Do You Know the Truth About Being Born
Being born again is a much-misunderstood concept about which there is a great
deal of confusion in the church today. It is the change of heart, wrought
in the individual by the Holy Spirit, which enables him to understand and
act upon the truth of Gods Word. The importance of this doctrine is
underscored by Jesus words Except a man be born again, he cannot
see the kingdom of God (Jn. 3:3).
The scriptural vocabulary for the new birth is rich and varied. The following
terms are used: a new heart, a new spirit, born again, born of water and
of the Spirit, born of God, begotten of God, born of the Spirit, spiritual
enlightenment, quickening, regeneration, washing of regeneration, renewing
of the Holy Ghost, making all things new, being translated out of darkness
into Gods marvelous light, being given new spiritual sight, being
translated out of death into life, conversion, Gods beginning a good
work in you.
Being born again is closely related to the concept of the effectual call
of Gods Spirit which ushers the sinner into a relationship with God
by faith. Paul wrote, God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto
the fellowship of his Son (1 Cor. 1:9). Regeneration is the inward
working of the Spirit which induces the sinner to respond to the effectual
call. What is effectual calling? Effectual calling is the work of
Gods Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening
our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade
and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel
(Shorter Catechism question 31).
Regeneration should be distinguished from other terms such as justification,
adoption, sanctification and salvation. Justification is the
act of God whereby the sinner is declared righteous through Christs
perfect righteousness being credited to his account.
Adoption is the act of God whereby a person becomes a child
of the heavenly Father. Sanctification is the work of God whereby
the sinner is renewed after the image of God and enabled more and more to
die unto sin and live unto righteousness. Salvation is a broad
term referring to the whole application of redemption to the sinner. Regeneration
is often misused as a synonym for salvation, but the Bible never confuses
A key statement on the new birth is found in the prologue to Johns
gospel: But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become
the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born,
not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of
God (Jn. 1:12-13). Here the apostle distinguishes between the one true
and several false views of regeneration.
False Views of Regeneration
Gods Word declares that regeneration is not of blood, of
the will of the flesh or of the will of man. Three popular
but false views of regeneration are comprehended in these phrases. Let us
(1) Not of blood. There is a widespread misconception that a
person is a Christian by virtue of being born into a Christian family. Such
is not the case. The fact is that having Christian parents does not guarantee
that the offspring is necessarily born again. Some Reformed people entertain
the concept of presumptive regeneration, assuming that the children
of believing parents are born again unless they prove otherwise by denying
the faith. This contradicts the express teaching that being born again is
not of blood. A person is not born again by virtue of a biological
or blood relationship. Gods covenant promise does involve families,
to be sure (Ac. 2:39). But the guaranteed regeneration of the offspring is
not thereby to be assumed.
(2) Nor of the will of the flesh. There is a popular misconception
that being born again results from a persons decision to invite Christ
into his life. This view is widely held in Baptist, Nazarene, Wesleyan,
Pentecostal and independent churches. It is the view of most evangelists
doing area-wide crusades. One such evangelist actually wrote a book entitled
How to Be Born Again (as if the Holy Spirit needed instruction!).
This view may be designated decisional regeneration. It is demonstrably
faulty, for it contradicts the express teaching that being born again is
not of the will of the flesh. What does this mean? The New
International Version renders this: not of human decision.
Johns point is that an individual by making a decision does not cause
his own new birth.
Furthermore, this view gravely misunderstands the nature of unregenerate
and unconverted man: that he is spiritually deadutterly and hopelessly
and irrecoverably dead by nature. And you hath he quickened, who were
dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). In the second
chapter of Ephesians the Apostle Paul paints a graphic picture of the
sinners utterly hopeless condition outside of Christ: he is dead in
trespasses and sins, a follower of Satan, given over to disobedience, the
child of wrath by nature. Such an individual has not the slightest interest
in giving up his sin and turning to God. He would never change except for
direct divine intervention: But God, who is rich in mercy, for his
great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath
quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)
(Eph. 2:4-5). The credit for regeneration is not shared between God and man;
all the credit goes to God: But God! It is God
who intervenes to save when man is helpless, spiritually dead and unable
to save himself.
In spite of the clear teaching of Scripture, many churches teach that the
deciding factor in regeneration is man. P. C. Nelson wrote, The
Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit cooperate with the sinner
in his salvation (Bible Doctrines: A Series of Studies Based
on the Fundamental Beliefs of the Assemblies of God [Springfield, MO:
Gospel Publishing House, 1981], p. 38). No Scripture proof is offered for
this astonishing statement which has absolutely no basis whatsoever in the
Word of God. It would be bad enough if the author stated, The sinner
cooperates with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in his salvation.
But the way the statement is written the deciding factor in mans salvation
is man himself; God plays only an incidental role. Decisional regeneration
must be rejected as contrary to Scripture.
(3) Nor of the will of man. A third false view is known as
baptismal regeneration. Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Lutheran
theologians teach that through the waters of baptism a cleansing from sin
and change in nature is effected in the individual being baptized. The Church
of Christ (Campbellite) also holds this view. Following are some statements
illustrating how this view is held.
Roman Catholic: The instrumental cause [of justification]
is the sacrament of baptism...without which no man was ever justified finally....
If anyone says that baptism is optional, that is, not necessary for salvation,
let him be anathema (Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent;
Sixth Session, Decree Concerning Justification; Seventh Session, Decree
Concerning the Sacraments, Canons on Baptism). Infants, unless regenerated
unto God through the grace of baptism, whether their parents be Christian
or infidel, are born to eternal misery and perdition (Trent Catechism,
quoted in Loraine Boettner, Roman Catholicism [Phillipsburg, NJ:
Presbyterian and Reformed, 1962], p. 191).
Greek Orthodox: The Greek Orthodox view has been stated thusly:
At Baptism the Christian undergoes an outward washing in water, and
he is at the same time cleansed inwardly from his sins (Timothy Ware,
The Orthodox Church [New York: Viking Penguin, 1963], p. 281). Alluding
to an ancient practice of baptizing an individual naked (wouldnt that
swell church attendance?), Anthony M. Coniaris wrote, The removal of
all clothes signifies also the old sinful nature which will be cast off entirely
through baptism.... Human nature purified by baptism is made ready to receive
the manifold gifts of the Holy Spirit (These Are the Sacraments:
The Life-Giving Mysteries of the Orthodox Church [Minneapolis: Light
and Life, 1981], p. 35, 37-38).
Lutheran: What does Baptism give or profit? It
works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal
salvation to all who believe this.... Holy Baptism is the only means whereby
infants, who, too, must be born again, can ordinarily be regenerated and
brought to faith (Luthers Small Catechism, pp. 16, 173).
Church of Christ: Baptism is a condition of salvation,...our
entrance into a new relationship with God through Christ where we become
a new creation (One Nation under God Bible correspondence course,
Does the Bible teach that water baptism regenerates? No! What sinful man
needs is not cleansing of the flesh but of the
heart, which only God is able to do. God alone is the agent
of regeneration; He says, 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 (Ezek. 36:25-27). Peters statement even baptism
doth also now save us does not refer to water baptism at all but to
the inward cleansing of the Holy Spirit, for he identifies it as not
the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience
toward God (1 Pet. 3:21). Contrary to the false view of baptismal
regeneration, the Bible teaches that regeneration is not of the will
of man. No pastor, priest or any other human being has the power
to regenerate any other person, by any religious ceremony whatsoever.
If regeneration does not come through blood relationship, human decision
or water baptism, where does it originate?
Biblical View of Regeneration
(4) But of God. John categorically declares that regeneration
is of God alone. Man plays no part at all in regeneration.
God alone, through His Holy Spirit, is the agent of regeneration. This fact
is humbling to human pride; as a result, this teaching is repugnant to the
unconverted man whose eyes have not been supernaturally opened to the truth
of Gods Word. It is not a popular truth in our day; however, truth
is not determined by popularity but by Scripture.
Johns statement defines the relationship between the new birth and
faith. Contrary to widely-held opinion, being born again
precedes faith. John writes that they that believe on
Christ were born of God (Jn. 1:13); he does not write that
they that believe in Christ are on the basis of that faith born of God. In
other words, being born again results in faith; faith does not result in
the new birth. Faith is not the precondition but the
result of the new birth. This is the consistent teaching of
The Apostle James wrote, Of his own will begat he us
with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his
creatures (Jas. 1:18). The expression is intensive: it is of Gods
own will, not of the will of man or the shared will of man and God together,
that the spiritually-dead person is begotten of God.
John fully concurs: Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is
born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that
is begotten of him (1 Jn. 5:1). The Greek term begotten
is in the perfect tense, referring to an action begun in the past with continuing
results in the present. The perfect tense is often rendered in the King James
Version by the English present tense. What John is saying is that the person
believing that Jesus is the Christ has been and continues to be
begotten of God. George Ricker Berrys classic work, Interlinear
Literal Translation of the Greek New Testament (reprint Grand Rapids:
Zondervan, 1958), renders this verse, Everyone that believes that Jesus
is the Christ, of God has been begotten. This passage
does not teach that the person believing that Jesus is the Christ
is begotten of God as the result of believing; rather it teaches
that the person believing on Jesus has already been begotten
of God, which is the consistent teaching of the Bible. Regeneration is
indispensable to faith; the unregenerate sinner can neither see nor enter
the kingdom of God by faith apart from the new birth (Jn. 3:3, 5).
Regeneration reverses the sinners natural blindness, enabling him to
understand his need of a Savior and put his faith in Jesus Christ. Paul wrote,
The god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe
not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of
God, should shine unto them (2 Cor. 4:4). But God has sovereignly
intervened in the case of His elect! God, who commanded the light to
shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the
knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6).
All glory to God!
Here are some other Scriptures which confirm the truth that regeneration
is alone the work of God: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord
Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten
us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the
dead.... Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of
incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever
(1 Pet. 1:3, 23). 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 (Tit. 3:5). It is
the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing
The uniform message of the Bible is that man is entirely passive in regeneration.
This truth drives men to their knees to plead on behalf of their loved ones
who are without hope and without God in this world, if God peradventure will
give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; for the Bible believer
realizes that it is utterly impossible for any person to be saved without
the intervening power of Almighty God. Millions of people are going to hell,
thinking they are born again because their parents were Christians, they
made a decision or they were baptized. If you personally have
never repented of your sins and trusted in the perfect righteousness of Christ
alone for your salvation, then cry out to God for mercy today.
Have you been told the truth about being born again? The truth is vital,
for your eternal well-being, and that of your family members, is at stake.
If you attend a church that teaches a false view of regeneration, by all
means do everything within your power to influence it to bring its teaching
into conformity with Scripture. If change is impossible, then seek out a
church that correctly teaches the Bible truth that being born again is entirely
Copyright © Stephen Pribble, Holt, Michigan,
Doctrines of Grace]
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