One of the hymns that has been a personal favorite of mine, since the Lord saved me in the early part of 1984, is And Can It Be? One reason why so many believers love this Charles Wesley song is because it preserves the wonder—the wonder that God could love sinners like us so much that He would save us. Each verse of the hymn expresses wonder over a particular element of our salvation and builds to the crescendo of Amazing love! How can it be that Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Verse 1 asks how it is possible that Jesus would give His own blood to save the very ones who caused His pain. Verse 2 ponders the self-humiliation of Jesus, whose immense and free mercy led Him to bleed for Adam’s race. Verse 3exalts the power of the gospel to set us free from our imprisonment to sin. And Verse 4 is a shout of triumph: There is now no condemnation for those who are alive in Christ. Truly, God’s love for us is amazing. How can it be that God, my God, would die for me?
It is this kind of wonder that fills the apostle’s heart in Titus 3:4-7. Here we see three elements of God’s incredible rescue of sinners, how he saves us from the penalty of our sin, which we commonly refer to as “our salvation.”
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, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
THE REASON FOR OUR SALVATION (v. 4)
What was the motivation behind our salvation? What was its cause? God was the cause. Specifically, Paul mentions two attributes of God.
- The Kindness of God: The kindness (goodness and excellence) of God motivated Him to save sinners. In Romans 2:4, the apostle asks the moral and religious person who may think himself above the pagans mentioned in chapter one, “do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” It is the kindness of God that has led any of us to faith in Christ.
- The Love of God: His love for mankind “appeared” (refers back to 2:11), which refers to the first coming of Christ. The love of God “appeared” when Christ came into the world (John 3:16-17). The love of God “appeared” when Christ willingly endured the penalty of our sin (Romans 5:8).
THE ROOT OF OUR SALVATION (vv. 5-6)
“He saved us,” that is, God rescued us from the penalty and power of sin. But how? Paul describes the 3-pronged root of our salvation
- Not works of righteousness: This truth is made abundantly clear in other texts, such as Ephesians 2:8-10. This important text keeps good works in their proper place, as the result of salvation rather than its root. Romans 4:1-5 must also be ranked among the most important passages affirming that faith alone is the basis of being justified as righteous before God.
- God’s mercy: “Mercy” is pity and compassion. The only reason any of us reading this blog post has been saved from the eternal punishment of our sins is because God, in His abundant grace, has had pity upon us. This immediately brings to mind Psalm 103:12-13, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.” When I think of my own salvation, I cannot help but think of God’s mercy. When I think of how God broke into my selfish, sinful world when I was a 19-year old college student deeply convicted over my sin, I cannot help but think of God’s mercy.
- The Holy Spirit: What is the Holy Spirit’s role in our salvation? He has many roles, but Paul just mentions two here. Regeneration is the giving of new spiritual life where there is none (as described by Jesus in John 3). It is described here as “washing,” just as it is in 1 Corinthians 6:11, “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” The Apostle John refers to Christ as the One who loves us and “released us from our sins by His blood” (Rev. 1:5). We must never disconnect forgiveness from the atoning work of Jesus or we lose the only biblical ground of grace. D. A. Carson reminds us that “forgiveness is never detached from the cross. In other words, forgiveness is never the product of love alone, still less of mawkish sentimentality. Forgiveness is possible only because there has been a real offense, and a real sacrifice to offset that offense.” Forgiveness is free to us, but it was not free for God. It cost the life of His only Son: “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). Renewal. The word translated “renewing” means to cause something “to be new and better.” It is the Holy Spirit who has made us new creatures in Christ, “the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” The Holy Spirit is the one whom God “poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.” Jesus had promised to send His Spirit. He said He would teach us and lead us into truth. He said He will be in you, not merely with you (Jn 14:16). God has not been stingy with us. He has poured out His Spirit abundantly. Truly, we lack nothing for our spiritual lives.
THE RESULT OF OUR SALVATION (v. 7). As a result of God’s gracioius salvation, believers in Christ have been “justified,” declared righteous by God based upon the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ. Additionally, we have been “made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Heirs of what? Heirs of whom? This is speaking of our adoption. In Christ, we have been made of true sonship, heirs of God, and co-heirs of Christ. Paul expounds on the glory of our spiritual adoption in Romans 8:15-17. It also means we are heirs of the promises of God (Galatians 3:29) and heirs of the kingdom of God (James 2:5).
Why is all of this true? Because of three words: He…saved…us.
- He – God
- Saved – rescued
- Us – sinners who now make up the family of God, His adopted children
Why? Because of His grace, mercy, and His great love for sinners. All glory and praise to Him!