Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 12, 1961

How To Become A Christian

Cecil B. Douthitt, Fort Smith, Arkansas

No Bible declaration on the theme of salvation is stated more plainly than the truth that one must be born anew in order to enter the kingdom of God and be saved. Early in his mission on earth Jesus stated emphatically to Nicodemus, "Except one be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God. (John 3:3)

There is no substitute for the new birth. Cornelius was devout, feared God, gave much alms to the people, and prayed always; yet he was unsaved, not in the kingdom of God, because he had not been borne anew. Therefore the angel said to him: "Send to Joppa, and fetch Simon, whose surname is Peter; who shall speak unto thee words, whereby thou shalt be saved, thou and all thy house." (Acts 11:13, 14) If a man as moral, devout, and religious as was Cornelius could not be saved without the new birth, how can any man have hope of salvation without the new birth now? All who are expecting to enter the kingdom of God by their alms-giving, prayers, and a devout and religious inclination, or thinking that these things constitute the new birth, or will serve as a substitute for it, are dangerously deceived. God commands these good qualities and noble deeds which were characteristic of Cornelius, but they did not and cannot take the place of the new birth.

Keeping the ten commandments and obeying all the other commandments of the law of Moses, will not annul the Lord's statement, "Ye shall be born anew." Obedience to the law of Moses is not the new birth. Saul of Tarsus was blameless in all these things, (Phil. 3:4-6) but his sins were not forgiven and he was not saved till he was born anew. (Acts 22:16)

The Jewish blood coursing through the veins of Nicodemus counts for nothing in the kingdom. If a Jew enters the kingdom, he must enter it by the new birth, just as a Gentile enters. The natural birth can in no way make one a beneficiary of the blessings, privileges, or promises of this spiritual kingdom. John the Baptist alluded to this truth when he said: "And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father." (Matt. 3:9)

Having been told that he must be born anew, Nicodemus then asked, "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, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." (John 3:5)

As to what constitutes the new birth, the Lord has not left us in doubt. If there be any uncertainty as to what Jesus meant when he said, "Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God," that doubt surely can be removed from every honest and good heart by the Great Commission and the many examples of the new birth given in the Acts of the Apostles.

After his resurrection and before his ascension, Christ gave these orders to the men he had ordained for the work: "Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." (Matt. 28:19) "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned." (Mark 16:15, 16) "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer, and rise from the dead the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name unto all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem." (Luke 24:46, 47) These Scriptures clearly teach that the lost must hear the gospel, believe in the Christ, repent of their sins, and be baptized into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in order to be saved. Both the water and the Spirit are included in these passages quoted; both the water and the Spirit are included in the new birth of John 3:5; the promises to those who are born anew, and the promises to those who hear the gospel, believe, repent, and are baptized, are equivalent; water is not connected in any way with salvation from sin, except in baptism. Then the water in the new birth (John 3:5) cannot mean anything, except the baptism of the Great Commission. (Mark 16:16) Hearing the gospel, believing it, repenting of sin, and being baptized, constitute the new birth. It cannot be otherwise.

The first example of the new birth after the kingdom of God was established on earth, recorded in the second chapter of Acts, illustrates it in full. In preaching the gospel to the lost, Peter said, "Ye men of Israel, hear these words." (Acts 2:22) They must "hear these words," because the word of God is the seed of the kingdom (Luke 8:11), and one cannot enter into that kingdom, or be born anew, except Ione be begotten by the Spirit through the word, or the word be planted in the heart; for Peter said, "Having been begotten again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the word of God." (1 Peter 1:23)

In that same sermon (Acts 2:36) the apostle said, "Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly, that God bath made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom ye crucified." Why did he want them thus to believe with all the heart that this crucified Jesus had been raised from the dead and made both Lord and Christ? Because faith is a part of the new birth and one who does not believe has no right to become a child of God. (John 1:12) And did not Jesus himself say, "He that disbelieveth shall be condemned."? (Mark 16:16)

Having heard the word and having believed all they heard, these sinners asked for further instructions. The word Peter and the other apostles preached pricked their heart, and they asked, "What shall we do? And Peter said unto them, Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins." (Acts 2:37, 38) Why did he want them to repent? Because repentance is a part of the new birth; and did not Jesus himself say, "Except ye repent, ye shall all in like manner perish?" (Luke 13:3) Why did Peter tell them to be baptized unto the remission of sins? Because baptism is a part of the new birth; and did not Jesus himself say, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16) and "Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God?" (John 3:5)

Thus the Jews on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) heard the gospel, believed it, repented of their sins, and were baptized; they were born of water and the Spirit; this is an example of the new birth. This was God's way of adding them to the church (Acts 2:41, 47) or translating them out of the power of darkness into the kingdom. (Col. 1:13) And this was true of every example of conversion, or the new birth, recorded in the book of Acts. It is presumptuous to suppose that men can enter the kingdom of Christ, or be born anew, in any other way. God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34), and the sin of presumption is a dangerous thing. (Psalms 19:13)

In view of what the word of God so clearly teaches, how can any one hold to the theory that man is saved by faith only, when the Bible says he is not? (James 2:14-26) The salvation of the soul is involved. Why be deceived? Any theory that denies that Jesus alluded to baptism in the term "water" of John 3:5, is misleading, and does violence to many other passages of the New Testament. Things pertaining to salvation are connected with baptism in more than a dozen places in the New Testament. In four or more places baptism is connected with remission of sins. John "preached the baptism of repentance unto the remission of sins." (Mark 1:4) Peter said, "Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins." (Acts 2:38) Ananias said to Saul, "Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins." (Acts 22:16) Paul said that God cleansed the church "by the washing of water with the word." (Eph. 5:26) In other places baptism is connected with salvation. Jesus said, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." (Mark 16:16) Peter said, "Which also after a true likeness doth now save you, even baptism." (1 Peter 3:21) In other places it is connected with a burial with Christ: "We are buried therefore with him through baptism into death;" (Rom. 6:4) "Having been buried with him in baptism." (Col. 2:12) How then can any one resist the conclusion that the Lord alludes to baptism in his use of the term "water" in John 3:5?

The following sentences were written by William Wall of the Church of England (Hist. of Infant Baptism, Vol. I, p. 92, 443): "There is not one Christian writer of any antiquity in any language but what understands it of baptism. And if it be not so understood, it is difficult to give an account how a person is born of water, any more than born of wood." "All the ancient Christians (without the exception of one man) do understand that rule of our Saviour, John 3:5, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God; of baptism." "I believe Calvin was the first that ever denied this place to mean baptism. He gives another interpretation, which he confesses to be new."

To become a Christian is to be born anew. Falling down and saying, "Lord, I surrender," is not the new birth. Saul fell down before the Lord, but he was told to get up and go to Damascus where he would be told what he must do. (Acts 9:3-8; 22:7-16) Cornelius fell down before Peter, and he too, was told to get up, (Acts 10:26) and Peter spoke unto him words whereby he could be saved. (Acts 11:14) When he obeyed these words he became a Christian; he was born anew. (Acts 10:33, 47, 48)

Baptism alone is not the new birth, nor is faith alone, nor repentance alone. The new birth requires all three: faith, repentance, baptism. Are you a Christian? Have you been born anew — born of water and the Spirit? Is your hope based on the word of Christ, or on human presumption?