By Mark Swarbrick
You’ve heard the term used, “So-and-so is a born-again Christian.” But what exactly does that phrase mean? Are all Christians born again, or only some? Where does the term “born-again” come from?”
It comes straight out of the Bible, as can be seen below:
Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (1 Peter 1:3)
For you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. (1 Peter 1:23)
Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:12-13)
Clearly, from God’s point of view, all Christians are born again. So how did we get this situation where there is a distinction between just “Christians” and “born-again Christians?” First, we need to understand precisely how a person becomes a Christian or becomes born again.
Salvation Through Faith
The Scripture passages below explain how to be saved:
“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…” (Acts 16:30-31)
Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out. (Acts 3:19)
If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. (Romans 10:9-10)
In short, repent your sins and make Jesus Christ your Lord. Making Jesus your Lord means you have resolved to follow Him and obey his teachings. The Bible teaches that when you do that, at that very moment, you are saved. So then, you are “in Christ” and born again, not by any works, but as a free gift from God, given based on one’s faith in Christ.
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Not By Works
So we see, this conversion (or born-again experience) has happened to any person who has repented and put their faith in Christ. In other words, anyone who has become a Christian is born again. It is not earned. It does not come about by doing any religious works. It is a free gift given in response to faith. This point is repeatedly emphasized in Scripture:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
In fact, the doctrine of salvation through faith and not through religious works is so important that the Apostle Paul taught that anyone founding their hope of salvation upon works is lost:
You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. (Galatians 5:4-5)
We can see from the book of Acts, and in many other places in the New Testament, that the 1st-century church under the Lord’s apostles urged people to make a decision to repent and put their faith in Jesus Christ. We see this in Acts 2:37, where Peter preaches a powerful sermon to the crowd that moves them to repent to such an extent that they ask the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter did not answer with, “Join our group” or “Attend our Bible studies and get your name on our membership role.” No, the apostles always urged people to repent and put their faith in Christ. This is genuine Christianity. This is the Gospel.
But as the centuries rolled by, things changed. The Church became institutionalized and false teaching crept in, just as the apostles said it would. This began happening early on. The Apostle Paul warned the Ephesian elders:
I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. (Acts 20:29-30)
Now, two thousand years later, some churches have teachings contrary to the word of God. Sometimes, the most fundamental element of the Gospel – teaching people to repent and put their faith in Christ – is ignored. The teaching of Scripture – that by faith we can be radically changed by God from the inside out, that we can be new creatures in Christ, that people can experience the new birth by faith – all this is being abandoned. Instead, they teach salvation through baptism in their water (baptismal regeneration) or salvation by being born into or joining their particular denomination or sect, or salvation by infant baptism. This amounts to the false doctrine of salvation by works, which the Bible condemns as heresy.
Such churches focus on church membership and participation in various social programs. When churches teach that salvation is through religious works, such as water baptism or membership in their particular denomination or cult, they abandon the true Gospel. Indeed, any church that teaches salvation by works rather than through Christ is a non-Christian cult, regardless of whether or not their church name has “Christian” in it. And sad to say, some so-called Christian churches are flagrantly promoting the sexual sins of homosexuality and transgenderism, even going so far as ordaining sexual deviates to the ministry.
Once, I had a discussion with the editor of the official magazine of a large mainline “Christian” denomination. They had published an article saying that “coming to Christ,” “getting saved,” or “being born again” made no sense to them and was counter to their theology. I pointed out that this position was unscriptural. He responded that they believe people are saved by being born into a family that is a member of their denomination and by virtue of their parents having had them baptized as an infant.
Biblically, this is wrong on two counts. First, you can’t be saved by your own religious works, and second, you certainly can’t be saved by someone else doing religious works for you. When I pointed this out, he argued that we have nothing to do with our salvation, that God saves us by his choice, and nothing we do affects that. This not only is contradictory to what he just said but is counter to biblical teaching. Shortly after this discussion, this same denomination began ordaining homosexuals to ministry, a sin the Bible thoroughly condemns.
This is a perfect example of a “Christian” church that has departed from the faith. They once followed the Gospel, but today, they have become an apostate church, one of many apostate churches. Such churches have become cults.
I hasten to point out that a person can be a member of a pseudo-Christian church, or even an apostate church, and still be a true Christian, but not because of their church, but in spite of it. Many do not realize how steeped in error their church is, yet they have a true faith and commitment to Christ. Most of these, in time, realize their church is in error and leave said church for one that teaches biblical Christianity.
What’s in a Name?
So, some churches have traded a dynamic relationship with Christ for dead religious rigmarole. Because of that, these churches tend to have a large percentage of members who don’t know Christ. They have never made a choice to repent of their sins and turn to Christ to forgive them. Consequently, they have never been born again, as Jesus said we must.
They may be nice, decent people, but they have never really known Christ. Unfortunately, the situation is common among Catholics, many of whom openly proclaim they are trusting in Catholicism to save them rather than trusting in Christ. (To see my article on Catholicism, go here: https://christiananswerman.com/catholicisms-errant-teachings/)
Such people often scoff at the idea of being born again. This apostasy from the true Gospel has been going on for centuries, but in the past sixty years, it has accelerated dramatically, spreading to Protestant churches as well. This was predicted to happen in the last days:
“In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions…worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.” (Jude 1:18-19)
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be…lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. (2 Timothy 3:1-5)
The NIV says, having a form of godliness but denying its power.
The NLT versions says verse 5 this way:
They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!
I must be quick to point out that some churches do not use the label “born-again Christian.” There is nothing particularly wrong with that. What is important is that they present the Gospel of repentance and faith in Christ. That is where the power is. What label is used doesn’t matter. Christians were not even called Christians until the Gospel came to Antioch. Before that, they were just called believers. So just because a church doesn’t speak of themselves as being “born-again Christians” doesn’t, in itself, make them a bad church. That said, any believer who reads their Bible will understand that they were born again when they came to Christ.
All true Christians are born-again Christians, whether they use that term or not. The Bible clearly states that when someone comes to Christ, they are born again. Denominations are made up of believers and make-believers. The make-believers are Christian in name only. They think they are Christian because their parents were Christians or because they occasionally attend a church that purports to be Christian. True believers, on the othe hand, have repented and put their faith in Christ, and trust Him alone to save them.
The phrase “born-again” came into popular use in order to delineate between true believers and make-believers, between those who follow Christ and those who follow religion and are Christian in name only. When a person uses the phrase “born-again Christian,” they are speaking of someone who has come to Christ in faith and had their life wonderfully and radically transformed by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.
Are you born again? Being born again has nothing to do with where you attend church. It has to do with whether or not you know Christ. If you have repented of your sins, put your faith in Christ and made Him your Lord, then you are born again. If you have not done that, then you are not born again. The Bible only speaks of one kind of Christian, the born-again kind, for Jesus said, “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)
If you enjoyed this article you would like my book, The Hidden Truth About Catholicism. It examines Catholicism vs Christianity and considers questions, such as: Is Catholicism a cult? What about Mary worship? Is the pope infallible? Are Catholics Christian?