The five keywords that we are seeking to understand are:
water – born – flesh – spirit – Spirit
The Greek says for water in John chapter 3: 5-8, υδατος, which comes from the root hudor (ὕδωρ). It is used in several ways, but it is always literally representative of the elemental substance, water. The English word hydro comes from the Greek root. Contextually it may be used to denote the fact that whilst still in the womb we were sustained by water. In a similar sense, the physical heart is surrounded by amniotic fluid, so we see that when the Lord was pierced, blood and water (John 19:34) flowed through the wound, speaking that His amniotic sack had been pierced to pierce His heart for our sakes. It is also used in the context of the Lord's baptism with water, by John. It is the same elemental water which was used when we were baptised with water after we believed.
There are five references to being born in this passage from John chapter 3: 5-8. The 1st (v5) γεννηθη, comes from the root gennao (γεννάω), and means is born. The 2nd (v6 i) γεγεννημενον, is what is born. The 3rd (v6 ii) is also γεγεννημενον. The 4th (v7) is γεννηθηναι and means to be born. Finally, the 5th (v8) is γεγεννημενος, translated, who is born. All of these usages are derived from the root with morphological variants, which being semantically implicit in English usage, are not necessarily carried in the English translation. The root, however, is gennao (γεννάω) and means to beget. In this passage, the semantic domain is carried in the term, genesis, and alludes to the beginning of something as well as something after the likeness of its beginning. This does, of course, apply to individuals, but its contextual and semantic emphasis means that we could say, all humanity is of the flesh of Adam, but to enter the kingdom of God a man also needs to be born of the Spirit of God.
There are two references to the word flesh in verse six. The first usage (v6 i) is σαρκος, which comes from the root word sarx (σάρξ). The second usage (v6 ii) is the root σάρξ itself. Although the word sarx (σάρξ) is used to denote the physical body, it is also used morphologically (v6 i) to denote the likeness of flesh. This is the first usage here and semantically carries not only implication of the substance or physiology of the body (v6 ii) but the very nature of a man (v6 i). So that a literal translation of this verse would be that which is of fleshy Adam is flesh after Adam's flesh.
Just as the word flesh is used flesh begotten of flesh, so the word spirit is used in this same way. There are four references to the word Spirit/spirit. The first is πνευματος and comes from the word pneuma (πνευμ̂α). This first reference (v6 i) speaks of the Holy Spirit. The second usage is πνευμα, which in English would simply read spirit (v6 ii). In a prepositional form, this would be written: to be spirit. The Greek says, πνευματος πνευμα εστιν and would be translated Spirit, spirit to be. To make rational sense of this one would have to give the literal transliteration as follows: το γεγεννημενον εκ της σαρκος σαρξ εστιν και το γεγεννημενον εκ του πνευματος πνευμα εστιν (v6) "what is born of the flesh, flesh is, and what is born of the Spirit, spirit is" (v6 i & ii). The third (v6 iii) reference, to spirit, is πνευματος. This is the same as (v6 i) in meaning and speaks of the Holy Spirit. The fourth usage is also πνευματος (v8), and that too speaks of the Holy Spirit.
In examining John 3:5-8 in this way, one thing becomes immediately apparent. Nowhere in this passage is the Greek word psuche used (soul). What is being alluded to has to do with the condition of all mankind needing to be saved. At a personal level, it speaks of an individual needing to have their spirit made alive by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit. Therefore when the Apostle Paul wrote, "And the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved entire, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ", he is expressing an irrefutable fact of salvation, extending beyond that which Jesus Himself spoke to Nicodemus. This is not to say that Paul contradicted the Lord Jesus, it simply means that Jesus specifically highlighted the need for all men to be born again in spirit. Hence, the Greek says, το γεγεννημενον εκ της σαρκος σαρξ εστιν και το γεγεννημενον εκ του πνευματος πνευμα εστιν (v6) "what is born of the flesh, flesh is, and what is born of the Spirit, spirit is." Flesh and spirit are separated in meaning by the Lord. Therefore when we are speaking about the newness of life, we must hold that distinction in mind.
Jesus separated spiritual regeneration, from the personal experience of salvation, by the need for the believer to take up their cross and follow Him. In speaking to Nicodemus in terms of needing to be born again, Jesus is speaking to the condition of humanity, as well as Nicodemus himself. Though personal regeneration would need to become a personal experience in one's own life, essentially, new birth does not lay down the full meaning of personal salvation. We could say that being born again is the spiritual minimum for a man or else represents the beginning of salvation.
What Is Salvation?
"Assemble yourselves that I may tell you what will befall you in the days to come. Gather together and hear, O sons of Jacob; And listen to Israel your father." Gen 49:1. This is the beginning in the Scripture that salvation by God is made direct reference to in His name. The start is from verse (18).
The Hebrew says לִֽישׁוּעָתְךָ֖ קִוִּ֥יתִי יְהוָֽה׃ Gen 49:18
(v18) I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord.
The word ישׁוּעָתְ is used in speaking of God's deliverance.
yeshu'sh (יְשׁוּעָה) or יְשׁוּעָה (yâshuwʿah) from yasha (יָשַׁע,)
This same deliverance of God is used in other passages of Scripture, but here in this verse, this is the first time the word is used. It is the same in meaning as God is my deliverer. The Hebrew word ישׁוּעָתְ, employed in Exodus 17:9 (וַיֹּ֨אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֤ה אֶל־יְהוֹשֻׁ֙עַ֙ בְּחַר־לָ֣נוּ) is translated, Joshua. The Greek name Iesous (Ιησου̂ς) [Jesus] is a transliteration of the Hebrew name, Joshua, meaning, Jehovah is salvation. As it is written, "She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21).
When Jacob spoke to his sons, he was just moments away from death. In his last words, Jacob talked about the Saviour. His hope is evidenced "I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord". What is singularly profound about Jacob's words, is that he identifies in his faithful prophetic speech that salvation is the name of the Lord Himself. The Lord is salvation. This is precisely in keeping with the words of Simeon, who whilst under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, said 'for my eyes have seen your salvation' as he lifted Jesus in his arms (Luke 2:25-30).
In seeking to speak of, and to understand the meaning of salvation we can only begin and end with speaking about Jesus Himself. If we did no more than to seek to comprehend the Lord Jesus, we would have comprehended everything that could be comprehended about the meaning of salvation. Yet to many believers salvation is not the Lord Himself, but many things, such as being born again, or else a being saved from sins. Whilst these things are true, they do not reveal the whole meaning of salvation because these two things though wonderful, do not speak fully of Christ Jesus, His birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension into heaven, a siting down at the right hand of the Father, and His coming again to establish His everlasting Kingdom as judge of the living and the dead. All of this speaks of salvation because all speaks of Christ. Therefore let us comprehend once and for all time that salvation is Christ and not many things.