Our Great Salvation, 5

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Saved by Washing, Titus 3:5

according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost…

Truth be told, nobody is saved simply by washing. Paul is not talking about Godliness being linked to cleanliness. In fact, we are saved “by the washing of regeneration and renewing.” How do those two things, regeneration and renewing, save us? Let’s take a closer look at what Paul was trying say to Titus. It all starts with some obligations…

Being civil

Remind your people to obey the government and its officers, and always to be obedient and ready for any honest work. They must not speak evil of anyone, nor quarrel, but be gentle and truly courteous to all. (Titus 3:1, 2 TLB)

There’s just no way around it: Christians have a duty to government. You may not like your governing authorities, but you have a duty to be obedient to them; that is, to obey the laws of the land. Paul’s complete philosophy of government is found in Romans 13:1—7, but it begins with the idea that the state is given its authority by God Himself.

Obey the government, for God is the one who has put it there. There is no government anywhere that God has not placed in power. (Romans 13:1 TLB)

That admonition, however, must be tempered with something Paul wrote in the previous chapter:

Don’t quarrel with anyone. Be at peace with everyone, just as much as possible. (Romans 12:18 TLB)

The words “anyone” and “everybody” mean just that: it is the obligation of Christians to live at peace with “anyone” and “everybody,” and that includes the government. But there is a caveat. Christians are to be at peace with “anyone” and “everybody” but only “as much as possible.” In other words, there may be times when things like civil disobedience are the only way for a Christian to respond to their government. The Christian has every right to resist any governing authority that attempts to, for example, stifle freedom of worship or silence the preaching of the Gospel because it is not possible for a Christian to obey such laws for they are opposed to God’s law for the Christian.

So, with that caveat in mind, we understand Paul’s advice to the Cretan Christian to be general in nature. At this time in history, the Cretan government was no in any way oppressing Christians, therefore, being “good citizens” was a practical demonstration of their salvation.

An interesting point to observe is that the phrase “obey the government” or “to be subject” in the NIV, is written in the middle-voice infinitive, a fancy way of saying Christian obedience or subjection to the government is completely voluntary. In other words, the Christian understands that while he may be a citizen of Heaven and subject to the Laws of Heaven, as long as he is living temporarily on earth, he will voluntarily abide by the laws of the land as long as those laws do not contradict the Laws of Heaven.

The same admonition holds for citizenship in general. Christians should be ready to participate in activities that make their community (even their country) a better place to live. The NIV’s translation captures this perfectly:

be ready to do whatever is good…

Whatever is good” may include such things as running for public office or taking an active role in the decision-making process of your local municipality. Some Christians cringe at this; they think believers should withdraw from society and not be a part of it. Jesus taught that we should be “in the world” but “not of it.” But He did not mean that we should stand apart from the rest of society.  The reality is, part of “being a light in the darkness” is to show just how positive and constructive Christianity truly is as a force for good in society. Christians need to be informed and engaged.

Christians also have a duty toward their unsaved neighbors. We are to be careful how we talk to them and be aware of our attitude in general when we are in their company. It’s not always easy for the Christian to treat the unsaved in humility and grace, but if we want to exhibit the character of Christ, then we must.

Motivation

Why should Christians be such exemplary citizens? Is it because we’re such nice people? Is it because we love our country more than non-Christians do and we are, therefore, more patriotic? Not at all!

Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient; we were misled by others and became slaves to many evil pleasures and wicked desires. Our lives were full of resentment and envy. We hated others and they hated us. (Titus 3:3 TLB)

Non-Christians are, by definition: foolish, disobedient, misled, slaves to sin, full of resentment, envy, and hatred. That’s how Paul, guided by the Holy Spirit, describes the unsaved. It’s shocking, isn’t it? Christians, by virtue of their relationship with Christ, are the opposite; we are: wise, obedient, led by God, freed from sin, generous, gracious, and loving. And this is why we are supposed to be the best citizens in our communities; full of integrity and well-spoken of. Now, if we break this down, we discover that our motivation is two-fold.

First, our past dictates how we act now. Once we were just as bad and as lost as the unsaved are. But now we are Christlike; we are to act in a way that is opposite to the way the unsaved do. Once we acted foolishly, now we are to act wisely. Once we were disobedient, now we are to be obedient. Once we were easily led astray, now we have discernment. Once we couldn’t help but sin, now we can just say “NO” to sin. Once we were full of resentment and envy and we hated those whom we thought had a better life than we, but now we are gracious and compassionate, and we are able to love all people in Christ. Christ changed us from the inside out! The way we used to be is not the way we are now.

Second, our salvation has changed us in remarkable ways. Our salvation was a real event in history:

But when the time came for the kindness and love of God our Savior to appear, then he saved us… (Titus 3:4, 5a TLB)

Our salvation is why our lives must have changed. We cannot be the same person we were before Christ saved us. Our behavior cannot have remained the same. The change in our lives—spiritual and otherwise—is a work of grace in God. In His plan, at a specific time of His choosing, He intervened in our personal stream of history to radically change us. For the first time ever, our eyes flickered open and we saw the reality of God: He is full of kindness and love. It’s a difficult phrase to translate, but this revealed “kindness and love of God” relates to His enduring affection for man. God loves us; He cares about and for us. Our word “philanthropy” comes from this phrase. And this is why He sent Christ into the world, and this is what we see when we are saved.

Our salvation—and indeed God’s feeling of affection toward us—is not at all based on us our our merits.

not because we were good enough to be saved but because of his kindness and pity… (Titus 3:5b TLB)

Consider what Paul says here: He—God—saved us. This is the historic fact of what He did for us and to us. Once we were NOT saved, but now ARE saved. The aorist tense indicates a past act; God did something for us and in  us and we NOW possess salvation. It is incomplete, awaiting its fulfillment in the future at Christ’s return, but we do possess salvation. And because He did this for us, we have been changed; something has been added to us. We now possess salvation and we have experienced His lovingkindness, and that has to impact how we treat others.

Finally, we read this:

He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit… (Titus 3:5c NIV)

This is a powerful, two-pronged statement. This is: (1) how he saved us, and (2) how we are able to live the way Paul says we should. God’s salvation was mediated to us “through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” It is utterly impossible for any man to save himself; God has to do the saving—God does the “washing.” A man does not clean himself up, preparing himself to be saved! He comes to Christ, “just as he is, without one plea.” God washes Him—God cleanses the sinner from the defilement of sin. It is God that does the work of rebirth or regeneration. This is a ministry of the Holy Spirit! The Holy Spirit takes the lead and He proceeds to make the sinner clean—to make him holy. “The washing of rebirth,” or as Paul said elsewhere—

When someone becomes a Christian, he becomes a brand new person inside. He is not the same anymore. A new life has begun! (1 Corinthians 5:17 TLB)

makes the redeemed sinner into a “brand new person,” or a “new creation.” And a new person does not act the same way as the old person did because he is living a new and different life. That’s why a believer’s behavior must be exemplary—because he is a new and better person.

But how is this possible? This is where the “renewal by the Holy Spirit” comes in. A variant of this word, renewal, is found in Romans 12:2—

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (NIV)

Paul urged believers to “be transformed” by changing their habitual ways of thinking. Now, mark this carefully. “Regeneration” is completely a work of God. It is God who does this for the sinner and in the sinner. A repentant sinner does not regenerate his life. A repentant sinner received his new life from God. But, renewal is a little different. While it is a work of the Holy Spirit in the believer, the believer must work in concert with the Holy Spirit—he must co-operate with the Holy Spirit. And this is why Paul spends so much time admonishing believers to live in such-and-such a way; to stop lying and stealing and so on. Living exemplary lives—living as good citizens—living the good life—requires an effort. Changing the way you think takes work. “Renewal” requires the conscious, continued surrender of man’s will to God’s.

Conclusion

Our former state—the person we used to be—is over and done with. Our new life is well under way; the blessings of that new life have been received. And now, in verse 7, the result and the purpose of the blessings of our new life are given:

having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. (NIV)

Just to make it clear, Paul makes sure that his readers—both Titus and us—understand that we were saved, we have been born again, NOT for the purpose of making our country or our community better places in which to live. Those are purely secondary results of our salvation. We have been made new creatures so that we may become heirs of the Kingdom and have the hope of eternal life.  We  have been completely and eternally justified by God.

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