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Born Of Water And The Spirit

Much has been written and taught orally on the words of the Lord in John 3.5, and much will yet, no doubt, be taught in regard to them. In the main the two principal views in regard to water are, (1) that the water refers to the word of God in its regenerating power, as is taught in 1 Peter 1. 23-25, and (2) that the water refers to baptism in water, whence has arisen the false doctrine of baptismal regeneration, namely that baptism in water is necessary to salvation from hell. There is yet another view, (3) that water is used as a figure of the Holy Spirit. We may dismiss view number (3), for though water is used as a figure of the Spirit elsewhere (as we shall see later), to say that water in John 3.5 refers to the Spirit does not make sense, for the Lord would have said in effect, "Except a man be born of Spirit and the Spirit." There is no redundancy in the words by which the Lord conveyed His thoughts in His teaching. He was most conservative in the use of words. He said what He meant with the fewest words. We may therefore confine our remarks on this verse to the two thoughts in views (1) and (2).

In the Gospel according to John the word "water" is used more than in all the other three Gospels put together. John used the word "water " twenty-four times, and the other three gospel writers, eighteen. In order to clear the ground for the consideration of the figurative use of " water " let us refer briefly to the different places where literal water is used. First of all, literal water is used in connexion with John's baptism, when he contrasted his baptizing in water with the Lord baptizing in the Holy Spirit (John 1.26, 31, 33), and John, we are told, "was baptizing in Enon ... because there was much water there " (John 3.28). The next reference is to the Lord's miracle in Cana of Galilee, where He turned the six waterpots of water into wine (John 2). The water was not for baptizing here, but for purifying and drinking, and the Lord gave them wine for water. The prophet in his mysterious words spoke thus, "Come ye to the waters ... come ... buy wine" (Isaiah 55.1), words in which faith rejoices. Then the woman of Samaria came to draw water from Jacob's well, and from this incident the Lord spoke of living water, not literal water, water which would give permanent and eternal satisfaction (John 4). Chapter 5 tells of the water in the pool of Bethesda, and the Lord healed the man, who lay there, without water or angel or effort. He healed him with a word. Then in chapter 13.5 we have the Lord pouring water into the basin from the waterpot which the man carried, whom the Lord told His two disciples to follow to the appointed upper room where they were to keep the passover. Last of all we have that most touching reference to water, where the soldier pierced the Lord's side with his spear, and forthwith came out blood and water (John 19.34).

Now we come to the figurative use of water, in John 3.5; 4.10, 11, 14; 7. 38; and 13.10, 14. It should be clear enough that in John 3.8, 5 there are not two new births. "Ye must be born again" (verse 7) covers both-" Except a man be born anew (again or from above), he cannot see the kingdom of God," and "Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." The new birth is not that by which persons enter the kingdom of God, but something which takes place before they enter that kingdom. As the kingdom of God is not the subject we have before us, we shall not pursue the matter of the kingdom further.

The question which we are discussing is the use of the word "water" by the Lord. We must not approach the question from the point of view of seeking what the use of water meant to Nicodemus, to whom the Lord was speaking, for he was totally in the dark as to the new birth. He said, "How can these things be?

Scripture is not of private interpretation. In all the fundamental doctrines of the Scriptures we shall find that scripture helps in the interpretation of scripture. Thus we shall find Paul's words in Titus 3.4-6 very helpful in understanding of John 3. 5

"But when the kindness of Gad our Saviour, and His love toward man, appeared, not by works done in righteousness, which we did ourselves, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, which He poured out upon us richly, through Jesus Christ our Saviour."

Here we have what the Lord meant when He spoke of" water and the Spirit." The means by which God has saved us according to His mercy is "through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit." "Washing," as will be seen from the R.V. margin is the word Loutron - laver, which means a "bath." We are helped to understand what this Loutron is by what is said in Ephesians 5.26:

"That He (Christ) might sanctify it (the Church), having cleansed it by the washing (Loutron) of water with the word." "The washing of water" (To loutro tou hudatos) clearly does not mean washing in literal water, but the washing is done by the word of God-"with the word" (En, rendered "with," Rhemati, the "spoken word or saying"). Ephesians 5.26 and Titus 3.5 are the only places in the New Testament where the word Loutron is used.

In John 13.10 the Lord in His reply to Peter said, "He that is bathed (Leloumenos, the perfect participle, passive of Louo, which means a person who has been bathed in a Loutron by another, that is, washed all over) needeth not save to wash (Nipsasthai, to wash in a basin, from Nipter, a basin for washing the hands and feet) his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all." They were all clean because of the word which He had spoken unto them (John 15.3), except Judas the betrayer, who had not received by faith the cleansing and regenerating word of the Lord. In a word, he had not believed in Christ, the Son of the living God. Then in John 13.14 the Lord shows the spiritual significance of His having washed the disciples' feet, "If I then, the Lord and the Master, have washed (Enipsa) your feet, ye also ought to wash (Niptein) one another's feet." The Lord only uses the Loutron, the laver or bath, in His work of cleansing, regenerating, the sinner, but we may use the Nipter to wash our own or one another's feet. In neither case is the water in the Loutron or Nipter literal. Christian baptism is not a matter of cleansing the body by the application of water, nor does it remove the natural filthiness of the heart. Baptism is "not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the interrogation (demand, A.V.) of a good conscience toward God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ " (1 Peter 3.21).

The same truth is taught in the antitypical words of Paul in Hebrews 10.22, "Let us draw near with a true heart in fulness of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our body washed with pure water." Both "sprinkled" and "washed" in the Greek are perfect participles in the passive voice, which show that what was done in the past by the Lord in the case of those in view remains in its effect. The washing of the body with pure water is what is taught typically in the washing of Aaron, when he was sanctified as high priest, by Moses, the whole person of the believer is washed in the laver of regeneration; and whereas Aaron was sprinkled when arrayed in the priest's garments with the blood of the ram of consecration, the hearts of believers are sprinkled with the blood of Christ, who is their Ram of consecration.

Alas, how long the rags of Rome in their teaching of baptismal cleansing and regeneration have clung to protestant people! When will they accept that the cleansing of the soul is effected by the power of the gospel which reveals to faith the abiding value of the shed blood of Christ as the cleanser from all sin? This is what Peter taught in 1 Peter 1.23-25

Having been begotten again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the word of God, which liveth and abideth. For,

All flesh is as grass,

And all the glory thereof as the flower of grass.

The grass withereth, and the flower falleth:

But the word of the Lord abideth for ever.

And this is the word (Hhema, saying) of good tidings (gospel) which was preached unto you."

In John 3.5; 13.10; 15.8; Ephesians 5.26; Titus 3. ~ Hebrews 10.22 we have the message of the gospel viewed under the figure of water in its cleansing power on the whole being of the believer, but here in 1 Peter 1.28-25 the gospel is viewed as incorruptible seed, in contrast to human seed by which man is naturally begotten, for man is, as the grass and flower of the field, a perishing creature. Man is seen in Ephesians 2.1 as dead (spiritually) through his trespasses and sins, and in such a state the gospel comes to him, and such as believe in Christ are quickened, raised and seated with Christ in heavenly places. The believer is saved for ever by grace, and is assured of a place in glory in the ages to come solely on the ground of grace (Ephesians 2. 1-10). Nothing is clearer in the Scriptures than this.

John, writing of the new birth, writes thus:

"Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is begotten of God"

(1 John 5.1).

Were we at all in doubt as to how a person is born again we have it made crystal clear here. Christ is the substance of the gospel, as Paul shows in Romans 1.1-4. The Man Jesus of Galilee is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, God and Man, one Christ.

Thus the Lord, Paul, Peter and John, and also Isaiah and others show that the new birth is by the word of God, and the Spirit of God, for it is He who is the Author of the inspired Scriptures, the living words of God.

We conclude that the case is abundantly proved that the water in John 3.5 is the figure the Lord used for the word of God, the living message of the gospel. This is that message concerning "the sufferings of Christ, and the glories that should follow them ... which now have been announced unto you through them that preached the gospel unto you by the Holy Spirit sent forth from heaven" (1 Peter 1. ii, 12). The gospel preached in the power of the Spirit here is that of which Paul wrote to the Romans, "I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth ; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek " (1.16). It is not the gospel without the Spirit, nor the Spirit without the gospel. It is like to the apostle's commendation to the elders of Ephesus, " I commend you to God, and to the word of His grace" (Acts 20.32)not God without His word, and not the word without God; they stand together.

In John 4.10, 11, 14 water is again used by the Lord as a figure of the words which He spoke to the woman of Samaria concerning Himself. The Lord's words are not like the words of men. He said of His words, " It is the Spirit that quickeneth ; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I have spoken unto you are spirit, and are life" (John 6.63). His words are imbued with life. Hence when they are received by faith they impart life under the power of the Spirit of God and become a well of living water in the inwards of an individual. Though the woman at the well received the words of Christ and received Christ by faith, she did not receive the Holy Spirit at that time. She knew Jesus to be the Christ, because He revealed Himself to her. She said, " I know that Messiah (Christ) cometh," and He said, "I that speak unto thee am He." Then she left her waterpot because she had received a draught of the living water.

In John 7.37-39 the Lord uses water both of the words which He spoke and also of the Holy Spirit, which all believers would receive from Pentecost (Acts 2) onward. First, on the last and great day of the feast of Tabernacles He invited all thirsty ones to come to Him: " Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink," that was the intake of the word of the gospel. Then He spoke of the outflow, "He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture bath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. But this spake He of the Spirit, which they that believed on Him were to receive : for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified." If there is no drinking of His word by faith and the consequent receiving of the Spirit; there will be no outflow of the Spirit in His living word from the inwards of a man. Such facts should be evident to all believers.

Thus, in the Gospel according to John we have to discern the meaning of the word "water," whether it is literal water that is being referred to, or the word " water " used in a figurative sense. It should be quite clear that water in John 3.5 means "the word of God" and not baptism, for no person is born out of water, for the water in baptism has not any quickening power whatever.