In the John 3 conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, Jesus emphatically told the Pharisee leader that he must be born again (verses 3, 7) and “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (verse 5) The idea of the kingdom of God was very important to the Pharisees so this was a critical matter. It is also a critical matter for Christian believers.
Some preachers and writers take “born of water” to mean water baptism, thereby making baptism absolutely necessary for one to be a follower of Jesus, to be in the Kingdom. This is wrong. Many have taught error because they have not examined the context. Bear with me.
Many bible versions indicate in the margin that the phrase “born again” can just as readily be translated “born from above”. The context deals with spiritual birth, a birth from God and not from man just as we read at the beginning of the Gospel of John that those who receive Jesus, who believe in His name were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (1:12).
Look at Nicodemus’ question “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” The context doesn’t allow us to read baptism into Jesus’ words. No. The Pharisee understood Jesus to say that a second birth was necessary, but to him this seemed absurd, especially for someone elderly. Judaism actually taught eight different steps one could take, each seen as being “born again”.
Nicodemus had already been “born again” many times. A Jew could be “born again” by being baptised, by immersing himself and then he was ritually clean. Pharisees immersed themselves very frequently.
Nicodemus could also be “born again” when going through bar mitzvah, or when getting married, becoming ordained as a rabbi, or being the head of a rabbinic academy (yeshiva)—if he lived long enough. That’s why he asked Jesus “How can a man be born when he is old?” Time was running out for him.
Three times Jesus underlined the importance of this question. “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. “Born again” means just that—again, born a second time, born from above. “Born of water” is the physical birth, immersion in watery fluid in the womb and the experience of the waters breaking at birth which we all experience. And this element must come first!
Jesus is contrasting two elements in these verses: first the water and second, the Spirit: That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Birth by water means born of flesh, physical birth, out of the womb of his mother.
Again he repeats, Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You (it’s plural in Greek here—‘you all’) must be born again.’ 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.” The contrast continues—you can name the origin of physical birth, but you cannot tell the origin of spiritual birth.
Jesus then in the following passage also emphasises believing and believing alone: whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 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. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. There is no baptism mentioned in these words—salvation is not through any human act such as baptism or even obedience to the call for baptism. It is through faith in the grace of God, in the son of God, in Christ crucified, not of works, lest any should boast.
The passage continues “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. Condemnation comes by disbelief cf Acts 4:12.
If baptismal regeneration were true then condemnation is coming for millions upon millions of believers who have failed to be baptised no matter how godly and how full of the love of Jesus (verse 17).
To be continued!