I’ve written before about my maternal grandfather and the blue sign nailed to the old oak tree in his yard. (Refer to “An old blue sign” blog, October 16, 2012) I remember another sign hanging on his old garage. This sign had an interesting inscription that was quite puzzling to a young child. It read “Ye must be born again.”
To a child, that raised questions. How can one be born again? But there is an account in the Bible where an adult man, who happened to be a member of a highly respected religious council, asked the same question. Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin, asked Jesus in John 3, “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 study of Nicodemus is an interesting study. We see him 3 times in the gospel of John. And each time we see his faith growing. John chapter 3 is the first time we meet him. Because he was a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin and perhaps for privacy concerns, he comes to Jesus by night.
Later in John 20:30-31 we read that the signs Jesus did were meant to produce faith. And that is what has happened with Nicodemus. He calls Jesus “Rabbi”, and acknowledges Him as a teacher, and that He has come from GOD. And all of this because of the signs Jesus did. Those signs have produced faith in Nicodemus.
The second time we see him is in John 7:50-51. Here, Nicodemus’ faith has grown to the point of openly defending Jesus. And finally, we see him in the latter part of John 19. Here the text tells us he was a partner with Joseph of Arimathea in claiming the body of Jesus and helping with the burial. How his faith has grown! He is no longer hiding under the veil of darkness.
So what is the answer to the question, ‘how can a man be born again’?
Jesus answered the question by saying, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of GOD.”
So what is the role of water in this birth? The water is clearly a reference to water baptism. And Jesus makes clear it is not an option. He says, “You must be born again.”
A sampling of verses helps in this discussion. Think of the following verses as equations.
John 3:5 Spirit + water = entrance into the Kingdom
1st Corinthians 12:13 Spirit + baptism = entrance into the body
Ephesians 5:25-26 Word + washing of water = cleansed
Titus 3:5 Spirit + washing of regeneration = saved
Mark 16:15-16 Belief + baptism = salvation
In mathematics there is a principle that is noteworthy here. Things that are equal to the same thing are equal to each other. Most would agree that the right hand side of all the above equations are referring to the same thing. Cleansed, saved, salvation, entrance into the Kingdom, are all equivalent expressions. And if that is true, then we can say the left hand sides must also be equivalent. Thus the water, washing of water, washing of regeneration, and baptism all refer to the same act.
As the narrative continues it is said John also was baptizing in the region because there was much water there (verse 23). Those who claim the water Jesus is referring to in verse 5 is a figurative expression and that water baptism is not an essential part of salvation are sadly mistaken.
Jesus’ answer to Nicodemus seems to indicate there are two parts to salvation, water and the Spirit. Water, or baptism, is man’s part; the Spirit is GOD’S part. This is completely consistent with what we see in places like Ephesians 2:8-9. For by grace are you saved through faith… Grace is GOD’S part in offering us salvation; faith is man’s part in accepting the gift.
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Galatians 3:27
Therefore if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 2 Corinthians 5:17
Nicodemus’ faith came about because of the signs Jesus did. I am thinking about another kind of sign. That old sign hanging on the shed so many years ago. Both of these strengthen my faith.