Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Washing of Rebirth and Renewal by the Holy Spirit

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone. (Titus 3:4-8 NIV)
This passage from Titus was recently brought once again to my attention, and though I have studied it a number of times in the past, I was captured by a few new realizations. That’s the way it often is with reflecting on Scripture. No matter how many times I have gone over a passage, there always seem to be new things unfolding from it.

There is an old saying that no man ever steps into the same river twice. The water is ever flowing and the man is ever changing, and though he steps in again at the exact same place, it is not the exact same water that flowed by previously and he is no longer exactly the same as he was before. That is what has happened to me again with these verses. My perspective has changed some since last I visited them and I now recognize a few currents I had missed earlier.

One thing that strikes me this time around is how Trinitarian it is in its soteriology (doctrine of salvation). It is out of the kindness and love of the Father — God our Savior — that He has saved us. In the words of that famous verse, “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son” (John 3:16 NIV). This salvation is also a renewal by the Holy Spirit (more on that in a moment). And the Holy Spirit is poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ, the Son. As I have learned to meditate more on the rich relationship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit that is the Trinity, the more I have learned to recognize it in Scripture.

Another thing that particularly stands out for me now is how much this fulfills what God promised through the prophet Ezekiel:
Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. (Ezekiel 36:25-27)
Here is the “washing of rebirth,” the sprinkling of water that cleanses us from all impurity and idolatry. We are given the new heart and new spirit — which can be called the new birth — that God has for us. This “washing” is beautifully portrayed in the sign of baptism.

The “renewal” Paul speaks of is by the Holy Spirit, God’s own Spirit, who comes to dwell within us. The fulfillment of this promise in Ezekiel turned out to be what God would do not just for the Jews but for all the nations of the earth. In fact, Paul writes this letter to Titus, who he appointed to oversee the largely non-Jewish church at Crete.

Finally, I have recently been considering the relationship between justification and final judgment, and this passage speaks to that. Paul says that God has saved us and Christ has generously poured out the Holy Spirit on us so that, “having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” The first part, “having been justified,” speaks of what has already been accomplished — through Christ we have been declared righteous, fit for fellowship with God and His people. “The hope of eternal life” is about our future expectation — the life of the age to come.

Paul solemnly affirms that this is “trustworthy,” and he stresses these things “so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good.” The new birth and renewal by the Holy Spirit that we receive by faith in God (through Jesus Christ) brings us into a life of good works that honors God. And that is exactly what God promised in Ezekiel, that He would put His own Spirit within us who would cause us to walk in His ways. We also find this same line of thought expressed earlier in Paul’s letter.
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11-14)
The grace of God that teaches us and the Holy Spirit whom God has given to live in us begins to transform us in this present age so that, when the Lord Jesus comes and we stand before Him, the work of God will be revealed in us. And God will be satisfied with what He has done.