Water and Spirit. Studying John 3:1-8

In John 3, Jesus is approached by a leading religious teacher named Nicodemus. Nicodemus had heard of Jesus and his teaching and wanted to learn more. Jesus would tell him that he had to be born again. 

In John 3:4, Nicodemus says: 

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?”

Water and Spirit

In John 3:5, Jesus will elaborate further and say to Nicodemus: 

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

Water and Spirit. 

Jesus has said unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3).

And Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 

They’re both obviously important in what Jesus is saying about how one can enter the Kingdom of God. 

But what do they have to do with each other? Because they’re both connected to seeing and entering the kingdom of God. 

The key to answering that question is found in Ezekiel 36. In that passage, water and Spirit are both present, and it says that the Lord will give the believer a new heart. 

 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

God giving his Spirit and a new heart. 

“I will sprinkle clean water on you” 

“I will give you a new heart and a new spirit I will put within you.” 

“I will put my Spirit within you”  

Where Jesus says we must be born again, it is by the Holy Spirit that we are born again. Jesus justifies by his perfect life and by his blood and it is the Holy Spirit who indwells the believer. It’s not up to us to save ourselves.

The rebirth is through the Holy Spirit. 

New theological term. This is referred to as baptism of the Holy Spirit. 

Baptism of the Holy Spirit is different from water baptism. 

That idea is first mentioned in John’s Gospel in John 1:33 when John the Baptist is speaking of Jesus and says: 

He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.

All four gospels make this same point. That Jesus brings a filling of the Holy Spirit to such an abundant degree that it is a baptism. 

It is a privilege which all Christians share, as we see in 1 Corinthians 12:13: For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body

This indwelling of the Holy Spirit is foretold in the Ezekiel passage. 

And Ezekiel isn’t the only passage. Joel 2:28: 

it shall come to pass afterward,  that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh

This initial pouring out of the Spirit happens in Acts 2 at Pentecost. 

All Christians have the Holy Spirit because all Christians are born again, which is of the Spirit. And all Chrisitans are baptized in the Holy Spirit at the moment they come to faith. 

There is no way to be a Christian without these events happening in your life.

Romans 8:9-10 is a great passage which communicates this idea. 

9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.

The Spirit sanctifies us, he sets us apart.

Romans 8:11: If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. 

The Spirit works to transform a believer: 

2 Corinthians 3:18: we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. 

Spiritual life can only come through the Spirit. That’s what Jesus means in our passage when he says in John 3:6: That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

The flesh begets worldly sinful life. The Spirit begets Spiritual life, the new life that God promises his people. 

There are many other things which the Spirit does in the life of a believer. All three persons of the Trinity are active in the gospel. We can’t just look at the love of God without the work of the Christ who died for a sinful world. 

And we can’t discount the work of the Holy Spirit because without the Holy Spirit, a person does not have faith in the gospel because true faith in the gospel means a person has the Holy Spirit. 

We must be born again. 

Titus 3:4-6: 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior

Salvation and the Spirit go together. 

Jesus is the one who died for sins. But we are given new life through the Spirit. A person who truly has faith has the Spirit. 

And once you have the Spirit, you cannot lose it. In fact, it’s because we need a work of the Holy Spirit that we can have assurance of salvation. Because it is God who works in us through the Spirit. 

Jesus has said that we must be born of water and Spirit. Returning to our passage in John 3. 

Is John 3 talking about water baptism? 

Some take that to refer to water baptism. It seems logical. But there are a few things to keep in mind: Water baptism is not mentioned anywhere else in this passage. The Great Commission and the command to baptize have not yet been given. 

Just because water is mentioned does not mean that baptism must be in mind. In our next chapter, John 4, Jesus talks of the water he provides and how the one who drinks of it will never thurst. In John 7, Jesus talks of the living water which he supplies and in that Jesus is using water to refer to the Holy Spirit. 

Jesus criticizes Nicodmeus for not understanding what he’s saying. If he’s referring to water baptism, that rebuke makes little sense. How would Nicodemus be expected to understand the ordinance of water baptism before it had been given to Chrsitians? 

But it would make sense to expect Nicodemus to understand Ezekiel 36. 

Baptism IS important, but baptism is an action that is symbolic of your inward faith, a faith where God has poured his Spirit upon his people. Baptism does nothing if you are not ultimately born again. And that’s true regardless of if someone believes in believer’s baptism or infant baptism. The baptism must ultimately be accompanied by faith. 

Given his study of the Bible, given the promises of God giving his spirit, given the Ezekiel 36 promise of a new heart, for all of these reasons, for Nicodemus, it should not be a logical leap that a new birth, a new life would be necessary in truly coming to faith in God.

We often miss this point too.

The Bible constantly talks of the necessity of faith, the Bible constantly talks of our sin. Throughout the gospels, we see constant references to Jesus’ death for our sin.

And yet we so often face the temptation to think our standing before God is based on ourselves.

Verses 7 and 8, Jesus says: 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’  8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 

Jesus gives an illustration based on the weather. 

Jesus was telling this to people before modern meteorology. 

But even still, to the average person, we don’t really know how the wind works, or what causes its changes. Yet we feel it, we see the impact it has, we hear it. 

Jesus says “so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”  

The point is that there is evidence of the work of the Spirit in the life of a believer. We don’t always understand how the spirit works but his work in the life of a believer is evident. 

And I again refer us back to Ezekiel 36:27:

I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

Israel was given the law and continued to sin. In the new covenant, God gives his Holy Spirit and it is by his Spirit that we are enabled to follow his laws.

God works within his own people enabling us to do the will of God. That is a tremendous grace which God gives to the world. 

That’s not to say that you will never sin again. That’s not to say you will never struggle again. At the moment you come to faith, you are justified before God by the justifying work of Christ. You’re forgiven in an instant, indwelled with the Holy Spirit. But the rest of life is meant to be a journey of growing in faith and holiness. 

You must be born again

Have you been born again? Has your life been changed by the gospel? 

God does a heart transplant whenever someone comes to faith. He gives a new heart. Do you have joy in the Lord? Love for God? Are there areas where you’ve seen fruit in your life?

Do you have confidence in God’s goodness and his promises? Do you have a greater appreciation for the weight of your own sin? Do you feel like your life has been oriented around God?

Being born again results a life that is transformed because it is not about our strength to live in a Godly manner but God works in us.

So that is the command which Jesus has given. That for a person to enter the kingdom of heaven, being born again is necessary. Again, it’s not just my opinion on the subject. 

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