John 3:5 (NIV)
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.
There has been debates regarding wether water being referred to in the above verse means water baptism or not. Wether this is the same baptism that John and subsequently Apostles did. This is my take.
John 3:10 (NIV)
“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things?
Jesus expected Nicodemus to know what he meant by water and the spirit because he is a teacher, this means because he is a teacher, he knows the scriptures and if he knows the scriptures, then it can only be the Old Testament scriptures since the New Testament was no written yet. There is no baptism in the Old Testament only baptismos meaning rite and not baptsima meaning baptism as indicated in the New Testament. Therefore we need to look in the Old Testament scriptures to look for what Nicodemus should have known but did not and we find that in Ezekiel 36:24-28.
I agree that John 3:5 where Jesus talks about being born of water and Spirit refers to this verse
Ezekiel 36:24-27 (NIV)
“‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.
Notice that each verse starts with “I will”. This is God speaking. God says verse 25, I will wash you, verse 26, I will give you a new heart and verse 27, I will give you my spirit then in verse 28, he declares us as his people and him, our God
Ezekiel 36:28 (NIV)
Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God.
This is God’s sovereign action. He as God does the washing and the giving of the spirit. He says in John 3:6 that the only thing that flesh can produce is flesh. Salvation is by grace through faith plus nothing. John’s baptism cannot save you because salvation is not by any works and baptism is works done by flesh which can only produce flesh. John himself said, I baptize you with water but the one who comes will baptize you with the spirit and fire.
Matthew 3:11 (NIV)
“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
Spirit and fire plus nothing. He did not include water, just spirit and fire plus nothing. During Jesus’s time, the spirit had not come yet hence there was still water baptism but on the day of Pentecost, water baptism stopped being a requirement since now we were baptized by the spirit as John said. John also says he was told to baptize with water
John 1:33 (NIV)
And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. ’
From this verse you can see that God is the one who told John to baptize with water but when Jesus comes, it will be by the spirit. Lastly, baptism was viewed as a ceremonial washing by John’s disciples and Jews
John 3:25-26 (NIV)
An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. 26 They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”
In summary, the water referred to in John 3:5 is not baptism as done by John and the apostles but an Act of God and includes giving of his Spirit. To be born again means God himself must wash you and give you his spirit by his own grace through your faith. All you have to do is simply believe.