EDITOR’S NOTE: This post begins an ongoing series of posts from the faculty here at CSU. The posts will be written answers to questions we have received from students. (They will be edited to make the original recipient anonymous.) May these posts be helpful to others as well.
I received a question from a student asking about what was meant by the language of “being saved”. The student went on to ask about the language of being a “born again Christian.” Here is my reply.
You’ve asked an excellent question! Those who talk about being saved or being born again Christians are those who see that the Scriptures emphasize that salvation from sin requires a person to place their faith in Jesus Christ.
It is clear from the Scriptures and our own experience that all people, no matter how good they are, fail to live perfectly. All people rebel against God’s good plan for their life. The scriptures make clear that our rebellion against God’s plan leads to death and hell. (See what Paul says in Romans 6:23 – “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”) People in this state are separated from God and need to be “saved” from the destruction and hell that will come to them without God’s forgiveness.
But the good news is that God did not leave us in our sins. Here’s what Peter says fairly early on in the book of Acts as summarized by Luke:
“…let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is SALVATION in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be SAVED.” (Acts 4:10-12 ESV)
So to be “saved” is to receive God’s forgiveness for your sins. This forgiveness was accomplished for us by Jesus dying on the cross for our sins. He took the punishment that we deserved on himself. (Peter says in 1 Peter 3:18 – “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.”) And the New Testament tells us that a person receives this forgiveness of sin that’s available through Christ’s death by confessing and repenting (turning away) of your sins and putting your FAITH in Jesus Christ (see Ephesians 2:8-9 among other passages). Faith is best understood as trust and commitment – we trust that Christ’s sacrifice covers our sins and we commit to live our lives for him.
Another way to describe this experience is being “born again.” This terminology comes from Jesus himself. In John’s gospel chapter 3 Jesus has a conversation with a religious leader named Nicodemus. Below are the first 18 verses of that chapter.
“Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is BORN AGAIN he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:1-18 ESV)
So being saved or being born again are terms that both refer to the process that leads to a person being declared “justified” before God (not guilty of their sins). There’s some helpful comments on justification in the notes on Galatians and Romans. A person recognizes that they are a sinner and that their sins have separated them from the God of the universe who loves them. God in his love for us sent his son to die on the cross for our sins. We receive the benefits of Christ’s death on the cross when we repent of our sins and put our faith in Christ as our Savior and Lord.
Sometimes this conversion experience is one that take place in such a way that a person might not be able to say with precision the day that it happened. And someone might not be familiar with the terminology of being saved or being born again, but they have repented of their sins and put their faith in Jesus as their savior and Lord. But as Jesus himself says in the passage I quoted above, unless a person is born again they cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.
I’m not sure if that’s sufficient to answer your question, but I hope it’s at least the beginning of a helpful answer. So if you will, let me know if this answer makes sense and then let me know what further questions you might have.
 This comment referred the student to the class notes.