“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;” (Titus 3:5)
One of the most blessed scriptures written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit were these words written to Titus by the apostle Paul. This statement follows Paul’s instructions about how we should treat our fellow man. We are to be gentle and meek towards them (3:2) because this is how God acted towards us in Christ. Paul reminds Titus that God showed us mercy when we were in a deplorable state, estranged from God and living in the pleasures of the flesh (3:3). In this cursed condition, God sent Christ to die for us. He was not drawn to us for any goodness that He saw in us. He did not choose us because we were diligent towards Him or our fellows.
In this unhappy state, God could have given us justice. He could have left us to suffer the consequences of our crimes and He would have been just in doing so. Instead, God gave us mercy. God showed kindness and love (3:4) and graciously regenerated our hearts in order that we might repent of our sins and place our faith in Him. This has always been God’s way of working with condemned sinners, and yet most are convinced that favor with God is obtained by doing good works that will somehow satisfy God for the sins we have committed.
There are many Bible passages that refute the idea that we are able to perform any type of work that meets the standard God requires. God has only one standard—absolute perfection. He requires us to be sinless not only in the deed but also in the motive for the deed. Every thought and every action must be in perfect harmony with the divine mind. There is neither time nor space to prove the inability of any person to meet this standard, but neither is it required. Our own experience is all the proof we need. If God wants perfection, then God will not get what He wants—at least not from us. However, the impossibility of our perfection does not change the fact that God has the right to demand it. Even though God is merciful as this passage states, there is no obligation upon God to give mercy, and much less to give it at the expense of His justice.
Titus 3:5 contains a key word in scripture. “Righteous” or “righteousness” appears hundreds of times in the Bible. It is a forensic word, which means it relates to the court of law. Man’s covenant relationship with God is maintained on the basis of His law. Since we are incapable of keeping God’s law perfectly, God satisfies the requirement Himself. He gets what He wants, perfect obedience, but not from us. The perfect obedience is Christ’s, and in grace God justifies us from our sins based on the merits of Christ’s perfect obedience (3:6-7).
The next time you read Titus 3:5, thank God from the depths of your heart that ”not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us.” If not for this, our salvation is impossible!
Pastor V. Mark Smith