“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, NASB).


1) The “Washing of Regeneration” (Tom Edwards)



The “Washing of Regeneration”

Tom Edwards

Though there are certain conditions that one must meet in order to be saved, which we might refer to as the steps that lead to salvation, yet Paul pointed out to Titus that even after meeting those requirements, our redemption has not been earned, deserved, or merited.  For “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” (Titus 3:5).

So one should not wrongfully think of this passage to mean that there are no deeds one must do to be forgiven and become a Christian — such as the need to hear God’s word whereby faith comes (Rom. 10:17),  to repent of sins (Luke 13:5), to acknowledge faith in Christ (Rom. 10:9-10; Acts 8:36-38), and to be baptized in water for sins to be forgiven (Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:3,4; 1 Pet. 3:21); but, rather, that it means that even after carrying out these demands, salvation is still not earned.  And how could one actually think otherwise!  We are talking about the forgiveness that leads to eternal life in heaven’s endless glory and bliss.  How could we ever imagine doing anything to deserve that — and even if we had a million years to strive each day to serve the Lord faithfully!  How much we each need God’s mercy, His grace, and His forgiveness in our lives!  For without that, who can be saved?

In this passage, we also see that salvation is obtained “by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.”  What element comes to mind when we think of “washing”?  Is it not water?   So here we see water in connection with “regeneration.”  But what does  “regeneration” mean?  According to the Random House Webster’s College Dictionary, one of its definitions is a “spiritual rebirth.”  So in the very phrase “washing of regeneration,” we are made to think of being born again and having that spiritual rebirth through water.  And this actually parallels with what Jesus taught Nicodemus concerning the need to be “born again” (John 3:3) — to be “born of water and the Spirit” in order to enter the kingdom of God (v. 5).

The Spirit’s involvement, therefore, is also another parallel in John 3:5 and Titus 3:5.  For while Jesus speaks of the need to be “born of water and the Spirit,” Paul refers to “the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.”  The Holy Spirit has revealed the need to be baptized and of the other requirements toward becoming a Christian and living as one; and when an alien sinner submits to the Spirit’s instructions, he or she will then become a Christian, “a new creature” in Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 5:17) — one who is born again.

So to be “born again” is to be “regenerated,” to have that “spiritual rebirth.”  And Jesus and Paul both show the need for water and the Spirit for that to occur.

Some might not realize, that in the meaning of the Greek word for “baptize” (baptizo) there is no indication of even one drop of water!  For the Greek word simply means to “immerse” or “submerge,” as Thayer defines it. And one could be immersed in various things.  How about a big tub of olive oil, a wooden vat of grape juice, or a large oak cask of maple syrup?  Immersion would be possible in any of these.

But when we look to the Scriptures we see what element was used to do the immersing — and it was always water.  This can be seen in the reason John the Baptist baptized in Aenon near Salem – “because there was much water there” (Jn. 3: 23). And what did the Ethiopian eunuch say after having heard Philip preach about Jesus? “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:36). Also, Peter said concerning those Gentiles at Cornelius’ house, “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized…” (Acts 10:47).  In 1 Peter 3:21, Peter also shows that it was real “water” that was to be used in baptism; and this was the element that the penitent believer was to be “buried” in, after confessing faith in Christ (Acts 8:36-38), so that he could then be raised up to “walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3-4).

So the way the Bible shows the water in connection with salvation (in “being born of water and the Spirit”) is in baptism — and not just by drinking a glass of water or pouring it on someone’s head.  For as we just noted, one is to be “immersed” or “submerged” in it.

If the Greek word “baptizo” had been translated — instead of transliterated (in which the Greek letters are converted to their English equivalents and the word is Anglicized) — everyone would clearly see that it does not mean to pour or to sprinkle (as some administer it today); but, instead, it means to immerse.  For in a translation, the meaning of the word is given.  Of course, even if one did not know the meaning of the word “baptism,” the passages that liken it to a burial indicate immersion (cf. Rom. 6:3,4; Col. 2:12).  For to be buried is to be completely covered.

We mention this element for baptism being water because some people might be of the mistaken opinion that baptism is just a spiritual thing — apart from any water.

There are also those today who wrongly assume that folks are to receive the same baptism of the Holy Spirit that the apostles had.  So they might believe in a plurality of baptisms for our time.

But notice what Paul states in Ephesians 4:5.  Here, among various things that there is just one of — such as one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one God and Father — Paul also includes “one baptism.”

So which one is it?  What is the one baptism that is to continue on?  Is it Holy Spirit baptism?  Is it water baptism?

The Ephesian letter was written about A.D. 60 to 62.  But Peter’s first epistle was written about A.D. 64 to 65.  And notice what he declares in 1 Peter 3:21: “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (ESV).

Peter shows that it is not by merely getting clean in the water that one is saved, but through baptism one is making his appeal to God for that good conscience.  And we, therefore, also see in this that the one baptism that is to continue on is the water baptism that saves!

The Holy Spirit baptism was a promise to the apostles.  They had a special measure of it.  We don’t find in the Scriptures of penitent believers being commanded to be baptized in the Holy Spirit, but we do see that they were commanded to be baptized in water.

It is true that Christians are commanded to be “filled with the Spirit,” but that is not the same as receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit. For notice in Ephesians 5:18-19, pertaining to the instruction of spiritual songs that Christians are to participate in, Paul begins that by exhorting them to “be filled with the Spirit” (v. 18).  But then in the parallel of Colossians 3:16, which also speaks of the spiritual songs the saints are to engage in, Paul begins that section by saying, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you…”  It is, therefore, through that means (of having God’s word in our hearts) that we are filled with God’s Spirit today and will develop the fruit of that Spirit.

In view of these scriptures, the Bible does refer to a literal water that is to be used in baptism, just as it is a literal fruit of the vine and a literal unleavened bread that make up the two elements used in the Lord’s Supper.  Though the bread and grape juice are not the real body and blood of the Lord, respectively – nor do they become that through  “transubstantiation,” as Catholicism teaches – yet that in no way minimizes the importance of the observance, in which one could actually “eat and drink damnation unto himself” if he makes a common meal out of it (1 Cor. 11:23-30, 34).

The water of baptism does not literally wash away sins as in a likened manner to dirt being scrubbed off by a good washing; but by so submitting to baptism — along with believing in Christ, repenting of sin, and acknowledging one’s faith in Christ – one is responding to God’s plan of salvation; and by meeting those conditions, the Lord’s atonement will then be applied to that individual.

This has been likened to the healing of Naaman the leper who was instructed to dip himself seven times into the Jordan River in order to be healed of his leprosy (2 Kings 5:1-14).  It was not the water itself that brought the cure.  Rather, it was God who did so when Naaman met the conditions which the Lord had commanded.

The same is also so with the water of baptism and being forgiven of sin.  For it is part of what God has commanded in His plan of salvation; and when we submit to those things for the washing of regeneration, our forgiveness then takes place in the mind of God; we become His children — and He chooses to remember those sins no more (Heb. 8:12; Heb. 10: 17).

(All Scripture from the NASB, unless otherwise indicated.)

The Steps That Lead to Eternal Salvation

1) Hear the gospel, for that is how faith comes (Rom. 10:17; John 20:30,31).
2) Believe in the deity of Christ (John 8:24; John 3:18).
3) Repent of sins (Luke 13:5; Acts 17:30).
4) Confess faith in Christ (Rom. 10:9,10; Acts 8:36-38).
5) Be baptized in water for the remission of sins (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:3,4; Gal. 3:26,27; 1 Pet. 3:21).
6) Continue in the faith, living for the Lord; for, if not, salvation can be lost (Heb. 10:36-39; Rev. 2:10; 2 Pet. 2:20-22).

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