One of the most overlooked passages pertaining to the means of salvation is Titus 3:4-7: “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.”
First, we see that our salvation arises out of the kindness and love of God. In the structure of the sentence, “he saved us” follows the word appeared. Thus, when God’s love appeared, (in the person and sacrifice of Jesus), He saved us.
Second, we see the means by which God saves us—”through the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit.” Commentators largely agree that “washing of regeneration” refers to water baptism, but those who oppose the Bible teaching on baptism are quick to say that this baptism is only a symbol of the salvation already received. There are a number of problems with this view.
First, the “washing of regeneration” is not described as a “sign” (Adam Clarke), “symbol” (A.T. Robertson) or dramatization (Stott) of salvation. These false ideas are refuted by scholars such as Lenski, Earle, and Spicq. More importantly, the apostle Paul explicitly says that the “washing of regeneration” is the very means by which God saves us. The word translated “by” is the Greek dia, meaning the means or mode by which a thing is done. Thus, according to inspiration, baptism is the means by which God saves us (cf 1 Peter 3:21; Mark 16:16).
Consider also the connection to this washing with the renewing of the Holy Spirit. This is similar to Peter’s statement in Acts 2:38, wherein Peter preached baptism to receive the remission of sins along with the reception of the Holy Spirit.
Contrast this with the Reformed/Calvinist doctrine which claims that regeneration precedes faith. Regeneration means “born again.” A man cannot be born again without faith. Moreover, Peter said that we are born again (regenerated) when we obey the truth, not before (1 Peter 1:22-23).
Finally, Paul concludes that this salvation is the means by which we are justified by God’s grace. Grace and the work of water baptism are not mutually exclusive.