John 3:4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”
What a strange thing to be born again, what does this mean? Jesus tells us we “must” in order to see the kingdom of God but what is He talking about? We certainly cannot enter the womb a second time so we surely understand this is not a physical rebirth.
Jesus goes onto say, “Most assuredly, I say to you, 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 3:5-6
Is Jesus telling us without a water baptism one cannot see the kingdom of God? Many believe this but we know that Jesus welcomed the thief on the cross into the kingdom and he certainly was not baptized nor was he capable of any sort of works. What does he mean by being born of water?
John Calvin gives a simple answer:
By water, therefore, is meant nothing more than the inward purification and invigoration which is produced by the Holy Spirit. Besides, it is not unusual to employ the word and instead of that is, when the latter clause is intended to explain the former. And the view which I have taken is supported by what follows; for when Christ immediately proceeds to assign the reason why we must be born again, without mentioning the water, he shows that the newness of life which he requires is produced by the Spirit alone; whence it follows, that water must not be separated from the Spirit Calvin Commentaries
Jesus affirms the doctrine of human depravity (Romans 3:10-12, Genesis 6:5), as he explains that in the flesh we cannot see the kingdom. Again, there must be a newness of life (2 Corinthians 5:17), a change that is recognizable to us and to the others around, a newness that produces a difference.
This newness of life is generated or I should say regenerated by God’s Spirit. The natural man is dead in sins and trespasses, all of humankind is dead from the moment they are born and without God’s work we will die in our corruption, and we are under the power of Satan. (Ephesians 2:1-2)
Unless the Spirit breathes life into the dead… we will remain dead.
The word Spirit is pneuma a current of air, that is, breath (blast) or a breeze; by analogy or figuratively a spirit, that is, (human) the rational soul, (by implication) vital principle, mental disposition, etc., or (superhuman) an angel, daemon, or (divine) God, Christ’s spirit, the Holy spirit: – ghost, life, spirit (-ual, -ually), mind.
If one is to truly comprehend the magnitude of this miracle it must be understood that God does the work in the heart of sinful man. Mankind cannot save himself… Many or I should say “most” will say, what do I need to be saved from, I’m not that bad. I’m a “good” person.
Unless you’ve been morally perfect your entire life, you are not a good person. You might be a good person by your standards, or even by the standards of comparison against others in the world, but if you hold your life up to the perfect standard of Christ you are incapable.
Have you ever told a lie?
Have you ever stolen anything?
Have you looked lustfully at another person?
Have you loved God with all your heart soul and mind?
This is the standard by which you will be judged and no man has met this perfect standard. In order to receive the Spirit you must recognize your need for the Spirit.
James 2:10 For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.
If you’ve broken any of God’s law you are guilty of breaking it all. This puts you in the same class as the worst villains in all of history. Do you understand this; is it something you can really believe?
If you can recognize your sin you have an opportunity to be saved, to be born again. Jesus tells us we must receive the Spirit, but how? What causes His Spirit to come to us?
Acts 17:30-31 “Truly these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”
Repent is the Greek word: metanoeō – to think differently or afterwards, that is, reconsider (morally to feel compunction): – repent.
This is a complete turning from who you were to receive a new life in Christ, recognizing the need for a Savior, calling out to Him, the only One that can save. To recognize your sin has separated you from God and that separation has you dead spiritually. There must be a newness of life and a change of direction.
If this is new to you I ask you to consider the words of Christ. They are the words of life and without them you will not see the kingdom of God. That’s clear. Isn’t it?
7 thoughts on “Born again?”
Isn’t it odd that if Baptists and evangelicals are correct that their “born again experience” is the true and ONLY means of salvation, the term “born again” is only mentioned three times in the King James Bible? If “making a decision for Christ” is the only means of salvation, why doesn’t God mention it more often in his Word? Why only THREE times? Isn’t that REALLY, REALLY odd?
Why is it that the Apostle Paul, the author of much of the New Testament, NEVER uses this term? Why is this term never used in the Book of Acts to describe the many mentioned Christian conversions? Why is this term only used by Jesus in a late night conversation with Nicodemus, and by Peter once in just one letter to Christians in Asia Minor?
If you attend a Baptist/evangelical worship service what will you hear? You will hear this: “You must be born again: you must make a decision for Christ. You must ask Jesus into your heart. You must pray to God and ask him to forgive you of your sins, come into your heart, and be your Lord and Savior (the Sinner’s Prayer). You must be an older child or adult who has the mental capacity to make a decision to believe, to make a decision to repent, and to make a decision to ask Jesus into your heart.”
It is very strange, however, that other than “you must be born again” none of this terminology is anywhere to be found in the Bible! Why do Baptists and evangelicals use this non-biblical terminology when discussing salvation?
Maybe “accepting Christ into your heart” is NOT what being born again really means. Maybe…making a “decision” for Christ is NOT how God saves sinners!
Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals
I think your new to the blog and I’m grateful for you taking the time to comment.
To really understand what it means to “believe” is the difference between being saved and “making a human decision to accept Christ”. As you’ve pointed out it’s just not biblical and must be rejected.
Understanding our misery and need for a savior is the only path that leads us to the cross. And we can’t do it without the work of the Spirit. Ephesians 2:8-9 clearly shows us God is the one at work.
I hope to hear more from you in future posts.
I’m glad to hear your belief that we are saved by the work of the Holy Spirit, not our decision.
If salvation occurs by the Spirit, working through the Word to create faith (faith comes from hearing, hearing by the Word of God), is it then necessary that a sinner have the mental capacity to make a decision to believe, to have faith, and to repent, or does God give faith, belief and repentance as a part of the free gift of salvation regardless of the maturity and mental capacities of the sinner?
In short yes, that is what I believe and I also believe scripture affirms this. In quoting John 3:8 “The wind blows where it wishes… So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Jesus is plainly giving us the doctrine of God’s Sovereign Election. God chooses in salvation, but from “our perspective” we make a decision to believe at least in the early stages of salvation.
We must first affirm the doctrine of man’s depravity. Ephesians 2:1 And you (believer) He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins… Romans 3:10 “There is none righteous, no; not one…”
Dead men can’t decide to follow Christ and if there are none righteous it’s only God’s working that raises the dead.
The word belief “pistis” in Greek is the same as the word faith. This word is used in Ephesians 2:8 and is also used in James 2:19 Even the demons believe “pisteuo” and tremble!, same word different form.
By this contrast we can see there is a difference between saving belief and just an intellectual belief. Many people say they believe in God yet they live like the Devil. James goes on to tell us the difference – faith produces good works (James 2:19-24) and a changed life as Paul tells us we are new creations (2 Cor 5:17-21).
It seems we are like-minded on this subject and perhaps my post wasn’t clear enough. Similarly to the Bible we must take things in context and perhaps some of my other posts would be more clarifying on my view of salvation.
This two might be helpful
Again, I really appreciate the dialogue and I hope it will allow me to sharpen my skills in dividing God’s Word accurately.
Here is an explanation of the Lutheran view of Baptism that I sent to another Baptist brother. He found it very interesting. May the peace of Christ be with you, brother.
I think that many evangelicals are confused regarding the Lutheran view of baptism. To us baptism is a WHEN of salvation, not the HOW of salvation. You notice I said “is a when of salvation”. That little article “a” is critical.
Orthodox Christians (Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Lutherans, and Anglicans) believe that baptism is only one of several situations in which God saves: God can save an adult non-believer who hears the Gospel preached and believes/repents. We believe God can save a non-believer who reads the Bible or a Gospel tract, which contains the Gospel, and believes and repents. And we believe that a child of Christian parents can be saved at the time of his baptism by the Word of God being spoken at the time that the water of Holy Baptism is applied to him.
So what is the “HOW” of salvation?
The “how” is always the power of God’s Word. Period. It is not good deeds, it is not saying a prayer (such as the Sinner’s Prayer), it is not magical baptism water.
I’m not going to list all the passages that support this belief, but here is one: “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” This is the only manner in which someone can be saved: the power of God’s Word “quickens” the soul of one who is of the predestined (the Elect), creating faith, belief and repentance. Faith, belief and repentance are NOT performed out of man’s free will or initiative. Salvation, and all the action/actions included in salvation, are gifts from God.
Therefore, if salvation is a gift, not dependent on any ability or quality of the sinner, God can save whom he wants, when he wants, at any age, and with any level of mental decision-making capabilities.
We Lutherans/orthodox could wait and let our children declare themselves as a member of the Elect when they are older, but why? In Acts chapter two God, speaking through Peter, promises the gift of the Holy Spirit to all those who are called (predestined): the adults hearing the sermon by Peter, their children, and those far off (common reference to Gentiles). But only those among these groups that are the “called”, the Elect, will be saved and receive the Holy Spirit.
Some evangelicals seem to think that we orthodox believe that just by running the entire neighborhood under a garden hose, we can save everyone. Not true. Only those who are the Elect will be saved, and they will only be saved at the time of God’s choosing, not theirs, and ONLY by the power of the Word.
We orthodox baptize our children because Christ commands us to baptize all nations (those of all nations who are the Elect) without giving any age restrictions. If you are an Arminian, you cannot understand this because you believe that one must make a decision to believe. Infants, of course, cannot make decisions. But you, Derek, are not an Arminian. You are a Calvinist, or at least, Calvinistic. Therefore, I hope that you will see that if Christ has promised Christian parents the Holy Spirit for their children, then their children ARE the Elect, and if they are the Elect, they should be baptized. They should be baptized as infants to receive God’s free gift of faith, belief and repentance, which are not dependent on the age, maturity, or decision-making capabilities of the sinner.
Is it possible that some or our children, whom we baptize as infants, are not of the Elect. Yes, that is possible. But that is a mystery that only God knows. We don’t try to figure all that out. We baptize our children as infants, and instruct them in the Faith as they grow up, and then pray that they will continue in the Faith themselves as adults. Baptism is NOT a “Get-into-heaven-free” card. We are saved through faith. If a person who was baptized as an infant, who was given the free gift of faith as an infant, grows up and despises God’s Word, despises the Faith, and turns his back on Christ, he CANNOT count on his baptism as his automatic pass into heaven. Faith is required for salvation. No faith, no salvation. A lack of baptism does not damn, a lack of faith, a lack of belief, is what damns sinners to hell.
Baptism is a “when” of salvation not the “how”. Even the Roman Catholic Church does NOT believe that baptism is absolutely mandatory for salvation. Many a martyr has died without the opportunity of being baptized. The thief on the cross and all the saints of the OT were saved without baptism. Baptism is NOT the “how” of salvation! The Word of God is the “how”, the means, of salvation. It always has been.
I clearly understand your position now. I appreciate the clarification.
We are really getting down to splitting some hairs but I think this is important. It’s certainly a small issue but I can see the distinction between our viewpoints.
Let me ask you a question.
My wife and I were both saved in 2009. We currently have 3 daughter’s and a baby due in September. Neither of our older girls were baptized as infants and neither was our youngest. However our oldest daughter was saved about a year ago, or second daughter is unregenerate and of course the 19 month old is incapable of understanding her sin. Here’s an article I wrote about the experience of my daughter Grace’s conversion.
How does God determine salvation for the children of those saved later in life if they are not baptized? Or if our 4th child is baptized as an infant does this child receive the covenant promise and not the others? Do you see the dilemma?
This is why I subscribe to the Reformed Credobaptist position or Believer’s Baptism. Baptism is an outward expression of a changed heart. It is our public declaration of being a new creation. And you stated this well in your second to last paragraph. If a child was baptized and really “walks away” from their faith they were never truly saved in the first place. Then the baptism really did nothing more than get them wet. It’s meaningless.
There are honestly much bigger things to worry about with so much deception in the “church world” over what is true conversion. Thus the whole reason for my original article. What does it really mean to be Born Again.
Here’s a good article on the differences http://reformedreader.org/porc.htm It’s a bit heady and bigger words and language than I typically utilize but I think he does a great job in explaining the viewpoints and arguing for a Credobaptist position.
Again I’m very grateful for the opportunity to sharpen my understanding and try and articulate my position. I’m most grateful we are like-minded on the doctrines of grace and really appreciate the conversation.
One other thing. Here is something worth watching. I’ve not watched it yet, but I will. These two men have poured a tremendous amount of Biblical truth into my life and I admire and respect them both.
They have a different views on the subject.