Born again by water and the Spirit

The idea for this article came as a direct result of a Facebook question that I asked in reference to John 3:5. I received the answers that I expected. I was asked to explain the meaning of the water to which Jesus refers in John 3:5. I want to share the explanation here in this post. One of the requirements in answering the posed question was that interpretation needed to be contextual and referenced with other Scriptures if possible.

Here is the question:

Question of the Day: Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (John 3:5)
What is Jesus referring to when He mentions water in this verse? Please defend your answer with context and other Scriptures if possible.

The typical answers to this question are:

  1. Jesus uses the water to symbolize the amniotic fluid that is released prior to physical birth. The meaning usually is that salvation, the possibility of being born again is only for humans, not angels.
  2. The water refers to baptism, either by physical water or the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

I do not agree with either of those answers and let me explain why.

  1. It contradicts the context and the point that Jesus is trying to make. Jesus is talking about being born again, a spiritual birth, not a physical one. Nicodemus was already confusing the two events, natural birth and the second birth, therefore, why would Jesus confuse him more by talking about amniotic fluid from the physical birth? He is trying to get Nicodemus to move away from the physical to the spiritual.
  2. Jesus was going to baptize with the Holy Spirit, not water so that would be another point of confusion. The baptism of the Holy Spirit took place in Acts 2, subsequently, it happens the moment that someone is born again now. Jesus mentions the Holy Spirit in John 3:5 so the water has to symbolize something else. According to the Scriptures, the second birth takes place at salvation, before water baptism. Water baptism is a symbol of a spiritual truth. It has no mystical powers, or even regenerative powers. It is a command given by Christ symbolizing our death to our old way of life and resurrection to a new way of life.

What does the water mentioned in verse 5 symbolize?

I believe that the reference to water in John 3:5 is a reference to the eternal Word of God. The Word of God works together with the Spirit of God to bring about the 2nd birth that Jesus teaches about in John 3. Let me explain why.

Psalm 1:2-3

2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night.
3 He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever * he does, he prospers.


Ephesians 5:26

26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,

James 1:18

18 In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.

Psalm 1:2-3, the Law of the Lord (Bible) is compared to streams of water that give life to the righteous man. In Ephesians 5:26, Christ sanctifies His bride, the Church with the washing of the water, which is the Word. James 1:18 teaches that God causes us to be born again through the Word of Truth.

There is a clear process to being born again. God does His part, the Word of God does Its part, and the Holy Spirit does His part. I also have a responsibility in this process, according to what Jesus teaches in John 3:16. I must believe. The moment I bow my knee in faith to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, I will be born again. The process looks something like this:

  1. Hear the Gospel as presented in the Word of God.
  2. Understand the Gospel as the Holy Spirit illuminates my mind.
  3. Believe the Gospel by bowing my knee to the Lordship of Jesus Christ 
  4. Apply the Gospel (live It out day by day). 

In conclusion, the water mentioned in John 3:5 is not amniotic fluid and it is not the water of baptism, nor the baptism of the Holy Spirit. It is simply the Word of God working together with the Spirit of God to enlighten people, like John 1 teaches two chapters earlier. Have you been born again?



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