Born of Water and of Spirit
October 19th, 1986 @ 8:15 AM
BORN OF WATER AND OF SPIRIT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-19-86 8:15 a.m.
We welcome you who share this hour on radio. You are a part of the great First Baptist Church of Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message. It is an exegetical message; it is the text, Born of Water and of Spirit. We are going to stand in a minute and read the passage, John chapter 3, John chapter 3, verses 1 through 6. And everybody reading out loud together, share your Bible with one who might not possess it. Now let us stand in the presence of the Lord, and we are going to read 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 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.
Now may we be seated? And we begin.
“Except a man be born ex hudatos kai pneumatos,” there is no article in it; ex, “out of,” “Except a man be born out of water and out of Spirit, except a man be born of water and of Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” [John 3:5]. Had John said, “Except a man be born of Spirit,” we would have thought nothing unusual about it. But when he says, “Except a man be born out of water and Spirit,” we are nonplused. This is the only place in the Bible where such an avowal is made; no other place in Scripture will you find it. We cannot but be deeply interested because we all want to be saved; we want to see God’s face when we die, we want to be a part of the kingdom of our Lord. We don’t want to be lost, to be shut out. In order to enter that beautiful city and be a part of the family of God, we must be born ex hudatos kai pneumatos, “born out of water and Spirit” [John 3:5].
Nor can it be literally interpreted. You couldn’t be born of water. Plainly and evidently He is referring to something else. And that would be typical in John, who is of all things a mystic. Beyond what Jesus says in word, and beyond what Jesus does in deed, John sees a meaning: it is always a symbol of something beyond. For example, he never uses the word “miracle,” though it’s translated “a miracle” here in the King James Version of the Bible; he always uses the word sēmeion, “a sign.” There’s no exception to that in John: always a sēmeion; it’s a sign. What Jesus did and what He says John sees a mystic meaning, a spiritual revelation, always.
In that first miracle in the second chapter, they fill six stone jars full of water according to the purifying of the Jews, then Jesus says, “Draw out now from the well, and bring to the governor of the feast” [John 2:7-8]. Six, always the number of incompleteness; “Fill it up,” this is the law; “Now bear to the governor of the feast this new wine,” that’s the grace of the new covenant. All of it is just like that. If He breaks bread and feeds the five thousand, then that means He is the manna that comes down from heaven [John 6:1-14, 31-35, 38]. If He opens the eyes of a man born blind, that means He is the light of the world [John 9:1-7]. If He washes feet, that means we’re to be humble [John 13:1-14]. If he sees blood and water come out of the wounded side of our Lord [John 19:34-35], that is a mystic meaning of which we shall speak in its day. Always that.
So when he speaks of being born out of water and Spirit [John 3:5], he has a meaning beyond the word itself. Now we’re going to look at those possible interpretations. The first one is the one that I have heard our Baptist preachers deliver all the days of my life. I cannot remember when I have not heard our Baptist ministers interpret it this way. “Born of water,” that refers, they say, to the human birth, and “born of Spirit,” to the second birth. And there is a reason for that: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh,” that’s the next verse, “and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” [John 3:6]; and he just said, “Born of water, born of Spirit [John 3:5], that which is born of the flesh is flesh; that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” And I can see that; there’s a great truth in that. That’s an interpretation.
As you know, when a child grows in the womb of the mother it is cushioned in water. There’s a certain kind of a birth that is called a water birth. And to be “born of water” refers to the man who is physical. But you need to be more than just an animal, a first birth, a physical being, to enter into the kingdom of God: you must be born again, born anōthen, born from above [John 3:3, 7]. Sin separates us from God [Isaiah 59:2], and we’re all sinners [Romans 3:23]; and we must be born of the Spirit as well as to be born of the flesh [John 3:3-5]. Now I can see that; that’s a fine interpretation.
Let’s take another one: “born of water and of Spirit” [John 3:5]. “Born of water” could refer to the water baptism of John. John’s baptism referred to two things. The first one was repentance: the Gospel of Mark begins with this word: “John preached the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” [Mark 1:4]. And that could refer to the water baptism of John. A man has to be before God repentant; he has to confess his sins [1 John 1:9]. There are two things to baptism: we have a part, that’s repentance [Acts 2:38]; God has a part, that’s regeneration; and these two things make it possible for us to enter into the kingdom of God. Repentance-baptism, water baptism, signified by water baptism [Mark 1:4]; and regeneration, the action of the Holy Spirit in our hearts [Titus 3:5].
There is another thing that John’s water baptism signified: it signified an open confession before God, a public confession before the Lord. In the seventh chapter of the Book of Luke, it says, “The Pharisees repudiated, rejected the baptism of John” [Luke 7:30]. When you start this story with Nicodemus, he comes to Jesus by night [John 3:1-2]. The Pharisees would have nothing to do with the baptism of John. He came, Nicodemus, by night. And Jesus says to him, “When you enter the kingdom you must be born of water” [John 3:5], the baptism of John, an open confession in the Lord.
The gospel is like that: Romans 10:9-10, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in thy heart, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto a God kind of righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation . . . Except a man be born of water” [John 3:5], of an open confession, you can’t be saved apart from an open commitment of your life to the Lord Jesus.
He refers here in His talking to Nicodemus, he refers to him as a didaskalos in Israel, he is a teacher in Israel, and as such he would know these things that the Lord has just spoken to him, hudatos, of water, of an open confession [John 3:10]. In the days of the Passover, they had to place the blood on the lintel, and on the doorposts, on the outside of the house [Exodus 12:7, 13]; a public avowal, “This is a family that trusts in God”; an open confession. In the story of Moses, “Who is on the Lord’s side? Let him come and stand by me” [Exodus 32: 26]. In the story of Joshua, “Choose you this day whom you will serve” [Joshua 24:15]. Or in the days of Elijah, “How long halt you between two opinions?” [1 Kings 18:21]. Nicodemus, as a didaskalos in Israel, was familiar with all that. There’s no such thing as one being saved without an open, public commitment of his life to Christ. “Born of hudatos, of water, and of Spirit” [John 3:5].
Then there is a third possible interpretation, and this is the one accepted by practically all Christendom: in order to be saved you have to be baptized; if you are not baptized, you are going to be damned. I call that cutaneous religion, “skin-deep” religion, religion of water, of washing, of cleansing.
According to the Scriptures, there is no ritual that in itself could ever save us, never, ever. We are not saved by keeping any rite, or any ceremony, or any ritual; and certainly baptism cannot save us. I can be scrubbed with lye soap and my heart not be regenerated. There are three passages in the New Testament that are used to substantiate this doctrine of baptismal regeneration. The first one is in Mark 16:16: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” That’s one passage used to substantiate baptismal regeneration; that in baptism my soul is born again.
Now if we had an hour, I’d like to enter into a textual critical problem. The Gospel of Mark ends at the eighth verse of chapter 16. Somebody wrote this ending. Nobody knows who; but whoever wrote it was as superstitious as he could be. In verse 18 he writes, “They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them” [Mark 16:18]. Nothing like that is in God’s Word. The ending of Mark was lost from the beginning. We do not know how Mark’s Gospel ends. Somebody, whom we do not know, wrote an ending for Mark, and in that ending he wrote those words, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be damned” [Mark 16:16]. Even in that it’s a matter of belief that saves us or damns us, not baptism. “They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them”; that’s not a part of the Word of God.
A second passage used to substantiate baptismal regeneration is in Acts 2:38, 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 ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Be baptized for the remission of sins,” as though in the act of baptism our sins are washed away. When you look at that eis, “Be baptized every one of you eis the remission of sins,” what is the translation of that little Greek word eis? There are places in the New Testament where it cannot be translated any other way but “because of.” And that’s the meaning here. That’s the meaning here: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ because of the remission of your sins in Him” [Acts 2:38]; not “in order to,” but “because of.” That’s in keeping with the whole Word of God.
There is one other passage in the Bible, in the New Testament, cited for baptismal regeneration, that you are saved in the act of baptism, and that’s in Acts 22:16: Ananias says to the apostle Paul, “And now why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” All you have to remember there is, first of all, Saul of Tarsus is already a Christian: he’s converted on the road to Damascus [Acts 22:6-15], and he’s now in the city talking to Ananias, and Ananias is talking to him. He’s a saved man already; he’s already converted. And Ananias says to him, “And now why tarriest thou? Arise and be baptized.” Now let’s put our comma there, “Arise and be baptized,” then let’s put the second part, “Wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” [Acts 22:16]. It’s calling on the name of the Lord that washes away our sins [Acts 22:15; 1 Peter 3:21], not the water in which we are baptized. Now those are the three passages that are used to substantiate baptismal regeneration.
In the New Testament, there is no such thing as anyone ever being baptized who was not already saved. There’s no exception to that. First you are saved, saved, saved, your sins are washed away; then you are baptized as an open confession of that salvation you have received in the grace [Ephesians 2:8], and love [John 3:16], and mercy [Titus 3:5], and sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ [Matthew 27:32-50]. Baptism always presupposes and follows regeneration.
In the eighth chapter of the Book of Acts:
As they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said to Philip, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?
And Philip answered and said, If you believe with all your heart, you may. And [the eunuch] said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Savior of the world, the Savior of my soul.
Then they went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.
In the first chapter of the Book of  Corinthians, Paul writes to the Corinthian church, “I thank God I baptized none of you, save Crispus and Gaius”; then he adds, “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel” [1 Corinthians 1:14, 17]. That’s the strangest verse you’ll ever read in God’s Word if baptism saves us: “For God sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel.” And, of course, as the gospel is presented, it’s the blood of Christ that washes our sins away, not water. First John 1:7: “And the blood of Jesus Christ God’s Son cleanseth us from all sin.” You could be washed in water forever, and it never wash the sin out of your heart. It is a moral, spiritual regeneration that borns one into the kingdom of God [Titus 3:5].
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! Glory, I’m saved!
My sins are all pardoned, my guilt is all gone!
Saved by the blood of the Crucified One!
[“Saved By the Blood,” S. J. Henderson]
That is the Word of God.
Now let me conclude with what I believe, according to the Holy Word, what I believe that means, “Born of water, ek, out of water and Spirit” [John 3:5]. What does that mean, “born of water”? According to the Word of God that means we are born of the gospel, of the Word of God, by the gospel is preached unto you. In James 1:18, “Of His own will begat He us by the word of truth.” No man is ever saved apart from ek hudatos, out of the water, out of the word of God, out of the truth of God, out of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ revealed to us in the preaching of the gospel.
In John 15:3: “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.” The cleansing of the word of God, a symbol, a sign, a sēmeion: out of water, we are cleansed with the Word of God. In Ephesians 5:25-26: “Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it; that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word.” We are cleansed, we are washed by the word of God: born of water and of the regenerating Spirit [John 3:5]. And just one other, out of others: 2 Timothy 3:15, “Timothy, from a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through the word which is in Christ Jesus.” No man is ever saved apart from the Word of God, the preaching of the gospel.
There’s no exception to that. No man ever comes into the knowledge of the will of God except through the spoken word. Look at this. When the Lord appears to Saul of Tarsus on the way to Damascus, above the brightness of the sun, Saul is blinded by the glory of that Somebody who has appeared to him. And he says, “Who art Thou, Lord?” And the Lord replies, “I am Jesus of Nazareth” [Acts 22:6-8]. And Saul there experiences an incomparable change, a conversion in his life. Then the Lord said to him, “Arise, go into Damascus, and there it shall be told thee what thou must do” [Acts 22:10]. Why did not Jesus tell him what to do? Why arise and go into Damascus, and there Ananias tells him what to do? [Acts 22:11-16]. Because no man ever comes into the knowledge of the will of God for his life except through the preaching of the gospel, through the voice and the word delivered by another man [Romans 10:13-15]. There’s no exception to it.
Take one other, in the tenth chapter of the Book of Acts: the angel appears to Cornelius, and says, “Cornelius, send down to Joppa, for one Simon the tanner, who shall come and tell thee words whereby thou and thy house may be saved” [Acts 10:5-6]. Why didn’t the angel tell him the words? Why, “Send down to Joppa for one Simon Peter who will come and tell thee words whereby you and your house may be saved?” Why didn’t the angel tell him? Because no man ever comes into the will of God, ever into the knowledge of God’s word for him except through the deliverance of that word from the mouth and voice of another man; no one.
In the tenth chapter of the Book of Romans, Paul says, “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?” [Romans 10:13-14]. Then he adds, “For faith cometh by hearing, and hearing the word of God” [Romans 10:17]. A man is saved in two ways; there are two parts of his salvation. Number one: out of water [John 3:5], out of the Word of God, out of the gospel of Christ delivered by the voice of another man; that’s the first. Second: he is saved ek pneumatos: he’s saved by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit in his heart [John 3:5]. And no man is ever saved, ever has been saved, apart from those ek hudatos kai pneumatos, out of the Word of God, out of the cleansing power of the gospel, and out of the regenerating Spirit in his heart [John 3:5].
A lost man one time said, “I must either give my heart to Jesus, I must either surrender to Him, or I must cease attending church. I cannot attend church and listen to the gospel of Christ without surrendering my life to the Lord. And I must make a choice. I am going to quit attending church, or I must give my heart to Christ.” I believe that’s true in every man’s heart and every man’s life. You come to church and you listen to the preaching of the gospel, and you’re going to find yourself strangely constrained to accept Christ as your Lord.
The other is this: having been saved and having accepted the Lord as your Savior, to attend the assembly of God’s people where the Word of Christ is proclaimed is like, it’s like a gathering of the saints of heaven, it’s like a little bit of glory.
More, more about Jesus . . .
More of Jesus; in His Word,
Holding communion with the Lord;
Hearing His voice in every line,
Making every faithful saying mine.
[“More About Jesus I would Know,” Eliza Edmonds 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 P. Bliss]
That is your experience and it’s mine: “born of water,” of the cleansing power of the preached gospel of Christ, and “born of Spirit,” the regenerating Spirit of God in our hearts [John 3:5].
And that is our appeal to your heart today. “This day, pastor, in an open confession of my faith in Jesus, I stand before men and God gladly, happily, gloriously” [Romans 10:9-10]. Or, as the Lord shall speak to your heart, to bring your family into the circle of this dear church, or to answer the call of the Spirit to some assignment in your life; make that decision now in your heart. And in this moment when we sing our appeal, down one of these stairways or down one of these aisles, “Pastor this is God’s time for me, and I’m on the way.” A thousand times welcome, while we stand and while we sing.