3:5 saved us. In spite of the strong emphasis which he had just placed on godly living (Titus 3:1-3), Paul again wants to make it abundantly clear that salvation is altogether by God’s mercy and grace (see also Ephesians 2:8-10; Galatians 2:16-21).
3:5 washing of regeneration. The “washing of regeneration” is symbolized by baptism, whereby immersion in water represents total cleansing, as well as death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6:3-11). It also symbolizes being “immersed” into the body of Christ, as it were, by the Holy Spirit (John 3:5; I Corinthians 12:13), who “renews” us from spiritual death to eternal life when we receive Christ by faith. However, it is not the act of water baptism, but the “washing of regeneration,” that saves us, and this is received altogether by God’s grace (Titus 3:7) through faith in the person and saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Baptism beautifully symbolizes all that is taking place when we are “born again” (John 3:3) and become “new creations” in Christ (II Corinthians 5:17), but it is only that—a beautiful symbol. Without saving faith, it is meaningless.