Born of the Water and the Spirit

By Mike Willis

John’s account of the gospel of Christ relates the conversation that occurred between Nicodemus and Jesus. Nicodemus is described as a Pharisee who was a ruler of the Jews.

The Pharisees was the sect among the Jews who were most concerned about personal holiness. However, the sect tended toward self-righteousness and arrogance. Jesus’ depiction of the Pharisee who prayed in the Temple surely called attention to widespread attitudes among them: “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess” (Luke 18:11-12). He also warned his disciples to avoid the hypocrisy of the Pharisees (Luke 12:1).

Being a ruler of the Pharisees, Nicodemus was a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin (John 7:50). He held a very prominent position among the Jews.

Nicodemus had witnessed the miracles that Jesus had done in Jerusalem (see John 2:23). When he approached Jesus he said, “Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him” (John 3:2). Jesus’ response to him seems to pre-suppose that Nicodemus had asked him, “What does one in my station have to do to become a member of the kingdom of God?” Nicodemus would likely think that a man of his position and stature would be welcomed as he was into the kingdom of God. However, Jesus responded, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

Nicodemus may have been offended by such a statement. Publicans, vile sinners, and Gentiles may need to be “born again” to enter the kingdom, but should such be required of a Pharisee, one who was a chief among the Jews?

Nicodemus did not understand what Jesus meant by being born again. Did Jesus mean that an older man like himself had to enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born again?

Jesus explained, “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).

The New Birth

There is no one among Christian people who does not understand that one must be “born again” to be saved. How-ever, there is much difference in understanding of what that new birth consists. Let us examine what the text says:

1. Salvation requires a new birth. We understand the figure of a birth, being born into something. The change that occurs when a person is saved from sin is so radical that it can be compared to being born again. A birth requires a conception and emergence from the mother’s womb. In the spiritual figure of a new birth, one is conceived by the gospel seed (1 Cor. 4:15; 1 Pet. 1:23). The preaching of the gospel causes the conception that results in the new birth.

2. Being born again requires that one be born of water. There is only one thing associated with salvation that involves water and that is baptism. The commentaries are generally agreed that “born of water” refers to being baptized in water (Meyer 123, Bloomfield I:342, Bernard I:104, Alford I:714, A. Plummer 95, etc.). The significance of this text is that water baptism (born of water) is a essential for entrance in the kingdom of heaven.

Only those who have a theological position to defend which denies that baptism is a condition of salvation look for a different meaning of “born of water.” To deny that water baptism is a condition of salvation, “born of water” is interpreted to mean the amniotic fluid of a physical birth (when a woman shortly before childbirth “breaks her water”). This interpretation is so transparently false that it needs little refutation. However, the conclusion would necessarily follow that a “dry birth” baby could not enter the kingdom of heaven. The text itself says that a “man” (not a baby) must be born of water.

That water baptism is essential to salvation is confirmed by the following texts:

He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned (Mark 16:16).

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 (Acts 2:38).

And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord (Acts 22:16)

The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 3:21).

Those who have not been immersed in water for the remission of their sins have not been born again.

3. The new birth requires that one be born of the Spirit. Water baptism without the accompanying “born of Spirit” is inadequate for salvation. What does being “born of the Spirit” mean? Various explanations have been given. Some interpret this to mean Holy Spirit baptism, speaking in tongues, or some other miraculous manifestation of the Holy Spirit.

We can find help in understanding this statement by looking at other verses that mention the Holy Spirit and water baptism. Consider the following:

And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God (1 Cor. 6:11).

For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13).

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 (Titus 3:5).

That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word (Eph. 5:26)

These verses help us to see what the work of the Holy Spirit is in conversion that might be compared to being born again. The Holy Spirit who was sent to the apostles did the work of convicting men of sin, righteousness, and the judgment to come (John 16:8). That occurs through the preaching of the Holy Spirit revealed word of God. When one hears the gospel preached, he is convicted of his sins (Acts 2:37; 1 Cor. 14:24). The Holy Spirit revealed gospel proclaims the conditions of one’s salvation  belief in Christ (Mark 16:16; John 8:24; 14:6), repentance of one’s sins (Acts 2:38; 17:30), confession of one’s faith (Mau. 10:32; Acts 8:37), and water baptism (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21). When one believes the message revealed by the Holy Spirit, genuinely repents of his sins and determines to be obedient to the Lord, and is baptized in water, he has been born of the Spirit.

Sometimes a person is immersed in water for one reason or another without this great transformation having occurred. He may be baptized in order to date a person, to please his parents, or because some of his friends were baptized. However, if one did not experience the change that is described above in which he ceases to live to please himself in the service of Satan and resolves to live for Christ, he just got wet.

4. He becomes a part of the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God on this earth is the church (Matt. 16:18). Because the church is an eternal kingdom that shall be delivered up to the Father at the Lord’s second coming (1 Cor. 15:24), this kingdom is but a prelude to heaven itself (2 Pet. 1:11). Hence, the new birth is essential to become a member of the church (1 Cor. 12:13) and to enter heaven itself.


Have you been born again? Some of our religious neighbors need to realize that they have not been born again because they were not baptized into Christ for the remission of their sins. Perhaps some of us need to reconsider whether or not we were born of the Spirit when we were baptized or just went through some ritual for some reason or the other. Whichever the case might be, if you have not been born again, you need to be if you desire to be a citizen in the kingdom of King Jesus.

Guardian of Truth XLI: 7 p. 2
April 3, 1997