“Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.'” (John 3:5)
Jesus had just told Nicodemus in :3 that he must be “born again” in order to see the Kingdom of God. Now here in :5 He tells him he must be “born of water and the Spirit.” This is basically a restating of :3, so it is obviously a synonym for being “born again”; but just what exactly IS being “born of water and the Spirit”, and how does it relate to being “born again”?
As in many New Testament passages, the key to understand this verse is found in the Old Testament scriptures. Christians who seek to know the truth of scriptures in the New Testament do well not to ignore their Old Testament foundations, which often go a long way towards explaining their meaning. It is certainly the case here.
The Old Testament foundation for John 3:5 is found in Ezekiel 36:25-27, where the Lord says through His prophet: “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes …”.
Here Ezekiel says that God will 1) sprinkle them with “water” which will cleanse them from their sins, and 2) He will put His Spirit in them so that they will obey Him.
It is certainly not coincidental that Jesus uses these same two images here in John 3:5, of “water” and “the Spirit”. It is an obvious reference to Ezekiel 36’s prophecy of what God would do when He renews His people: He will “wash” them with water from their sins, and He will fill them with His Spirit so they will obey Him.
So Ezekiel 36 helps us both to understand what “water and the Spirit” means in John 3:5, and also what its synonymous expression, being “born again” means in :3. It means to be washed from your sins, and to be renewed and filled with the Spirit of God. Jesus tells us here that no one can see heaven without this cleansing and renewing. The question for each of us today is: have you been washed from your sins? Have you been renewed by God’s Spirit? Have you been “born again”; “born of water and the Spirit” so that you will enter the Kingdom of God?