Being Born Again
(Is the new birth the only way to gain eternal salvation?)

[In spite of an atmosphere of sarcasm in the comments, and the writer's errors at various points, he expresses a valid concern, so I tried to give him a clear answer.]

QUESTION: If the Baptists and evangelicals are correct, and their "born again experience" is the true and only means of salvation, isn't it odd that 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?

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, 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 Saviour (the Sinner's Prayer)."

For this, 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 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!

ANSWER: H-m-m… Well, first of all, thank you so much for your thoughtful comments. I certainly agree with some of what you have to say--sort of. I agree that it's possible to use vague or unbiblical terminology when making an evangelistic appeal. Sometimes it just confuses the issue.

One you don't mention is "God be merciful to me a sinner" (Lk. 18:13)–which is actually what you incorrectly call "the sinner's prayer." It's a good prayer, as far as it goes, but it is pre-Calvary. It describes a repentant Jew appealing to the blood stained mercy seat in the temple. It could literally be rendered, "God be mercy-seated to me a sinner."

I would hope, whatever we tell the sinner, we direct him to the cross of Christ, and explain that things such as the new birth are ultimately available because our debt of sin has been paid by Christ (Eph. 1:7). Central to the gospel of grace is that "Christ died for our sins" (I Cor. 15:3), and we are to "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ" for salvation (Acts 16:31; cf. Jn. 3:16; Gal. 3:26).

Having said this, though, let me add a couple of thoughts in defense of using expressions in our presentation of the gospel that are not specifically found in the Word of God.

First, the fact that a term is not actually found within the pages of Scripture does not automatically disqualify it. Otherwise, a word like Trinity would be off limits. What is important is whether the expression accurately reflects a truth or doctrine that is found in God's Word, whether or not the word itself is there.

Second, the spiritual and eternal work of the Holy Spirit is difficult (or impossible) for God to describe to us, given that we are so much oriented to a mortal existence in a physical universe. The Lord therefore uses spatial and concrete imagery at times, in order to describe or symbolize spiritual realities.

These are metaphors for spiritual truth. They say to us, "This is something like that." But we must be careful not to come to the conclusion (as Nicodemus mistakenly did about spiritual birth, in John 3:4) that, "This is exactly the same as that."

The "filling" of the Spirit is one such term–found in both the Old and New Testaments (Exod. 31:2-5; Eph. 5:18-21). We are not to think in terms of God's Spirit being poured into us as if we were so many quart sealers. Both the Hebrew and Greek words so translated mean filling and fulfilling. They represent God's enablement and empowerment of the believer to accomplish (or fulfil) His purpose.

You state that the term "born again" is only mentioned three times. I wondered if you were implying that God has to say things more than three times, or they don't count. Isn't even once enough, if the Lord says it?

But, if we are thinking specifically of those two English words in one particular Bible version, what you say is true. The words "born again" are found three times (Jn. 3:3, 7; I Pet. 1:23, NKJV). However, there are a number of expressions that are closely related, and others that have a significant association to the new birth.

1) Another text you should consider is John 1:12-13 which speaks of being "born…of God."

Incidentally, those verses also refer to "receiving" Christ, explaining that it means to "believe in [or on] His name." Compare Colossians 2:6, “As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.” (Some would add Revelation 3:20 which describes receiving Christ in pictorial terms.)

2) In John 3:5 the Lord speaks of the need to be "born of water and of the Spirit." (And I believe the "and"–translating kai in Greek–likely has the force of "that is," or "in other words," using water as analogous to the new birth. (Cf. Jn. 4:10, 14; 7:37-39, where water is also symbolic of the work of the Spirit.)

3) Then, there's John 3:8, which speaks of being "born of the Spirit."

4) Titus 3:5 is another text to consider. There Paul speaks of the "regenerating" work of the Holy Spirit–regeneration being another term meaning born again. (So, you see, Paul did speak of the new birth.)

5) And you did not include First Peter 1:3, which speaks of Christians being "begotten [i.e. born] again."

Add to this texts that refer to the saved person becoming a "new creation" (II Cor. 5:17), and as being "created in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2;10), and you will begin to see that this is a concept well supported by Scripture in various ways.

You question whether it's correct to say that the born again experience is the true and only means of salvation. Some final thoughts on that.

First, we can say, on the authority of the Son of God Himself, that the new birth is absolutely necessary. In order to enter the kingdom of God, an individual "must be born again" (Jn. 3:7). By a physical birth we enter this earthly kingdom, by a spiritual birth we become part of the kingdom of God.

However, "born again" is not the only term that can legitimately be used to describe salvation. Others are saved, redeemed, converted, “brought near [i.e. to God]” (Eph. 2:13), and so on. Even the expression "born again" itself can be translated various ways. Williams has "born from above;" the Amplified Bible has "born anew (from above)."

And strictly speaking, this is not what you term an "experience," in the sense of being discernible by our physical senses. It's a spiritual work of God. We will experience the results of it in our lives, but cannot physically detect God doing it. The Lord indicates that in John 3:8, with His comparison to the wind. We can't see wind, but we can see its effects.

I hope these few thoughts are helpful. God bless.