There are indeed two births being described in this passage; the first one being a “natural” birth and the second one being a “spiritual” birth. The Lord Jesus put them both together in verse 6: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Before we look at this in more detail, let’s read John 3:1-8 from the NASB: “Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?’ 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. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do now know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit’.”

Nicodemus was a very religious man and highly respected among the Jews, but Jesus told him “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” The Lord knew that one’s religion and character does NOT fit one for the kingdom of God; one must be “born again.” The only “birth” that Nicodemus could comprehend was his being born naturally into this world so he asked if it was possible to enter his mother’s womb to be born again. In response the Lord now elaborates on the “spiritual birth” by saying, “Unless one is born of WATER and the SPIRIT he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” With these words the Lord Jesus is informing Nicodemus of HOW the New Birth comes about, for just as there were two agents involved in a person’s “natural birth” (your MOTHER and FATHER); so there are two agents involved in the “spiritual birth” (the WATER and the SPIRIT). Most would agree that “the Spirit” is the Holy Spirit, but what does the “water” represent? There are various views on what the water refers to but we believe that WATER symbolizes THE WORD OF GOD, which God uses to “morally cleanse” the sinner by giving him a new life. In John 15:3 Jesus said, “You are already CLEAN BECAUSE OF THE WORD which I have spoken to you.” The apostle Paul speaks of this same truth in Ephesians 5:25-26: “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, HAVING CLEANSED HER BY THE WASHING OF WATER WITH THE WORD.” In 1st Peter 1:23 the apostle Peter also adds his voice declaring that one is born again by the Word of God: “Having been BORN AGAIN, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through THE WORD OF GOD which lives and abides forever.”

We conclude that the Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to bring about the New Birth. The Spirit uses the Word to show the sinner that he is “dead in trespasses and sins” (see Ephesians 2:1) and then He uses the same Word to bring the repentant sinner to faith in Christ, which results in him receiving eternal life (see John 3:16 and John 5:24). One can’t see this work going on in a person’s heart, so the Lord likens this unto “the wind” which blows. You can’t see the wind, but you can see the effects of its power. You also can’t see the Holy Spirit, but you can see the effects of His power when a person is born again and lives a life to the glory of God and the blessing of his fellow-man. Has my reader been born again? (232.1) (DO)