If one MUST be born again, then how can one afford to misunderstand how this is accomplished? Our text is John 3:1-8. Nicodemus was convinced Jesus was “a teacher come from God (v. 2). Jesus then startled him by saying, “Except a man be BORN AGAIN, he cannot see the kingdom of God (v.3).
In verse 4, Nicodemus viewed this from a physical point of view. However, in verse 5, Jesus corrects him by saying, “Except a man be BORN OF WATER and OF THE SPIRIT, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
Jesus explains that he was not speaking of a physical birth, but rather of a spiritual birth. Jesus said: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” Thus, Jesus WAS NOT speaking of some kind of physical reincarnation. He then said: “And that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” That which is REGENERATED (Titus 3:5 ), or BORN AGAIN is the spirit of man, by the Spirit of God. Notice again Jesus’ own words. “And that which is BORN OF THE SPIRIT is spirit (or the spirit of man).”
In verse 8, Jesus concludes by saying, “so is EVERYONE that is BORN OF THE SPIRIT”. Jesus himself explains what is being reborn. It is the spirit of man, the inner man. Jesus also explains how this is accomplished, namely, “of WATER and of THE SPIRIT (v.5).
To understand this subject, notice four things are mentioned, and all four are literal. This is not to say figures of speech are not used to teach this spiritual lesson. 1) WATER is water, literally. 2) SPIRIT is the HOLY SPIRIT. 3) FLESH is the material of the human body. 4) And THE SPIRIT born of the Spirit is the spirit of man.
You might well feel I have wasted your time, for even a child could understand what I have already written. However, from this point forward, we preachers differ widely. I personally do not know of anyone among us who does not understand that “water refers to the waters of baptism, wherein we are made free from sin. One has only to read the cases of conversion in Acts to understand this. Some of these are Acts 2:37-38; Acts 8:12; Acts 8:35-38 (notice the use of water in these verses); Acts 10:47-48 (in these verses they were COMMANDED to be baptized in WATER); Acts 16:30-33; Acts 18:8; Acts 19:5; Acts 22:16; Rom 6:1-6. We are baptized INTO CHRIST, Gal 3:26-27 . Peter caps it off by saying: “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also NOW SAVE US, (not the putting away the filth of the flesh), but the answer of a good conscience toward God, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 3:21).
Wherein is the problem? It is now being taught among us that “being born of the Spirit” is the “gift of the Holy Spirit” mentioned in Acts 2:38 . Thus, we are taught that we are born of the waters of baptism (a command), but that being born of the Spirit is a gift, or a promise (Acts 2:39 ). In other words, the Christian receives the “gift of the Holy Spirit” to dwell in his heart at the point of baptism. In reality, this doctrine denies that we are BORN OF THE SPIRIT at all. Three times Jesus mentions being BORN OF THE SPIRIT in John 3. Once he speaks of being BORN OF WATER. In short, as much or more emphasis is placed upon being born of the Spirit as being born of water, and neither is “a gift.”
The same doctrine says that the Holy Spirit never works through the gospel in bringing about salvation. However, this doctrine does not deny that the gospel has the power to save the sinner. Neither, we are told, does the Holy Spirit use the word to sanctify Christians. In other words, the Holy Spirit does not operate through the word of God in either conversion or sanctification. However, we are informed that the Holy Spirit enters the Christian at the point of baptism AS A GIFT, and operates separate from the word, but not inconsistent with it.
Space will not allow me to cover this subject entirely. However, briefly, the NEW BIRTH of the SPIRIT OF MAN, involves WATER (baptism) and the HOLY SPIRIT, working through the WORD OF GOD.
To stay with the figure of a birth, when we are born we are born of our parents (a mother and a father). The blind man of John 9:1-2 was born of his parents. In John 3, in Greek, water is feminine, and Spirit is masculine. The first essential of birth is the begettal, and this essential is the work of the Spirit in conversion. Also, as in the. natural birth, there are two essential, but one birth. We are not born again and again. Jesus said, “The seed (of the kingdom) is the word of God” (Luke 8:11). Only life can beget life. God’s word is not a dead word, or DEAD SEED. The word is alive (quick) (Heb 4:12 ). Jesus said, “It is the SPIRIT that quickeneth (makes alive); the flesh profiteth nothing: THE WORDS that I speak unto you, THEY ARE SPIRIT, and they are life” (John 6:63). The SWORD OF THE SPIRIT, is the WORD OF GOD (Eph 6:17 ). Peter said: “Seeing you have purified your souls in obeying the truth THROUGH THE SPIRIT unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that you love one another with a pure heart fervently: BEING BORN AGAIN, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, BY THE WORD OF GOD, which LIVETH and abideth for ever” (1 Pet 1:22-23 ). The word of God is the medium through which the Spirit imparts life to the spirit of man. The Holy Spirit uses means in conversion and sanctification, and that MEANS, or His instrument, is the WORD OF TRUTH. James 1:18 says: “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth…” The American Standard Version renders it: “Of his own will he BROUGHT US FORTH by the word of truth..” On this point, Alexander Campbell in The Christian System, pages 173-174 says: “The Spirit of God is the begetter, the gospel is the seed; and, being thus begotten and quickened, we are born of the water. A child is alive before it is born, and the act of being born only changes its state, not its life. Just so in the metaphorical birth. Persons are begotten by the Spirit of God, impregnated by the word, and born of the water.
“In one sense a person is born of his father; but not until he is first born of his mother. So in every place where water and the Spirit, or water and the word, are spoken of, the water stands first. Every child is born of its father when it is born of its mother. No other reason can be assigned for placing the water first.” Remember, the origin of the source of life is attributed to the word by James. Paul told the Corinthians: “I have begotten you through the gospel” (1 Cor 4:15).
Finally, according to the lexicons, the word born (beget) is chiefly used of men begetting children, and more rarely of women begetting children. It is used numerous times in the genealogy of Jesus. For example, Abraham begat Isaac, etc. But in every case, in order to have a birth, it takes a mother and a father.
Space will not allow me to continue. In the new birth, though, we are born of water (baptism) AND THE SPIRIT (operating through the word of God). The Spirit brings about a rebirth of our spirits by means of the word of truth. We purify our souls “in obeying the truth.”
I have saved two verses for last, and both are parallel to John 3:5. In John 3:5, we read of “WATER and OF THE SPIRIT.” In Ephesians 5:23 we learn we are sanctified and cleansed by the “WASHING OF WATER by the WORD.” Where the one verse has SPIRIT the other has WORD. There is no contradiction. Moreover, if we can understand why “the word” comes after “water” in Eph 5:23, then surely we can understand why “the Spirit” comes after “water” in John 3:5. Titus 3:5-6 says, “HE SAVED US, by the WASHING (baptism) OF REGENEATION (rebirth), and the renewing of the HOLY GHOST: which he shed (poured out) on us abundantly THROUGH Jesus Christ our Saviour.” Jesus is “THE WAY, THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE” (John 14:6). Finally, Jesus himself said: “Now you are CLEAN THROUGH THE WORD which I have spoken unto you” (John 15:3).
Published in the February 1, 1991 issue of the OPA.