Do ‘believing’ and ‘being born again’ go together?

By Eugene P. Vedder, Jr.

QUESTION: Some people say they believed in the name of Jesus Christ one year, then several years later they were “newborn.” I thought believing and being born again went together. Please clarify this matter for me.

ANSWER: People have struggled with this question down through the years. Many Christians – and even evangelists – use the terms “saved” and “born again” loosely, as though they are synonymous. While they overlap widely, the Bible does not use these two terms interchangeably.

The Lord Jesus in His conversation with Nicodemus in John 3 told him that unless one is born again he cannot see or enter the kingdom of God. He further indicated that Nicodemus, as a teacher in Israel, should have known this fact. Doubtless, He was alluding to Ezekiel 36:24-26.

In the Old Testament we first find God dealing with individuals and families, and beginning in Exodus also dealing with Israel as a nation. Gospel preaching and salvation of the individual as we know it today was not emphasized as much. Abraham believed God and God counted this to him as righteousness. God commended Job to Satan in Job 1 and 2, and to his three friends in chapter 42. As the Lord pointed out in John 3, and as passages such as John 1:10-13, Romans 4, James 2 and many others make clear, salvation is always an individual matter. In the light of the New Testament we can say that many individuals mentioned in the Old Testament were born again. Obviously, the Holy Spirit had done a work in their hearts. It is plain from the accounts in Scripture that others, even though Israelites, definitely were not born again.

We see in the New Testament this emphasis on an individual’s need for salvation far more clearly. Today, since the Lord Jesus has died, risen and ascended, and the Holy Spirit has been given, salvation has become a blessing even greater and more glorious than simply being born again. When the Holy Spirit came He baptized the entire group of individual born again believers, who were all in one place in Jerusalem as the Lord had commanded them, into one body: the Church, or better said, the Assembly. This was something totally new and was accompanied by outward signs.

Individuals today enter into this blessing the moment they accept Christ as their Savior. Contrary to a false teaching that is extremely prevalent throughout the world today, no later “second blessing” or outward experience of any kind is needed. Sadly, many are not content to take God at His word, but insist that there must be some spectacular outward evidence (most commonly “speaking in tongues”) to prove that this blessing has been given. Their efforts to bring this about often have the practical result of salvation to them becoming a works-based religion, something for which they must strive.

Having trusted Christ, the believer today is also sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise according to Ephesians 1:13. This seal is the evidence that the believer belongs to the Lord and is the guarantee of the inheritance that he will soon receive. The believer is a child of God; he can call God “Abba Father” (Rom. 8:15, Gal. 4:6 NKJV). He is dignified by being recognized as one of God’s sons – a mature individual no longer needing to be under the law as the rule for his life. The Spirit guides his walk and, indeed, his life. He is the anointing who teaches believers all things and takes the things of Christ and reveals them to us. The Christian cannot be lost, for nothing can separate him from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus his Lord. The Holy Spirit dwells in him and abides with him forever. Such assurances go far beyond anything that the believer in the Old Testament enjoyed or could claim for himself. All this is included in the great salvation we believers are given to enjoy today!

Coming back to the question we began with, certainly believing and being born again go together and have always gone together. To believe, actually, is a work of the Holy Spirit in the heart as well. The latter part of Romans 3 shows that in Old Testament times, before God’s Son came into the world and died on the cross for us, God exercised forbearance and justified all who believed His word. He did this in view of the work that Jesus Christ would accomplish on Calvary. Whether they knew little or much, it was faith in what God said that justified them. What Christ has done on Calvary is the only means by which anyone can be justified before God. After all, what would heaven be like if we could boast of any work of our own, even of our own believing – how soon, how steadfastly, how strongly, how anything else? “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).

Now that the Lord Jesus has glorified God by accomplishing the work given Him to do at Calvary, we must trust Him and the work He has done to be saved. “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). And what a glorious thing salvation is today! How much more it includes than the earthly blessings given to godly people, who were doubtless born again but who lived before the great event told us in Acts 2.

Cornelius, a Roman centurion, in Acts 10:2 is described as “a devout man, and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always.” This is the description of one who has been born again by God’s grace. I have no doubt that if he had died at the beginning of Acts 10 we still would have been able to meet him in heaven one day. But Christ had died, and God wanted to bestow the same blessing on Cornelius and his household and friends as He does on everyone who turns to Him today, in faith believing what His Son has done in giving Himself in death on the cross at Calvary. So Cornelius was told to send for Peter, “who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved” (11:14). As Peter spoke of who Jesus was, what He had done and what He had commanded His followers to preach, “that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins … the Holy Spirit fell on all those who heard the word” (10:43-44). Now they were truly saved. Salvation in our present day involves receiving the Holy Spirit, and this, as we were reminded in Ephesians 1:13, happens when we believe. While it will likely take time and growth in the things of the Lord to learn, understand and enjoy the blessings involved in salvation in this day of grace, there is no time sequence involved in their reception.

The Holy Spirit does not normally speak of Himself or, we might say, call attention to Himself. His great purpose on earth is to glorify the Lord Jesus. Many who are not well taught in God’s Word do not realize this important truth. Often in their well-meaning ignorance they try to give great prominence to the Spirit. Sometimes they are not sure they are saved, or they may feel that somehow they must do something to stay saved if they profess to have been saved. Not being sure of their salvation, they do not grow spiritually. They may grieve or even quench the Spirit. If saved but living for the flesh or the world rather than growing spiritually and being led by the Spirit, they may well lose the assurance of being saved. Or, not knowing sound doctrine they may fall prey to unsound teachers and teachings, and then sometime later find the Spirit prodding them so that they decide to heed the voice of the Spirit and profess to be saved all over again. This can cause much confusion and unrest. In a word, they need help.

What God does is well done. His work is perfect. What He begins He will complete to His glory and praise. Salvation needs no repetition or improvement, but we don’t stand still in life. A Christian needs to grow spiritually. Where one has gotten far from the Lord in his manner of living, repentance and confession are in order – not a second salvation. The Lord desires to restore the wanderer. If you have deceived yourself and made a false profession, the Lord is willing to forgive this sin too and save you, but true salvation cannot be lost. Believing that salvation can be lost is really an insult to God brought about by not believing what He has said in His Word. Don’t insult God by unbelief and reasoning, but thankfully accept what He says in His Word!