Shelby G. Floyd
Is salvation from sin all God’s part? Do sinful people have a part in their salvation? Or is salvation from sin something that both God and sinful mankind have a part? Let us seek the biblical answer by searching the living oracles together.
SINFUL PEOPLE NEED SALVATION
First we notice why salvation is needed by humans. In verse three Paul describes the way people lived without God: “For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another” (Titus 3:3 NKJV). That is not a pretty picture and deep down most people would not like to live like that. Sin is universal, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Therefore, every person is accountable for their attitude and actions and need salvation from sin.
HOW GOD SAVES SINFUL PEOPLE
Near the close of Paul’s brief letter to the young preacher Titus, he penned these words:
4 But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, 5 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, 6 whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life (Titus 3: 4-7 NKJV).
Take note that we sinful people could not be saved without the love, kindness, mercy, and grace of God making it possible. “According to his mercy he saved us” (Titus 3:5). The big part of being saved is God’s part! Nevertheless, man has a part in his salvation from sin. The main words in our text is “He saved us.” (Titus 3:5). God does the saving, not us. But God saved us “through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.”
Most biblical scholars agree that “the washing of regeneration” and “renewing of the Holy Spirit” refers to water baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit. For instance, on Pentecost when Peter preaching the first recorded sermon, his audience asked what they should do to escape the consequences of their sins. The plain answer was: “Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
GOD’S LOVE IS THE BASIS OF SALVATION
Lost sinful man was without hope until the kindness, love, mercy, and grace of God appeared to man in the person of Jesus Christ. If man is to be saved or pardoned from his sins, God must save him. When the Christ was born it was stated that his name would be JESUS—Savior, “for he shall save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21). God’s part in the salvation of man is the large part: “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…” (Titus 3:4-5). While no work of man’s righteousness can be the basis of salvation, this does not mean that man has no part in his salvation.
Someone made the ridiculous statement that salvation is “by grace alone, by faith alone, to God alone be the glory!” If salvation is by any one of these alone, it excludes the others. Salvation “by faith alone,” as taught by the followers of John Calvin is “the doctrine of devils.” According to James the devils have “faith only” and are lost: “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?” (James 2:19-20). Furthermore, James teaches just the opposite of the “faith only” followers of Calvin. After illustrating that Abraham, the father of the faithful was justified by his works growing out of his faith when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar, he declared, “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.” (James 2:24). Salvation from sin is “not by faith only.” I prefer James over Calvin and demons!
THE WASHING OF REGENERATION
But our friends of the “faith only” persuasion see everything through the prism of Calvinism. Usually when they quote Titus they stop with the words “he saved us,” and then suppress the last part of the sentence: “…but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.”
Our discussion is not about whether God saves us—he clearly does. The question is how does God save us? What is the modus operandi—the mode of operation. Paul clearly states that “He (God our Savior) saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit. (Titus 3:5).
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Shelby G. Floyd Heartland Church of Christ 1693 West Main Street Greenwood, Indiana 46142