Now, Contending for the Faith. In this regular feature, Dave and Tom respond to questions from listeners and readers of The Berean Call. Here’s this week’s question:
“Dear Dave and Tom: In John 3 when Jesus tells Nicodemus that ‘Except a man be born of water and of the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God,’ what does He mean by ‘being born of water?’ As a former Roman Catholic, I was taught that it was referring to baptism. I now know that can’t be the case, but I’m not sure what it means.”
Dave: Well, the Scripture refers to the washing of water by the Word. Jesus said to His disciples, “You are clean through the Word which I have spoken unto you.” Paul, more or less answers that question in Titus:3:5, he says, “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.” Regeneration—when I am born again of the Spirit of God—I’ve been cleansed. I’ve been washed from my sins. It definitely is not water baptism. “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit…” We’re born again by the Word of God; that’s very clear. Peter tells us—[1 Peter:1:23]—he says: “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever.” And it is the Holy Spirit that gives us an understanding of the Word and applies the Word to our heart.So when Jesus said, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit,” I think it’s pretty clear He was talking about you have to be washed—you have to be washed from your sins. We sing songs: “I am washed in the blood of the Lamb,” but it is the Word of God that brings the message of salvation, and this is what washes me, cleanses me, by which I am born of the Spirit of God. That’s my understanding, Tom, but everyone listening out there must come to their own conclusion.
Tom: The Catholic view, again, believes this to be baptism, and we know that can’t be true because baptism was just something—it was an ordinance that Jesus had us do by obedience, has no efficacious value, and so on. But evangelicals, some say, “Oh no, this is very simple; it just has to do with your physical birth, being born of water.”
Dave: Well, that’s, I’m sorry, ridiculous. It’s redundant. Of course everybody that lives was born physically into this world. Tom, you mention that baptism is not efficacious; it doesn’t save. In fact, you must be a believer to be baptized. In Acts 8, the Ethiopian says to Philip (you know, he has come to believe in Jesus): “Well, here is water. What would hinder me from being baptized? Philip said, If you believe with all your heart, you may be baptized.”So we believe the Bible teaches believer’s baptism, okay? You must be saved before you are baptized because, as Romans 6, would indicate, baptism is symbolic of having been buried with Christ and raised in new life.And I guess I could offend a few of the people out there who believe in baptism by sprinkling, but you don’t sprinkle some dirt on a corpse. Baptism is symbolic of being buried and raised again. We get it over and over…for example, it says, “They went, both of them [Acts 8 now] Philip and the eunuch, both of them went down into the water together.” You don’t go down into the water together unless you are going to baptize by immersion. Furthermore, in 1 Corinthians 1, Paul, who tells us very clearly, as all scripture does, that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. How do we get saved? By believing the gospel. Then he tells the Corinthians: “Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel.”So obviously baptism is not part of the gospel which saves, so baptism could not save. In fact, Paul says, “I can’t remember whether I baptized any of you—oh, the household of Stephanas, and maybe some others.” But that would be a strange thing if baptism was essential for salvation, although that is taught by the Catholic Church, as you know. It’s taught by a number of so-called Protestant groups.
Now, we also learn in John:4:2 that Christ didn’t baptize anybody. It says, “Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples.” He left the baptizing to his disciples, but the disciples were not the saviors. It’d seem really strange if baptism is essential to salvation that the Savior of the world avoided baptizing anyone, lest, I’m sure, lest they should get confused. Otherwise why would He avoid baptizing? He left that to his disciples.So, Tom, it’s quite clear from Scripture—and certainly infant baptism, so-called, is not biblical, because you must be a believer. And an infant, which—that was baptism you went through, right? An infant does not believe anything. They don’t even understand. They don’t know they’re being baptized. They don’t know the significance of this.
Now, we have dealt with a subject on this program called Calvinism. John Calvin himself taught that infant baptism saves, even if it was done by a Roman Catholic priest. John Calvin…my wife, Tom, as you know, she comes from a long line of Mennonites, followers of Menno Simon. They were not Protestants. This was something other than that. They went way back. The Christians got baptized. Now, these were people who had been Catholics, who realized that Catholicism would not save anyone. It’s a false gospel, a false church. They got saved, they left the Catholic Church and then they got baptized. They were called Anabaptists, which meant getting baptized again. And the Catholics, the Lutherans, and the Calvinists persecuted, drowned them, burned them at the stake because they were saying, “Oh, infant baptism doesn’t save.” Calvin was relying, to his dying day, upon his infant baptism, and he banned from Geneva in 1537 the Anabaptists, and one of the reasons why Servetus, for example, was burned at the stake in Geneva was because he rejected infant baptism for salvation.