But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; that being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
The apostle Paul continues to instruct Titus concerning what he must do in the new Christian church in Crete. Generally, Titus must constantly call the new Christians to a godly lifestyle—one that harmonizes with what they now believe to be the truth (1:1; 2:1).
They believe in Christ Jesus, who is the great God and Savior. He redeemed them from all iniquity and purified them, so that they are zealous of good works (2:13, 14). Titus is admonished to speak and rebuke with all authority (2:15) concerning a life of godliness in the communities in which they live. In gratitude for the gift of salvation that delivered them from vices (3:3), they are to put on specific virtues that would lead them to be good citizens and good neighbors (3:1, 2).
In the above text Paul gives the reason why godliness must flow from a correct understanding of and appreciation for the wonderful truth of salvation in Jesus Christ. When God saves, that salvation washes and makes us new.
What God did
God “saved us.” “God our Savior” (1:3; 2:10) came to man’s rescue. He did not rescue every human, but He did rescue those who, by His saving grace, believe in Him. He rescued them from the greatest evil, and He bestowed on them the greatest blessing!
God’s activity of saving was accomplished in the way of “the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.” Regeneration saves! “Regeneration” is the “again birth” that God performs within the elect, of which Jesus spoke to Nicodemus (). In this work God implants the principle of a new spiritual life into a previously fallen and depraved child of Adam. It works a radical change in the whole man because it is the work of putting new, spiritual life in the heart, out of which are all the issues of life. This new life in Christ makes holiness to be the governing disposition of the soul. Those who before were loaded down with the seven vices of verse 3 are now in principle adorned with the seven virtues of verses 1 and 2.
This is the work of the “Holy Spirit.” The third person of the Trinity is the bestower of life. It is the Holy Spirit who takes the lead in the divine work of making men holy. This first work of the Holy Spirit within an elect child of God makes instantaneous change in the heart. It precedes and gives rise to the process of renewing (a lifelong activity).
The Holy Spirit not only regenerates but also performs the work of “renewing.” This work of the Spirit can be distinguished, but never separated, from regeneration. Renewing is a work of the Spirit that includes an awaking of the person to the realization that he is a child of God (cf.). While regeneration is an activity of God in a dead sinner, the Spirit’s renewing (sanctifying) of a person makes him active (zealous unto good works). Regeneration is never directly perceived, but becomes known only by its effects, whereas renewal requires the conscious and continued surrender of man’s thoughts and actions to the will of God. Sanctification is that gracious and continuous operation of the Holy Spirit by which He delivers the justified sinner from the pollution of sin, renews his whole nature in the image of God’s Son, and enables him to perform good works.
Regeneration and renewing are a “washing.” Jesus explained to Nicodemus that regeneration is the same as being born of water and of the Spirit (). Of this spiritual washing, water baptism is a sign. The thing signified in water baptism is the cleansing work of the Spirit. Regeneration does the work of initial cleansing, and renewing is the on-going cleansing that continues until we enter heaven.
Why God did it
God’s saving us is according to His “kindness and love…toward man” (4). This expression must be a single concept, because the verb with it is singular. The words “love toward man” are expressed in one word in the Greek: philanthropia. Our text combines both the love itself and the generous outpouring of love on man.
This is best understood by seeing the striking and double contrast. God’s kindness and love stand over against our former inhumanity to each other: “living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another” (3). Our past, great, evil darkness serves as the background for the light of the love and kindness of God our Savior to “appear” (this word in the Greek speaks of a dramatic dawn!). The Father’s kindness and pity that brings every one of His children into the present state of grace appears like an epiphany. This is the way it is expressed also in 2:11, “the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men.”
The apostle speaks to Titus about the sudden and brilliant appearance of the kindness and love of God toward man as something he personally experienced. It came to him on the road to Damascus and he never forgot the kindness and love that stopped him in his tracks and turned him around. He is describing what God did for him, and he does so out of a heart that is glowing with ardent love to Him who first manifested so great a love toward him. These words about the kindness of God our Savior and His love toward man express a most warm and tender thought. Paul is moved by the wonder of such love, from which nothing can separate him.
Next Paul stresses that we did not deserve and did not work this salvation ourselves. He does this in order to make us more ready to help anyone who does not deserve our help (cf. vv. 1, 2). God saved us “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy” (5). Paul emphasizes that salvation is completely a sovereign work of God. We must ever live in the consciousness that if any are saved, it cannot be because of their works. It is always and only according to God’s great mercy. This mercy is God’s deep-seated and urgent desire to bless the miserable and pitiful. The divine mercy that endures forever is the only reason why God washes and renews His adopted children!
Concerning this mercy Paul adds even more words to describe it more accurately: “which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (6). Notice the presence of all three persons of the Trinity: God the Father not only gives His Son, but also pours out His Spirit. At Pentecost the Spirit was given to the whole church (present and future). While the church of the past had a small measure of the Spirit, after the Savior completed His saving work the supply of spiritual gifts is abundant and rich. No one who is saved has the right to say that he has no spiritual gifts. The gifts are given through the atoning sacrifice and prayer of Jesus Christ our Savior (cf.; ).
To what end did God do it
One result of God’s washing and renewing us is that we are “justified by His grace.” To be justified means that God, the perfect Judge, makes a judicial declaration not only that He sees us as being without sin, but also that He judges us to have done everything perfectly right. This judgment the righteous Judge can make because in His grace (undeserved and unmerited love) He grants and imputes to us the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Jesus Christ. God declares our sins to be on Christ, and He declares Jesus’ righteousness to be given to us. He delivered us from His curse and forgives us full and free as a gift of His marvelous grace.
A second result is that “we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” We have the right and calling to look forward to being in possession of never-ending, ever-lasting fellowship with God Himself. Of this hope Paul had already spoken (1:2; 2:13).
Remember that eternal life is not only something that we will have but, if it is eternal, then we already have it, and have always had it. The hope is a certainty and not a possibility. We already bask in the sunshine of God’s love and partake of His joy and glory. Now it takes faith to experience it, and one day we will no longer need faith.
We who were dead in sin are made alive and may look forward to experiencing perfectly the everlasting life and glory. We were idol worshipers and are now serving the true and living God, and we await the coming of the Son of God from heaven bringing us to our everlasting fellowship with Him in glory. We were ungodly and were ruled by worldly passions, but now we may and can renounce those passions and we may and can strive to live lives of self-mastery as we wait for the realization of the blessed hope.