Born of Water and the Spirit


In our meditation yesterday, we talked about Jesus teaching that no one can enter the Kingdom of God, unless he or she is born again of the Spirit of God, i.e., we must receive the gift of new life that God gives. Jesus went on to talk about being born of water as well. What did He mean? Here is the critical text:

“I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (John 3:5-6).

There are four possible interpretations:

1) Water could be a reference to physical birth. In the first nine months of our lives, we live in a fluid in an amniotic sack in our mother’s womb. Those that hold to this line of thinking believe that Jesus is saying that a person needs not only a physical birth but also a spiritual birth, too. This view of the water is a very literal interpretation, and not many scholars hold this view.

2) The second is that water is a symbol of the Word of God. We are told in the Scriptures that Christ cleanses the Church “to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word…” (Ephesians 5:26). In another place, Jesus put it like this: “you are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you” (John 15:5). In this interpretation, Jesus is saying that the Spirit of God uses the Word of God as the means to convict one of sin and explain what God has done to cleanse us from all sin. In this particular interpretation, water is symbolic of the cleansing power of the Word of God to purify our way—by living according to the Word of God (Psalm 119:9).

3) Another interpretation is that water is symbolic of the cleansing and regeneration work of the Spirit in a person’s life when he or she turns to Christ:

4“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:4-5).

4) The fourth interpretation is that water is typical of repentance. Some believe that being baptized was what Jesus meant, but in my view, baptism is an outward expression of an inward change of heart. It is what happens on the inside that makes all the difference. At the time of the encounter with Nicodemus, John the Baptist was still preaching a baptism of repentance (Mark 1:4; Acts 19:4). Being dipped under the water was a way of saying to the world that one had repented (repentance means to change one's mind) and died to one’s past life and was waiting for the coming of the Spirit with Messiah's (Christ's) arrival. Repentance is no longer a popular word in our day. Some teach that one only has to believe in Christ, but the message of Christ was that, unless people repent and believe, they will perish (Luke 13:3-5). During a recent search, I found the word “repent” seventy-five times in the Bible by using biblegateway.com, obviously showing that it is an important topic that should not be discounted or in any way underemphasized.

I believe all four interpretations are valid, so we should not be dogmatic about any of them. The important thing is to examine your heart and consider whether you have practiced true biblical repentance from sin. Have you asked for the Holy Spirit to cleanse you and renew you? Do you genuinely want to be free from habits that mar your character and soul and cause pain in your life and the lives of others around you? If we have truly repented of all known sin, the Spirit of God will illuminate the things that we need to let go, the things that we need to give up or change. Spiritual awakening or spiritual birth is what each of us needs. The impartation of life from God comes through His Word and the Holy Spirit, not through our works of righteousness. Keith Thomas


This meditation is a shortened version of the in-depth study: You Must Be Born Again