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What have I been saying over the last seven weeks?  Am I saying that since I don’t believe John 3:5 is speaking of water baptism that I don’t think water baptism is important?  Not at all.  As I read through the Book of Acts, I find that water baptism was a vital part of the life of a Christian.  I wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Vincent that baptism “is a truthful sign only as the sign of an inward and spiritual grace.”1 The reason for this study was my quibble with the statement made on social media that water baptism was a law laid down by Jesus.  A church in my area came across my Facebook feed and, when I checked out their statement of faith, I saw that they said practically the same thing.  The statement of faith used “ordinance” rather than law but that’s merely a fancier way of saying the same thing. 

What’s the big deal?  If people are getting saved and baptized anyway, what does it matter if water baptism and born of water are or are not the same thing? It matters to me.  It matters because I am concerned when leaders start using the word “law” when it comes to the life of Jesus in us.  I am also concerned when the keeping of the law of being baptized in water is put forward as the interpretation of John 3:5 when Jesus goes on to say, “no man can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.”  This is serious.  Jesus was serious when he said it.  The true meaning of His words is vital.

That being born of water has to mean something other than water baptism, something that must take place on the inside of a person, is made clear by Luke 17 verses 20 and 21: “Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, ‘The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say ‘Here it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.’” The King James Version has it “the kingdom of God is within you.”  If it is within, then John 3:5 has to be talking about an inward change-the new heart and new spirit God promises in Ezekiel 36-because, on its own, water baptism has no ability to birth anyone into anything other than a denomination. 

I follow a Facebook page called A.W. Tozer-A man of God and this page recently shared an excerpt from his sermon “Spiritual Readiness”.  It struck me when I read “The evangelical church has come through a period when nearly everyone has believed that there is just one prerequisite to readiness: being born again.  We have made being born again almost like receiving a pass to a special event-when Jesus returns we whip out the pass to prove our readiness.”  I feel this way about keeping laws: no one will ever convince me that ticking my Christian box next to water baptism in any way prepares me to “let this same mind be in me that was in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5, paraphrased), or “to be molded into the image of His Son (and share inwardly of His likeness)” (Romans 8:29).

But then, what about Mark 16: 16; “He who believes and is baptized will be saved: but he who does not believe will be condemned”?  Is this passage talking of water baptism?  Romans 5:9 says “Therefore, since we are now justified (acquitted, made righteous, and brought into right relationship with God) by Christ’s blood, how much more (certain is it that) we shall be saved by Him from the indignation and wrath of God?” Ephesians 1:7 says “In Him we have redemption (deliverance and salvation) through His blood, the remission (forgiveness) of our offenses (shortcomings and trespasses) in accordance with the riches and the generosity of His gracious favor”.  No mention of water baptism.  Perhaps Jesus meant water baptism after believing in Him but, again, there is something that must happen inside us before the water baptism means anything.

John the baptizer said Jesus was the one who would baptize with “the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matthew 2:11).  I want to share two scriptures about fire.  Jeremiah 23:29 says “Isn’t my word like fire, asks Adonai, like a hammer shattering rocks?” The writer to the Hebrews states “our God is a consuming fire!” (Hebrews 12:29)  Perhaps I’m pushing the point too hard but, in doing this study, I am convinced that being born of water and the spirit does mean being born of the Word and the Spirit. Jesus is the Word (John 1:1) and “The Word of the Lord endures forever.  And this Word is the good news which was preached to you.” (1 Peter 1:25)  There are so many more beautiful scriptures, some of which I’ve quoted in the previous installments of this study, so I close with this thought.

Maybe I have misunderstood and these leaders don’t really mean law law.  Perhaps all they mean is that baptism is important and I’ve said I don’t disagree.  Here’s my problem: a simple Google search shows people are reaching out and asking whether or not they are saved if they’ve never been baptized.  Is the sprinkling practiced by some denominations enough or do they have to be full on immersed?  What about the baptizing of infants?  I also recently heard that certain denominations recognize the baptism of certain other denominations but not all.  So, in order to be sure I’m saved, I have to be sure I’ve been baptized by the correct denomination?  This sounds like the “doctrines of baptism” spoken about by the writer to the Hebrews (Chapter 6 verse 2).

I wanted to do this study because, when I am looking online, I rarely see anyone pointing out that an inward change is what’s is of paramount importance.  What’s even more distressing to me, is that I rarely see anyone talking about the Holy Spirit.  He’s treated like He’s the icing on the Christian life-nice but not really necessary-or reserved for a certain few who have a deeper life or deeper conversion.

No.  “But you are not living the life of the flesh, you are living the life of the Spirit, if the Holy Spirit of God (really) dwells within you (directs and controls you).  But if anyone does not possess the (Holy) Spirit of Christ, he is none of His (he does not belong to Christ is not truly a child of God).”  This is Romans 8:9 and I would encourage you to read all of Chapter 8.  I’ll quote verses 14 and 15: For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.  For (the Spirit which) you have now received (is) not a spirit of slavery to put you once more in bondage to fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption (the Spirit producing sonship) in (the bliss of) which we cry, Abba! Father!  

If you have been baptized, wonderful.  If you have not, I hope you have the peace to know it doesn’t affect your salvation.  My prayer is that our eyes are opened to see “by (means of the personal agency of) one (Holy) Spirit we were all, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free, baptized (and by baptism united together) into one body and all made to drink of one (Holy) Spirit.”  Christ in us, His life in us testified to us by His Spirit, is the water and Spirit that births us into His kingdom. 

Even so, Come Lord Jesus.

  1. Vincent, Marvin R., D.D., Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament Volume II, Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, Gospel of John, 5. Born of Water and the Spirit, Page 92.