By Don Willis
There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, 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. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? 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. 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. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? (John 3:1-10).
The new birth is essential to being a child of God! Many passages assert the requirement of being a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17; Rom. 6:3, 6; Gal. 2:20, etc.). Therefore, a careful study of this text seems practical.
Nicodemus is a ruler of the Jews, a member of the Sanhedrim (Sanhedrin) (Vincent, Volume 2, 89). Lightfoot said, “in the Sanhedrim, Bonai (Nicodemus, DW) is reckoned amongst the disciples of Jesus, and accounted one of the three richest men amongst the Jews at that time, when Titus besieged Jerusalem” (Volume 3, 262).
Nicodemus and others of the rulers (note the plural pro-noun “we”) saw the works of Jesus, and realized a wonderful event had come to pass. After four hundred years in which God had not communicated with his people, Nicodemus recognizes that Jehovah is now providing a spokesman to the people.
Jews were the people of God. They became such by physical birth. Pride was manifest in being the “seed of Abraham.” This context is a corrective statement about childhood and the Kingdom of God. “The Jews thought that it was enough for them to have been of the seed of Abraham, or the stock of Israel, to make them fit subjects for the kingdom of heaven, and the happiness that should accrue to them from the days of the Messiah. Our Saviour sets himself against this error of theirs, and teacheth that it is not enough for them to be the children of Abraham, or the stock of Israel, to give them any title to or interest in the Messiah; but they must further be born from above; they must clam it by a heavenly, not an earthly birth” (Lightfoot, 264-265).
One must be born again, i.e., from above (NASV foot-note), an heavenly ordained birth. Nicodemus asked if one could be born when he is old. “He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he? (NASV)” To which Jesus ordained, one must be born of water and of the Spirit in order to enter the kingdom of heaven!
The water of the new birth is the regeneration process in the act of baptism. In order for one to be baptized, submission must be given to the authority of Jesus Christ (similar to Naaman submitting to the authority of God through the prophet Elisha). Naaman and Nicodemus recognized that the power was not in the mere act of washing, but subjection!
Born of Water
Baptism is commanded by Jesus (Mark 16:16; Matt. 28:19). One cannot be in Christ (Gal. 3:27) nor a disciple of Christ without baptism! Water is the element of New Testament baptism! The eunuch anxiously exclaimed, “See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?” (Acts 8:36). At the house of Cornelius, Peter queried, “Can any man for-bid water, that these should not be baptized …?” (Acts 10:47). Noah and his family “were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us” (1 Pet. 3:20-21). Baptism is this “washing of regeneration” (Tit. 3:5) whereby one has his sins washed away (Acts 22:16).
Some attempt to nullify the clear command of Jesus! Naaman attempted to belittle the command of the prophet; but when moved by faith to dip seven times in the Jordan, he was cleansed. When faith moves one to obey Jesus, sins are washed away. Praise the wonderful name of Jesus, and accept by obedience his promise!
Born of Spirit
One must be born of the Spirit. This is not Holy Spirit baptism! Holy Spirit baptism was a promise made to the apostles, but never commanded upon the disciples. If Holy Spirit baptism is necessary to salvation, and comes only from God; truly, God would be a respecter of persons if he failed to give the same to each of us. But, God is no re-specter of persons! (See Acts 10:34; Rom. 2:11; Gal. 2:6; Eph. 6:9.) Therefore, one must ascertain the meaning of this statement, “born of the Spirit.”
“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). Getting wet does not save a person! The answer of a good conscience to-ward God is that which saves, by the resurrection of Jesus. One must submit to God. Christ saves those that obey (Heb. 5:9), being redeemed by his blood (Eph. 1:7; 1 Pet. 1:18-19).
How Can this Be?
The work of the Holy Spirit is outlined by Jesus. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to the Apostles at the time of the last supper (all the events from John 13-17 transpire with the Apostles). Read John 14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:7-14. These passages assert the divine work of the Holy Spirit; viz., guide the apostles into all truth, bring to their remembrance Christ’s teachings, reveal things to come, and convict the world. On the day of Pentecost, this power was given to the Apostles! Acts 2:1-4: “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all (the apostles, DW) filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (my emphasis, DW).
Inspiration came by the Holy Spirit! See 1 Corinthians 2:10-13; Galatians 1:11-12; Ephesians 3:3-4; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:19-21. The Bible is the Word of God. The Holy Spirit through the Word of God has a function in the work of conversion!
Before a birth can take place, there must be a begetting. One must be born of the Spirit! Since God is no respecter of persons, God has given his word to all that they may hear, believe and obey him. 1 Corinthians 4:15: “For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.” James 1:18: “Of his own will begat us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.” James 1:21: “Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.” 1 Peter 1:22-23: “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently: Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.” (All scripture emphasis mine, DW). Thus, the Spirit functions in the Word to produce faith in the heart. And, John 1:12 says, “as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.”
Faith is produced by the preaching and receiving of the Word of God. Romans 10:17: “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Therefore, the gospel is the work of the Spirit in inducing faith! Thus, Acts 2:21: “And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” How does one call on the name of the Lord? Acts 22:16 “And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” The only commanded baptism is water baptism, not Holy Spirit baptism!
Even the Jew should have known that a physical birth was not all that made him God’s elect! There was the necessity of circumcision, and as David affirmed, a new heart was required! Psalms 51:10: “Create in me a clean heart, 0 God; and renew a right spirit within me.” Psalms 51:17: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, 0 God, thou wilt not despise.” Without that new heart, even the Jew was not acceptable to Jehovah! Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, should already have known this!
Mr. Lightfoot concludes, “He (Jesus) tells him, that the Jew himself cannot be admitted into the kingdom of the Messiah unless he first strip himself of his Judaism by baptism, and then put off his carnal and put on the spiritual state. That by water here is meant baptism, I make no doubt he now further teacheth him, that this admission is not to be obtained but by an absolute renunciation of Judaism, and being baptized into the profession of the gospel. For the tenor of Christian baptism runs pointblank against Judaism” (266). This is the way to the kingdom of God!
Guardian of Truth XL: 3 p. 10-11