When a Catholic says that he has been “born again,” he refers to the transformation that God’s grace accomplished in him during baptism. Evangelical Protestants typically mean something quite different when they talk about being “born again.”
For an Evangelical, becoming “born again” often happens like this: He goes to a crusade or a revival where a minister delivers a sermon telling him of his need to be “born again.”
“If you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and believe he died for your sins, you’ll be born again!” says the preacher. So the gentleman makes “a decision for Christ” and at the altar call goes forward to be led in “the sinner’s prayer” by the minister. Then the minister tells all who prayed the sinner’s prayer that they have been saved—”born again.” But is the minister right? Not according to the Bible.
The Names of the New Birth
Regeneration (being “born again”) is the transformation from death to life that occurs in our souls when we first come to God and are justified. He washes us clean of our sins and gives us a new nature, breaking the power of sin over us so that we will no longer be its slaves, but its enemies, who must fight it as part of the Christian life (cf. Rom. 6:1–22; Eph. 6:11–17). To understand the biblical teaching of being born again, we must understand the terms it uses to refer to this event.
The term “born again” may not appear in the Bible. The Greek phrase often translated “born again” (gennatha anothen) occurs twice in the Bible—John 3:3 and 3:7—and there is a question of how it should be translated. The Greek word anothen sometimes can be translated “again,” but in the New Testament, it most often means “from above.” In the King James Version, the only two times it is translated “again” are in John 3:3 and 3:7; every other time it is given a different rendering.
Another term is “regeneration.” When referring to something that occurs in the life of an individual believer, it only appears in Titus 3:5. In other passages, the new birth phenomenon is also described as receiving new life (Rom. 6:4), receiving the circumcision of the heart (Rom. 2:29; Col. 2:11–12), and becoming a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15).