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The Realization that Salvation Is According to God’s Mercy, Not Human Works (vss. 5-6): 3:5 He saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, 3:6 whom he poured out on us in full measure through Jesus Christ our Savior. The fact that God had to send His own Son into the world to die for our sin should bring the realization that salvation could never be accomplished by human works or any meritorious religious system. If we could in any way work to accomplish our own salvation, the appearing of Christ on the scene of human history would have been an act of futility. That salvation is not by human effort of any sort is strongly stressed by the word order of the Greek text. Literally, the text reads, “Not by works, those in righteousness which we ourselves have done, but (by strong contrast) according to His mercy, He saved us.” As Paul often does, he states the basis of salvation both negatively and positively to make his point. For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not of works, so that no one can boast (Eph. 2:8-9). … and be found in him, not because of having my own righteousness derived from the law, but because of having the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness—a righteousness from God that is based on Christ’s faithfulness (Phil. 3:9).

He is the one who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not based on our works but on his own purpose and grace, granted to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but now made visible through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus. He has broken the power of death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (2 Tim. 1:9-10). First, then, salvation is not by human works whether they be religious, moral, social or whatever form of righteous behavior a person might engage in. This would include things like the sacraments of penance, water baptism, the Eucharist, self-denial, the observance of religious days or even, as in the context of Titus, good works done for others (1:16; 2:7, 14; 3:1, 8, 14). Though this letter calls for good works and though Paul has just pointed to the believer’s changed condition, he makes it clear that “…our present condition of new life is not due to any deed which we performed in the realm of righteousness. The product of our lives could bring only the verdict of guilty when tried by the demands of God and His Law.…” Second, salvation is based on the mercy of God. This last clause which is literally, “but according to His mercy, He saved us,” begins with the conjunction alla, which expresses the strongest kind of contrast. It serves to stress the basis of salvation as not of man and wholly of God’s mercy. “According” is the preposition kata, which may point to the standard or norm which governs something and which is often at the same time the reason or cause for what is done. The point is that which governs the saving work of God is His mercy, not our works regardless of their nature. “Mercy” is eleos, “mercy, compassion, pity.” As grace stresses the free gift of God’s salvation as the unmerited favor of God, so mercy stresses the pitiable condition of man or God’s pity for man’s sad condition which man cannot assuage because he is totally helpless to deal with his sinfulness and misery. The appearance of the Savior on the scene of human history gives no glory to man, but points instead to God, to His goodness, love, grace, and mercy.

Third, salvation is an accomplished fact. The words, “He saved us” clearly point to our salvation as an accomplished fact. “He saved us” is a tense in the Greek (an aorist) which points to a fact of history. Indeed, in view of the clear teaching of the New Testament, it points to an accomplished and finished work of God on our behalf through the death and resurrection of Christ. Here is an act that, by contrast to the sacrifices of the Old Testament, need never be repeated. It is a finished; once and for all work (see Heb. 9:1-15, especially vs. 12). It might again be pointed out that in Paul’s theology, the saving work of Christ encompasses not only deliverance from sin’s penalty and the guarantee of heaven, but the provision for sanctification or spiritual growth in Christ-like change—a change that takes place from the inside out because we are made new spiritual creations in Christ. Thus, Paul immediately points us to the means by which this salvation is accomplished. Fourth, the means of salvation is seen in the words, “by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (3:5b-6a). Paul is not here ignoring or bypassing the death and resurrection of Christ which is at the heart of the gospel (1 Cor. 15:1f). Instead, his reference to this work of the Spirit assumes the death and resurrection of Christ as the foundation for the gift and ministries of the Spirit as a part of the provision of salvation (see John 7:37-39; 14:16-17; 15:26; 16:7-15; Acts 2; Tit. 3:6). But how are we to understand “the washing of regeneration”? For many, the mention of anything that might be associated with water is immediately seen as a reference to water baptism. As a result, this is another of those passages used to teach baptismal regeneration or that water baptism is necessary for salvation. But such an interpretation should be seen as strange in view of two important facts. First, the immediate context has stressed this salvation is not by works, those in righteousness that we have done. Second, the vast majority of Scripture teaches us that salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone. To add some human work to this is to contradict these clear passages. The rule is that the difficult must be understood in the light of the clear, especially when they are in the vast majority. We must seek other solutions from the context regarding the meaning of those passage that appear to add something else to saving faith.

Not only does the context help here (not by works … which we have done), but Greek grammar may also help us. The fact that there is one preposition used with both phrases, “by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,” suggests these are connected or somehow closely related to each other. Further, “of the Holy Spirit” is a subjective genitive, i.e., a renewal produced by the Holy Spirit. It obviously cannot be an objective genitive, “a renewal that produces the Holy Spirit.” It is the Holy Spirit who brings about the spiritual renewal through the work of spiritual regeneration. But what about the previous phrase, “of regeneration”? This could be an objective genitive, “a washing that produces regeneration” or a subjective genitive, “a washing (a spiritual cleansing) produced by regeneration.” Since both phrases are introduced by one preposition, are both connected by “and,” and since the Holy Spirit is the agent of renewal, the great probability is that we have here two parallel subjective genitives with the second as a further explanation of the first. Thus, the passage very likely means, “the washing (spiritual cleansing) produced by regeneration, even171 the making new accomplished by the Holy Spirit.” “Washing” is loutron, “a washing, a bath,” that which cleanses. The washing lays stress on the concept of the cleansing needed because of our defilement due to sin. But this should not be seen as a reference to water baptism but instead as a spiritual work of cleansing accomplished by the Holy Spirit based on the death of Christ. As Hendriksen points out, …Note “through a washing” (loutrovn, ou’), not “through a laver or basin for washing.” The washing referred to is wholly spiritual. It is that of regeneration and renewing, regarded as one concept.”

“Regeneration” is palingenesia, “rebirth, regeneration.” It is derived from palin, “again,” and genesis, “birth.” Palingenesia is used only twice in the New Testament, here in Titus and in Matthew 19:28. It means to be born again. In keeping with the Lord’s comments as seen in John 3:3, it means to be born either again or from above (anothen). And it is the work of the Holy Spirit who imparts new life to the one who believes (John 3:5). It is used here of spiritual regeneration and refers to the giving of a new life. The two powers that produce the new life are “the word of truth” (Jas. 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:23) and the Holy Spirit (John 3:5, 6; Tit. 3:5). Ephesians 5:26 explains loutron, “the washing,” as a cleansing “by the washing of water with the word.” God regenerates (John 1:13) according to His will (James 1:18) through the Holy Spirit (John 3:5) when a person believes (1:12) the Gospel as revealed in the Word (1 Peter 1:23).As Evans points out, Regeneration is the impartation of a new and divine life; a new creation; the production of a new thing. It is Gen. 1:26 over again. It is not the old nature altered, reformed, or re-invigorated, but a new birth from above. This is the teaching of such passages as John 3:3-7; 5:21; Eph. 2:1, 10; 2 Cor. 5:17. By nature man is dead in sin (Eph. 2:1); the new birth imparts to him new life—the life of God, so that henceforth he is as those that are alive from the dead; he has passed out of death into life (John 5:24).

“Renewing” is anakainosis from ana, “back” or “again” and kainos, “new in quality or kind” but not necessarily new in time. While some see this as a reference to the ongoing sanctifying work of the Spirit, it seems best, as explained previously, to see regeneration and renewing as one concept. While the concept of the sanctification process may be the focus of renewal in other passages (Rom. 12:2; Col. 3:10; 2 Cor. 4:16), that does not seem to be the point in this context. That this is true is supported by the statement of verse 7 which literally reads, “in order that, having been justified (pointing to the cause) by the grace of that one (speaking of Jesus Christ our Savior just mentioned), we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Paul is talking about salvation (vs. 5) from the standpoint of justification which is the basis for eternal life and becoming heirs of God Himself and all of this as a work of God, not man. Therefore: The impartation of the Holy Spirit makes us new creatures, in contrast to the old condition of life. The Spirit has been bestowed through Christ, who also is called “our Saviour” here. Thus all Persons of the Trinity are involved in the salvation of sinners. The washing and the making new are the two basic elements of our regeneration, both of which are the work of God. Towner seems to agree and writes: Rebirth and renewal describe the work of the Spirit. Rebirth is a coming back to life from death, an apt description of the new life in contrast to the old one of sin and death (v. 3; on the Spirit and [re]birth see Gal 4:29; 1 Cor 4:15 with 2:4). As explained in Romans 6:4-11 and Philippians 3, by faith in Christ one is enabled to participate in Christ’s resurrection life even now.

Renewal expresses almost synonymously the idea of “re-creation” (compare 2 Cor 5:17). These two terms bring together the whole change associated with conversion and life in the new age of salvation—restored fellowship with God and new, eternal life.

The Realization of the Possessions of Salvation (vss. 6b-7): … whom (the Holy Spirit) He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior. And so, since we have been justified by his grace, we become heirs with the confident expectation of eternal life. First, we have the gift of the Spirit poured out richly by the Father through the Son, Jesus Christ our Savior (see John 14:16-17; 15:26-27; Acts 1:4-5).

This has a dual effect or force. First, Paul associates the gift of the Spirit as a proof of salvation or justification (Rom. 8:9). He is God’s earnest or down payment of the future glories of salvation (2 Cor. 1:21-22; Eph. 1:14). But second, the Holy Spirit is God’s gift to enable believers to live the Christian life through the ministries of the Spirit in the process of sanctification (Gal. 5:16f; Eph. 5:18f). By mentioning the rich bestowment of the Spirit, the apostle assures us that we have the capacity to do good works and to witness to others by life and lip or walk and talk (Acts 1:8). So second, we have been justified by His grace. This is seen as the basis or reason we can be confident of being heirs with the hope of eternal life. “Since we have been justified” is an adverbial participle of cause or reason. We have eternal life and are heirs of God because we have been justified. The term “justified” (dikaioo) in this context means “to declare or pronounce as righteous.” Justification is the act of God by which He imputes our sins to Christ and His perfect righteousness to be ours so that we stand acquitted before God and accepted by Him, complete in Christ. But again, lest we miss the point, Paul adds, “by His grace.” Literally, “by the grace of that one,” which is somewhat more emphatic involving the emphatic use of the demonstrative pronoun ekeinos.

Finally, as justified believers, we are heirs according to the hope of eternal life. We must not understand this to mean that we do not have eternal life now. Eternal life is a permanent possession given when one trusts in the person and work of the Savior who died for our sin and was raised as evidence of our justification. The point is that the possession of eternal life brings with it the hope (the confident expectation) that we are heirs of God. An “heir” (kleronomos) refers to one who, as a son, receives something as a possession from his father. A careful study of the concept of our inheritance suggests that there are two aspects of being heirs. …The inheritance in the Bible is either our relationship with God as a result of justification or something in addition to justification, namely a greater degree of glorification in heaven as a result of our rewards. As is always the case in interpretation, the context of each usage must determine meaning in that context.…In this context with the focus on our justification, what is inherited is eternal life itself and having an eternal relationship with God as His children. Hope (elpis) may refer to the activity, hoping, or to the object hoped for, the content of one’s hope. By its very nature, hope may stress two things: (1) futurity and or (2) invisibility.

It deals with things we cannot see or haven’t received or both (cf. Rom. 8:24-25). Biblically, from the standpoint of the object hoped for, hope is often synonymous with salvation and its many blessings as promised in Scripture, past, present, and future. As in our context here in Titus, this is true even with what we have already received as believers because these blessings come under the category of what we cannot see, at least with our physical eyes (see Rom. 8:24-25). We may see or experience some of the results, but it still requires faith and hope. As an illustration, we do not see the justifying work of God, the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to our account, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit when we are saved, our co-union with Christ, or the eternal life God’s gives us. We believe these things to be realities, but this is still a matter of our hope. We believe in the testimony of God in the Word and this results in the confident expectation that all this is true. Not done read next series part 4.

Written By Dr. Lewis Akpogena
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