of line, and forcibly drag you out of the building. You probably wouldn’t be very happy with me. You’d say, “What do you think you’re doing? You hurt my arm, you tore my shirt, you made me lose my place in line, and you made me look like a fool in front of everyone in the bank!”
But, one simple fact would change your attitude to one of complete gratitude for the rest of your life: the bank had just been taken over by terrorists that threatened to kill everyone inside. In the first scenario, you didn’t yet know the danger that you were in. In the second scenario, you had become aware of the danger and you knew that you were doomed unless someone rescued you.
Before you can appreciate God’s grace, you need to know that you are justly under His wrath and condemnation. You are headed for eternal judgment unless someone intervenes. To use Spurgeon’s phrase, you know that the rope is around your neck. God’s grace cuts the rope, even though you are guilty as charged and deserve to die. Have you experienced God’s grace that brings salvation? If so, you are a changed person. How?
2. God’s grace trains us who are saved in godliness (2:12-14a).
The word “instructing” means, “child-training.” It includes teaching, but also, correcting and disciplining. It is a process that begins at salvation and continues until we stand before the Lord. But, note that grace does not mean, “hang loose and live as sloppily as you please.” Rather, grace trains, disciplines, and instructs us in godly living. Paul mentions three ways that grace trains us:
A. GRACE TRAINS US TO DENY UNGODLINESS AND WORLDLY DESIRES (2:12A).
When you experience God’s unmerited favor in Jesus Christ, it motivates you to want to please Him in everything that you do. As you read God’s Word, you begin to realize that there is much in your life that displeases the Lord, who gave Himself on the cross to save you from God’s judgment. So, you begin walking on the path that Jesus described as denying yourself daily, taking up your cross, and following Him (Luke 9:23).
This includes saying no to ungodliness. This refers to a person who does not reverence God and thus lives by ignoring God. It obviously refers to the person who is openly immoral or evil, but it also includes the outwardly nice person who simply has no place for God in his life. His everyday life is organized, motivated, and run by self, with no place for God. The person who has tasted God’s grace will say no to such godless living.
Also, you must say no to worldly desires. This refers to desires that are characteristic of this world system that is opposed to God. John describes them as “the lust of the flesh,” “the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life” (1 John 2:16). They include selfishness, pride, seeking after status and power, greed, lust, and living for sinful pleasure rather than finding pleasure in God above all else. Grace trains you to say no to these things, because God and His grace are far sweeter than anything the world can offer.