The Lutheran branch of the Christian faith is the historic foundation of the Protestant Reformation, which sought to re-establish the Bible as the authority for the Church and believers. In 20th century evangelical Protestantism, the term “born again” became an often-used description of people who put their faith in Jesus Christ for salvation.
Lutheran history is filled with men, women, and children who are born again through Christ (e.g. 2 Cor. 5:17). Lutherans, like other people, are born again when they put their faith in Jesus Christ for salvation (e.g. John 3:3), not because they are part of a particular denomination.
Are all Lutherans born again? What exactly does it mean to be born again according to Christ and the New Testament? Can someone be a Lutheran and not be born again? Keep reading to learn more.
Are Lutherans Saved? Here’s the Answer
The Bible teaches that a person is saved when they repent of their sins and put their faith Christ. When a person confesses that they are a sinner and are in need of a Savior, and trusts Christ for their salvation, they are saved. This is also referred to as “conversion.” If a Lutheran — or a person belonging to any other denomination, or even no denomination at all — repents and trusts in Christ, they are a converted Christian, that is “born again.”
Salvation: Salvation isn’t dependent on one particular denomination. Salvation is solely dependent upon the person and work of Christ. A Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, or Lutheran can be born again if they respond to the Gospel in faith.
The Gospel: The Gospel is the proclamation that Christ, who was fully man and fully God, and lived a sinless life, died on the cross as an atonement for sin. In his death, Christ took the place of sinners and paid the punishment for their sin. He physically rose again three days later, defeating death and enabling the same victorious new life for who put their faith in him.
Are there Lutherans who aren’t born again? Theoretically, it’s possible to attend a church, and even be a member, without being born again. People may attend church because their parent, spouse, or friend does. Mere attendance doesn’t signify authentic Christian faith. Each individual in a Lutheran church must respond to the Gospel.
What exactly does it mean to be “born again”?
The term “born again” comes directly from Christ’s teachings in the Gospels. Other New Testament writers use the same phrase or one very similar to it, that means the same thing (see verses below). Being “born again” isn’t a reality for just one particular tradition, denomination, or church. According to Christ, anyone can be born again. A person must meet his definition and qualifications of the term (see verses below); then they have that new-life identity.
New Testament verses on being born again
There are two different ways Scripture describes being born again. The first is when the term is literally used. The second is when the term isn’t used but the reality of new-life identity is implied.
Key term | regeneration: Many theologians use the term “regeneration” to describe the biblical teaching about being born again. The doctrine of regeneration describes when a person receives a new nature through the work of the Holy Spirit (John 3:3-8), which is based on the death and resurrection of Christ. Christ enables new life; the Spirit applies new life. Regeneration involves the person’s experience (i.e. conversion) and God’s work (i.e. regeneration).
|Bible Verses About Regeneration|
|John 3:3 (literal)|
|“Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” (ESV) The KJV, NASB, and NIV all translate the term “born again.”|
|2 Corinthians 5:17 (implied)|
|“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (ESV) The KJV reads “new creature.” The NASB and NIV reads “new creation.”|
|1 Peter 1:23 (literal)|
|Since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” (ESV) The KJV, NASB, and NIV all translate the term “born again.”|
|1 John 5:18 (implied)|
|“We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.” (ESV) The KJV, NASB, and NIV all translate the term “born of God.”|
Being “born again” without an “altar call”
In 20th century evangelicalism, “altar calls” became a staple of evangelistic messages. An “altar call” is when a person is invited to repent of their sin and put their faith in Christ, and to make a public demonstration of their decision.
During an altar call, an evangelist encourages a person to visually show that they are responding to the Gospel by getting up from their chair or pew and walking to the front of the sanctuary. The person is “called” to the “altar” to meet God. In massive evangelistic events, such as those of famous evangelist Billy Graham, people are instructed to walk to a certain part of the stadium or arena where someone pray with them.
Because of the popularity of altar calls, some people began identifying being born again with altar calls, as if they were synonymous. Some said that if someone didn’t make a public show of their conversion, then they weren’t born again. Others said that if a person couldn’t remember the moment of their conversion, then they weren’t born again. Christ doesn’t teach that either of these things is a necessity. In fact, Christ extended the invitation for Nicodemus to be born again in private at night.
A Lutheran, or anyone else, can be born again without participating in an altar call. A Lutheran, or anyone else, may also be born again if they don’t remember the moment of their conversion. If a Lutheran today authentically trusts in Christ for forgiveness and salvation, they are born again.
Being born again is necessary for salvation
While participating in an altar call at an evangelistic event isn’t required for salvation, Christ makes it very clear that being born again is necessary to be saved. He stresses this in different ways in his conversation with Nicodemus.
- John 3:3, “Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” (ESV, emphasis added)
- John 3:5, “Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.'” (ESV, emphasis added)
- John 3:7, “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’” (ESV, emphasis added)
Lutherans are born again if they obey Christ’s instructions to achieve that identity. Being part of a Lutheran church, even an active part, doesn’t mean a person is born again. Only responding to the Gospel proclamation with repentance and trust in Christ can give a sinner new life.
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