The Work of the Holy Spirit

“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.”

- Titus 3:5

Paul’s exposition of the key elements of the gospel in Titus 3:3–8 is the theological foundation for why we should do good to all people, even those who are not particularly likeable (vv. 1–2). Just as our Creator manifested His grace in Christ while we were raising our fists in protest against His righteous rule (vv. 3–4), so too must we not wait for others to favor us before we serve them.

Even though the doing of good deeds is a non-negotiable for the believer, our good works are in no way the cause or basis of our salvation. Since this precious truth is an essential part of the gospel message, the apostle is careful to include it in his outline of the plan of salvation. In Titus 3:5, Paul makes it clear that our redemption is not due to anything done by us “in righteousness.” We can not be reminded too often of this fact (see Isa. 64:6). It is easy to compromise on this issue and believe that “good” Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and other non-Christians can be saved apart from Christ, but this denies the cardinal truth of Christianity that John Calvin highlights in today’s passage: “We bring nothing to God…he goes before us by his pure grace, without any regard to works.”

The ultimate cause of our salvation, Paul explains, is the mercy of God. There is nothing any person can do to make himself worthy of such mercy (Ex. 33:19), and our Father must take the initiative in salvation because His mercy is the last thing we would ever seek without His intervention. But God pours out His mercy on those whom He has chosen from the foundation of the world to be His friends, redeeming them through “the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). By His Spirit God removes our hearts of stone and replaces them with hearts of flesh enabled to trust in His Son and be justified through faith alone, setting us right in the eyes of our Creator (Gal. 2:15–16). But the Holy Spirit in bringing us to faith does not only effect a change in our status before God from that of a condemned sinner to that of a person clothed in Jesus’ righteousness, He also brings inward renewal, empowering us to do good in gratitude for the great salvation bestowed on us (Rom. 7:4–6; Heb. 12:28).

Coram Deo

Apart from the transforming power of the Holy Spirit we are enslaved to the primal human sin of refusing to give thanks to God (Rom. 1:21). But when the Spirit gives us a new heart and the gift of faith, we are empowered to offer our whole lives as an expression of thanksgiving for our redemption. As such, we should be looking for ways to thank the Lord in word and in deed. How are you going to make your life an expression of thanks to God this day?

Passages for Further Study

Psalm 50:14, 22–23
Ezekiel 39:25–29
Haggai 2:1–9
Mark 1:4–8

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.