A Publication of the J. H. Spencer Historical Society
The New Birth
By L. R. Riley
Pastor of Lone Oak Baptist Church, 1929-1937
"Ye must be born again." John 3:3-7
      There are two essentials pertaining to men, the birth of the flesh and the birth of the Spirit. Jesus discussed this with Nicodemus in John 3. He revealed that there are two begettings, two births, two natures, and therefore, two men. All men have the first birth, and need the second.

      The new birth is a must. There is nc substitute for it. Nothing else is so important. Every person should make securing it the first business of his life.

      Nicodemus was perplexed by the words of Jesus, for he did not understand just what it meant to be born again. Many people of today also are perplexed. They ask, "What is the new birth? How can I have it?"



      Why is the new birth necessary?

      1. The character of man demands it. Man is by nature a child of wrath, Eph. 2:3. All have sinned, Romans 3:23. All unbelievers are condemned, not simply at death, but now, John 3:18. The lost are without God and without hope in the world. Ephesians 2:12.

      2. The character of God demands it. God is holy, without sin, and in order to be prepared to live with Him, people must be made new through Jesus Christ. They must die to sin and be raised to a state of purity and holiness. Such will be the state of the redeemed in glory, "with him and like him."1 John 3:2.

      3. The purity of heaven demands it. 1 Corinthians 15:50 says, "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption." The only way we can become incorruptible is through the new birth.

      4. The work of Christ demands it. His perfect life, His shed blood, His resurrection, His preparation of a place for us, and His promised return, all makes it imperative that we be born again.

      5. The Word of God demands it, for there is no clearer teaching to be found in its pages than that men must be born again.

      6. Bible examples prove that men must be born again. The preaching and ministry of Jesus, of the apostles, and of the New Testament churches, make it clear that a new birth is necessary.


      1. It is not a system of teaching or training, but an actual experience of having the heart purified by faith. Acts 15:9.

      2. It is not reformation or me re outward change, but must be inward and spiritual in the heart. Romans 10: 9-10.

      3. It is not a mere profession, without actual possession. Matthew 7:22.

      4. It is not works of righteousness. Titus 3:5.

      5. It is not sincerity. Paul was sincere but lost. Acts 26:9.

      6. It is not keeping the commandments. Romans 3:28; Galatians 2:16.

      7. It is not generation or family. Romans 3:9.

      8. It is not personal righteousness. Romans 10:3.

      9. It is not being religious. Philippians 3:4-9.

      10. It is not church membership. Acts 2:47. Note: saved first, and then added to the church.


      One of the most tragic heresies of Christian history is the teaching of baptismal regeneration - salvation through baptism. For long centuries the Roman Catholics have taught that a person becomes a child of God through baptism. Today some other denominations also teach this, or at least teach that baptism has a part in salvation. One of the proof texts used in teaching this is found in Jesus' words concerning the new birth In John 3:5 Jesus said, "Except a man be born of water and of the spirit, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Many say that the words "born of water" mean baptism. Is this true? Let us see some reasons why we know that it is not.

      1. There are many passages in the Bible which teach that a man has salvation or is born again without baptism. Paul said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved." (Acts 16:31). The Bible tells us the condition of the person who believes. He will not perish. (John 3:14-16). He is not condemned. (John 3:18). He has passed from death unto life. (John 5:24). He is justified. (Romans 5:1). His soul is saved. (1 Peter 1:9). He is born of God (1 John 5:1). The believer has all of this before baptism, therefore baptism is not necessary for salvation.

      2. The word "water" often is used in the Bible with reference to salvation, when it has no relationship to baptism. John 4:14 speaks of drinking "living water". In John 7:38 Christ speaks of "rivers of living water" flowing out of the believer. Revelation 22:17 gives an invitation to partake of the "water of life. " Certainly these passages have no reference to baptism for they use the word "water" figuratively. Likewise the words "born of water" in John 3:5 are used figuratively.

      3.The "washing of regeneration" spoken of in Titus 3:5 is not by water, but by the blood of Jesus Christ as is clearly shown in many passages of scripture. Revelaton 1:5, "Unto him that loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood." Other presages teaching this are 1 John 1:7, 1 Peter 1:18-19, and Revelation 7:14. In this last verse the Bible says that these saints "washed their robes" not in the water of a pool or creek, but in the "blood of the lamb."

      4. The birth of the flesh gives physical life, and the birth of the spirit gives spiritual life. What would the birth of water give, if the water in John 3:5 is literal? Would it be water life? The baptism of the flesh in water does not give life. Rather it is a figurative picture of the cleansing God gives in the spiritual birth.

      5. Baptism is a physical experience. A physical body is buried in material water. It is not physical cleansing which the sinner needs, but spiritual cleansing. Only a spiritual birth can give spiritual cleansing to a sinner.

      6. Baptism is called a burial in the Bible but it never is called a birth. Romans 6:4 and Colossians 2:12 both call baptism a burial. Nowhere in the Bible can one find baptism called a birth. If baptism is a birth, from whence could the conceiving come? There never has been a birth without conception. Could any pool or creek conceive so that it could bring forth life?

      7. The Bible says that baptism is a figure, and that it does not actually procure salvation. Those passages of Scripture which are used to teach that baptism is necessary for salvation, are referring to baptism as a figure of the cleansing of the sinner. Peter calls baptism a figure. (1 Peter 2:21). Paul's experience shows that baptism only figuratively washes away sin, for he says that he was saved on the Damascus Road, three days before Ananias said to him "Arise and be baptized and wash away thy sins." (Acts 22:16). In 1 Corinthians 15:8 Paul says "Last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time." The word "born" is the same word used in Jesus' statement "born again". Paul's baptism figuratively pictured the washing away of his sins in the "blood of Jesus Christ" which had occurred three days before, when He saw the Lord and accepted him as his Saviour.

      8. Paul makes very clear that salvation is not by baptism in 1 Corinthians 1:4 when he says, "I thank God that I baptized none of you save Crispus and Gaius . . . also the household of Stephanas ... for Christ sent me not to baptize but to preach the gospel." Yet, Paul said to these same Corinthians, "I have begotten you through the gospel." (1 Corinthians 4: 5). The word "begotten" refers to the new birth. The new birth these Corinthian Christian had experienced had come through the gospel, and not through baptism, for Paul said, "I baptized none of you, save ..." Furthermore, can anyone believe that Paul would have thanked God that he had not baptized them, if baptism is necessary for salvation? Most certainly not! The Lord had commissioned Paul to lead people to salvation (Acts 26: 18) but Paul made it clear that that salvation was not by baptism.

      9. Nowhere does the Bible say that men are condemned if they have not been baptized. Jesus said that men must "repent", must "believe" and must "be born again", but nowhere did he say that men must "be baptized" in order to be saved. Those who add baptism to the plan of salvation are adding to that which Jesus said. Those who add baptism to the plan of salvation need to consider two questions. Why does a person have the Holy Spirit? Galatians 4:6 answers "And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth his son into your hearts." Why do we baptize? Those who have received the Holy Spirit. Acts 10: 47 says, "Can any man forbid water that these should not be baptized which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?" Receiving the Holy Spirit comes before 'baptism, but the Spirit does not come into a man's heart until he is saved. Therefore , baptism comes after salvation and is not necessary for salvation.

      These reasons make clear that the new birth is not by baptism. Other reasons can lie given, but these are enough.


      It is clear that Christ had in mind the cleansing that is revealed in Ephesians 5:26. "That he might cleanse it with water by the Word." John 15:3 says, "Ye are clean through the Word." James was speaking of this when he said, "Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth," and 1 Peter 1:23 says, "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God which liveth and abideth forever."

      "Born of water and of the spirit" refers to the twofold work which is necessary in the human heart if one is to be born again. There must be cleansing and renewing. There must be cleansing of the old nature, or the spirit would be coming into an unregenerate person. However, if there were cleansing without renewing, there would be a cleansed nature without new spiritual life. In the new birth the sinner receves both cleansing and a new nature. There is the washing or cleansing as the Spirit applies the word;and as one believes "the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin." At the same time the Holy Spirit gives a new nature, new life, and the person becomes "a new creature in Christ Jesus."

      Such cleansing and renewing had been clearly taught in the Old Testament, so Jesus told Nicodemus that he, as a leader of Israel, should understand it. He should know about the "cleansing" and "renewing" spoken of by Moses and the prophets.

      Nicodemus had to have this cleansing and renewing - he had to be born again! Every person needs it. Jesus says .that YOU must be born again!


      The new birth is offered freely to every sinner. How can he receive it?

      1. The sinner must hear the gospel. Paul said in Romans l:16 "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation, to every one that believeth. " Rom. 10: 14 says, "How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?"

      2. The Holy Spirit convicts of sin. John 16:8 says, "When he is come he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment to come."

      3. The sinner must have Godly sorrow. 2 Corinthians 7:10, "Godly sorrow worketh repentance."

      4. The sinner must repent of sin. Luke 13:5, "Except ye repent ye shall all likewise perish." Acts 20: 21, "Repentance toward God ..."

      5. The sinner must call upon the Lord. Romans 10:13, "Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

      6. The sinner must believe. Acts 16:31, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved." This means to receive Christ as Saviour. John 1:12, "As many as receive him to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name." It means faith." Galatians 3:26, "We are all the children of God by faith." Ephesians 2:8, "For by grace are ye saved through faith."

      All of this may be summarized in the words of Jesus in Mark 1: 15 "Repent ye and believe the gospel," and in Paul's statement "Repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." Acts 20: 21.

      When the sinner does these things, the Lord saves him; he becomes a child of God; he is born again; he has everlasting life. "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life." John 3: 36.

      This wonderful salvation can be yours now. Not by baptism, not by works, nor by church membership, but by repenting of sin and believing in the Lord Jesus Christ.

      Do it now!


      L.R. Riley (1878-1975) was a noted Baptist pastor, evangelist, and debater in west Kentucky. He was known as "Mr. Baptist" in the Jackson Purchase for his staunch emphasis on Baptist distinctives and authored the book "Baptists and Their Doctrines." His son-in-law was Joe T. Odle of "Church Member's Handbook" fame. In his retirement years, Riley taught at Mid-Continent Baptist Bible College in Mayfield, Kentucky.

[Republished by the J.H. Spencer Historical Society.]