Titus 3:3-7 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 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, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Good morning. Happy Resurrection Sunday! As the Apostle Paul wrote, if not for Easter Sunday, “We are of all people most to be pitied. 20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead…21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:19-22).
If you’re a guest with us this morning, welcome! We’re exceedingly glad you’re with us. We’re glad because you get to hear and celebrate with us the words of eternal life.
I do want to say, though, that as a preaching pastor these types of sermons are always the most challenging sermons to give. By “these types of sermons” I mean sermons that are meant to capture the truth and emotions of something as big and central to the Christian faith as the resurrection of the Son of God.
And by “most challenging sermons to give” I mean that all of my limitations and yours are put on display. I’m not smart enough to understand the full meaning and ramifications of the resurrection. Even if I were smart enough, I’m not eloquent enough to convey it to you (Christians and non-Christians, young and old, men and women, rich and poor, broken and joyful, black and white, and…) in a truly appropriate way. Even if I were smart and eloquent enough, I’m not loving enough to care deeply enough for your souls. And even if I were smart and eloquent and loving enough, I’m not mature enough in my faith to be worthy to stand up here and call you all to respond to it when I’m not even doing so completely myself.
And even if I were all of those things, you aren’t smart enough to fully understand what I’d say. Even if you were smart enough to understand, you aren’t spiritually mature enough to appropriately care. And even if you were smart and mature enough, you haven’t submitted yourselves to Jesus enough to rightly respond.
The things we’ve been celebrating this past week and are celebrating today are bigger than I could ever understand or convey and they are bigger than you could ever hear or obey.
So where does that leave us? It leaves us aware of what is always the case (but usually hidden from us): our complete dependence on God for every good thing. Let’s pray, then, that God would be pleased to work in us by his Spirit and his Word, to awaken our minds and hearts to the glories of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and all the good that it means for all the people of God.
How does God Save His People?
In reverse order, here’s where we are going: we’re going to end up by seeing the glory and significance of the resurrection of Jesus. Before that, though, we’re going to look at the question of how God saves his people. And before that, first, now, we’re going to briefly look at where we’ve been the past few weeks in Titus.
For the past several weeks we’ve been looking at the key doctrines of Titus 3:3-7—focusing particularly on the meaning and implications of the salvation of God mentioned in Titus 3:5.
…when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us…
We began by looking at what God saved us from (our total depravity). Next we looked at the nature of the God who saves (good and loving and merciful and gracious and generous and Trinitarian). Then we looked at what it really means to be saved (elected, called, regenerated, converted, justified, adopted, sanctified, persevered, brought into Christ’s presence (death), and glorified). And now, once again, on Easter Sunday we are going to look to Titus 3:3-7 to find out how we gain access to the saving work of God.
Let me set this (the significance of this message) up just a little bit more. Consider again for one moment the glory of God and the wonders of heaven and the awesomeness of salvation. God is greater than you or I could ever imagine. He’s made a way for his people to be saved from our sins and to everlasting satisfaction in fellowship with him. And his plan of salvation began before the beginning of time and extends forever into eternity. All of this is right in front of us and awesome beyond comprehension. Again, though, the question is, how do we gain access to it.
You’ve all felt this to one degree or another. Book lovers, have you ever walked into a really good bookstore (perhaps Loomes in Stillwater) and known that you could spend $10,000 without any real effort at all? It’s all in front of you. You can even see and touch the books, but all the while knowing that you don’t really have access to most of them? Technophiles, how about you? Perhaps you’ve held a Crutchfield catalog and had to shake your head…so much remarkable technology just beyond your grasp. Musicians in a record store with all the classics in their mint vinyl, sports enthusiasts in Dick’s or REI or Erick’s, outdoorsmen and women in Cabela’s, crafters at Hobby Lobby or JoAnn’s or Michael’s.
While there are certainly some remarkable things in many of these stores, the glories of the salvation of God pale them all—and it’s not even close. Further, as you all know, all we need to gain access to the things sold in stores is a lot of cash. But again, the question in front of us this morning is how do we gain access to that which is far better: the salvation of God?
Not by works.
The first thing to see is that, unlike what most religions teach and unlike where most of our instincts direct us, we cannot be saved by anything we do. That’s the point of vs.4-5.
Titus 3:4-5 … when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness…
I can’t help but wonder how many countless hours have been wasted by how many countless people in an attempt to earn God’s favor. I remember taking Religion 101 in college and studying a tribe who would dance and chant and cut and pierce themselves until falling into a trance with the belief that this would bring them closer to the great spirit. As silly and futile as that might sound to you and me, the bible is clear that our attempts to earn God’s favor through prayer or going to church or cleaning ourselves up are no less silly and futile. Because we’ve all sinned against God we all need saving, but right at the center of Christianity is the simple and straightforward fact that we cannot do anything to save ourselves.
If not by our works, what then?
The key here is to understand right from the beginning what v.5 says: it is God who saves us. We do not save ourselves. We cannot save ourselves. We cannot bring one thing to aid in our salvation. Again, then, we’re left with the question of how we are able to be saved by God. Our passage for this morning lists five ways in which God brings salvation to us.
Titus 3:5 tells us first that God saves us according to his own mercy.
Titus 3:5 [God] saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy…
We are saved by God because he is merciful. That is, while we are spiritually dead in our sin and zombie-rebelling against God, God sees his people through eyes of mercy. Rather than anger, he sees us with pity. Though we often don’t realize it, in our sin we are broken and pitiful. Ezekiel 16:4-6 always runs through my mind when I consider the saving mercy of God toward us as helpless sinners.
And as for your birth, on the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, nor rubbed with salt, nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. 5 No eye pitied you, to do any of these things to you out of compassion for you, but you were cast out on the open field, for you were abhorred, on the day that you were born. 6 “And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’
We are saved, not by our good works, but because God looks upon us with mercy.
By the washing of regeneration.
The second thing that Paul tells us concerning the way in which God saves us is that he does so by the washing of regeneration.
[God] saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration…
We cannot save ourselves—by our good works or by anything else—but God can save us. Looking on us with mercy as we wallow in the blood and death of our sin, he does not merely feel bad for us; he washes us and causes us to come alive. The washing of regeneration is an act of God wherein he gives us new spiritual life (he causes us to be born again) through the hearing of the gospel.
Having been made alive by the washing of regeneration we are given, for the first time, spiritual eyes to see and spiritual ears to hear.
I remember, as a young person, being altogether unimpressed with God. I remember being board when people talked about God. Beyond that, I remember being mainly indifferent to the things of God. But then, through a friend sharing God’s Word, the gospel, with me, God caused the washing of regeneration to come over me and it was like I had seen but never seen and heard but had never heard.
The holiness and glory of God became tremblingly clear to me for the first time. The grievousness of my sin became hauntingly plain to me for the first time. My need for God’s mercy and help became overwhelming to me for the first time. And the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus became life to me for the first time. This is the case for all who have been saved.
The great lies of the Evil One are that God is dull or fussy or restrictive or weak and that we are OK. But the great truths of God are that he is greater than we could ever imagine and that we are dead in our sins. Through God’s gospel, God’s washing of regeneration causes us to come alive and gives us eyes to see these things.
God saves us by his mercy and his washing of regeneration.
By the renewal of the Holy Spirit.
The third way in which God brings salvation to his people is through the renewal of the Holy Spirit.
[God] 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 6 whom he poured out on us richly…
Having been made alive by the washing of regeneration, we are given new life by the renewal of the Holy Spirit. Our old sinful desires are put to death. The effects of our sinful past are gradually healed. Our appetite for the things of God grows and is satisfied and grows and is satisfied and grows and is satisfied…Our selfishness is replaced with the desire to serve. Our individualism is transformed into love for the loving community of the saints. Our desire to hoard the things of this world for ourselves gives way to astonishing generosity for others. And our boredom with God melts into true and perfect satisfaction in God. We are not saved by our good works, but we are certainly saved to find great joy in glorifying God through good works.
In short, we are saved by God as he renews our souls by the Holy Spirit. What’s more, not only does God give us his Spirit to do a renewing work, God also richly pours the Spirit out and in us as his new creatures. That is, the Spirit no longer merely comes upon God’s people temporarily to empower for a particular work of God (which is all that happened before Jesus), but the Spirit now comes to live in all Christians. The Spirit never leaves us. The Spirit is always, constantly doing the work of God in us. It is God who does this for his people.
We are saved, not by our own good works, but by God’s mercy, God’s washing of regenerating, and by the renewal of God’s Holy Spirit.
The fourth way Paul speaks of God’s salvation coming to God’s people is through God’s grace.
Titus 3:7 So that being justified by his grace…
In one sense grace is a summary of all of this. We are saved by God’s grace alone in that our salvation is a gift from God that we could not earn and do not deserve. In another sense, though, grace here is a bit more specific. It refers to God’s willingness to apply the work of Jesus to you and me. God’s mercy looks on us with pity in our sin-produced helplessness and God’s grace looks upon us with forgiveness in our sin-induced guilt…which leads to the last point.
If you know anything of God’s nature and God’s promises, by this point you must have asked yourself, “How is God able to do all of this for us in light of our sin?”. God declared that the wages of sin is death. We’ve sinned. How can God keep his word and not give us what we deserve?
Many people think of God’s mercy and regeneration and renewal and grace coming to us because he simply chooses to overlook our sins. That’s what nice people do, right? When someone has wronged us and is truly sorry, but has no means of repaying us, we consider it virtuous to overlook their offense. Isn’t that what God is like? No, God is greater than that. Because God is perfectly just, when he says something, it always comes to pass. God never says anything wrong (or haphazard or in ignorance) and so God never goes back on his word and so God cannot merely forget about our sins. He cannot simply overlook our rebellion against him.
God’s character allows for him to grieve for us as we await the just punishment for our sins, but it does not allow him to dismiss our sins and just “get on with it”. How, then, does God’s regeneration and renewal and grace come to us and not contradict his justice? The answer is clear in this passage and even more clear in Romans 3.
Titus 3:3-6 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 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, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior…
And Romans 3:22-26 says,
Romans 3:22-26 …the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Do you see what Scripture says? God does not save us by sweeping our sins under the rug. The wages of our sin is death and death there was. God demanded a blood payment for our treacherous treason and blood he got. That’s why this season is so significant. It’s the season in which we remember the fact that Jesus died on the cross in our place, as a substitute for us; His death and blood instead of ours. He received from God what we deserve. In this God was able to justify us and remain just himself. Glory!
What’s more, the way in which we gain access to God’s saving work in Jesus is not (as we saw in the beginning) by doing enough good works to work our way into being worthy of being saved, but by believing that we can’t and placing our faith in the fact that Jesus could and did.
God’s mercy and regeneration and renewal and grace are upon us through faith in the perfect, saving, substitutionary work of Jesus.
What are we saved from? Our total depravity.
What kind of God would do this? The one true God who is good and loving and merciful and gracious and generous and Trinitarian.
What does it mean to be saved? It means that God elects, calls, regenerates, converts, justifies, adopts, sanctifies, perseveres, brings us into Christ’s presence, and glorifies.
And, finally, how does God apply all of this work to us? Not by our works, but by God’s mercy, by regeneration, by renewal—indeed, by grace through faith in Christ! Look to him, then. Look not to yourselves and your works, but to Jesus and his. Cry out to God for mercy and he will give it and he will wash you and renew you and save you, not because you deserve it or did anything to earn it, but because God loved you in such a way that he sent his only Son, Jesus to secure it for you.
What’s the significance of Easter?
I want to close by answering one more question. If God saves his people, not by works, but by mercy, by washing, by renewal—that is, by grace graciously applying the saving cross-work of Jesus to us through faith—then why do we get so excited about Easter? Good Friday is the day we remember Jesus’ sacrificial death. Why, then, do we usually treat Easter as an even bigger deal?
Simply, Easter (the resurrection of Jesus) is the great proof that all of this is true. If Jesus had done all that he’d done and taught all that he’d taught and even given his life to be a blessing to mankind, but remained dead, Jesus would be of no benefit to us. Jesus needed not only to die, but to conquer death. And Easter, the empty tomb, is the evidence that his works were of God, his words were true, and his death was accepted by the Father for the salvation of the children of God!
And so let this chant ring in your ears today: By mercy, by washing, by renewal, by grace, by Christ! By mercy, by washing, by renewal, by grace, by Christ! By mercy, by washing, by renewal, by grace, by Christ! Grace, if we have been saved, it is God who saved us and he did so by mercy, by washing by renewal, by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. What’s more, the reason for God’s saving work is made clear as well, “in order that we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (3:7). Salvation ultimately makes us children of God and heirs to all of the infinite blessings of God forever and ever and ever.
And the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, which we particularly remember and celebrate today, proves all of this and guarantees our inheritance and the rightness of our hope in eternal life.
Christ is risen, Grace Church. He is risen indeed!