Thursday, March 17, 2016

Good Theology – How We Are Saved – Titus 3:4-7



But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that being justified by His grace we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (NASB)

Good theology leads to good practice and without a good theology of our salvation, there is no telling what obtuse deviations will occur in our behavior. So Paul provides one of the clearest passages explaining how our salvation occurs. He shows that the Trinity is unified in saving us, each Person doing His own part in bringing us from what we were to what we are now in Jesus Christ.

The Father

While Paul does not identify God the Father in this passage, he did in Titus 1:4. When I see him referring to God our Savior, I see him pointing specifically to the Father since in the remaining verses of this passage Paul identifies both Jesus and the Holy Spirit and their work. We often use God and Father interchangeably in our prayers and when speaking about God. Technically, referring to God includes the full Trinity, so the Father is included in this verse.

Father’s Kindness

Or do you presume upon the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not know that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? (Rom 2:4 RSV)

Paul first introduces us to the kindness of God the Father (Titus 3:54). It reminds me that God’s kindness is there to lead us to repentance. Some only view the Father as a mean old man who is ready to thump us whenever we do something wrong. But considering the world that He has made and the fact that He shines the sun and sends rain on the just and the unjust alike (Matt 5:45), it is evident that these manifestations of His general grace are a result of His kindness. If He were the mean old man just waiting for us to screw up, He would not have to wait long. If He treated us as our sins deserve, none of us would make it to adult hood. 

Father’s Love

I just looked up Titus 3:4 in several different translations. They seem to be evenly divided in the way they translate filanthroopia. According to Thayer, it means, “love of mankind, benevolence.”[1] The NASB says, “His love for mankind,” while the NIV translates it as “love of God.”[2] Filanthroopia comes from the word filanthroopoos, which means humanely. It is a compound of philo and antropos, meaning fondness to man.[3]  Filanthroopia is only used in Acts 27:3 where Paul’s captor, Julius, kindly allows him leave the ship to meet with friends.

I’m afraid this is going to take on a bit of a rabbit trail as I try to understand this. The word is only used in one other place in the Bible; “The native people showed us unusual kindness” (Acts 28:2 ESV). All of the translations that I read used kindness in this verse. 

So why did some translators go one way and other go the other way in Titus 3:4? Does it make a difference? The more literal translation would be God’s love for mankind. But the use of filanthroopia and filanthroopoos in other verses would lean toward using it in the same way, as simply God’s love. This is where I think even committees of translators are affected by their predisposition to a certain theology when they depart from a more literal translation. They want to get the concept of the verse correct but in doing so, they may side toward their own theological bent. Perhaps, they are afraid to say “God’s love of mankind” because it might sound like universal salvation. They may fear that some may use this verse in conjunction with John 3:16 to encourage something that is clearly not supported elsewhere. 

Father’s Mercy, Not Our Efforts

It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy. (Rom 9:16 NIV)

The problem is that both are true. God does love mankind and He does love us as individuals. Since Titus 3:4-7 is dealing with salvation, does saying that His love for mankind mean that everyone will be saved? Not at all. In Romans 9:1-10:4, Paul presents a lengthy argument against universal salvation. He clearly indicates that many Jews, his fellow countrymen, are not saved and will not be saved. The reason is that God chooses some for salvation and not others. His basis is His mercy and not the efforts of people who try to approach and win God’s favor by their own deeds of righteousness. His fellow Israelites were attempting to earn their salvation based on their zeal and not on knowing the way to salvation through Jesus. 

Father’s Decision

He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will. (Eph 1:5 NASB)

God the Father saves us by His decision. He is the one who ordains who will be saved and who will not. This is the Calvinistic bent, but it is the best explanation for Romans 9 as well as many other passages. Romans 9 makes it abundantly clear, as does Titus 3:5. In Titus, there is only a glimpse of this but it is clearly spelled out in Ephesians 1:5. God the Father is identified in Titus 3:4 so the “He” in verse 5 is the Father. He made the choice (predestined), it was His intention, and His will. There can be no doubt that our salvation is totally in the Father’s hands. What the Father wills comes to pass. John 1:13 affirms our spiritual birth is by the will of the Father. Jesus affirms that those who come to Him are the ones that the Father gives (John 6:37). 

The Holy Spirit’s Work

Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5 ESV)

Which is a more accurate description of the Holy Spirit’s work in salvation? Does the Holy Spirit enlighten a person so that he can see the error of his ways, repent, and then become a new person or does the Holy Spirit regenerate a person making him a new creation and because he is a new creation, he repents? At first, they seem to be the same and only use different words. The difference between enlightened and regenerated is important. 

If a person is enlightened, he is still not saved. It is then up to him to be a cooperative agent with God in order to be saved. Salvation is a partnership because the person can still refuse to repent even though enlightened or worse, renege on his decision (Heb 6:4-5). Enlightenment or tasting of the Holy Spirit does not imply that a person is saved. 

If a person is regenerated, he is saved at that point. He repents in obedience to God, which he will do only because he has a new nature. The person is saved totally by the will of God and the response is natural obedience of this new creation (2 Cor 5:17). His salvation is secure because Jesus said so (John 10:27-30).  
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. (Ezek 36:26-27 NIV).

I will again take up the Calvinistic bent regarding the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit for salvation. Regeneration is only used in Titus 3:5 and Matthew 19:28. Matthew uses it concerning the resurrection. So what leads to the Calvinistic bent? The emphasis is on the many other verses in the Bible that refer to a new birth or a new heart. God made a promise in Ezekiel 36:26-27 that completely explains how this works. The cause is God. Notice that following the implantation of His Spirit and a new heart, God tells us He will move us to be obedient. J. I. Packer explains that in the New Testament, regeneration is individualized according to John 3:3, 7 and John’s nine uses in his first epistle of the terminology of being born of God.[4] My conclusion is that regeneration is a sovereign act of God, accomplished by the Holy Spirit, that brings salvation. Man does not work with God in this process.

Through Jesus Christ

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. (1 Cor 15:3 NASU)

Where do I start in describing what Jesus has done in our salvation? I could start in Genesis 3:15 predicting His ultimate victory over Satan. I could include Isaiah 53:5-6 describing hundreds of years before His sacrifice for our sins how He would take our sins. The Gospels vividly tell of His crucifixion and that He had to be “lifted up” so that we can believe in Him and be saved (John 3:14-16). The book of Romans, especially chapters five and six, explain the theology of Christ’s substitutionary death for our sins. John says, “And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2:2 NKJV). Perhaps a better question would be where do I stop? Some have written volumes about Jesus’ part in our salvation. Two things are for sure, if Jesus had not died, we would all be in our sins; if there had been another way for us to become righteous, then there would not have been a need for Jesus to die (Gal 2:21).

Hope of Eternal Life

It should be clear that all three persons of the Trinity are vitally involved in our salvation. It isn’t anything that we have done or even a decision of our own that guarantees us eternal life. It is completely dependent on God and His work. The Father choose us before the earth even existed (Eph 1:4) and gave us to Jesus (John 6:37). Jesus paid the price for our sins to rescue us by His blood from the wrath of God (Rom 5:9). The Holy Spirit is the one who convicts (John 16:8) and regenerates (Titus 3:5) us so that we are new creatures (2 Cor 5:17) who willingly obey not because we choose but because His Spirit causes us to walk in His ways (Eze 36:26-37). Because it is His work, we have this guarantee of eternal life whereby no one can separate us from His love (Rom 8:38-39) or remove us from His care (John 10:27-30).

And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God. (1 John 5:11-13 NKJV)

I don’t know when the Holy Spirit regenerates a person (John 3:8). If you have not turned to Jesus for your salvation before and God uses this to draw you to Jesus, then this is the time. Confess your sins, ask for forgiveness, repent, and you will be saved, not because of anything you have done but because He is calling and renewing you. I am called to extend the invitation as Hebrews 3:7 says, “Today when you hear his voice, don't harden your hearts” (NLT). Jesus is calling, “If any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev 3:20 RSV).


[1] S. Grimm and S. Wilke, New Testament Lexicon, Joseph Henry Thayer, ed., (Seattle: Biblesoft 2006), s.v. “NT: 5363.”
[2] Generalizing, NASB, NKJV, KJV, ASV translate it as love toward man; ESV, NIV, NLT, RSV  translate it as God’s love.
[3] Strong’s, s.v. “NT:5364.”
[4] J. I. Packer, “Regeneration,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 1000.

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