By Dr. Josue O. Okoth
Jesus while answering a question from Nicodemus recorded in John 3:3 said: “I tell you the truth, no one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again”.
He went on to explain in John 3:5-7, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the Kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the spirit gives birth to spirit”.
Baptism gives us supernatural life. We are taught that it removes original sin; we are born with souls which are supernaturally dead. Original sin “sensu stricto”, is not a “blot” upon the soul but absence of something. Theologians tell us that it is like darkness where there should have been light. When one gets baptism, the spiritual vacuum in his/her soul (which we call original sin) disappears and God’s presence takes over.
Baptism does not take away only the original sin, but as in the case of an adult, it takes away all sins committed up to that moment of baptism and the person has a new beginning – born again, adopted child of God and heir to the kingdom of God.
1Peter 3: 20-21 compared the effect of baptism with the flood during Noah’s time when eight people were saved through water. He said, “….In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water and this water symbolises baptism that now saves you also ...” He explained that you are saved through water, not because of water’s physical action but through the power of Jesus Christ’s resurrection, through baptism’s spiritual effects.
This article is written in response to the general view that born again Christians are saved and are destined for heaven whereas other baptised Christians are doomed. In order to understand this new birth, let us first examine the Baptism of Our Lord by John the Baptist at river Jordan (cf. Matt.3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:30-34).
What were the principal events on that occasion? First of all, all the Three Persons were present: Voice from heaven was God the Father, the dove was the Holy Spirit and Jesus was physically present. The events: 1. Jesus goes into water and is baptised 2. Heavens opens and the Holy Spirit descends upon him in the form of a dove and 3. Voice of God the Father speaks from heaven saying “This is my beloved Son.
This scene gives a graphic depiction of what happens at our baptism: a) We are baptised with water symbolising our dying with Christ (Rom.6:3) and our rising with Christ to the newness of life (Rom.6:4-5) b) we receive the gift of sanctifying grace and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (1Cor.12:13; Gal.3:27) and c) we are adopted as God’s sons (children) (Rom8:15-17).
Often people miss to understand the fact that baptism gives us new life/new birth because they have an impoverished view of the grace God gives through baptism, which they think is a mere symbol. Baptism is much more than a mere symbol. In the Acts 2:38, Peter said, “Repent, and be baptised 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”.
When Paul (Saul) was converted, he was told, “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptised, and wash away your sins, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16).
When a Catholic says that he is born again, he refers to the transformation that God’s grace accomplish in him during baptism. The Greek translation of “born of water and spirit” literally means one birth of water-and spirit; if it meant born of water and of the spirit it would have implied two different births – one of water and one of spirit which born again Christians would like us to believe. For an Evangelical or “born again” Christian to be saved, he refers to an occasion or a crusade where perhaps after listening to some preaching or sermon, his life is transformed.
Usually the preacher will announce, “If you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and believe he died for your sins, you will be born again”. So the Christians make a decision for Christ then the preacher calls them forward to be led in “the sinner’s prayer”. Then the preacher announces to them after the sinner’s prayer that they have been saved.
Once this is done, a new batch of “born again” Christians is formed who portray themselves as destined to heaven. This is not in the Bible. Even Paul in his letter to Timothy (1Tim 1:15), said “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, - of whom I am the worst….” He told Timothy “fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience” (1Tim 1:18-19).
This shows that no matter how much grace one has received from God, he can never get to beyond the place where he is reckoned a sinner.
Some Evangelicals/born again say that water in John 3:5 was referring to amniotic fluid present at child birth. This is a shocking revelation because Jesus could have said, “You must be born of amniotic fluid and the spirit”.
This would imply baptism is an “internal” baptism but the Bible shows it is external: In Acts 2:38 people are told to take action, “Be baptised….in the name of Jesus Christ”. At Paul’s conversion at Damascus, “….He got up and was baptised and after taking some food, he regained his strength.” This was water baptism.
In most of Paul’s writings, he was reminding people of their water baptism and never implied anything about some sort of “invisible spiritual baptism” which has no biblical basis whatsoever.
So who are the born again Christians the ‘Bible way’? Born again are all those Christians who have been water baptised in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matt 28:19).
This is an entry point to salvation but the real salvation comes later when they “obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt. 28: 20).
The writer is a concerned Christian