Remembering How He Saved You
Beginning at the beginning of chapter 3, Paul gives us instruction with regard to our interaction with society at large—we are to honor the authorities over us and show consideration and kindness to all people. Then, in verses 3-7, Paul tells us why we are to do this—because of the kindness and consideration God has shown us when we were still foolish and lost in sin. In light of the dark, seemingly hopeless reality of who we are in our sin (verse 3) the next few verses are all the more incredible. The gospel is about God intervening by saving us, when we didn’t even want His salvation.
I. Salvation is caused by God’s Kindness and Love (verse 4)
Why is it that God even planned salvation to begin with? He wasn’t lonely— as the Triune God, He has perfect fellowship among Himself. He needed us— God is entirely self-sufficient. He didn’t do it because of some outside pressure or obligation— God is not affected by anything outside of Himself. He didn’t save us because of some inherent worth in us— clearly verse 3 tells us that there was nothing lovely about us by nature. The motive for God saving us is something that came entirely from within Himself. He was moved to save us by the fact that He is, in His own nature, love. Though He would have a right to retain His anger forever, God instead delights in showing unchanging love (Micah 7:18). From beginning to end, our salvation is caused by God’s love for us.
II. Salvation is According to His Mercy (verse 5a)
God’s mercy stands in sharp contrast with a confidence in our own deeds. If we are putting confidence in our own deeds then we are saying we don’t need God’s mercy. But if we are trusting in God’s mercy, then we are saying we’ve abandoned all hope in our own deeds. Which means, the first step in being saved is realizing that you have no righteousness of your own. If you’re going to trust solely in the mercy of God, you have to see first your absolute need for His mercy, and your utter barrenness of any good deeds in God’s sight.
III. Salvation is Applied Through Regeneration (verses 5b)
Paul moves from telling us why God saved us to telling us how God saved us. God brings about our salvation “by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” When God saves us, He regenerates us, He makes us new. In Ezekiel, God’s act of regeneration is described as the giving a new heart. As Hoekema describes it, “The heart in Scripture stands for the inner core of the person, the center of all activities, the fountain out of which all the streams of mental and spiritual experiences flow: thinking, feeling, willing, believing, praying, praising, and so on. It is this fountain which is renewed in regeneration.” We need a new heart. We need the fountain of everything we do to be changed. And that is what it means to be washed in regeneration and renewed by the Holy Spirit. It means that God has placed an entirely new principle of life inside of you so that you now love Him and love to obey Him.
IV. Salvation is a work of all three Persons of the Trinity (verse 6)
Here is a clear reference to the distinct role that each Person of the Trinity fulfills in bringing us to salvation. The Father is here referenced as the One who pours out His Spirit on us. It is the Spirit that comes and performs the work of regeneration and renewal in us. And this work of regeneration is done through Jesus Christ our Savior, based on His atoning work and continued intercession. Our salvation would not be possible apart from the work of each Person of the Trinity. There could be nothing more secure than the trinitarian work of salvation accomplished in us.
V. Salvation Makes us Heirs (verse 7)
The doctrine of justification is important to keep alongside the doctrine of regeneration. Regeneration is the act of God making us new so that we now live a new kind of life, while justification reminds us that we are not saved because of that new kind of life. God now declares us righteous not because He makes us inherently righteous, but because Christ is righteous in our stead.
And when we are justified, Paul says, we are made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Christ is the true heir, to Whom the Father has given all things (Hebrews 1:2). But because we are united to the Son, He actually now delights to share that inheritance with us (Romans 8:16-17). We are heirs of all things together with Christ now, but the full possession of that inheritance is yet to be experienced in the life to come.
- Remember that Paul’s main instruction in this passage is with regard to how we live in the midst of an unbelieving society. How does this passage help us understand why we are to show kindness and consideration to all people? What motivation does it give us to love those around us, even though they malign or mistreat us?
- Has your life undergone the change described in this passage? Are you characterized primarily by the description in verse 3, or is there evidence that God has washed you through regeneration and made you new? If not, the throne of grace is available to you through Christ if you would turn from your sin and unbelief. God delights in unchanging love and He is a God of mercy. He commands all men everywhere to turn to Him to be saved, today!