Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Not of Blood, Nor of the Will of the Flesh

Read John 3:1-21

This passage is interpreted by some to mean that a person is born again through the action of being baptised. Being "born of water and the Spirit" is taken to mean baptism. Because being born again refers to the process of regeneration, this doctrine (teaching) is called baptismal regeneration. I don’t think that scripture supports this understanding, and I’d like to outline why I think that.
  1. From John 3 it is clear that you must be born again, or regenerated to see the kingdom of God. The first issue with connecting baptism to being born again is that the thief on the cross went straight to paradise, but wasn't baptised (Luke 23:39-43).
  2. The saints of the Old Covenant weren't baptised. Does that mean that Abraham, Moses, David and Elijah are outside of the kingdom? Or are we to take it that Jesus meant, "from now on", or perhaps "from Pentecost"? But Jesus is speaking in the present tense. Unless Nicodemus was born again, if he'd died that night, he wouldn't have gone into the kingdom.
  3. Jesus says to Nicodemus, "Are you a teacher of Israel and you don't know these things?" Jesus clearly expected a teacher of the Old Testament to be familiar with the concepts he was discussing. If being born again "of water and the spirit" refers to the new institution of baptism, then Jesus could hardly expect him to know this was a requirement of entering the kingdom. This phrase points to the Old Testament, and is also related to point (2) above. Being born again must be an Old Testament principle, not just a New Testament one.
  4. Being born again "of water and the spirit", as prophesied in the Old Testament, points to (among other passages) Ezekiel 36:25-27:
    25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
  5. The Ezekiel passage above points to cleansing and washing of past sins, and to being born again with a new heart. This process is linked to the Holy Spirit. This is consistent with Titus 3:5, which refers to "the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit". That is, being born again has two components: washing the filth of the old man, and "starting again" as the new man. There are similar themes are in Romans 6, Colossians 2:6-15.
  6. The point of Jesus in John 3 is that the Holy Spirit is like the wind which blows where it wishes. In John 1:12-13, regeneration is said to be not of "the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." Titus 3:5 further says regeneration is "not because of works done in righteousness."

    Baptism, however, is an action or a work - done perhaps in righteousness - and is performed entirely by human will. Humans decide when and how baptism is performed. The Holy Spirit is not confined to this, and is not forced into making people born again simply because someone baptises them, and will not be prevented from making people to be born again just because nobody has baptised them. The Holy Spirit is God, and is not a human puppet.
  7. Baptism and being born again remain clearly and closely linked, but the first is a sign and seal of the second. There are very few good reasons for a believer not to be baptised on entering the covenant. One biblical example of a good reason to not be baptised is being in the process of being crucified: I do not doubt that the thief on the cross was born again. I am sure many men and women have been born again, coming to faith in Christ, in situations such that they weren't able to be baptised before their deaths. These will be in the kingdom.
  8. Many other passages link being born again and/or adoption to faith, with no mention of baptism. 1 John 5:1 and Romans 8:14.

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