We often skim quickly over the introductory parts of Paul’s epistles, but they are usually pregnant with meaning—and in the case of his letter to Titus, profoundly so. In his seemingly simple salutation, Paul gives us some vivid insight into how the plan of redemption started.
In verses 1 and 2, Paul describes his work as “a bond servant of God.” He identifies his gospel work in three distinct categories—justification, sanctification, and glorification. Paul’s focus was never merely on making converts—God’s saving work continues until we’re with Him in eternity.
But notice the end of verse 2, which is the key: this whole unfolding miracle of salvation comes from God, “who cannot lie,” and, as it says at the end of verse 2, “promised [it] long ages ago.”
“Long ages ago” is a biblical expression referring to eternity past—the age before time began (cf. Acts 15:18; Romans 16:25). It is equivalent to the expression “before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24; Matthew 25:34; 1 Peter 1:20). So Paul is saying God decreed the plan of redemption and promised salvation before the beginning of time.
“Promised”—to whom? Not to any human being, because none of us had been created. And not to the angels, because there is no redemption for angels. Second Timothy 1:8–9 helps answer the question. There it says,
Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity. (emphasis added)
To whom did God make this promise? It’s an intra‑Trinitarian promise; a promise from the Father to the Son.
This is sacred ground, and our best understanding of it is still feeble, so we must tread carefully. We recognize that there is an intra‑Trinitarian love between Father and Son, the likes of which is incomprehensible and inscrutable to us (John 3:35; 17:26).
But this we know about love: it gives. And at some eternal moment the Father desired to express His perfect love for the Son, and the way He determined was to give to the Son a redeemed humanity—whose purpose would be, throughout all of the eons of eternity, to praise and glorify the Son and serve Him perfectly. That was the Father’s love gift.
The Father wanted to give this gift to the Son, and He predetermined to do it. Not only that, but He predetermined who would make up that redeemed humanity, and wrote their names down in a book of life before the world began. He set them aside for the purpose of praising and glorifying the name of Christ forever.
That means, in a sense, that you and I are somewhat incidental to the real issue here. Salvation is primarily for the honor of the Son, not the honor of the sinner. The purpose of the Father’s love gift is not to save you so you can have a happy life; it is to save you so that you can spend eternity praising the Son.
An Eternal Expression of Love
John’s gospel gives us remarkable insight into this very theme. In John 6:37, Jesus said, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out” (emphasis added). Every redeemed individual is a part of an elect body chosen from humanity in order to be given as a gift of love from the Father to the Son. This is not a matter of contingency. Jesus said, “All that the Father gives Me will come to me.”
Jesus further says, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44). All that the Father gives are drawn; all who are drawn come; all who come will be received, and He will never cast any of them out. Why would the Son reject a love gift from the Father? Our salvation in Christ is secure not because believers are so inherently desirable—we’re not. We’re secure because we are a gift from the Father to the Son, and because of the love of the Son for the Father. Christ responds to the Father’s expression of love in perfect gratitude, opening His arms to embrace the gift. The same infinite, inscrutable love that set us aside as a gift in eternity past now holds us secure in loving gratitude forever.
There’s more here; in verse 39 we read, “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.” Apparently, this is how it worked: The Father chose all of those who would be redeemed in humanity that are to be given to the Son as an expression of love. He wrote down their names in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Then, in time, the Father draws them. When the Father draws them, the sinners come; when they come the Son receives them. When He receives them, He keeps them and raises them on the last day to bring the plan to fruition. He must do this, according to verse 38: “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” And this is the will of the One who sent Jesus: that of all the Father has given Him, He loses none, but raises each one up on the last day.
Inherent in this doctrine, then, is the security of the believer—better known as the perseverance of the saints. It is all built into the plan. Consider the incident in John 18, when the soldiers came to take Jesus into captivity in the garden of Gethsemane. Twice Jesus said, “Whom do you seek?” (John 18:4, 7). They responded, “Jesus the Nazarene” (vv. 5, 7). Then He said to them, referring to the disciples, “Let these go their way” (v. 8). Why did He want the disciples to escape arrest? John explained that it was in order “to fulfill the word which He spoke, ‘Of those whom You have given Me I lost not one’” (v. 9).
Hypothetically, if Jesus had allowed them to be arrested, their faith wouldn’t have survived the test—so He never let it happen. That’s how He holds His own: It’s not just because He said it. It’s because He does it. He has lost none of them, and never will. He’ll bring them all the way to resurrection, because they’re love gifts from the Father. They’re precious, not inherently in who they are, but in the fact that they are expressions of the Father’s perfect love to him for the purpose of glorifying, honoring, and serving Him throughout all eternity.
If there is a circumstance that would be more than they could bear, He’ll make sure it doesn’t happen to them. He “will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). If He has to, He’ll providentially intervene. Meanwhile, as He sits at God’s right hand, He “intercedes for us” (Romans 8:34). Hebrews 7:25 points to the security we have through Christ’s ongoing work on our behalf: “Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” The perseverance of the saints is guaranteed, not by some detached divine fiat; the success of God’s saving work is assured by the ongoing, personal, attentive care of the Savior, the High Priest, who intercedes for His people to ensure that we are held secure in the plan of redemption.
Consider the “High Priestly Prayer” in John 17. Jesus was anticipating the cross, realizing that He would suffer the wrath of God against the sins of the world, expressed in those provocative words, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46). And there were elements of that experience which are infinitely appalling—a horror that cannot be fathomed by the finite human mind. But He wasn’t concerned about Himself. He could say on the cross, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” He had no problem in trusting God with Himself. Looking ahead to the terror of the cross in John 17, He prayed not for Himself, but for His own. He had the responsibility to hold on to them, losing none, and to raise them up at the last day. And even when He was on the verge of giving His very life for them, His concern was not about His own suffering; it was about what might happen to His people in an interval in which He would not be in a position to care for them.
So he prayed for them. “Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You; for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me. I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours” (John 17:7–9). He was saying: They are Yours, You gave them to Me, and I’m not going to lose them—but I’m going to go through something here and I don’t know what’s going to happen to them when I’m not there to hold them, even if just for a moment.
He continued: “I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name” (v. 11). That’s the main request of the whole chapter—“keep them in Your name.” It’s an incredible request: Father, I can’t hold them for this time when your wrath will be poured out on Me; would You just take over for Me and keep them? I have been faithful to hold them—but there’s going to be a moment when I can’t hold them. Would You do it then? Then continuing in the next verse: “While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled” (v. 12). He said, I’ve been keeping them just as I said I would. Now I just need you to keep them for the time when I’m suffering on their behalf.
Why did the Father give them to the Son? Toward the end of His prayer, Jesus reaffirmed why: “for You loved Me before the foundation of the world” (v. 24). This is the key—the Father’s perfect love for the Son.
The truth of God’s sovereign election is high doctrine—far beyond our ability to comprehend completely. It is, after all, dealing with intra‑Trinitarian expressions of love that are ultimately unfathomable. And yet, it is a glorious and uplifting, soul-satisfying truth, if we faithfully embrace what Scripture does reveal about it.