This is the next part in the ongoing blog series on "The New Birth"
Geoffrey R. Kirkland
Christ Fellowship Bible Church
What Jesus told Nicodemus should have immediately brought Scriptures from Ezekiel to mind. Jesus told the teacher of Israel, who read and knew the Hebrew Bible, that he must be born of water and the Spirit (John 3:5). To see the kingdom of God, Jesus clearly told Nicodemus that he desperately had a need. And that need was spiritual in nature. It was a new birth, a supernatural, God-given miracle, that would make him clean. But what is the nature of this cleansing that comes from the new birth?
To understand Jesus’ phrase that unless one is born of water and the Spirit, one must turn back to Ezekiel 36. In Ezekiel 36, the prophet speaks to the house of Israel (v.22) and speaks on behalf of God and how He will act for His Name and for His glory among all the nations (vv.22-23). God clarifies what He will do to the people of Israel. He reveals that He will take Israel from the lands and bring them back to their own land and that God will sprinkle clean water on them and they will be clean (v.25). When God promises (“I will”) to sprinkle clean water on the people of Israel this signifies cleansing, purification, consecration, and the washing away of past iniquities. God continues: “I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols” (v.25b). God emphatically promises to Israel that in that day when they are regathered into their own land that God Himself will purify and cleanse them from their filth.
Speaking on behalf of the LORD, Ezekiel continues by declaring that God will give them a new heart and put a new spirit within them” (v.26). Not only would God cleanse them from their iniquities by the washing of water but God would also give them a brand-new heart and a new spirit in them. Indeed, God will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and put in them a heart of flesh (v.26b). These verses from Ezekiel are the background for Jesus’ words to Nicodemus in John 3 when He says that Nicodemus must be born of the water and the Spirit (going back to Ezek 36:25-26).
The new birth that God brings about for sinners is not only an exclusive work of God and a supernatural miracle demonstrating His power, but it also proves the sufficient cleansing that the sinner needs to stand righteous before this heavenly Judge. Ezekiel 36:27 promises that God will put His Spirit within those whom He regenerates and He causes them to walk in His statutes and they will be careful to observe His ordinances. All those whom God regenerates, he declares righteous and cleanses (justifies), and all those whom God regenerates and justifies, He performs the work of sanctification in them as they diligently obey His commands. Truly when Jesus tells Nicodemus that a person must be born of water and the Spirit, it is understood that He referred to the thorough cleansing, the divine cleansing, the supernatural cleansing, the instantaneous cleansing, the effectual cleansing; indeed, the perfect cleansing! Nothing else is needed. When God grants the new birth to a sinner by grace, that person is granted new life and cleansed from all his sin because he is washed clean by God’s merciful grace and by His powerful doing. No wonder Paul wrote: “He saved us … by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:5). Jesus spoke of the new birth as a wonderful truth: a full, divine cleansing!