"Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewal of the Holy Spirit"
It is not us at work in baptism. Man can claim no righteousness as his own. It is God who does the work in baptism. God saved us by the washing of regeneration, and renewal of the Holy Spirit. “The washing of regeneration, and renewal of the Holy Spirit” is a reference to baptism. This makes perfect harmony when viewed in light of other scriptures such as John 3:3-5, Acts 2:38, Colossians 2:12, I Peter 3:21, and Romans 6:3-6
The word "washing" is from the Greek word loutron, which refers to (according to Thayer's Lexicon) the act of bathing and is used here in the New Testament and in other writings to refer to baptism. The word "regeneration" is from the Greek word palingenesia, which is taken from two root words "born" and "again."
Man can by no means consider baptism a “work of righteousness.” (What is righteous about being immersed in water?) For here, at baptism, is when we “die” and are completely powerless and are at God’s abundant mercy. This is when we completely surrender to God, so much so, that it is considered our own death in God’s eyes. (This “death to oneself” or self denial, by no means ends when we are baptized! It continues on in daily living).
Baptism is a manifestation of faith. It is not Man who is at work in baptism; it is God. Baptism is not a “work of righteousness.” On the contrary, if anything, it should be considered a work of UNrighteousness. We are baptized because we are corrupt, unrighteous and spiritually dead in sin. This is why we are buried with HIM into DEATH as explained in Romans 6. It is the DEAD that are buried, not the living.
As we have “died” and are therefore buried in baptism, God, according to His mercy, washes and renews our souls as we rise from the water.
Out of everything the Bible says we are to do to become a Christian, baptism is the only one that is always in the passive voice. Faith, repentance and confession are always command in the active voice. Furthermore, Titus tells us that the washing of regeneration (baptism) is NOT a work of righteousness, so the argument that we are not saved by works of righteousness is true—and baptism is in no way considered a “work of righteousness” in God’s sight.