ARE YOU BORN AGAIN?
This is a question that one can access how deep in the Bible-Belt he lives by how many times he gets asked this. There are other questions that are similar or related to this one, which depending upon the group your inquisitor is from, you will be asked. Others are: Have you asked Jesus into your heart? Have you made Jesus your personal Savior? Are you covered in the blood of the Lamb? Do you know Jesus? Have you accepted Jesus Christ as you Lord and Savior?
As a young man I had a girlfriend whoís Grandmother upon finding out that I was dating her granddaughter and also finding out that I was not a member of their particular denomination, fired off a multi-paged letter to her concerning my salvation. The crux of the letter was that unless I was born again, I was not a Christian and she should not continue dating me. I, like other Christians who come from a traditional background, am sometimes at a little loss of words when confronted with these situations.
Q. Have you been born again?
A. Err, yah, I guesso.
You then get a strange look with a facial expression that says, "You are obviously not saved." So what do you do in such situations? Well hopefully this is one reason you are reading this book. As I stated in my Bible Study chapter, this question comes from this verse.
Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. John 3:3
Also, as I stated in the same chapter, a more accurate translation would be "born from above" which will give insight to what our Savior really means. First though, letís learn what they mean when they ask us this question. To the majority of fundamentalistís denominations, there is a sure and definite time of salvation in ones life, if one is saved.
You may hear someone say, "I was saved on March 2nd 10 years ago at 6 PM. For it was on that day I fill in the blank" There is a definite time one was unsaved and depending on the denomination, one is not saved until he has performed a certain act or experienced a certain event. The word I will use to describe this is "regeneration" and it seems every denomination will have their particular litmus test to determine whether or not you are regenerated. Besides the ones I have already mentioned, a few more would be, "Have you been baptized by the Holy Spirit," "Have you been baptized for the forgiveness of sins" "Have you spoken in tongues," and depending upon who you are talking to, if you have not experienced or done the certain action or event, you are unsaved. So is there a definite time that one can point to and say before this time I was unsaved, and after this time I was saved? I would suggest that if you have not done so already, read my chapter on the nature of Salvation. With that in mind, letís look at the salvation of Paul. Paul truly had a miraculous salvation experience and most denominations will point to some point of his conversion as an example to support their doctrine. So at what point was Paul a saved man? Many will point to this as the point of Paulís regeneration.
And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecuted: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. Acts 9:5-6
Jesus reveals himself to Paul, the trembling, repentant Paul acknowledges Jesus as Lord and Paul is on his way to a saved life. Others will look at this and say nay-nay, this is where Paul was saved.
Acts 22:16 And now why tarried thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.
Paul could not of been saved until he had his sins washed away, therefore it was when he was baptized that he was saved. So which one is right? Well before we attempt to decide, please consider Paulís testimony in this passage.
Gal 1:15-16 But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace, To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood:
Paul gives his salvation history. Notice that his salvation process began when God "separated me from my mothers womb" and this same God, at a certain point in Paulís life, chose to "reveal his son in me." Paul always had Jesus Christ within him. It was obvious that he went through a good part of his life ignorant of this fact. Then there came a time that this was revealed to him. This will make a lot of people uncomfortable, but those who are in Christ have always been in Christ, though they at one time may have been ignorant of it. Some people may have a miraculous revelation, but for many it can be a longer process. Hank Williams fans will recall his classic "I saw the light." This recounts one such miraculous revelation. My account is not so exciting. I was not struck with a lightning bolt and saw all things anew. I like many people had a slow gradual process that is still taking place. The problem I see in trying to pinpoint a definite time of salvation is that it has lead many people away from Scriptural Christianity. It has led many denominations toward salvation by works doctrines. Salvation is by Godís grace. Works can follow and confirm salvation but they cannot precede it. One such work is called the sinners prayer.** Say the prayer and you are saved. I though would like for somebody to show me where this procedure occurs just once in Scripture. If one is to look for an Earthly vehicle for salvation one will always come up short. The Earthly vehicle that God gave us to show salvation is baptism and yes baptism does save, but a simple reading of Scripture will show that there are many things that show our salvation. So what about those people who have miraculous salvations, how come they always say that they were unsaved before their time of "regeneration." Well they are not lying and they are not deceived. From a particular perception, they can duly make the claims that they do. Though from a different perspective it will seem totally different. Consider this example. In ancient times it was believed that the sun and stars rotated around the Earth. We in our modern wisdom know that this is not true, yet we retain much of this concept in our daily lives. I can say I saw the sunset, but the real truth is that the sun did not set at all. It stayed in its place and I rotated, but from my vantage point, the sun did set and I am not a liar if I say that the sun did set. Perception is the key. If I ask, what must I do to be saved? The true answer is to be foreknown and predestinated by God before the foundation of the Earth. This is meat and not milk though. Those of you who have read the book of Acts will note that this is not what Paul told the jailer when he asked the same question. Paulís reply was:
And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. Acts 16:31
So was Paul teaching that belief is the main vehicle unto salvation? There are many who would agree with this statement. It would be erroneous though to say that a saving, faithful belief precedes salvation. Paul clearly taught that belief was a result, not the cause of salvation.
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. Eph 2:8-10
Verse 10 shows that our salvation is of Godís work. We can claim no credit. If I believe and am thus saved, it is because of Godís work and not of my initiative. I can say the sinners prayer a hundred times, I can be baptized again and again, but without Godís grace and work in my life, both are useless to me. Good works show my salvation, they are not a prerequisite. It is at this time that many can throw any number of verses at you to discredit you or prove their point. And as I stated before, Scripture testifies to a multitude of things that "save". Many denominations will clutch onto one or two and develop massive theologies around them. Many of these theologies though are incomplete. This will be my perspective on those who will say that there is a time in your life that you are unsaved. They will point to any number of Scriptures in an attempt to prove me wrong but I can explain all of them in one fell swoop. Just as my example about the Earth and sun show how different perspectives show different truths. Scripture takes into account our lack of total perspective. Certain issues are approached with our limited understanding in mind. This is the difference between meat and milk. Saul as the man who held the cloaks of those who stoned St. Stephen was for all practical purposes an unsaved man. Who could of known his destiny?
Acts 9:13-16 Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name. But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake.*
The question. "What must I do to be saved" is basically asked three times in the New Testament. The Philipian jailer as mentioned above is one example. Another would be the rich man who fell on his knees in front Jesus.
And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother. And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth. Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions. And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. Mark 10:17-25
Jesusís reply to him suggests a works based salvation. The rich man could not comply with this works based salvation. His god was his wealth not the Lord God almighty. Yet another rich man, Zacchaeus, was readily able to do something similar to what Jesus had instructed Markís rich man, and apparently without having to be instructed on it himself.
And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold. And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham. Luke 19:8-9
How can this happen? Especially when we consider Jesusís teaching on wealth and salvation in verses 24-25 Mark 10? It happened because it was Godís will. Consider that when Jesus entered Jericho and saw Zacchaeus in the tree, he called him by name apparently with no physical foreknowledge of him.
And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house. Luke 19:5
Jesus as God, though, indeed had foreknowledge of Zacchaeus and knew the eternal plan for him. In the flesh, Zacchaeus could little resist the temptation of riches. It was the power of God that enabled Zacchaeus to overcome his weakness to the temptation of wealth. This power came upon Zacchaeus at Godís own pleasure. At this time "salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham." In a temporal perspective one might consider Zacchaeus unsaved before Jesus proclaimed his salvation, but in an eternal perspective Zacchaeus had always been saved. It is the power of God that leads us unto Godly works. Going back to the rich man in Mark 10. After Jesus gave his teaching on wealth, his disciples pondered, "Who can be saved" Jesusís answer was simple and to the point.
And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved? And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible. Mark 10:26-27
Verse 27 is very important. It shows that left to ourselves, it is impossible to bring ourselves unto salvation. The key word is "impossible". This verse does not say that with men it is difficult, it firmly teaches finality to Godís work and the inability of our own. I can believe that Jesus Christ is the Messiah but this may not save me. When Jesus cast out demons, they would proclaim his messiahship. They believed that he was the Messiah. They did not have a saving belief. This is what James taught.
James 2:19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
Likewise there were those who believed that Jesus was the Messiah who did not have a saving belief.
John 12:42-43 Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.
So I can believe that Jesus is the Messiah but without God working inside me, it is impossible for me to have a saving faith. Without God, my faith is dead.
If I ask the question "what must I do to be saved?" in effect, I am asking an incomplete question. We with our limited perception cannot be faulted for asking this question. The two answers given in response to this question do have one thing in common. They instruct the inquisitor to show Godís grace in their life. If the rich man were to sell all he had and follow Jesus, he would be showing Godís grace in his life. He could not comply with this condition, yet the Apostles did, but did the Apostle choose to do this on their own volition?
Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you. John 15:16
Peterís perspective told him that it was his choice to give up all and follow Jesus.
Then answered Peter and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore? Matt 19:27
Then Peter said, Lo, we have left all, and followed thee. Luke 18:28
Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God. John 6:68-69
The larger perspective is that it was not Peter at all, but Godís grace in his life that caused him to do that. It is Godís grace in our life that enables us to do good, if we were to do good works on our own volition then Paul teaches that this would lead to boasting. I cannot boast of any good work. If I perform a good work, it is because God was with me all along, not because I had some special talent or ability. With this in mind, I will go back to our chapter topic. "Are you born again? Let us look at the source verse again.
Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. John 3:3
Remember to substitute "born from above" instead of "born again." Jesus affirms that our salvation comes from above (i.e. God) and not of ourselves. Having said this, please donít discount the concept of "born again." St. Peter affirms this concept in his first epistle.
Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.1 Pet 1:23
Peter though, does not lose sight of the origin of this rebirth.
Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the 7Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be 1 Pet 1:2
Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 1 Pet 1:5
Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you, Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God. 1 Pet 1:20-21
If we look further into Jesusís instruction to Nicodemus on this subject, we will find the best answer.
Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. John 3:5
The manifestation of this birth or rebirth is by 1. Water and 2. The Spirit. Most denominations are comfortable with some sort of Spiritual rebirth theology and basically this is what I have been addressing so far in this chapter. Jesus throws us for a loop when he instructs Nicodemus that this birth must be by water also. As I stated in my chapter on the Subjects of Baptism, this verse is hotly debated as to what Jesus means when he says "water." The majority of traditional Christians receive this as meaning baptism as well as a few fundamentalists also. The majority of fundamentalists receive "water" as meaning natural or fleshly birth. To me this interpretation just does not pass the context test. First, nowhere else in Scripture can I find a reference to natural birth referred to as water birth. Second if we read what Jesus says.
John 3:6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
Jesus does not say, "That which is born of water is flesh" and if you remember from my chapter on the mode of baptism, water and Spirit are mentioned together time and time again in Scripture.
I think I have established that it is God who is the vehicle of our salvation. He starts this process "before the foundation of the Earth." Some people will have a sudden and pinpointable time of revelation. Others like myself will have no definite time we got hit by a lightning bolt and could say, "Yes, I was unsaved but now I am a saved person." As far as I am concerned, ever since I can remember I thought I was one of Godís own in Christ. I have never denied God. I have had times of backsliding and then repentance, but this does not mean I was ever truly unsaved or apart from the elect. Luke 15:11-32 addresses this very well. The problem I see with trying to pinpoint a definite time of salvation in ones life is that it has faults. One may do any one of the above mentioned formulas and then call themselves "saved", but later on in life they may have a sudden growth in Christ and look back at their past life and say. "Well I wasnít truly saved" I have known a few people who seemed to get saved every week. One of the formulas I mentioned at the first of this chapter is "Do you know Jesus." A few days ago I saw a bumper sticker that said, "Do you really know Jesus". To me, it shows the faultiness of the question. I have known a few people who have been baptized several times because something about the last one was just not right. Others have confused the repentance experience with regeneration. Although repentance is a sign of regeneration it is not necessarily the pivotal sign of regeneration. John the Baptist had the Spirit in his motherís womb. Paul teaches that children of Christian parents are Holy. Being born of a Christian parent or parents is a sign of Godís grace. There can be many things that show Godís grace in our life. Any one of which is an adequate reason to baptize a person. I know of no foolproof system at determining who is a sheep and who is a goat. Our fleshly inabilities insure all the above-mentioned formulas have flaws when we are trying to discern genuine salvation and cannot guaranty that the subject who is performing them is truly a sheep and not a goat. I think a better question would be "how do I know if I am saved? This is addressed several times in Scripture. To me one of the most notable is St. Peterís teaching.
According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: 2 Pet 1:3-10
I dare not try to improve upon this.
Another problem I see with many of the fundamentalistís formulas is that most are centered on an act or experience of the individual. Letís take the sinners prayer** for an example. Though I will concede that the sinnerís prayer can show salvation, it has its shortcomings because it is a "work." A multitude of evangelists I have seen in person and on television seemingly appeal to a personís sense of self-preservation or a desire for an easier life than trying to identify a seed for a desire and love of God. I have heard more times than I can recall testimony where an individual says the "sinners prayer" and "gets saved," and all of a sudden all their bills get paid, or they get out of trouble with the law, or they are reunited with an estranged spouse. The list goes on and on. Although the benefits of the Kingdom can be abundant, there is another side to the coin as well. The call to discipleship can be as much perilous as it is comforting. Often, joining the Body of Christ means your troubles are just starting. Tradition has it that all the apostles with possibly the exception of John met a martyrís death. In our modern times there are an abundance of our brothers and sisters that suffer persecutions and death daily because they hold the faith. Parts of Africa and Asia are the background for tests and testimonies of discipleship that we here in our comfortable land cannot imagine. Many who were converts from other religions and philosophies led comfortable lives before their conversions. Their conversions brought persecutions in their lives. Could you imagine a televangelist saying; say the sinnerís prayer with me and maybe youíll lose your job or you will be thrown in jail or your family will get murdered. Yet there are many who go through just that when Christ comes in their lives. Getting saved means becoming part of the body of Christ and obtaining citizenship in the Kingdom of God. Getting saved can bring personal benefit but this personal benefit is always in the context of benefiting the total body.
O.K. I realize that I have not given you a comeback when you are confronted with the question "Are you born again". My comeback is always. "By water and the Spirit". I have stunned more than one inquisitor with that.
* Emphases added by the author.
** Here are some typical sinnerís prayers.
"Dear God, I know I am a sinner. I believe Jesus died to forgive me of my sins. I now acceptYour offer of eternal life. Thank You for forgiving me of all my sin. Thank you for my new life. From this day forward, I will choose to follow You."
"Lord Jesus, I need you, I have sinned against you. Forgive me of my sins. I receive you now as my Saviour and Lord. Make me the kind of person you want me to be. Thank you for giving me the gift of eternal life. Amen."
Lord, Jesus Christ, I am a sinner and do not deserve eternal life. But I believe You died and rose from the grave to purchase a place in heaven for me. Lord Jesus, come into my life; take control of my life; forgive my sins and save me. I repent of my sins and now place my trust in you for my salvation. I accept the free gift of eternal life.