The Washing and Regeneration of the Holy Spirit is Not Baptism (Norm Fields)

Ritual, Washing Of The Feet, Foot, Water

Introduction

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, (Titus 3: 4 – 5, ESV).

One of my favorite Christian hymns is “Are you Washed in the Blood?” by E. A. Hoffman in 1878. The song goes:

Have you been to Jesus for the cleansing power? Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb? Are you fully trusting in His grace this hour? Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb? Chorus: Are you washed in the blood, In the soul cleansing blood of the Lamb? Are your garments spotless? Are they white as snow? Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?[1]

The understanding of this song is that the blood atonement of Jesus is what saves a person from sin. Yet, the person brainwashed by baptismal regeneration would say that song is about baptism. Why? It is because it uses the word “wash.” Baptismal regenerationists like people from the Church of Christ cult use any verse they can to try to prove people are saved by baptism. A couple of months ago we had the privilege to interview a Church of Christ minister named Norman Fields to find out if the Church of Christ denomination was in fact a cult.[2] In an email to Andrew Rappaport Norman Fields used several texts we have covered in previous articles. Now we arrive at his use of Titus 3:5.

The main reason baptismal regenerationists use Titus 3: 5 is because it uses the word “washing.” We will look at what the passage says and the immediate context to determine what the passage means.

What the Passage Says

As seen above, the passage mentions nothing about baptism:

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, (Titus 3: 4 – 5, ESV).

The passage clearly says God saves his people through his “loving kindness” not people’s good works, “works done in righteousness.” Salvation is solely by the mercy of God.

What it says next is very important. In the Greek it says, “διὰ (through) λουτροῦ (washing of) παλιγγενεσίας (regeneration) καὶ (and) ἀνακαινώσεως (renewal of) πνεύματος (the Spirit) ἁγίου (of holiness)” (v. 5b). The baptismal regenerationists argue that λουτροῦ means baptism. Many scholars argue that the word means baptism, yet, the word is only mentioned twice in the New Testament, twice in the Septuagint in the Song of Solomon, and once in the apocrypha (Ephesians 5: 26, Titus 3: 5, Song of Solomon 4:2, 6:5-6, Sirach 31: 30). In each instance the phrase refers to washing, physically in the Song of Solomon, and spiritually in Ephesians 5: 26 and Sirach 31: 30. The only time it refers to a bathing ritual is in pagan cultic literature.[3] There is no actual evidence this word refers to baptism in any biblical literature.

It is best to understand this word as inner spiritual cleansing. One scholar says,

the “washing” refers to an internal, spiritual cleansing as denoted by the terms contained in the phrase “rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” If this phrase indicates that it is the Holy Spirit who does the “washing,” then the “rebirth and renewal” must be an internal, spiritual cleansing. Therefore, “washing” cannot refer to the external ordinance of water baptism.[4]

When looking at just the initial passage itself, “washing” cannot refer to baptism unless it is the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit renews and washes the believer so the believer will be saved apart from any work or act of the believer.

Immediate Context

The immediate context further demonstrates baptism cannot save the believer. The rest of the text states:

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned (Titus 3: 1 – 11, ESV).

Paul tells believers to obey governing authorities reminding them of their previous state of being foolish, disobedient, slaves to sin (vv. 1 – 3). Then Paul reminds them of their salvation that God saved them according to His mercy and the Holy Spirit so believers can become heirs and inheritors of eternal life (vv. 4 – 7). Believers are saved to do good works, not because of good works, and they are not to be marked by arguing, prestige, or who keeps the law better (vv. 8 – 11). This passage actually teaches against doing something to save oneself.

Conclusion

It is sad to see people twist the Scriptures to fit their own agenda. This passage actually teaches against working for one’s salvation, including baptismal regeneration. People are saved solely by God’s mercy and grace. When one understands this, they will experience the freedom and love of God as they have never experienced it before. So I will ask you again, “Have you been to Jesus for the cleansing power? Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb? Are you fully trusting in His grace this hour? Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?”[5]

If you want to dive deeper in your understanding in biblical interpretation, check out the resources section at strivingforeternity.org/store. There are tons of biblical resources to help you grow in your faith. Lord bless you.

[1] E. A. Hoffman, “Are Your Washed in the Blood” https://hymnary.org/text/have_you_been_to_jesus_for_the_cleansing, Accessed April 18, 2022

[2] Justin Pierce, Josiah Nichols, and Norm Fields, “Church of Christ Revisited”, Accessed February 12, 2022, https://strivingforeternity.org/apologeticslive/

[3] John MacArthur, “Husbands, Love Your Wives,” Grace To You, February 26, 2012, Accessed April 5, 2022, https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/80-383/husbands-love-your-wives

[4] Thomas D. Lea and Hayne P. Griffin, 1, 2 Timothy, Titus, vol. 34, The New American Commentary (Nashville Tennessee, Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 324.

[5]   E. A. Hoffman, “Are Your Washed in the Blood” https://hymnary.org/text/have_you_been_to_jesus_for_the_cleansing, Accessed April 18, 2022

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