God Saves By His Mercy – NOT Our Works!
You have read it, memorized it, and even quoted it in sharing the gospel. But have you ever really studied this verse and considered everything it says?
Many people understand the first part of the verse:
“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us” (KJV)
- We are not saved by any good works or righteousness of our own
- It is only by God’s mercy and compassion that we are saved
This is a clear and powerful soul-winning message, so we often use it in our gospel witnessing. If you are like me, you probably quote the whole verse, but only emphasize the first half. The focus is usually on salvation being by God’s mercy rather than any personal works of righteousness. We typically do not stress the rest of the verse.
It is the second half of Titus 3:5 that I would like to focus on today because it too contains God-breathed and profitable doctrine.
“He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (KJV)
We are saved by means of the “washing of regeneration” and the “renewing of the Holy Spirit.” There is some cool theology here, so let’s check it out!
First, we’ll start with some word study:
- The only verb in this verse describes what God did. God “saved” us.
- “Washing” and “renewing” are both nouns in the original language.
- “By” – This word means “by means of,” “through,” or “by.” So “by” is an accurate translation, but it is easy to miss its significance. This word indicates that what follows is the method God used to “save” us.
- “Washing” – The Greek word translated “washing” here is actually a noun meaning “a bath.”
- “Regeneration” – This noun means “regeneration” or “rebirth.” To regenerate means to create again, to produce again, to bring forth again. Regeneration is the act of generating again something that previously existed, through a renewal or rebirth.
- “And” – This word is most often used as a coordinating conjunction between two equal words, phrases, or clauses. This is how our English translations render it. It can also be used to introduce an explanation, in which the second word, phrase or clause explains the first. In this case, it would mean something like “even, that is, or namely.”
- “Renewing” – This noun means “renewal” and is only found in Christian literature. It is used in Romans 12:2 in the exhortation to be “transformed by the renewal/renewing of your mind.” To renew means to restore to a former state, make like new again, revive.
Second, let’s look at the phrases:
“Washing of Regeneration”
A more literal translation of this phrase would be “a bath of regeneration.” This phrase conjures up visions of baptism by immersion. In context, it would more likely refer to baptism by (immersion in) the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist said that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit (Mt 3:11; Mk 1:8; Lk 3:16; Jn 1:33).
Since “regeneration” can also mean “rebirth,” the phrase can also mean “a bath of rebirth.” Jesus told Nicodemus, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:3 / KJV). When Nicodemus asked about a second physical birth, Jesus responded by telling him about the need for a spiritual birth (Jn 3:4-8).
“And Renewing of the Holy Spirit”
If the word “and” is a simple coordinating conjunction, then these two phrases would represent two aspects of the method by which God saves us (i.e.: rebirth and renewal). As seen in the word study, the word “renewal” in this phrase is similar in meaning to “regeneration” in the preceding phrase. So it seems likely to me that the second phrase is explaining and elaborating on the first. We are regenerated (born again spiritually) by the renewal of the Holy Spirit.
Comparing Scripture with Scripture
Since “renewal” means to be restored to a former state, how are we to understand renewal of the Holy Spirit? Was there a previous time when we had the Holy Spirit? As individuals, the answer is no. As the human race, the answer is yes.
Adam and Eve were created perfect and had complete fellowship with God. They were created alive spiritually as well as physically. When God put Adam in the garden of Eden, He told him, “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen 2:17 / KJV). But Adam did not die physically the day he ate the forbidden fruit, so he must have died some other way.
On the day they ate the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve died spiritually. Their spiritual bond with God was severed. They lost the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. They also began to decline physically, and eventually died a physical death.
Life only comes from life, so all of their children were born spiritually dead with a sin nature, cut off from the Spirit of God. “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Rom 5:12 / KJV).
Titus 3:6 adds, “Whom (referring to the Holy Spirit) He (God the Father) poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (NKJV). So in context, we are reborn spiritually by the Holy Spirit who is poured out on us at the moment of salvation, and this was made possible by the finished work of Jesus Christ who died to pay for our sins.
“So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.” (Rom 5:18-19 / NASB)
“For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Cor 15:21-22 / KJV)
Putting It All Together
Not by works of righteousness which we have done
We are all born into this world spiritually dead in trespasses and sin (Eph. 2:1), children of disobedience, estranged from God. The dead cannot raise themselves from the dead, and sinners cannot do enough good to earn salvation and eternal spiritual life. Sinless perfection is the standard and we have all fallen short (Rom. 3:10,23; Eccl. 7:20).
But according to His mercy He saved us
None of us deserve salvation or eternal life. They are precious; too valuable to earn. We can only receive them as a free gift from God. We can only be saved by accepting God’s mercy. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph 2:8-9 / KJV).
By the washing of regeneration
We are all born into this world spiritually dead. As Jesus told Nicodemus, unless you are born again spiritually, you cannot enter into the kingdom of God (John 3:1-8). We must be re-created through faith in Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), Who baptizes believers with the Holy Spirit (Mk. 1:8; Lk. 3:16; John 1:33).
By the renewal of the Holy Spirit
When we are baptized with the Holy Spirit, we are renewed to the pre-fall condition of being indwelt by the Holy Spirit. We are restored to spiritual fellowship with God as if we were sinless like Adam and Eve before they ate the forbidden fruit. Receiving God’s Holy Spirit brings us to life spiritually and gives us eternal life.
Whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior (Titus 3:6)
All three members of the Trinity are represented in this verse. “Whom (God the Holy Spirit) He (God the Father) poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ (God the Son) our Savior.” All three members of the Trinity actively participate in our salvation. Our Heavenly Father pours His Holy Spirit out on those who trust in His Son as their savior.
It is God the Father’s will that all should be saved (2 Peter 3:9). So God gave us His Son (Jesus Christ) to pay for our sin by dying on the Cross (John 3:16; 2 Cor. 5:21). And once we believe in Jesus Christ and trust in His finished work for redemption, we receive the Holy Spirit, Who seals us (2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13; 4:30) “by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.”
Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! (2 Cor. 9:15)