Washing of Regeneration
If a baptismal regenerationist can convince you from Acts 2:38 that salvation is not attainable unless baptism is administered, and that baptismal water and the Holy Spirit are interconnected, it would be easy then to think that Titus 3 would be teaching BR. Since we have already revealed how Acts 2:38 does not affirm their position, it shouldn’t be that hard to reveal how Titus 3 doesn’t affirm BR either. But, even if you were convinced that Acts 2:38 does in fact affirm BR, I can assure you that Titus 3:4-7 doesn’t.
Allow me to place my highlights from this chunk of Scripture:
“But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
Before I dive into this Scripture, I think it is important that I preface it with this personal declaration.
As I have already stated, I believe that baptism is important. Very important. I do not want to diminish baptism to such a degree that it does not matter, because it does. But I also do not want to swing the pendulum to the opposite end and make regeneration absolutely depended upon the waters of baptism. I personally believe that baptism unites us with the likeness of Christ’s death as the Scripture teaches, but I don’t think there is a definitive way to understand how that works. I do know, however, that God’s righteousness is imputed to us through faith (Romans 4:5-12; 23-25), and that transaction can only happen via the Holy Spirit by which our hearts our purified as Peter exposes in Acts 15. Furthermore, we are justified (declared legally righteous) before God on account of our faith (Romans 5:1), and receive the blessings of forgiveness of sins based off of the merit of Jesus’ atonement (Romans 3:24) and resurrection (Romans 4:25). Having said this, I cannot deny that there is some connection with baptism and our salvation (in a sanctification sense). Indeed everything we do as believers is in connection with our salvation/sanctification. What is disputed here is what level of connection does one wish to make regarding baptism’s role in our regeneration, as well what as the semantical conclusions that each one comes to when reading certain verses? I do not deny that baptism is a spiritual ordinance that we as believers must partake of, and do, no doubt, benefit from.
Just like the Lord’s Supper and other means of grace in which God has ordained to preserve His people, I have absolutely no conflict with anyone making baptism a sacred ordinance by which every true believer is to identify themselves with Christ. But to make baptism the means by which God brings about regeneration or conversion in the heart of a sinner is plainly not Scriptural. Do I believe that a person can be regenerated during baptism? Yes. Do I believe a person can receive the Holy Spirit prior to baptism? Yes. Do I believe that God can upon profession of one’s faith and reception of baptism save them some time afterward? Yes. The reason? Because God is sovereign in whom He saves in accordance with genuine faith. I cannot absolutely, without error, know who has genuine faith and who does not. Sometimes, there are certain people who come to the knowledge of truth after years of professing to be a believer, because the whole time they were a false convert. But if any person has genuine faith, I can confidently assert by the Scriptures that that person has Christ, despite baptism. That is why the Scriptures exhort us to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5), and to be warned that many will call Jesus “Lord” on the day of Judgment and He will look at them and say “Depart from me, I never knew you” (Matt. 7:23). It would be presumptuous on our part to flippantly think we can affirm our salvation based off a profession of faith and through baptism, without careful consideration of how easily self-deceived we can really be and without making our calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10). To me, this topic is more about how you can be assured whether or not you are saved. And if you are interpreting the Scriptures incorrectly, you can make a shipwreck of your salvation, and in the end, spend eternity in hell.
Going back to Titus 3, I would like to say that water and the Holy Spirit have always had a connection in Scripture. Yet, the connection has been from a non-material sense, not material. In other words, whenever there is mention of regeneration, spiritual rebirth, cleansing, washing, etc., the language, in most cases, is speaking about a spiritual, non-material application. Allow me to list the Scriptures that baptismal regenerationist use as examples to confirm that water and the Spirit are linked so that you can get a better understanding if the point I am trying to make:
John 3:5 “Jesus answered, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’”
Isaiah 44:3 “For I will pour water on him who is thirsty, And floods on the dry ground; I will pour My Spirit on your descendants, And My blessing on your offspring…”
Ezekiel 36:25-27 "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.”
John 7:38 "He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”
Genesis 1:2 “The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”
In all of these Scriptures, except one (Genesis 1:2), the Spirit was referenced in conjunction with water, but in spiritual sense. In other words, in every Scripture above, except for Genesis 1:2, the application of water being poured, sprinkled, or applied in any fashion was not the literal, material element that is tangible. It is a spiritual application which is in reference to language that portrays cleansing, but in spiritual form. The Spirit is indeed equated with water, but the water is used metonymously. That means that the water signifies the Holy Spirit’s operation, but the Spirit is not dependent upon literal water in order to operate.
Other than the Spirit, the Word of God is also in Scripture as a cleansing agent like water.
Ephesians 5:26 “…that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word…”
John 15:3 "You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.”
John 17:17 "Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth”
The Bible also reveals to us that it is by the Word that we are born again:
1 Peter 1:23 “…having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever…”
James 1:18 “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures…”
2 Timothy 3:15-17 “…and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
Since the Holy Spirit is the author of Scripture (2 Peter 1:21), and He uses His Word to bring conviction (2 Timothy 3:16; John 16:8), it only makes sense that water can be used metaphorically to speak about the Scriptures. This can be one of the reasons why Jesus would say in John 3:5 how one must be born of water and the Spirit. However, the alternate interpretation is that John 3:5 is epexegetical. What that means is that the Spirit expands the thought of being born of water, not giving two different means that is required to be born again. Nevertheless, the point is proven that water and the Holy Spirit tend to run side by side, but it is usually in a metonymous or metaphorical sense.
So why go through all that Scriptural aerobics just to deal with Titus 3? Because it is important to understand that when dealing with this passage, we are systematically considering how the Scripture uses the water in reference to the Spirit. When we look at Titus 3 now, we can not only agree that water and Spirit are unified conceptually in this text, but we can also disagree that the waters of baptism is what HAS to be referred to here. In other words, just because washing is used in conjunction with regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit, that does not automatically equate to that meaning that the waters of baptism is key to the Holy Spirit applying the work of regeneration and new birth in our heart.
Because the Greek word loutron (meaning bath, or cleansing through a bath), many think this is referencing the baptismal waters. But literal water doesn’t have to be referred to seeing that this word is also used in Ephesian 5:26 when it is talking about washing the Church by the water of the Word of God. The Word of God in and of itself is intangible. That is, non-material, spiritual, and supernatural. So when the term “washing of regeneration” is used, the washing is used to signify the cleansing work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration, making a natural illustration from a spiritual application. Many of the parables of Jesus follow this example, and much in Scripture to follows suit. Furthermore, we have to remember that the Bible teaches that that Jesus “washed us from our sins in His own blood” (Rev 1:5). But we know that we cannot physically take the blood of Christ and receive cleansing because the blood is used to signify the sacrifice and penalty paid on our behalf, and the loss of life that was a substitute for our sin. Water is not the only thing that is used in regards to our cleansing, therefore we should use much caution in Titus 3 in jumping to the conclusion that literal water is meant here for our regeneration.
Grammatical Construction of Titus 3
Even though water and the Spirit are indeed referenced together in this portion of Scripture, breaking down the grammatical construction will further help to solidify that Titus 3 is not speaking about baptism being essential to salvation. When looking at the Greek, first thing to consider is that the words, “washing of regeneration” and “renewing of the Holy Spirit” are in a genitive case. What a genitive case essentially means is that it can express possession, a measure, or origin of something. Case in point, when “of” used in our English translations, it is our understanding of the genitive case. However, not all genitive cases are created equal. The Holy Spirit is used here as being the subjective genitive, which is the opposite of objective genitive. That means that “washing of regeneration” and “renewal of the Holy Spirit” are things we can experience. With that said, there is also only one preposition, through (dia.), and one conjunction, and (kai.). What this basically means is that since there aren’t two prepositions, one before “kai” and one after, the two “separate” ideas are thought of as a unit. Here are some examples below of other Scriptures that replicate this:
Romans 16:18 “…and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple.”
2 Corinthians 10:1 “Now I, Paul, myself am pleading with you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ -- who in presence am lowly among you, but being absent am bold toward you.”
Ephesians 6:18 “…praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saint”
Looking at these examples, along with taking into account the Scriptures that mention water and the Spirit together, as well as how they are applied spiritually without reference to literal water, and then going back to Titus 3:5, it doesn’t take long before one recognizes that this portion of Scripture is dealing with washing, regeneration, and renewal all underneath the work of the Holy Spirit. And when you read the context of how it was “according to His mercy He saved us,” not the baptismal waters, and that the goal is that “having been justified by grace we should become heirs of eternal life,” it is easy to interpret that such a text is affirming the Holy Spirit being the primary, sovereign person/agent of our salvation, which we have already seen time and time again cannot happen apart from faith. And even though faith isn’t explicitly mentioned here, neither is baptism as being the means of one’s regeneration. But we know from other texts that the Holy Spirit doesn’t impart anything apart from faith.
Note: Whenever an advocate of BR points out Scriptures that speak of washing or cleansing, for some reason they assume that it is talking about water baptism. As we have already seen, not every reference to water has to be the ordinance of baptism. That is a presuppositional seed that has to planted in the mind prior to looking at all these texts that we have already seen. It is sort of circular in a sense. In essence, what I mean is, just because baptism seems to insinuate cleansing or washing, that doesn’t mean every reference of cleansing and washing refers to the ordinance of baptism. If we want to be true to the Scriptures, there is not one mention of baptism meaning to symbolize cleansing. It is a figure of suffering, death, judgment, and new life. Perhaps this will be clearer in the next point.
(Continue toPart 7 concerning Peter's mentioning of baptism now saving us)