Monday, 25 June 2018
…not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, Titus 3:5
This continues the thought of the previous verse, but it is tied into the whole package of thought since verse 3:1. Paul exhorted the believers through Titus in verses 1 & 2 to be subject to rulers, to obey, to be ready for every good work, and to do so in a peaceable, gentle, and humble attitude. Then in verse 3, he spoke of the wretched state that we all were in prior to being saved by Christ. That was immediately followed up in verse 4 with, “But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared…”
That now brings in the words of verse 5. Paul begins with, “not by works of righteousness which we have done.” This is being contrasted to the state we were in, and it is complementing the “every good work” of verse 1. We were in a state of disobedience, living in a manner contrary to what God expects of us. In that fallen state, God initiated the process of our change by sending Jesus. We had not yet done any good works in order to merit His favor. Even if people before coming to Christ did good things, they could never meet the high standard of righteousness that God expects. Our deeds were tainted by sin. But even more, they were done in a state of unbelief.
Without belief in Christ (faith), there can be no merit for our works. Our state was fallen, and so nothing we did could meet God’s bar of what is considered “righteous.” And so Paul says that our works are wholly excluded from merit before Him. He sent Jesus before any such works of righteousness were possible. Thus, the sending of Jesus was an act of pure grace; unmerited favor. And it was in a condition of needed mercy. We needed to not get the righteous justice that was due to us.
And this is exactly what God provided. God sent His Son to us not in a state of merited favor, “but according to His mercy.” God’s extended mercy implies that we needed mercy. If so (and it is so), then it means that we actually deserved His punishment. We had not worked our way out of the pit of destruction. Instead, we wallowed in it. Remember also, Paul was an observant Jew. And not only was he observant, but he was the cream of the crop; a Pharisee. And yet, he includes himself in the equation. He was as in need of God’s mercy as all others. Jesus said as much to the people of Israel –
“For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:20
Obviously, if the most observant Jews of all could not enter the kingdom of heaven through their own merit, then it shows that something much greater was needed. This is what Paul now speaks of in Titus. God sent Jesus to us as a merciful offering. It is in this act that “He saved us.” The only way we could be brought out of the pit of destruction in which we lived was for God to initiate the process. In that, and through that, we can be saved. Paul is speaking only to believers here. The words, “He saved us,” are speaking only of those who are actually saved by God through the work of Christ. However, it is inclusive of all who are saved – past, present, and future. Paul’s words are written as doctrine for the church age.
He then explains how this salvation came about. It was, “through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” Reformed theologians say that a person cannot be saved unless God first regenerates them in order to believe. They then believe, and after that, they are saved. They then say that being “born again” in John 3:3 is that process. In other words, a person who is born again isn’t yet saved. He is simply regenerated in order to believe at that point. Only after that will he will then believe and be saved. If that isn’t the craziest theology imaginable!
Paul’s words here completely refute such illogical doctrine. The “washing of regeneration” literally signifies “water for washing.” It is baptism (of the Holy Spirit) that Paul speaks of here. The only other time he uses this term is in Ephesians 5:26. There he says (while speaking of the church) –
It is first through the word that one is washed. The word is given by the Spirit of God. This then needs to be brought back further, to Romans 10 –
Paul’s words clearly show that “not all have obeyed the gospel.” There is a choice (free will) which is involved in the process. That choice is based on the word which has been given by the Spirit of God. In hearing the word, a choice is made (belief). In that choice, faith is exercised. In the exercising of that faith, man receives “the washing of regeneration.” That is the baptism (of the Holy Spirit) spoken of by Paul here, and which leads to “the renewing of the Holy Spirit.” This is what Paul means when he said in the previous verse, “He saved us.” It takes us again to Romans 10 –
“…that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9
The entire process is initiated by God, but it must be acted upon by man (faith). The moment that faith in the gospel is exercised, Paul then tells us what the result is. This is found recorded in Ephesians 1:13, 14 –
“In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.”
The sealing of the Holy Spirit which Paul speaks of in Ephesians 1 is the same thing he is referring to in Titus 3. Through the word, we “hear.” In hearing, we believe. In believing, we are sealed with the Spirit and are saved. The entire process is of God, and not of our own works. Faith is not considered a work (Romans 3:27), and it is something we must exercise as a part of this process.
Finally, the “renewing of the Holy Spirit” means that we are now acceptable to God. Though we are still capable of wrongdoing, that wrongdoing is not imputed to us (2 Corinthians 5:19). Rather, God accepts us because of Christ, and our works are now made acceptable to Him through Christ as well. That is the “every good work” which Paul cited in verse 3:1.
Life application: It seems as if such a long commentary on what Paul says at times is unnecessary. His words are clear and precise. But because so many people have come in and muddied the theological waters, even to the point where there is complete confusion in how Paul’s words are presented, there actually needs to be a highly detailed explanation of his thoughts at times. Always be ready to dig into the word, keep the waters clear, and accept the basics as they are given (such as free-will) from the start. Once we divert from the obvious, the pure flowing river becomes tainted. In the end, it is all about Jesus who has come to give us the remedy to the state which we are in.
Lord God, thank You for the Holy Bible; Your precious word. Help us to read it daily, apply it to our lives always, and to never muddy its purity with unsound theology. Your word is a wonderful light, and it is the purest of water. Thank You for your precious word. Amen.