Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
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, Titus 3:5 NKJV
Question 58 of the Larger Catechism, asks, “How do we come to be made partakers of the benefits which Christ hath procured?” It gives the answer, “We are made partakers of the benefits which Christ hath procured, by the application of them unto us, which is the work especially of God the Holy Ghost.” Last week we examined the benefits Christ obtained for His people as their Mediator. This week we consider how those benefits are given to us.
How can Jesus save me? Perhaps you have had someone ask you this question with the snide cynicism of a confirmed agnostic. Most Americans still believe in God. Most will confess that they are not perfect. Some may even affirm a need to be saved. And a few will confess that this salvation can only come to us by our faith. But how many give any thought as to how God, through our faith, brings this salvation to us? When the Bible proclaims that a man must believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ in order to be saved, it does not credit his faith as somehow being worthy of salvation, as if the mere act of believing atoned for his sin! Every living, sentient human being should believe in God and acknowledge Him as sovereign Creator and absolute Lawgiver. And every living, sentient human being should admit his sin and confess that he is worthy only of punishment and wrath. And everyone who has heard the Gospel even once should affirm what Jesus Christ proved on earth: that He is the Divine Son of God and Savior of men. All should believe and affirm these things! They are, and prove to be, true. And it is wrong and evil not to affirm what we know, or even should know, is true. So, to believe in God, to trust in Christ for salvation is not some meritorious act that receives everlasting atonement and full redemption as just payment for a work well done. We should believe in God! We should trust in Christ! To not do so is to call God a liar and our sinful selves righteous!
Accordingly, the redemption purchased for us by Christ needs to be applied to us by God Himself, not as an act of payment, but as mercy. We are sinners, rebellious and evil in God’s sight. Trusting in Christ for salvation does not change that verdict. However, because God has promised, in the Gospel, to save those who trust in Christ, and because Christ accomplished salvation by His life and death, we know that somehow what Jesus did is received by our faith. How does this occur? The Catechism affirms the teaching of Scripture, that it is especially the work of the Holy Spirit who applies to us the redemption purchased by Christ. In the proof texts for this section, the Catechism references the Scripture above from Titus 3:5. To paraphrase: according to His mercy, God saved us by the regenerating and renewing work of the Holy Spirit.
Thus, God’s elect are redeemed as the Holy Spirit makes us partakers of Christ’s benefits. His initial work, in applying this redemption to us, is the work of regeneration. Every saved person has been born of the Spirit (John 3:6, 8). Jesus told Nicodemus that to enter or even see the Kingdom of God he must be born again, or more accurately, from above. Jesus explained that this heavenly birth is the work of the Holy Spirit. In other words, in order to begin to partake of the benefits Christ procured for us, or to say it another way, the salvation Christ purchased for us, we cannot do anything in our own strength, but in fact, each one of us needs to be a different person with an entirely new birth, not from the sinful flesh of man, but from the righteous Spirit of God. In His good time, God, by His Holy Spirit, causes all of His elect to receive this new birth (1 Peter 1:2-3). God regenerates each of them by His Spirit when He effectually calls them through the ordinary preaching of the Word.
Likewise the same Holy Spirit, who gave us the new birth, continues to renew us and grow us all of our lives. Thus, the Holy Spirit sanctifies us (2 The. 2:13); helps us (Phi. 1:19); strengthens us (Eph. 3:16); and continues to give life to us (Rom. 8:11). It is by the Holy Spirit that our new man lives and grows and our old man is weakened and put to death (Rom. 8:13). Finally, it is by the Holy Spirit that we continue to cry out “Abba, Father!” and are adopted forever into the family of God. Praise God for His life-giving Spirit!