New Testament Definition and Application of John 3

Larry Ray Hafley

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” (Jn. 3:5)

For years, Pentecostal and charismatic preachers have tried to find Holy Spirit baptism bestowing miraculous powers in John 3:5. In recent years articles, sermons, and books by Mac Deaver have tried to find both water baptism and baptism in the Spirit without miraculous powers in the verse. Based on John 3:5, they claim this baptism in the Spirit occurs during water baptism, and yet separate and distinct benefits are attached to each phase or action. According to this theory, water baptism brings salvation from past sins, but not regeneration or entrance into God’s kingdom. Yet, while the person is still in the water, the Holy Spirit performs a separate baptismal operation to regenerate the soul and bring him into the kingdom. This second Spirit baptism results in the Spirit personally inhabiting a Christian and acting on his soul internally and directly, separate from his guidance through Scripture. Really?

This explanation of water baptism plus Holy Spirit baptism has generated confusion and controversy among our brethren.

So, now we take up the question whether baptism in John 3:5 is actually two baptisms for the price of one. What saith the Scripture?

First, we know that water baptism and Holy Spirit baptism are two separate acts or events.

(a) There are two separate baptizers. Men perform the act of baptizing in water. See the case of the Ethiopian treasurer (Acts 8:35-39; Matt. 28:19; 1 Cor. 1:14-16). Jesus is the only one who baptized certain ones in the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:11; Lk. 24:49).

(b) There are two separate elements, water and the Spirit (Acts 10:44-48; 11:15, 16).

(c) Water baptism is prompted by a divine command (Acts 10:48; cf. 2:38; 22:16). A command is not the same as a promise.

(d) Holy Spirit baptism was a promise to some (Matt. 3:11; Acts 1:4, 5). A promise is not the same as a command.

Since water and Holy Spirit baptism, as defined by the New Testament, are two separate and distinct baptisms, this leaves no place for a mystical, mysterious combination of the two (Acts 10:44, 45, 47, 48). Hence, two baptisms, water baptism, plus Holy Spirit baptism, are one too many baptisms, for “There baptism” (Eph. 4:4, 5).

If someone denies that, let him cite the New Testament’s discussion and description of it, “not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Spirit teacheth, comparing spiritual things with spiritual” words. In that way we will not “think of men above that which is written” (Cf. 1 Cor. 2:13; 4:6).

John 3:5 Defined And Applied

Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:5).

The object of being “born again” is to see, or enter the kingdom of God (Jn. 3:3). So, when some say the kingdom of God has not yet been established, they are saying that there is no such thing as being “born of water, and of the Spirit.” If there is no kingdom today, no one has been “born again” today. However, there were some who were “in the kingdom” during the first century (Col. 1:13; Rev. 1:9). Therefore, some had been “born again,” having been “born of water and of the Spirit.”

Jesus talked to a man who wanted to “inherit eternal life.” He then told the man how he could have “treasure in heaven” (Mk. 10:17, 21). When the man refused to accept the offer of “eternal life” and “heaven,” Jesus said that because the man loved his riches, that showed that, essentially, he could not “enter into the kingdom of God” (Mk. 10:23-25; cf. “enter into the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:5).

When the astonished disciples heard these words, they wondered “among themselves, Who then can be saved?” Observe the connection between “eternal life,” “treasure in heaven,” “entering into the kingdom of God,” and being “saved.” These all mean the same thing. The moment a person is forgiven or saved from his past sins, he passes from Satan’s kingdom into God’s kingdom, and this does not require Holy Spirit baptism. In fact, the Bible nowhere says that people enter the kingdom by being baptized in the Spirit!

Born of the Spirit

What does it mean to be “born of the Spirit”? It means to receive salvation, but it does not mean Holy Spirit baptism. The word of the Spirit tells us in plain words.

(a) In Ephesians 5:26, the Spirit said the church is set apart and cleansed “with the washing of water by the word.” Their hearing and obedience to the word of God was their birth of water and of the Spirit (Eph. 1:13; Acts 19:4, 5; Rom. 10:17). This is not baptism in the Spirit.

(b) This is further borne out in 1 Peter 1:22, when Peter said of some, “ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit.” The “truth” is the word of God (Jn. 17:17). That word was given to the apostles who were guided “into all truth” by the Holy Spirit (Jn. 16:13; cf. Lk. 10:16; 1 Jn. 4:6, “we” = the apostles). The apostles received the miracle of Holy Spirit baptism as promised to them in Acts 1:4-5 in order to reveal and confirm the truth, but the people to whom Peter wrote had obeyed the truth revealed by the Spirit through the apostles. Peter did not say these people were baptized in the Spirit.

(c) The Spirit was to “reprove (convict) the world of sin” (Jn. 16:8). On the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, he did so (Acts 2:2:4, 37). “As the Spirit gave them (the apostles) utterance,” the killers, the crucifiers of the Christ, had their hearts cut, stuck, and pierced through thoroughly by the word of the Spirit (Cf. Jn. 17:20; Acts 2:4. 36, 37, 40). As a result, they were baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38, 41). And that is when they were “born again,” “born of the water and of the Spirit” and entered “into the kingdom of God.” The apostles had been baptized in the Spirit by God’s promise, and they preached to the people the command to be baptized in water – no one was commanded to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. A promise is not a command and a command is not a promise.

(d) In Titus 3:5, Paul spoke of our salvation as being “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 Spirit.” God saves us when we submit to His command of water baptism, but there is no command for anyone anytime or anywhere to be baptized in the Spirit. The Spirit washes us when we submit to His command, but he neither promised nor commanded Holy Spirit baptism to all the lost! There is one baptism in Titus 3:5, not two, and it is baptism in water, not baptism in the Spirit.

Thus, we are not saved by works of our own righteousness (as per Rom. 10:1-3; Gal. 2:16). However, we are saved by “the washing of regeneration,” which nearly all old time, conservative commentators say is a reference to baptism, as they do also in Ephesians 5:26, where the “washing of water” is baptism.

Mercy,” is what saved us and was that which he shed upon us abundantly (Titus 3:5, 6). The Lord saves us by his abundant mercy with the washing of regeneration (baptism) through the renewal we receive by the Holy Spirit in the gospel (cf. 1 Pet. 1:10-12; Rom. 16:26). Paul was told to “arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling of the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). The Corinthians, too, were “washed,” sanctified and justified “in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11). The preaching of Paul was “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Cor. 2:4). Thus, by the “washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit,” folks were saved by the grace of God (Titus 3:5-7; Acts 22:16; 1 Cor. 6:11; Eph. 5:26). So, again we see there is a baptism commanded, necessary to salvation, to which we must submit. This can be none other than water baptism because Holy Spirit baptism is never commanded, is not necessary to salvation, and is God’s own miraculous action rather than something to which we submit.

At least, in the cases cited above God’s mercy was granted to those who submitted to the command of water baptism. At that point, in all these places, we are “justified by his grace” (Titus 3:7). As the Spirit said, this renewal, and this making known of it, was “manifested through the word” (note closely Rom. 10:13-17; Acts 26:16-18; 1 Pet. 1:10-12; then confer Romans 6:3-6; Acts 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21).

Some Related Cases

(1) The Samaritans: What had Philip preached to them? He preached Christ unto them (Acts 8:5). Observe, please, that to “preach Christ” is to preach “the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 8:12). First, to preach the name of Christ is to preach his power and authority (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 2:38; 3:16; 4:7, 10, 12; 10:47, 48; 19:5).

Second, to preach the kingdom of God is to preach the authoritative name of Jesus Christ, for a kingdom cannot exist without power. This is exhibited in Colossians 1:13.

Can you imagine that one could preach concerning the name and the kingdom without preaching its terms of entrance (Jn. 3:5)? Information, knowledge is required before one can enter the kingdom of God (Matt. 23:13; Lk. 11:52). Philip provided that information as per John 3:3, 5; Acts 2:38. How do we know that? By what followed, of course. For, when they believed what Philip preached, “they were baptized both men and women” (Acts 8:12). (As an aside, note that the text says, “men and women,” not “men and women, and little infants,” babies.) And that baptism in water, my friends, is what it means to be “born of water and of the Spirit,” and nothing is said about being baptized in the Spirit.

When you became a Christian, were you told of Christ’s authority and power as the Son of God who died for you? When you believed that word, and were convinced and convicted of your sins, were you then baptized in the name of Jesus Christ? If you were, then you were “born of water and of the Spirit” and entered the kingdom, simultaneously–by “one baptism,” not two.

(2) The Ephesians: What had Paul preached to the Ephesians? He “preached the things concerning the kingdom of God” (Acts 19:8). He had preached “the gospel of the grace of God....(and) the kingdom of God” (Act 20:24, 25). Concerning that gospel of grace and of the kingdom, he said it was “the ministry which I received of the Lord.”

Let that sink into the ears of your mind. That word came to him from the Lord by way of the Spirit of God (Eph. 3:5; 1 Thess. 2:13; cf. 1 Pet. 1:10-12; Acts 26:18; Gal. 1:11, 12). It was the word which the Ephesians had heard and in which they trusted, and it was the Spirit-given word of their salvation (Eph. 1:13; 3:5) It was, in short, “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).

That word which was given unto Paul “by the Spirit” was used to tell the Ephesians that they must “be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38; 19:5). In that way, in that manner, they were “born of water and of the Spirit” and entered “into the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:5). We never read that the Ephesians were baptized in the Spirit. Study the passages cited!

(3) The Colossians: Along with what has been said before, note the following texts concerning the “saints and faithful brethren in Christ which (were) at Colosse.” Paul prayed for them and “For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel; Which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth” (Col. 1:5-7).

It is God “Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins.” Notice that forgiveness, redemption, and entering the kingdom are equivalent and simultaneous. There is not one step of forgiveness when baptized in water followed by another step of entering the kingdom when baptized in the Spirit.

....In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting of the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein ye also are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God who hath raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses” (Col. 1:2, 5-7, 13, 14; 2:11-14).

Since the Colossians had heard the word of the truth of the gospel, they had the hope of heaven and knew the grace of God in truth. Their conversion was complete; after they were baptized, they had been forgiven of all trespasses. They had been redeemed by the blood of Christ and transposed and translated into the kingdom of Christ (Col 1:13; Jn. 3:5). That summation of the Scriptures defines and describes what it means to be “born of water and of the Spirit.”

They were in the kingdom. They had been born again. Or else, they would not have been in the kingdom, for that is what is required to be in it (Jn. 3:5).

The Colossians surely knew and certainly understood the grace of God in truth (1:7). They knew they had not been redeemed by works–no man can be! (Rom. 10:1-3; Gal. 2:16; Titus 3:5; Eph. 2:8, 9). Redemption is by the blood of Christ not the merit of man (Col. 1:14).

Their sins had been put off, cut off, by the circumcision of Christ; it was a cutting off made without the hands of men. That putting away, that “circumcision of Christ,” occurred when they were buried and raised in baptism. During this spiritual process or procedure, that is, “the operation of God,” they “trusted” in Christ who gave them spiritual life, “having forgiven (them) all trespasses.”

Understand also that these same brethren were both citizens of the kingdom and members of the church (Col. 1:13; 18-24). This same thing is described in Hebrews 12:23, 28. They, too, were members of the church (v. 23). They also had received a kingdom (v. 28). Note, please, that their bodies had been “washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:22). Nothing is said about them being baptized in the Spirit.

(4) The Romans:For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink: but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17).

Did the saints at Rome have “peace” (Rom. 5:1)? Yes. They also had “righteousness” (Rom. 1:16, 17). They had this righteousness through Christ in the gospel, the faith, the same gospel witnessed by the Old Testament prophets (Rom. 1:1-4; 3:21, 22; Rom. 9:30; 10:4). Indeed, by the gospel, by the system of faith, they were “servants of righteousness” (Rom. 6:18).

The kingdom of Christ is the kingdom of righteousness. “Unto the Son,” God said, “Thy throne O God is for ever and ever: a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of thy kingdom” (Heb. 1:8). It is that kingdom which Jesus told Nicodemus that one could enter only by being “born of water and of the Spirit” (Jn. 3:5).

The Romans were saved by grace (Rom. 3:24). They were “justified by faith” (Rom. 5:1). They, like the Ephesisans and Colossians, were saved by the blood of Christ (Rom. 5:9). But, when and how were they saved by grace, by faith, and by the blood of Jesus?

How were the Romans made “the servants of righteousness” in the kingdom of righteousness? It was “in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). That is, the Holy Spirit foretold of it (1 Pet. 1:10-12; Eph. 3:3-5). The Spirit guided and empowered Paul’s work (Rom. 15:16-19; Eph. 3:5). Thus, their “righteousness, peace, and joy” in the kingdom of God was “in the Holy Spirit,” in the work of the Spirit through the gospel. Again, though, what was the practical pattern of the Romans’ righteousness? How were they thus made “the servants of righteousness”?

(a) Their faith in Christ did not come until they heard the word of God (Rom. 10:13-17; cf. Acts 2:22, 36). (b) It was not apart from believing in Christ as the divine Son of God (Rom. 1:16; 5:1). (c) It was not without repentance (Rom. 2:4). (d) It was not separate from confessing that Jesus is Lord (Rom. 10:9, 10). (e) It was not theirs until they obeyed the gospel (Rom. 6:17, 18; 10:16; 16:25, 26).

Specifically, the Holy Spirit said that they became “the servants of righteousness” when they “obeyed from the heart” “that form,” that mold, that pattern of teaching which had been delivered (preached, taught) unto them, and unto which they were committed (Rom. 6:17, 18). But no one can “obey” baptism in the Spirit because there is no command to be baptized in the Spirit, so the pattern of teaching they received did not include this new theory of Holy Spirit baptism.

Let no one say that obedience to the gospel had nothing to do with Romans becoming “servants of righteousness” in the kingdom of God. As proof thereof, see Romans 6:16: “Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness” (NASB). The everlasting gospel was made known “unto all nations for the obedience of faith” (Rom. 16:25, 26; cf. Matt. 28:19; Mk. 16:15, 16).

What was that mold, that form, that pattern which the Romans “obeyed” in order to enter the kingdom of righteousness, the kingdom of God, as “the servants of righteousness”? It was the death, the burial, and the resurrection of Christ – that was its form or pattern Hear it:

Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into his death? Thererfore, we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in the likeness of his death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin” (Rom. 6:3-6 NASB).

(a) What is the condition of one who has not “been baptized into Christ”? He is not “in Christ.” One cannot be saved “outside” of Christ, so he must be baptized “into” him in order to be saved (Gal. 3:27; 1 Jn. 5:11). We are made “the righteousness of God” only “in him” (2 Cor. 5:17).

(b) When does one begin his “walk in newness of life”? The Holy Spirit says he begins that walk after (not before) he has been baptized into Christ. However, if one says he is saved by faith only and goes several days without being “baptized into Christ,” he is not yet “walking in newness of life.”

One cannot have life, he cannot begin his “walk in newness of life,” until he is “baptized into Christ,” and “into his death.” (Does not “newness of life” sound like it is related to being “born again”? After being born again, would not one then begin to “walk in newness of life”? And would not that new life mean that one has been “baptized into Christ” and “born again”? Just some thoughts for study!)

Therefore, one does not have life, he does not walk in newness of life, before he is “baptized into Christ.” Why not? Because the Spirit says one is not “in Christ” until he is baptized “into” him. One does not begin his “walk in newness of life” until after he is “baptized into Christ.”

(c) Since we have been “baptized into His death,” we have been “united with Him in the likeness of His death” (Rom. 6:3, 5). When we are baptized into Christ, we know that our sins have been “done away with” and that we are no longer “slaves to sin” (Rom. 6:6, 16-18). Since we are “united with Him” when we are baptized, then we are separated from Him until we are “baptized into Christ” (Rom. 6:5; Gal. 3:27).

Thus, submitting to the command to be baptized in water reenacts or replicates the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ for our redemption, but if the command included another baptism in the Spirit, what does this second baptism replicate? Does our baptism replicate the Spirit dying, being buried, and rising from the dead? The very suggestion is preposterous.

There is no command, promise, pattern, or explanation of any kind regarding baptism in the Spirit included anywhere in Romans 6. Baptism in the Spirit is wholly absent and wholly foreign to this great chapter on the meaning of baptism!

A Few Observations

Being born again is akin to other descriptions of the culmination of our salvation from sin. We are said to be “adopted” (Eph. 1:5). We are said to be “married to Christ” (Rom. 7:4). In the world of horticulture, we are described as being graffed, or grafted in, as a branch (Rom. 11:23). We are said to be circumcised, as noted above (Col. 2:11-13). And these are all equivalent to redemption, regeneration, and entering God’s kingdom, as shown above. There is no second and separate baptism in the Spirit required to accomplish what these terms signify.

These all are figures of speech which are the result of obeying the gospel, of being saved by grace through faith, and of being redeemed by the blood of Christ (Rom. 6:17, 18; 10:16; 2 Thess. 1:8; 1 Pet. 4:18; Eph. 2:8, 9; 1 Pet. 19, 22; 3:21). Therefore, whenever one believes and is baptized, as per Mark 16:16, or whenever one repents unto life, Acts 11:18, or whenever one repents and is baptized, as in Acts 2:38 and 22:16, he has been “born again” (1 Pet. 1:23-25).

That is the conclusion of the apostle Peter. To the same people, over a large geographical area, he said that they had been redeemed by the blood of Christ (1 Pet. 1:18, 19). He said they “purified (their) souls in obeying the truth” (1 Pet. 1:22; cf. 4:18). He said to them that “Baptism doth also now save the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet. 3:21).

Finally, he said, those people had been “born the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever.” To those who were saved by grace through faith and were redeemed by the blood of Christ in obeying the gospel, Peter said you are “born again.” Is that what you say? Is that what your preacher says?

What Peter Did Not Say: He did not say that water saves us from our sins. He did not say that baptism is not essential to our forgiveness: “Baptism doth also NOT save us.” If he had, he would have been denying the words of the Spirit which he spoke in Acts 2:38, wherein he said that one must “repent and be baptized” in order to be forgiven, or saved (Acts 2:4, 38, 41). He did not say that we are justified by faith only (Cf. Acts. 10:34, 35; 15:11). He did not say, “Two baptisms doth also now save us, well, er, I meant to say water baptism saves, but somehow in the process another baptism in the Spirit regenerates.” No, he did not

Who Will Enter The Kingdom?

Finally, Jesus said there are some who “in no case shall enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). We, though, want to see who it is that Jesus says “shall enter into the kingdom.”

First, Jesus says they only shall see or enter the kingdom who are “born again” (Jn. 3:3, 5). See above.

Second, (a) Jesus says, “Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my father which is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). Immediately after speaking of one who is born of water and the Spirit to enter the kingdom, Jesus spoke of one who “doeth the truth,” or “practices the truth” (Jn. 3:21). To be born again and enter the kingdom, one must “do the will of the Father.” Again, in John 8:51, Jesus said, “If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death” (Jn. 8:51).

But, remember, neither the Father nor the Son ever commanded anyone to be “baptized in the Spirit,” so the doctrine of men being baptized in the Spirit to enter the kingdom as a separate step from salvation is not “the will of my father which is in heaven.”

(b) In this same context, Jesus asked, “Why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” Then, he said, “Whosoever cometh to me and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will show you to whom he is like: He is like a man which built a house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house and could not shake it for it was founded upon a rock. But he that heareth, and doeth not, is like a man that without a foundation built a house upon the earth: against which the stream did beat vehemently, and immediately it fell; and the ruin of that house was great” (Lk. 6:46-49). Jesus commanded us to be “born of water and of the Spirit” but never commanded us to be “baptized in the Spirit.”

Often, those who speak of being “born again,” say that there is nothing one has to do to be saved and enter the kingdom. They talk against “rules and regulations,” and preach against having to do anything in order to be saved.

However, the Holy Spirit said in the Scriptures, “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered: And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (Heb. 5:8, 9). What does that mean? Again, see above!

So, according to the passages above, who will “enter the kingdom”? He that doeth the will of the Father. Who will not enter the kingdom? He that “doeth not” the will of God (Matt. 7:24-27).

Third, “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3). Again, that is something one must do! To be converted, he must repent (Acts 3:19; Acts 11:18). He must become as a little child.

Conclusion: To be born again, to be born of water and of the Spirit, to enter the kingdom of God, one must do the will of the Father, repent, be converted and become as a little child. The unfurled application of those items of the faith, the “how” and “what” of them, is defined and described in the Scriptures cited above.

We have clearly shown that when penitent sinners are baptized in water, they are “born of the water and of the Spirit.” They are saved, forgiven, regenerated, redeemed, and transferred from Satan’s domain into the kingdom of God. All of this means the same thing, all of it occurs simultaneously, and all of it occurs when we submit to the “one Lord” in “one baptism.”