Born of Water & Spirit (John 3:5)

John 3:5

Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

John 3:5 – Context

John 3:1-2

1 There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” 

Nicodemus was a sincere and God fearing man. A leader and teacher among the Jews. He knew what was happening in Israel. He was aware of the Messianic hopes people had that Christ would come and free the Jews from Roman occupation and bring in the new age of God’s kingdom. He was aware that John the Baptist had come baptizing in the Jordan River calling the nation to repentance. 

The Israelites had been exiled into Babylon centuries before, and though many had returned, many had not. The Jews were in the land again, but they were not in control of the land. For this reason the people of Israel were still waiting for the promises of the prophets to be fulfilled which stated that God would bring them back from captivity, and establish His kingdom among them which would extend its borders to every part of the earth. 

Nicodemus would have understood the significance of John baptizing in the Jordan River. It was in that place that the Israelites first entered the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua in order to conquer it. And so it was a fitting place for the prophecy of Isaiah to begin its fulfilment. Isaiah 11 speaks of the return from exile and the establishing of the kingdom through the “root of Jesse.” Through the coming of this king, the meek would be shown mercy and the wicked suffer wrath, and even the Gentiles would seek after Him. Isaiah speaks of this return from exile as a second exodus in the following verses:

11 It shall come to pass in that day That the Lord shall set His hand again the second time To recover the remnant of His people who are left, From Assyria and Egypt, From Pathros and Cush, From Elam and Shinar, From Hamath and the islands of the sea. … 16 There will be a highway for the remnant of His people Who will be left from Assyria, As it was for Israel In the day that he came up from the land of Egypt. 

– Isaiah 11:11, 16 NKJV 

This prophecy would have been familiar to Nicodemus, and he would have understood, as most in Israel did, that John was preparing a highway not only for the remnant, but also for the great king! This was John’s public testimony to the religious leaders of the Jews found in the first chapter of John.

20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” … 23 He said: “I am ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Make straight the way of the LORD,” ‘ as the prophet Isaiah said.” … 26 John answered them, saying, “I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know. 27 “It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.” … 33 “I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.‘ 34 “And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.” 

– John 1:20, 23, 26-27, 33-34 NKJV

Nicodemus desired to learn more about this man whom John had testified about. Not only had John testified about Jesus, but the miracles which Jesus performed confirmed that God was doing something among His people through this Nazarene. So Nicodemus went to find out more.

John 3:3

3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 

Jesus immediately begins to tell Nicodemus about the kingdom of God that had now arrived in Israel. And Jesus tells him how to get involved in it. But this would not have been an easy word for Nicodemus to accept. It is hard to imagine that he couldn’t understand the implications of what Jesus was saying, but it seems he tried hard to avoid those implications.

In those days similar terms (i.e. born again) were used in the Jewish community. In the late first century (at the the latest) converts to Judaism were cleansed by being immersed (i.e. baptized) in water. Those who had undergone this baptism were said to be “newborn children.” We don’t know for sure if this practice was common in Nicodemus’ day, but the concepts related to baptism and conversion would not have been totally unfamiliar to him. And the connection with converts receiving a new life would have also been able for him to grasp. 

john 3:4

4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 

Though Nicodemus would have understood what Jesus was saying to him, it would not have been something he liked hearing. Nicodemus was a devout and respected Jew who was so eager to welcome the kingdom of God that he sought out Jesus to ask Him more about what God’s plan was. And now Jesus was telling him that being a devout Jew, from the line of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was not enough to get him into God’s kingdom. Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be converted before he can be a part of this new kingdom. 

This is why Nocodemus acts so dumbfounded. It is not because he doesn’t understand Jesus, it is that he can’t believe what Jesus is telling him. Surely Jesus must have another meaning. Nicodemus was hoping Jesus would somehow soften the blow. 

john 3:5

5 Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 

But Jesus doesn’t soften the blow at all, but doubles down. He makes His point doubly clear. He tells this devout religious leader that he must be converted through baptism. The ministry of John had taught Nicodemus that baptism was connected to repentance, and Jesus is about to tell him that the baptism which Jesus’ disciples undergo also includes faith in the Son of God. 

16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. … 22 After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He remained with them and baptized. 

– John 3:16, 22 NKJV

Jesus makes it clear that if Nicodemus desires to partake of the kingdom of God in the baptism of the Holy Spirit which John proclaimed Jesus was going to give, then he would need to humble himself as a little child in baptism and be converted from the kingdom of Israel to the kingdom of God. Without this baptism of repentance and faith, he would not be able to share in the kingdom of God that was soon to come in the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5).

john 3:6

6 “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 

Jesus continues to explain that just because Nicodemus is a Jew, this doesn’t automatically make him a candidate for adoption into God’s kingdom. John the evangelist pointed this out in chapter 1 of his Gospel.

11 He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God

– John 1:11-13 NKJV

Being a member of Israel. Even a respected and devout member of Israel, would not give him the right to become a child of God. The lineage of the flesh will not open the door for anyone to enter the kingdom of God. A person must be converted through repentance, faith and baptism. Then he will be given the right to enter the kingdom of God which is in the Spirit of God. Being born a Jew is not enough, Nicodemus learned that he must be reborn spiritually.

john 3:7-8

7 “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Jesus reiterates that He is speaking about heavenly things, not the natural things of earth and Israel. The kingdom He is bringing is not of this earth. In the same way, the wind is not earthbound, stuck in one place, but free to go where it wishes, so is the kingdom of God. It is not bound to a temple or one land but is found in the Spirit of God that blows wherever He wishes. Everyone who is born of the Spirit of God is free from the old system of Judaism and brought into a new spiritual and heavenly kingdom. Jesus later shares this same truth to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. Just as Nicodemus the Jew couldn’t get anywhere with God by depending on his religion and lineage, neither could that Samaritan woman make progress in God’s kingdom through her lineage and religion.

20 “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. 22 “You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. 23 “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24 “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. 

– John 4:20-24 NKJV

john 3:5 – Doctrine

Reconciliation

Jesus teaches that regeneration (i.e. being born again) consists of two things: 

The first is conversion which begins with repentance, moves onto faith in Christ, and culminates in baptism. Through the genuine faith of the convert, a person is forgiven of their sins and adopted as God’s child because of the person and work of Christ. Conversion is crowned with justification, a changing of one’s status from being condemned in sin to being made alive with Jesus Christ. 

38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 

– Acts 2:38 NKJV

26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

– Galatians 3:26-27 NKJV

The modern tradition is to “put on Christ” by inviting Him into our heart through the “Sinner’s Prayer.” Others take a more subjective approach by concluding that one puts on Christ the moment they have a “divine witness” of assurance in their hearts. Because of the gracious kindness of our God we can be confident that He has often bowed to our weakness in understanding by granting mercy outside of the means He instructs us in His word. But we must not make God’s kindness a license for presumption. Instead we must seek to follow Him as He has ordained instead of relying on the wisdom and traditions of men. If a person, after repentance, calls on the name of the Lord in faith while in the waters of baptism, we have God’s objective promise that He will meet them there with justifying grace.

renewal

The second aspect of regeneration consists in the work that is done in the heart of the convert. In the first aspect of the new birth something is done for the new convert, in this second aspect something is done in the believer. In the first part of regeneration they are reconciled, in the second they are renewed. The first qualifies them for entering God’s presence by justifying them. In the second they come into the presence of God by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 

– Acts 2:38 NKJV

6 And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” – Galatians 4:6 NKJV