"Born Again" the Bible Way
By Tim Staples - source link
(posted with permission)
"Have you been born again, my friend?" Thousands have been asked this question by well-meaning Christians. Of course, by "born again" they actually mean: "Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior through the recitation of ‘the sinner’s prayer?’" How is one to respond?
The simple response is: "Yes, I have been born again—when I was baptized." In fact, Jesus’ famous "born again" discourse of John 3:3–5, which is where we find the words "born again" in Scripture, teaches us about the essential nature of baptism:
Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God." 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?" Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
When a Fundamentalist or Evangelical hears the Catholic position on the matter, the response is mostly predictable: "Baptism does not save you, brother; John 3:5 says we must be born of water and the Spirit." The Catholic will then be told the "water" of John 3:5 has nothing to do with baptism. Depending on the preference of the one to whom the Catholic is speaking, the "water" will either be interpreted as man’s natural birth (the "water" being amniotic fluid), and "the Spirit" would then represent the new birth—or the water would represent the word of God through which one is born again when he accepts Jesus as his personal Lord and Savior.
Amniotic Fluid vs. Baptismal Water
To claim that the "water" of John 3:5 is amniotic fluid is to stretch the context just a smidgen! When we consider the actual words and surrounding context of John 3, the waters of baptism seem to be a more reasonable interpretation of what it means to be "born again." Consider these surrounding texts:
- John 1:31–34: Jesus was baptized. If you compare the parallel passage in Matthew’s Gospel (3:16), you find that when Jesus was baptized, "the heavens were opened" and the Spirit descended upon him. Obviously, this was not because Jesus needed to be baptized. In fact, John the Baptist noted that he needed to be baptized by Jesus (see Matt. 3:14). Jesus was baptized in order "fulfill all righteousness" and "to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins" (cf. Matt. 3:15; Luke 1:77). In other words, Jesus demonstrably showed us the way the heavens would be opened to us so that the Holy Spirit would descend upon us—through baptism.
- John 2:1–11: Jesus performed his first miracle. He transformed water into wine. Notice Jesus used water from "six stone jars . . . for the Jewish rites of purification." According to the Septuagint as well as the New Testament these purification waters were called baptismoi (see Num. 19:9–19; cf. Mark 7:4). We know that Old Testament rites, sacrifices, etc. were only "a shadow of the good things to come" (Heb. 10:1). They could never take away sins. This may well be why John specifies "six" stone jars—to denote imperfection, or "a human number" (cf. Rev. 13:18). It is interesting to note that Jesus transformed these Old Testament baptismal waters into wine—a symbol of New Covenant perfection (see Joel 3:18; Matt. 9:17).
- John 3:22: Immediately after Jesus’ "born again" discourse to Nicodemus, what does he do? He baptizes. This is the only time in Scripture we find Jesus actually baptizing.
- John 4:1–2: Jesus’ disciples then begin to baptize at Jesus’ command. (Note: John 4:1–2 appears to be a further clarification of 3:22. But it is unclear. It appears to say that Jesus only baptized his disciples and then they baptized everyone else. Some hold it to say Jesus never baptized at all.)
Moreover, John 3:5 is not describing two events; it describes one event. The text does not say "unless one is born of water and then born again of the Spirit . . . " It says "unless one is born of water and Spirit . . ." If we hearken back to the Lord’s own baptism in John 1 and Matthew 3, we notice that when our Lord was baptized, the Holy Spirit descended simultaneously upon him. This was one event, involving both water and the Spirit. And so it is with our baptism. If we obey God in being baptized—that’s our part of the deal—we can count on God to "open the heavens" for us concurrently and give us the Holy Spirit.
And finally, it would be anachronistic to read into Jesus’ use of "water" to mean physical birth in John’s Gospel. In fact, John had just used a word to refer to physical birth in John 1:12–13, but it wasn’t "water:" "But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God."
John here tells us that we are not made children of God by birth ("of blood"), or by our own attempts whether they be through our lower nature ("of the flesh") or even through the higher powers of our soul ("the will of man"). Rather, we must be born of God, or by God’s power. Notice John refers to natural birth colloquially as "of blood," not "of water."
Washing of Water by the Word
It is perhaps an even greater stretch to claim that the "water" of John 3:3–5 represents the word of God. At least with the amniotic fluid argument, you have mention of "birth" in the immediate context. However, a Protestant will sometimes refer to Ephesians 5:25–26 and a few other texts to make this point: "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word . . ."
"See?" he may say, "The ‘washing of water’ is here equated to ‘the word’ that cleanses us." If you couple this text with Jesus’ words in John 15:3—"You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you"—the claim is made, "the water" of John 3:5 would actually refer to the word of God rather than baptism. And finally, he might add Romans 10:9–10 to the mix: "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation" (KJV).
Though John 3:3–5 does not explicitly say man is born again by accepting Jesus, some Protestants connect all of these verses together and conclude that the Bible teaches we are saved or "born again" by professing faith in Jesus, not through baptism.
The Catholic Response
Both Catholics and Protestants agree that the word of God is said to "save us" and "cleanse us" inasmuch as it is an instrument used by God to bring his salvation to us that he won for us on the cross. Catholics and Protestants also agree, however, that more is needed than just the word of God for man to be saved. For Protestants, the salvation promised by God’s word is communicated through the individual profession of faith, so that is when a man is "born again." For Catholics, it is through faith and baptism; more specifically, it is through baptism that a man is "born again." The question is: What does the Bible say?
First, confessing Christ is certainly an essential part of the process of salvation. Romans 10:9–10 clearly teaches the one who believes and confesses his faith in Christ will be saved. But it is important to note that Scripture uses this same word—salvation—in various forms to describe many other things man must do in order "to be saved." The one who "believes and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16). The one who "endures to the end shall be saved" (Matt. 10:22). Indeed, the very same words used by Paul in Romans 10:10, translated as "unto salvation" in the Douay-Rheims Bible (Greek eis soterian), are used to teach Christians we must ". . . long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation" (1 Pet. 2:2). They are also used to challenge Christians to repent of their sins: "For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation" (2 Cor. 7:10). The fact that we must repent, be baptized, grow, confess Christ, and endure until the end in order to be saved indicates salvation is a process. There is no doubt that Paul was speaking of part of this process in Romans 10:9–10. However, there is nothing in that text that would lead us to believe he is speaking of how a person is born again.
This leads us to the most important point. Both Catholics and Protestants agree that Jesus’ words—unless one is born anew (or, again)—speak of man’s initial entrance into the body of Christ through God’s grace. The texts mentioned above by Protestants do not necessarily refer to the initial grace of salvation. What does the Bible teach is the instrument whereby one first enters into Christ? This would be precisely what we are talking about when we speak of being "born again." The good news is Scripture makes it abundantly clear: We are incorporated into the Body of Christ through baptism.
- Romans 6:3–4: Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.
- Galatians 3:27: For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
- 1 Corinthians 12:13: For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit (see also Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, and Col. 2:11–13).
Spirit vs. Water
Many Fundamentalists will claim we are confusing spiritual baptism with water baptism. Again, they would say, water baptism does not save you. And they will often point to 1 Corinthians 12:13, quoted above, to "prove" their point. Notice, they say, the text teaches it is the Spirit who baptizes us into Christ, not a man!
The Catholic Church agrees that it is the Holy Spirit incorporates us into Christ, just as it is the Holy Spirit who "convince
As far as baptism saving us, the Bible could hardly be plainer. In Acts 2:38, St. Peter declared: "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." In Acts 22:16, Ananias announced to St. Paul who had already professed faith in Jesus as Lord in verse 10: ". . . rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name." And 1 Peter 3:20–21 records these plain words: ". . . in the days of Noah during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ." According to the Bible, baptism is not the mere removal of dirt from the body, but Christ’s instrument in purging our conscience from sin. That is what being "born-again" is all about!