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In The Grammar of Complexity, I shared the idea that “born of water and the spirit” from John 3:5 means being born of the Word of God and the Spirit of God. I believe this interpretation because of my personal experience, a baptism story I find in the Book of Acts, and various scriptures throughout the New Testament. First things First. I have been the recipient of an immersion baptism and it happened like this:
It was only a few years after my devastating car accident. I’d moved here to Colorado and was feeling somewhat adrift. What was I supposed to do when the planned on college degree was no longer an option and I still had yet to figure out what being differently-abled really meant? One of my mother’s old friends came into town to attend a conference given by an evangelist she liked and invited me to go along. I did so and ended up receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I attended the church that had hosted the evangelist and was a regular attendee for close to two years before I was baptized. I did it all backwards if water baptism is supposed to be part of the new birth. The word in seed form had been planted in me throughout my childhood by various teachers at various times and was sinking roots and growing even though it often times didn’t feel like it, then I was baptized in the Holy Spirit, and finally was baptized in water. That water baptism was my declaring a change that had already taken place and my commitment to the new life that had been birthed in me.
I imagine you saying, “I’m not concerned with the experience of some random person. Experience does not theology make.” I agree which is why I turn your attention to Acts Chapter 10. There is a fascinating story here about a centurion named Cornelius. No one among the apostles was looking to baptize Cornelius. The entire chapter shows God at work bringing about what He wanted. I encourage you to read it: it’s a wonderful chapter.
In brief, Cornelius was fasting when an angel of God appeared to him and told him to send for Peter. The angel told Cornelius what city Peter was in and who he was lodging with before departing. Cornelius sends two from his household in the company of one of his soldiers who, it appears, was also a believer. They go to Joppa to get Peter and bring him to Cornelius. While they are traveling, Peter has the great vision of the sheet bound at the four corners descending from heaven filled with all sorts of animals and creatures he’d been forbidden to eat. The command came from God to kill and eat to which Peter strenuously objected and then came the reply; “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” This happens three times and then the sheet is taken up to heaven.
While Peter is wondering what his vision means, the Spirit tells him there are some men seeking him. He goes down to Cornelius’ men, hears why they have come, and the next day he and some of the brethren return with them. Meanwhile, Cornelius has called together his relatives and close friends in anticipation of Peter’s arrival. Peter arrives and explains why he came and Cornelius shares his vision. Peter begins preaching the word that is Jesus coming, crucified, and resurrected and something amazing happens. The Holy Spirit falls on everyone who heard the word. The brethren that came with Peter were amazed because the Holy Spirit had been poured out on Gentiles and I imagine a great part of their amazement was because most of these Gentiles were Romans. It is after this, the word preached and the Holy Spirit poured out, that Cornelius and his household are baptized.
The lack of water baptism was no hindrance to God. A metanoia had already happened in Cornelius and how I wish it was described in scripture! Imagine a man growing up in the Ancient Roman world with its myriad gods coming to know the true God of Jacob. How did that happen? I can only imagine. God Himself had Cornelius send for someone to preach the word to him and his household, then came the outpouring in the Holy Spirit, and then baptism. It’s all backwards, if indeed water baptism has anything to do with being born again.
In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul addressed some contentions that seem to have arisen due to who had baptized whom. Paul says, “for Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (verse 17). I am convinced that if “born of water” meant water baptism, and that NOT being baptized in water was serious enough that a person could not enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5), Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles would have looked very different.
In closing this week’s post, I wish to share a few scriptures:
Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first-fruits of His creatures. James 1:18
Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him. 1 John 5:1
Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever. 1 Peter 1:22-23
Husbands, love your wives as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word. Ephesians 5:25-26
For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. But the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us; for after He had said before, “’This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days,’ says the Lord: ‘I will put My laws into their hearts and in their minds I will write them’ (Jeremiah 31:33), then He adds, ‘Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more’” (Jeremiah 31:43). Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin. Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Hebrews 10:14-22
To be continued…
Scriptures taken from the New King James Version