What Must I Do to Be Born Again?

Let me briefly give you my story.  It is a journey in progress, but it had a definite starting point.  When I was younger, I was raised in church and I could spout all the “right answers” to the questions about salvation and how to be saved.  But it was a matter of knowledge and head smarts and not a matter of the heart with me.  It was not until the summer after I had graduated from high school that the life of faith became real to me.  Up until that point in my life, I had chosen to do my own thing and live life on my terms.  I called myself a Christian, but I had no real desire to live like Jesus.  Sure I was a “good kid” and most who saw me probably thought I was born again, but in my heart, I knew better.  When I was confronted with the truth, I decided that God was the one who should be in charge of things in my life and not me.  I decided to follow Jesus and learn from Him how to live.   I became a disciple of Jesus.

In order to be a disciple of Jesus, you must be born again (John 3:3, 8).  If you have not been born again, this is the place to start before you do anything else.  I will try to keep the explanation simple and stick with John 3 in this case:

14And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

Jesus’ actual message was even simpler as He proclaimed the same Gospel (or Good News) that John had proclaimed to herald Jesus’ ministry as Messiah, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!”  Jesus called people to renounce their own walk to follow in His footsteps of obedience to God.  We are incapable of walking this way in total obedience and tend to follow our own way, which results in death(Romans 6:23), but God offers to justify us on the basis of Jesus’ obedient life and sacrificial death in our place.  Jesus took your place and received the wages of your sin and offers you in its stead eternal life, which is the reward for His Life.  The life of faith is a life lived in the conviction that God is real and that He rewards those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).  Jesus took the curse of death that came from our failings and leaves us the opportunity to pursue life and blessings that God has promised.

When confronted with your own sinfulness, you have two choices.  You can acknowledge that God is right and confess your way is leading to death and then turn around and walk God’s way – this is believing God.  The other option is to decide that you like the way things are going and elect to stick with doing things your own way – this is not believing God.  The first option will begin a new life of faith; the second will continue a life of faithlessness, for that is the default position of man (Romans 3:23)

I leave you with the words of Scripture:

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live

– Deuteronomy 30:19

16 Comments

16 thoughts on “What Must I Do to Be Born Again?

  1. Pingback: Measuring Growth « Jeofurry's Jesus Journey

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  3. gary

    Isn’t it odd that if the Baptists and evangelicals are correct that their “born again experience” is the true and ONLY means of salvation, 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? Isn’t that REALLY, REALLY odd?

    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 what will you hear? 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 Savior (the Sinner’s Prayer). 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 do Baptists and evangelicals use this non-biblical terminology when discussing salvation?

    Maybe it’s because…making a “decision” for Christ is NOT the manner in which sinners are saved!

    Gary

    Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

  4. Gary,
    I think perhaps you might want to dig a little more and not get so hung up on one particular phrase. You ask this question:

    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 do Baptists and evangelicals use this non-biblical terminology when discussing salvation?

    On that assumption, you are completely off base. Over and over again in Scripture, God states that a choice(decision) must be made. I even included one of these instances in the post itself. Maybe you didn’t notice. Perhaps you are so hung up on looking for specific words in the text that you have missed greater meaning. It wouldn’t be the first time and won’t be the last that someone has done so. The language of choice/decision is scattered throughout the Bible. It is used in the passage in Deuteronomy that I mentioned in the post. It is used in the Psalms and Proverbs and frequently in the prophets. And yes, it is used in the New Testament as well. I will cite a couple of examples of those and you can hear it or not. I am not going to worry about it either way.

    11 Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
    -Romans 13:11-14

    But you might argue that here he is talking to those who are already saved. Very well, let’s look at a portion of Paul’s gospel message as he himself articulated it in Acts.

    19 “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20 but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.
    -Acts 26:19-20

    Note that Agrippa understood plenty well that Paul was calling on him to make a decision here.

    28 And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” 29 And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.”
    -Acts 26:28-29

    If you look in Hebrews 3 and 4, you will find that the Gospel has been the same since before Jesus entered the scene as the Word in the flesh, and that the Gospel involved a choice, just like in Deuteronomy.

    2 For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. 3 For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said,

    “As I swore in my wrath,
    ‘They shall not enter my rest,’”

    although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. 4 For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” 5 And again in this passage he said,

    “They shall not enter my rest.”

    6 Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, 7 again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted,

    “Today, if you hear his voice,
    do not harden your hearts.”
    – Hebrews 6:2-7

    You will note that obedience to God is synonymous with faith/believing in God in Scripture over and over again.

    I notice that your real objection seems to be the one that I have heard so often from those who object to God speaking in these terms. What about those who can’t make a decision for themselves? Let me answer it with a question. Do you trust God? I say that because on your last statement, I actually agree with you. Although you should already know that from what I wrote above, I will clarify.

    Maybe it’s because…making a “decision” for Christ is NOT the manner in which sinners are saved!

    All who are saved are saved by the grace of God, by His faithfulness to keep His promise. It isn’t done by getting people to walk an aisle and say the right things and it isn’t done by sprinkling or dunking people into water (whether they ask for it or not), ultimately it isn’t done by getting someone to “make a decision” at all. Salvation is a way of life, a decision to live every day according to the promise that God is faithful and will do as He promised and thus to be obedient to His voice and His ways. We cannot chose for another, nor can we presume to “force God’s hand” on whether they are in His care or not (like for instance by claiming that someone is “saved” because we sprinkled them). I choose to believe that God is sovereign and has the right to do whatever seems best to Him. He has that right and I trust Him. How about you?

  5. Thank you for your detailed reply!

    You mention several passages of Scripture that mention that sinners must believe. I am in full agreement with you on this point. Salvation is by God’s grace alone, through the power of his Word alone, received in faith alone. Good deeds cannot not save us. In fact, according to Scripture NOTHING we do helps to save us…not even making a decision.

    You are making a very big assumption, brother. You are assuming that sinners make a decision to believe. It is true that sinners can decide what breakfast cereal to eat in the morning. Sinners can decide who is their favorite baseball team is, and who they want to marry, etc, etc., BUT according to the Bible, sinners CANNOT decide that they want to be righteous; that they want to follow God/accept God/ask God into their hearts, because according to Romans, and the second chapters of Ephesians and Colossians, sinners are spiritually DEAD. Dead men don’t make decisions.

    I know that is very tough for (arminian) Baptists and evangelicals to swallow. It seems very unfair, but it is what the Bible says. Sinners do not choose God…God chooses sinners. However, God does NOT choose people to go to hell, unlike what the Calvinists will tell you. Man sends himself to hell. But, according to multiple passages in Scripture, God predestines those whom he will save. Sinners DO NOT decide to be saved.

    All the references you mention from the OT refer to believers. The references you list in the NT do NOT say that they sinner decided to believe by his own sinful, free-will. They DO say that they either believed or were almost persuaded, not that they decided for God and believed.

  6. Acts 13:48
    English Standard Version (ESV)

    And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.

    You can’t get much clearer than that: God decides who will believe.

  7. Five questions that Baptists and Evangelicals should ask themselves

    1. Does the Bible state that a sinner is capable of choosing righteousness/choosing God?

    The Bible states that the sinner must believe and repent, but are these actions initiated and performed by man of his own intellectual abilities, or are faith, belief, and repentance a part of the entire “package” of salvation? Are faith, belief, and repentance part of the “free gift”? Does God give you faith, belief and repentance at the moment he “quickens” you, or does he require you to make a decision that you want them first, and only then does he give them to you.

    2. Is there any passage of Scripture that describes salvation in the Baptist/evangelical terms of: “Accept Christ into your heart”, “Make a decision for Christ”, “Pray to God and ask him to forgive you of your sins, come into your heart, and be your Lord and Savior (the Sinner’s Prayer)”. Is it possible that being “born again” is something that God does at a time of his choosing, and not something that man decides to do at a time of his choosing? Is man an active participant in his salvation in that he cooperates with God in a decision to believe, or is man a passive participant in his salvation; God does ALL the work?

    3. Is the Bible a static collection of words or do the Words of God have real power, real supernatural power? How does the Bible describe the Word? Is it the meaning of the Word that has power or do the words themselves have supernatural power to “quicken” the souls of sinners, creating faith, belief and repentance?

    4. Does preaching the Word save everyone who hears it or only the “predestined”, the “elect”, the “called”, the “appointed” will believe when they hear the Word?

    5. WHEN does the Bible, if read in its simple, plain, literal rendering, say that sins are forgiven and washed away?

  8. Did you receive my last comments?

    Gary

  9. I’m saddened that you are not interesting in talking with me more. I will make one last statement to you and then not bother you further:

    We are in agreement that a sinner must believe to be saved. What I am asking you to consider is the PURPOSE of Christian baptism. Is the purpose of baptism really only as an act of obedience/public profession of faith? If so, why is there no statement to that effect anywhere in the Bible?

    Why is the term “born again” used only three times in the KJV Bible but the word “baptism” or one of it’s variants (to baptize) is used over 100 times in the NT? If baptism is simply the after-thought that most evangelicals make it out to be, why did Jesus, his disciples, the Apostles Paul and Peter make such a big deal about it?

    Is baptism really a work of man as Baptists and evangelicals claim…or is baptism a work of God?

    Lastly, there is no historical evidence found anywhere on planet earth, including areas never under the control of the Catholic Church or the Roman Empire, in which ANY Christian in the first approximately 800 years of Christianity believed that baptism is simply and only an act of OUR obedience/OUR public profession of faith. All evidence from this time period points to early Christians, from the very disciples of the Apostles such as Polycarp, believed that baptism meant much, much more.

    I encourage you to ask the Holy Spirit to open your heart to the Truth of the Gospel and re-read the Bible without your denominational biases.

    God bless!
    Gary
    http://www.LutherWasNotBornAgain.com

  10. Gary,
    For some reason, askimet decided to filter all of your comments since the initial one that I approved into the spam category. I haven’t been checking my blog all that frequently and didn’t see them until tonight. They should all appear now.

  11. Gary,
    I don’t intend to spend a great deal of time in a debate on this subject. I highly doubt that you are of a mindset to be open to what I have to say based on your series of comments, so I don’t intend to spend a great deal of time trying to convince you regarding my particular point of view. I disagree with most of your premises and think that you are particularly mistaken when it comes to baptism (that is assuming that you take the traditional Lutheran position regarding baptism as it appears from your comments thus far). Baptism isn’t a “Christian” invention as it was practiced as a part of Judaism long before the birth of Christ. In that spirit, I would be interested to have you contemplate one particular passage regarding baptism and see what you have to say.

    Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.
    Hebrews 6:1-3

    The ESV translators tried to avoid what has proved to be a very difficult problem for most of Christendom by translating the word baptismos which is the plural form of the word that would normally be rendered as baptism as washings. But there in the text of Hebrews 6 the author talks about baptisms (plural) as a foundational or elementary doctrine of Christ. Knowing from past experience how prickly Lutherans can get when anyone talks about being baptized more than once, I am curious to know what you think about this.

  12. Just a quick reply in rapid fire to your five questions comment.
    1. Yes
    2. I think your premise is faulty here, you are trying to make an “either/or” out of a “both/and” situation. God will not be so easily boxed as this.
    3. Again, you are creating a false dichotomy here as well.
    4. Not even Paul ventured to definitively answer that question under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. (see Romans 11:33-36)
    5. 1 John 1:9

  13. I have kind of responded to your comments in reverse order, hopefully that isn’t too much of an issue.

    Nothing like a good religious version of the “chicken and the egg” conundrum. Perhaps I can save you a bit of time along the way and let you know that I am neither Arminian or Calvinist. There are just as many passages in Scripture that command men to “choose” as there are that say something to the effect that God did the choosing. The best illustration that I have heard is that of a door that says “whosoever will” over the top and after you have passed through and look back says “you did not choose me, I chose you” over the top of the other side. Both statements are repeated frequently in Scripture and from a strictly human understanding it is impossible to grasp both of them together in our limited minds. I simply will not spend a great deal of time arguing what is ultimately unanswerable on this side of eternity and will instead spend my time loving the Lord with all of my heart, soul, mind and strength and my neighbor as myself; and encouraging others to do so as well.

    May the Lord grant you His shalom in these things and may you be faithful to His service.

  14. I’m glad we are talking again!

    Regarding the passage in Hebrews 6, I do not have my Greek/English New Testament with me at the moment, but I will accept your statement as fact that the Greek uses the plural word “baptismos”.

    This passage is talking about the works of the Law. In the OT the Jews had to perform numerous cleansing rituals, including full immersion in a mikvah and sometimes just the washing of the hands for the priests. All these instances are referred to as “baptismos”.

    Washings/”baptismos”, animal sacrifices, etc. are works that man did in the OT to try and earn favor with God. Lutherans and other orthodox Christians do NOT believe that baptism is mandatory for salvation. Lutherans do not believe that we baptize to earn favor with God by our action. The act of baptism has saved no one.

    Baptism is one of several “when”s of salvation, it is not a “how” of salvation. There is only one “how” of salvation: the power of the Word.

  15. I am glad to hear that you are not an Arminian. An Arminian and a Lutheran cannot really have a discussion on the doctrines of Justification and Baptism because they have no starting point upon which to agree. Whereas a Calvinist/Calvinistic Baptist and a Lutheran have a doctrine that they share in common as a starting point for discussion: The doctrine of Predestination: God chooses us, we don’t choose Him.

    I’m going to post a response I gave to another “Calvinistic” Baptist, as he referred to himself. It is long, but he felt it really helped him better understand the Lutheran position of Salvation and Baptism. God bless you, brother!

    I think that many evangelicals are confused regarding the Lutheran view of baptism. To us baptism is a WHEN of salvation, not the HOW of salvation. You notice I said “is a when of salvation”. That little article “a” is critical.

    Orthodox Christians (Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Lutherans, and Anglicans) believe that baptism is only one of several situations in which God saves: God can save an adult non-believer who hears the Gospel preached and believes/repents. We believe God can save a non-believer who reads the Bible or a Gospel tract, which contains the Gospel, and believes and repents. And we believe that a child of Christian parents can be saved at the time of his baptism by the Word of God being spoken at the time that the water of Holy Baptism is applied to him.

    So what is the “HOW” of salvation?

    The “how” is always the power of God’s Word. Period. It is not good deeds, it is not saying a prayer (such as the Sinner’s Prayer), it is not magical baptism water.

    I’m not going to list all the passages that support this belief, but here is one: “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” This is the only manner in which someone can be saved: the power of God’s Word “quickens” the soul of one who is of the predestined (the Elect), creating faith, belief and repentance. Faith, belief and repentance are NOT performed out of man’s free will or initiative. Salvation, and all the action/actions included in salvation, are gifts from God.

    Therefore, if salvation is a gift, not dependent on any ability or quality of the sinner, God can save whom he wants, when he wants, at any age, and with any level of mental decision-making capabilities.

    We Lutherans/orthodox could wait and let our children declare themselves as a member of the Elect when they are older, but why? In Acts chapter two God, speaking through Peter, promises the gift of the Holy Spirit to all those who are called (predestined): the adults hearing the sermon by Peter, their children, and those far off (common reference to Gentiles). But only those among these groups that are the “called”, the Elect, will be saved and receive the Holy Spirit.

    Some evangelicals seem to think that we orthodox believe that just by running the entire neighborhood under a garden hose, we can save everyone. Not true. Only those who are the Elect will be saved, and they will only be saved at the time of God’s choosing, not theirs, and ONLY by the power of the Word.

    We orthodox baptize our children because Christ commands us to baptize all nations (those of all nations who are the Elect) without giving any age restrictions. If you are an Arminian, you cannot understand this because you believe that one must make a decision to believe. Infants, of course, cannot make decisions. But you, Derek, are not an Arminian. You are a Calvinist, or at least, Calvinistic. Therefore, I hope that you will see that if Christ has promised Christian parents the Holy Spirit for their children, then their children ARE the Elect, and if they are the Elect, they should be baptized. They should be baptized as infants to receive God’s free gift of faith, belief and repentance, which are not dependent on the age, maturity, or decision-making capabilities of the sinner.

    Is it possible that some or our children, whom we baptize as infants, are not of the Elect. Yes, that is possible. But that is a mystery that only God knows. We don’t try to figure all that out. We baptize our children as infants, and instruct them in the Faith as they grow up, and then pray that they will continue in the Faith themselves as adults. Baptism is NOT a “Get-into-heaven-free” card. We are saved through faith. If a person who was baptized as an infant, who was given the free gift of faith as an infant, grows up and despises God’s Word, despises the Faith, and turns his back on Christ, he CANNOT count on his baptism as his automatic pass into heaven. Faith is required for salvation. No faith, no salvation. A lack of baptism does not damn, a lack of faith, a lack of belief, is what damns sinners to hell.

    Baptism is a “when” of salvation not the “how”. Even the Roman Catholic Church does NOT believe that baptism is absolutely mandatory for salvation. Many a martyr has died without the opportunity of being baptized. The thief on the cross and all the saints of the OT were saved without baptism. Baptism is NOT the “how” of salvation! The Word of God is the “how”, the means, of salvation. It always has been.

  16. gary

    Salvation is actually a much simpler event that what many evangelicals make it out to be. Lutherans believe that salvation occurs solely due to the will and work of God. The sinner is a passive participant in his salvation. The sinner DOES nothing.

    The Lutheran interpretation of Scripture on the Doctrine of Justification/Salvation is often confusing to evangelicals. Why? Understanding what the Bible really says depends upon your world view.

    Most Christian evangelicals, and all other world religions, come from the viewpoint that: “I must do SOMETHING for God to love me and want to save me! I can’t believe that God would just give me his love, his grace, his mercy, his peace, his forgiveness AND eternal life…based on absolutely nothing that I do. Can it really be true that God gives me all that, in addition to the fact that he gave his only Son to die for me…not based on any good quality, trait, or deed that I can provide to earn his good favor, and not even based on me making a decision that I want his gift??

    That is INCOMPREHENSIBLE, illogical, unreasonable, and makes no sense!

    But that is what the Bible says that God does: He gives us the free gift of salvation based on his love for us …alone.
    “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
    So if you are able to remove YOU from the act of salvation, here is how the Bible says that GOD does it:

    Salvation occurs by only one means: the power of God’s declaration of righteousness/the power of his Word.

    In the New Testament, God says that he uses his Word to save and forgive sins in two situations: when the Word is preached, and when the Word is spoken with the application of water…Baptism.

    It’s that simple.

    Who do Lutherans baptize? Answer: We baptize anyone who comes to us, or is brought to us, seeking God’s free gift of salvation and the forgiveness of sins. Do you have to be baptized to be saved? No. But why would you refuse this beautiful act of God? Why would you refuse God’s gift of the forgiveness of your sins? Do you really have true faith?

    As Christ says in Mark 16:16, it is not the lack of baptism that damns, it is the lack of belief/the lack of true faith that damns.

    http://www.lutherwasnotbornagain.com/2013/10/is-plato-to-blame-for-baptist.html

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