“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.”Titus 3:5-8
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How can water do such great things?
Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this word of God in the water. For without God’s word the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says in Titus, chapter three:
“He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying.” (Titus 3:5–8)
Cleansing and birth are not at all synonymous in my mind. In fact, when I think back to the birth of my children, I’m more apt to think, “Eeesh, what a messy process.” Birth is not at all clean. But the “washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” is an entirely different prospect.
The thing about most washing is that you have to do it over and over again. On this side of heaven, nothing stays clean for very long. My house and laundry room constantly attest to this fact. Just to prove my worth, when my two children were in junior high school, I calculated that I had done somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 loads of laundry since the first one had been born. After that, I decided that knowing that number didn’t make me feel any better.
God’s Word changes the cleaning process completely. When we are washed in the waters of Baptism, God’s Word makes us clean forever. Even though we constantly sin over and over again, God’s Word is far more powerful than Tide or Gain or even Clorox Bleach. I sort of imagine a big jug of laundry soap pouring over our heads, but instead of thick blue detergent gushing out, the Holy Spirit comes pouring out over us in a constant and perfect life-giving stream.
How often do you tell your students to wash their hands during the course of a day? A lot, right? Maybe every time we wash our hands we should sing, “I’ve been baptized . . .”? I know it sounds silly, but maybe it would give us and our students a needed boost in the middle of the day to be reminded that the dirty mess of our sins has been washed away. Sometimes renewal can come in little bite-sized handwashing reminders. Knowing that I am clean in the washing of Holy Baptism once and for all, makes me feel infinitely better than counting loads of laundry.
Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Catechism quotations are from Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation, copyright © 1986 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved. Used by permission.