We have been asked to deal with a question: In John 3:5, Jesus says that unless a man is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven; why does Jesus mention water, and why do some leave out the water in this passage?
The question reminds one of an old chestnut about a gospel preacher who loved to preach about baptism. So much did he love the subject, that it was the central focus every Sunday in every sermon. Finally, the elders of the congregation took the preacher aside and asked him to preach upon a subject of their choosing. He said, certainly, and asked what topic they would like him to deal with. They replied that they would like him to preach about the flood of Noah’s day.
That Sunday, the old preacher took to the podium and began… “In the days of Noah, it rained and rained. It rained for forty days and forty nights. The water covered the whole earth, and covered even the mountain tops. And while we are on the subject of water, let me say a few words about baptism…”
There are many things a preacher should preach about, and it is sometimes possible to become so focused as to forget to preach about anything other than one’s favorite soap-box topic. On the other hand, it is possible to fall into the trap of ignoring parts of the Bible because they do not fit into our own preconceived ideas. Paul commended himself once as having preached “the full counsel of God,” and every good preacher and teacher should try to do the same. (cf. Acts 20:26-27)
The Bible teaches us that every word of God is pure, and we add to it at our own peril. (cf. Proverbs 30:5-6). God told Joshua, concerning His words, not to depart from them to the left and to the right, but to do all things just as he had been commanded. (cf. Joshua 1:7-8). Elsewhere we read that every word of Scripture is profitable, and able to equip us to do God’s will (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16-17)
Jesus said it was necessary to be born of both water and Spirit in order to enter into the Kingdom. Without that duality of water and Spirit we thus surmise there is no salvation.
Concerning water, we read in one place, “Now John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there.” (John 3:23; NKJV) And again some time later we read of the Ethiopian eunuch who, after hearing the gospel taught, said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” There is a clear connection between baptism and water in the scriptures.
There is also a connection between baptism, and the washing away of sins. Saul of Tarsus, convicted of his sins fasted and prayed, while blind, for three days until Jesus sent Ananias to him. Ananias healed Saul of his blindness and then declared, “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’” (Acts 22:16; NKJV)
Notice also the connection made elsewhere in Scripture between the work of the Spirit and the washing away of sins. “The kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:4b-5; NKJV)
There is a washing away of sins that happens in baptism, a washing of regeneration, a new birth if you will (cf. Romans 6:1-4) and at the same time there is a renewal of our soul that happens through the work of the Holy Spirit. Water and Spirit, working together in a single act.
If you doubt the Bible teaches this, it is hard to be much plainer than the apostle Peter who wrote, “in the days of Noah… eight souls, were saved through water. There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God).” (1 Peter 3:20b-21a; NKJV)
Water was involved in the salvation of Noah, and the apostle taught that water likewise plays a role in our salvation through the act of baptism. We are not buried in the water to remove dirt, but rather, through the blood and grace of Jesus, to remove sin.
We don’t know why some people try to leave water out of the New Testament. God, in His wisdom, put it in there for a reason. As part of the scriptures, immersion in water for the forgiveness of sins (cf. Acts 2:38) is a pure doctrine and the practice of it is profitable for us. When you study the Gospel of Christ, and when you put it into practice: don’t forget the water.
If you would like to learn more of what the Bible teaches about how to be saved, the church of Christ invites you to study and worship with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise, if you have any questions, please share them with us through our website chapelhillchurchofchrist.org.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.