Are you Born Again? How do you answer this question?

“Are you born again?”

How would you answer this question?

As a Catholic, it’s always a toughie.

When someone (that someone is always an Evangelical Protestant Christian) asks me this question, “Taylor, are you born again,” he is usually asking this question:

Taylor, did you have a moment in your life when you suddenly realized that you were a sinner and that you were on the road to hell and then by God’s grace you believed with all your heart that Jesus is your personal Lord and Savior and that by trusting in Him, all your sins are washed away?”

In other words, did I ever have a “darkness to light” moment.

Catholic “Born Again”: Is it Just Baptism or Something More?

Now the smart aleck Catholic response goes like this, “Dude, I’m a baptized Catholic. Baptism = born again. John 3:3-5 is talking about the sacrament of baptism. So yes, I’m born again. I’m baptized.”

This is theologically true. Baptism = born again.

infant baptism born again

As Saint Augustine says:

It is this one Spirit who makes it possible for an infant to be regenerated through the agency of another’s will when that infant is brought to Baptism; and it is through this one Spirit that the infant so presented is reborn…’Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Spirit.’ The water, therefore, manifesting exteriorly the sacrament of grace, and the Spirit effecting interiorly the benefit of grace, both regenerate in one Christ that man who was in one Adam.” -Augustine, To Boniface, Epistle 98:2 (A.D. 408).

Saint Augustine and all of the early Church Fathers taught that being born again was related to baptism. However, does the Church teach that there more to it? Are we post-Reformation Catholics minimizing what Christ meant by “born again”?

Catholic Cynicism about “Born Again”

Due a Protestant over-emphasis on “being born again,” some Catholics have become a little cynical about “being born again.” I’ve heard Catholics say, “Oh he’s one of those born again Christians,” or “I’m not born again, I’m Catholic!”

Of course this kind of answer just reconfirms the Protestant suspicion that we are false Christians trying to earn “salvation brownie points” with a God that we don’t know.

This is tragic. I think we need to rethink how we understand baptism, being born again, and a continually renewed life in Christ. We should reflect on our lives in the context of those “darkness to light” moments even if they aren’t as dramatic as the conversion of Saint Paul on the road to Damascus.

Being Born Again Could Be a Dynamic Reality Present in Your Life Today

Yes I was “born again” on the day I was baptized. I was regenerated and justified in Christ our Lord. But there is something richer entailed by all of this. Being born again is not just a past event – it’s a present reality.

Consider all your sins, your mistakes, the people you’ve hurt, the evil things you’ve said to hurt other people. Through faith, hope, love, and the sacraments you are experiencing a continual renewal or rebirth. It’s not just a past event associated with a past baptism, because your baptismal identity and the power of sacramental baptism endures into this very moment as you’re reading this blog post. This is something that Paul is always drilling into the minds of his first century disciples: “Experience now what you became then in Christ!”

So “being born again” applies to today. Christ is offering you a fresh grace today. Christ offers you a fresh anointing. Christ offers you a new identity in His status as “New Adam” and an offer to escape from the “Old Adam.” The grace of your baptism can be renewed tomorrow morning in a powerful way. Oh, and he throws in a bonus: The Holy Spirit is transforming your soul, and you are being re-formed and re-developed in the spiritual womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Not too mention, you have the Bible, the Catechism, the sacraments, and millions of saints and angels surrounding you throughout the day.

When Jesus said that we must become like children, I think He is telling us to return to an age closer to our birth – but not our natural birth – our spiritual rebirth in baptism. Return to your baptism.

Stir Up Your “Born Again-ness” Every Morning

As Saint John Paul II reminded us, our greatest dignity is our baptismal identity. Baptismal dignity is the sign that says “You are born again.” It’s something that we must recall daily. It cannot be a past event isolated to a photograph of your baptism. It has to be lived now by grace. As Pope Benedict XVI wrote:

Their example gives witness to the fact that baptism commits Christians to participate boldly in the spread of the Kingdom of God, cooperating if necessary with the sacrifice of one’s own life.”

– Pope Benedict XVI

So recall your baptism daily and by doing so, you will recall you regeneration or “born again-ness.”


PS: Holy water is a fantastic way to continually renew and recall your baptismal born again identity.

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  • sequax

    I thought confirmation was a part of what Christ said about being Born Again. Then again, I had some words with Catholic Evangelicals, who have a nuanced understanding. A part of that being born again, is to be made a new creature in Christ– and a part of that is having the Holy Spirit come down upon you– that is, the baptism in the Spirit. Now, I’m not sure if the “Born Again Christians” have the same understanding of this that the Evangelicals do.

    • Tina

      Confirmation is the sealing of the Holy Spirit. Much like Pentacost.

    • Dan

      The Catholic Church is the one true church instituted by Christ and it was Christ who sent the apostles to go and teach all nations …. Catholic stands for “Universal.” So to call oneself Catholic this or Catholic that puts focus on the wrong beliefs, not as one but many. This causes contradiction and misunderstanding. A Christian is not a Catholic but Catholics are Christians.

      Heresy has raised it’s ugly head many times over the centuries and those who have separated from the Catholic Church over interpretations of personal beliefs call themselves Pentecostals, Protestant, etc and are not in union with the Catholic Church and Christ in His Church. He prayed to the Father that ALL might be one. To say “We believe in the same thing because we believe in Christ.” is misleading.

      Baptism leaves an indelible mark on the soul…it NEVER goes away. You are born “spiritually” in Christ and one becomes a member of the BODY OF CHRIST…His Church, at Baptism. That’s why the Catholic church accepts baptism from other Christian beliefs if done with proper matter and form…the Catholic church does not “re-baptize” a person. However, if there is serious doubt or sufficient lack of proof that one was validly baptized then that person is conditionally baptized in the Catholic Church upon entry. Others take only the profession of faith in the Catholic Church. When one leaves their Catholic faith to join another say the Assembly of God, that person is once again baptized like they are washing away their Catholic Baptism which is an impossibility.

      While all are born physically, in baptism one dies to sin and is born in Christ spiritually for the first time, receives the Holy Spirit and all the graces that go with that. I never liked the phrase “Born Again” as it is misleading. Once baptized we should grow spiritually day after day unless we are prevented by family members, personal beliefs influenced by the secular world, or friends who have been misguided. In this case our relationship with Christ never happens or is distorted and doesn’t grow to it’s full potential after baptism.

      In confirmation, instituted at Pentecost, we again receive an indelible mark, separate and distinct from baptism, but this time as we receive the Holy Spirit it is in a new sacrament. If our spiritual growth is strong then we in Confirmation should become as if on fire for the Love of Christ and His Church and essentially become witnesses for Christ and do His command to preach to all nations. Confirmation is a sacrament in which the Holy Spirit is given to those already baptized in order to make them strong soldiers of Jesus Christ. If the first part falters or withers we may receive the sacrament of Confirmation but the Holy Spirit has little to build that fire within us spiritually if we’ve died spiritually.
      The bottom line is you need Baptism, where you are born Spiritually the first time, to receive Confirmation to become more perfect in faith but one is not “Being Born Again” in either Baptism or Confirmation.

      • Dan

        Sorry need to correct last sentence I missed deleting the additional words that were jockeyed around. The last words “… but one is not “Being Born Again” in either Baptism or Confirmation.” should be deleted. Again sorry.

  • Sequax is right. The Holy Spirit figures largely in being born again. It is not merely baptism. Here is an example- I am not sure if it the one I was thinking of, but it will do:

    Acts 10:44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues[b] and praising God.

    Then Peter said, 47 “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.

    See, it can’t be baptism alone, for it was used as evidence that these should be baptized.

  • Tony

    Romans 10:9-10
    Says ” if thou shall confess with thy mouth the LORD Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead thou shalt be saved.
    For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation”
    All my Catholic brothers believe this and confess this so they are born again. What is so difficult about our faith walk?
    I think most evangelicals and Catholics are so focused on what we do not agree on that it grieves
    the heart of God. We agree on far more that we disagree on.

    • Howard

      There’s more to the New Testament than just those 2 verses, and there is more to the teaching of the Apostles than just the Bible.

      You can think of it like this. Suppose it is the end of World War II, and you get the drop on an uninjured member of the Wehrmacht. You tell him that if he surrenders, he will live to see the end of the war. Is that truthful? Yes. But later he picks up a rock and attacks one of his guards; he is shot and killed. Did you lie to him? No. You were hitting the main point, not making a rigorous examination of each possible action he could take. When you said “surrender”, you had in mind that he would (1) permanently stop fighting and (2) obey the instructions of his captors. Everyone understands that if he does not, he is placing himself in extreme danger. Likewise, St. Paul is not here considering what happens if a Christian reverts to rebellion against God, and he is assuming that it is clear enough that belief implies obedience in matters such as baptism. These other matters are dealt with in greater detail elsewhere.

  • Paul Diemert

    When Jesus explained to Nicodemus about being born from above (born again), he was not teaching chiefly about things of this earth. Being born again from above is an introduction to heavenly things, through a great grace of the Holy Spirit. Matthias Scheeben in his book, “Mysteries of Christianity” defines this grace as, a “Christian mystery, a truth communicated to us by Christian revelation, a truth to which we cannot attain by unaided reason, and which, even after we have attained to it by faith, we cannot adequately represent with our rational concepts.”

    To paraphrase Dr. Hahn, this grace is God crowning His own works that we received in Baptism.

    • JoeAllen

      Thanks for citing the source of the expression BORN AGAIN. It only occurs in John, Chapter 3, as Jesus is talking to Nicodemus.

      • Paul Diemert

        The commentaries on the visit of Nicodemus in the Navarre Bible from St. John of the Cross, Paul VI, Chrysostom, Escriva, and others address many of the problems being discussed, including the difference between stupidity and incredulity, and the gifts infused at Baptism. They are too numerous to be copied in this forum, but I highly recommend this source for a more complete understanding of all that is going on with Jesus and Nicodemus.

        • JoeAllen

          Thanks, I will do some of the reading that you suggest.
          I am constantly amazed by the fact that the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well (un-educated, a NON-Jew, and sexually promiscuous) was able to participate in a super abstract conversation with Jesus. Jesus was soooo impressed with her, but Jesus was disappointed with Nicodemus.

          God was very impressed with the prayers of this Samaritan woman. Jesus traveled thru Samaria just to meet her and fulfill the Scriptures. She probably went to Jacob’s Well daily, NOT to get water, but to privately pray to God in the field sanctified by Jacob’s Dream. She quickly understood that Jesus was Jacob’s Ladder and that the Scriptures had been fulfilled in her presence as a very special favor from God to her.

          • Paul Diemert

            It appears to me the Samaritan woman was more inclined to be receptive than was Nicodemus. The parable about sowing the seed comes to mind. Some seed fell on rocky ground, some fell among the weeds, and some fell on good ground.

            Thanks for bringing these two lessons together for our contemplation

  • petey

    I am one of those Catholics who gets impatient a bit when asked if he’s been born again and if he’s accepted Jesus as his personal Lord and Savior (which doesn’t happen too often since I live in Manhattan and travel in mostly Catholic circles in both my personal and work lives). I do this because – and i don’t think this is a parody – along with that question too often comes a glib attitude about sin and responsibility. This isn’t just the hardcore once-saved-always-saved crowd. I have picked up consistently attitudes along the lines of hey, you sinned, tell God you’re sorry, carry on, as long as you’ve given your heart to Jesus your sin doesn’t weigh as much. Conversion (I mean, the ongoing process of turning your soul) doesn’t seem to enter the picture. And I’m troubled by the value or role or understanding of forgiveness in a spiritual economy that doesn’t see personal conversion as the goal. I’m open to being I’m told I’m wrong about all this.

    I understand the practice of Christianity to consist in conforming my will to the will of God, a thing that must happen every day. And you have to remember to do it. Some virtues don’t come easily.

  • mphard

    I think we can and should be born again multiple times as we go through life.Of course,our Confirmatin is our first,ast the cusp of adulthood.But my biggie came at age 19 when it all really hit me,as to what it could all mean.More revelations at 30 and yes,in my now 60’s.

    • Howard

      That’s not so much being born as learning to walk, graduating kindergarten, learning to write, etc. They’re all milestones, but they’re not all equivalent.

  • Victor

    ((( So “being born again” applies to today. Christ is offering you a fresh grace today. Christ offers you a fresh anointing. Christ offers you a new identity in His status as “New Adam” and an offer to escape from the “Old Adam.” )))
    Doctor Marshall, “IT” is so true and with the help of The Holy Spirit and our Blessed Mother in Heaven, I’m going to move past “Old Adam” and join GOD (Good Old Dad’) Angels?
    To “I” hear an AMEN? LOL 🙂

    • Victor

      Excuse my dyslexia!, I meant to say DO I hear? 🙂

  • Cathryn Havel Lang

    Well, it’s simple to me. Scripture states become born again by WATER AND THE SPIRIT. So, Water is baptism, and I experience being born again whenever I experience the gift of the Holy Spirit, daily, eventho it is not just when I received Confirmation.

  • Thomas Lazarus

    I have a doubt regarding infant baptism.
    Peter stood up and addressed all the Israelite crowd and accused them for having MURDERED Jesus Christ. All those who heard Peter felt sorry and bitter and sad in their heart. They asked peter. What should we do to obtain salvation. The answer was simply an ORDER for one and all. REPENT and be BAPTIZED. How can an infant repent?
    Thomas Lazarus, Canada

  • Doug Brown

    I was born again Dec.24,1977. I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior, and a month later was baptised in the Holy Ghost, with evidence of speaking in tongues. (As a converted Catholic I sometimes have a difficult time squaring the two.) My conversion in 1977 was a true Damascus road experience. Prior to that I was a practicing homosexual, a daily drug user, and a heavy alcohol. As a new Christian all I wanted to do was read my Bible. I read the ‘living’ Bible, cover to cover several times. In it I learned that homosexuality was wrong, so I quit it. I learned that drug use and heavy alcohol consumption was also wrong. I quit these vices as well, as well as cigerettes. Friends said I needed additional help, so I went into a Christian drug and alcohol rehabilitation program, called Teen Challenge Training Center, then a year studying at Jim and Tammy Bakker’ s, PTL School of Evangelism, then onto Evangel University for a BS degree…all Assembly of God, all radically born-again. BUT IT JUST WASN’T ENOUGH. Something was missing and I knew it. What was missing was the Body and the Blood of Christ. People that are ‘born-again’ essentially have no church, and they are on their own, any old church will do. But that wasn’t good enough for me, I wanted more. I knew instinctively the Jesus Christ didn’t intend 300+ warring denominations. I guess I’m still born-again, but now I have the Mass, and that’s better than any protestant anything.

  • bdlaacmm

    One problem with giving a “definitive” answer to this question is the terms mean such different things to different people. I always ask for definitions before answering. It’s like when my Protestant friends ask whether I believe in the inerrancy of the Bible. You first need to know what your interlocutor means by “inerrant”.

    And by the way, the resultant conversations are FAR more productive than a simple yes or no.

  • Kenneth M. Fisher

    When I am asked that question, I matter of factly reply “yes, as a matter of fact, I received him today, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity as He instructed us to.”

    May God have mercy on an amoral
    Amerika and His Church!
    Viva Cristo Rey!

    Yours in
    Their Hearts,

    Kenneth M. Fisher

  • JoeAllen

    I just read Dr. Marshall’s article and all 18 comments, and only 1 person cited the source of “BORN AGAIN.” Paul Diemert wisely cited the Gospel of John, Chapter 3, where Jesus explains to Nicodemus that we must be BORN AGAIN to enter the Kingdom of God.

    Jesus was simply explaining to Nicodemus, a Pharisee who embraced the RESURRECTION, that the RESURRECTION (literally translated from the Greek as “BORN FROM ABOVE”) was the only way to enter into the Kingdom of God. Being BORN AGAIN has absolutely nothing to do with BAPTISM.

    The irony is that Nicodemus was NOT able to understand these simple words of Jesus. And the greater irony is that after 2000 years, most Christians, including Dr. Marshall, still do NOT seem to understand these very simple words of Jesus.

    • Andrea

      And also, if Nicodemus already embraced the resurrection why did Jesus tell him that was the only way to enter heaven? What’s the point of reiterating what is already believed?

      • JoeAllen

        Nicodemus was a very educated man, and a well-known politician who belonged to the super-powerful Sanhedrin. Nicodemus visited Jesus because the Sanhedrin feared that Jesus was a revolutionary and wanted to over-throw the Sanhedrin and replace it with the “Kingdom of God” led by Jesus.

        Jesus assured Nicodemus that the “Kingdom of God” was NOT of this world, that a person had to die and be Resurrected to get into the Kingdom of God. However, Nicodemus was un-able to understand this simple message and left confused.

        Compare Nicodemus with the “Samaritan woman at the well” in the Gospel of John, Chapter 4. She was un-educated and NOT Jewish, yet she was able to profoundly understand every word spoken by Jesus. As a matter fact, Jesus told her that God was very impressed with her prayers and wanted her to meet THE MESSIAH face-to-face.

  • douglas kraeger

    Every day we have a chance to consciously renew our baptism with the sign of the cross and prayers. We can resolutely unite our prayer with the prayer of Jesus and therefore gain the Holy Spirit (CCC 2741) If we daily renew ourselves as Christians, then Christ will be in us, we will have a living faith (not a dead faith like the devils) and we will, like Christ, be seeking ways to help others be the best Christians they can be, today. We will be seen eagerly working to believe everything God wants everyone to know and believe and to help others do the same, always looking for ways to see where we agree with non-Catholic Christians so that we can maybe help them take one small step toward being better Christians. If we do not daily renew ourselves (by God’s Grace), then our faith is not a living faith, it is a dead faith where we are unconcerned about heavenly things and we are essentially dead in Christ, spiritually. 2Thessallonians 2:10 says,” He will give them a deceiving spirit because they did not accept the love of truth so that they may be saved.” If we do not accept the love of truth then we may not be saved because we are saying by our daily actions that we do not really love Jesus, Who is Truth.people who accept the love of truth MAY BE saved.

  • JoeAllen

    I apologize for being critical of Dr. Marshall for NOT including the Bible context for the expression BORN AGAIN, namely, the Gospel of John, Chapter 3. I also apologize for saying that Baptism has nothing to do with the Resurrection.

    As Jesus told Nicodemus, there is WATER and SPIRIT. The WATER of Baptism means our DEATH. And the SPIRIT means our state after the RESURRECTION; after the Resurrection, we will move about like the wind. The well-educated Nicodemus did NOT understand what Jesus was saying. The un-educated Samaritan woman would have understood if she had been there with Jesus and Nicodemus. Sometimes our education blinds us to the simple truth.

  • johnnyc

    What’s wrong with identifying as Catholic? Identifying as Catholic leaves no doubt about the One True Church that Jesus founded, the Catholic Church. Just because protestants do not view Catholics as Christian that is their problem. If they want to discuss it fine, if not really don’t care what they think. One thing I will say is that Catholics need to differentiate from protestant lingo. If a protestant asks if you have a personal relationship with Jesus, Catholics should answer …..of course I have a personal relationship with Jesus through the Sacraments that He gave us. Do you love Jesus? Yes I love Jesus and I love His Church, the Catholic Church. I like Steve Ray’s answer to the question ‘are you born again?’ Yes I am born again the Bible way.

  • geekborj

    Being born again is to be baptized sacramentally as the Catholic Faith requires it — the water is the external sign, the Spirit is the internal reality that together creates that indelible mark as a child of God. However, being born again daily would mean metaphorically as “taking ones daily cross” literally daily those metaphorical crosses. The question IMHO is whether we are living up to that reality of being born again. In any case, the dictionary meaning of “born” would mean to “exist as a result of birth” which I think should imply a (temporally and ontologically) past and pre-existing cause.

    What therefore can only happen to those “born-again” is to live to it by growing in faith. This is why for Catholics, it is natural to need Heavenly Food (i.e. the Eucharist in Communion), necessarily grows (i.e. undergo Confirmation) and rejoices in the healing of God in times of Sickness (i.e. happy to have Confession, being sad to sin and become Spiritually Unhealthy). One cannot repeatedly become another’s child, but only once — at conception. However, one can fully become one’s child by developing the state of perfection as such. You may be your father’s child since birth, but cannot be fully so if you do not live up to it — say and do show that you love your parents!

  • Oxford

    This is true in some sense, but it’s not sound and unsophisticated. It’s an alibi if you really look at it.

  • ADAM

    (CAIRO) – Growing up on Sullivan’s Island near Charleston, South Carolina, I sadly witnessed a number of drownings from the oceanfront porch of our family home. Since my Dad was the only doctor on the island, he was usually the first to be notified, as the coast guard tried to rescue the poor victim. Sometimes they succeeded, sometimes not. As a boy, this left an indelible impression on me.
    Years later, their rescue efforts became a favorite metaphor of mine, illustrating the Catholic (Paul’s) doctrine of salvation, which finally broke the spell on me of the “Once Saved Always Saved” heresy (OSAS), opening up the way for me to begin my search for the Church, at last converting to Catholicism in Jerusalem in 1974. As the coast guard pulled the drowning victim out of the water into the boat, he or she WAS SAVED from drowning, as well as BEING SAVED as the boat headed towards the beach, though not completely, since the victim could still fall back into the water, as sometimes happened. Not until the boat safely reached the shore was the victim FINALLY SAVED,
    (i.e. “WAS SAVED” – past, “BEING SAVED” – present, “FINALLY SAVED” – future).

  • GetAware

    This is interesting to me, as I am a born-again Christian.

    With all due respect, there is SO much more that occurs the moment you become born-again in the Spirit!

    For example : Assurance of Salvation…I worried most of my life if I was going to Heaven, and sort of hoped, and relied on my prayers and works, but the instant I was born again, I KNEW BEYOND A SHADOW OF A DOUBT THAT I WAS SAVED!! I still have it everyday, and I KNOW I’m going to Heaven when I die. I have never doubted it since!

    Also, the crippling fear of death is gone. I do not mean I live recklessly, I do not. I mean there is a PEACE there, and I lost all fear of death, and that is when you truly LIVE FOR GOD.

    Then He pointed me to His Word, in English, the King James Holy Bible.

    I can finally say, “I know God, and He knows me!”