You Must Be Born Again

Here is another installment in the highly acclaimed (by at least a half a dozen readers) and hopefully enlightening series known as Bible Misunderstandings.

Today, I want to tackle another passage that is a personal favorite of mine.  I have seen this passage brought up and used incorrectly a couple of times just this past month.  I am referring to John 3, specifically to verse five.  Here is the verse in context:

3In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

4“How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”

5Jesus answered, “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. 7You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

9“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

10“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? (John 3:3-12)

Verse five in this passage gets ripped out of context all of the time as some kind of proof text for baptism.  Let me just patiently say that every mention of water in the Bible is not a reference to baptism.  This one would be much better understood if it is left to stand with the verses around it.  In verse four, a puzzled Nicodemus asks Jesus how it is possible for a grown man to “reinter the womb” to be born again.  Jesus says that “no one can enter the Kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.”  Remember that Jesus is talking about being born twice.  The first birth is water, which is human physical birth and the second birth is Spirit, which is birth into God’s family.  Further proof of this is found in verse six, where Jesus explains that flesh gives birth to flesh and Spirit gives birth to Spirit.  If Jesus were intending to speak about baptism in verse five, verse six would make no sense whatsoever.  Verse eight corroborates this as Jesus only mentions the need to be born “of the Spirit” when speaking about those who are “born again.”  The water in this passage has nothing to do with the “second birth,” it speaks of the “first birth.”  Further proof comes in verse nine through twelve.  When Nicodemus expresses some confusion, Jesus explains that He can’t explain the Spiritual until Nicodemus grasps the natural, earthly things.

There is plenty of great teaching about baptism in the Bible, but verse five in John is not part of it.  Jesus is just making a distinction between a natural birth and a Spiritual one.

Categories: Apologetics, baptism, Bible Thoughts, Gospel, Kingdom, theology, Truth | Tags: | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “You Must Be Born Again

  1. I like the fact that Jesus tells Niccodemus that he can’t do this “being born again” thing on his own. He can’t choose to be born again anymore than he could choose to be born the first time.

    Certainly it is the Spirit of God that does this. How?

    He can do it when and where he wills. The BIble tells us in many places that one of the places He has chosen to work His power is in baptism. That’s right, water baptism.

    For the life of me, I don’t know why so many folks continue to have a problem with that.

    It is all over the place in the New Testment.

    Almost every single mention of baptism in the N.T. refers to water baptism.

    God has chosen earthly elements as conduits for His power. Water, bread and wine. Why? Who knows? Maybe because these were staples of life in that day. (?) When we get up there we can ask Him.

    I think one of the problems is that it takes OUR FAITH and places it second to GOD’S GRACE.
    The old Adam doesn’t like being placed second to anything or anyone.

  2. Steve,
    I agree with you that Jesus does a masterful job of showing that we can’t “make ourselves be born” in either the physical or the spiritual sense. His point to that effect has a lot more force when we don’t try to force baptism into this passage.

    You know that baptism is an area where we don’t see eye to eye. My main reason for rejecting sacramentalism is that God is not limited to working through water or bread or wine. He can choose to work through those things and may do so in fact (which would of nature be independent of our understanding in any case). But He isn’t limited by them or forced to act because we do those things(that would indeed be salvation by works). The sacramentalist view is dangerous because it leads many people to trust in actions rather than God (i.e. I am saved because I was baptized or I am saved because I take the Lord’s Supper).
    I feel I have a much better grasp of your point of view now than I did a few months ago. I have benefited some from the discussions at your blog in understanding and I took the time to read the entries on baptism in my big Theological Dictionary that I got for my graduate level theology courses and it does a good job of explaining the views in a straightforward manner.
    What the infant baptism view has in common with believer’s baptism, that many don’t like to acknowledge is that it is still out of our hands in both. God doesn’t save a person simply because they were baptized as an infant. If they reject God, Lutherans teach that they are not regenerate if I understand correctly. If I baptize someone because they say they desire to follow God’s commandment to be baptized, that is out of my hands as well. It is God who knows the heart in both cases and it is God who makes the decision and calls and saves.
    In that part, I think we agree more than our language can sometimes allow us to realize. Salvation is all about God’s work and not at all about me.

  3. Jeff,

    “Salvation is all about God’s work and not at all about me.”

    Agreed! That’s why we ARE sacramental Christians (Lutherans).

    Since God commanded it, he wants us to trust that He works His power in it.

    Can people abuse it? Of course!

  4. Yes, “highly acclaimed!” Keep this up, Jeff. I’m loving this series.

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