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 born 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.John 3:3-6
Nicodemus felt that he deserved a place in God’s kingdom based on his lineage and understanding of the law. Jesus throws a curve ball that Nicodemus just doesn’t know how to handle. He probably threw his hands up in the air mocking Jesus because the concept of the new birth had no place in the religion of the Pharisees.
Lest we make the same mistake and misunderstand Jesus, let’s take a closer look at what Jesus means to be born “of water and of the Spirit.”
First of all, Jesus is not teaching that you have to be both physically born and spiritually born. If this were the case, then angels could not be in the presence of God. This would also exclude those who died pre-born.
Neither is Jesus teaching that you have to be baptized as well as be born of the Spirit. If that were true, then all the old testament saints are lost and Jesus was lying when he told the thief next to Him on the cross that he would be in Paradise. Nicodemus would not have understood the concept of Christian Baptism because all he witnessed was John’s baptism of repentance. Also, water baptism is never referred to by just the word “water.” Incidentally, most who promote this concept actually link the two actions together and say that the baptism causes the new birth!
The answer is much more simple than “grace plus something you do.” Jesus is using the word “and” like we use the word “even.” The water and the spirit are the same thing. This concept is prevalent in scripture. Particularly in Paul’s letter to Titus;
But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;Titus 3:4-5
Here, Paul teaches the exact same concept as Jesus. He rebukes the idea that it is anything that man does that saves him. Man must be “washed” or “renewed” from his condition of death in sin. Paul ascribes this work to the Holy Ghost just like Jesus.
Remember, Nicodemus thought that his justification for heaven lay solely in his heritage and abilities. Jesus teaches him that the flesh can only bring forth works of the flesh. The Spirit of God must bring forth spiritual things in our lives.