Saturday, June 02, 2007

The Washing of Regeneration

The Apostle Paul wrote:

“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 and renewal of the Holy Spirit whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7).

What does “the washing of regeneration mean?” This question is significant because Paul says that God saved us “by the washing of regeneration.” That particular preposition translated as “by” can also be translated as “through.” Paul is saying that God saved us by means of the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. To determine what “the washing” means, we first must analyze how Paul uses this word in his letters. Considering this passage by itself, we do not know what kind of washing Paul is referring to. Is he referring to washing with water? Or is he referring to some sort of inner cleansing? The only other place this particular Greek noun appears is in Ephesians 5:26. How does Paul use the word there? Ephesians 5:25-27 says:

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”

Here, Paul says that Christ cleansed the church by washing with water. Therefore, when Paul uses the noun translated as “washing,” he has in mind washing with water. And there is no reason not to understand this passage as referring to literal water since their is nothing in the context of the letter or in the New Testament as a whole that would compel us do to do so. Christians are washed with water in the New Testament by means of water baptism (Rom. 6:3-4; 1 Cor. 6:11; Gal. 3:27; Col. 2:11-12).

In Acts 21:37-22:21, Paul gives a testimony to the people telling them how God worked in his life to bring him to Christ. He tells them that Ananias was sent to Him by God and said to him: “And now why do you delay? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16). Here, baptism is described as a washing away of sins. Many Christians come to the Scriptures with presuppositions that do not allow them to believe that God would actually wash away sins by means of water baptism. Water is just a physical object. However, the plain reading of this passage is that baptism washes away sins. There is no reason not to accept it the way it is written.

What about the Greek verb translated as “to baptize?” It has at least three different meanings in the New Testament. First, it is describing as a washing (Mark 7:4; Luke 11:38). In Mark 7:4 the word is used to describe the Pharisees ritual washings. The Pharisees washed, or baptized, cups, pots, copper vessels and dining couches. Luke 11:38 describes the washing or baptizing of hands. Second, the word is used to describe John the Baptist’s baptism, and Christian baptism that is administered during the church age. And finally, the word is even broad enough to include martyrdom as Jesus says to James and John: “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with" (Mark 10:38)? However, the most common meaning of the word “to baptize” means “to wash.”

In summary, the verb “to baptize” means “to wash.” Washing is used in association with water baptism by Paul. Baptism is referred to as a washing away of sins by Ananias. Therefore, it is right to interpret “The washing” in Titus 3:5 as referring to water baptism. The Apostle Paul and the New Testament give us no other option. But what about “regeneration?” How is regeneration associated with baptism?

The noun Paul uses in Titus 3:5 translated as “regeneration” is only used one other time in the New Testament in Matthew 19:28. In Matthew 19:28 Jesus says:

“Jesus said to them, "Truly, I say to you, in the new world (Greek noun: regeneration), when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

Therefore, the Greek noun can mean “renewal” or “regeneration.” The new world Jesus speaks about as renewed is the new heavens and new earth. When Jesus comes again, He will establish a new earth and there will be a renewal or regeneration of all things.

But how does this renewal or regeneration come about in the Christian life? The answer is that by repentance and faith worked by the operation of the Holy Spirit the Christian dies to his old self and is renewed by putting on Jesus Christ. The Christian’s old self is buried, and then raised up by Jesus Christ unto the newness of life.

Is this renewal or regeneration associated with baptism in the New Testament? The answer is yes. In Romans 6:3-4 Paul says:

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

Paul says that we were buried with Christ through baptism. That is, by means of baptism the Christian is put to death. The purpose of this putting to death was that just as Christ was raised from the dead we too might walk in the newness of life. Paul describes the Christian as one who has been buried and resurrected. Paul speaks this way in Colossians 2:11-12 where he says:

“In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.”

The circumcision made without men’s hands is baptism. Baptism is not simply administered by men but by Jesus Christ Himself. Through baptism Paul says that we were buried with Christ, and through the working of God, were raised with Christ. Therefore, baptism is death and resurrection. It is putting to death the old self and becoming renewed by Christ unto the newness of life.

Indeed, this renewal happened in the past when we were granted spiritual rebirth. But continual repentance and renewal occurs throughout the Christian life. Indeed, Paul uses baptism in Romans 6:3-4 and Col. 2:11-12 to exhort Christians to walk in the newness of life by the power of the Spirit. Therefore, baptism does not only have significance for the past. It also has significance for the present and future. At the renewal of all things (Matt. 19:28), our bodies will be completely renewed and sin will be completely done away with. Until then, Christians are continually putting to death their old selves and being renewed by the Spirit unto newness until the coming of Jesus Christ.

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