The washing of regeneration

by Mike Ratliff

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. Ephesians 5:25-27 (NASB) 

4 But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, 5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:4-7 (NASB)

Many false teachers in the past and currently have taken the word “washing” in the two passages above and taught that this refers to baptism. However, a careful reading of the text reveals that baptism is never mentioned nor is the Greek word for baptism used by Paul in either passage, therefore, we know that he, inspired by the Holy Spirit, was writing about something else entirely.

26 ἵνα αὐτὴν ἁγιάσῃ καθαρίσας τῷ λουτρῷ τοῦ ὕδατος ἐν ῥήματι, Ephesians 5:26 (NA28)

26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of the water in the Word Ephesians 5:26 (translated from the NA28 Greek text)

5 οὐκ ἐξ ἔργων τῶν ἐν δικαιοσύνῃ
ἃ ἐποιήσαμεν ἡμεῖς
ἀλλὰ κατὰ τὸ αὐτοῦ ἔλεος
ἔσωσεν ἡμᾶς διὰ λουτροῦ παλιγγενεσίας
καὶ ἀνακαινώσεως πνεύματος ἁγίου, Titus 3:5 (NA28)

5 not by works which
we did
but according to His mercy
He saved us through the washing of regeneration
and renewing of the Holy Spirit, Titus 3:5 (translated from the NA28 Greek text)

I’ll be blunt. Those who teach or preach that our salvation is based upon the “baptismal regeneration” are heretics. The word the writers of the New Testament used for Baptize is βαπτίζω (baptizō) which literally means “wash.” However, it had another spiritual meaning to the writers of the Bible that is completely different from λουτρόν (loutron), which is what Paul used in Ephesians 5:26 and Titus 3:5. It means “washing.” The usage of a different word is important. Instead of assuming that Paul was talking about baptism when he meant washing is poor exegesis.

The word λουτρόν (loutron) refers to a basin or laver for washing and to the act of washing itself. Also, Paul used the definite article (“the”) in his sentence structure meaning he is talking about a specific washing. Comparing the two parallel passages above then we come to understand that Paul is using a metaphor. Paul says the husband cleanses his wife with the washing of water by the word. It is the Word of God that cleanses; it is the Word that sanctifies. Our marriages and families should be cleansed constantly by the presence of the Word of God.

25 Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. 26 Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. Ezekiel 36:25-27 (NASB) 

Regeneration in the New Testament refers to the gift of the “new heart” promised by God in the Old Testament. This “new heart” signifies the new birth, which is regeneration by the Holy Spirit. The “heart” stands for the whole nature. The “spirit” indicates the governing power of the mind which directs thought and conduct. A “stony heart” is stubborn and self-willed. A “heart of flesh” is pliable and responsive. The evil inclination is removed and a new nature replaces it.

So what have we learned?

There are two aspects to our washing of regeneration. There is the part that saves us and then there is the ongoing washing and cleansing that transforms us as we see in Romans 12:1-2.

1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1-2 (NASB) 

No-one gets saved is “done.” We don’t just walk away from our Lord and do our own thing. No, those with that new heart also submit to God as living sacrifices daily. We do not conform ourselves to this lost and dying world. No, we, instead, are continually washed clean through the transforming power of being immersed in God’s Word, which the Holy Spirit uses to transform us unto Christlikeness.

Soli Deo Gloria!