One of the most common errors Bible-readers can make occurs when we read something extra into the text that is not actually there. John 3.5 provides a case in point.
When Jesus said, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3.5), some suppose he is describing two births instead of one. Hence, as covered in a previous study, some believe the expression, “born of water,” alludes to physical birth, while, supposedly, the “Spirit” refers to a separate birth.
However, the Lord addresses only one kind of birth in this text (i.e., a new birth; cf. v.3), which involves two elements. He does not say: “unless one is born of water and born of the Spirit…”, as if describing two separate births. Rather, he employs the term, “born,” only once in the passage. The “water” and the “Spirit” combine together to achieve this one new birth.
By way of illustration, if I say that a gosling “is born of a gander and a goose,” I am not suggesting that it has experienced two separate births — once of a gander, once of a goose. Rather, it has only been born once. The gander and the goose combine as two elements contributing to one birth.
Even so, to be “born of water and the Spirit” describes only one kind of birth from two different elements.
The “Spirit” operates, by means of the Word of God, to give the unsaved faith and renewal (cf. Jms. 1.18; 1 Pt. 1.23; Eph. 6.17; Tit. 3.5).
The “water,” through immersion, gives cleansing (Acts 22.16), regeneration (Tit. 3.5), a new life (Rm. 6.4), and “the remission of sins” (Acts 2.38).
Together, these two elements give birth to a “new creature in Christ” (2 Cor. 5.17; Gal. 3.26-27), whereby the sinner enters into a new state in the kingdom of God. Without either of these two elements, however, an unsaved sinner, according to our Lord, “cannot see the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3.5).