“Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.'”(John 3:5)
The encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus is so familiar to us that we may miss its impact. When Jesus told Nicodemus that the way to heaven was not by keeping the Law but by being born again, he was disconcerted because he did not understand. Many of those who read this would confess the same amazement and ignorance, myself included. When I first heard this, I was at a loss as to what it meant. I kept trying to figure out what I had to do to become born again. But what Jesus meant was that what is required is a radical change of heart attitude. Works of righteousness may indicate a radical change but they do not make us right with God. What God demands is a new person, one who has died to the self with its sinful ways and pride.
The new birth requires repentance on our part for only then we realize we are spiritually dead and unable to make ourselves right with God. Repentance is an act of faith which God imparts to us whereby we admit we need His mercy in order to be made righteous. Then the Lord responds by giving us new birth, spiritual regeneration. We do not become perfect and sinless, but we abhor our sin and agree with God that it is evil. God considers us perfect because we are in Christ Jesus who is perfect. This is all by God’s action which is what Jesus means when He says by water and the Spirit. The spirit is God’s power and initiative while the water is the water of baptism. In Baptism we go under the water, signifying death to self. We come up from the water signifying the new birth into God’s kingdom.