…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 – Context
1 Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men. 3 For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another.
Paul had just written in Titus 2:11-14 that the grace of God leads men away from sin and towards righteousness and godliness. Paul here continues to urge Titus to live righteously in the sight of all men. God has not called us to be rebellious and contentious. In the past, Christians were sinful like all other men, but God redeemed us to be a people who are zealous for good works (Titus 2:14).
4 But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared,
Previously in Titus 2:11 Paul stated that the grace of God which brings salvation has appeared to the world. He makes it clear that the result of receiving and submitting to this grace is a holy life. Jesus came to make us into a godly people. He came to set His people free from slavery to sin so that they can live righteous lives to His glory.
Paul now mentions the grace of God again, but this time he wants to go back and focus on how we first received that grace. The result of God’s grace in a person’s life is holiness. But where does this reception of grace begin, and how does it take place?
5 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,
Before mentioning how grace is received, Paul wants it to be clear that God’s grace is the cause of salvation, not our righteousness. We do not receive the grace of God by works of righteousness which we have done. If we merited God’s mercy and grace it would no longer be called mercy and grace. The fact that we did not deserve salvation is the reason that it is called mercy and grace, kindness and love. So here Paul makes it abundantly clear that the cause of salvation is nothing other than the mercy of God.
Paul then goes on to tell us how we received this gracious gift of salvation. He tells us that we receive it through the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit (John 3:5). That is, we received rebirth into God’s family when, after repentance and by faith, we came to the waters of baptism to identify with Jesus Christ in His death, burial and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-4, Gal. 3:26-27). After being justified by the blood of Jesus, through faith, in the waters of baptism, God then poured out His Spirit into our hearts in order to change us from within. First God does something for us (accepting us as children), then He does something in us (indwelling us with the Spirit of His Son). We see this twofold promise of cleansing, followed by transformation, in the New Covenant prophecy of Ezekiel.
25 “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. 26 “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.
– Ezekiel 36:25-27 NKJV
6 whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior,
Paul continues to speak of the renewal of the Holy Spirit. He says that the Spirit was given to us generously. God, by His Spirit, dwells in our hearts which brings manifold blessings. He comforts us, teaches us, disciplines us, strengthens us and brings us many other wonderful blessings.
Paul makes it clear that this gift of the Spirit was given through His Son. John indeed baptized with water, but Jesus was given the Holy Spirit without measure so that He could pour it out on all that call on His name with a sincere heart. John 7:39 tells us that the Spirit was not given until Jesus was glorified. And in Acts 2 we see, after His exaltation to the right hand of God, He poured out this inexpressible gift.
39 But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
– John 7:39 NKJV
33 “Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear.
– Acts 2:33 NKJV
7 that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Having shared about the twofold salvation of adoption through conversion and renewal through the Holy Spirit, Paul now goes back to tie these two aspects of new life back together. God justified us through faith in His Son. This qualified us to become children of God, heirs of God. And as children, He gave us a deposit of the inheritance by indwelling us with His Holy Spirit. This dual regeneration is also summed up in the following passage.
4 But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!”
– Galatians 4:4-6 NKJV
8 This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men.
In Titus 2:11-14 Paul taught that God by His grace has redeemed a people for Himself that will be zealous for good works and righteousness. Then in Titus 3:4-7 he makes it clear how God brings about this result. Through Christ God redeems us for Himself and then writes His law on our hearts by the Holy Spirit. In Titus 3:8 Paul concludes by urging the Christians in Crete to walk out what God has worked in them.
Titus 3:5 – Doctrine
We were not saved by good works, but for good works. God first justifies us from our past sins through faith in Christ. This happens when we identify with Christ in the waters of baptism. And after adopting us as His children through faith in Christ, He gives us new hearts with godly desires so that we will be zealous for good works. He brings about this renewal by pouring His Spirit into our hearts through Jesus Christ.
26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.… 6 And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!”
– Galatians 3:26-27 & 4:6 NKJV
38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
– Acts 2:38 NKJV
The modern tradition is to “put on Christ” by inviting Him into our heart through the “Sinner’s Prayer.” Others take a more subjective approach by concluding that one puts on Christ the moment they have a “divine witness” of assurance in their hearts. Because of the gracious kindness of our God we can be confident that He has often bowed to our weakness in understanding by granting mercy outside of the means He instructs us in His word. But we must not make God’s kindness a license for presumption. Instead we must seek to follow Him as He has ordained instead of relying on the wisdom and traditions of men. If a person, after repentance, calls on the name of the Lord in faith while in the waters of baptism, we have God’s objective promise that He will meet them there with justifying grace.
16 ‘And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’
– Acts 22:16 NKJV