“But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that being justified by His grace we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
We’ve been hearing a lot in these recent years in regards to how today’s church needs to change its ways in order to reach out to the unchurched masses.
There is criticism in reference to our forms of worship and our terminology and our music; the position of the movers and shakers in the ecumenical community being that in order to reach unsaved or unchurched Harry and Sally we’re going to have to merge into the 21st century with them, and change our way of speaking and put the hymnals in a closet and exchange our pews for padded chairs and start addressing society’s most pressing needs from the pulpit, so we will once more establish a significant and pertinent role in our culture.
I thought of finding someone to quote here, to further establish this assertion that these things are indeed being said. But then I realized what a waste of time that would be, since I know that all of you have been hearing and maybe even saying the same things.
Besides, I went to the internet and ‘Googled’ these words, ‘church speak terminology’ and came up with no shortage of pages I could have gone to in order to find people’s varied opinions on the usage of distinctly Christian terminology. So if you have the time and the inclination and the computer, you can go look it up for yourself.
Now to a point I agree with these well-meaning folks, and I clearly understand their concern. But I want to put the brakes on for a moment before we progress into these verses today, and consider just how far the admonition should be taken, to change our terminology in an effort to avoid disenfranchisement of the culture.
After all, the Christian church is a culture of its own. There are plenty of scripture admonitions to come out from among them and be separate. To be conformed, not to the world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. To be so different from those around us who are of the world that they will recognize us as having been with Jesus.
And I am afraid that in an effort to ‘tone down’ the church-speak and strive to appeal more to the unchurched and unsaved, it is far too easy to throw the baby out with the bathwater and begin instead to become like them as opposed to just communicating better with them.
Ok, you can see where I’m going, but you won’t for long if I continue to ramble. So let me wind up this point simply saying that most of the terminology we use in the church began being used for a very specific reason; often to convey very specific Christian doctrine, and if we abandon that in an effort to dumb-down our communication with those outside ecumenical circles we may be better understood by them on the surface, but we will actually be saying much less of significance to them in the end.
When a baby first begins learning to talk, we use our common language and teach them to use it.
When Johnny finally gets out ‘I want tookie’, we correct him with, ‘cookie’, and eventually he says ‘cookie’. We do not, I hope, adopt his infant speak and go through the rest of our lives saying ‘tookie’ for the sake of clearer conversation with now 30 year old Johnny.
And folks, there are very good reasons why we use terms like ‘fellowship’ and ‘worship’ and ‘discipleship’ and ‘stewardship’ and the ever increasingly popular Baptist term, ‘jump-ship’ (kidding…sorry) .
Now I would let you argue with me about the value of finding other words to communicate some of these things with outsiders, at least until they become Christians and can be taught why these old terms are important.
But when it comes to the doctrines of the faith and the terminology we use for those, I would stand my ground firmly and insist that the only way to communicate the individual’s need to the individual is to use those words we hold dearly, and explain them as best we can, and trust the Holy Spirit to do His enlightening work.
It may not be necessary until they are a part of the church to try and teach them words that don’t pertain to them, such as Propitiation, and Incarnation and Atonement, but they most certainly need to hear words like Born Again and Reconcile and Resurrection and Saved.
The world will mock you and scoff at you and chide you for using such old fashioned terminology. “Saved? What do you mean, ‘saved’? Why do you say, ‘Jesus Saves’? Don’t you know that phrase has been used and overused so much that it means nothing anymore?”
Well I would answer the scoffers, ‘It means everything it ever did, and it means everything to you’.
HE SAVED US
Paul says ‘He saved us’. First of all, let’s be certain we’re clear on what that word means. I did a little word study, and you may be amazed at what I found.
Do you know what this Greek word means, which is translated ‘saved’ throughout the entire New Testament without exception?
It means ‘saved’. And it means ‘saved’ in the sense in which we use the word commonly today, in our English language.
So when Paul says that He saved us, we needn’t look for some mystical meaning, or some double meaning, and we don’t need to try and find a better word to make it fall easier on unchurched ears.
And if I am prepared to receive and understand this assertion that God saved me, then I must ask what it was He saved me from. Was it a particular danger? Was it a condition of worthlessness? Did He save me from being used up in some way? Misused in some way?
The answer would be ‘E – all of the above’.
We need only back up to verse 3 of this chapter for confirmation.
“For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another.”
That’s quite a compelling list, isn’t it? Not to mention, a little hard to take!
Doesn’t it make you want to say, ‘Speak for yourself, Paul!’ Maybe not. Maybe the change Christ has wrought in you has humbled you and made you able to listen gracefully to such charges and agree, ‘yes, that is what He saved me from, and I am thankful’.
But try reading this list to unchurched Harry and Sally and just see if you get invited back for tea any time soon! Foolish? Disobedient? Deceived? Enslaved to various lusts and pleasures?
Whoa! Wait just a minute there, Hoss! You’re getting’ kinda personal!
You bet! You bet! It’s about as personal as you can get, and in the final analysis it means eternal separation from God. It means death. It means another one of those old fashioned, outdated words; Hell.
“But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared,”
Did you hear what that said? Something appeared. Something was made manifest, which at one time was not apparent. At least, it wasn’t apparent to the sinful mind of flesh. But it was made manifest.
It was the kindness of God; it was His love for mankind. It appeared, in the person of Jesus Christ.
Verse 4 of Titus 3 is a reference to the person and ministry of Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Man, who entered into the world to seek and to save that which was lost. We were the lost, and to us was made manifest God’s kindness and love.
So you just go ahead and keep on using that old fashioned word. It’s a keeper. Saved. He saved us.
Now we have to go on and look at a few more words.
Righteousness is certainly a word you’re not likely to hear much outside of church, isn’t it?
You might hear the term, ‘self-righteous’, especially if you are openly critical of the life-styles of those unchurched folks around you.
But if you talk to Harry and Sally about righteousness you may see their eyes glaze over.
Ironically, although they don’t use or really have a grasp on the word, the ones who have any desire at all to be right with God labor under the misconception that it is their good deeds and good behavior that will gain them His favor.
Paul clearly refutes that here. Both passively and actively. Notice that this very negative list we looked at in verse 3 is abruptly followed with ‘But’.
This is what you were, and of course the implication is that this is what those outside of Christ still are, ‘But…He saved us’.
So the passive implication is that He saved us in the midst of our ruin and our rebellion.
Then he comes right out and says it in verse 5. “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness.”
One translation puts it; “Not by virtue of our moral achievements”.
And I don’t want to get hung up on the word ‘righteousness’ because there are more pressing matters to address today than word definitions. The point made is that it was not because of some degree of merit or worthiness in us that He saved us, but simply because of His mercy.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, this cannot be stressed strongly enough. Many Christians in both the pew and the pulpit have never really gotten this truth into their minds and their hearts and their lives, as is evident in their relations and reactions to one another, and the speech that comes from their mouth.
God did not save you because He saw you doing something noble or good. He didn’t save you because of your good looks. He didn’t save you because Grandma prayed for you. He didn’t save you because Auntie took you to church. He didn’t save you because you walked an isle and knelt at an altar.
While you were steeped hopelessly in all the things listed here in verse 3 and worse, while you fit the description of evil in Romans chapter 3, while you were lost and undone, helpless and not only not wanting God, but a rebel against Him, hating Him in your ignorance, He saved you, according to His mercy alone.
Therefore, what He has done by His own will and plan and power, you cannot undo. You cannot pay Him back, you cannot place anything on the scales in your favor, there is nothing you can bring and lay at His feet that will help pay the price, and there is nothing you can do to take yourself back out of His hand.
You have to understand this, or you will never understand God’s grace.
Lloyd Ogilvie said “You can’t say ‘He’s everything to me!’ until you can say and believe ‘I’m everything to God!’” “Autobiography of God” – Regal, 1979, pg 108
You will not begin to enjoy the intimacy with your Lord that He wants to have with you, until you understand that before the foundation of the world, before you even existed, His mercy transcended time and space and determined to purchase you to Himself like a precious pearl, and so certain was that determination that the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write that “…He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.” Eph 1:4
Here in the verses of our text Paul tells Titus how God went about accomplishing that purpose.
“…by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit…”
That word ‘regeneration’ is a Greek word that is only used twice in all of the New Testament. Whenever I find a word that is only in one or two places and used nowhere else it makes me stop and look harder, because it makes me think that the author had a very specific reason for using it.
The word literally means ‘again born’. Now the concept is taught very clearly in many places. If you are a studier of your Bible the first thing that may come to your mind is John 3 and Jesus’ dialogue with Nicodemus, when He says that unless a man is born again he cannot see the Kingdom of Heaven.
This word Paul uses to Titus is not in John 3, but Paul uses it here and I think perhaps we should pause to make something clear.
God saved us, and the way He saved us was by making us ‘again born’. And we need to understand this today and probably rework some of the jargon we use in talking to people.
We will not be of any help to them whatsoever by telling them to ‘accept Jesus’, or by inviting them to come to church, or by telling them that Jesus will come into their heart and change them, or any of the other silly things that have been planted in our heads by well-meaning evangelists over the past several decades.
People need to know that if they are to have hope for eternal life with God and not separated from Him and cast into outer darkness where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched, they must be born again.
We have to tell them that this rebirth is a process that is done by God and God alone, and until they are ‘again born’, they are not a Christian, and they are not saved.
And friends please do not let your mind drift as I’m telling you this. A person who has been born from above, which is a spiritual process entirely, will show signs of having been born.
When a new baby comes into the world the first thing that happens is that the attending practitioners examine that baby to ensure that it is thriving. They call it the "Apgar" test. It is a 10 point inspection, each thing they look at being worth one point.
They check that baby’s vital signs, count all the fingers and toes, check its eyes, watch its movements and hopefully declare it healthy when it passes its exam. Then the mother will be asked to make an appointment and bring that baby back to the doctor at regular intervals for a while over the first few months so they can check its progress. And healthy progress is that the baby is eating regularly, continuing to grow in size and strength, showing signs of desiring family and so on.
If the baby is listless, if the baby is rejecting food, if the baby is rejecting fellowship, if the baby is disinterested in anything going on around it, there is concern.
And Christians, you may point to someone outside of fellowship and showing no desire for spiritual growth and maturity and continuing to engage in the things listed here in verse 3, and say, ‘well, that person really is a believer; they just need time to come around’, and I won’t argue with you if you don’t want your bubble burst. But don’t call me as a witness. Because as I examine what I can see of that person in the light of what the Bible says a born again person is like, my diagnosis will be that perhaps there was a still birth.
No, you leave me out of it. If you love that person you sit them down and you tell them they need to be saved. If they say that they are saved already, then you tell them they’re the only one who thinks so. Don’t coddle them. Don’t soft pedal them. You may be rescuing a soul from Hell.
They must be born again.
Now I’m running out of time so I’m going to be very brief about this next point and then I want to make some things very clear about Justification.
We’ve talked about regeneration. That is what God does and it is an immediate and one time thing. Just like being born from your mother’s womb. It doesn’t happen again, and it isn’t an ongoing process. You are born, and as soon as that birth process is over and you are out and breathing on your own, the birth is done.
Paul says to Titus, “…and renewing by the Holy Spirit”. That is a reference to sanctification. That is a process that begins when you are born again, and continues until you are glorified and in Heaven.
It’s a renewal. It is a perpetual cleansing process being accomplished by God with you as a willing and yielded partner, in that you cooperate with the process.
So you are born and you continue to grow in strength and maturity. That’s regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom God poured out upon us richly through Christ our Savior. That’s verse 6
People we cannot make a distinction between Christ and the Holy Spirit in regards to our salvation and the work of sanctification. To do so is to depart from Biblical truth.
God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit work together in us and with us to conform us to the image of Christ, and it was the Father’s good pleasure to lavish upon us His Spirit for the accomplishment of all that He wills for us, because He loved us and His mercy, kindness and love for us is thus made manifest.
Look at verse seven and we’ll end.
“…that being justified by His grace we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
My instructor in Romans in Bible College said that it wasn’t until he came to understand the doctrine of justification that he had assurance of his salvation.
He said every time an evangelist came to town over the first 23 years of his life, he’d be down there at the altar giving his heart to Jesus again, but never knowing the peace that comes with confidence that he was acceptable to God.
Let’s define the word and then apply it. Most of you here have heard my definition many times. Some of you can even quote it.
Justification, or to be justified, means that I have been declared to be right with God through faith in the shed blood of Christ and His resurrection, alone.
I heard Hendriksen quoted, and I couldn’t find it myself so I’ll just trust that the preacher I heard knew what he was talking about, when he quoted Hendriksen as defining justification as “That act of God the Father, whereby he counts our sin to be Christ’s, and Christ’s righteousness to be ours”.
I had a friend who was fond of saying, “I’ve come to believe that there’s two kinds of people in this world; sinners lost and sinners saved”.
And there, I believe, is the thinking that violates the definition of justification and keeps men bound in error and doing all kinds of hoop jumping to try and keep themselves saved.
If you are born again and the Holy Spirit of God is in you, you are no longer a sinner.
Now listen to me. I didn’t say you don’t sin. We will have to put down the sin nature in us until we are glorified, and we will sin. The Bible says so; and it also makes provision for our sins in that if we confess our sins to God He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
But where you may struggle with sin and will sin, you are no longer a sinner by definition. You are born again, a new creation in Christ, adopted into God’s heavenly family, and heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
God has declared you to be in right standing with him, clothed not in your own righteousness but in Christ’s righteousness, and cleansed forever of the guilt of sin because He reckoned your sin to be Christ’s, and Christ’s righteousness to be yours. There is nothing you can ever do to make yourself more acceptable to God because the moment you were ‘again born’ you were as acceptable to Him as His own Son, Jesus Christ.
That’s justification. It is the opposite of condemnation, and there is no longer any condemnation for those who are in Christ, who paid your penalty in full on the cross.
You were guilty, He took your guilt. You were dead, He gave you rebirth. You were unwashed, He washed you with the renewal of the Holy Spirit. By His grace he declared you justified and made you an heir according to the hope of eternal life.
Now you may have been an active member of the church for 50 years, or you may have only been calling yourself a Christian for a short time. None of that matters.
Length of time doesn’t matter, and your work in the church doesn’t matter, and your ability to quote scripture and sing hymns and use the Christian jargon doesn’t matter.
What matters is that you know in your heart and with no doubt in your mind that you are born again. That no matter what kind of a person you were or are, God in his kindness and mercy has given you rebirth from Heaven, and you now have peace with Him through Jesus Christ.
If you don’t have that assurance, and you can not say in all confidence in God’s Word that you are saved, then don’t leave here today without making sure. I’m going to pray in closing, and I want you to search your own heart and invite Jesus to search it for you, and before you leave here today I want you to know without a doubt that if you were to get in a vehicle accident on the way home and be killed, that you would immediately be in the presence of your Savior, because He saved you, according to His mercy.
If you’ve never had that assurance before I want to tell you that you can have it now, today, and never doubt again. You can go away today saying I once was lost but now I’m saved. Saved!