“COME FORWARD TODAY AND RECEIVE JESUS CHRIST AS YOUR LORD AND SAVIOR!” For most people, this was the moment when we went forward in church to confess our sins and to give our lives to the Lord. Usually, the pastor would explain what we were about to do, and then he would have us repeat a prayer after him. After completing this prayer, he would say that each of us have now been saved. He might even quote Romans 10: 9-10,
That if you shall confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved. For with the heart man believes unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
Most Pastors would say that “You are now saved and are a child of God.” Although I would most certainly congratulate you for your decision to give your life to the Lord, but I would differ in that I would say that you have now taken YOUR FIRST STEP on the journey of salvation with the Lord.
A TRIUNE SALVATION FROM A TRIUNE GOD
Rather than salvation being a one-time event, it is a triune process, which comes from God, a Triune Spirit. In Exodus 3, Moses asks God His name, and in His response, He gives Moses the name YHWH. This name is derived from the verb “to be” (Heb. hayah), and it’s repeated 6,000 times in the Scriptures. In fact, in the book of Revelation, it is translated into Greek and English by the three tenses of the verb:
…which is, and which was, and which is to come;…” (Revelation 1:4, 8)
…which was, and is, and is to come… (Revelation 4:8)
…which art, and wast, and art to come… (Revelation 11:17)
…which art, and wast, and shall be… (Revelation 16:5)
In all five verses, the covenant name of God is translated out into Greek by these three verb tenses: past, present, and future. God exists outside of time, space, and matter, and as a result, He can see the past, present, and future all at the same time, and so He is always the Great “I AM.” But just as His name translates into three tenses, “I WAS, I AM, and I SHALL BE,”so does His salvation that flows out to those call upon Him, for as the Bible teaches, “for whoever calls upon the name of the LORD shall be saved” (Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21; Romans 10:13).
So just as God Himself is a Triune Being, so salvation, which comes from God, is likewise Triune in its nature. The three stages of salvation are the following:
- NEW BIRTH (“I WAS SAVED FROM THE PENALTY OF SIN”)
- SANCTIFICATION (“I AM BEING SAVED FROM THE POWER OF SIN”)
- GLORIFICATION (“I SHALL BE SAVED FROM THE PRESENCE OF SIN”)
And all three stages comprise the one life-long process, whose overall purpose is to transform each of us from being a broken “slave of sin” into a son or daughter of God that’s been conformed into the image and likeness of Christ.
THE PROCESS OF NEW BIRTH (“I WAS SAVED FROM THE PENALTY OF SIN”)
This process also includes conversion, justification, and adoption; consequently, sometimes these other names are used rather than “NEW BIRTH.” However, I like this one because it emphasizes that something NEW is being BIRTHED in and through this experiential process.
In John 3, Jesus enters into a discussion with a Pharisee by the name of Nicodemus, who comes to Jesus by night, and tells Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no man can do these miracles that You do, except God be with Him.” Jesus then responds to Him by saying,
Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. (John 3:3)
But Nicodemus is confused by this. He asks, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” (John 3:4) But in response to this question, Jesus repeats what He had said in verse 3, but He elaborates further on what He meant by being “born again.” To show this, I’m going to put the two verses side by side.
|Verily, Verily, I say unto you, Except a man be BORN AGAIN, he cannot see the kingdom of God.||Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a man be BORN OF WATER AND OF THE SPIRIT, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.|
So what Jesus has done in a very Jewish way is to define being “BORN AGAIN” as being “BORN OF WATER AND OF THE SPIRIT.” Jesus here is not defining “BORN AGAIN” as simply being “BORN OF THE SPIRIT” as I’ve heard numerous times from ministers, believing that “being BORN OF WATER” was only a reference to physical birth. In Jewish thinking, there’s an intricate connection between the water and the Spirit, which many Christians do not realize.
THE NECESSITY OF CHRIST IN THE NEW BIRTH
To be “BORN AGAIN,” it is imperative that we understand that this can only happen when we sincerely come to Christ, confess our sins, and ask Him to come into our hearts and lives to be our Savior, Lord, and King. Our salvation is only made possible because of His shed blood and death on the cross, and His bodily resurrection. Although we tend to put more focus on His death on the cross, Paul tells us in I Corinthians 15 that without His resurrection our faith would be in vain:
But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ: whom He raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; you are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. (I Corinthians 15:13-20)
Consequently, Christ’s resurrection is extremely important to our salvation, and not just the His sacrificial death on the cross. But being “BORN AGAIN” is a process, and not an event. For example, Jesus taught His disciples prior to His ascension:
Go you into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that BELIEVES AND IS BAPTIZED shall be saved; but he that believes not shall be damned. (Mark 16:15-16)
As we can see, the process of the NEW BIRTH occurs in two steps: “(1) Believe and (2) is baptized shall be saved.” So obviously, if you are not willing to do the first step, “believe,” then you are not going to end this process by doing the second step, being “baptized.”
Then in the book of Acts, we see two more people teaching the same thing and re-affirming this two step process for the NEW BIRTH. First of all, Peter, in his initial sermon on the day of Pentecost:
Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brothers, what shall we do? Then Peter said to them, “REPENT, AND BE BAPTIZED every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.” (Acts 2:37-38)
What did Peter say? “REPENT AND BE BAPTIZED.” The word “Repent” here involves BELIEVING the message of the gospel and accepting Jesus as their Lord, Savior and Messiah (or King), and then “BE BAPTIZED.” The same two basic parts of the process as we see from Jesus in Mark 16:16. Then the next person we see teach this same two parts is Paul, when describing his own conversion in Acts 22.
And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good report of all the Jews which lived there, came to me, and stood, and said to me, “Brother Saul, receive your sight.” And the same hour I looked up on him. And he said, “The God of our fathers has chosen you, that you should know His will, and see that Just One, and should hear the voice of His mouth. For you shall be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard. And now why are you waiting? ARISE, AND BE BAPTIZED, and WASH AWAY YOUR SINS, calling on the name of the Lord.” (Acts 22:12-16)
Paul here is recounting for the crowds what happened to him during his conversion (or NEW BIRTH) experience, and notice what Paul says that Ananias told him to do,
Arise, and BE BAPTIZED, AND WASH AWAY YOUR SINS, calling on the name of the Lord. (Acts 22:16)
By “calling on the name of the Lord,” “BELIEVING” is an assumed intricate part of this. But in addition, Ananias told him to be “BAPTIZED, AND WASH AWAY YOUR SINS.” Consequently, there are at least three witnesses here that teach the same thing, “Repent (or Believe) and Be Baptized, and you shall be saved”: Jesus, Peter, and Ananias through Paul. There are also 10 examples in the book of Acts that demonstrate this two-part process as well. For example, all the following were baptized after they believed,
|The 3,000 people saved on Pentecost (Acts 2:41)||The Apostle Paul (Acts 9:18)||The Philippian Jailer and his household (Acts 16:33)|
|The Samaritans (Acts 8:12)||The Roman Cornelius and his household (Acts 10:47-48)||Crispus, the chief ruler of the Synagogue (Acts 18:8)|
|Simon the Sorcerer (Acts 8:13)||Lydia (Acts 16:15)||The Ephesian believers (Acts 19:3-5)|
|The Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:28-40)|
So with three people, including Jesus Himself, teaching the same thing and 10 examples of this being done throughout the book of Acts, why is it that most Christians do not believe that water baptism has any part in the salvation process?
Another example we can see of water being a part of birth is in the natural birth process. The process of physical conception and birth presents us with a picture of what it means to be “BORN AGAIN.” Throughout the Old Testament, there are numerous passages where water is used in the process of rebirth. For example, the first picture of this in the Bible is in the account of Noah and the Flood. The earth was full of sin and violence, and God told Noah that He was going to flood the whole earth; that is, He was going to fully immerse the planet under water (“baptize it”).
But to preserve Noah and his family, as well as the land animals, He had Noah build the ark. The ark is a picture of Christ, and just as those who were in the ark were saved, so those who are in Christ will likewise be saved. However, when God brought the world up out of the waters, the world was “clean” once more, and the sin was gone. So there in this account, we have the combination of both salvation (pictured by the ark) and water baptism (pictured by the flood). Those who made it through the flood (by being in the ark/Christ) are saved.
There are many other such pictures in the Bible as well, like Israel crossing the Red Sea. To save their first born, they had put the Passover Lamb’s blood on the doorposts and lintel, demonstrating their faith in God. So as we are saved from our Egypt’s of sin, so we too must rely on THE BLOOD OF THE LAMB and our FAITH IN GOD, but notice that Israel was not out of Egypt (a symbol of sin) UNTIL they CROSSED THE SEA.
It was only when they came out on the other side that the people were saved from the Egyptians. If they had put the blood on the doorpost and lintel, but had not left Egypt and crossed the Red Sea, they would not have been saved from their slavery in Egypt. They would have remained slaves. Their coming out of Egypt happened as a PROCESS, not just a ONE-TIME EVENT.
In like manner, physical conception and birth are also two ends of the same process, and of course, conception is when new life begins within the womb of a woman, which can be compared to us asking Jesus to forgive us of our sins and be the Lord of our life, because it is at this moment that the conception of our spirit happens, and we experience that new life within us. To demonstrate this further, there’s an interesting verse in I John; it says,
Whosoever is born of God does not [continue to] commit sin; for His seed remains in him: and he cannot [continue to] sin, because he is born of God. (I John 3:9)
There’s two things to point out about this verse. (1) The verbs “commit” and “sin” are both present participles, which mean they refer to “repeated or continuous action,” which is why I put “continue to” in brackets. But (2) the word “seed” in this verse is the English translation of the Greek word sperma. It is from this word that we get the English word “sperm.” In this verse, the Holy Spirit is being pictured as “the sperm of God.” God’s “sperm,” of course, is not physical, but spiritual, since it alludes to His Spirit. However, interestingly, this image of God having “sperm” (although spiritual in nature) does most definitely identify God in a very masculine way (contrary to the many feminists and those in the LGBT camp who are now trying to say that God should be referred to with neutral, genderless pronouns).
God’s Spirit (His “sperm”) comes into us when we accept Jesus as the Lord of our life, and a new spiritual life begins to exist. However, just as our physical conception results in a physical birth, where we are born into this life out of the water of the womb, so our spiritual conception results in a spiritual birth, where we are born into the kingdom of God out of water, a picture of the womb. This picture of being “BORN AGAIN” should have been quite familiar to Nicodemus, but it wasn’t, which is why Jesus is surprised when Nicodemus doesn’t understand what He’s saying.
JEWISH WATER IMMERSION
In Jesus’ day, people were not “baptized” or “immersed” in water like Christians do today, where one person lays another person down into the water. Instead, each person immerses themselves. The other person is there just to make sure that the process is done correctly.
The person being immersed, steps into the water until it is waist deep, and then crouches down into a fetal position. The water must cover them completely. It is then that the water takes on the image of a womb, and the person in the water is in the same fetal position they would’ve been in the womb. Then the person stands up straight out of the water, representing their “new birth,” or “new life,” i.e., they are now “born again.”
When looking at the baptism of Jesus, by John the Baptist, you will note that John did not lift Jesus up out of the water; instead, it says,
And Jesus, when He was baptized, went up straightway out of the water:… (Matthew 3:16)
And it was when He came up out of the water that the Holy Spirit came down and lit on Him as a dove. In essence, He was “born of water and of the Spirit,” and if Jesus was “born of the water and of the Spirit,” shouldn’t we do likewise as His disciples today? In Judaism, there were many reasons why Jews would immerse in water:
- To indicate a change in status, such as a person was “unclean” and they now have become “clean” (whether ritually, or in their health, or spiritually). For example, after the completion of their monthly cycle, women would immerse, so that their relations with their husbands could resume. One also indicated a change in status when they began a new phase in their life, began a new career, or they wanted to develop a more intimate relationship with God.
- To initiate one’s priestly office. A priest had to wait until they were 30 years old, according to the Scriptures, before they could initiate their priestly office (Numbers 4).
- For completing the process of conversion.
These are not all the reasons, but a few examples. Jesus, though, was baptized in water, not for conversion or for the forgiveness of His sins, since He was sinless, but because He needed to indicate a change of status (He was changing from being a carpenter to being a rabbi), and He also needed to initiate His High Priestly office. So in truth, when He came up out of the water, He was, in fact, “BORN AGAIN,” because a carpenter went down into the water, but He came up out of the water a rabbi and High Priest. And so as His disciples, we too need to be “BORN AGAIN OUT OF THE WATER” just as He was.
But we must remember, it is not enough to be “BORN OF WATER,” we must also be “BORN OF THE SPIRIT.” BOTH ARE NECESSARY. Many times when I discuss this, people ask me about the thief on the cross. However, the thief on the cross is the only man in the New Testament who was saved without being baptized in water afterwards. He should be seen as the exception, not the rule. Obviously, the Romans were not going to take the man down, allow John, who was standing right there, to baptize him, and then give the guy back to the Romans, so they could nail him back up on the cross.
It is important that we remember that the NEW BIRTH is a PROCESS, NOT AN EVENT. The thief on the cross had begun the process, but obviously, he was not able to complete the first stage of the salvation process, but he went as far as he could. But throughout the book of Acts, there are 10 accounts of people being saved, as I said earlier, and every one of them was baptized right afterwards. There’s not one single exception to this in all the book of Acts, whether the person was a Jew or a non-Jew. Consequently, we should be defining this first stage of the NEW BIRTH based on what is TYPICAL – what we find in the majority of cases in the Bible – NOT THE EXCEPTION. This, in fact, is the rule when coming up with a definition. In any definition, you my note the exceptions and rare occurrences, but you always base the meaning on what is TYPICAL, on what you find in the majority of cases.
Now in part 2 of this series, we will examine “Sanctification,” and then in part 3, the final part of this series, we will examine “Glorification.”