He Saved Us
In most translations, from verse 4 down through verse 7 (and beyond in some), there is a single, long sentence. That long sentence hinges on the main verb phrase, "HE SAVED US." So the subject of this passage is salvation, and the primary affirmation of the text is, He saved us.
Of all those things I need to know and believe about salvation, I must know this early in my learning. This is basic and essential, and this is a good place to begin a study of salvation in the Bible. "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy, He saved us..."
New Testament Christianity is a religion of salvation (rescue, deliverance) and God does the saving. This doesn't mean that I (the sinner) have nothing to do. There is no implication or hint in this passage or anywhere else that man is passive, that no response is necessary; or that manner of life after the initial response is irrelevant. But all my thoughts and study about salvation must not only include, but should begin with this foundational proposition: He saved us.
Notice what is taught here about man's need!
The Holy Spirit describes the lost condition of man in these terms: "foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another." This I about knowing what's right and true, but refusing to do it (foolish); not obeying the Lord (disobedient); believing lies about yourself and your life (deceived); enslaves by all kinds of passions and pleasures (serving lusts); acting upon desires to hurt and injure people (malice, envy); and letting sin corrupt your relationships with others (being hatred and hating one another). Titus 3:3 is a description of sin and what sin can do to any of us, and this is what man needs to be saved from.
Question: If you were dealing with people like this, what would your attitude be?
If you had charge over a group of people, and their behavior was foolish, disobedient, deceived, self-centered and hateful, what would your attitude or response be? I would be upset. If I found these attitudes and this conduct in my house, for example, I would want to throw these people out. I would be disappointed and frustrated, I would feel justified in rejecting people like this.
Well, God looks upon the people He made - human beings who have the capacity to think, mature and chose right - God looks upon us, and He sees people whose thinking and living is as described in Titus 3:3: foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, malicious and hateful.
But instead of hating us, HE LOVES US and is willing to save us! "But when the kindness and love of God our Savior toward man appeared ... according to His mercy HE SAVED US," (4,5). Here in Titus chapter three, look at the movement of thought from verse 3 into verse 4; it is movement from hatred to love.
From our hatred of one another to God's amazing love for us. God's attitude toward us -- in spite of our sinful condition -- is captured by three tremendous words: Kindness, Love & Mercy!
We have sinned, acting foolishly and hateful; God loves us anyway, and in His perfect mind... He chose means to offer us pardon!
"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."
God doesn't save us, based on our works which deserve or merit salvation as a reward! That means - I cannot turn from my own sin under my own power, pardon myself and then live in such a way as to deserve to be saved in heaven! This is not the way it works, because as one who has already sinned, I cannot do this (save myself by my own power)!
Rather, it is according to His mercy, and through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit. Salvation based on our power to pardon ourselves and perfect our character on our own is denied or excluded. Then it is affirmed that according to His mercy He saved us - by means: through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.
To summarize: God is displeased with us, but He loves us anyway. And in His perfect mind, He chose means to pardon us and make us heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
You cannot turn your life around by yourself, pardon yourself of past sin, and live in such a manner as to present yourself before God, putting Him under obligation to give you what you deserve. Forget that. You have to depend (trust, believe) upon the kindness, the love, grace and mercy of God, and that means -- you so reply upon God and so trust in Him, you'll do whatever He says to make things right; you will turn over to Him and His beloved Son, mind, soul and body.
Whatever commands God gives, and whatever you learn He wants you to do, you'll do that. Whatever means he appoints, you will not resist. You will comply with whatever conditions He assigns, in order to be renewed by the Holy Spirit, Saved by the blood of Christ and have the hope of eternal life.
If you have this kind of trust and reliance on God and the ways of God, whatever this "washing of regeneration" is, you will want to do this - without question or hesitation. You are aware of your sinful ways. You now understand that you cannot save yourself by yourself. You have heard the gospel of Christ; you believe He is the Messiah and Savior, the only begotten Son of God who died for you. And hearing the Word, you have decided to rely on God and His ways. So, whatever this washing of regeneration is, you will want it.
What is it?
In the New Testament there is a washing that regenerates. That is, there is an act commanded by God, and when penitent believers do this - God forgives them, and grants them a new life. This is what Jesus was talking about to Nicodemus: "...unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God," (Jno. 3:5). This is what Peter commanded when He said, "Repent and be baptized," in Acts 2:38. This is what Paul wrote about in Romans six - being baptized into Christ, to arise to walk in newness of life. Baptism in the washing of regeneration.
God doesn't save me because I have earned the right to be forgiven. He saves me because of His mercy and grace, poured out abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior. I become a personal recipient of that salvation when my faith leads me to this washing of regeneration. This means a great deal to believers in Christ, because He said, "He that believeth, and is baptized shall be saved."
After Baptism ...
We should maintain good works, avoid foolish disputes and reject divisive men. This is the way regenerated people behave; people who are heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
The primary affirmation of this text is not - "we saved us," but "He saved us." In Christ, God has poured out on such generosity and grace, we who have obeyed the gospel have been "justified by grace." Those justified by grace are anxious to maintain good works, avoid foolish disputes and reject divisive men. May each one of us determine - we will do all we can to learn about God and His plan for our salvation; we will explore the Scriptures daily, to see if these things are so; we will share this message with others, and be zealous for every good work.
By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 5.4; April 1998