John 3:5-8 (ESV)
Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'  The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."
“Unless one is born of water and spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” John is good at pulling out the discourses that link the Gospel to the sacraments. He makes them a mandatory part of the Gospel. You cannot unless you…. Unless you are born of water and Spirit, that is, unless you are baptized you cannot enter the kingdom of God. For centuries, and for obvious reasons, the church always understood this exchange between Nicodemus and Jesus as referring to baptism, putting the grace of God and the Holy Spirit into the concrete. A time and place where the Holy Spirit comes and gives birth to spirit within you, quickens you and makes you alive. And there is immense comfort in this. When the devil torments you night and day as to whether or not you have been born again, when you fail to see the regeneration working within you, when all you try to do for God turns to the skubola that it is, and you are left questioning your salvation, the baptized believer needs do nothing but look back to his baptism and know that he has been born again born of the spirit. He has the kingdom of God. But today all of the sudden there is a new doctrine blowing where it will to and fro and tossing many believers around with it, and with this doctrine comes a novel teaching of the devil. This is the doctrine that would introduce two baptism to the Christian faith despite Ephesians 4. There is “water baptism” and Spirit baptism. With this doctrine the Christian is told to put his faith in a warm fuzzy he once felt, but not in the promises Jesus attaches to baptism.
The concept of “water baptism” is rather peculiar. As if there would be a baptism without water. The same people who propose this doctrine, interestingly enough are the same ones who demand that when you are baptized you are immersed in the water, pouring and sprinkling are right out. Then they turn around and after making such legalistic demands as to the mode in which you are baptized, tell you it means nothing at all because you haven’t yet been baptized by the Holy Spirit. Huh? Wasn’t he there when you invoked his name baptizing me in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit according to Christ’s command? These people cannot see how it is that the Spirit could attach himself to something as simple as water, and since they see in the book of Acts that the Spirit comes at times without water, they assume that he cannot come in water, and does not come in water, even though the disciples even in acts promise the Holy Spirit with the waters of baptism Acts 2:38-39. Instead of baptism becoming the source of comfort that it is, baptism is derided, and the Christian is left to put his trust in feelings fickle as they are. Instead of holding Christ to the promises he attaches to baptism the Christian is turned to look at their works to see if they are bearing fruit. Never mind their works are far less than those that Paul accomplished even as the unbeliever Saul, the works he grew to count as skubola. Never mind that. These filthy rags are to become the bearers of good news. Feelings and works, these are what the Christians are left to find assurance of salvation in. At some point this has to become shear torture.
But one should see from John 3 that baptism has to it attached the Holy Spirit with the water. But they don’t. So tenaciously do they hold to the extra biblical platonic dualism between spirit and matter that they twist John 3. The interpretation that has come about is that this verse is saying first you have to be born, then you have to be born of the spirit. The water they say refers to when your mother gave birth to you and broke her water. Typically they do this in a condescending way, as if you do not know that women break their water before they give birth. Thus they divorce being born again from baptism. The Spirit comes later. But where? How comforting is this. How am I to know that I am born of the Spirit if it doesn’t happen in Baptism? I can know that I have been baptized. I may not ever know that I have been born of the Spirit otherwise. I would be left questioning. Did the Holy Spirit really come and breathe life into me? When did he do that? I remember feeling something at that youth group camp, but how do I know I didn’t manufacture that. How do I know that it wasn’t heart burn? How do I know that it wasn’t another spirit floating around? Don’t Mormon’s talk about the same feelings when they talk about the book of Mormon? If Jesus did not mean Baptism here what did he mean?
“Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” For obvious reasons the church has always taught that here Jesus is speaking of Baptism. Why do I say obvious? Because baptism happens with water, and the Spirit is invoked there. I say that because it would be rather silly for Jesus to tell this man that he has to be born before he can be born again. I say that this is silly because if you are not born than you cannot be born again. We don’t believe in a pre-existence like the Mormons. We don’t believe that we were spirit children before we were born of our mothers after they broke water. We’re Christians and we believe life begins at conception. Why would Jesus be reiterating to this man that he needs to be born of water if that was referring to being born of flesh?
The second reason I say for obvious reasons, is that Jesus at the time was baptizing. He was baptizing when Nicodemus came to see him. Nicodemus wants to know how he is to be born again? He knows he can’t crawl back into his mother’s womb. But he doesn’t understand what Jesus is doing with this baptism. Jesus tells him. This baptism isn’t like John’s. This one comes with the Holy Spirit. It is a second birth. Unless you are born of water and the spirit. And Nicodemus would have remembered at the same time John’s exhortation that the one who comes after him would baptize with the Holy Spirit. He would have known right then what Jesus was saying. If you want to be born again you need to be baptized. Someone needs to pour water over you and baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. This is where second birth happens, where the Spirit wills in Baptism. Here is the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy in chapter 36: That he will sprinkle clean water on you… and put his Spirit within you. Water and the Spirit, they go together, are joined together by Christ’s command in Holy Baptism. No longer do you have to rely on heartburn to be saved.