Born Again

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A common question in modern American Evangelicalism today is…

“are you born again?”

In this post I am going to present the Biblical understanding of what it is to be born again over and against the prevailing American Evangelical / Anabaptist teaching.

The Transformed Life

Anyone who reads my blog knows that I used to be a Seventh Day Adventist, which has its roots in anabaptist theology.  My understanding of these beliefs is that they emphasize the transformed life of the believer who comes to Christ either through election or personal decision.  This is always expected in the testimony of a new convert within their first year or two.  They define this as being “born again”.  Some common verses that they will use to teach this are the following:

 

“For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land.  Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.  A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.  And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.” Eze 36:24-27 KJV

 

I will be coming back to this verse later when I am making my primary argument.  What they emphasize in this passage is the new heart promised to Israel.  They will then argue that this is type and shadow pointing to the new heart received by the penitent Christian.

 

If you want to take a deeper look here are some other verses that they will typically reference as well.

( Num 19:17–19)  (Isa. 4:432:15; 44:3; 55:1) (Joel 2:28–29) (Zech. 13:1)

 

In their view the anti-type fulfillment of those types and shadows are explained in passages like this one in Philippians 3.

 

“Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;” Phil 3:8-10 KJV

 

And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” 1 Cor 6:11 KJV

 

In the above passages we see that the scriptures speak of some who Baptists say are “born again” as having the righteousness of Christ, and that this is reflected in the past tense of “such were some of you”.

 

To put it bluntly, they teach if you are not demonstrating the penitent righteousness of Christ in your life, you are not born again.  It would then follow that you either have not repented of your secret sins and are still in the state Paul identifies in (1 Cor 6:9-10), or you are not part of the elect and you can never be born again.

Does that mean I am saying your life will not improve when you become a Christian?  No, I would simply categorize such things in the third use of the law rather than as a soteriological material principle.  The problem with tying your good works symbiotically to salvation, even if you put it after the fact, is two fold:

 

  1. How do you explain people who conquer their subjective demons through secular means?
  2. How do you escape the logical conclusion that your salvation was a sham when you fall into sin worse than you did as a non-believer?

 

There is a great deal of subjectivity to the “transformed life” even in a third use of the law sense which ultimately places the onus of proving one is saved upon the believer.  The result usually is that they end up lowering the bar of the perfection demanded by Christ (Matt 5:48) and twisting the word to fit their motif.

 

Baptism doth also now save us

I have several big problems with the “Transformed Life” material principle.  First and foremost it is not the material principle for understanding scripture that Jesus gave us.  He said that scripture is about himself, and that the types and shadows point to him (John 5:39)(Luke 24:27).  The transformed life motif ends up attempting to make the scriptures about you and how you have overcome your demons rather than Christ and him crucified for the forgiveness of sins.

 

The sad part is that the later ends up being a single theme, a bump the road if you will, rather than the weave of the entire canon of scripture it is supposed to be.  I would argue that it is the other way around, a changed life is a blessing but theologically speaking it is this that is the bump in the road.

 

My second problem with the transformed life hermeneutic is that it is dehydrated.  They seem to ignore all of the Old Testament and new testament verses that clearly use words most commonly associated with water.  Lets look at some of these again:

 

“…..Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.  A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.  And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.” Eze 36:24-27 KJV

 

Water is clearly in view here, if the water is symbolic then why would we assume “cause you to walk in my statutes” is literal?  You cannot have it both ways, especially with so many other verses that clearly include water.

 

“…purification for sin, and running water shall be …, and dip it in the water, and sprinkle it upon … And the clean person shall sprinkle upon the … he shall purify himself, and wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water…” Num 19:17–19 KJV

 

“When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning.” Isa 4:4 KJV

 

There is actually a lot of old testament imagery associated with the cleansing of sins by water.  Sometimes it is in the words of a prophet and sometimes it is written on the very history of Israel.  A good example would be the Red Sea crossing, in which we see the Israelites delivered from Egypt by water.  Just as today we are delivered from sin and death by the waters of baptism.

 

(Matt 28:19) (John 3:5) (Acts 2:38-39) (Acts 22:16) (Galatians 3:27) (I Peter 3:21) (Romans 6:3-5) (Ephesians 4:4-6) (Ephesians 5:25-27) (Colossians 2:11-12) (Titus 3:4-7)

 

Those are the verses that I used in my post on baptism, which you can find HERE.  Three of which I want to dig into a bit with regards to being 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 KJV

 

In those Old Testament verses I posted we see that the water is associated with the spirit.  In the New Testament we find the same exact association in anti-type fulfillment.  This is when the death burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ is poured out on us in the waters of baptism:

 

“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;” Titus 3:5 KJV

 

Notice that it is God that is performing the washing and regeneration, which renews us with the Holy Ghost.  Those who argue that Baptism is a work generally miss this or simply deny the water as being involved.

 

“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:” 1 Peter 3:21 KJV

 

Notice the above verse actually says plainly that Baptism saves us, and likens such to Noah’s Flood where 8 were saved by water (1 Peter 3:20-21).  Some will argue that the words “not the putting away of the filth of the flesh” means that Peter is reversing his statement.  However, this fails to intellectually address the passage though.  It is true that the water itself is just water, and that the removal of dirt from the flesh even in baptism is no different than washing your hands.  It is the answer of a good conscience received towards God in Baptism that is what is saving us by the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

 

If Baptism is not saving us in this verse, the only referent left is the clean conscience toward God.  Well if that is your answer you must believe in works righteousness as you would have to clean your conscience up toward God.  If you simply follow the grammar in the passage there is nothing up to you in salvation.  It is something God is doing to you in your baptism.

 

This is why the scripture calls baptism the “circumcision without hands” (Col 2:11-12).  The hands of man are not performing your baptism, God the Holy Ghost is.  God is the one performing the verbs not man (Rom 6:3-5).  The scripture teaches that it is not mere water we are baptized with but water combined with the Word of God (Eph 5:25-27) which is promised to us from the scripture.

 

Today it is very common for people to look for God the Holy Spirit in places he has not promised to work in his Word.  In the end, when we go down that road we start looking for God in the burning of the bosom rather than the places that God has promised to be.  This is why when one denies the gifts of Baptism their flesh starts adding carnal things to latch onto, like a changed life for example.

 

To backpedal from this anabaptists will separate justification from sanctification and define sanctification as a process rather than the state one stands in the expiation bought by the blood of Christ.  The problem is that the Bible teaches sanctification as a finished work right alongside justification.

 

“And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” 1 Cor 6:11 KJV

 

Notice that “sanctified” and “justified” are all in the past tense, and associated with the word “washed”.  You are justified and sanctified in the waters of your baptism.  As stated above I would define sanctification as being set apart as defined by the expiation.  For those who don’t know Expiation is a theological term one uses to define how God sees us through the blood of Christ.  He doesn’t see us in a processes, running a hamster wheel to improve our lives.  He sees us absolutely perfect in the shed blood of Christ.  That is what it is to be born again.

 

Conversely, there is only objectivity in the Biblical teaching of the sacraments, which is the whole point.  God has given us physical means by which he applies his grace.  You can know the exact date and time that you were baptized, and remember this objective fact in the face of failure knowing that it is God’s work that has saved you in the Blood of Christ.

 

Conclusion

 

Being born again is a finished work not a process, it is something promised to us in Baptism.  Do you want to be born again?  Get baptized.

 

Will you experience a transformed life as a result of God’s work upon you in Word and Sacrament?  Yes, you will.  Will you fail sometimes so badly, falling into sins that could make a reasonable person question your faith?  Yes, you will.

 

There is always forgiveness in the shed blood of Christ.  You cannot prove that you are born again through your works, simply trust in faith that the Word says you are (2 Cor 5:7).

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About ACTheologian

I am a layman who blogs my Biblical studies. Enjoy, please read with an open Bible and do double check with your pastor.
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