The New Birth - Most Have it All Wrong

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Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3:3 (NASU), "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God" and then a couple of verses later (John 3:5 NASU) clarifies his statement when he says, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." 

This passage has greatly troubled people over the years to the extent that many have just come to accept that which is religiously correct (political correctness in the field of the Christian religion) feeling it is a subject that is just a little too deep for them. The real problem lies not in the difficulty of the passage but rather with theologians, scholars, commentators, and religious leaders (preachers included) who are unwilling to accept the obvious import of the passage. 

People often fail to understand Bible passages not because of their difficulty but rather due to prejudice, closed minds. Why was Jesus never accepted by the majority of the Jews of his time? Why was Jesus crucified? Was it not prejudice, was it not for the mind set that said it is impossible to interpret the scriptures in a way that makes this man the Messiah? 

While I want to discuss all of the phrase "born of water and the spirit" I first want to give you an example of the very thing I am talking about as it relates to the passage we will be discussing. One very well known Bible scholar who is also an author, and one I might add who has profited me in some of the things he has written, said of this passage words to the effect that water here simply could not mean water. 

In his mind this was such a settled fact that there was no reason to even think about giving a reason for making such a statement and he did not give one. The idea that the scriptures supported Jesus as the Messiah likewise was not worthy of consideration by the Jews. So it is with this well known scholar on the subject of water in John 3:5. The mind is closed to the thought. It is not worthy of consideration for it is simply not possible for water to mean water in this passage. It has to mean something else. My question to him would be why but he is not telling in his book. 

Let us now deal with the passage and make it as simple as it really is. I begin by saying that it is essential to come to a correct understanding as your and my eternal life both depend on it. Jesus says if we are not "born of water and the Spirit" we cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 

I need not tell you that salvation is in God's kingdom, not outside it. We are either in the domain of darkness or in the kingdom of God. "For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son." (Col. 1:13 NASU) It is a simple either/or matter. Jesus is either your king or Satan is. 

I know this is hard for us to sometimes accept for we know people we would consider good people who are not Christians. They are moral people, they are honest, they work hard, treat us well, and it is hard to see how they are ungodly. They are like Cornelius in Acts 10 but I remind the reader Cornelius in order to be saved had to hear, believe, and obey the gospel for salvation. If he was saved in the state he was in why bother Peter? Why does Peter need to travel to Caesarea in view of the fact it is a waste of his time to preach to Cornelius if Cornelius, a good man, is already saved? 

When a man obeys the gospel it is an act of submission to God's will. We will either submit to his will or our own. When we refuse to submit to his will, no matter how good in other areas of life we are, how can it be truly said that we are godly? By our refusal to obey the gospel we are saying we do not need God, Jesus did not need to die for me (his death was a waste, I did not need it), I am not a sinner. The very fact we refuse to obey the gospel, a command of God, proves in itself we are in rebellion, in sin.

If we are not interested enough to study the subject that also tells us quite a bit about how godly we really are? 

This all being the case how is one born of water and the Spirit? I say first of all that this is a single birth rather two separate ones. How do I know? Because Jesus tells us so just two verses prior to this one. He says in John 3:3, "unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." (NASU) How many times does Jesus say a man is born again? Once! If we make this two births, one of water and the other of the Spirit, then we have one more birth than Jesus requires. One is born again not twice but once. 

What is the role of the Spirit? Jesus says in John 6:44-45 (NASU), "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, 'AND THEY SHALL ALL BE TAUGHT OF GOD.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me." 

How is one taught of God? The answer is through the teachings of the Holy Spirit found in our day in the pages of the New Testament. Hear Jesus, "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life." (John 6:63 NASU) So it is clearly seen that words do make a difference in bringing about spiritual life, the words of the Spirit. John the Baptist, in speaking of Jesus, said "He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure." (John 3:34 NASU) 

Peter then says, "for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God." (1 Peter 1:23 NASU) And then James, (James 1:18 NASU), "In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth." 

The spirit works in bringing about the new birth in a man or woman by means of the word of God in the pages of the New Testament. In the parable of the sower (or soils if you prefer) as found in Luke 8 Jesus said "the seed is the word of God." (verse 11) As it is sown in the hearts of men it bears fruit, not in all but in those willing to hear and accept it. Four types of soils are mentioned in the parable but only one soil type brought forth fruit. Jesus in speaking of that soil says "the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance." (Luke 8:15 NASU) 

When one accepts the word of God and allows it to work in his life, having an honest and good heart, faith develops and leads the man to repentance, changing him within in his inner being, his spirit. He now believes differently, has different goals and aspirations, has a desire to live a different life. When this occurs the first prerequisite for the new birth has been met. However, Jesus also says in John 3:5 that one must be born not only of the Spirit but also of water if he is to enter into the kingdom of God. 

Here is where multitudes have come up short. True enough they have a different spirit within them than they once had judged by appearances regarding much of their behavior but within they still show a spirit unwilling to comply with God's will. True they have been led astray by blind leaders leading the blind but they are only blinded from the truth out of willingness to be blind and preference for it. God has said you must be born of water (and spirit of course) but they say it is not so and we will not do it. 

Needless to say, water is a reference to baptism. However, lest I be like the man who says water is not water but offers no proof I need to prove my statement. First of all Jesus taught baptism as essential when he gave the Great Commission. He says, He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved ... ." (Mark 16:16 NASU) He does not say "he who has believed and has not been baptized shall be saved" even though many want to read it that way. 

But let us look at some other passages that, relating to the new birth, are even clearer. "Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life." (Rom 6:4 NASU) When do we walk in newness of life (hint - born again, the new birth)? When we have been baptized. 

Take a look at 2 Cor. 5:17, "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come." (NASU) Do you know what the Bible teaches as to how one enters Christ? Here it is, (Gal. 3:27 NASU), "For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." Now what does it take to get into Christ - baptism. Paul says we are "baptized into Christ." 

Where is salvation? Peter says, "there is salvation in no one else" (Acts 4:12 NASU) speaking of Jesus. Paul says, "For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory." (2Ti 2:10 NASU) Getting into Christ Jesus is thus essential. 

One is a new creature upon entering into Christ (born again). One enters Christ by the act of baptism having been baptized as a result of the consequences of the Spirit working in his life. "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body." (1 Cor. 12:13 NASU) That body into which we are baptized is the body of Christ, the body where one finds salvation, "He Himself being the Savior of the body." (Eph. 5:23 NASU) 

Let us take a look at a couple of passages that teach just what Jesus taught about the new birth in John 3 but which are often overlooked. Paul says in Titus 3:5 (NASU), "He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit." (italics added by me for emphasis - DS) 

God's mercy, his grace, saves us but how? By the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit. This is just another way of saying exactly what Jesus said in John 3 regarding being born of water and the Spirit. The washing of regeneration is baptism. 

In another parallel passage Paul says in Eph. 5:25-26 regarding Jesus and the church (the church being his spiritual body, the body he saves, Eph. 1:22-23), "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word." (NASU) (italics added by me for emphasis - DS) 

If this passage does not clarify what it means to be born of water and the Spirit I am not sure I know what it would take. How are we cleansed, how are we born again, how are we saved? By the washing of water (baptism - DS) with the word (the Spirit using the word as his tool to change our inner man). 

Thus the new birth, what it means to be born again, to be born of water and the Spirit, is not that tough a subject and could be easily understood if there was a desire to do so. However, like the Jews of old we have too much at stake to allow us to see the truth. 

We have family that has passed on and we cannot allow water to mean baptism for that we think would condemn them. We cannot allow water to mean water for that would condemn us in our present state. We cannot allow water to mean water for if we were to accept that it would make demands on us to comply which would alienate friends and family and make us outcasts and fanatics in the eyes of the world. The sacrifice is too great, we will not allow it, we will not allow water to be baptism. It has to mean something else. And, if by chance, we are willing to accept that water here is baptism then yes Jesus said it but he really did not mean it. 

Will not God condemn us for our hardness of heart when he has made a thing as clear as this yet we refuse to accept it? When we prefer spiritual blindness rather than light what do we think he will say to us in the Day of Judgment? 

But now to make the application personal the question for us all is what will we do in face of the truth? Do we accept it or deny it? Do we act on it or do we remain passive and do nothing? What will you say to Jesus in the last day? 

"If anyone loves Me, he will keep my word." (Jesus - John 14:23 NASU)

Visit Denny Smith's web site to read more of his articles and also listen to over 110 audio sermons on many different subjects from "Where Are the Dead?" to "The Weaver's Shuttle," to "What Must I Do To Be Saved?"  The audio sermons are by a good friend.  Why not visit his site now  You are sure to find a sermon topic or article of interest.

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