When we think of our salvation, we typically attribute it to Jesus. This perspective is altogether proper, and Jesus definitely deserves all the glory and praise for His atoning work on the cross. But our study in Titus today shows us that the Father and the Holy Spirit also had a hand in saving us.
Let’s again read Titus 3:1-7 in order to keep the three verses we’ll examine today in their context.
Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. 3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 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, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. ~~Titus 3:1-7 (ESV)
In verse 4, the word “but” indicates a transition from our pre-conversion state of wretchedness. Just as the Christians in First Century Crete differed from their unsaved counterparts, so we differ from the world because of the Lord showing us His mercy. Paul’s emphasis on the goodness and loving kindness of God keeps us from congratulating ourselves on our personal holiness. Consequently, as Matthew Henry makes clear, we should feel compassion for non-Christians.
Jamieson, Fausset and Brown correctly point out that here the phrase “God our Savior” refers specifically to the Father, giving us our first glimpse of the Trinity’s activity in bringing about salvation. The goodness and loving kindness of God appeared, or was manifested. The Cretan Christians didn’t conjure it up; the Lord manifested His grace because He, by nature, is good and loving. Again, the focus on His goodness steers us away from claiming any credit for His work in redeeming us.
Paul insists that God does the saving, elaborating that He did so because of His mercy rather than as a response to our good works, as verse 5 demonstrates. Remember that the Judaizers were disrupting the churches in Crete, teaching that the work of circumcision was necessary for salvation. That fact, coupled with their new behaviors, opened the door to pride. Refer to Ephesians 2:8-10 for a fuller explanation of the sequence of salvation and works. Salvation comes about according to God’s mercy, not our efforts.
The Lord accomplishes our salvation by the “washing of regeneration,” which several commentators understand as a reference to baptism. Believers Bible Commentary, however, argues that this phrase describes the cleansing from sin that results from Christ’s shed blood. This interpretation seems more consistent with the context of this passage.
Paul also attributes salvation to the “renewal of the Holy Spirit.” At regeneration, the Holy Spirit transforms us into totally new creations, as seen in 2 Corinthians 5:17. Thus the Cretan Christians differed from their unsaved counterparts only because of the Holy Spirit’s work of transformation in each of them.
The Lord pours His Holy Spirit on the Church, as evidenced at Pentecost, but also on individual members at regeneration. Furthermore, Paul says in verse 6, He isn’t stingy, but rather He pours Him out abundantly. Barnes comments that the Holy Spirit had been so generously given to the Cretan Christians in order to help them overcome their wicked manner of life, adding that this principle applies to all Christians.
Jesus Christ our Savior is the “channel and Mediator of the gift of the Holy Ghost,” say Jamieson, Fausset and Brown. Indeed, Jesus promised in John 16:7 that He would send the Holy Spirit. So while most of the New Testament rightly emphasizes Christ’s sacrificial death on our behalf, here Paul points to His work of sending the Holy Spirit to regenerate us.
Paul credits the entire Trinity with bringing Christians to salvation. In verse 4, he calls God the Father Savior. In verse 5, he teaches that the Holy Spirit regenerates and renews us. And in verse 6, he reminds us that Jesus Christ is our Savior. His exaltation of the Trinity strengthens his case that salvation comes completely from God. Next Monday we will discuss His wonderful purpose in showing us such grace.