Summary: Is there a difference between saying one is saved and saying one is born again?
“There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again 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. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, “You must be born again.”’”
The term “Born Again,” has been bruited about so casually that one wonders whether it has maintained any semblance of the meaning that God intended. An American President boasted that he was “born again”; then promptly promoted legislation that denied that contention. Voters in that particular election and in elections since that first campaign in 1976 popularised the concept that there exists a voting block of “born again” voters. Every few years, magazine articles attempt to discover what it means to be “born again” and try to understand the popular buzz was about being “born again.” Groups in Canada, though less overt, attempt to promote the Faith as a political ideal to mobilise the faithful to vote in a particular way.
There seems to be confusion about what is meant by the term “born again.” Likely, this confusion arises because the terms used to speak of our relationship to God are confused. This situation has come about primarily because differing communions have emphasised different terms. What is familiar may appear odd to those removed from that particular argot. Let’s think about what the Bible says and see if we can make sense of the terms that are commonly used.
SYNONYMS FOR SALVATION — Tragically, many churches, even Evangelical churches, have ceased speaking of salvation. Or if they do speak of salvation, they speak in the abstract. It is an academic concept in the minds of too many of the professed saints of the Living God. However, in the mind of God, all of mankind can be segregated into one of two categories—saints and ain’ts. Either one is saved, or one is lost. There is no middle ground; there is no process.
There was a day when all churches agreed on the truth that mankind was lost by birth and by choice. The Psalmist said that he was “guilty of sin from birth.” Moreover, he confessed himself to be, “a sinner the moment my mother conceived me” [PSALM 51:5 NET BIBLE]. The day in which all churches held to the conviction of total depravity is far behind us now; and that is to our detriment. Tragically, many of the professed saints of the Living God imagine themselves to be good enough to satisfy God and actually believe their do not qualify as sinners. Consequently, because they no longer believe themselves to be sinners, they do not need a Saviour. Too many of the churches of this day are convinced they do not require one to set them free from sin because they are not bound by sin. Opposed to this view is the Word of God. “This is the judgement: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” [JOHN 3:19].
To speak of being saved implies that one was once lost. The concept is that at one time an individual had no hope of knowing God. Perhaps the individual was religious and performed multiple rites and rituals. However, there was no confidence that sin was forgiven or that the individual was accepted by God. If being baptised saves an individual, what keeps that one saved? If partaking of the Communion Meal is required to be saved, what happens when one misses a Communion Service? If reciting prayers is necessary to being saved, how many prayers must one recite to continue as a saved individual? What is needed is something more than the efforts of one so puny that they cannot keep themselves alive. What is needed is a transformation by Him who gives all people life.
Christ used the term “born again,” or more properly, “born from above.” He could have advised Nicodemus that he needed to be redeemed. The term is used elsewhere, such as when Paul writes, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” [GALATIANS 3:13]. Likewise, Peter states that we “were redeemed from [our] empty way of life inherited from the fathers, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish” [1 PETER 1:18, 19]. The term “redeemed” speaks of purchasing in the market place, as though we were held in slavery and needed to be purchased so that we might have freedom (which is actually the case).