Along with these three that bear record in heaven, there are three also which bear witness in earth: the spirit, the water, and the blood.  “These three,” John concludes, “agree in one.”  This last of these three consecutive difficult verses is perhaps the hardest of all to interpret.  Most dubious of all is whether the “spirit” should be capitalized, to refer to the Holy Spirit, or if it refers to Gospel doctrine, which is sometimes referred to as “spirit,” or to the spirit of the regenerate man.  Without performing an in-depth study of what can be a very controversial issue, it appears to me that John is directing our minds to the cleansing power at operation in the work of salvation.  When Jesus spoke to Nicodemus, He said that men must be born “of water and of the Spirit.”  Many have tried to force “water” there to mean baptism, even though baptism is completely foreign to the entire context.  Rather, it refers to the cleansing power of the Holy Spirit in regeneration.  This is confirmed, not only by the fact that very many Old Testament prophecies describe the work of the Spirit under the similes of the cleansing and fructifying agency of water, but also by Paul’s words to Titus, when he spoke of “the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost.”  In the act of regeneration, the Holy Spirit cleanses away the filth which contaminates our spirits, and renews us so that we now have pure desires to live for God, which is a desire that was entirely absent beforehand.

Thus, I take John to be speaking of three different types of cleansing here.  The Holy Spirit is the true Vicar of Christ on earth, having been sent by the Father and the Son to take up residence within the people of God.  First, He regenerates them by His sovereign power, bringing us out of darkness and into the light.  This is purely the work of God’s Spirit, and is done without the cooperation or permission of men, who are in themselves spiritually dead until they are raised up to newness of life.

“The water,” then, would describe precisely the same thing as Jesus spoke of to Nicodemus.  The Holy Spirit not only regenerates us, making us alive to God, but He cleanses us from all our filthiness and all our idols, just as Ezekiel prophesied.  He delivers us from slavery to Satan, from the dominion of the flesh, from subjection to the opinions of men, and liberates us to walk in the purity and holiness enjoined by the Word of God.

All this is efficacious because of “the blood.”  The blood of Christ is the ground of our forgiveness.  Regeneration would be a meaningless concept if God did not accept our persons, based upon the blood atonement of His dear Son.  He cleanses our record, so that God no longer sees our sin, but sees Christ’s righteousness, and accepts us in His person.  He purges our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.  His blood ratifies the New Covenant, so that now the law is written upon our hearts, and our sins and iniquities are remembered no more.  These three cleansings, then, agree in one, and combined together achieve the glorious salvation of which all God’s elect are partakers.