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,
Verse five shows how the seismic shift of salvation occurred. The basis of our salvation rests on God’s mercy in sending His Son to die for our sins.
5 not by works of righteousness which we have done,
The word “not” here heightens the emphasis that God does not save us by our efforts. “By” is out of. Salvation does not spring from works. Our righteousness is an utter void in reference to God.
Is 64: 6 But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away.
God saves us not by our works of righteousness. He does not give people eternal life based on what they do. No behavior man can conjure up can save his soul. He is hopeless if he looks to himself.
The “but” here is strong contrast. There is strong contrast between how man thinks he can have eternal life and how God gives salvation. There is no doubt about how God saves. He saves souls by the grace principle and not by the works of men.
according to His mercy He saved us,
Salvation comes to us independent of human effort. The way God saves people is exclusively by His mercy. Salvation from His standpoint is mercy. He looks at those whom He can save through the eyes of mercy. God does not take into account who or what we are; He gives mercy regardless of how good or bad we may be.
through the washing of regeneration [rebirth]
“Regeneration” means re-birth. The Greek word has two parts: again and to become. At salvation we become something that we were not before. For a person to become a Christian, he needs a second birth. Spiritual birth, not works of righteousness, gives eternal life. God imparts divine life into our souls at salvation.
The “washing” here is internal cleansing of the soul by rebirth of the Holy Spirit. God washes us from sin by the blood of Christ. This cleansing produces new life in Christ.
and renewing of the Holy Spirit,
Regeneration has to do with salvation, but renewing has to do with sanctification. “Renewing” comes from two words: again and new. Renewing is gradual formation into the likeness of Christ.
The transforming power comes through the Holy Spirit. God transforms by grace. Renewal is radical internal change that begins at conversion.
Ro 12: 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
Both rebirth and renewal are the work of the Spirit. Rebirth means to come alive after spiritual death. Renewal means change that takes place after conversion.
The believer requires both salvation of his soul and a renewing to maturity as a believer.
There is no justification for God saving our souls other than His mercy toward the guilty. Acceptance of mercy requires humility on our part. Becoming a Christian this way strikes at the very heart of human pride. Salvation requires spiritual birth by God’s grace and mercy.
Paul emphasized doing good works earlier in this letter. Here, however, he distinguished between cause and effect. We cannot become a Christian by our works, but works are the result of salvation. We cannot confuse root and fruit. The root must come before the fruit—salvation comes before good works.