Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 9, 1961
NUMBER 14, PAGE 1,8-9,12a

The New Birth

N. Z. Crass

On the occasion of Nicodemus' coming to Jesus by night, Jesus revealed to him, and to all mankind through John's record of the conversation, the fact of a change or transition in the covenants. The time had arrived for a change from the old fleshly covenant of Abraham to the new spiritual covenant of Christ. The former is to end; the latter is to be established. Since Nicodemus was a ruler of the Jews, and a representative character among them, Jesus chose to reveal to him the terms or conditions of entrance into the kingdom of God, the new and spiritual covenant.

When Nicodemus came to the Lord with his declaration of Jesus' divine mission, Jesus, knowing his thoughts, said to him, "Except one be born anew he cannot see the kingdom of God." This statement baffled the Jewish ruler, who inquired, "How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" Jesus responded, "Except one be born of water and 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, being a teacher in Israel, knew, of course, that every child born into the family of Abraham became by virtue of that physical birth a member of the Abrahamic covenant. Hence, he must have supposed that his relationship to Abraham would insure him entrance into the spiritual kingdom of God. But not so. Jesus revealed to him that it would require a spiritual birth to enter into the spiritual kingdom.

For a time Jesus spoke in "dark sayings" or parables in his explanation of these truths. But that time was not to last forever. "These things have I spoken to you in dark sayings; the hour cometh, when I shall no more speak unto you in dark sayings, but shall tell you plainly of the Father." (John 16:25) When that old covenant had been removed, and the new covenant inaugurated, then Jesus could speak plainly of the Father's will. "Lo, I am come to do thy will. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second." (Heb. 101) And again "having blotted out the bond written in ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us; and he hath taken it out of the way, nailing it to the cross." (Col. 2:14)

Speaking Plainly After his resurrection, Jesus met the apostles in a mountain in Galilee where he had appointed them. The time had now come for him to speak plainly of the Father, and of the Father's will for mankind. He said, "All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you." (Matt. 28:18-20) Both Mark and Luke give full reports of this "great commission," in which the Lord stated plainly the terms or conditions of entrance into the kingdom of God. Mark records, "And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned." (Mark 16:15, 16) And Luke says, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer, and rise again from the dead the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name unto all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem." (Luke 24:46)

When Peter in the very first sermon to be preached under the new covenant set forth the terms of salvation, he followed exactly the pattern set by the Lord. Guided by the Holy Spirit, he proclaimed the life of Christ, his death by crucifixion, his resurrection and exaltation to God's right hand. This produced faith in the hearts of those who had crucified him; and they were vastly distressed and disturbed as they contemplated the awful thing they had done. "Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their hearts, and said unto Peter and the rest of the apostles, Brethren, what shall we do? And Peter said unto them, Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you, and to your children even as many as the Lord our God shall call unto him." (Acts 2:37-39)

As a result of this preaching "they then that received his word were baptized; and there were added unto them in that day about three thousand souls." (verse 41) "And the Lord added to them (the church) day by day those that were saved." (verse 47) These verses show clearly that all Jesus included in the "new birth" is contained in the gospel of God. Obedience to the gospel produces the same effect as the new birth — i.e.; entrance into the kingdom of God.

A simple principle of logic is this: Things equal to the same thing are equal to each other. The obedience to the gospel is equal in its effects to being born of water and the Spirit. Note again Jesus said, "he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" This is the equivalent to obeying the gospel. Jesus is the author of both statements. He was not guilty of duplicity; he did not contradict himself. A failure to obey the gospel is as fatal as a failure to be born again. Peter wrote, "For the time is come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begin first at us, what shall be the end of them that obey not the gospel of God?" (1 Peter 4:17, 18) Paul supplied the answer to that question when he spoke of the time when the Lord Jesus should be revealed "from heaven with the angels of his power in flaming fire, rendering vengeance to them that know not God, and to them that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus, who shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his might." (2 Thess. 1:7-9)

Two Elements — One Birth

The words of Jesus: "Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God," can only be understood in the light of the gospel of Christ. Teachers of error have kept many in darkness as to the true meaning of the expression, "born of water and the Spirit." Keep in mind that there are not two births, but one. There are two elements — water and the Spirit. God has joined these two together. "And what God hath joined together, let not man put asunder!" To separate the two elements would prevent one's receiving the new birth. You can't have one without the other.

First, let us consider the Spirit's part in the new birth. The Holy Spirit is of masculine gender. (John 1:13) In the parable of the sower Jesus said, "the seed is the word of God." (Luke 8:11) "When any one heareth the word of the kingdom and understandeth it not, then cometh the evil one, and snatcheth away that which hath been sown in his heart." (Matt. 13:19) And again, "It is the spirit that giveth life; the flesh profiteth nothing. The words that I have spoken unto you are spirit, and are life." (John 6:83)

Let Peter's words explain the true nature of that spiritual birth: "Seeing ye have purified your souls in your obedience to the truth.... having been begotten again not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the word of God, which liveth and abideth.... and this is the word of good tidings (the gospel) which was preached unto you." (1 Peter 1:22-25) The Holy Spirit begets men through the word of God, the gospel. Hear Paul's word: "for in Christ Jesus I begat you through the gospel." (1 Cor. 4:15)

A distinction must be kept in mind between the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Spirit. They are not the same. There is no instance of anyone's ever having been saved by the baptism of the Holy Spirit in the entire New Testament record. But in every recorded case of conversion (salvation) the birth of water and the Spirit is evident.

The birth of water can only scripturally refer to baptism. For Jesus said, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." Albert Barnes, noted Presbyterian scholar, says of this passage in John: "Be born of water. By water, here, is evidently signified baptism. Thus the word is used in Ephesians 5:26; Titus 3:5." (Quoted in Shepherd's Hand Book On Baptism, page 320)

This birth "of water and the Spirit" is quite simple: One hears the gospel preached, and is begotten thereby through the incorruptible seed, the word of God, under the direction of the Holy Spirit. He is then buried in water, and comes forth a "new creature" in Christ. "Wherefore, if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things have passed away; behold they are become new." (2 Cor. 5:17) This is the new birth.

False Teachings

Jesus knew that the devil would seek to mystify and obscure his simple teaching; and he knew also that men would be influenced by Satan to teach false doctrines. So he gave warning to "beware of false teachers." (Matt. 7:15) Paul by inspiration enlarged upon that word of warning: "But the Spirit sayeth expressly, that in later times some shall fall away from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons, through hypocrisy of men that speak lies, branded in their conscience as with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by them that believe and know the truth." (1 Tim. 4:1-4)

Some time after the Bible had been restored to the common people, there arose two theories as to how men were to be saved. One group of teachers tried to "spiritualize" the gospel by attributing salvation to a direct impact of the Holy Spirit upon the heart of the sinner. They taught that conversion was a miraculous operation upon the sinner, and was independent of any act of obedience to the commands of Christ in the gospel. The other group contended that the sinner was saved by faith only, without any other act of obedience to the gospel.

That such false teachings would arise was plainly set forth in such warnings as that given by Paul who said, "the mystery of lawlessness doth already work; only there is one that restraineth now, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall be revealed the lawless one, whom the Lord Jesus shall slay with the breath of his mouth and bring to naught by the manifestation of his coming." (2 Thess. 2:7,8) In a later letter he marveled that the Galatians were so quickly removed from the grace of Christ unto a different gospel, which is not another gospel, only there are some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach unto you any gospel other than that which we preached unto you, let him be anathema." (Gal. 1:7-8)

Examples Of Conversion

The terms or conditions of salvation are revealed In the gospel which the apostles preached; and are made evident and manifest in the examples of conversions recorded in the book of the Acts of the Apostles. There are nine such instances, out of many thousands that might have been selected by the Holy Spirit. We call your attention to these nine:

The Pentecostians

It was Peter who preached this first gospel sermon on the pentecost following the Lord's resurrection. The people heard, believed, and were commanded to "repent and be baptized" unto the remission of their sins "They then that received the word were baptized; and there were added to them in that day about three thousand souls." They thus obeyed the gospel by yielding to the commands of the gospel. (Acts 2)

The Samaritans

"But when they believed Philip preaching good tidings concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. And Simon also himself believed; and being baptized, he continued with Philip; and beholding signs and great wonders wrought, was amazed." (Acts 8:12, 13)

The Eunuch Of Ethiopia

"But an angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza: the same is desert. And he arose and went: and behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was over all her treasure, who had come to Jerusalem to worship; and he was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot, And Philip ran to him, and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? And he said, How can I except some one shall guide me? And he besought Philip to come up and sit with him....And Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this scripture, preached unto him Jesus. And as they went on the way, they came unto a certain water and the eunuch saith, Behold, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thy heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still; and they both went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip; and the eunuch saw him no more, for he went on his way rejoicing." (Acts 8:26-49)

Saul Of Tarsus

The Lord appeared to Saul not to save him, but to show him "how great things he must suffer" for the sake of Christ. He was told to arise and enter into the city, and "it shall be told thee what thou must do." He came into Damascus, and the Lord directed Ananias, a preacher of the gospel, to go to him. Ananias came to Saul (now a penitent believer) and said to him, "and now why tarriest thou? arise and be baptized, and wash away thy sins." (Acts 9; 22; and 26)

Cornelius And His Household

An angel of the Lord directed Cornelius to send to Joppa, and call for Simon Peter, "Who shall speak unto thee words whereby thou shall be saved, thou and all thy house." (Acts 11:14) Peter came and preached the gospel to the group gathered at Cornelius' house, and said, "Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ." (Acts 10:47, 48)


"And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, one that worshipped God, heard us; whose heart the Lord opened to give heed unto the things which were spoken by Paul. And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there And she constrained us." (Acts 16:14-15)

The Philippian Jailor

"And the jailor, being roused out of sleep and seeing the prison doors opened, drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm; for we are all here. And he called for lights and sprang in, and, trembling for fear, fell down before Paul and Silas, and brought them out and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved, thou and thy house. And they spake the word of the Lord unto him, with all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, immediately. And he brought them up into his house, and set meat before them, and rejoiced greatly, with all his house, having believed in God." (Acts 16:27-34)

Crispus And The Corinthians

"And Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians 18:8) hearing believed, and were baptized." (Acts 18:8)

John's Disciples At Ephesus

When Paul came to Ephesus, he found certain disciples of John the Baptist, and asked them, "Did ye receive the Holy Spirit when ye believed? And they said unto him, Nay, we did not so much as hear whether the Holy Spirit was given. And he said, Into what then were ye baptized? And they said into John's baptism. And Paul said, John baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people that they should believe on him that should come after him, that is, on Jesus. And when they heard this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus." (Acts 19:2-5)

We hear much in the religious world about the "apostles' doctrine" respecting conversion, or how to become a Christian. These foregoing nine examples set forth clearly the doctrine the apostles preached. Peter, on that first Pentecost, preached the first gospel sermon under the new covenant. He preached the facts, commands, and promises of the gospel. At the household of Cornelius he preached this same message to the Gentiles. Philip the evangelist preached the same gospel to the Samaritans and to the eunuch. Ananias was directed by the Lord to go to Saul of Tarsus, and to him he brought this same gospel message. Paul, in his turn, spoke this same gospel to Lydia, to the Philippian jailor, to Crispus and the Corinthians, and to the twelve disciples of John at Ephesus.

From these passages it is clearly evident that those who would preach or teach that one may be saved by "faith only," or by some direct operation of the Holy Spirit upon the heart of the sinner, are preaching a false doctrine. Any man who preaches that the sinner can be saved without being baptized in obedience to the gospel is preaching something different from what the apostles preached. John wrote, "Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching of Christ, hath not God; he that abideth in the teaching hath both the Father and the Son." (2 John 9)

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