The thing that I'm trying to figure out is the difference between being born again and saved. I was told that they are the same thing, but I don't see how they are. Does the new birth save the soul? I thought the new birth causes the spirit to be recreated, and obedience to the gospel is the way a persons soul is saved. Is that correct? I see the new birth as the beginning of my faith, and the salvation of my soul as the end of my faith.
In order to answer your question well, we need to determine what is meant by being born again or by being saved. Both terms imply a change in the state of a person, but exactly what change is under consideration?
The New Birth
There are several passages which use the allegory of birth to explain the change that occurs to person who follows Christ. Jesus stated, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). Here then is our first clue. Seeing the kingdom of God is dependant on being born again. A bit later, Jesus makes the statement more firm when he said, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). Now we know what constitutes being born again: being born of water and the Spirit. We also know that you must be born again to enter the kingdom of God.
This leads to a side question: What is the kingdom of God? The writer of Hebrews tells Christians, "Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear" (Hebrews 12:28). Reading backwards, we find from the context that this kingdom is another name for the church. "But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect" (Hebrews 12:22-23). This imagery of the church is one where Christ reigns as king and Christians live as citizens. "Giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins" (Colossians 1:12-14).
Just as Israel was God's people and to be a part of that nation one had to be physically born into it, so to is the church seen as God's people under the new covenant. "But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy" (I Peter 2:9-10). Like the Israelite, a Christian must be born a citizen, but instead of a physical birth, a Christian must be born spiritually.
Peter tells us what supplies the power to transform men, allowing them to be born again. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (I Peter 1:3). This is the same message Paul delivered. "Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin" (Romans 6:3-7). Baptism then is the rite that symbolizes to Christians the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. When we are baptized we join with Christ in his death, when we come up from the watery grave, we are resurrected to a new life -- in other words, we have been born again. At the point of baptism, our old life of sin dies and a new man arises who serves God and not sin. "Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him" (Colossians 3:9-10). Even in this verse, the imagery remains the same. The old man has been put off (dies) and the new man is born (created in Him). Or consider this passage: "This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness" (Ephesians 4:17-24). Once again the same images are used to make the same points.
Since the point of change, the birth, comes at baptism, we then understand what Jesus meant when He said we must be born of water and the Spirit. Paul made the same point when he talked of the regeneration, which literally means "new birth." "But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life" (Titus 3:4-7). The "washing of regeneration" is a reference to the birth caused at the time of baptism. Here though, the imagery of being born is used in a slightly different manner. When a person is physically born, he becomes a part of a family. So too when a person is spiritually born, he becomes an heir in another family -- the family of God.
"For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, "Abba, Father!" Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ" (Galatians 3:26-4:7). Once again, faith and baptism is brought out as the point where a person becomes a son of God and thus an heir to eternal life. The power of this change was given through Jesus Christ. For an adult to become a child, he must be born again, this time into the family of God.
Now we need to turn to the other concept, that of salvation. When a person is saved, we ought to ask "From what are we saved?"
"And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation." Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them" (Acts 2:40-41). Salvation then is the idea of being saved from a perverse, or sinful, world. While a part of the world, we were perishing, but now we are rescued from certain death. "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (I Corinthians 1:18). Our sins were the death of us. "But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:4-7).
It is because of sin that God's wrath comes upon the sinner. "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness" (Romans 1:18).Hence, a person who is saved from his sins is also saved from God's wrath. "Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life" (Romans 5:9-10).
Those who are saved are added to the church. "And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved" (Acts 2:47). Thus the church is composed of those people who have been saved from their sins and from the wrath of God.
Did you notice the similarities between being born again and being saved? A few of the verses cited intermixed the terms.
- Being born again places a person into the church. Those who were saved were added to the church.
- It is the death of Jesus which allows a man to be born again. It is the death of Jesus that gives the power to save men.
- Being born again is represented by baptism where the old man of sin is left behind and the Christian begins a new life. Those who were saved from sin were baptized.
Hence, being born again and being saved are two viewpoints toward the same event, the transformation of a sinner into a follower of Jesus Christ.
Now return and look at the verses carefully a second time. Notice that the new birth gives us a right to inherit, but the actual inheritance doesn't come until later (when at the judgment we are invited into heaven). In the same way, salvation is spoken of in two senses in the Bible. There is the sense in which we have been rescued from our sins so that we ought not sin again, and there is a sense where we survived the ordeal, reaching heaven where sin does not exist. The first puts us on the path. The last describes the goal reached. Both the new birth and salvation applies to the start and affects the ending.