IN ORDER TO BE SAVED
Salvation is such a misunderstood concept that many people do not even understand the meaning of the word. So let us start there: A good definition of the word salvation is (1) “deliverance from sin and its consequences” or (2) “preservation or deliverance from harm, ruin, or loss.” The latter part of that definition is often the meaning in the Old Testament when it is used regarding natural things. Notice that is both these definitions set forth the idea of deliverance. That is the basic meaning of the word. We sometimes speak of salvation as being in three tenses: past, present and future. We have been saved from the penalty (guilt) of sin. We are presently being saved from the power of sin. This is sometimes called progressive sanctification and has in it the idea of growing in holiness, knowledge, love, etc. Then the future tense is that we shall one day be saved from the presence of sin. If we would think of the word salvation as including in it everything that God does for and in and to His elect we would begin to understand the things that are encompassed in this very general word. Because of the all-encompassing nature of this word salvation and the related words “save” and “saved,” we find the terms used in various ways. As stated before, salvation and being saved in the Old Testament, often mean deliverance from death, disease and even financial and political ruin. A prime example of this usage is in Exodus 14:13 where we read, “And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will shew to you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever.” Jehovah’s salvation was to be seen that day by His earthly people Israel. It was their deliverance from pharaoh’s army.
In the New Testament we read that we have been saved and can say that in that sense we are saved. We read in 2 Timothy 1:9, “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.” But the idea of salvation is also used in the sense of a progressive of ongoing work in converted individuals. We read 1 Timothy 4:16, for example, “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.” Here the idea is of an ongoing salvation. In this case it was deliverance from the disastrous and manifold consequences of false doctrine. Timothy and the congregation in which he labored were doubtless “saved,” but Timothy would “save” himself and his auditors if he took heed to himself and “the doctrine.” We also find the word saved used in the sense of something that is going to be experienced by all of God’s elect people from this age. Romans 5:9 says: “Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.” Surely this demonstrates something of the all-encompassing meaning and usage of the words “saved,” “save,” and “salvation.” The words deliver, delivered, and deliverance can be substituted for the words “save,” “saved,” and “salvation” and we would have the same meaning.
The idea of salvation includes predestination, election, regeneration, calling, justification, sanctification, glorification and anything and everything else that God does in delivering His people from sin and sins. The title of this piece is “In Order to be Saved.” There is a sense in which we could say that in order to be saved, a person must be predestinated to be saved. That is true, but predestination occurred long before any of us were born and we did not experience it in our lifetimes. So also it is with election. And there is a sense in which a part of our salvation is yet future. So then, there are things that God did for His elect the foundation of the world. There are things that God does for, to and in His elect people during their earthly sojourn upon this globe. And there are things that God will do for, to and in His elect people that are yet in what we understand and speak of as the future.
Let us consider our title again: it says, “In Order to be Saved.” We may list a multitude of things that must take place in order for a person to be saved. As we have stated, some of these things are unknown to man in his experience, even God’s saints, having occurred prior to their lives. For instance, none of us experienced our election unto salvation. The only knowledge we have of it is from the Word of God. Let us rather limit our thoughts at this time to what must happen in the experience of God’s elect people in order for them to be saved. If I may put it this way, where is it that the rubber of our experience meets the road of God’s grace? The phrase selected for the title of this piece comes from what this writer estimates to be one of the weakest old Baptist confessions of faith ever penned: i.e. the New Hampshire Baptist Confession which was published in A.D. 1833. Weak as it is on some points, there are nuggets of great value that can be mined from this confession. The words in the title of this piece appear in Article 7 of that confession. It says, “We believe that, in order to be saved, sinners must be regenerated or born again…” Here, and I think rightly so, the writer(s) equate regeneration and the new birth. Jesus told Nicodemus, “Ye must be born again.” (John 3:7) It is interesting that the original King James Version has two marginal notes which deal with Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus. They both give an alternative reading for “born again” as “born from above.” James Strong says that the Greek word transliterates as “anothen” and that it is translated 5 times as “from above,” 3 times as “top,” 2 times as “again,” and 1 time each as “from the first” and “from the beginning,” and that one time the Greek word is not translated at all in our version, making a total of 13 times this word appears in the Greek text. Perhaps we would better understand what Jesus was telling Nicodemus if we use the KJV alternative reading: “born from above.” Nicodemus, the number one rabbi in Israel, did not understand many things and so came to ask Jesus – what things we do not know. Immediately, without allowing Nicodemus to ask anything, Jesus told him that he needed to be born again, or if you please, born from above.
Baptists that have been “sound in wind and limb” (as horsemen say) have believed down through the centuries that “in order to be saved, sinners must be regenerated, or born again…” This is the first thing that must happen to a person in his experience if he is to be saved! By first, I do not mean so much the first thing in time, as if regeneration can be separated or segregated from conversion, but rather the first thing in sequence. And I mean that this first thing (regeneration) is the cause of other things that take place – i.e. things that come under the general heading of salvation – repentance and faith and newness of life. These last three make up what we may term conversion. Regeneration is God working in us while conversion consists of those outward things in our lives that are evidence that God has worked in us. And so our Baptist forefathers believed. And so the author(s) of this old Baptist confession believed and stated. And so we preach, “Ye must be born again!”
When this writer was a very young believer, still very much an Arminian having been naturally born into that philosophy and mode of thought, he had a difficult problem with Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus. I thought, here was a perfect opportunity for the Lord Jesus to have told Nicodemus just what it was that Nicodemus, as a lost sinner, needed to do in order to be born again. I remember praying and telling the Lord that I knew that He knew best, but that it would have been really helpful (in my ignorant opinion) if He had told us somewhere in the Bible just what it was that a person had to do in order to be born again. You see, I thought that a lost sinner could do something to bring about his own new birth. (I record this to my shame, but hopefully as a helpful illustration.) Think of it! Jesus never did tell Nicodemus what he should do in order to be born again. And on top of that, nowhere else in the Bible does the Word of God tell us what we must do in order to be born again! The Bible is clear. We, like Nicodemus, must be born again or born from above or regenerated. Use whatever term you wish for they all speak of the same thing. We must be thus made alive by the Holy Spirit if we are going to be delivered from our sin and our sins! But we do not know how to be! We are not told what to do to bring about our own new birth or regeneration! Why is that? Well, the answer is quite simple, really. It is this: there is nothing a lost sinner can do in order to bring about his own new birth or regeneration. That is why Jesus said to Nicodemus, “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8) The new birth or being born from above – regeneration if you please – is a work of the Holy Spirit who is as sovereign in His actions as either the Father or the Son. He is as uncontrolled and uncontrollable as the wind! (By sovereign it is meant that the triune God is uncontrolled or uninfluenced in His purposes and actions. He is not capricious, but He does as He pleases. God is One who is capable of “Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:” (Isaiah 46:10). This is sovereignty.) Simply stated, you cannot push, entice or bribe God the Father, God the Son or God the Holy Spirit into doing anything that He has not purposed to do from the foundation of the world and before. So then, there is nothing that a lost sinner can do in order to be born again or regenerated! That is why Jesus did not tell Nicodemus to “do something” in order to be born again. That is why you cannot, search as you may, find any verse or passage in the whole of the Bible that tells us what a person needs to do in order to bring about his new birth or regeneration. Regeneration is out of man’s hands. The new birth or being born again is out of men’s hands.
The Arminian position so popular today is to equate the new birth with conversion. By so mixing the two and ignoring Holy Ghost regeneration they lay the burden of what they call repentance and faith upon the poor lost sinner. They demand that he, dead in his sins, unable to please God and actually at enmity with God – nevertheless, they demand of such sinners that they produce what our Baptist forefathers called the twin gifts of repentance and faith. The old New Hampshire Baptist Confession, with all its weaknesses states it clearly in Article 8. It says, “We believe that Repentance and Faith are sacred duties, and also inseparable graces, wrought in our souls by the regenerating Spirit of God…” And thus this old confession puts regeneration by the Holy Spirit as that which produces both repentance and faith. Clearly they believed that regeneration is the cause of repentance and faith. Furthermore, they had not fallen into the error of the so-called “Primitive Baptists” who believe that regeneration can occur apart from its consequences which are repentance and faith. The regeneration of the “Primitive Baptists” has no necessary consequences in the life of the person regenerated for they say that a man may be regenerated apart from ever hearing the Word of God. They say a man can be regenerated and never ever in this lifetime know it. So they believe that there exists a multitude of regenerated unbelievers – persons who are blood-bought children of God who have never heard of Christ. Absurd! And totally unbiblical for no regenerated unbelievers exist in the Bible.
And yet probably most of our contemporaries – professing believers in Christ – think that if you will pray, open your heart’s door, go forward, invite Jesus into your heart, feel sorry for your sins, make a decision for Christ, commit your life to Christ, pray the sinner’s prayer or lift your hand during “the invitation,” you will bring about your own new birth. The religious world does not believe in Holy Ghost regeneration, but believes that a man can birth himself into the family of God. Surely Jesus used the metaphor of birth for wise reasons. We do not dare attribute a casual mistake or ignorance to the Lord Jesus Christ. He had a reason or reasons for using the exact terminology which He used in His conversation with lost Nicodemus. Think for a moment about the birth process to which Christ likened regeneration. A baby does not bring about his own birth. He is not causative in the birth process, but he is a vital participant for it is the baby who is born. It is a part of his life experience, but one of which he has no memory. Apart from the birth process, a baby would never experience life, interact with a congregation of saints, or achieve anything worthwhile in this life. His birth sets him free from the confines of his mother’s body. It is only after a birth that a baby can grow and develop sufficiently as to achieve his full potential. So it is with the new birth or regeneration. A lost sinner does not bring about his new birth. He is not causative in the matter of regeneration. He does not experience this new birth as a conscious being so as to have a memory of it. Only after being born from above can an individual achieve his full potential for God and eternity.
Now someone will say, ‘Why, you believe that a sinner gets saved before he gets saved.’ I have heard that charge made against regeneration by the sovereign will of God before. Such a statement is often the result of not understanding the differences between regeneration and conversion. What I believe is what the old Baptists believed and stood for in the past. It is exactly what is stated in this New Hampshire Baptist Confession of Faith. We have looked at only a part of Article 7 thus far. Here it is in its entirety (except for proof texts). “We believe that, in order to be saved, sinners must be regenerated, or born again; that regeneration consists in giving a holy disposition to the mind; that it is effected in a manner above our comprehension by the power of the Holy Spirit, in connection with divine truth, so as to secure our voluntary obedience to the gospel; and that its proper evidence appears in the holy fruits of repentance, and faith, and newness of life.” According to this confession, regeneration (1) consists in giving a holy disposition to the mind; (2) it is accomplished in a way above our understanding; (3) it is accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit; (4) it is brought about in connection with God’s Word; (5) it is brought to pass in such a way as to cause us to willingly believe the gospel; and (6) that its evidences are the holy fruits of repentance, faith and a godly life. Now you know what the author(s) of the New Hampshire Baptist Confession believed about the subject back in 1833.
But what is important is what does the Bible say, not what this writer or any Baptist confession says! And so we ask these questions. Did Jesus tell Nicodemus that it was necessary for him to be born again? Yes! Did Jesus tell Nicodemus that the new birth was a work of the Spirit? Yes! Did Jesus tell Nicodemus that there was anything he could do to effect his own new birth? No! Does the Bible teach that lost sinners are spiritually dead and therefore in need of life? Yes! Does the Bible tell lost sinners that there is something that they can do to resurrect themselves or birth themselves into God’s family? No!
But let us close on a positive note. “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.”(Romans 8:9) It is the high privilege of those who are regenerated to be made partakers of the divine nature by that very regeneration (2 Peter 1:4). It is their privilege to be “in the Spirit” because the Spirit of God indwells them. This indwelling of the Spirit began when the Holy Ghost moved in at regeneration or the new birth. And in this condition, you can please God! Reader, if you are yet lost in your sins, may the knowledge that you cannot bring about your own new birth lay heavily upon your heart and mind so much so that you will consider seriously your present state as well as that future place to which you shall surely and justly be condemned. If these things do not concern you – if in considering them you are not most miserable in your inner self – it is evidence that you yet lack regeneration. That does not necessarily mean that God has finally rejected you, but rather that you are in a perilous condition and in need of regeneration and its fruits of repentance, faith and newness of life. The tree must be made good, for good fruit does not come from an evil tree. (See Matthew 7:16-20 and 12:33). And that is exactly what regeneration or the new birth does. It makes the tree good so that the good fruits of regeneration which are repentance, faith and newness of life spring forth. “In order to be saved, sinners must be regenerated or born again.”