Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 6, 1964
NUMBER 39, PAGE 1,12-13

The New Birth

Marshall. E. Patton

"There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be horn 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. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit." (John 3:1-8)

The New Birth is a subject of much controversy. That there are some things in the Bible "hard to be understood" is too evident to be denied. (2 Peter 3:16) This, however, is not the cause of all controversy. Both the Bible and honesty itself demand that we also recognize as the Cause of controversy preconceived ideas, bias, emotions, traditions, and other factors. Prejudice on the part of Naaman caused him to differ violently with Elisha. (2 Kings 5:11) Paul told the Galatians that they were "foolish" for allowing some to "bewitch" them. (Gal. 3:1) Lack of integrity is the cause of some departing from the faith. (1 Tim. 4:1,2) Traditions of men caused some to differ with our Lord. (Mk. 7:1-9) What the Bible plainly reveals on The New Birth shows that it is not among the subjects "hard to be understood." The cause of the controversy must be something else!

Not A Mystery

Contrary to popular opinion, the process by which one is born again is not mysterious. It is not beyond man's ability to understand. Yet, because of this popular view many make little or no effort to study and learn what God has revealed on the subject. Even verse eight of our text is sometimes cited as proof of this mysterious concept. However, we shall see from this study that such use of that verse is a perversion of truth. Yet, it is almost impossible to estimate the harm done by this mysterious view, especially when is has hardened into prejudice.

That this mysterious concept is in error is evident from the following passage:

"No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me." (John 6:44,45)

Here, the primary thing under consideration is the matter of coming to Christ. This is the same as being saved or being born again. When we plead with people to come to Christ, we are pleading with them to be saved. He who comes to Christ is born again; he is a "new creature" in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17); indeed, he is a child of God. But according to the above passage, the only way this can be done is by hearing and learning. Therefore, the matter of being born again is an intelligent process.

Based upon this same reference some talk at length about the "drawing power of the Father" in such a way as to leave the impression that it is mysterious. Yet, the very next verse affords evidence to the contrary. Jesus immediately quotes a prophecy (Isa. 54:13) showing that this "drawing power" was foreseen and foretold by the prophets: "It is written in the prophets, And they shall all be taught of God." Hence, it follows that whatever the "drawing power" is, it is something that is taught. Hence, our Lord's conclusion: "Every man therefore that hath heard and hath learned of the Father cometh unto me." Now, if one learns, he understands. If he understands, then it can be explained, otherwise he could never learn it in the first place. Paul calls this saving power the "gospel" in Rom. 1:16. It is something that is taught. Men hear it and learn it and render intelligent obedience to it. Thereby they come to Christ. Therefore, the matter of being born again is not a mysterious experience, but rather an intelligent procedure.


Jesus said, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:3) And again, "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." (John 3:5) Whatever is involved in being born again, it is essential to salvation. Our entrance into the kingdom depends upon it! This makes it all the more imperative that we learn what has been revealed on the subject.

Two Elements

Jesus makes it plain that two elements are involved in this new birth. The idea of two separate births, one natural and the other spiritual or one of water and the other Spirit, cannot be sustained by the Scriptures or by the grammatical construction of the original text. The Greek preposition "ek" (of), which denotes origin and source, appears only once in relation to the elements "water" and "Spirit." Even in the King James Version the second "of" appears in italics. The truth of the matter is, the one "of" has only one object, namely, the whole concept "water and Spirit." Hence, one birth of two elements. Furthermore, the absence of the definite article "the" in the original text in relation to "water" and "Spirit" adds force to this conclusion and makes the unity of the two more apparent. The water is joined with the Spirit and both elements account for and are a part of the one birth under consideration. Water is the medium authorized by the Spirit in bringing to completion the new birth. Hence, there are two essential elements involved in being born again.

Sometimes it is affirmed that the "water" of our text refers to the Word. In an effort to sustain this view references are cited wherein the Word is referred to figuratively as water, e.g., "living water." (John 4:715) However, here as well as everywhere else that the term "water" is used figuratively to identify the Word, evidence of such use exists within the context. This is not so of our text! There is not the slightest hint that the "water" of John 3:5 is figurative. Such affirmation places an arbitrary meaning upon the word. If this practice were allowed, one could make the Bible say anything his whim or fancy might dictate. The absurdity of this contention becomes more apparent when considered in the light of the following question: What would Jesus have said had he really meant water?? In the absence of evidence of a figurative use of the term "water" here, honest souls will conclude that he meant exactly what he said.


No doubt Nicodemus understood the meaning of "water" in our Lord's statement. All references to baptism in the New Testament — including John's, Christ's before the cross, and Peter's on Pentecost — clearly indicate that those who heard already knew something about it. Jewish tradition establishes the fact that baptism in water had been used by the Jews as an initiatory rite for proselytes to Judaism for a long time — even before John's preaching. Furthermore, it is referred to in their literature and by historians as a birth. In the light of this background, our Lord's words would cause Nicodemus to think immediately of baptism in water. That he needed further explanation concerning the other element — "Spirit" — is evident from the minute attention given to it by our Lord in the verses that follow.


In verse six our Lord stated very clearly something the world in general has been slow to learn, namely, "that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." This simply means that whatever the Holy Spirit operates upon, it is spirit! It is not flesh! Yet, some will pat themselves on the left bosom indicating that the Holy Spirit has operated upon their fleshly heart. They need to read verse six again! On what, then, does the Holy Spirit operate?

Paul speaks of an "outward man" and an "inward man," saying, "the outward man perishes, yet the inward man is renewed day by day?' (2 Cor. 4:16) This "inward man" is the spirit or soul of man. It is immortal and at death returns "unto God who gave it." (Eccl. 12:7) This is the spirit on which the Holy Spirit operates in bringing about the new birth. Verse eight of our text follows as an illustration of this very point:

"The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit."

While we cannot see the wind, the effects are clearly seen. We can see the tree as it bends to and fro in the breeze. Neither clan we see the inward man, but we can behold the effects as he moves the outward man to and fro — in obedience or disobedience to the will of God. The comparison is between the invisibility of the wind and that upon which the Holy Spirit operates — the spirit of man. Hence, "so is every one that is born of the Spirit." It does not say "so is the birth of the Spirit" as so many think and teach. It is the one that is born of the Spirit that is like the wind. Thus, verse eight illustrates verse six: "....that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." The following considerations add force to this conclusion.

The Bible Heart

This "spirit" of man is the heart of man that the Holy Spirit operates on in conversion. This is the heart that needs changing. The chances are your physical heart is all right and if it were to undergo a change, it might be fatal. Consider the following attributes of the Bible heart or spirit of man:

Thinks Prov. 23:7 Meditates Psa. 19:14

Reasons Mk. 2:6, 8 Understands Matt. 13:15

Believes Rom. 10:10 Loves Matt. 22:37

Sorrows Rom. 9:2 Desires Rom. 10:1

Purposes 2 Cor. 9:7 Obeys Rom. 6:17

Serves Deut. 10:12 In the light of the above attributes consider the man who does not think, meditate, or reason upon the law of the Lord. He neither understands nor believes the truth. In his heart there is no love for God or godly sorrow for sin. He has no desire much less any purpose in his heart to honor God. Hence, there is no obedience or service unto God. His whole heart needs changing. He is in need of being born again! But how is this accomplished?

The Instrument Of The Holy Spirit

The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit uses an instrument, "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God," (Eph. 6:17) in bringing about this change. Remember, this word which is the gospel (1 Pet. 1:25) is called "the power of God unto salvation." (Rom. 1:16) Furthermore, it is a powerful instrument: "For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." (Heb. 4:12) Absolutely nothing can perform a more thorough operation upon the heart of man. Nothing can cut and penetrate the heart of man more deeply and completely. Indeed, it is a powerful instrument!

When man thinks, meditates, and reasons on the Word, he understands and believes it. This knowledge and faith brings about love in his heart for God and produces godly sorrow for sin that leads to repentance. He now has a desire for things spiritual and all the "exceeding great and precious promises" of God. Thus, motivated and moved by the Spirit through the Word he "obeys from the heart." His whole heart has been changed — the intellect, emotions, and volition. All of this is wrought by the Holy Spirit as he uses his instrument, the word of God, upon the spirit of man. Indeed, the gospel is the power of God unto salvation! (Rom. 1:16)

One question remains. When one has thus been begotten of the Holy Spirit so that he is ready to "obey from the heart," just what does he obey? The answer to this question brings into view again the "water" of our text. The following passages confirm this.


Paul said to the Romans:

"But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness." (Rom. 6:17, 18)

Note that the apostle says they were made free when they obeyed from the heart the doctrine delivered. The cardinal points of the doctrine delivered by Paul are the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord: "Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he arose again the third day according to the scriptures." (1 Cor. 15:1-4) However, the Romans in obeying this doctrine did not die a literal and physical death. Neither were they buried and raised from a literal tomb for the dead. The text says they obeyed a form of the doctrine delivered. This form is clearly identified for us in the preceding verses of this same chapter: "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: 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 he also in the likeness of his resurrection." (Rom. 6:3-5) It was in baptism that the Romans obeyed a form of the death, burial Bind resurrection of our Lord. It was from the watery grave of baptism that they arose to walk in newness of life. The water of baptism is the element authorized by the Spirit to bring the new birth to completion. Notice that their freedom from sin came after their obedience or by virtue of it. "Being then made free from sin." (Rom. 6:18, K.J.V.)

The following passages corroborate the above conclusion and show con-elusively that baptism is a condition of salvation:

"And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." (Mk. 16:15,16)

"Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." (Matt. 28:19-20)

"Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." (Acts 2:38)

"And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord." (Acts 22:16)

"For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ." (Gal. 3:27)

"The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ." (1 Pet. 3:21)

When one has had faith produced in his heart by the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Eph. 6:17; Rom. 10:17), and has been led by godly sorrow to repent (2 Cor. 7:10; Acts 17:30), and has made the good confession (Rom. 10:9, 10), he is then ready to be baptized into Christ. When such a one is baptized into Christ, "he is a new creature." (2 Cor. 5:17) He has been born again! The new birth is complete.

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