Born of water and the Spirit
Let us now inquire, What does the Lord mean by being "born of water, and of the Spirit"? You will find, as we go through John's Gospel, that He constantly uses figures — figures that are perfectly familiar too — to express some weighty spiritual truth. He uses them as symbols of something unspeakably blessed in relation to the soul and God. In the fourth chapter, He uses the well, to which the poor woman of Samaria had come for water, as the figure of the Spirit of God indwelling the believer, and, in the seventh chapter, speaks of that same Spirit as "rivers of living water."
Our Lord takes water in John 13 and washes the feet of the disciples, saying thereafter, "Ye are clean, but not all." Then in John 15, when Judas had gone out, He says, "Now ye are clean" — through the water that I washed your feet with? No. "Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you." Water, in Scripture, is always the Word of God applied by the Spirit. It brings God's thoughts to man, and morally judges all that is in him, [in addition to] purifying his heart. Again, in the nineteenth of John, out of the side of the dead Saviour, there comes "blood and water" - the blood for expiation, and the water for purification. Water carries the sense of moral cleansing, because man's nature is vile; whereas the truth is that what is needed for man is a nature suited to God. Therefore Jesus says, "born of water and of the Spirit," i.e., there must be a new nature thus characterised morally — the water — and in its source — the Spirit. Water purifies that which already exists, whereas "that which is born of the Spirit" in its nature partakes of that of which it is born, It is a new nature imparted by the Spirit — a new life which is really Christ in us. Morally the soul becomes a "partaker of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust" (2 Peter 1: 4). I have no doubt, then, that the water, as a figure, is the Word of God, applied by the Holy Spirit to the soul. The Word carries with it the sense and conviction of my defilement, and need of purification, which, impossible as of the flesh, is only found through the end, under God's judgment, of all that it is, in the cross of Christ (hence the water flowed, as the blood, from His side in death) and by the communication of a new life and nature.
We have therefore the word of God the instrumental means of the new birth; but not the Word of God alone, for the Word of God alone is inoperative. It must be conjoined with the living power and energy of the Holy Spirit. If I am born again, I am so by the Word, but also of the Spirit. It is God's sovereign grace reaching the soul by His own blessed Word and producing faith in it, the Holy Spirit to this end using the Word of the Lord. The result is a new life — a new nature characterised by its source. "That which is born of the Spirit is spirit." Have I been born again? That is a question that every soul within these walls may well ask himself. Thank God, I know that I have been born again, and that is why I am so desirous that you should be also, because it is fundamental to the soul entering into relationship with God, without which there is none, and makes it capable of the enjoyment of God, and what is of Him. Put a man into heaven, if it were possible, without the nature thus received, and he would desire to get out of it as fast as he possibly could, because he would feel he was, morally, utterly unsuited to the scene.
The Holy Spirit, then, is the mighty agent, and the Word of God is the instrument, which being received as the result of this divine action by faith in the soul, there is the imparting of this new nature. To again quote Peter's words, we are "made partakers of the divine nature." I quite admit that the possession of this new nature does not carry with it power. That will come in its due place in John 4, in connection with the Holy Spirit as a spring within the believer. But the point here is that there is imparted, by the Word and Spirit, a new life, a new nature, a new existence before God. "Born of God" is elsewhere the way John speaks of it. Thus, in chapter 1 of his gospel we read, "As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons (children) of God, even to them that believe on his name, which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." (John 1: 12) Then in his first epistle we read, "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God" (1 John 5: 1). Again, "Whosoever is born of God sinneth not" (ver. 18); and "whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world" (ver. 4). This I call the New Testament term, in its highest development, for this blessed truth — of which the primary elements have been before us — "born of God," which carries with it the thought of relationship.