What does this mean? Three different views have been expressed:
1) It refers to natural human birth
This is a legitimate view when one considers that every baby, before birth, lives in water. At birth, “the water breaks” and the child is born of water. This view is supported by the parallel statement in the next verse,“That which is born of flesh is flesh.” What Jesus is saying is that physical birth alone does not bring a person into the kingdom. The Jews thought that it did.
2) It refers to the washing of water by the word
Ephesians 5:26 That He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word.
A person hears the word of God preached, “Jesus loves you Jesus died for you Jesus took in His own body your sins. If you will receive Jesus and repent of your sin, you will be born again.” The sinner receives that word, responds to it, receives the Lord Jesus and is born again. In a real sense that person has been washed by the water of the Word. This is a reasonable application but not as convincing as the first view.
3) The third view is that it refers to water baptism
This view is difficult to accept for it makes water baptism essential to salvation. You do not have to be baptised to become a child of God. Baptism is an act of obedience in the life of a person who has already become a child of God.
Our conclusion is that to be born of water is a clear reference to physical birth.
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