Editor’s note: The purpose of this series is to walk through the book of Titus and learn what the Lord would have to teach us through this great book.

titusheader2Titus 3:4-8, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.”

The world needs regeneration. If ever there was a time for clarity on the issue of salvation and how men can be put to right with their Creator, it is now. We need regeneration. Men need to have their hearts changed from a heart of stone to a heart of flesh. To mix metaphors, men need to move from spiritual darkness to spiritual light. This only happens when the Spirit of God works a miracle in the hearts of men. Not only do we need to see the heart changed, we need to see the hands at work. The main point of what Paul tells Timothy here in this passage is this: We have been born again [regenerated] by the Spirit so we can do good works.

The Context

Prior to verses 4-8, the Apostle Paul starts chapter 3 with a plea for Titus to remind his people that they ought to be submissive to rulers and authorities, obedient and ready for every good work (vs. 1); they are to never speak evil of anyone, avoid quarreling, being gentle and courteous to all (vs. 2). Paul reminds young Titus that we, too, were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, oftentimes spending our days in malice and envy, developing enemies and being an enemy (vs. 3). The difference between a Christian and a non-Christian is that we remember that once was us.

The context of these aforementioned verses is important to what follows. Oftentimes in his letters, Paul will issue imperatives, or commands. He tells us to do something. But Paul never just leaves it hanging without a hint of the gospel being the motivation for doing the command. Paul couples his imperatives with indicatives: do this because this is true. And what is true? Well, that’s what he tells us here in verses 4-8.

Gospel-Centeredness

The God-focused vision of Scripture is always centered on the actions of God in history, particularly the actions of His Son. We call Christ’s actions, the gospel. This section is a clear case-in-point.

Paul explains to Titus that in order to be zealous for doing good works (vs. 8), one must have a correct understanding of how salvation actually works. And how does it work? God acts. How does God act? The gospel. And what is the gospel? From start to finish, salvation is of the Lord.

The first thing Paul notes in verse four is that God actually cares for His people. The object of God’s affection is His people. The fact that, “The goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared,” actually happened is a miracle in and of itself. We don’t deserve salvation. We deserve nothing but condemnation because of our sin. And yet God intervenes in His sin-plagued world by appearing. Nothing in Scripture comes close to proving the goodness of God than the incarnation of Christ. Six times in Titus Paul alludes to Christ being our “Savior,” and this is now the fifth time. The emphasis could hardly be clearer: God cares for His children and He proved that He cares by sending a Savior, but not just any savior, the Savior, Jesus Christ. Sinners need a savior, so God acts.

The second thing Paul notes is found in verse 5. “[Jesus] saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” There’s a reason the Bible says that Jesus is the author and perfecter of our faith. He originates it, and He carries it out. God saved us by God for God. Salvation is truly of the Lord! If we are to be zealous for good works, putting away sin, and striving for righteousness, we have to come to the place where we acknowledge that it is God who changes us. Paul starts by saying, “Listen, here’s what didn’t happen. You didn’t get saved because you worked hard enough, or because you did all the right things. That’s not how this whole thing works!”

The reality is, when we say that Salvation is of the Lord, we mean that He invented salvation, owns salvation, perfects salvation, and completes salvation. We do nothing. Regeneration is not a self-induced process. We were dead in our sins, unable to resurrect ourselves. Dead people do not wake themselves up to receive a gift no matter how free it is. The Bible is not unclear on this: Regeneration happens because of God, not because of man. It is the work of the Spirit in someone’s life, and it is a gift. No one can born-again themselves (see John 3). Even on our best day in our best frame of mind, our sin is still a toxic pollutant to God.

No, we weren’t saved because we did some really neat things for God. We were saved and regenerated because of God’s mercy. We were delivered from not only the filth we produced, but the faulty righteousness we produced. We were brought from death to life, from darkness to light, from polluted garments to clothes of Christ’s righteousness. God did this. And why would He do such a thing? Because He is merciful, gracious, kind, and full of love. And how does God do this? By cleaning us up! Regeneration is the inward cleansing and renewal of our sinful nature. We don’t just get a bath and put on the old clothes, nor do we forgo the bath and get new clothes: The Spirit of God in His work of regeneration washes us clean, clothing us with the righteousness of Christ imputed to our account. In salvation, the Spirit cleans us and changes us into a new person, a new creation.

Paul goes on to point out to Titus that not only does God care for His children by sending His son, and not only did we not save ourselves—indeed the Spirit does this work!—God comes to His people. Look at verse 6: “Whom he poured out on us richly though Jesus Christ our Savior.” Part of the point of Paul’s gospel-centered teaching here is to demonstrate that the Spirit of God didn’t just washes and regenerate us, He stays with us. Certainly Paul was well aware of the Pentecost story in Acts 2, and his point here is to remind Titus that in order to be zealous for these good works (vs. 8), we have to keep in mind that good works do not save us, for we were saved by God’s grace alone in Christ alone—we also have the ongoing power of the Spirit in our lives. God comes and stays with His people through His Spirit.

Paul goes on to say in verse 7 that, because God comes and dwells in us by His Spirit through the washing of regeneration, we can have hope, a certain comfort in eternal life. Because we are declared right by God’s grace, which is a declaration of a newfound status, we have hope and a future! We are heirs of God, sons and daughters who receive the gift of salvation! The Father, Son, and Spirit–all participants in this grand work of salvation. God saves us because of His goodness and kindness (vs. 4), His love (vs. 4), His mercy (vs. 5), and His justifying grace (vs. 7).

A Few Final Thoughts

And why does God do all of this? Titus 3:8,“The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works.” God saved us by His grace so that we could do stuff. If you believe in God, you are called to labor for the Kingdom of God. If you name the name of Christ, you are called to a certain type of devotion. And what is that devotion? Is it a personal private prayer time? Maybe. Is it going to church each week? That’s a part of it. The devotion Paul implores us with is a devotion to “good works.” Paul insists that Titus commit himself to the doctrines of sin, grace, regeneration, and justification (vs. 3-7), and that in doing so, the Christian will respond by doing good works. That’s why we were created (Eph. 2:10)! God has prepared us for those works!

The washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit is done in us by God and for God. It is our duty to get these things straight: Our works do not save, Christ saves. And then we work. Getting the order wrong is a false gospel, and one that cannot save. We have been born again by the Spirit (soli deo gloria!) so that we can make the excellencies of Christ known to a world in desperate need of regeneration (1 Peter 2:9).