Born of Water and Spirit
June 28th, 1970 @ 8:15 AM
BORN OF WATER AND OF THE SPIRIT
Dr. W.A. Criswell
6-28-70 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message, from the third chapter of John, entitled Born of Water and of the Spirit. In these days past at the morning service, I have been preaching through the Book of Daniel, and in the evening, through the Book of John. I will cease preaching from the Book of Daniel until this coming fall. The sermons that have been preached at the morning hour on Daniel are now being prepared and this coming week will be sent to the publishers, and the second volume of expository sermons on the Book of Daniel will be out this fall in November. And in this meantime, until I pick up the subject again, I shall be preaching through the Book of John, morning and night.
In the third chapter of John we are told that in the night there came a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, who asked Jesus a question. “Master, we know that Thou are a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles, these signs that Thou doest, except God be with him” [John 3:2]. And he wanted to know of the Lord, the way of everlasting life. The question is implicit in the story. “And Jesus answered and said,” we have just a summation of the conversation:
Jesus answered and said, Truly, truly, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
Nicodemus saith unto Him, Master, I cannot see or understand—a man is to be born again. How can he born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?
It is fantastic:
Jesus answered, Truly, truly, 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 … and Nicodemus answered and said unto Him, How can these things be?
And Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?
The very subject commands our attention; “born of water and of the Spirit” [John 3:5]. When the Lord spoke to people, He always fitted His message to them personally. The woman at the well at Sychar coming to draw water, He spoke to her about the water of life that if one drinks he will never thirst [John 4:7-13]. When the people followed Him from the other side, from the eastern side of Galilee to Capernaum [John 6:24], He spoke to the thousands there whom He had fed that they were not to seek for the meat, the food that perisheth [John 6:26-27]. And He spoke a message to them on the bread of life [John 6:26-51]. When the rich young ruler came to the Lord with this same seeking, he was enamored with this world; he loved riches, and affluence, wealth, position, prestige. He loved money, and the Lord said to him, “You must sell what you have, give it away, and then come, take up your cross, follow Me, and you will have eternal life” [Mark 10:17-22].
Now the Lord has done the same thing with this man [John 3:1]. Just as He does to us personally, He speaks to us directly, and He fits His message for us. However God’s message may be for some other man and it is, but always God’s message is for us, and He speaks to us directly and personally. So this man, a Pharisee, a ruler of the Jews, a member of the Sanhedrin [John 3:1], the highest court of Jewry, this man was proud of His birth. He was proud to be a son of Abraham. He was proud to be a descendant of the people that had given the prophets to the world, the great King David to the world. He was of the seed of Israel, and he was proud of that birth, and justly so. Had I been Nicodemus, I also would have been proud of it. Were I a Jew today, I would be proud to be numbered among the seed and the descendants of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob.
This man who was proud of his birth, when Jesus spoke to him, He said to be born one time is not enough. You must be born twice: you must be born of the Spirit as well as of the flesh. Now had the Lord left it there, there would have been no hesitancy about His meaning at all, very clear, very plain. A man must be born of the Spirit [John 3:5]. He must be made anew [John 3:3]. For by natural birth, a man is a sinner. He’s depraved. Even his affections and emotions, as well as his intellect, are fallen. But the Lord said something else, and that something else comprises one of the most fascinatingly interesting and one of the most un-understandable things that you’ll find in the Word of God. When He said you must be born again [John 3:3], and Nicodemus asked how could such a thing be [John 3:4], then the Lord added something, and it is peculiar to this passage. You don’t find it anywhere else in the Scriptures. It is just here. Jesus answered, “Verily, verily,” truly, truly, “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].
“Except a man be born, ek hudatos kai pneumatos, of water and Spirit”; well, what could He mean by that? There is one thing that John does that is very, very apparent in his Gospel. He never uses the word miracle; he always uses the word sign, sēmeion. What Jesus did was as much a revelation of truth as what Jesus said. And in all of the facets of the life of our Lord, he saw spiritual meaning just as he saw in the words of the Lord. For example, it is John who noticed, “But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced His side, and forthwith came there out blood and water. And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true” [John 19:34-35]. “I saw it when the soldier pierced the side of Jesus, there flowed out blood and water.” In John’s epistle, in the last chapter, the fifth chapter, he says, “Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? This is He that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood” [1 John 5:5-6].
So in this text, there John and he alone speaks of this; “Except a man be born, ek hudatos kai pneumatos, out of water and Spirit” [John 3:5]. Now when you read and when you study, you will find many, many interpretations of that passage. Here is one, and this is the simplest one, and this is the plainest one: when the Lord is speaking to Nicodemus about being born of water and blood, water and Spirit, He is saying that a man to be born one time of the flesh is not enough; he must also be born again of the Spirit [John 3:5]. And he uses the word water these interpreters say, and I’ve heard Dr. Fowler teach this, and he uses the word water to refer to a first birth, a water birth, a fleshly birth. Born of water, that’s the first birth; born of the Spirit, that’s the second birth [John 3:5].
Now the word water there would refer to how a child is born. In the womb of the mother when the child is created, nature, God’s creative hand, protects the growing child by surrounding the child with water. And, of course, when the child is born, the water is poured out. Now what lends credence to such an interpretation of that is in the verse that immediately follows when the Lord says, “Except a man be born of water and Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. For that which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” [John 3:5-6]. Now that is a good interpretation, and it has spiritual depth and meaning and truth in it. And Dr. Fowler, you are a wise man when you teach that doctrine. That’s all right.
Now another interpretation of that: there are those who believe that when the Lord said to this Pharisee that he had to be born of water and Spirit [John 3:5], there are those who say that what Jesus meant by that is no man can enter into the kingdom of God, no man can be saved, unless he openly confesses that faith in the Lord. And, of course, the regenerating Spirit makes him a new man. Born of water, they say, refers to the open confession of faith in Jesus. A man cannot be born again; he cannot be saved except he publicly, openly confesses his faith in the Lord Jesus. And where that doctrine comes from, that interpretation comes from, is this: the Scriptures say— and I’m going to quote here from seventh chapter of the Book of Luke—when the Lord was speaking of John the Baptist, it says that “of those that are born of woman there is not a greater than John the Baptist. And all the people that heard John, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with baptism of John. But the Pharisees rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him” [Luke 7:28-30].
Now what the Scriptures say is that when John came preaching, heralding the kingdom of God, and announcing the Messiah: “He is at hand, behold, there He walks by!”—that was the great mission of the forerunner, to point out, to introduce the Christ to the world. And in preparation for that announcement, and that kingdom, and that coming, John baptized [John 1:25-29]. Well, the publicans heard John, and they repented and were baptized openly where everybody could see them there in the River Jordan. And the people heard John, and they were baptized [Luke 7:29]. But when the Pharisees heard John, in supercilious superiority and scorn, they rejected his baptism—”I refuse” [Luke 7:30].
Now, when Nicodemus came to Jesus, he came by night [John 3:1-2]. And the interpretation would say that he did that because he was a Pharisee, he was a ruler of the Jews. He was a doctor of the law. He was a Sanhedrist, a member of the Supreme Court. And lest he tarnish his reputation, and lest he be lowered in the estimate of his compeers, he came to Jesus by night, secretly, clandestinely, furtively in the softness of the shadows. And what the Lord is saying to him here, these men avow, is this: “Nicodemus, you cannot enter the kingdom of God and not come out openly and publicly as those who accepted the baptism of John. You also must openly and publicly take your stand, and if you do not, you cannot be saved.”
Now, they say that that is what Jesus meant when He said to Nicodemus, “Jesus answered and said, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?” [John 3:10]. They say what Jesus meant there was this: “You, Nicodemus, learned in the law and a teacher among the people, you know that from the beginning no man has ever been saved who has not openly and publicly avowed that faith in God.” Now, when He says, “Are you a teacher and you do not know these things?” what He is referring to is God’s way of salvation through all the years and through all the Scriptures. The blood of the Passover had to be publicly exhibited. No man could take the blood of the Passover and put it on the backdoor, or in the closet, or hide it in the house. The blood had to be publicly displayed in the form of a cross on the lentils and on either side on the doorposts [Exodus 12:7, 13, 22-23]. And when the people passed by, the blood, “Look, that is a house, and that is a home that is committed to God,” openly, and publicly displayed! That’s God.
“Moses stood in the camp and cried saying, Who is on the Lord’s side? let him come and stand by me” [Exodus 32:26]. Joshua said after he described the heathen and the pagan [Joshua 24:2-14], he said, “Choose ye this day whom ye will serve . . . but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” [Joshua 24:15]. And Elijah was like that, “How long halt ye between two opinions? If Baal be God, serve him: but if Jehovah be God, serve Him” [1 Kings 18:21]. Now that’s been God’s way of salvation from the beginning. You are not saved clandestinely, furtively, secretly. The Lord said in the last verse of the eighth chapter of Mark, “Verily, I say unto you, he that is ashamed of Me and of My words before this heathen and adulterous generation; of him also shall the Son of Man be ashamed, when He cometh in the glory of the Father with His holy angels” [Mark 8:38].
And these interpreters are saying that what Jesus told to Nicodemus here is that, “Like those men who were baptized by John the Baptist, openly, publicly identifying themselves with the Messiah and the kingdom of God, so you must openly and publicly avow your faith in the Lord, or you cannot be saved” [John 3:5]. The Lord said in Matthew 10:32-33, “Whosoever shall confess Me before men, him will I confess also before My Father in heaven. And whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I deny before My Father in heaven.” It’s that plain, He says, it’s just that plain and that simple. And Paul said the same thing in Romans 10:9-10, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart one believeth unto a God kind of righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” There is no salvation outside of an open public committal of your life to God.
That’s the way the Lord did it. And whether God’s wise or not depends upon our judgment of God. But that’s the way God did it. There is no such thing as a man being saved without an open public committal of his life to Jesus, unashamed. If it costs your head, if they burn you at the stake, if they throw you in prison, that’s what it is to be a Christian, openly and publicly an avowal for Christ. Well, there are those who say that’s what that referred to. We must hasten.
There are those who say that what the Lord referred to here was repentance, and they use the same thing about the baptism of John [John 3:5]. You remember when [Mark’s] Gospel begins, it says, “In those days came John the Baptist, preaching”—now listen to what he preached—“the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” [Mark 1:4]. That is, his baptism was a sign that men were turning from their sins and looking to God with pure hands and a pure heart, getting ready for the kingdom of the Messiah. Preaching the doctrine—that was John’s baptism—of baptism, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins [Mark 1:4]; that’s what the baptism meant. And that’s what they say of this water here, “born of water and Spirit” [John 3:5].
Now there’s truth in all these things, great spiritual meaning in all of them. And I’ve always been persuaded that Scripture has such depths in it; it’s like an unfathomable ocean; it can mean so many rich and marvelous things. Now all of these things that I’ve mentioned, I think there’s great truth in them. Now I’m going to mention one interpretation that I think is folly wide the mark. And this is the interpretation of most of Christendom. Most of Christendom believes in baptismal regeneration. Isn’t that an astonishing doctrine? That is, it is to me—an astonishing doctrine! And they say that this refers to baptismal regeneration. Most of Christendom, for example, believes that in baptism original sin is washed away. That’s the way we get rid of original sin—is in baptism.
Well, why do we not believe in baptismal regeneration? Sometimes I refer to it as coetaneous religion. That is religion that’s skin deep, like the religion that washes the filth of the flesh, and the Lord speaks of that in His Holy Scriptures. You couldn’t get rid of sin by washing the body. You can’t get rid of sin if you were to scrub the physical frame with lye soap! There is something about salvation that somehow cannot be mediated by ceremony, or ritual, or rite, it has to be of the soul, of the heart, of the inside; you’re not saved by being baptized, by using water. When Philip preached the gospel to the eunuch [Acts 8:29-35], he said, “See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip answered and said to him, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest” [Acts 8:36-37]. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” [Acts 16:30-31]. Always that faith and commitment saves us [Ephesians 2:8-9]. It is Christ that saves us, not something that I can do or another man can do for me [Acts 4:12].
Take the instance of the apostle Paul when he wrote to the Corinthian church. In first Corinthians he says, “I thank God that I baptized none of you, save Crispus and Gaius” [1 Corinthians 1:14]. Then he added, “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel!” [1 Corinthians 1:17]. Then you have a firm avowal of what it is that forgives our sins; in the first chapter of 1 John and the seventh verse, it says, “The blood of Jesus Christ God’s Son cleanseth us from all sin” [1 John 1:7]. Water, never; good works, never; what a man can do, never; what a man can do for us, never! You can’t buy it. You can’t work for it. You can’t be good enough for it. There’s not anything that a man can do to save himself, it’s something God does for us. It’s a gift that we take [Ephesians 2:8]. It’s the blood of Christ [1 Peter 1:18-19; Acts 20:28]. It is an objective thing. It’s something outside of ourselves. It is the blood of Christ that cleanseth us from all sin [1 John 1:7], and the Spirit takes the atoning grace and mercy of Jesus and He applies it to our hearts and we’re regenerated, we’re born again by the Spirit of God [Titus 3:5].
That’s why in heaven we don’t sing, “Oh, praise me! Look at what I’ve done, I’ve made it. Look what I have accomplished! Look what I have achieved! Look at what I’ve done!” No, sir. When we get to heaven we’re going to sing, and praise, and sing, “Unto Him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood; to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever, Amen [Revelation 1:5-6]. Our salvation is of God; something Jesus has done for us [Ephesians 2:8-9], and the Holy Spirit takes it and applies it to our souls and washes our sins away [Titus 3:5]. Never something that we could do for ourselves or somebody could do for us. It’s of God.
All right, “Pastor, believing these things that you have outlined, what else do you believe?” Well, I read last night, as I was reviewing this message, and getting it in my soul, I read last night where a great and famous interpreter looked with scorn and ridicule, and called it ridiculous, what I believe about this. Isn’t that something? Isn’t that something? Well, here’s what I believe about it, with all these things. I do believe that born of water and Spirit [John 3:5]; I do believe that refers to a fleshly birth and a spiritual birth. I believe that. I do believe that it refers to an open confession, as well as the acceptance of the Holy Spirit’s work in our hearts, letting God come in. I do believe that it refers to repentance, turning [Mark 1:15], and the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit [Titus 3:5]. I believe those things. But I also believe this, and I believe this according to the Word, just reading the Bible: I believe that born of water refers to the cleansing and the washing of the Holy Word of God [Ephesians 5:26].
“Now why do you believe that, pastor?” As the man that I was reading last night, he said that’s ridiculous, and he used an exclamation point in his commentary. “That’s ridiculous! That’s fantastic! That’s far out!” “Well, why would I believe that then?” All right, now you listen to me. I’ve come to believe that also, I’ve come to believe that because of this Book. Now listen to me. First Peter 1:23, 25, “We are born of the word of God. Born again by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.” Well, is that fantastic? That’s in the Book! We are “born again by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you” [1 Peter 1:25]. That’s what the Book says.
All right, listen to it again. James 1:18, “Of His own will begat He us by the word of God.” Listen to it again in John 15:3, “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you,” washed clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. Listen to it again. Ephesians 5:26, “Now we are cleansed, we are sanctified with the washing of water by the word.” Aren’t those amazing passages? The Scriptures, and this is just a few of them that I’ve quoted, the Scriptures refer, ah, so many times to the cleansing, to the washing, to the purifying of the word of God. “Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against Thee” [Psalm 119:11]. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” [Psalm 119:105]. Listen, 2 Timothy 3:15, listen, “The Holy Scriptures are able to make thee wise unto salvation,” the Holy Scriptures, the Word of God. And then I begin to think, “O, dear Lord, if there is cleansing, and washing, and healing for our souls in the Word of God, Lord, what a tragedy unspeakable, indescribable when people do not know and do not hear the Word of the Lord.”
Look at this. I don’t get my sermons out of the New Yorker, but sometimes we read it. I read you from the New Yorker : a television writer has written us that he wanted one of his characters to say, “Man does not live by bread alone” [Matthew 4:4]. And another to reply, “Oh, yes, Genesis,” or whatever the correct Biblical attribution is. Not knowing what it is or whether he had the quote exactly right, he referred the matter to the research department of CBS television, the network broadcasting his show. Back came the reply via telephone, quote, “Man does not live by bread alone, not even pre-tested bread,” from “The American Character” by Dennis William Brogan. Their research department of Columbia Television System, in seeking to find where that quote came from, “Man shall not live by bread alone,” found that it originated in a book entitled, The American Character, by Dennis William Brogan.
I don’t need to expatiate on what has happened to the American people, and the American culture, and the Word of God. We have forgotten it! Even the research department of a great broadcasting system is not able to come up with a simple, with a simple knowledge that every child in Sunday school ought to know. In Deuteronomy 8:3, God said that. And in Matthew 4:4, the Lord Jesus said that to Satan, when Satan said, “Turn these stones into bread.” And the Lord replied, “It is written—in Deuteronomy 8:3—man shall not live by bread alone.” But America does not know it. We have forgotten it. I think of that prophecy in the Book of Amos, “The time will come, says the Lord, when there will be a famine, not for bread nor for water, but for the words of the Lord” [Amos 8:11]. There is something that is happening to America, happening to its soul, happening to its life, we are forgetting that our children are growing up without a knowledge of the Word of God, and without that Word you cannot be saved [Romans 10:14]. I must close.
All of which places upon us that enormous, unfathomable responsibility to deliver, and to teach, and to preach God’s blessed Book, God’s Holy Word, whereby, according to Paul, we are wise unto salvation [2 Timothy 3:15], for no man is ever saved without it, no man. Look just a moment, look just a moment. When Paul met the Lord on the Damascus road [Acts 9:1-5], and he fell at His feet, and said, “Lord, what would You have me to do? And the Lord replied, Go into Damascus; and there it will be told thee what thou must do” [Acts 9:6]. Why didn’t Jesus tell him? Why into Damascus through Ananias? [Acts 9:10-18]. Take again. In the tenth chapter and the eleventh chapters of the Book of Acts [Acts 10:1-11:18], and an angel appeared unto Cornelius as he prayed and offered alms unto God [Acts 10:1-2]. And an angel said to Cornelius, “Go down to Joppa and ask for one Simon in the house of the tanner who will come and tell thee words whereby thou and thy house may be saved!” [Acts 10:5-6, 11:13-14] Why didn’t the angel tell him the words? Because no man is ever saved without the mediating word of God delivered by another man [Romans 10:14]. That’s again, God.
Or take again that great passage in the tenth chapter of the Book of Romans, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” [Romans 10:13]. But, says the apostle, “How shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent?” [Romans 10:13-15] We are not saved except by the mediating grace and cleansing power of the Word of God [Ephesians 5:26].
That means our Sunday school must teach it. More and more I’m coming to the conclusion that I think one of the responsibilities of our staff is to pour more biblical content into the Sunday school lessons that we’re teaching all up and down this church. And I’m beginning more and more to come to the conclusion that I’m going to start with this staff doing that, doing that if we have to make our own lessons, fine, makes no difference to me. But we must teach the Word of God. The text for our Sunday school is the Bible, and the text for our church is the Bible! And the text for our message is this Book, this Holy Book!
And, that’s true for the whole world. Are the heathen lost? Can a man be lost without a knowledge of the Word of God? Can a man be saved without knowing the gospel message? The Book says he cannot. “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. But how shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard?” [Romans 10:13-14] And that’s our responsibility, the world, the blood, the destiny of the whole world lies upon our hands to teach and to preach the Word of God.
Well, this sacred hour and this holy morning, as much as I’ve tried in my soul to do it in days past, I renew my vows to the Lord. I’m going to try harder in days future to mediate this truth, to exalt this Word, to make known this message, without which no man can be saved [Romans 10:14]. Except a man be born of the cleansing water, the washing of the Word, the gospel message of Christ, and of the regenerating Spirit in his heart, he cannot be saved [John 3:5]. I must accept, I must believe, I must open my heart, and when I do, God does something, and I am born again [John 3:3, 7]. He writes my name in the Book of Life [Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27]. I’m a Christian. I’m a child of the King.
Now we must sing our hymn, and while we sing it, a family you, or a couple you, or just one somebody you, giving your heart to the faith, “Pastor, I’ve heard the message, and I believe it. And I’m coming today, and here I am.” In this balcony round, that somebody you, on this lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front just like God says in His Book, openly and publicly [Romans 10:9-10], “I’m giving my life to the Lord, and here I am. Here I come.” Do it now. Make that decision now. And in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up coming. “Here I am, pastor. Here I come.” Do it today. Do it now. Do it this moment. Are you ready? In that aisle and down to the front, “Here I come, pastor, and here I am,” while we stand and while we sing.