Born again – of water and of the Spirit
Did Jesus mean being baptised with water and with the Spirit?
Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.John 3:5
Jesus said we must be born again, or born of water and of the Spirit, to enter the kingdom of God. Did he mean be baptised with water and with the Spirit? Perhaps the best way to answer this question is to begin by simply comparing the passage where Jesus spoke of being born of water and the Spirit with the passages which speak of being baptised with water and the Spirit:
Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
The teaching of John the Baptist, given him by God:
I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:
I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.
John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire:
And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.
The pattern laid down by Jesus:
And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:
And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan. And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him:
Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened, And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.
The declaration of Jesus Christ after his resurrection:
For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.
The instruction of Peter on the day of Pentecost:
Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
The pattern continued through the book of Acts:
But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. . . . Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.
And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.
While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.
And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning. Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost.
Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.
The pattern ‘of water and of the Spirit’ is evident. Do we really believe that the need to be born of water and of the Spirit to enter the kingdom of God bears no straightforward relation to the water and Spirit in these passages? —passages concerned with preaching and entering the kingdom of God, and the ‘fulfilment of all righteousness’ (Matthew 3:13–17)?
Other patterns of water and spirit
The pattern of water and Spirit is certainly evident in other ‘types’ or figurative events of salvation found in the Bible. As we would expect it to be. John the Baptist spoke of his baptism of water and Christ’s baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire. Such types of water and Spirit, or water and fire, are found in events like the story of creation; the deliverance from captivity in the crossing of the Red Sea; Noah’s flood and the fire of Christ’s second coming; and the crossing of the Jordan and translation of Elijah with the chariots of fire.
In the first verses of the Bible we find that the body of the earth itself, out of which Adam was formed, was in darkness and without form and empty—like man in his unsaved state. Our first glimpse of this dark, void situation is one in which the body of the world is completely submerged under water, and the ‘Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters, and God said, Let there be light: and there was light’ (Genesis 1:1–3). Here is a great baptism of the dead earth, a world into which the Spirit and the Word of God bring light and life—a mighty pattern set out in the first three verses of the Bible.
In the New Testament salvation is appropriately likened to a ‘new creation’.
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature [creation]: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
2 Corinthians 5:17
And the earth, again, that once was ‘baptised’ in the flood of Noah (‘the like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us’ [1 Peter 3:21]) awaits a corresponding baptism and cleansing by fire at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, bringing in a new heavens and new earth of righteousness:
Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. . . . But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. . . . Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.
2 Peter 3:6–13
Christ enters the world with fire and establishes his kingdom, bringing righteousness and peace, paralleling his entrance into the individual with the Holy Spirit and fire.
And the deliverance of Israel from the strength of Egypt, the land of captivity, oppression, and idolatry, was through the waters of the Red Sea and by the separation of the pillar of fire and cloud which came between them ‘all the night’ giving light to them in the darkness.
And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will shew to you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever.
Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea;
1 Corinthians 10:1–20
One further example will be enough: the events just before Elijah the prophet is translated bodily into heaven, in the same manner as Christ’s disciples will be changed in the ‘twinkling of an eye’ to rise to meet the Lord in the air.
And fifty men of the sons of the prophets went, and stood to view afar off: and they two stood by Jordan. And Elijah took his mantle, and wrapped it together, and smote the waters, and they were divided hither and thither, so that they two went over on dry ground. . . . And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.
2 Kings 2:7–11
In this story, Elijah and Elisha walked through the river Jordan on dry ground just as Israel had walked through the Red Sea. If Paul calls the latter a figurative baptism in water, so is the former, and when we consider that it was this same Jordan river in which John the Baptist baptised Jesus and many others the connection is clear. The fire and the wind from heaven parted Elijah from Elisha and carried him into heaven to a new beginning. These things correspond to the wind and fire on the day of Pentecost, which represent the ‘Holy Spirit sent down from heaven’ and by which God has ‘delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son’ (Colossians 1:13).
This pattern of water and the Spirit in connection with the new creation, the changing of darkness into light, the purging of sin, the birth of a new heavens and earth wherein dwells righteousness, the entrance of Christ and establishment of his kingdom, the deliverance from evil and the old life, the destruction of the power of the enemy, and the translation into heavenly places is inseparable from the concept of baptism in water and in the Spirit.
How difficult, really, is it to understand and accept that the grand event at the beginning of the book of Acts, on the day of Pentecost, is the great promise of the Father for which Jesus died, and by which we enter the kingdom of God?
The day of Pentecost itself, being one of the three great feasts of the Old Covenant, demonstrates the importance of the events which took place upon it. For the first, Passover, in its connection with the blood of the sacrificed lamb, foreshadowed the death of Christ which later took place at the time of that same feast.
The events of Acts 2 took place on the day of Pentecost, which represented both the beginning of the harvest and corresponded with the giving of the Law, or the Old Covenant, on Mount Sinai.
The feast of Tabernacles is to be celebrated after the Second Coming of Christ (Zechariah 14:16–19), and appropriately represents both the end of the harvest and a looking back to the time spent dwelling in tabernacles or tents in the wilderness before entrance into the Promised Land. One day we will look back to the time we spent dwelling in the temporary tabernacle of this body and rejoice in the new and permanent temple of the Holy Spirit Christ has prepared us.
For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.
2 Corinthians 5:1–4
Being born, or begotten, of the Spirit
The Greek word for ‘born’ in John 3 is often elsewhere translated ‘begotten’. It is a broader term encompassing more than just the final birth event and is used mainly in the sense of a father begetting children—hence the long genealogies of father and son ‘begats’ in the gospel of Matthew. It covers the whole life-giving and generative process resulting in a child, physically or spiritually. To be born or begotten of the Spirit is simply to be given life by the Spirit and therefore to become a son or daughter of God, the Father. It is not difficult to understand that the baptism of the Spirit which grants righteousness and life is thus a new birth initiated by the Father in heaven. Indeed, it is ‘the promise of the Father’ which Jesus said was the baptism with the Spirit.
Jesus after speaking to Nicodemus of the need to be born of water and of the Spirit said:
That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.
‘Again’ here is also translated ‘from above’ and the contrast between being born of the flesh and being born again and from above of the Spirit is noted in Paul’s discussion of the promise of the Spirit in Galatians:
This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. . . . Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.
That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.
One is born only after the flesh, and one is born after the Spirit—or born of the promise. Being born of the promise is being born of the Spirit. We are likewise the children of promise when we ‘receive the promise of the Spirit through faith’.
When Paul wrote to the Ephesians, those whom he had once asked in Acts 19, ‘Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?’ and called upon them to be baptised in repentance, believing on Christ who would baptise them with the Holy Spirit (see the quote earlier in this discussion), he said:
In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest [pledge, down-payment, and guarantee] of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.
There are many scriptures which speak of the ‘promise of the Father’ as being the baptism with the Holy Spirit (see: Luke 24:46–49, Acts 1:4–5, Acts 2:33, Acts 2:38–39). The Ephesians, having received the Holy Spirit of promise, were made children of the promise. To receive the baptism of the Spirit, ‘the promise of the Father’, ‘the promise of the Holy Spirit’ is to be born of the Spirit, born again from above. And if being born of the Spirit is being baptised in the Spirit, then clearly, being born of water is being baptised in water. By these baptisms, in conjunction with belief and repentance, we gain entrance into the kingdom of God.
In short, through repentance, baptism with water and baptism with the Spirit, we follow Christ through his death, burial, and resurrection, and one day, our bodies fully redeemed and changed, we too will ascend from this earth as he also did.
The message of John 3:16, ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life’, and its context in Jesus’ teaching to Nicodemus, ‘Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God’ (John 3:5) is summed up in Paul’s letters to Titus and the Romans :
But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed [or poured] on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad [poured forth] in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.
The washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit which was shed or poured out on the day of Pentecost demonstrates God's love toward us. The new birth of water and the Spirit makes us the sons of God, and heirs of eternal life—God's gift of grace, mercy and righteousness through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Many today have tried to separate being born of the Spirit from being baptised with the Spirit. The real reason for this lies not in any scriptural foundation, or in any lack of emphasis in the Bible on the events of the day of Pentecost. It lies simply in the realisation that baptism in the Spirit is accompanied by speaking in tongues. This too-clearly indicates that unless we have spoken in tongues we have not been born of the Spirit and therefore cannot enter the kingdom of God. This is not acceptable or tasteful to many religious people. But we are not called to judge God’s methods and requirements, only to accept and fulfil them.
Indeed some who have recognised the necessity of being baptised in the Spirit, have rather tried to separate both being born and being baptised with the Spirit from speaking in tongues. Such attempts are both needless and desperate, made by people who seek to make God’s requirements fit their own religious views of correctness, church tradition and decorum, and ‘the way things should be’.
There is only one receiving of the Spirit. This receiving of the Spirit in conjunction with water baptism saves, empowers, washes away sin, grants righteousness, gives eternal life, generates, regenerates, renews, justifies, sanctifies, sustains, seals and grants sonship and inheritance. All of these are facets of the same experience, and simply different ways of describing the same thing. There is no need or justification for considering that Jesus spoke to Nicodemus of anything other than the day of Pentecost experience in Acts 2. No need other than to indignantly demand that God must sign his contract with invisible ink.
For the same reason many have sought to separate baptism in water from being born of water: baptism in water is a clear and visible event. Mankind, and religious self-righteousness, does not want to draw so clear a line. The vaguer the line, the more lukewarm the teaching, the more room for evading the humility, the responsibility, and the difficulty of embarrassment, separation, and persecution. Our desire to be inclusive of people is often at the expense of being exclusive of God—‘know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?’ (James 4:4).
And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him.
And when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority? And Jesus answered and said unto them, I also will ask you one thing, which if ye tell me, I in like wise will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him?
The implication is clear: if water baptism was of heaven, they were required to be baptised. If they were not baptised, it was because they did not believe him. We may now since the day of Pentecost ask another question alongside the one that Jesus asked: ‘The baptism of Jesus Christ—he who baptises with the Holy Spirit—whence is it? from heaven, or of men?’
And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. John 1:33
Will the Father from heaven who sent both John and Jesus to baptise one day say to us, ‘Why did you not then believe them?’
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
Our stand on what we must do to be saved must be based on scripture—not on people, not on opinions or traditions. The last 2000 years have seen the original biblical requirements distorted in every conceivable way in every conceivable religious teaching under the name of Christianity, even to the extent of a mass historical ‘falling away’ into the same literal idolatry that Israel of old also fell into. As the Bible prophesied it would be.
Yet the original requirements still remain in black and white, where they have always been: in the Bible. They stand unmoved alongside the original promise. Religion has in its own mind moved on to the more exalted concepts and precepts of its own vain imagination, and heeded the desires and sensibilities of each new generation, and so disregarded the Word of God—mistaking the Deceiver’s assurance ‘You shall not surely die’ for the Redeemer’s promise of life. But God has not moved on. His promises and his requirements still stand. And if you truly want to find them, you will find them in the Bible.
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