The Gospel of John

The New Birth #2

I have heard of some things affirmed by God to be essential to salvation that were denied by some. I have never heard a single person deny that one must be born again to be saved. That being said, suffice it to say that I have heard many who dispute what Jesus said the new birth consists of.

Jesus told Nicodemus, “Except one be born anew he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3), and then to further compound Nicodemus’ bewilderment and astonishment, Jesus said, “Verily, verily I say unto thee, except one be born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). I have never heard one argue that one didn’t have to be in the kingdom of God to be saved, so one must be born again for he cannot otherwise enter that kingdom.

The question is, “What is the new birth?” The answer to that seems clear enough. Jesus said, “Except one be born of water and Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” So, the new birth consists of two elements: “water” and “Spirit.” But to some, “water” sounds too much like “water baptism,” therefore “water” can’t be in the new birth. According to this “explanation,” the water of John 3:5 is the physical birth, the Spirit is the new birth. But Jesus wasn’t describing two births when He spoke of being “born of the water and Spirit.” He was simply adding further comment to his previous statement, “Except one be born anew he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:5 does not discuss two births: water or physical and Spirit or spiritual. The passage discusses one birth, a new birth, which consists of two elements: water and Spirit.

In Ephesians 5:26 Paul wrote, “Husbands; love your wives even as Christ also loved the church and gave himself up for it; that he might sanctify it, having cleansed it by the washing of water with the word.” One enters the kingdom when he is born of the water and Spirit; one is sanctified or cleansed by the washing of water with the word. The two actions with the same two elements end with the same result. One might argue that “water and Spirit” are two different births in John 3:5, but he cannot separate water from the word in Ephesians 5:26. The act of being sanctified and cleansed is by two things: washing water with the word. The language demands the joint action of the water and the word.

Consider another passage which deals with the same subject. We are told that we are not saved by works of righteousness which we do ourselves, rather “according to his mercy he saved us by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). Again the “water” of John 3:5 is included in the process — “washing of regeneration” — an obvious reference to John 3:5 — and the washing of regeneration (water) is joined again with the Holy Spirit when Paul wrote “through the renewing of the Holy Spirit.” Two elements once more to one thing, salvation.

What is the “Spirit” of John 3:5? It is the renewing the Spirit of Titus 3:5; the word of Ephesians 5:26. Peter wrote “having been begotten (born, KJV) again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the word of God which liveth and abideth” (1 Peter 1:23). The church is sanctified or cleansed by the washing of water with the word. The action of the Spirit — the renewing of the Spirit (Titus 3:5) results as the effect the word of God has in our heart. The Hebrew writer said, “The word of God is quick and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12). Jesus said, “It is the Spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing, the words that I speak unto thee they are spirit and life” (John 6:63; cp. James 1:21).

What is the water of the new birth? Exactly what first comes to one’s mind were it not for man’s “help” to understand otherwise: the “water” is water baptism. It is in water baptism that one is buried into the death of Jesus (Romans 6:3); it is in water baptism that one “puts on Christ” (Galatians 3:26-27); it is through baptism that one enters into the body (1 Corinthians 12:13). But one argues “that makes water baptism essential to salvation.” Exactly. And to say that water baptism is essential to salvation says exactly what Jesus said when He commanded His apostles: “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved: he that believeth not is condemned” (Mark 16:15-16). Peter heard these word of Jesus when He gave Peter and the other apostles the great commission, and Peter expressed his understanding of what Jesus meant when he told inquiring sinners what they must do to be saved: “Repent ye, and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins” (Acts 2:38). Twenty plus years later he still understood the same thing when he wrote “which also after a true likeness doth also now save you, even baptism” (1 Peter 3:21). If you desire Jesus to explain His command in John 3:5, turn and read Mark 16:15-16.

Jim McDonald