Be born of water - By "water," here, is evidently signified "baptism." Thus the word is used in Ephesians 5:26; Titus 3:5. Baptism was practiced by the Jews in receiving a Gentile as a proselyte. It was practiced by John among the Jews; and Jesus here says that it is an ordinance of his religion, and the sign and seal of the renewing influences of his Spirit. So he said Mark 16:16, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." It is clear from these places, and from the example of the apostles Acts 2:38, Acts 2:41; Acts 8:12-13, Acts 8:36, Acts 8:38; Acts 9:18; Acts 10:47-48; Acts 16:15, Acts 16:33; Acts 18:8; Acts 22:16; Galatians 3:27, that they considered this ordinance as binding on all who professed to love the Lord Jesus. And though it cannot be said that none who are not baptized can be saved, yet Jesus meant, undoubtedly, to be understood as affirming that this was to be the regular and uniform way of entering into his church; that it was the appropriate mode of making a profession of religion; and that a man who neglected this, when the duty was made known to him, neglected a plain command of God. It is clear, also, that any other command of God might as well be neglected or violated as this, and that it is the duty of everyone not only to love the Saviour, but to make an acknowledgment of that love by being baptized, and by devoting himself thus to his service.
But, lest Nicodemus should suppose that this was all that was meant, he added that it was necessary that he should "be born of the Spirit" also. This was predicted of the Saviour, that he should "baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire," Matthew 3:11. By this is clearly intended that the heart must be changed by the agency of the Holy Spirit; that the love of sin must be abandoned; that man must repent of crime and turn to God; that he must renounce all his evil propensities, and give himself to a life of prayer and holiness, of meekness, purity, and benevolence. This great change is in the Scripture ascribed uniformly to the Holy Spirit, Titus 3:5; I Thessalonians 1:6; Romans 5:5; I Peter 1:22.
Cannot enter into - This is the way, the appropriate way, of entering into the kingdom of the Messiah here and hereafter. He cannot enter into the true church here, or into heaven in the world to come, except in connection with a change of heart, and by the proper expression of that change in the ordinances appointed by the Saviour.
Other Barnes' Notes entries containing John 3:5:
1 Corinthians 14:16
1 Corinthians 15:31
1 Peter 1:3
1 Peter 1:22
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