It was Jesus who once told Nicodemus that one cannot enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and of Spirit (Jn. 3:5). The meaning of this saying has been interpreted differently by different people.
We generally agree on what spiritual birth entails, but, what does it really mean to be born of water? Some believe it refers to spiritual cleansing, or washing by the Holy Spirit. Washing, however, isn’t mentioned in the passage. Only being born.
Others claim it refers to water baptism and use it to argue that it’s a requirement for salvation. However, there’s no reason to believe that Jesus is referring to Christian water baptism.
Still, some believe it refers to physical birth. This excerpt from a post I recently wrote on my blog supports this last idea and is what I believe is the most plausible explanation of what Christ meant.
As it reads:
Nicodemus then asked Jesus, perhaps with a touch of arrogance, how a person (already existing) could be born? “An old man certainly can’t enter his mother’s womb to be born a second time!” he said (v. 3).
1 Corinthians 2:14, teaches us that ”The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” (NIV) This was the case with Nicodemus. Nevertheless, the Lord patiently answered his question.
Jesus further explains saying, “Certainly, of a truth I say to you, unless anyone has been brought forth from out of water, and now, Spirit, it is not possible to enter into the dominion of God” (v. 4).
In his response, he clarified that one must first be born of water, then of the Spirit. The Greek word gennaō (γεννάω), translated here as born, means “beget.” Beget means to “produce”, “grow”, “bring forth”, or “engender.” To engender is “to cause to exist or develop” (engender).
A person can be born, that is, they can enter a state of existence in only two ways: either by the flesh or by the Spirit. Dipping in water, however, will not cause anyone to exist physically or spiritually.
Even in the Old Testament and early Judaism, water immersion was not used for such a purpose, but rather for ritual cleansing. There’s absolutely no reason to believe that Jesus’ mention of water here is referring to the Christian tradition of water baptism. Instead, it’s most likely referring to the womb of a mother, bringing forth a baby from the amniotic sac.
An amniotic sac consists of fluid which contains water, electrolytes, urine, and other substances. When a woman says, “My water broke,” she’s referring to the amniotic fluid in her womb. A baby couldn’t exist without amniotic fluid. Surrounding the fetus, it protects it from bumps and other movements from the outside.
As the baby grows, the fluid helps develop its lungs, muscles, and digestive system. Finally, during childbirth, the baby emerges from the woman’s womb out of the “water.” This fits the description of someone who is “born of water.”
Essentially, the Lord says, “Listen, Nick. Let me break it down for you. The first time you’re born through the flesh from the “water” (amniotic fluid) in your mother’s womb, but now, you need to be born again, but this time from above, that is, from the Spirit of God.” Physical life is produced and developed by the flesh, while spiritual life is produced and developed by the Spirit. What is of the flesh, flesh it is, and what is of the Spirit, spirit it is (Jn. 3:6).
The natural man can’t perceive the things of the Spirit. The only way to enter the realm of God, and understand it, is to be born again, from above. We can become born again by trusting in the God of Abraham as God alone, and accepting his Son Jesus as Lord.
According to our faith, we’re made afresh by the Spirit and become children of God, by his amazing grace.
We can’t depend on anyone else’s salvation or their relationship with the Lord. We ourselves must be born again.
**Unless otherwise noted, the thoughts expressed in this post are my own, and are intended to guide, not replace one’s own conviction and study of Scripture.