Clean and New

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Titus 3:4-6

He saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.

Titus 3:5,6 rsv

We’ve been celebrating lately how God saves people, how He rescues and restores them, making them right with Him again. Last week we saw how this comes about through His amazing love. Think of it – we are rebellious and disobedient but He shows us marvelous kindness! We do nothing to deserve His favor but He gives Christ for us out of sheer mercy! Listen again as Paul rejoices about that in his letter to Titus, chapter 3, at verse 3: “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by men and hating one another; but when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy.”

Now he goes on to describe how that saving love becomes real in our experience. God saved us, Paul continues, “by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.” As I’ve been pondering that language for the last few days, it strikes me that the apostle Paul is describing here the inner meaning of Pentecost.

Christians, you know, celebrate Good Friday as the day of Christ’s crucifixion, when He bore our sins and sorrows, when in marvelous love He died for us. We celebrate Easter as the day when He rose again from the dead. In that mighty miracle, God confirmed all of Jesus’ claims, showed that His sacrifice had been accepted and that we could know through Him the hope of eternal life. Then on Pentecost, seven weeks after Easter, believers celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

What do you think of when you hear that word Pentecost? Maybe you remember hearing about the “sound of a rushing mighty wind” and the “tongues of fire” that appeared over the heads of the gathered disciples in that upper room. Maybe you recall how those first believers, filled with the Holy Spirit, were so enthusiastic and enraptured that people thought they were drunk. Maybe you think of how they told of God’s mighty works in various languages, so that all the gathered people at the festival could understand. Or perhaps you envision how a great number of people on that day repented of their sins, believed in Jesus, and were baptized.

Now all of those things were vitally involved in the first Pentecost. And all were freighted with rich significance. But it’s possible to know about all of them and still not grasp the central message of Pentecost and the meaning it continues to have for us today. That’s what the apostle Paul is writing about – and what I want to think about with you today. For Paul, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit involves a washing, a new birth, and a renewing process. And it all comes about, he writes, through Jesus Christ.

WASHING

First the washing. The Holy Spirit brings a great cleansing to God’s people. A classmate in my dormitory at college was accustomed to taking showers several times a day. It seemed that almost any time of day or night when we went into the common bathroom on our floor, we might see our friend Dan showering. It was always an elaborate operation for him. He lathered himself with soap from head to toe, rubbed, scrubbed at some length, and then rinsed it all away. I often wondered why he did that so often.

That kind of behavior may be caused, we’re told, by compulsive guilt feelings. Remember Lady Macbeth? She had been involved in the treacherous murder of her husband. She imagined later that her hands were still stained with blood. She kept washing them, saying in desperation, “Out, out damned spot!” Again, “All the perfumes of Arabia cannot sweeten this little hand.” She knew she needed cleansing, and yet it seemed to her a thing humanly impossible. Nothing could remove the stains of guilt. Nothing could purge the defilement she felt.

But the Holy Spirit, when He enters into our lives, brings cleansing, washing. It’s based on the death of Jesus Christ for us. It is symbolized and sealed for us in water baptism. But the inner cleansing that actually purifies our hearts is the blessed ministry of the Holy Spirit.

REBIRTH

And this, says Paul, is a “washing of regeneration,” of rebirth. Jesus had told Nicodemus, you remember, that he, along with everyone else, needed to be born again. “Unless a man is born again, born of water and the Spirit,” said Jesus, “he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:3,5). The Holy Spirit, as He comes at Pentecost to dwell in the hearts and lives of God’s people, imparts to them new life. They are born anew, born from above by His almighty, quickening power. Paul describes it like this in his second letter to the Corinthians: “If any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things are passed away, behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). Again, Peter says we are “born again, not of corruptible seed but of incorruptible, by the Word of God which lives and abides forever” (1 Peter 1:23). In other words, when people hear the word of the gospel and believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, they receive life, what the Bible calls “the life that is life indeed.” That’s the miracle of Pentecost, friends. The Holy Spirit comes to dwell within the bodies of believers in Christ, bringing the Lord’s own life to them.

Aren’t you glad that the gospel includes that? It’s a wonderful thing that through Christ we can be forgiven all our past sins. But if that were the end of it, we would have only half a gospel. If we stayed the same on the inside, we might simply go back again to our former wallowing in the mire. But, thank God, along with forgiveness comes a new birth, a new beginning. We can be changed on the inside. That’s good news.

CONTINUAL RENEWING

The new birth, of course, is only a start. Any human life, quickened in a mother’s womb, has a lot of growing to do before it becomes a mature human being. Those who are born again through Jesus Christ also begin their new life in a state of infancy. They need to grow, develop, mature. They need to feed on the Word of God for their nourishment, draw strength from the Lord through communion with Him in prayer, be built up in the fellowship of believers, be strengthened through ministry and witness. All along, they need the renewing work of the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit who quickens the new life within us at the start must sustain and revive it throughout our Christian pilgrimage.

This is what began at Pentecost, what begins for us personally when we trust Christ as Savior, and then continues throughout our lives. We learn to walk in the Spirit, to be more and more transformed, made over gradually into the image of Jesus Christ. That’s what the Holy Spirit keeps on doing. He doesn’t come only to quicken a new life in us and then leave. He comes to dwell, to abide, within us, to make our bodies the temples of the living God, and from within to keep on making all things new.

How can you tell if the Holy Spirit is carrying on that renewing work in your life? Well, here are some of the fruits of His presence in our experience: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, meekness, faithfulness, self-control. Those graces are produced within us – they grow like fruit – as the Holy Spirit goes on renewing our lives. Also the assurance we feel that God is our gracious Father and that Jesus is our faithful Savior, this the Holy Spirit keeps on breathing into our hearts and lives. “God saves us,” the apostle says, “by the renewing of the Holy Spirit.”

ALL THROUGH CHRIST

But Paul can’t talk about this ministry of the Holy Spirit without reminding us that it flows from the risen Christ Himself. Did you notice how the biblical teaching of the triune God comes out in this passage? It’s God the Father who saves us, we read. He does it by the renewing work of the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit is poured out upon us richly, says Paul, through Jesus Christ our Savior.

That’s what Peter had pointed out to the astonished crowd on that first Pentecost. They had heard his preaching and that of the other apostles. Each had understood in his own native tongue the message of God’s mighty works. It was evident that the lives of these believers had somehow been wonderfully transformed. Peter accounts for it all like this: “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he [that is, Jesus] has poured out this which you see and hear” (Acts 2:32-33).

Did you notice that? The same Jesus who had been crucified is now risen from the dead, exalted to the Father’s right hand. And He, Jesus, had poured out His Spirit. It was the promise of the Father, but it came to the disciples through the risen Jesus.

Sometimes I like to think of it this way: Jesus, the risen Lord, is like a dynamo of electric power. It’s the Holy Spirit who makes the connection between this mighty One and our otherwise powerless lives. Or again, Jesus is the reservoir of living water, and the Holy Spirit is the aqueduct through whom that vital refreshment flows into our parched and thirsty lives. The life, the power, the renewing of the Holy Spirit, all come to us from this risen Lord, Jesus. The ministry of the Holy Spirit is the sign that He is alive, that Jesus is the Savior and that all who believe are in vital union with Him.

Paul says that all this has been poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ. The Lord isn’t stingy or sparing in the bestowal of His gifts. He wants us to know His fullness. He fills us to overflowing with His Spirit. Those who believe in Him, Jesus said, from their inmost being shall flow “rivers of living water” (John 7:38). They become channels, as it were, of God’s refreshment all over a weary, barren world.

Now the apostle doesn’t develop this here, but the gracious ministry of the Holy Spirit always calls forth response on our part. It’s as we believe in Christ and obey the gospel that we experience His quickening work. And it’s as we go on believing and obeying that His renewing work continues. The disciples pray before that first Pentecost and on the great day they are filled with the Holy Spirit. But later on in their experience, when persecution begins to afflict them, they gather again to pray, and once again are “filled with the Holy Spirit.”

In other words, the Holy Spirit doesn’t fill us in the way that we fill a basket with stones or a bucket with water. His ministry is dynamic and personal. We don’t get “more of the Spirit,” as though He were a fluid or a force. No, He gets more of us as we trust and obey, as we watch and pray, as we yield up all of life to His direction and control. He fills us again and again.

The Holy Spirit brings the life of Christ to you in the new birth. That’s a divine miracle. You cannot bring it about yourself. But once He comes to dwell within you and me, it’s our part to cooperate with His renewing, transforming work. Remember what Paul said in the letter to the Romans? “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship, [that’s commitment] and don’t be conformed,” he goes on, “to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:1-2). There it is, you live by the Spirit, so walk by the Spirit. The Spirit is there to make you over into the image of Christ, so be transformed by His power. And so it goes until at the day of His appearing we shall be fully like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.

The Psalmist long ago prayed this prayer: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew in me a right spirit” (Ps. 51:10). What a great request for all of us, and God has provided an answer to it that never fails. He makes us clean and new through the death and rising of Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit. Has He done that – is He doing that – for you?