Nicodemus was a respected religious leader in the first century. He was both a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling counsel of the nation of Israel. He was devoutly religious, theologically well educated, and held in the highest esteem by those who knew him. He was, by any standard of measurement, a good man.
This is a picture of who we were but not of who we are. The gospel changed everything! We are now a new creation and are ever ready for good works. But how? How is this possible?
We Have Been Regenerated for Good Works
After showing who we once were, Paul then reveals what has been done for us. At one time in our lives we were dead, doomed, and depraved, "But God," says Ephesians 2:4. At one time in our lives, we were a spiritual corpse, controlled by our sin nature, Satan, and the world, condemned with no hope, no future, "But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love... appeared," says Titus 3:4. Praise God for these revivals in the Bible. What does this one in Titus teach us? Four precious truths.
Paul begins with the basic and beautiful truth that God loves us. In fact both His goodness and His love have made an appearance. This is the third appearing in Titus! We see the grace of God in 2:11, the glory of God in 2:13, and now the goodness of God in 3:4. This goodness, this love and kindness, has its source in God our Savior. The theme of Christ as our "Savior" appears here for the fifth time of six occurrences in Titus. "The kindness of God and His love" have as their object mankind—sinners in need of a Savior.292
Here is the greatest verse in the Bible on the doctrine of regeneration, the new birth experienced by those who repent of their sin and put their trust completely and exclusively in Jesus Christ. Paul begins by first telling how regeneration did not happen, countering the false thinking that has plagued humanity for all of our existence. His words could not be clearer: "He saved us—not by works of righteousness that we had done." Salvation is not earned. Regeneration is not something you can work up. You were dead, spiritually—without a heartbeat, no pulse, nothing. Any good you had done was "like filthy rags" in the eyes of a holy God (Isa 64:6 NKJV). On your best day you had nothing to give God, and if you have never realized that, then you have never been saved. No, we cannot work our way into heaven.
"But," Titus 3:4-5 says, "he saved us... according to His mercy." He delivered us from sin and its slavery, rescued us from death, hell, and the grave. Why? Kindness, love, mercy. What? Saved us. How? Washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.
Regeneration consists negatively of removal of filth and positively of a renewing, both brought about by the Holy Spirit. Regeneration washes us, makes us clean through the new birth. The imagery of washing has nothing to do with baptism, for it is the Holy Spirit who is washing us, not externally but internally. The picture looks back to Ezekiel 36:25-27, where the prophet writes:
This picture is also seen in Ephesians 5:26, where it portrays our being cleansed by the washing of water by the Word. Thus the Spirit and the Word work in tandem to make us brand-new in Jesus Christ. Indeed that is exactly where Paul looks next.
God is generous when He gives us His Spirit. Verse 6 says, "He poured out this Spirit on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior." Paul293 is probably referring back to Pentecost and the coming of the Spirit in Acts 2. However, what God did then for the believers gathered in the upper room, He now does for every believer in and through regeneration. His Spirit comes to be with us and in us abundantly.
To be "justified" means to be declared righteous. By virtue of the imputed righteousness of Christ, we stand before God just as if we had never sinned and just as if we had always obeyed God perfectly. We are not made justified; we are declared justified. And how did we receive this legal acquittal, this forensic standing of righteousness before God? Paul here adds a fourth motive as to why our great God saved us.
His goodness or kindness moved Him to save us (v. 4). His love moved Him to save us (v. 4). His mercy moved Him to save us (v. 5). His grace moved Him to save us (v. 7).
Having saved us, regenerated us, renewed us, and justified us, He now comforts us with a word about our future. We are "heirs with the hope of eternal life." This is a reality now, though it is not yet our full possession. There is no question that this inheritance will be received. As a work of our triune God, the Father (v. 4-5), the Son (v. 6), and the Holy Spirit (v. 5), it is a signed, sealed, and settled issue.
We Will Be Rewarded for Good Works
Five times in the Pastoral Epistles, we find the phrase, "This saying is trustworthy" (1 Tim 1:15; 3:1; 4:9; 2 Tim 2:11; Titus 3:8). It usually serves to emphasize the importance of the words that are to follow. Here the phrase points back to verses 4-7. Further, the faithful saying may be something of a creedal statement, a hymn, catechetical guidance, or liturgical material. Because of the importance of the words, they should be repeated, memorized, or even sung. They should also have daily and personal application in our lives, and that is exactly what we see in the closing verse of this section.
This "trustworthy" saying and the words that make it up should be affirmed and affirmed constantly. Paul spells this out specifically: "I want you to insist on these things.... These are good and294 profitable for everyone." These are words of truth, of divine origin, and we do a good work to teach them repeatedly (cf. Deut 6:7-9). A blessing for all is certain to occur.
Those who have been regenerated and renewed by the Holy Spirit are now described simply as "those who have believed God." And, because they have believed and do believe, they should "be careful to devote themselves to good works" (cf. 1:16; 2:7, 14; 3:1, 8, 14). You see, the new birth will result in a new life. Death is replaced by life. The flesh is captive to the Spirit. Evil works are overcome by good works. Such works are more assuredly good and profitable for everyone, saved and unsaved, the latter seeing the beauty of our new life and being drawn to the Christ who changed us, the Christ who can change them too! This is indeed a great reward for those of us who have been regenerated by the gospel of King Jesus.
In an article entitled "Scholars, Interfaith Families Grapple over What Passport Needed for Heaven," Amy Green discusses the perennial question, Who goes to heaven? (Sun Herald, May 8, 2005). Discussing the problem John 14:6 presents and the more liberal view of Roman Catholicism since Vatican II, she reports of a Presbyterian pastor in Memphis, Tennessee, who says in a sermon that John 14:6 is "a club with which we beat others over the head." The pastor goes on to say,
Not so, says the Word of God. Only those who have been regenerated by the power of God, been renewed by the Spirit, been justified by grace, and believed in Jesus and Jesus alone will go to heaven. Yes, we all need a new birth for a new life today and forever. This new life overflows into a life of good works that testify to the goodness of our God and His love for all people in Jesus Christ. This is the power of the gospel. This is the new birth for a new life.