We observed from the Apostle Paul’s Letter to Titus in part one of this series, that God’s gracious salvation for mankind is both historical and objective, and personal and experiential.
Titus 2:11 reads, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people . . .”1 God’s infinite incomprehensible grace appeared in the incarnation, atoning death, and resurrection of the Word made flesh—the Lord Jesus Christ. This reminds us of a word that never grows old: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son . . .” (John 3:16). This appearance of God’s grace-filled action occurred some two thousand years ago in space, time, and history.
Furthermore, we noted that in God’s multifaceted graciousness that he desires all people to experience the salvation gift personally and experientially. Again, Paul says to Titus, who at the time was the spiritual overseer in Crete: “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us . . .” (3:4-5a). While the Incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ were historical in nature, here the apostle speaks of appropriating God’s gift of salvation—“he saved us.”
Who could ever forget the day of his or her spiritual birth? While that experience may be as varied as are the stars in the sky; while it may come as a sudden bolt of lightning for some and as a gentle sunrise for others; while for young children the salvation event may not be as pronounced and observable as it is in a forty-year-old adult, nevertheless for all Christian converts there was a time in which we were dead in trespasses and in sins and a time when we were made alive in Christ Jesus our Lord.
British author C. S. Lewis (1898-1963), who at the time was an atheist teaching philosophy and English at Oxford, likened his conversion to a melting snowman and a person awaking after a long sleep. He writes: “I unbuckled my armor and the snowman started to melt . . .” Then he says, one day “I was driven to Whipsnade [Zoo, London] one sunny morning. When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did. Yet I had not exactly spent the journey in thought. Nor in great emotion. . . . It was more like when man, after long sleep, still lying motionless in bed, becomes aware that he is now awake.”2
One’s emotional and psychological experiences are incidental to the conversion event. The substance of what occurred is what is all-important: forgiveness, regeneration, adoption, sanctification (in the sense of being set apart to God) . . . saved from sin!
Now, let us proceed further on this subject of grace and salvation from Paul’s Letter to Titus.
“. . . he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness . . .” (3:5).
Fallen, sinful man has a problem: He thinks he can save himself; therefore he is forever hiding behind the mask of his own self-righteousness. The unbeliever, the sinner, believes in his own disillusioned goodness, niceness, and morality.
What was Adam and Eve’s instinctive reaction after following their dreadful, fall? To hide and make for themselves a covering for their nakedness, shame, and guilt. Sin has always worked that way. It compels us to hide—behind false goodness, self-righteousness, niceness, morality, a manufactured belief system.
To quote C. S. Lewis again, from his classic volume Mere Christianity, Lewis says,
“‘Niceness’—wholesome, integrated personality—is an excellent thing. We must try by every medical, educational, economic, and political means in our power, to produce a nice world where as many people as possible grow up ‘nice’ . . . But we must not suppose that even if we succeeded in making everyone nice we should have saved their souls.”
Then Lewis drives his point home: “A world of nice people, content in their own niceness, looking no further, turned away from God, would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world—and might even be more difficult to save.”3
While the Lord has demanded, from the creation of man through the giving of the Law until the present time—his people to live according to his commands and precepts, his people have continuously fallen into the snare of self-righteousness—the attempt to achieve a righteous life apart from God’s gift of righteousness in Christ Jesus the Righteous One.
Saul of Tarsus is a primary case in point (read his testimony in Philippians 2:4-6). Read again the account of the self-righteous Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14). Read what Paul writes of the unbelieving Jews of his own day: “I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness” (Rom. 10:2-3).
The late Dr. D. James Kennedy (1930-2007), longtime pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, tells how our gracious and merciful God stepped into his life and stripped him of his self-righteousness.
While employed in 1953 as an Arthur Murray dance studio instructor on Florida’s east coast, Kennedy was awakened one Sunday morning by his radio alarm clock. The station happened to be tuned to the radio broadcast of Philadelphia’s 10th Presbyterian Church, with Dr. Donald Gray Barnhouse preaching. The first words Kennedy heard from the preacher were in the form of a question:
“Young man, if you were to die tonight and stand before Almighty God and He were to say to you, ‘What right do you have to enter into my Heaven, what would you say?’”
Kennedy’s response in that bedroom, alone by himself, was: “Well I’ve tried to live a good life and I’ve done the best I could. I’ve kept the Ten Commandments and I’ve followed the Golden Rule.” Then Kennedy relates: “And Dr. Barnhouse said to me, or at least it seemed that way, ‘Young man, if you had had the audacity to say such a thing as that to the All-Holy God who knows your every thought and deed, He would have instantly plunged you into the Lake of Fire!’ ”
Kennedy, lying in his bed, said he was shocked by the preacher’s words. Kenney thought: “Well, my entire toothpick castle of theology collapsed to the floor and I realized that I didn’t have any hope. For the first time in my life I was lost. I didn’t know how to get home. Now, I had been lost for 23 years, I just never knew it before. He went on to tell the Gospel and he said the most astonishing thing. He said that eternal life was a free gift, that Jesus Christ had paid for it with His own suffering and blood on the Cross and God offered it graciously, freely to all of those who would trust in Christ.”4
That’s Good News!
Paul reminds Titus as to how we are not saved: “he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness . . .” (3:5).
Next, Paul tells us what the motivating cause and attitude of God’s is in our salvation: “he saved us . . . according to his own mercy . . .” (3:3).
Reflecting on his own conversion experience when writing to Pastor Timothy, Paul says, “I thank [God] who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy . . .” (1 Tim. 1:12-13). Someone has said that grace is God giving us what we don’t deserve, whereas mercy is God withholding from us what we do deserve—eternal death and hell. Oh, where would we be without a merciful God?! Calvary is mercy! The Cross is mercy! God’s saving action in your life and mine is mercy. Is it any wonder that William Newell (1868-1956) wrote these words some days following his conversion to Christ?
Oh, the love that drew salvation’s plan!
Oh, the grace that brought it down to man!
Oh, the mighty gulf that God did span at Calvary!
Mercy there was great, and grace was free;
Pardon there was multiplied to me;
There my burdened soul found liberty—at Calvary.5
We could fill volumes writing about the mercy of God—and God’s thirsty-hearted followers have tried to do so since the beginning of time. Listen to these classic words penned by Frederick William Faber (1814-1863):
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in His justice,
Which is more than liberty.
For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of our mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.6
The Instruments in Our Salvation
Having spoken of God’s motivating cause in our salvation—mercy—next Paul speaks of the instruments God uses in our salvation. “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration . . .” (3:5).
Regeneration is God’s term for spiritual birth, new life, a birth from above, to be born anew, to be born again. God’s saving act is brought about by infusing into the heart and life of repentant sinners new life, spiritual life, resurrection life, eternal life, the very life of the Lord Jesus Christ himself. Sinners are walking dead men and women, spiritual corpses. They have biological life, but they are void of spiritual life. Many of these are religious corpses, many are pagan corpses. Many of these corpses sit in a pew week after week, and many never walk through the doors of a church and have no intention of doing so. But of all of these it can be said in the words of Augustine,
“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”
A few years ago I was captivated by some words written by C. S. Lewis, words on this subject of dead people coming to life. He likens them to statues. He wrote, “This world is a great sculptor’s shop. We are the statues and there is a rumor going round the shop that some of us are some day going to come to life.”7 I couldn’t get that conversion metaphor out of my mind, so I wrote the following.
A room filled with statues:
All uniquely beautiful,
Chiseled and hammered,
Made out of stone.
There were ears and eyes,
Hands and feet.
But they had no sight;
They did not feel or walk.
They were cold and lifeless stones;
They could not respond.
Void of love and devotion,
They stared, merely stared.
Then without notice
There came a gentle Wind blowing.
The stones became warm;
They could now hear and see.
Walking out of the room
Into the loving embrace
of their Sculptor,
they cried, “Father!”
I think of the conversion of Charles Colson, the ex-presidential aid, who came to Christ after he was implicated in the infamous Watergate debacle. Of his conversion event he writes, “that Friday morning, while I sat alone staring at the sea I love, words that I had not been certain I could understand or say fell naturally from my lips: ‘Lord Jesus, I believe you. I accept you. Please come into my life. I commit it to you.’ ” And then he writes something that is so typical of the new life in Christ Jesus. He says, “With these few words that morning, while the briny sea churned, came a sureness of mind that matched the depth of feeling in my heart. There came something more: strength and serenity, a wonderful new assurance about life, fresh perception of myself and the world around me. In the process, I felt old fears, tensions, and animosities draining away. I was coming alive to things I had never seen before . . .”8 Conversion is a new life.
Furthermore, Paul uses the language of “washing” in conjunction with regeneration: “he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration . . .” (3:5).
The washing of water baptism is a symbol of the washing of regeneration. Baptism and regeneration are not synonymous. One is a symbol; the other is the substance. The one is a sign; the other reality. God says when he saves us, imparting spiritual life to us, there is a simultaneous washing which occurs.
What is washed? Our very consciences, our hearts—that inner, deep spiritual entity from which thoughts, choices, imaginations rise. King David’s confession and plea to God following his dreadful sins was, “wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Ps. 51:7). Using the symbolism of the sacrificial blood sprinkled on the mercy seat and the water the high priest washed himself with before entering the Holy of Holies, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews speaks of those who have their “hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and [their] bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:22).
Washing—a clean conscience, a clean heart—now ready to live a clean life, by the power of the indwelling Christ. Conversion is a washed life.
Now for the second instrument in God’s saving grace, working in the lives of repentant sinners: “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, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior . . .” (3:5-6).
There are two “re” words in this text. The one—”regeneration”—has to do with the impartation of new life, the very life of Christ; the other— “renewal”—has to do with making new, making new by the Holy Spirit. The new Christian not only experiences new life; he becomes a new life—from within to without. In the words of the apostle to the Corinthian Church: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17).
This renewal commences at a point in time—the new birth—and immediately begins the work of transforming the believer into the likeness of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul uses the term in Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind . . .”
Spiritual renewal, spiritual renovation, is an ongoing process by the indwelling Holy Spirit in the life of every Christian, and the Spirit requires our cooperation in this transformation. How does the Holy Spirit do this? How does he renew the Christian’s heart and conduct? Let’s go back to Titus 2:11-12.
The Spirit says through the Apostle Paul, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age . . .”
Paul takes a very common Greek word of his time which is used in the context of education. He is saying that the grace of God not only saves the sinner, but that the grace of God trains, teaches, educates every Christian—training us, teaching us, educating us. What does this grace of God train the Christian to do? Paul mentions five areas here that the grace of God trains us in. First, he identifies two negatives.
Renounce ungodliness. Ungodliness is just the opposite of godliness. The Holy Spirit trains the Christian to reject, forsake, turn his back on, renounce—every attitude and known action and activity which does not measure up to Christlike attitudes and behavior. The indwelling Holy Spirit performs this work in our conscience as we read God’s Word and hear it preached, and sometimes he performs this work in our conscience when, at the time, we may have no specific knowledge of his Word in a particular area, but he always impresses us to act in harmony with his Word.
Renounce worldly passions. The Holy Spirit trains us to renounce every love, affection, attachment, devotion, and passion which is incompatible with our new life in Christ. We are called to hate what God hates and to love what God loves. We are called to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Any affection and attachment which interferes with his love in us must be renounced. Whatever is a passion for things must be exchanged for a passion for Christ. Paul calls these “worldly passions.” There are many passions or desires in which it is both entirely natural and acceptable for a Christian to exercise and fulfill. But these passions and desires are considered “worldly” whenever they are not brought under the lordship of Jesus Christ and exercised in keeping with the plain teaching of God’s written Word.
For example, the desire to worship must be reserved for the only one and true God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. Otherwise it is idolatry, which is generated by an innate desire to worship but is worldly because it fails to focus on the one true God. The same can be said for sexual desires. These passions are considered worldly when engaged in outside the bonds of marriage between a male and female. God says the Christian is to renounce worldly passions.
Secondly, the apostle identifies three positive spheres of behavior the Holy Spirit—the grace of God—trains us in.
Self-control. “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us . . . to live self-controlled . . . lives in the present age . . .” The Spirit trains the Christian to control his and her temper, eyes, ears, tongues, stomachs—the natural urges. Paul says elsewhere, the fruit of the Spirit is “self-control” (Gal. 5:23). Fallen man can only go so far in controlling his natural appetites, desires, and instincts. He needs outside help, help from above.
Uprightness. “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us . . . to live upright . . . lives in the present age . . .” Before God’s regenerating, renewing grace entered our lives, many of us may have lived good lives as the world counts goodness, but we did not—because we could not—live lives pleasing to God, according to his standard of righteousness. Paul says in chapter one of this letter that the Cretans had a reputation for lying, practicing evil, laziness, and gluttony. He said even one of their own pagan philosophers accused them of such behavior. Christians are called out of the world’s mindset to be different.
Will Thomas was just a new convert when his longtime friend Art (prior to his own conversion) thought he would test his friend’s new-found “religion.” Will was visiting Art in his home. Art went into his bedroom and came out with a pornographic magazine. He opened it and thrust it into the face of Will and said, “There, look at that!” Will’s response? “Art, I don’t look at that stuff anymore.” Art said after his own conversion, “I knew Will had the real thing.” God grace was training Will in uprightness.
Godliness. “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us . . . to live godly lives in the present age . . .” Christians must be known by more of what they do than what they don’t do; by what they engage in than what they refrain from; what not only they oppose, but what they’re for; not for only by what they reject, but for what they embrace. One who knew him most intimately, said of the Lord Jesus, he was “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Godliness covers the entire spectrum of living for the Christian.
The Spirit trains us as to how to walk in humility before God and one another. How to walk in love with the people of God and our neighbors. How to strive to live in peace with all people. How to be forbearing and forgiving, patient and longsuffering, merciful and compassionate, thoughtful, kind, and considerate.
Some of the evidences of the Spirit’s renewal and training are immediate in the new convert. But not always. We never graduate from this school. The Spirit’s training is always active and present—throughout our earthly pilgrimage. The Lord Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (Jo. 10:27).
Are you saved from your sins, dear reader? Are you one of the Good Shepherd’s sheep? Are you listening to his voice? Are you following him? Have you been washed? Are you being renewed? Are you cooperating with God as he trains you?
Possibly these words, written by a Scottish minister by the name of Horatius Bonar (1808-1889) in the 19th century, will mean something to you as I close this two-part series. The opening words of his hymn reads:
I was a wandering sheep,
I did not love the fold;
I did not love my Shepherd’s voice,
I would not be controlled.
But after traveling through a personal conversion to Christ, the ninth stanza of the hymn reads:
No more a wandering sheep,
I love to be controlled;
I love my tender Shepherd’s voice,
I love the peaceful fold.9
I pray that each person who stumbles across this article will, if not presently, eventually experience the reality which lies behind those words.
Grace be with you.
Soli Deo Gloria!
1. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
2. C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers, 1955), 228, 237.
3. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, revised (New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., 1952), 182.
4. Taken from “Startled Beyond Measure: How D. James Kennedy Came to Christ.” Truth in Action Ministries. www.truthinaction.org.
5. Taken from “At Calvary” by William R. Newell.
6. Taken from “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” by Frederick W. Faber.
7. Ibid., Mere Christianity, 140.
8. Charles W. Colson, Born Again (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1976), 130.
9. Taken from “I Was a Wandering Sheep” by Horatius Bonar.
Taken from . . .
Christ in You: Living the Christ-Life
copyright © 2015
Ralph I. Tilley
(May be copied for noncommercial purposes;
not to exceed 500 copies.)