Are Catholics Born Again Christians?

My godly Evangelical mother used to “witness” when we were out shopping. She’d ask the store keeper, “Have you been born again?” If the conversation got going she’d relate the story of the conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus in the third chapter of John’s gospel. I don’t know if she ever succeeded in making convert, but she succeeded in embarrassing me somewhat. I’m now embarrassed that I was embarrassed and, in hindsight, admire her courage, faith and zeal.

The question remains, however, “Just what is a ‘born again Christian’”? Most Evangelicals would say that being ‘born again’ or ‘getting saved’ consists of a personal conversion experience. In some way the individual has a prodigal son moment and ‘comes to himself’. He repents of his sin and turns to Jesus Christ for salvation. He does this by saying ‘the sinner’s prayer’ which is very simply, “Lord Jesus, I’m sorry for my sins and I want to accept your gift of forgiveness and salvation. Come into my life and make me your disciple forever.”

That’s all well and good I suppose, and if this is all that is required to be “born again” then every Catholic is a “born again Christian” because at every Mass we confess our sins and accept Jesus. At every baptism we confess our sins and accept Jesus. At every celebration of the sacrament of confession we confess our sins and accept the forgiveness of Jesus.

The problem between Evangelicals and Catholics does not come with this core definition and basic experience. The difficulty comes in what comes next. Essentially the Evangelical (and I know I’m making generalizations and that there is a spectrum of theological opinions within Evangelicalism) doesn’t think there is anything next–at least not anything that is necessary. Once the person says the sinner’s prayer he’s got his ticket to heaven, and nothing else is required. This is a consequence of the Evangelical Protestant’s loathing of anything that smacks of “salvation by works”. He wants salvation to have no strings attached. Nothing else is necessary–not even the sacrament of baptism.

The Catholic, on the other hand, quotes the New Testament and says, “Repent and be baptized.” The simple action of faith has to be combined with the sacrament of baptism. Evangelicals should understand that we do not regard baptism (or any of the sacraments) as something we do as some kind of good work. Instead, baptism is God’s action towards us. It is a completely unmerited outflowing of God’s grace towards us. This is why we emphasize baptism as the “born again” experience rather than the “sinner’s prayer” which definitely is something a person does.

This is the irony from our point of view: Evangelicals say we believe in a salvation by works because we insist on sacraments. Yet our true belief is that the sacraments are the actions of Christ through his church pouring out his grace on us unmerited sinners. He sends out the  invitations. He sets the table for the feast. He cooks the meal and serves at table. All we do is turn up. The irony is deepened because Evangelicals claim not to have a religion based on works, but they ask their converts to say the sinner’s prayer which is a kind of work of salvation.

Furthermore, for the Catholic, the action of faith is a continuing action.All our ‘good works’ are ‘works of faith’. They are filled with faith and are faith in action. Instead of a once and done decision of ‘getting saved’ for Catholics faith is a commitment and continuance in a newly graced way of life. Being born again is all well and good, but if that’s all there is we’re concerned at the alarming rate of infant mortality.

Lest any Evangelicals think I’m throwing stones, I’m alarmed at the high rate of spiritual infant mortality amongst the Catholics as well as among the Evangelicals. A Baptist pastor friend of mine once asked me how many of the children I baptized grew up to be active and committed church members. I guessed maybe one in ten. He smiled and said he had about the same drop off rate amongst adult converts who he baptized.

I mentioned that Evangelicals don’t want there to be any sniff of salvation by works. However, it would be wrong to suppose that they don’t care about spiritual maturity, keeping the converts committed and living the life of faith. They do, and they work hard to make sure the faith sticks. What Evangelicals need to realize is that Catholics are also “born again Christians”. We’ve repented and accepted Jesus. It’s just that we’ve done so in a different context and with some different basic assumptions–ones if you stopped to understand them–actually complement and complete what you already believe.

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  • Craig Pryor

    Amen Father! More open hearts are needed on both sides! We have much more in common than we differ on.

    Swam the Tiber: December 15th, 2007!

  • Jim

    I’ve often looked to Matthew 7:21 to illustrate this: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” The Evangelical view is generally that all one must do to gain salvation is shout out “Lord, Lord”, to profess belief, to “accept Jesus”. The Bible–in fact, the words of Christ Himself–tells us that is not sufficient, that we must DO, that we must live our lives in that faith we profess. It seems to me that it’s awfully difficult to “accept Jesus” if you’re denying His words.

  • Julie Culshaw

    What about 2 Phil 12 where St. Paul exhorts the Church to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling”? Does this not indicate that salvation is both the result of grace and works?

  • Deb

    I think that the Evangelicals might want to read all of the New Testament, not just the parts they like. It is pretty clear that the Lord died for our sins and those who believe in Him can be saved, but the Lord did not come to abolish the law. The commandments and turning from sin are still a factor in ones salvation. Ignoring that is to their own peril. I feel sorry for them. It appears to be supremely arrogant and prideful to think ones actions do not matter to the Lord. Presumption is also a sin. We should pray for their enlightenment while they are still on this earth.

  • Nathaniel Campbell

    Your opening anecdote about your mother’s witness is a good reminder of why it is so important for priests to appear in public in clerical dress. The priest in the parish where I grew up made it a point always to wear his black shirt and clerical collar in public. And every single time I was ever out at dinner with him, at least one person (usually the waiter or waitress) would comment on the collar. I remember one time when our waitress actually spent a few minutes talking with Father and explaining that she hadn’t been to church in years. That encounter–entirely prompted by his collar–led her that week to go back to church.

    God works through each and every one of us, but most powerfully through his servants, the priests!

  • Taylor

    Dear Fr. Longenecker – if you read Denzinger 141 (Council of Ephesus) and Denzinger 809 and 810 (Trent Session VI, Decree of Justification), I think that you will find that free will is still an element which, in the end, merits us to some degree. Why can’t my choice to cooperate or reject the offering of Grace through the Sacraments not merit me anything? Can I not do a good work for myself – choose to love myself – by attending the Sacraments? Are you saying that all people who attend the Sacraments do so without choosing to cooperate with God’s Grace – as if we do not have the free will to reject the option of receiving God’s Grace through the Sacraments? Please enlighten me here. I’m starting to think that I’m predestined to either heaven or hell regardless of my personal choices. I’m not arguing that God’s Grace calls me; I’m just not sure you are articulating ALL the truths very clearly here. Thank you.

  • Taylor

    Fr. stated: “Instead, baptism is God’s action towards us. It is a completely unmerited outflowing of God’s grace towards us. This is why we emphasize baptism as the “born again” experience rather than the “sinner’s prayer” which definitely is something a person does.”

    Indeed, but does not an adult exercise free will in a) choosing to partcipate in the Sacrament and b) choosing to cooperate with the Grace received in that Sacrament? Do we not have the power to reject the call and to reject the Grace, i.e., to choose hell over heaven? And if I choose to honor God in the Sacrament, can that not be a good work which carries some value to God because I chose to accept God’s invitation? Is there a predestination message here (i.e., “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” or “saved if you do and saved if you don’t”? There is no argument that I can not claim any merits from that which belongs to God alone, but do I not have free will to choose to accept or reject God’s Grace and does not that free will belong to me alone? Are we all unable to choose to cooperate or not to cooperate? Of course, everything that actually saves us is God’s work, but mustn’t I exert free will after God invites me, e.g., to the Sacrament of Baptism?

  • Taylor

    I like the creativity here, but I think that can certainly be misunderstood. We need to stay much closer to the Magisterial teachings – start there as a basis for teaching more clearly because it is the Holy Spirit which led to those teachings. Man, it is really difficult to teach God’s Revelation when God Himself is INFINITE. Who can understand Who IS INFINITE? The Holy Spirit can, and He speaks through the Magisterium. :-)

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    This was a blog post–not an exercise in systematic theology. Of course we are called to co-operate with the grace of God, but the grace of God in the first instance is un merited by our own good works. God reaches out his hand to us first. We respond, but even that response is empowered by grace.

  • Deacon Ed Peitler

    I more firmly believe than ever that the surest way to maintain one’s faith (aka a relationship with Christ) is by giving it away (introducing Him to others). That, to me, is the difference between who goes and who stays.

  • Taylor

    Dear Fr. Longenecker – thank you, and I understand. This is a learning process for me since there appears to be a lot of systematic organization remaining regarding the relationship of free will to salavation.

  • David Anders
  • S G Buck

    Paul’s statement (1Cor. 13:13) states that charity is greater than faith. That says to me to simply believe without loving and doing for your neighbor is not the Gospel of Christ. Faith without works is dead as James said.

  • Tom B

    Simply put , as I understand it, the Reformation leaders believed they were stipping Catholicism of encrustations of human traditions that had attached themselves to the Faith of the Apostles over the centuries. We believe that what they got rid of was in fact essential parts of the Apostolic Faith. Nevertheless it is reasonable that when Catholics look at Protestantism we see elements that are like the skeleton or hardwood of our own Faith. Repent your sinfulness, accept Christ’s saving grace, live a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, is all Catholic. What we see missing is all they stripped away, the Flesh and Blood or the living green wood if your will: the Sacraments, the Tradition, the help of the Saints, the guidance of the Magisterium, all of which is their tragic loss.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    This is the core argument of my book More Christianity. A person is most often right in what he affirms and wrong in what he denies.

  • Michelle

    To make sense of this to the non-Catholic Christian, say when conversing with them, I think it may help to mention Baptism of Desire. (This acknowledges too that there will be people out there who know they want to be baptised but are currently trying to work out in which church.)

  • A Born Again Evangelical

    I fully believe that some ‘Catholics’ are followers of Christ and some are not as I believe some ‘Evangelicals’ are followers of Christ and some are not. But who am I to Judge. I too believe there are some non negotiables in terms of what the will of my/our Father in Heaven is but then who am I to know what my Father has asked my Brother or Sister to do?

    The sacraments are very important to me, even as a ‘born again evangelical’ – they are extremely important to me in order to remember and to outwardly express what has happened/happening on the inside as I work out my salvation. To say that the sinners prayer is all ‘evangelicals’ believe to be important I believe is similar to saying all ‘Catholics’ believe to be important is attending church. Which I know is not true!

  • Paul Soffe

    Most interesting posts! One thing that has often come to mind and i pray i learn from……At the Last Supper when the Eucharist as first celebrated and freely given out to the 12 Disciples…they asl partook of ot..yet one in his heart though having received the Lord’s Body and Blood, allowed Satan into his heart and mind. Jesus said of Judas ‘ it would be better for that man that he had never been born, than to betray the Son of Man..’
    Judas took Jesus Body and Blood… Lord we know it is all wrong to think it is automatic, that however we are it makes no difference to You and for others. Jesus whatever church we belong to , we all need you and to follow you , to go with you as you are with us…Send us your Holy Spirit ..fill us anew to love each other and to know we are more together, united in you Father Son and Holy Spirit

  • Millicent

    Works are the result of Salvation, not a condition of Salvation. You do the works because you are saved. I was born again in the Catholic Charismatic renewal at a conference in which a Bishop from Louisiana did an altar call. After that I was aware of the Holy Spirit within me. The Bible clearly states that the Spirit gives witness. Now if a Catholic can say the Spirit has borne witness of His presence, then I would say a Catholic is saved. There are many Catholics who love the Lord. God looks at the heart and many many Catholics have a heart for God and believe the Gospels. Remember, there were no altar calls before the early 1900′s.
    Also, there are many errors in the RC church because Constantine made Christianity a state religion. When he did this he wanted the pagans to accept this, so he allowed them certain pagan customs.
    Praying to saints is like praying to a god. The Bible clearly states we are not to contact the dead. Any apparition is satanic. All the so called Marian apparitions are satanic. The Bible clearly states that “satan appears as an angel of light” Remember, satan can also do wonders. Praying to Mary is praying to satan. I have forbidden any Catholics from praying any Hail Mary’s on my behalf or a rosary. May is not co-redemptrix. She was not born without sin. If you will read Luke, she clearly states, My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit exalts in God my Savior. Mary clearly states she needs a savior. All of the Catholic traditions are not grounded in Scripture. Catholics have been notorious for not reading the Bible. If one reads the Bible, one discovers that Catholics are very poor at the discernment of spirits. She did not remain a perpetual virgin. Jesus had brothers and sisters, among them Thomas, James, Salome, just to name three of them.
    However, that being said, God doesn’t hold us responsible for what we don’t know. As I said before, many Catholics love the Lord and are saved. They will be surprised to discover there is no Purgatory. Plato was the first one to invent that one. When the Church was very corrupt, the higher ups decided to use this to get money for the Church. Actually the belief in Purgatory is the “spirit of the Antichrist”. It is saying that Christ’s all sufficient sacrifice on the cross was not enough. You are either saved or not saved. There is no in between.

  • Millicent

    Jesus spoke to the Jews primarily. He spoke to them coming from the Law. A prime example of this is the parable of the Prodigal Son. When the sinning son realized his folly and repented, his father saw him and welcomed him and had a big party for him. That is grace. The elder brother was angry. The father said to him, you will always be with me, that is the Law. We are saved by grace and are definitely not under the Law. Please read Galatians and see what Paul has to say about it. He had to put Peter in his place in this regard. Remember, Paul received the Gospel directly from the Risen Christ. The Jews are still trying to live under the Law, which is impossible. They are not Saved and will not be until the Lord’s return. The Scripture clearly states, they will look upon Him who they have pierced. There are Messianic Jews today who have received the Gospel and are Saved.

  • Millicent

    Sitting in a church doesn’t save you. Believing the Gospel and having the HS living and dwelling in you is Salvation. There are plenty of people sitting in Churches today who are not saved and I am talking about all churches.

  • Millicent

    The sacraments do absolutely nothing for you. They are not a means to Salvation in any way shape or form. Infant baptism does not save you. Baptism comes after you are saved. It is a sign of the old man going down and the new Creation in Christ coming up out of the waters. All infants who die are welcomed into Heaven without exception. Infant baptisms began because infidels were kidnapping infants and killing them The early Christians erroneously believed these babies must be baptized in order to be saved. Remember the Lord said, Suffer the little children to come to me, for such is the Kingdom of Heaven. You don’t go to hell because of your sins, you go to hell because you are not saved.

  • Millicent

    Baptism is always advisabel AFTER SALVATION. However, one does not need to be baptized to be Saved.

  • Millicent

    The Holy Spirit speaks through the Bible and not the magesterium of the church.When the HS indwells you, you will be very aware of Him.

  • Millicent

    What I find interesting here is that every single comment I have made is being moderated. LOL I have quoted specifically from Scripture and pointed out errors in the Catholic church. Note I am not condemning them or saying no Catholic is saved. I was born again in the Catholic Church in the Charismatic Renewal. Catholics love the Lord. Apparently, one is not allowed to enlighten Catholics to the Truth of the Holy Bible.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    All comments by new commenters are automatically submitted for approval first.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    “Unless a man is born of water and the spirit he cannot see the kingdom of God” Jn 3.5
    “What must we do to be saved?” “Repent and be baptized” –Acts 2

  • Millicent

    Okay, I see that now. I apologize

  • Millicent

    Being born of water and the spirit means our physical birth in which the amniotic fluid or water is burst and we are born. That is being born of the water, or the flesh. Baptims is not being born of water. It is Baptism and not conditional to Salvation, although desirable becauee it signifies the New Birth.s

  • Millicent

    I see I have been in error. Would you please remove this last comment. Thank you.

  • Millicent

    The Bible states that If we Confess with our lips and believe in our hearts that Jesus rose from the dead, we will be saved. It also states that anyone who call on the Name of the Lord will be Saved. I would think it means in sincerity. I witnessed to a Catholic a few weeks ago who hadn’t been in Church in many years. I ran into him and his wife at a 50th high school anniversary. I quoted the Scripture from Revelation that states, Behold I stand at the door knocking. If anyone hears my voice and invites me in, I will make my home with them. They didn’t know this Scripture. They said a prayer along with me. Dear God, I acknowledge that I am a sinner. Jesus please come into my heart and cleanse me of all unrighteousness and save me. In Jesus’ Name. Amen. The man said to me that right after he said that prayer, he felt a tingle. Some people actually feel something when the HS unites with their born again spirit.
    And yes the Scripture does say Not everyone who says Lord Lord will enter the kingdom of Heaven. There are cults who pass themselves off as Christian such as Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Unitarians, and The Way Int’l. They will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Also many people sitting in a real Christianchurch, any church, have no idea of Salvation. They are unrepentant sinners.

  • PJ

    It is not our duty to judge others actions or beliefs. after all in the old testament somewhere says , do not try to undestand the things that is deficult for you . Also if you see anything wrong , pray about it to the LORD , so he will act as our saviour , master and creator . I guess “LOVE ” is most important in creating better world untill we meet our creater face to face . CRITICS about “CHURCH” always create a unhappy feeling and would want to prove that his or her opinion is correct . Inturn we give Victory to Satan while trying to JUSTYFY . Hence my beloved Brother , Sister everyone has a calling from GOD and lets UNITE and DO things that could give Glory to GOD and receive his Holy Spirit to serve and Love others as your self . Time is near and we need to prepare to Welcome Lord our God’s KINDOM and defeat Saton for GOOD , along with the PEOPLE JESUS our Lord prepared through his CHURCH . Yes we believe Lord Jesus won the victory over Satan and Death , but now its our turn to follow our master and enter the devine Glory that he lovingly offer you and me in ITERNAL LIFE . Peace be with all of you . Praise the Lord !!!!! Praise the Lord !!!!!



  • http://google eng nam

    It’s either you believe in what comes out of Jesus’ mouth or you don’t. What did He say in John 3:3:”Most assuredly I say to you born again, he cannot see the kingsom of God… unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (vs. 3, 5) NKJB

  • lauren

    Amen! You are right. I was a Catholic. Then I gave my life to the Lord, repented, and received the Gift of the Holy Spirit. My Catholic family thinks I’m crazy now. Truly, truly, you have to be born again – Jesus. You must be born of Water and Spirit. I do ‘works’ now because I am grateful for my salvation. Regarding Works and being Saved: Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: “Not of works”, lest any man should boast. I am being completely honest Catholics……you must be born again. I know you do not see it, but I was one of you and “the truth set me free”. I Holy Spirit guided me to all truths. I am now a Christian who wins souls for the Kingdom. PRAISE YESHUA’S HOLY NAME. AMEN!

  • lauren

    To be completely honest…. I am so tired of Catholic teaching. I mean, really, do the Popes, the Cardinals and the Bishops not read the same Bible as I do? Jesus said “your righteousness (religion) is filthiness”. That means ‘religion’ is filthy. Take it up with the Apostle Paul. Jesus’ ministry was to come here and save souls. That is what he asks of us. The Great Commission. There is one bible. Mary needed a savior. And, ‘no one comes to the father, except through Jesus’. So praying the rosary is useless. Also, there is no need for priests. Jesus came through The Melchizedek priesthood, which stopped the Aaronic priesthood. Also, you are saved by FAITH. Not Works! Eph 2:89 My Catholic friends and family do not even know what the Holy Spirit is. Do you know why? Because religion is NOT worship. It’s practicing religion – and I despise it. Religion causes fights. It hinders the Holy Spirit – of you receiving HIM..and experiencing HIS love, the feelings, the worship, the praise, the guidance of the Holy Spirit living in you. I am actually upset with the Catholic Church….because of what I know now. I wish they would stop religion..and PREACH to the people about the Holy Spirit, about working in Ministries, going on Mission Trips to save souls…and if you cannot, how you partake in that as a Christian. – A follower of Yeshua.

  • lloyd

    also don’t omit the verses in Romans 10:verses 9-11.this is probably the verse that get protestants to thinking this way.not just John.

  • http://- Chris Lovel

    I have a question, it is about our immortal soul. What, exactly, is a soul? I could find nothing in the Bible describing what the soul is. What does it consist of, where does it come from? Anyone?

  • cleopatra

    The thief on the cross did not have the opportunity to be baptized,yet he made heaven because he first believed in God.BAPTISM IS A RESULT OF SALVATION and not the other way round

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    See 1 Peter 3:21 “Baptism now saves you.” You might also want to read this article:

  • Leslie G.

    “For the word of God is living and operative, and keen above any two-edged sword, and penetrating up to the parting of soul and spirit…” (Heb.4:12).

    Soul is within and encumbered by flesh and to the earth. Death is the certain act which sets the soul free from the flesh. Therefore the soul which knows Christ and is certain of its origin returns home.
    Eeezy peezy, really. However Jesus said in John 34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. The soul that does not know Christ will have some difficulty finding its way home… i guess. Love is key — Blessings to all. Amen

  • Anthony

    Bingo Thank you Lauren.
    I have been a catholic from birth to 2006 when my New wife got me saved.
    Recently, I’ve been wondering if there are ppl like me who were cath.,been saved & thier family thinks that crazy. Thank you. I’m very happy to know my bible and get away from religion.