By Paul Smithson
Ever wish you could start all over? God through Christ has provided a means for us to have forgiveness and start all over with a clean slate. The ancient Greeks had a word that expressed the idea of starting over, “Palingenesia”– palin (again), genesis (beginning, birth), thus literally meaning, to begin again, or to be born again, restored, revived. The apostle Paul used this Greek term in Titus 3:5, which is translated in our Bibles as “regeneration” (NASB), “rebirth” (NIV) and spoke of our salvation coming though the “washing of regeneration.”
“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, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Tit. 3:4-7).
Paul here tells us the washing of regeneration enables us to be justified by God’s grace and to become “heirs according to the hope of eternal life”. To be justified is to be free of guilt. Through this regeneration our guilt, which once condemned us before God, is removed. Where there was fear, worry, and despair, now there is hope and contentment.
But what is involved in the washing of regeneration? Jesus once talked with a man by the name of Nicodemus, a Jewish ruler, and explained to him about the regeneration (re-birth) by which one enters the kingdom (Jn. 3:1-7). When Jesus started talking about being born again, Nicodemus, not understanding asked, “How can a man be born when he is old?” But Jesus explained that He was not speaking of a physical re-birth, but a spiritual re-birth by the water and the Spirit.
The idea of regeneration, or rebirth, is a familiar New Testament picture that describes the change an individual experiences when he becomes a citizen of God’s kingdom. Earlier in his gospel, John explained that children of God are “not born of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (Jn. 1:12-13). In other words, we are born again as God’s children by a spiritual re-birth.
This spiritual rebirth involves a washing with water. Jesus in His conversation with Nicodemus said to enter the kingdom of God one “must be born of water and the Spirit.” Paul speaks of this rebirth as the “washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” In fact, even the Hebrew writer declared, “Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Heb.10:22; also see Eph. 5:26) What is the connection between water and being born again?
Peter explains that this washing of regeneration involves baptism declaring,”…baptism now saves you–not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience–through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1Pet 3:21). Here is the obedience involved in this spiritual regeneration. It is a spiritual re-birth, through baptism. It is not a physical re-birth, nor a physical cleansing of the flesh, but it is a spiritual birth, a cleansing of the conscience. Baptism is not a work by which one earns salvation, but simply a condition that is to be met in obedience (Tit. 3:5). It is a means by which we rise to “walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). There is no power in the water, it is the Spirit who does the spiritual renewing of our souls as we comply with the direction of God to be immersed (cf. Acts 2:38,40-41; Mk. 16-15-16).
Certainly this is the gospel (good news), to be able to begin again! What a wonderful opportunity God has given us for starting anew with a clean conscience, free from sin and hope of heaven through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.