Verily Verily I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God….. Verily verily I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and of the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
John the Evangelist here records in the opening verses of chapter 3 of his Gospel record, the conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus, a pharisee. The words above are the essence of what Jesus taught about being born again. A much misunderstood matter.
To enter the kingdom of God, often also called ‘heaven’, a person must be born spiritually. And here Jesus points to the two critical aspects of that process: water and the Holy Spirit.
Some indeed many have taught down the centuries that to Christen or ‘baptize’ an infant brings them into the kingdom of heaven. Such a doctrine and practice is at variance with the whole teaching of the New Testament on this matter.
Both Jesus and his apostles taught the fundamental need for faith in Christ, and that faith comes from receiving the message about and from Jesus Christ.
an infant has not the capacity for such, and the act of applying water without faith in the recipient is useless. Worse than in fact because it leads to a false notion that a person is saved when they are not.
In fact John goes on in this very chapter to record the importance of belief.
But faith having been imparted by the words of Christ, action must follow for their to be an effect. Faith without action is dead, says James in his epistle.
And an action of water and Spirit is expressly mentioned here.
Water. Baptism in water. The new Testament is clear on the need for baptism in the process of regeneration, that is being born again.
The Baptist denomination goes to great pains to say that baptism does not save you.
The apostle Peter states otherwise in his first epistle, chapter 3, verse 21. He has already written in chapter 1 and verse 23 of the need to receive the word of God; he goes on to point out the spiritual parallel and meaning of Noah and the Ark at the time of the flood – saved through water.
We should also mention here the parallel of the Israelites passing through the waters of the Red Sea to escape the slavery of Egypt, symbolic in Christian doctrine of the sinful world and the same analogy teaches that Pharoah represents Satan.
When the Israelites passed through the waters of the Red Sea, the pursuing Egyptians were cut off from them and all their power against God’s people destroyed forever. How ? Because the pursuers were drowned. Without an army to enforce his tyrannical rule, the Pharoah was powerless to retrieve the Israelites, let alone rule over them any more.
Water baptism is therefore a powerful image. But it is more than just an image. As Jesus says, born of water and the Spirit.
The believer having received the teaching of Christ, must go on to an action of obedience to Christ. And this sorts out true faith from false faith.
Faith without deeds is dead, wrote James. And his words are not just some isolated text, an adjunct to the doctrine of Christianity, but go to the very heart of the faith and its practice.
Let me put it this way.
A child is conceived in the womb. But if that child is not born alive 9 months later, it will never become an independent living person. It will remain dependent within its mother’s womb, so to speak. Such, of course, is a physical impossibility; one or the other must die !
Spiritually speaking there are countless babes in the womb who are yet to be born for the simple reason that never got baptized in water. They may have received and believed the message, but they have no independent and therefore constructive existence or contribution of their own to make. Not spiritually; in the flesh may be; but not spiritually. Only that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. And therefore spiritual.
The apostle Paul wrote to the Romans in chapter 6 to correct any false understanding about God’s grace explained in the previous chapters. Eternal life is a free gift. You can do nothing to merit it. Even getting baptised, may I add !
Getting baptized as a superstitious act, believing that that act in itself can save you is utterly false. Getting baptized because Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for you, paid the penalty of your sin, and no-one and nothing else can – that is perfectly correct. Getting baptized because Jesus said so and taught so in response to his life, ministry, atoning death and resurrection, that is perfectly correct.
As Mark records in his Gospel account, chapter 16. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not, shall be damned.
And Jesus Great Commission [as we call it] to the apostles, recorded by Matthew chapter 28:
Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them …
Why baptize if there is no necessity ?
Well to come back to Paul’s words to the Romans in chapter 6, we see a clear link between the capacity to live like Christ, in obedience to his teaching, and the act of baptism which evidently appropriates the resurrection power of Christ to live as Christ taught.
Know ye not that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death ? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death.
Please note that. The baptism actually identifies us with Christ’s death, spiritually, that is in spiritual reality. It is not just a picture parallel you can take or leave. It is a sacrament to use the technical term ie actual grace is imparted in the very act undertaken.
That like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection. Knowing this that our old man is crucified with him…
The identification is ACTUAL not just allegorical. In baptism we are actually identified with Christ’s death and in coming out of the waters with his actual resurrection.
So let no man tell you that baptism is just a parallel or a picture. It actually appropriates Christ’s death and resurrection in us !
It is essential but it is essential for you the potential or actual believer to understand why and at what point it is essential. And how it is essential.
I trust that my explanation above will help.