Born of Water and the Spirit
|Trinity Sunday| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| May 27, 2018| John 3:5-8|
Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter 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 marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:5-8
We baptize babies. Babies cannot talk. They cannot confess their faith. We have a custom. We call it Confirmation. Confirmation is when we, who have been instructed in the Christian faith, publicly confess that faith. We confirm our baptism. We agree with it. If we were baptized as babies, our sponsors spoke on our behalf. We were unable to talk so they spoke for us. They, in our name, renounced the devil and all his works. They confessed their faith in the words of the Apostles’ Creed. When we are confirmed we make the same confession. We confess that the teaching of the Evangelical Lutheran Church as we have learned it from the Small Catechism is true. We promise never to depart from this truth. We promise to go to church faithfully, to hear the gospel and receive Christ’s body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins.
Not everyone believes that babies should be baptized. They claim that the Bible doesn’t teach infant baptism because nowhere does the Bible explicitly say to baptize babies. That’s perfectly true. And nowhere does the Bible explicitly say to baptize Norwegians or Germans. The Bible teaches that if you are not born again you cannot see the kingdom of God. The Bible teaches that that which is born of the flesh is flesh. The Bible teaches that baptism is how God brings about the new spiritual birth. Since this is what the Bible teaches, this is what we teach. If we cannot understand how the Holy Spirit can regenerate a little baby who cannot even talk, Jesus points out that neither can we understand the wind. But we know it is blowing, don’t we? We don’t understand the things of this world and yet we accept them. Just so, the Holy Spirit does what he does without our understanding how.
Reason is a wonderful gift from God. God gives us the ability to figure things out. We learn cause and effect. We learn how this fits with that. We learn language, history, mathematics, music, geography, and how to diagram a sentence. The ability to reason is a wonderful gift from God. The ability to use human reason is especially important when it comes to our Christian faith.
God speaks in words we can understand. We know God by what he says to us. If we did not have the ability to reason, we would not be able to know what God says to us. For example, Jesus says that “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” From this statement of Jesus – who we know tells us the truth – we know that we must be born of water and the Spirit or we will not be able to enter into the kingdom of God. God speaks. We use the reasoning ability he gives us. We apply his words to ourselves.
God speaks in words and sentences. He speaks his almighty and eternally true word in sentences that we can understand. For example, he says that that which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Since everyone is born of the flesh, everyone is flesh. This means that if anyone is to enter into the kingdom of God, he must be born of the Spirit.
How? We ask how. Jesus explains. He says, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” By using our reason, we can conclude that Jesus is talking about baptism. There is no other possible interpretation of his words. Water and Spirit are joined together. There is only one verb. There is only one preposition. Anyone who can read and exercise the reason with which God has blessed us can see that Jesus is talking about one spiritual birth in which water and the Holy Spirit are joined. That’s baptism.
But sinful, fleshly men and women rebel against God’s word. It’s impossible! What’s impossible? Baptismal regeneration – the teaching that we are born again through baptism – is impossible! Says who? Says human reason. See what has happened? When we place our reason under the Holy Scriptures to be taught by God, our reason is a wonderful gift from God. We can receive holy mysteries from God in sincere faith. We can believe that the Father who sent his Son is God and that the Son who was lifted up on the cross is God and that the Holy Spirit who gives us the new spiritual birth and ushers us into the kingdom of God is God, and yet they are not three gods, but one God. We can know this precious mystery of the Holy Trinity because God’s word teaches it to us, not because we can understand how it can be.
But when we place our human reason over the Bible as its judge, dismissing divine mysteries on the grounds that we cannot figure them out, then our reason is the path away from God and the road to ruin. We can use our God-given gift of reason to learn from God’s written word that the God in whose name we are baptized is three distinct persons and yet one God. We can use our God-given gift of reason to learn from God’s written word that the God in whose name we are baptized is the Father who created us, the Son who redeemed us by his blood, and the Holy Spirit who sanctifies us. But when we presume to place our reason above the Bible, over the Bible, as the judge of the Bible, we will dismiss these wonderful mysteries and make shipwreck of our faith.
The reason heretics deny that God is who we confess he is in the Athanasian Creed is that they cannot figure it out. The reason false teachers reject baptismal regeneration and refuse to baptize babies is that they cannot figure out how a baby can be a sinner, how a baby can believe, or how God can bring a baby to faith by means of the washing of Holy Baptism.
Do not be deceived! So called Bible churches or Bible believing churches that deny that baptism saves, that deny that infants should be baptized, that deny that the Holy Spirit regenerates – brings to spiritual life – those who are born dead in sin and that he does so in baptism, are not Bible believing churches. They are Bible doubting churches. The Lutheran Church is the Bible believing church! Our doctrine is not ours. It is God’s. That is what we confess when we are confirmed.
Listen to these questions and answers from the rite of Confirmation:
Do you confess the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, drawn from the Scriptures, as you have learned to know it from the Small Catechism, to be faithful and true?
Do you intend to hear the word of God and receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully?
Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even to death?
I do, by the grace of God.
Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?
I do, by the grace of God.
The confirmand promises to go to church faithfully and to attend a church that faithfully teaches the true doctrine of Luther’s Small Catechism. Go to church. But don’t go to just any church. America guarantees the freedom of religion. We may think of this as a blessing, but it is a double edged sword. We have the right to preach and teach the truth. But errorists also have the right to teach lies in God’s name and pawn off these lies as God’s truth.
False religions have the same rights in America as does the true religion. Why do we promise when we are confirmed to go to church faithfully? Why do we promise that we will not depart from the teaching we learned in Luther’s Small Catechism? It’s because that which is born of the flesh is flesh. The sinful flesh will cling to our bodies until the day we die. The devil will seek to seduce us into false beliefs. The world will try to lure us away from Christ. The same Holy Spirit who brought you to Christ when you were baptized, forgave you all your sins, joined you to Christ’s death and resurrection, and saved you is the Holy Spirit who speaks to you his saving truth right here in this church.
We Missouri Synod Lutherans are the most ungrateful people in the world. Truly, we are! God blesses us with his pure teaching, and instead of rejoicing in it, sharing it, defending it, and confessing it, we take it for granted. Even worse, we apologize for it! Oh, we make a great confession when we are confirmed! Beautiful words! Beautiful sentiments! And then, as soon as God’s truth comes under attack, we slink off into a corner and shut our mouths.
Confess! Confess with courage! Don’t be afraid of what people say. You have the power of the Holy Spirit himself defending you, sustaining you in the faith, and keeping you safe in God’s truth.
Confess your faith! Not just today, but for the rest of your lives. But in order to confess it, you have to know it, and in order to know it, you need to keep on coming to church because our sinful flesh will use the gift of reason to deny God’s saving mysteries. The gospel isn’t something you learn, file away, and keep. It must constantly come into us to keep us from falling into doubt and unbelief. Jesus says,
As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Jesus was lifted up. There, he bore our sins. Just as the people in the Old Testament who had grumbled against God and were bitten by poisonous snakes were healed when they looked up to the serpent on the pole, we who sin against God every day are saved by looking up to Jesus on the cross. Human reason thinks it’s crazy that God could become a baby, grow up to be a man, and die on a cross and that his death would rescue us from death. But when our human reason is placed under the Bible, then we understand. The Holy Spirit opens the eyes of faith. He tells us that our sins are forgiven, and we have eternal life. This is what God wants us to know and confess. So we go to church where the gospel is purely preached and the sacraments are rightly administered.