Born of Water and of Spirit
October 19th, 1986 @ 10:50 AM
BORN OF WATER AND SPIRIT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-19-86 10:50 a.m.
The message today is an exegetical study, an exegetical sermon. It is the word as God uses it. So we are going to turn to the third chapter of John. And we are going to stand in a moment and read the first six verses, John 3:1-6.
The title of the message is Born of Water and of Spirit, out of water and out of Spirit. And it will be a study of the words that Jesus uses in describing how it is we enter into heaven. “I want to go to heaven! I don’t want to be lost! Lord, how do I get into heaven? Think of how long eternity is. I want to be with You, God. How do I get into those pearly gates and walk with God’s redeemed family?” Jesus tells us, and that is our message today. Now let us stand together and read the Word, John 3:1-6 together:
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 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.
Now may we be seated, and we will begin. “Except a man be born of water and Spirit” [John 3:5]. There’s no “the” in it. “Except a man be born out of hudatos, water, kai pneumatos, Spirit. Except a man be born out of water and Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” [John 3:5]. Had the Lord said just “Spirit; except a man be born of Spirit”—it would not have been unusual. It would have been the most usual thing we could have imagined our Lord saying. But when He adds “water,” that’s different. This is the only place in the Bible you’ll find that. It’s not elsewhere in Scripture, it is just here. What does He mean? There is no possibility of a literal interpretation. There is no such thing as a man being born of water. The answer is found in John himself. He was a mystic.
Everything Jesus did, and everything our Lord said, John saw a deeper, and ulterior, and more spiritually, heavenly meaning in everything the Lord did and everything the Lord said. For example, you have it translated “miracles” here in the King James Version. John never used the word “‘miracle,” not one time. He uses the word semeion, “sign.” What Jesus did, and what He said, had a deeper and spiritual meaning. The whole book, the whole Book of John is that. It’s symbolic of great, spiritual instruction and revelation.
For example, in the second chapter that we have preached through, John says the Lord instructed the servants to fill those six big stone jars of water, which were used for the purification, after the manner of people coming into the house. They washed their feet and hands and purified themselves after the law of Moses. So they filled those six big stone jars full of water. Then the Lord said, “Draw out now from the well and bear to the governor of the feast.” And on the way it turned into wine [John 2:6-9].
Now John saw in that a semeion, he calls it semeion, a “sign” [John 2:11]. It had a significance, a meaning, beyond actually what was done. Those six big stone jars represented the ritual law, and the law of Moses was filled to the brim [John 2:7; Matthew 5:17]. Then the gospel of grace is the new wine that is brought to the people who enjoy the feast [John 2:9].
Well, the whole gospel is that way. When Jesus feeds the five thousand [John 6:5-13], John sees in the Lord the manna, the bread that comes down from heaven [John 6:51]. When He opens the eyes of the blind [John 9:1-11], he sees Jesus is the light of the world [John 8:12]. When the Lord raises Lazarus from the dead [John 11:43-44], he sees in Him the resurrection, and the life [John 11:25]. When the Lord washes feet, he sees our humble and gracious loving service for each other [John 13:1-16]. When the Lord was crucified [John 19:16-30], it is only John who notices that out of the wound, out of the side—of the Roman spear—John sees blood and water flow out [John 19:34]. When we come to that; we’ll preach on that.
So the whole Gospel is just that. Now this is another typical instance of John listening to the Savior and finding in what He says a great symbol of spiritual truth. “Except a man be ex hudatos, out of water, kai pneumatos, and Spirit, he cannot be saved, he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven” [John 3:5].
So we begin. As far back as I can remember, practically, if not all of the Baptist preachers that I have listened to interpreted this hudatos, “out of water” as referring to our physical birth; and they have a substantiating text for it; the next verse says, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” [John 3:6]. Being born of water refers to a physical birth. All of us know that the little babe in the womb is cushioned in water. And there is a type of a birth that is called a water birth. And these old-time Baptist preachers would say that to be born of the flesh is not enough; to be born of water is not enough. We must be reborn. We must be born of Spirit. God must regenerate us before we can enter the kingdom of heaven.
In our natural birth, we are sinful. We are born in iniquity with a propensity to transgression [Psalm 51:5]. We must be remade. We must be reborn. And that’s what Jesus meant when He said, “Except one be born of water”—physical birth, and “except to be born of Spirit” [John 3:5]—a spiritual birth. First birth is not enough; we must be born again to enter the kingdom of God.
That’s all right. I have no quarrel with that at all. There’s a great truth in it, a great truth. But I don’t think that’s what Jesus meant. I think it kind of extraneous. It’s superfluous to say that a man has to be born physically, because here I am physically. Well, anyway there’s another meaning that can be found in it. “Except a man be born of water” [John 3:5]; it could refer to the water baptism of John. John the Baptist administered a cleansing rite in water; a baptism, a submergence in water, that had two meanings to it. The first; it represented repentance. Mark’s Gospel begins in Mark 1:4. “John preached the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins;” and Jesus, here using that symbol water [John 3:5]. No man can enter into the kingdom of heaven who first does not repent [Mark 1:15]. That is what the man has to do. He has to turn, then the Holy Spirit of God regenerates his heart [Titus 3:5]. That could be the meaning here: a man, to enter into the kingdom of God, has to be baptized in water, in repentance [Acts 19:4-5]; a sign of a change in his own heart and commitment. Then God changes his heart; rebirths him, reborns him, remakes him [2 Corinthians 5:17].
The second thing that John’s baptism represented was an open confession of faith in the Lord Jesus. In the seventh chapter of the Book of Luke, Luke says the Pharisees rejected the baptism of John [Luke 7:29-30]. Therefore Nicodemus, in the first verse here, comes to the Lord by night; he comes furtively and secretly [John 3:1-2]. And the Lord is saying to him, “You cannot be saved secretly, furtively. For a man to be saved, he must openly, unashamedly, statedly confess his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ [Romans 10:8-13]. You cannot be ashamed of Me, and hide your faith from the world in Me and be a Christian. You cannot do it.”
Romans 10:9-10 says avowedly:
If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in thine heart that God raised Him from the dead—
that He lives—
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.
If I am to be saved, I must openly, unashamedly, confess that faith before the Lord. And John’s baptism represented that; an open confession of commitment to Christ [Acts 19:4].
Jesus in this passage refers to Nicodemus as a didaskalos, a teacher. And He says, “You are a teacher—do you not realize these things?” [John 3:10]. He did! In the days of Egyptian bondage, the blood of the Passover lamb had to be placed on the lintel and on the door posts outside where the whole world could see it [Exodus 12:7, 13, 22]: “This is a family of God.”
When Moses stood in the camp, he said, “Who is on the Lord’s side? Let him come and stand by me” [Exodus 32:26].
Joshua said, “Choose you this day whom you will serve!” [Joshua 24:15]
Elijah cried, saying, “How long halt you between two opinions? If God be God, serve God! If Baal be God, serve Baal—but you must choose” [1 Kings 18:21].
That’s what the Lord meant in one interpretation, in this passage, John’s water baptism; an open, unashamed, stated, public confession of your faith in the Lord Jesus [Luke 12:8]. That is our part. God’s part then is to regenerate the human heart.
A third interpretation of this “born of water and of Spirit” [John 3:5]: it could refer—and practically all of Christendom believes this—it refers, they say, to baptismal regeneration. In the act of being baptized, we are saved. It is a rite and a ritual that is necessary to our presentation before God. We are baptized into the family of God. We are saved by the ritual of baptism.
I call that “cutaneous religion.” It’s religion that is on the skin. You wash your way, you cleanse your way, you’re baptized into the kingdom of God. I only have one trouble with that, which would be obvious. You could be baptized every day of your life, every hour on the hour. You could be scrubbed with lye soap and still it does not enter the heart. It does not regenerate the heart. Outward religion, ritualistic religion, ceremonial religion is as such and nothing before God. There has to be something far more than that.
Well, these who avow baptismal regeneration, that we are saved in the act of baptism, they have three texts in the New Testament that they use for that. The first one is in Mark 16:16: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be ashamed.” Now as for me—and I’m speaking just for me—in my study of textual reality, textual criticism, the text of the Bible, Mark’s Gospel ends with the eighth verse [Mark 16:8]. The ending of Mark has been lost. It has been lost from the beginning.
Whoever wrote, beginning in verse 9 through the rest of this chapter [Mark 16:9-20]—whoever did that was a superstitious half-believer that’s beyond my imagination! Nobody knows who wrote it. It is certainly not a part of the Word of God. For example, he says, they shall take up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them [Mark 16:18]. That to me is unadulterated superstition!
And when we read here in the Southland of these snake handlers, that’s the text they use. They’re handling snakes! And some of them get bitten and die! That’s idiocy! That’s foolishness! And God is not an idiot, and God is not foolish. And whatever God writes, and whatever God says, has tremendous reason in it and import in it. Now that is I; you may be able to receive things like that. I cannot! Period. Exclamation point! I’m just telling you that in the study of the text—textual criticism, they call it—the Gospel of Mark ends with the eighth verse [Mark 16:8]. And whoever wrote the ending there nobody knows; but it is certainly not a part of the Word of God.
Well, anyway, even in what he wrote—whoever wrote it—“He that believeth and, is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” [Mark 16:16]. Our salvation turns not upon our baptism, but upon our belief. It is trusting in Christ that saves us [Romans 10:9-10], even in this anomalous passage added to the Gospel of Mark.
The second passage that is used to substantiate baptismal regeneration—that in baptism we are saved—is in Acts 2:38: “Then Peter said unto them,” at Pentecost, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
“Baptized for the remission of sins” [Acts 2:38], now there’s a very obvious thing here. That word translated “for” is the word eis, e-i-s, eis. Baptized eis, for the remission of sins—and there are other passages in the Bible which we don’t have time to even to mention. There are other passages in the Bible where eis cannot be translated in another way but “because of.” Well, let’s translate it that way here, as it is elsewhere. “Repent, and be baptized every one of you, be baptized because of, eis, because of the remission of your sins” [Acts 2:38]. It is a sign of the cleansing and sanctifying grace of God in our hearts.
Now the one other passage that is used is in the twenty-second chapter of the Book of Acts: “And now why tarriest thou?” says Ananias to Saul of Tarsus who has been converted on the way to Damascus; “Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” [Acts 22:16]. There are two things to be observed about that. Number one: he was already saved. Baptism didn’t save him. He was saved gloriously in that vision of Christ on the way to Damascus [Acts 9:1-6]. And the Lord said to him, “You go into Damascus; and it will be told thee what you must do; My plan for thee” [Acts 22:10].
So he’s already saved. He’s already gloriously converted. And Ananias says to him, “And now arise, and be baptized” [Acts 22:16]. Then let’s put our comma there, “wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” It’s calling on the name of the Lord that washes away our sins! God does it! These are always the same marvelous revelations of God. There are not confusions in these texts in the Bible. They all move in the same direction, if we’ll just let them speak to us. Water does not wash my sins away.
First John 1:7 avows, “The blood of Christ God’s Son cleanseth us from all sin” [1 John 1:7]. It is an inward, moral reality—always, always! And these who are saved are always baptized after their regeneration, after they become a Christian. Baptism is always a sign of God’s cleansing grace in our lives.
For example, as they went on their way, the Ethiopian eunuch said to Philip:
Here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?
And Philip said, If you believe with all your heart, you may.
And the eunuch answered Philip and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
Then he commanded the chariot to stand still; then they went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him—having received the Lord as his Savior.
Take again in the first chapter of 1 Corinthians. Paul, writing to the Corinthian church, says: “I thank God I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius” [1 Corinthians 1:14]. Now listen to the next verse, “For God sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel” [1 Corinthians 1:17]. What an amazing avowal, if we are saved, if we are regenerated, if our sins are cleansed from our souls by baptism! “God sent me not to baptize but to preach the gospel” [1 Corinthians 1:17], the apostle says. Now the reason for that is most obvious. Our sins are washed away in the blood of Christ, in the atoning sacrifice of our Lord; 1 John 1:7, it is the blood of Christ that “cleanseth us from all sin.” That is the message from heaven itself—saved by the blood of the crucified One.
All praise to the Father,
All praise to the Son,
All praise to the Spirit,
The great three in one!
Saved by the blood of the crucified One!
Glory, I’m saved!
My sins are all pardoned
And my guilt is all gone,
Saved by the blood of the crucified One!
[“Saved By the Blood”; S. J. Henderson]
Never saved by being baptized, regenerated by immersion in water; always we are saved by the atoning grace of Christ. And baptism is an open and public avowal that we have accepted the grace and mercy of our Lord that alone saves us from eternal death [John 3:36; Ephesians 2:8; Titus 3:5].
“Now pastor, what do you think that means?” I have a very, very, very deep persuasion of its meaning according to the word of God, not according to what I think; “born of water and born of Spirit” [John 3:5].
“Born of water,” born of the cleansing power of God’s Word, born by the gospel message, born by the hearing of the grace of our Lord that brings us into the presence of Jesus. Look: 1 Peter 1:23 and 25: “Born again by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.”
Born of water, of the word, and of Spirit, by the regenerating power of the Spirit in our hearts, without which no man shall ever see the kingdom of God [John 3:5]. Look again in James 1:18: “Of His own will beget He us with the word of truth.” Look again in John 15:3: “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you,” the cleansing power of the Word of God.” Look again in Ephesians 5:25 and 26: “Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it; that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word” [Ephesians 5:25-27]. The gospel message, the word of Christ, the inspired, infallible Word of God, cleanses us! We are washed by the Word!
Just one other out of a multitude; Paul writes to his son Timothy, “That from a child thou has known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation” [2 Timothy 3:15], the Word of God, without which no man can ever be saved, never, ever! Any time anyone comes into the knowledge of the will of God for his life, always it is through the delivery of the Word of God from the mouth and the tongue of another man. Always! [Romans 10:14] First, we hear; then we repent and come to God and are regenerated by the Holy Spirit of God: but always that first ex hudatos, out of water [John 3:5]—the cleansing power of the gospel message of Christ, the Word of God.
Look at this just for a minute: when the Lord Jesus appeared to Saul of Tarsus, as he went to Damascus to hale into and to imprison those that called upon the name of the Lord [Acts 9:1-2; 22:4-5], blinded by the glory of the effluent presence of Jesus, he fell at the feet of that celestial appearance of the Lord God Christ, and said, “Who art Thou, Lord?” And the Lord replied, “I am Jesus of Nazareth” [Acts 9:3-6; 22:6-8]. Then the Lord said to him, “You go into Damascus; and there it will be told thee what thou must do” [Acts 9:6; 22:10]. Why didn’t Jesus tell him what to do? He is there talking to him. This man falling at His feet accepts the Lord, believes in the Lord—why didn’t Jesus tell him what to do? Because no man ever comes into the knowledge of the will of God for his life except through the voice and word of another man; the preaching of the gospel [Romans 10:14].
Take again, in the tenth chapter of the Book of Acts; an angel appears to Cornelius, the Roman centurion. And the angel says to him, “You send down to Joppa for one Simon who will come and tell thee words whereby thou and thy house may be saved” [Acts 10:3, 5-6]. Why didn’t the angel tell him the words? Because no man ever comes into the knowledge of the will of God except through the preached gospel from the lips and the tongue of another man; never an exception! [Romans 10:14].
Take again, the avowal of that written out for us in the tenth chapter of the Book of Romans:
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? and how shall they hear without a preacher?
As it is written…
Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God.
[Romans 10:13-15, 17]
“Born of water” [John 3:5]—born of the listening to the gospel, born of the preached Word—faith coming by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God [Romans 10:17]. “How shall they hear without a preacher?” [Romans 10:14]. We are born again by the Word of God [1 Corinthians 15:2], the cleansing power of the gospel message of Christ, and by the regenerating Spirit of God in our hearts [Titus 3:5]; born of water, of Spirit [John 3:5]: born of the gospel message, and born by the regenerating power of the Lord in our souls [Titus 3:5]. I have to close.
A man said, “I have to make a decision. Either I give my heart to Christ or I must cease attending church. I cannot continue attending church. I cannot continue listening to the gospel message. I’ve got to quit going or respond.” You’ll find that in your life. If you come to church and listen to the gospel of the Son of God; if you come, the day will also come when you’ll find it impossible to say no to the claims of Christ, to the appeal of the grace of our Lord [Ephesians 2:8]. You can’t sit there continually and repudiate the truth of the gospel message that is delivered. You’ll have to cease attending the services. It will be one or the other.
How wonderful it is to be the other way around! I love to listen to the exposition of the Word of God. I love to listen to a message from God’s Holy Book; telling us about the Lord; telling us about heaven; telling us about all the wonderful, marvelous things of Christ Jesus.
More, more about Jesus;
More of the Lord in His Word,
Holding communion with our Lord;
Hearing His voice in every line,
Making each faithful saying mine;
More, more about Jesus.
[ “More About Jesus” Eliza Hewitt]
Sing them over again to me,
Wonderful words of life.
Let me more of their beauty see,
Wonderful words of life.
[ “Wonderful Words of Life” Philip Bliss]
You’ll experience that. You come to church and you listen to the Word of God, and one of two things; you’ll either find your heart responding to the grace and love presented in those holy pages, or you’ll cease coming. How much better to respond with your heart! [1 Corinthians 15:2]. Lord, Lord, Your grace and Your blessing, so full and so rich, opening heart and life, and house, and home to the blessed Savior; pilgrimaging with Him, a fellow traveler on the way to heaven, up to glory one triumphant day. And that is our appeal to your heart. May we pray now?
Our Lord in heaven, what a sweet and precious thing to gather in God’s house with an open Book, written on the page the marvelous grace of our wonderful Savior; O God, no wonder You said, “Blessed is he that hungers and thirsts after righteousness” [Matthew 5:6]. Blessed is that heart that opens the soul of life to the blessed, wonderful, saving message of Jesus our Lord. And our Lord, we humbly pray that in this moment of appeal, there will be families, there will be people, there will be children, there will be men and women, there will be young people who will come to Thee and to us. Sanctify and hallow the appeal with a gracious harvest. We will love Thee, Lord, for the answered prayer and every soul You give us, in Thy saving name, amen.
A family you, a couple you, a one somebody you, “Pastor, this is God’s day for me and for us, and I am on the way.” Make it now. Come now, while we stand and while we sing.
WATER AND OF SPIRIT
turns conversation in keeping with experience and background of one to whom He
speaks (Matthew 11:16-30, Luke 19:5, 9, Mark
10:31, John 3:3, 5, 4:5-23, 6:27)
was a mystic (John 15:5)
Uses symbolism of water to refer to some great spiritual reality
a. Heart of Jesus
pierced (John 19:33-35)
b. Christ came by blood
and water (1 John 5:6)
II. Four interpretations
A. Refers to physical
birth (John 3:6)
1. Nature’s way
of protecting unborn child
2. Fleshly birth
B. Refers to open
1. Nicodemus came
Baptism a way of openly confessing our faith (Romans
10:9-10, Mark 16:16, Matthew 10:32-33)
C. Refers to repentance
D. Refers to baptismal
all Christendom believes saved by baptism
2. No such thing
in Word of God (1 John 1:7)
III. Baptism a picture of burial and
resurrection of our Lord
A. Water is “cleansing”
Word of God (1 Peter 1:23-25, James 1:17-18,
John 15:3, Romans 10:17)