“But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, 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,” Titus 3:4-5
As Paul has painted the backdrop of the depravity of man in verse 3 (the “who we were”), he now us gives an awesome reminder of why we are “who we are”, yet with more detail of the appearance of divine grace, that Paul mentioned in chapter 2:11, seen here, in the appearance of His kindness and love! Paul opens our understanding more the work of God’s divine mercy in our salvation, His work of regeneration, and the renewing work of the Holy Spirit.
When the grace of God appeared, there was radical change! Note the stark contrast between our hatred in sin, and His pursuit in love. God, the perfect and holy One pursues those who are ungodly enemies of His. In fact, Paul tells us the appearance of the grace of God was specifically seen through His kindness and love! When Paul speaks of kindness, he speaks to God’s moral excellence and can also be translated “gentleness or goodness”. This is the same word that Paul uses to tell us about the goodness and patience of God in Romans 2:4. It’s by God’s goodness and mercy that He doesn’t snuff us out because of our sins. It’s by God’s goodness that He leads us to repentance.
Think about this – for all eternity, God’s riches will be displayed because of His kindness towards us in time. That kindness towards us is through Christ Jesus and because of His finished work! Beloved, we will forever be glorifying God. We will never grow tired of praising God for His excellent riches of grace displayed to us through His kindness towards us in Christ! This is how important God’s kindness is! This is the kindness that shone forth in the Gospel on the island of Crete. It is this same Gospel that shines forth in our hearts today. God has directed His goodness toward us. This should motivate us to godly living, being zealous for good works!
Paul says that God’s kindness is coupled with His love. The Greek word for love here is where we get the word “philanthropy” from. It is indeed divine philanthropy. This is a love of friendship. God loves His chosen people, whom He makes His children and friends. If you want to know the love of God, look to the Lord Jesus Christ! This kindness and love is from God our Savior! It was important that the believers in Crete understood God as SAVIOR! They needed to understand what they were saved from and who they were saved to. We too must grasp this more deeply! Jesus Christ is our Savior. He is the author of our salvation. He is the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). Praise the Lord!
The ultimate cause of our salvation, Paul explains to Titus, is the mercy of God. There is nothing any person can do to make himself worthy of such mercy (Exodus 33:19). Yet, God pours out His mercy on those whom He has chosen from the foundation of the world, redeeming them through “the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit”. The “washing” points us to cleansing from sin, pictured in baptism, but purchased by Christ and performed by the Holy Spirit. We don’t believe in baptismal regeneration, but with the New Testament, we confess that baptism is a real means of grace wherein the Spirit strengthens our faith and points us to the work of Christ.
• What is the Spirit’s work of regeneration? Westminster Confession of Faith 13.1 teaches us that those who are once effectually called and regenerated, have a new heart and a new spirit created in them. By His Spirit, God removes our hearts of stone and replaces them with hearts of flesh, giving us new life (spiritual rebirth) in Christ, enabling us to trust in His Son and be justified through faith alone.
• What is the renewing work of the Spirit? The Holy Spirit, in bringing us to faith, does not only effect a change in our status before God from that of a condemned sinner to that of a person clothed in the righteousness of Christ, He also brings inward renewal, complete transformation that begins when one is regenerated. He renews our wills (WSC 31, WCF 10.1, Ezekiel 36:26-27) in His call. He empowers us to love, service, and obedience to God in gratitude for the great salvation He has given us (Romans, 7:4-6, Romans 12:2, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Hebrews 12:28) and for His glory.
All praise and glory be to our triune God for His will and work in our redemption! All praise be to the Holy Spirit for what He has done, is doing, and will do in His work of regeneration and renewing us.