Can One Inherit Eternal Life Without Going Through a 'Born Again' Experience?

Was "You Must Be Born Again" a Kind of Blueprint for Salvation, or Was Jesus Attempting to Enlighten the Confusion of a Non-Believer?

Do Certain Pastors and Preachers Misunderstand Regeneration?

Charles Finney (1792-1875)

We are not able to judge his standing with God, and, by all accounts, Finney was a most sincere man. Yet Charles Finney is seen as largely, if not entirely, responsible for changing the way that evangelism was carried out. Now the evangelist would become powerful and persuasive, even a bullying figure, and emotion became a vital part of the mixture in order to get "decisions." Carefully 'counting the cost' before making that decision now became somewhat downgraded.

Many, perhaps thousands, would say that no specific "born again" experience equals no salvation - especially in the light of what Jesus said to Nicodemus. Theologically, to be 'born again' is what we call the teaching of regeneration and we need to look at the teaching a little more closely.

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him." Jesus replied, "Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again." "How can someone be born when they are old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother's womb to be born!" Jesus answered, "Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." (John 3:1-8).

The point about the wind blowing wherever it may is to illustrate that the Spirit of God cannot be bottled nor put in any kind of package. Jesus here explains perfectly that whilst we all undergo the first human birth through our human mothers, for the truly saved there is a second spiritual birth after which - rather like the wind - we start to inherit great power, we are truly no longer of this earth. This is when our minds start to be changed through the influence of the Spirit of God, we start to attain God's 'wavelength,' we start to see things as God Himself sees them. No, this is not yet perfection - that is yet to come, but we are now able to 'tune into' the wavelength of God.

The Greek For 'Born Again'

But what Greek word, or words, are translated as 'born again'? We need to break it down.

'Born again' (John 3:3), is from the Greek 'gennao anothen' (Strong's concordance system words G1080 and G509 respectively). 'Gennao' simply refers to procreation, regeneration, to conceive, to bring forth, but the word 'anothen' goes further; it means 'from above,' 'from the first,' by implication, 'anew,' 'from the beginning,' 'from the very top.' In truth, the word 'again' cannot be justified from the Greek but it seems reasonable for it to be used since this obviously refers to a new birth. Nevertheless, a better translation is probably 'born from above.' However the ancient Bible versions all understood 'anothen' as meaning 'again,' or the 'second time.' So our natural human birth introduced us to light, to the commencement of all life, but it also introduced us to a world of sin. We go astray, we find we are not truly complete, there is a lack in our mental, psychological and spiritual lives; to some degree or another we all become slaves to sin. We lack wholeness and we finally come to long to achieve that 'wholeness,' then we find that only God possesses it. We are not complete without God. In His mercy God offers us a bit of Himself when we accept Christ, at which time we become 'born from above.' Even then the work is not complete; our minds are renewed but we must still inhabit sin-prone bodies for the remainder of our present lives with all the greatest glory still to come in and beyond the resurrection!

The Process During the Church Area

We know from the New Testament that a particular process is advocated during this period of the Church; repentance (essential), and baptism. The New Testament makes the process pretty clear; we preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, a few will become convicted of their sin and - if this is genuine, and not just a fleeting emotional response of little depth - we can be fairly sure that God is calling these people. Even then baptism should not be rushed, we need to be sure that such people are truly 'counting the cost' of what their new life direction will really mean. All of this is the advocated process for the present time. However, Finneyism changed the older Protestant way of proselytation. Now emotion, and frequently music too, were introduced to "evangelistic meetings," the evangelist now had to yell to stir up emotion, the crowd had to be bullied. It was often accepted that this would lead to some fish being caught in the net who were not being called at all but this was considered acceptable in order to get "decisions." This has tended to overturn the older lower-level proselytation approach found in Lutheranism and Presbyterianism. It must be said that, in general, the evangelism of Book of Acts seems between the two approaches though probably closer to the older approach. In the Book of Acts careful explanation is important and emotion less important.

Being Saved Outside of the Advocated Process

However, it is erroneous to state that salvation is impossible outside of this specific process. We know that the saved of the Old Testament did not go through this process (just a few of the Old Testament saved are listed in Hebrews 11), neither - at least to some degree - do 'death-bed confessors,' in a sense, the thief on the cross is typical of these people who only discover Christ hours or minutes before death. Yet all evangelical Protestants must admit that these are genuine repentances and we all accept them.

All of the above being the case, we Protestants must be wary of legalism creeping in when we lay down some prescribed process "to prevent the fires of hell" (as 18th century fiery Calvinist Jonathan Edwards might have put it - article here). Too often - before they are even ready - people are asked to simply repeat some prayer (not coming from their own heart), and then told, "you are now saved" - a few 'ministers' even now do this via the internet, never having even met these people! Suddenly this makes 'salvation' a kind of trick or magic act of the evangelist. Unfortunately, this glitzy, easy-salvation approach came from Finneyism. Billy Graham, great and sincere man that he is, in my opinion, nevertherless did unfortunately popularize this approach (but he did apparently begin to see the shortcomings of this style towards the end of his ministry).

In response to his limited understanding, Jesus did indeed tell Nicodemus of the need to be 'reborn from above.' That is correct, of course, and hopefully we all understand that teaching. Yet the Apostles - who were to deliver the message of Christ to Israel, then to all the world - were never specifically charged with this particular 'born again' message but told to preach the coming of Christ and the need for repentance, ultimately it's the same thing, of course, but interesting that proper repentance is almost never now taught but "you must be born again", is now continually hammered out; however, without a true understanding of repentance it is impossible to be 'born again!'

The modern evangelical Finneyist approach also makes it very judgemental of approaches which do not use this approach. Yet none of us can judge the hearts of the converts within other Protestant approaches neither should we presume that we can. God is well able to call and convict in more ways than one and, once again, we always have the example of the Old Testament in front of us, probably a considerable number of saved people who did not even hear the name of Christ during their lifetimes!


You must be 'born again'? Certainly, but this refers to getting our minds on a divine perspective - getting on God's 'wavelength' - becoming a true child of God through the activity and conviction of the Holy Spirit, it also means to grow in understanding of God and His truth; it does not mean to want to be continually and emotionally jumping up and down, self-congratulatory-wise, shouting, "hey, I'm born again, I've made it!"

Nobody has the right to approach a Christian from a different Christian tradition and accuse them of not being "born again" just because that person did not come from a lively 'emotion, frills, spills and glitz' background. God can can call and convict in more ways than one and He unquestionably does. Paul reminds us that there is 'one Lord, one faith, one baptism.'

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. (Ephesians 4:4-7).

Paul also said there would be different kinds of Christian ministry and service but all legitimate in Gods sight:

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. (1 Corinthians 12:4-6).

Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen. (2 Peter 3:17-18).

Robin A. Brace, January 17th, 2016.