Are You Born Again? (Part 1)

Derek Ouellette —  July 4, 2010

Friday night Bible Study was both challenging and stimulating. Below are my “coles notes”:


  1. Belief
  2. Repentance
  3. Baptism
  4. Spirit-filling

It has become popular in the past century to teach that when someone says a “Sinner’s Prayer” that they “receive” Jesus and the “Spirit” comes and lives in them at that moment.

But this teaching provides, first, a false affirmation and second, it seems to go against the order of the born again experience as the New testament teaches.

First, it is becoming a more popular practice of holding off water baptism for many years after a person believes. If the whole born again experience is completed in a single act of belief and prayer, water baptism gets pushed to the periphery as an afterthought, and sometimes as if it were not even necessary at all.

Yet Jesus tells Nicodemus,

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water… he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” – John 3:5

Water, it seems, is a key element to the born again experience. According to Jesus one is not fully (or at least, not properly) born again until one gets into the water.

Secondly, the idea that one receives the Spirit the moment they believe is to be found no where in the Bible. In stead the scriptures affirm, rather, that the Spirit is given after water baptism in all places except one.

Jesus tells Nicodemus,

Truly, truly, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God. – John 3:5

Being born of Spirit is as much a key as being born of water. In Jesus’ baptism experience the Spirit comes upon him only after he comes up from the water:

When Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him.” – Matthew 3:16

While it is fascinating that the scriptures never speak of the apostles being personally baptized, it is naturally assumed since baptism is considered a fundamental part of the faith (Hebrews 6:1-2), and they themselves do baptizing (John 4:1-2).

Yet while Jesus remained – before he was glorified – the Holy Spirit had not, and could not, come:

I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I do, I will send him to you. – John 16:7

The disciples were to wait in Jerusalem until the Father would send the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49). Between the time when they started on the Way (probably when they began to follow Jesus) until after he was glorified climaxing in the Acts 2 event – between these two events the Holy Spirit was with them, but not in them:

You know him (the Spirit), for he dwells with you and will be in you. – John 14:17

The point is that the disciples had not received the Spirit in them until after (1) they believed, (2) they repented and (3) they were water baptized.

This pattern is repeated again when Paul encounters twelve “disciples” (i.e. believers) and asks them if they had received the Holy Spirit. It is all too common today to think such a question ridiculous. If a person is a disciple, they must of received the Spirit of Christ. Paul does not make this assumption. These disciples had not even heard that the Spirit had been given. Evidently they had been baptized by John or one of John’s disciples before returning home to Ephesus.

When Paul heard this he re-baptized them, this time in the name of Jesus, and

when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them. – Acts 19:6

So again the pattern is repeated: they believe, repent, are baptized and then they received the Spirit of Christ.

There is only one exception to this pattern in scripture, and a close examination will show that God, in making this exception, knows exactly what he is doing.

It is the story of Peter and Cornelius. Peter has to be shown three times that what has been considered “unclean” has been made “clean” by and through Christ. To use Pauline terminology: there is no more “Jew” or “Gentile”, for the dividing wall has come down and the gospel message and salvation is open to the gentiles even without circumcision. The reason circumcision is no longer required is because a new seal has come, the seal of the Holy Spirit, and this seal has replaced the old seal of circumcision.

But Peter – stuck in his Jewish mindset – has to be convinced by God of this.  (You will find the whole story of this in Acts 10.) So Peter, with a group of other Jewish believers, went to preach to a house of gentiles. While Peter was sharing the gospel with them (no alter call is in sight and no laying on of hands takes place) the scriptures record:

While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. – Acts 10:44

This fact seems to have scandalized the Jewish believers who came with Peter:

And all the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles – Acts 10:45

Notice the phrase, “even on the Gentiles”. How scandalous! Who would have thought that Jews and Gentiles could enter the same covenant with God without first being circumcised? And that is exactly the point: the Jewish believers never would have baptized Gentiles unless they first became Jews. But in light of the fact that the seal of the Spirit was given, Peter proclaims:

Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have? – Acts 10:47

So only here is the order reversed. And God does it to make a point: the Gentiles can now become a covenant member of the family of God without having to go through the rite of circumcision.

The primary point is that one does not “receive the Spirit” by merit of a Sinner’s Prayer. It could be said that the one certainly has begun “on the Way” – I would not argue this, because at some point individuals must make a decision to follow Christ (notice the terminology), to drop their nets and change their direction. They are no less “Christian” at that point if this occurs sincerely. They have been conceived. They are on the Way. But they have not yet fully been born again.

***To Be Continued***

Any questions or further insight?

(From memory since I forgot a note pad and pen. Any errors in interpretation and use of biblical passages are my own and should not be confused with the actual study or the teacher)

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • Anonymous

    According to Mark 1:15 repentance comes before belief.

    • brad d

      I see comments like this, all the time, and get accused of it often as well. its merely a case of the commenter parroting a verse they jave been taught, (programmed?) It means somethimg very literal, without context, nor verified to be consistent with of scriptures.

      However when you apply that str t interpretation to mat 5.48, 1 john 3:6, 3:9 and I van give a long list, they twist, wiggle and change their rules of exegesis.
      The frustrating thing for me, that people, after generations makes the rumors an accepted misrepresentation. It’s frustrating in the.extreme to me.

      Now, I.can’t apply this to the poster, I don’t know them. Bit my frustration was brought out by the poster. If that person ever comes back, I’d like them to comment on the.clearly stated fact that if you still sin, you don’t know Him, have not seen Him, and are not yet born of God. Or the verse that says of you are indwelled by the Spirit , you are no longer in the flesh..thus if you are still in the flesh, you are nt yet in the.spirit.

  • Derek Ouellette

    Hi “Anonymous”, I wish you would have made your case. I don’t understand in what way you think “according to Mark 1:15 repentance comes before belief”?

    My best guess is that you have jumped to this conclusion because of the way Mark words his sentence: “repent and believe”. But that makes no sense at all. Ask yourself, how can someone repent if they don’t first believe?

    As I recently read a scholar say (commenting on Acts 2:38):

    The need to believe is implied both in the command to “repent” and also in the command to “be baptized”.

    This passage in Acts best illustrates my point. After Peter finished delivering the gospel, the scriptures record:

    When they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do”. – Acts 2:37

    While the word “believe” is not used, they obviously did believe Peters message (agreed?), or else their question makes no sense. Peter responds:

    Repent and be baptized every one of you… and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. – Acts 2:38

    Peters response to the crowd only makes sense in light of the fact that they believed his message! So there is the order spelled out for us nice and neatly:

    1) Believe (verse 37)
    2) Repent (verse 38)
    3) Be Baptized in keeping with repentance
    4) Then (only then) will you receive the gift of the Holy Spirit

    At that point will you be fully born again.

    Mark 1:15 is simply stating the fact that if one does not “repent and believe” he will not be saved. Mark is not giving us a particular order.

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  • http://someblogonhere. Brad Dickey

    First of all Anonymous. Repent, do you even know what the word means? It means change. REPENT FROM SIN is one of the commands for if not salvation, finished sanctification. To CHANGE FROM SIN would be a person who has forsaken sin. It’s what John wrote his first epistle for, I john 2:1a, and speaks about specifically in 1 john 3:6, 3:9, and 5:18. In chapter 1 John wrote the people he addressed were in the church, apparently, but were NOT IN FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD< he wanted them to be in fellowship with GOD. So they must walk in the light AS HE DOES (define that with the last prayer in john 17, and the results of the works done that the church prepares for us in eph 4:10-14ish.)

    Further, Paul wrote in Gal 5:16 that, as the only example of HOW a person can repent from sin, if you WALK BY THE SPIRIT, not beside the spirit, but BY the spirit, you will not sin.

    The word BY is english only, not in greek, it's added to make the sentence make sense, literally it's PERIPATEO PNEUMA. WALK SPIRIT. IF YOU WALK SPIRIT you won't hamartano. or Sin.

    The point is, It's the SPIRIT that keeps you from sinning, it's the SPIRIT that is the catalyst for full repentance. NOT the person. A person can't repent fully, until christ has removed that sinful nature/ or flesh from the person in col 2:11. NONE OF THIS is what you have been taught. But I think you'll find your NT will fit more snugly together as you piece it's meaning together working under this assumptive paradigm as you research it.

    So I find your interpretation of the mark verse to be, umm a bit short and causing contradictions not resolutions in the NT doctrines that were taught us.


    Until now I'm the only one I've heard talking about this blind spot in the church. :)

    Consider explaining BAPTISM with the use of the LAVER before the blood at the tent of meeting. Had they gone to the altar and not been ritually cleansed in the water, they would have died. THEN as NOW the water doesn't magically blind GOD from our Sins. It's an action we take, to accept HIS promise, a contractual obligation with payment showing we accept the contract/promise, that he'll consider us unclean. In truth, to say it literally wiped your sins away would make GOD subject to the baptism, and he'd no longer be OMNIPOTENT. Same with the BLOOD Of Jesus. Without GOD'S promise that this WAS THE WAY, it would not have been the way.

    Jesus was the gate to God. Being sanctified…

  • Steve Barnard

    Derek, you have an interesting take on “born again”. Here was a comment you had written. “Secondly, the idea that one receives the Spirit the moment they believe is to be found no where in the Bible” But this is found in the scriptures.

    Ephesians 1:13-14 (New International Version)
    13And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

    I believe we could bring more people to Jesus if we just taught the simple message of salvation. Everything else is about growing in our new found relationship. I believe that is what is meant by being “born again”. Just like a child we are now learning and growing.

    Romans 10: 9-10 9That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.

    I don’t know. I’m far from an expert when it comes to scripture but I’m 100% confident that I am saved because I believe.

    Blessings to all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    • brad d

      Steve, this isn’t picking at you, bit I’m going to pick at your comments. As they are not really your comments, but common teachings in the church, so its not about you. IS that enough preface? Good. Are you crazy? Just joking.

      The Ephesians vss, do not say when after, but I think you could take it as when you believe, and sometime after that you receive…

      And that belief is often translated from ginosko (sp?) Which is also often, “know” like the phrase “to know” your wife). It’s not a reasoned statement you are willing to voice to others, its a deep in your gut understanding. Like are being given a promise of his son, then being told to sacrifice him. Are fully.expected God to keep his promise even if his son was poured out on the altar. That is belief, like the parachute that doesn’t pause or hesitate before jumping. Most will hesitAte, did I forget anything?

      Of you are born of god, you no longer are sinning. The vss on that point do not, in any.way.say, you aren’t accountable, or your sins are. Covered, its a hard, not sin, if you are born of him. It says if the spirit is in you, you aren’t in the flesh. It says if you walk by the. Flesh you won’t lose to temptation. Gal 2:20 Paul says, it is longer I that lives, but He who lives In me.

      Who died here? Answer in col. 2:11who lived here? Answered in Romans 8:9.

      That is a complete change. God does the changeing, the removal of the.sinful nature, flesh, the changing of our hearts and our minds, etc. What can He not do? Ephesians 4 says we are to be as mature, finished, perfect as He was on earth. Before you scold me, you better read the vss.

      Well, I still have a sin nature,
      I still sin, 1j 3…
      I can not claim that removal of the sinful nature, so I can not claim to be born of god. yet!

      I don’t worry to much about it, and I am not being flippant. But He accomplishes these thongs in me, even though he sends me on the path with no obvious help, and the things that he uses to change me, teach me a new disciplin. Since it is his to do, I trust Him to do it. If he doesn’t, then I accept His judgement. Am I really going to argue with god? I have to accept who.and where I am, before my.spirit is weakened enough to surrender my cause to Him. ONLY THEN will the change begin. Blessed are the weak in spirit…. an example of a non weak in spirit?

      Rich young ruler appears, rabbi what do I need to get eternal life?

      Follow the…

  • Derek Ouellette


    Good thoughts! I love the simple message which actually is a huge part of what I’ve been trying to get at. I am overjoyed that you are 100% confident that you are saved as I wrote in Part 2 (which you should read): “This fact should not cast doubt on anyone’s salvation. God knows what he is doing even if we too often do not.”

    My point is that when you “believed” you began “on the Way” – you started you Christian “walk”, but my goal was to show that the born again process is a process and that the Spirit comes after you believe (and usually after water baptism).

    Ephesians 1:13-14 confirms what I said: you heard the word of truth, believed and then received the seal of the Covenant which is the Holy Spirit. When this passage is studied along side others you will see water baptism is also a key feature (Hebrews 6:1-2 where the Spirit isn’t mentioned specifically but “baptisms” are – notice the plural).

    Thanks for the thoughts.