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Erica wrote:

Hi, guys —

  • How do Catholics go to Heaven when most of you are not "born again" believing Christians?

In the Bible it says in John 3:

Jesus Teaches Nicodemus

1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.
2 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." 3 Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God." 4 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?" 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. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, `You must be born anew.' 8 The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit." 9 Nicodemus said to him, "How can this be?" 10 Jesus answered him, "Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand this? 11 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. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up,15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life." 16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. 18 He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.

(John 3:1-21)


  { How do Catholics go to Heaven when most of you are not born-again, believing Christians? }

Eric replied:

Ah, very interesting question. And I have an answer.

Let me ask you a question.

  • What does it mean to be "born again of water and Spirit", and what does the Bible have to say about it?

First of all, let's look at the Greek. The Greek word "anothen" can be translated either
"from above" or "again". ("Again" has the sense of "from the top", to use a theatre phrase.)
That explains the wordplay between Jesus and Nicodemus.

Jesus says "unless one is born 'anothen' (from above)", but Nicodemus understands it as
"born again", and Jesus refers to the Spirit, contrasting it with the flesh. Basically, He is
saying you must be born from Heaven.

  • But what, precisely, consists of being born of water and the Spirit?

We see Jesus illustrate this after this discourse when He goes and baptizes disciples (v. 22): Baptism is being "born again", born from above, really.

At this point, you are probably looking at me as if I had three heads but the concept of being
'born again' as an experience of conversion or epiphany is not found in Scripture. Instead, let's look at the model of Jesus's own Baptism, just before this section in John, Chapter 1, verses
32-34, where the Spirit descends on Jesus when He is baptized and He is declared by the Father to be His Son. This is even clearer in Mark 1, where when Jesus is baptized, immediately on coming up out of the water, the Heavens parted and the Spirit descends and a voice from Heaven says,

"You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."

Likewise, when we are baptized, the Spirit descends on us (Acts 2:38), we are declared sons of God (by virtue of being born of God), and the Father becomes well-pleased with us; we are justified. See Titus 3:7.

Speaking of Titus, in there Paul says:

"But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life."

Titus 3:4-7

"Washing of regeneration" refers to baptism — regeneration is a synonym of being born again, and washing is obvious, although it also refers to the washing of our sins away in baptism. See Acts 22:16.

Perhaps you're still not convinced, even though there is no evidence in Scripture that being
"born again" refers to the moment you realize that Jesus is Lord, or the moment you give your
life to Him, or whatever. Let's look at what the early Christians believed. From the second century, we have evidence of how they believed from St. Justin the Martyr:

I will explain by what manner we, who have been renewed by Christ, have dedicated ourselves to God, so that we may not seem to be acting wickedly in our explanation by leaving this out. All those who are convinced and believe that the things we teach and say are true, and who profess to be able to live in this manner, are taught to pray and to ask God in fasting the forgiveness of their sins while we pray and fast together with them. Then they are led by us to where there is water and are reborn in the same rebirth in which we ourselves were also reborn. They undergo the washing in water in the name of God the Father and Master of the universe, and of our Savior, Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit.

For indeed Christ said, "Unless you be reborn, you will not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven." Now it is clear to all that it is impossible for those who have already been born to return again into their mother's wombs. As we wrote previously, it has been said through Isaiah the prophet how those who have sinned and repented will avoid the consequences of their sins. For thus was it said,

    "Wash, make yourselves clean, remove the evils from your souls, defend the orphan and do justice for the widow; and come let us converse together, says the Lord. And if your sins are like purple, I will make them white like wool; and if they are like scarlet, I will make them white as snow. But if you do not listen to me, a sword will devour you, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken these things."

    (Isaiah 1:16-20)

We learned this doctrine from the Apostles. In our first birth we were born unconscious, according to necessity, out of the humid seed from the intercourse of our parents, and we grew up in evil customs and bad habits. But in order that we may not remain children of necessity and ignorance, but of election and understanding and may obtain remission of sins previously committed, the name of God the Father and Master of the universe is invoked in the water over the one who has chosen to be reborn and who has repented of his sins. This name alone is the one which he invokes who is leading the candidate to the washing. Indeed no one is able to pronounce the name of the ineffable God. If someone would dare to say what it is, he would be seized with incurable madness.

This washing is called "enlightenment", since those who have learned these things are enlightened in their minds. The one being illuminated is washed in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and in the name of the Holy Spirit, who through he prophets foretold all these things regarding Jesus.

(St. Justin the Martyr 103 – 165 A.D., Apology I.61)

So that is why we Catholics are saved. 1 Peter 3:29 says:

"He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom he also went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolized baptism that now saves you also . . ." (NIV)


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