The Holy Spirit: John’s Gospel — Jesus’ baptism and Nicodemus

I’ve been looking forward to John’s gospel. It’s just always a challenge — but an enlightening one — to sort through the text. John has a writing style that is simple and direct, which yet conceals great depth. It’s just a fun, fun book to study. It’s hard, but fun.

The baptism of Jesus

(John 1:32-34 ESV) 32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.  33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’  34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

John makes explicit what is suggested by the Synoptics — that the Spirit Jesus received remained on him.

Nicodemus

(John 3:5-8 ESV) 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.  6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’  8 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.”

In the Churches of Christ, this passage is about baptism, but for now, let’s see what it says about the Spirit. Our conversion is a rebirth both of water and “the Spirit.” If the water is obviously present at our conversion, so is the Spirit. In fact, the prophets often spoke of the Spirit being “outpoured” — like water — and so one likely meaning of baptism is to symbolize the pouring out of the Spirit into the convert — so much Spirit that we’re immersed in it!

(Isa 32:14-16 ESV) 14 For the palace is forsaken, the populous city deserted; the hill and the watchtower will become dens forever, a joy of wild donkeys, a pasture of flocks;  15 until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field, and the fruitful field is deemed a forest.  16 Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness abide in the fruitful field.

(Eze 39:29 ESV)  29 “And I will not hide my face anymore from them, when I pour out my Spirit upon the house of Israel, declares the Lord GOD.”

(Joe 2:28-29 ESV) And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.  29 Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.

Compare –

(Rom 5:5 ESV)  and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

John 3:6 explains that the flesh gives birth to flesh so the Spirit gives birth to Spirit. You see, “spirit” can mean life, but that doesn’t really fit the parallel. Rather, the point is that those born of the Spirit are made out of the same stuff as the Spirit — meaning –

* Immediately, the indwelling Spirit is part of us, changes us, and makes us spiritual beings.

* At the resurrection, the Spirit gives us spiritual bodies (too early to discuss that one!)

So the thought is surely that we are no longer mere flesh and blood. We are animated by God’s special presence within us. It’s not merely that we’re saved — the Jews had been saved for centuries with very few having the Spirit. No, we are saved and transformed.

Telescopes  and bathyscaphes and sonar probes of Scottish lakes, Tacoma Narrows  bridge collapse explained with abstract phase-space maps, some x-ray  slides, a music score, Minard's Napoleonic war: the most exciting new  frontier is charting what's already here.Jesus next explains that the Spirit is like the wind (pneuma can be translated “spirit,” “wind,” or “breath.”)

The image is surely that we can see and feel the wind’s effects even when we can’t see the wind. Moreover, Jesus says that the Spirit has free will. The Spirit isn’t a fancy term for encouragement or strength. The Spirit is a person who makes choices.

Notice that to a First Century Jew in Palestine, the primary way the wind would be sensed is through feeling the effects, not seeing the effects. It’s desert country — with very few trees. In a desert, the wind is welcome for the feeling it produces. And yet most Christians interpret this verse in light of seeing the Spirit’s effects.

Of course, the sense Jesus actually refers to is hearing. We hear the wind — and we do, but only when it’s a very strong wind! Most Americans would only speak of hearing the wind during a storm. But Jesus says — metaphorically — that we’ll hear the Spirit.

We can’t predict the Spirit. He’s not a rulebook. Rather, he blows where he wills. But Jesus applies the metaphor to those who have the Spirit! It’s not just the Spirit who’s like the wind. So are those “born of the Spirit.” And this is a tough one.

It’s easy enough to give examples where Phillip the Evangelist or Paul were directed to suddenly change plans and “blow” like the wind. But the principle applies to “everyone who is born of the Spirit.” That means us.

We can’t claim that this passage speaks of the baptism of all Christians and then deny that we are all born of the Spirit.

Here’s my take — and I’m open to suggestions! First, as a Christian, the Spirit’s work in my life is not reducible to rules or principles. The Spirit does with me as he pleases — and I may well not realize that my decisions and actions are even prompted by the Spirit. The Spirit can be subtle — like a gentle breeze — not even noticeable until someone points it out.

I remember as a very young child, intent on being a scientist, first learning that the air is a “fluid.” I’d never even thought of the air as having substance! I was very young. So I whirled around, feeling the air on my fingertips — there it was! There it was resisting my motion and swirling between my fingers.

I became momentarily aware that my breathing drew in a something that had resistance and substance. I’d been alive for a while — a few years — and had never noticed. It had nothing to do with eating or playing with my toys. I’d just never thought in those terms, but then it became obvious — even though it had kept me alive all this time! I’d never wondered before what made a balloon expand when my mother blew it up! Very cool discovery: air.

Just so, the Spirit’s work in our lives is not so much secret as easily ignored if we wish to ignore it. Most of the time. But then it’s obvious from the scriptures and the experiences of many that the Spirit — like the wind — sometimes knocks you down. I’ve been in Chicago when it was impossible to walk against the wind. I’ve seen tornadoes blow objects from West Alabama to Tennessee! Wind can destroy half a state in one night!

So while the Spirit is never destructive, he can knock your socks off — and Jesus wasn’t talking about the First Century only. He was talking about everyone who’s ever been baptized into Jesus.

Yes, we have free will. But a lot of good that does you in the teeth of a hurricane! Okay, a better analogy is a good stiff wind, the kind that keeps you from walking straight. You can still walk, but some directions are easier than others. And if you’re not careful, some paths will leave you dusting off the seat of your pants.

So the Spirit is often a breeze, but sometimes something more. And there’s no way to reduce the Spirit’s work to five “Spirit principles” in a tract. The Spirit has free will, too.

Whenever I begin to imagine that I’m entirely in control, I remember the day I was chased by a wall cloud in the interstate. I pulled off, fled into a restaurant, only to see the wind roll a one-ton dumpster along the ground like a tumbleweed. At which point I realized I was watching this mass of cast iron floating toward me through a glass door. Not much protection against a ton of high momentum iron. I was scared.

I’m not scared of the Spirit, who loves me. But sometimes I’m scared of what I might be asked to do by God ‘s wind on earth. You see, living in West Alabama, I have a very healthy respect for the wind.

Avatar of Jay Guin

About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
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21 Responses to The Holy Spirit: John’s Gospel — Jesus’ baptism and Nicodemus

  1. Jerry Starling says:

    And this is just up through John 3! Much more to come from this gospel.

    Good post.

    Jerry, CommittedToTruth.WordPress.Com

  2. Jay Guin says:

    Thanks, Jerry. Glad at least one person read it.

  3. Larry Short says:

    As part of the silent majority, WE read it. If trurh be told, only matters if He reads it, or better yet wrote it! I'll get with the Spirit yet.

  4. ???? says:

    If this is so- If the water is obviously present at our conversion, so is the Spirit – then this obviously is not true – The Spirit has free will, too. If there must be water at our conversion for the Spirit to be present, then He does not have free will, but is conjured up in some magical liquid by the witch doctor, oops I mean preacher.

  5. Jerry Starling says:

    Have you never heard of baptism in water without the Spirit? Look at Acts 19:1ff.
    Jerry

  6. ???? says:

    I know water baptism is not necessary to receive the Holy Spirit.

    Acts 10:44-48 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. Then Peter answered, “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay a few days.”

  7. Larry Short says:

    While the OT shows the Spirit apart from water, the normal NT shows connection, even including Jesus. Being Christ like means bapised of water and Spirit like Him.

  8. ???? says:

    Absolutely, we baptize with water disciples not the lost.

  9. ???? says:

    Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, Jesus already had the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit manifested His presence at Jesus’ baptism. The Holy Spirit in someone can come and be on or beside them.

    Matthew 1:18 “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.”

    Matthew 1:20 “But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.”

    Luke 1:35 “And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.”

    Jesus at the age twelve was speaking the words of God teaching the teachers in the temple who were amazed by Him, John 3:34 “For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure.”

    Luke 2:42-49 And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances. So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him. Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.” And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?”

    Jesus is God.

    Genesis 1:26 “Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

    Genesis 3:22 “Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever.”

    Psalm 110:1 “The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”
    Isaiah 6:3 “And one cried to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!”

    Isaiah 7:14 “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.”

    Isaiah 9:6 “For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

    Matthew 1:23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”

    John1:1-2 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.”

    John 8:57-58 “Then the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”

    Romans 8:9-10 “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.”

    Romans 9:5 “Of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.”

  10. Larry Short says:

    Rev 20:12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and everyone was judged according to what they had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 All whose names were not found written in the book of life were thrown into the lake of fire.
    [TNIV]
    Since the exact list of those saved is not on the internet but to be openned at future Judgement, how do you know who to baptise, since you baptise the saved but do not have the list?

  11. ???? says:

    A person who has not truly been saved is not really being baptized, being baptized is meaningless to them, a person who has been truly saved baptism is very meaningful to them.

    Jerusalem had many pools available to the people. The Jews required those who had converted to Judaism to be immersed in water. They required three things of strangers who declared themselves to be converts: circumcision, baptism, and animal sacrifice. The Jews were very familiar with baptism. Gentiles were also familiar with this and would not have seen baptism as a foreign concept. Baptism, as an initiatory rite, was no less familiar to Gentile converts who had no acquaintance with Judaism. Both Jews and Gentiles understood baptism. The people looked toward the Messiah who would take away sin. The external act of immersion symbolized the greater reality and made perfect sense to the people of Israel.

    The sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper today are of same importance to a true believer, performing these acts do not take away sins, but symbolize that we were made clean through Jesus’ Sacrifice.

  12. Larry Short says:

    While I would not express these things in quite the same way, I basically agree with what you say.

  13. ???? says:

    Many who teach salvation through performing works teach baptismal regeneration. Many try to say it’s a baptismal regeneration and a Spirit regeneration.

    The Bible teaches the Spirit regenerates us to do works, not the other way around.

    “On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” (John 7:37-39)

    “But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior.” (Titus 3:4-6)

    “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)

    The word water is not always speaking baptism. It wasn’t baptismal water that came out of Jesus’ body, “But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out.” (John 19:33-34)

    The meaning of the words “born of water” is understood within the context of Jesus’ and Nicodemus’ conversation.

    Jesus told Nicodemus he had to be born again to see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus was a Jew, to Nicodemus being a Jew was to be in the kingdom of God, Jesus saying that he needed to be born again was a very mind blowing to Nicodemus. Jesus then answered Nicodemus’ question, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born” …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.” (John 3:4-6) Jesus was not speaking water baptism, but was replying to Nicodemus' question about being physically reborn.

    The people saw Jesus differently than they saw their so called experts. He gave them mercy and compassion that was evident in His nature toward them that was totally opposite from the their so called experts of the day.

    “Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.” (Matthew 23:24-26)

    Many of the experts today want to say this passage is saying water baptism, when it is not. The context of their discussion clearly shows Jesus was speaking about being born of the Spirit, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)

  14. Jerry Starling says:

    What you present is a novel concept of birth of water and Spirit, one that gained currency in the past two centuries. The ancient church – that is, the church up through at least the 3rd century – understood being born of water and Spirit as speaking of baptism.

    Perhaps they were led in to this way of thinking by Peter in his first epistle. There in 1:3, he wrote:

    Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

    Notice how he later uses the expression "through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

    and this water [of the flood - JS] symbolizes baptism that now saves you also – not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

    Respectfully,

    Jerry, CommittedToTruth.WordPress.com

  15. ???? says:

    1 Peter 3:18-21 “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Chris.”

    It was the ark the eight souls were in that saved them through water. The door of the ark is one of many pictures of Jesus in the Hebrew Scriptures. Baptism does not save as in eternal life, it doesn’t remove the filth of the flesh, filth of flesh was used many times as an expression of sin, but it saves as the answer of a good conscious toward God, we can be baptized with a clear conscious toward God.

    I’m sorry but I don’t like to use many paraphrased books, especially the NIV since much has been cut out and added to many passages.

    Many in the first century church adopted very poor ideas in their theologies.

    Justin Martyr 100-165 AD claimed God’s covenant with Israel was no longer valid and that Gentiles had replaced them.

    Ignatus said that those who partook Passover were partakers with those who killed Jesus.

    Tertullian160-220 AD blamed the Jews for the death of Jesus he argued that divine judgment is upon Israel, and Jews are destined to suffer for the crucifixion.

    Origen 185-254 AD Origen and his school in Alexandria teachings were based on Greek philosophy. Although he was considered heretical at the time he was tolerated and influenced the church teaching profoundly. He was responsible for much Anti-Semitism and accused Jews of plotting to kill Christians creating the atmosphere in which Christian Anti-Semitism took root and spread. His later disciples consisted of Gregory, Dionysus, Hieracas, Pamphilus, Eusebius.

    Council of Nicea in 325 AD and Council of Antioch in 341 AD Christians were forbidden to celebrate Passover with Jews.

    Several Church councils from 341 AD to 626 AD prohibited Christians from celebrating the Sabbath, festivals, and even eating with the Jews.

    John Chrysostom 344-407 AD preached that he hated the Jews and it is the duty of all Christians to hate the Jews.

    Jerome 347-420 AD said Jews are incapable of understanding Scripture and should be severely punished until they confess the true faith.

    Augustine 354-430 AD wrote that the Jews were destined to wander the earth to witness the victory of church over synagogue.

    Council of Laodicea 434-481 AD Christians were forbidden to worship on the Sabbath.
    440 AD the state church enforced Anti-Semitism and Jews accepting their messiah had to renounce all Jewishness and become Gentile Christians.

    More Jews have been killed in the name of Yeshua than by anyone else. Not only did these people hate the Jews and disengage themselves from them, they persecuted them throughout history.

  16. ???? says:

    Many in the first century church throughout adopted very poor ideas in their theologies.

  17. ???? says:

    (sp) conscious – conscience.

  18. Mario Lopez says:

    I've seen this conversation play out before…

  19. Mario Lopez says:

    ???? What i fail to see is your point. Just say what you are trying to say.

  20. Jerry Starling says:

    ????,

    Did Peter mislead the early (post apostolic) church into a misconception on the new birth? My point about the early church thinking the new birth was synonymous with baptism was that they had apostolic reason to so think, in view of what 1 Peter says about it.

    Yes, the early church made many errors – but they got a lot of things right that the church of the middle ages got wrong (as well as much of the modern church).

    You are trying to "explain away" some pretty straight forward passages. After all, John 3:1ff is in a baptismal context that deals much with the Spirit. Look for example at John 3:22-36 & 4:1-26. John 3:22ff shows how Jesus must increase and John decrease, and closes by saying God does not give the Spirit by measure – but that any who believe in the Son have life.
    John 4 shows that the life is through the "living water," which (as Jay pointed out) is the Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39).

    You have a tendency to segregate believing and being baptized. Have you considered the connection between these that is shown in Galatians 3:26-27 – and that it is because we are sons of God (by faith for we have been baptized into Christ) that God sends the Spirit of His Son into our hearts (Galatians 4:6)? Nothing there about some "witch doctor" preacher conjuring up the Holy Spirit! He is sent by God.

    So far, you have not talked about any of the texts I have suggested you consider. I have not offered any opinions, just the clear text of Scripture. You did talk some about 1 Peter 3:21 – but not about the connection of baptism with the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, through which Peter (1:3) said we are begotten again to a living hope (ie., born again). By the way, you might also think about Romans 6:1-7 and what it says about baptism, the resurrection, and newness of life (could that be life after being "born again"?).

    Your inference that "water" in John 3:5 is natural birth while "Spirit" is the new birth, again, is a relatively modern conception. What in the conversation of Jesus with Nicodemus would lead you to believe this? Jesus spoke of being "born again" (v. 3) "of water and Spirit" (v. 5). Nicodemus spoke of being again in his mother's womb; Jesus spoke of being born again.

    All of your talk about Jewish proselyte baptism and frequent ablutions is a side-track. The Scripture has very little to say about these (nothing about proselyte baptism in either Old or New Testaments – nor in the apocryphal writings or 1st century Jewish sources).

    If you want me to continue this discussion, you will need to stick to the point. Otherwise, I will not reply.

    Jerry

  21. Royce Ogle says:

    Was Jesus' message to Nicodemus that he needed to be baptized? No, his messaged was that he needed to believe on Him. The difference between being condemned and not being condemned was whether or not he believed on Christ.

    The idea that the water being other than water baptism is hardly a modern view. The consistant message of Jesus is "Trust me and live". Attempts to make faith and baptism one and the same are futile. They are not the same. Often baptism is almost immediate after someone has come to trust Christ, but faith is one thing and baptism is another.

    Jesus said to Martha who was angry that her brother had died an unavoidable death "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" Evidently some of us don't believe this.

    Peter's testimony was that he received the Spirit "when he believed", not when he was baptised. He like Abraham, and like everyone ever saved, believed God and it (his trust in God) was counted to him as righteousness. God has never changed the way he makes wicked sinners into saints. There is not an Old Testament salvation and a New Testament salvation as many teach. From the first to the last only those who take God at his word and live like it are saved. Those who refuse to believe him are excluded from God's grace and are condemned.

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