Are You Born Again?
"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). Just what does He mean by being "Born again?" Sad to say, the enemy of the Gospel of grace even has the Sunday Visitor, a weekly news periodical, in on his effort to twist the truth. Let's look at the question in which the Sunday Visitor talks about whether a person is born again and compare what they say to what the Bible tells us.
The article starts out clear enough by giving us some of the Biblical verses that we'll want to look at. It begins by pointing out Jesus, who tells Nicodemus: "No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above" (or "born again" - the Greek in this passage, John 3:3, allows for either translation). Nicodemus is puzzled. "How," he asks, "can a person once grown old be born again? Surely he cannot reenter his mother's womb and be born again, can he?" (John 3:4).
The Sunday Visitor article then gives a faulty interpretation as well by telling us that this means, "The event described here is not, as some Christians insist, an initial profession of faith in Christ. Rather, it refers to the sacrament of Baptism, when the person is washed with water and receives the Spirit. Later, preaching on Pentecost, St. Peter confirms that those who are baptized receive the Spirit (see Acts 2:38)."
The correct Biblical look at this section is just the opposite, however, as we look at the context of John chapter 3 and Acts 2:36-43. First, in John 3:5,6 the section continued by saying, "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. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.'" Man is born of the flesh at his birth, with the water of his mother's fluids, but still needs a spiritual rebirth as verses 15 to 18 explains the need for belief, "That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life...He that believeth on Him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." Secondly, in Acts 2:36 - 43, we see Peter preaches the gospel to the Jews that crucified Jesus (verse 36) and since they publicly rejected Him, Peter was now calling for the same Jews that asked "What shall we do?" to acknowledge Jesus publicly by being identified with Him in baptism. Note that in verse 41 it says, "those who gladly received his word were baptized." The people that "received the Word of God" concerning the testimony of Jesus by Peter believed. It was after this that they were baptized.
The reason we can be confident that baptism is not the requirement for remission of sins is because in Acts 10:43, Peter, the same speaker is preaching to the Gentiles at Cornelius' home. And about salvation he said to them there, "To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins." So we see that the same speaker puts believing for the requirement for salvation.
Even more proof is found at the end of Acts 10. Luke tells us in Acts 10:44, "While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word.." Those are the Gentiles that were saved and filled with the Holy Spirit at that point. Peter goes on to say in verses 47,48 "Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord." Note the baptism was after they "received the Holy Ghost as well as we" says Peter. To try and create an argument that somehow these Gentiles were not saved would really be Scripture-twisting.
There are many arguments about baptism, too many to be handled here. Paul is certainly not teaching that water baptism was the means of God saving the sinner. For he goes through great lengths in Romans chapter 4 regarding Abram and his justification by faith when he simply believed God. Paul makes it clear when he quotes Genesis 15:6 in Romans 4:4, "For what does the Scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." This is definitely a foundation to Paul's argument that salvation is at the point of believing and involves no ritual. Baptism is to be done as a means of identifying oneself as a believer in what Jesus did at Calvary's cross and resurrection. Even the verses, such as in 1 Peter 3:20,21, which says, "Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:" needs to be examined. It isn't the ritual of the water that saved anyone. The facts are that the water destroyed all it touched, but rather the Ark, a type of Jesus Christ and through His resurrection which does the saving. There are other verses as well in which someone may think Baptism saves, but we must remember that we are "saved by grace, not works" (Ephesians 2:8) and as Paul tells us, "And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work." (Romans 11:6).
Baptism is a work that someone does after hearing and believing; they then should identify themselves, publicly, to be a believer in Jesus. As Scripture tells us, consistently, "And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit." (Ephesians 1:13). This is the point in which you are a Born Again Believer. How? Simply by believing the Word for the Bible tells us, "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17) and "That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word." (Ephesians 5:26). As Paul tells us, "For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God." (1 Corinthians 1:17,18).