BEING BORN OF GOD TO BE SONS OF GOD
As we have seen, regeneration means to be born anew. To be born again is to be born of God. John 1:12-13 says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the authority to become children of God, to those who believe into His name, who were begotten not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” We are first born of man, of our father, to be a son of man, but we must be born anew of God to be a son of God. When we were born of man, we received the life of man. By this we have the authority, the right, to be a son of man. Now we must be born anew of God to have the life of God as the authority, the right, to be a son of God. Remember well that to be born again simply means to be born of God through the Spirit of God.
BEING BORN OF THE WATER AND OF THE SPIRIT
In 3:3 Jesus said, “Unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus asked, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” The Lord replied, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (vv. 4-5). As we have seen, to be born again means to be born of God, but verse 5 says that it is to be born of the Spirit of God. What does it mean to be born of the Spirit? Some talk about being born of the Spirit, but the meaning of this is unclear to many people. When we receive the Lord Jesus as our Savior, the Holy Spirit comes into us and brings God into us as life. At that very moment we are born of God through the Spirit.
Verse 5 speaks of water first and then the Spirit. What does it mean to be born of water? In Christian books there are different opinions concerning the water spoken of here. Most of these opinions, however, are wrong. When the Lord spoke of water to Nicodemus, He spoke plainly, and Nicodemus understood very well. He did not stop the Lord and say, “Please tell me what You mean by the word water.” He could understand this because of his background. Nicodemus, as we know, was a Pharisee. Before he came to the Lord, a number of the Pharisees had gone to John the Baptist. John rebuked them and told them that they needed to repent. Then he said, “I baptize you in water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is stronger than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He Himself will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matt. 3:11). John spoke of two things: water and the Spirit. Water refers to the central item of the ministry of John the Baptist, which is that men needed to repent to such a degree that they recognized that they were good for nothing but death and burial. If someone came to John the Baptist to say that he was repenting, John might have said, “Do you repent? Do you really mean it? Then let me bury you. You need to be buried and done away with.” This is the correct meaning of the water spoken of here.
To be baptized is simply to be buried. When we baptize people, we should always tell them that we are going to bury them. They are good for nothing but burial. To simply confess that we are sinful is not good enough. We must repent to such a standard that we realize that we are good for nothing but to be terminated and buried. This is the ministry of John the Baptist before the ministry of the Lord Jesus.
What then is the ministry of the Lord Jesus? It is the ministry of life through the Spirit. John baptized people with water, that is, he put people into burial. Then the Lord Jesus regenerates people with the Spirit, that is, He brings the divine life into them. To be born of water and of the Spirit simply means that we realize, on the one hand, that as humans we need to be put into the water to be buried, and on the other hand, that we need the Lord to regenerate us with the Spirit of life. To be born of water is to terminate the old life, to put the old life of Adam into death and into the grave to be buried. Then out of death comes the resurrection life in the Spirit, which the Lord Jesus gives us. Now we can understand that to be born of water and of the Spirit simply means to die, be buried, and be resurrected, raised up, with the divine life.
(Basic Principles of the Experience of Life, Chapter 3, by Witness Lee)