I want to believe that we are all familiar with the phrase, “Are you born again?” Many fundamentalists often use this phrase in an unbiblical way to induct new members into their denominations, thus leading many astray. For them, being BORN AGAIN is to “GIVE ONE’S LIFE TO CHRIST…and ACCEPTING JESUS AS ONE’S PERSONAL LORD AND SAVIOUR…” without even undergoing baptism. Unfortunately, they hold the doctrine of “Sola Scriptura” that is, the Bible as their ONLY guide; however, their “born-again practice” is not found in the entire Bible. Put differently, the Bible never uses the phrase “accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Saviour” to relate to being born again. It becomes GROSSLY UNFORTUNATE to know that many already baptized Catholics have fallen prey to this, and have lost their faith.
Dear friends; this article, therefore, serves to expose the Biblical Truth of being BORN AGAIN as it pertains to BAPTISM; thus, through baptism, a Christian gives his life to Christ.
The Bible teaches us that being BORN AGAIN is being BAPTIZED, and this has been the perennial teaching of the Catholic Church. The term “born again”, “born anew”, and “born from above” can be used interchangeably to mean the same thing, as it appears respectively in various versions of the Bible. In this article, I’ll stick to the term “born again”. This term appears twice in the Bible, issuing from the lips of our Saviour, Jesus Christ in John 3:3 and John 3:7. Let us consider the context in which Christ mentioned the term. Nicodemus – the Teacher of Israel, and a leader of the Jews came to meet Jesus at night, and Christ told him “I tell you solemnly unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God”. Nicodemus did not understand the term, and Christ had to explain to him in verse 5: “I tell you solemnly unless a man is born of WATER and the SPIRIT, he cannot enter the kingdom of God”.
Now, let us take cognisance of the elements of WATER and the SPIRIT which Christ gave as the explanation of being BORN AGAIN, and see how these have brought about “new birth” (baptism) from the beginning (N.B: this truth is also contained in the prayer over the water at baptism). Put differently, since baptism is all about new-birth, we come to understand why God always begins new things with WATER and SPIRIT.
Beginning with the book of Genesis 1:1-2, we were told that after creating heaven and earth, the earth was a formless void, and the SPIRIT of the Lord hovered across the WATERS. It was as a result of this that God brought about the creation of new things. WATER & SPIRIT!
Moving a bit further in Genesis chapter 6, the sons and daughters of men multiplied in the world and their sins were so terrible that it attracted the wrath of God, and God decided to erase humanity from the surface of the earth; He noticed a righteous man (Noah) and saves him, his family and some animals, then he sent the flood. This was a kind of reset and a new beginning. In this way, God started a new creation – a rebirth. This was done by WATER and the SPIRIT. How was this possible? In Genesis 8:8-9, Noah sent a dove out to see whether the water has receded on the surface of the earth, the dove hovered across the water on the surface of the earth in search of dry land. Note here, that dove in biblical language symbolizes the SPIRIT of God; this we see in Matthew 3:16 and Luke 3:22. It was until after the dove refused to return that Noah understood that the water has receded. This was a kind of baptism for Noah and his family; meaning, they were born anew/born again. How did we know about this? 1Peter 3:19-21 says: “They refused to believe long ago, while God patiently waited to receive them, in Noah’s time when the ark was being built. In it, only a few, that is, eight souls were SAVED through WATER. It is the baptism corresponding to this WATER which now saves you.” Thus, as a result of the cleansing of the world by WATER and SPIRIT, a NEW CREATION sprung up from Noah’s family. WATER & SPIRIT!
Moving into Exodus, we were told that God wanted to start something new with the Israelites. What did He do? He made them pass through the WATER of the Red Sea, while the SPIRIT of God led them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. (cf. Exodus 13:21-22). Here, the Israelites were baptized (born again) by the WATER and the SPIRIT. How did we know this? Saint Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians explains it this way: “I want you to be quite certain, brothers, that our ancestors all had the cloud over them and all passed through the sea. In the cloud and in the sea they were all BAPTISED into Moses; all ate the same spiritual food.” (1Cor. 10:1-3). Therefore, it was after they had passed through the water, being led by the Spirit, that God formed something new = the Nation of Israel. WATER & SPIRIT!
However, years later, the people of Israel kept disobeying God; thus, not being faithful to the covenant. God decided to start a new covenant by including the Gentiles as well. According to Ezekiel, we were told that this covenant was born by WATER and the SPIRIT. The text reads: “For I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean WATER upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new SPIRIT I will put within you…” WATER & SPIRIT!
Now, it happened that Christ (the author of Christian baptism) had to be baptized. We were told that as soon as he came up from the WATER, suddenly, the heavens opened and the SPIRIT of God descended on him like a DOVE. (cf. Mat. 3:16; Mk 1:9-11; Lk. 3:21-22; Jn. 1:31-34). With these in mind, it becomes pertinent to understand why Jesus eventually speaks of being born again by WATER and the SPIRIT in John. 3:3-7. To solidify the whole issue on baptism, Christ told his disciples at the end of the gospel according to Matthew, “Go, therefore, makes disciples of all nations; BAPTIZE them in the name of the FATHER and of the SON and of The HOLY SPIRIT” (Mat. 28:19). As such, baptism becomes the first Sacrament of Christian initiation; that is, initiating one into the faith
The disciples and the early Christians understood this mandate of Christian initiation (BAPTISM), that is why whenever they wanted to accept new converts into the fold, they often said “REPENT AND BE BAPTIZED”, for that is indeed the act of being born again into the Christian religion. The disciples never said “accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Saviour nor prayed the “born again prayer formula”. For example, on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), after Peter addressed the crowd, in verse 37, we were told that they were cut to the heart and asked Peter and the Apostles: “what are we to do”? Peter responded, “REPENT AND BE BAPTIZED, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38). But he did not restrict this teaching to adults. He added, “For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him” (2:39). Similarly, the conversion of the Philippian jailer in Acts 16 was aided with baptism; likewise the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8, and Peter’s immediate baptism of Cornelius and his household in Acts 10. When Paul was converted to the faith, Ananias was sent by the Lord to restore his sight, immediately after this, he was BAPTIZED (Acts 9:17-19). In Acts 22:16, we also read: “RISE AND BE BAPTIZED, and wash away your sins, calling on his name”. Further, these commands make clear the necessary connection between baptism and salvation, a connection explicitly stated in 1 Peter 3:21: “BAPTISM . . . NOW SAVES YOU, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” The pattern found in Acts and the letters of the Apostles is consistent: preaching, repentance of the hearers, belief in Christ, and immediate baptism (which makes one born again); and this has been the case with the Catholic Church till date – note that the catechumen professes the faith to reject sin and satan, and all his empty works (REPENTANCE), and he professes his belief in God, our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit…and immediately receives Baptism.
Therefore, my dear friends in Christ, the next time they ask you: Are you born again? Are you saved? Have you accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Saviour? Kindly tell them: “I am in the process of being saved. I was saved by grace, which I received at Baptism when the Holy Spirit came upon me, thus making me a BORN AGAIN Christian. I also receive sanctifying grace every time I confess my sins at the confessional and receive Jesus Christ Himself in the Holy Eucharist. When I was confirmed, I received the Holy Spirit again – and that was grace. Salvation is a lifelong journey, not a one-time acceptance of Jesus Christ as “my personal Lord and Saviour” (remember, that phrase is NOT in the Bible)”. Jesus himself says in Mark 13:13 that IF WE ENDURE TO THE END, we WILL BE SAVED (future tense, not past); this shows that salvation is a life-long journey.”
Dear friends, “be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you, but do this with gentleness and respect.” (1Peter 3:15)
© Fr. Chinaka Justin Mbaeri, OSJ
Paroquia Nossa Senhora de Fatima, Vila Sabrina, São Paulo, Brazil
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