The Expository Files

Born Once - Die Twice; Born Twice - Die Once

"And I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence the earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and the books were opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged, everyone of them according to their deeds... and death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire." (Revelation 20:11-15).

These are some very sobering thoughts given concerning the final judgment. Several things are seen in this passage;

the end of the present universe (11), 

all are to be judged (12);

judgment is according to the deeds that a person has done (12);

those whose names are not found in the book of life are thrown into the lake of fire (15)

and that this is "the second death" (14).

It was at this passage that, after his death, they found two short phrases handwritten in the margin of Martin Luther's Bible. These two phrases he had written certainly do express the truth as taught in the Scriptures concerning judgment and eternity. The phrases were: "Born once - die twice; Born twice - die once".

We are going to take a closer look at that phrase in light of the Scriptures of God, but before we do, I'd like to refer you to another of Luther's writings; the reason being that almost all who wear his name today would not be comfortable with these teachings because they show that baptism in water is necessary to produce salvation from sins.

What is baptism? Answer: Baptism is not merely water, but it is water used according to God's command and connected with God's word. What gifts or benefits does baptism bestow? Answer: It effects forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and grants eternal salvation to all who believe, as the Word and promise of God declare. How can water produce such effects? Answer: It is not the water that produces these effects,
but the word of God connected with the water, and our faith relies upon the word of God connected with the water. For without the word of God, the water is merely water and not baptism. But when connected with the word of God the water is a baptism, that is, a gracious water of life and a washing of regeneration in the Holy Spirit."
                                                                             -The Smaller Catechism; Martin Luther; 1529 A.D.

I'd be hard pressed to say it any better myself, so I won't try.

Born Once - Die Twice
"For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our lord." (Romans 6:23). There are several states referred to as "death" in the Bible. There is "physical death". This is the one we usually mean by the term. The Bible points out that the physical body is dead when the spirit separates from it (James 2:26).

There is also "spiritual death". This is the state that describes sinners who are separated from God by their sins (Ephesians 2:1;12). It was in this sense that Adam and Eve died in the very day they disobeyed God. They died spiritually, and also became subject to physical death.

Finally, there is the "second death". This is the eternal state of alienation from God described in Revelation 20:11-15; the "lake of fire". There is much we do not know about this last state mentioned, but we do know enough to understand that it would be the worst tragedy to suffer such a plight. There are many passages which describe the "second death" (Revelation 21:8; 20:10; 14:9-11; Mark 9:42-48; Matthew 25:30,41,46; 22:13).

Some ask, "How could a God of love allow such a thing to happen?" We look at the universe through the eyes of sinful men. We do not perceive sin the way the perfect righteousness of God does. When we say it does not seem fair to condemn sinners to such, we are doing so from tainted  perspectives. If the Lord does a thing, then that thing is just. However, God did love us enough to send a rescuer our way. Jesus Christ died for our sins that we might live. If we turn our backs on Him, then how can we plead "unfair!" when we are condemned in our sins?

Born Twice - Die Once
"Jesus answered and said unto him, 'Truly, truly I say unto you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God... unless one is born of the water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." (John 3:3,5).

The way to avoid the second death is to be a partaker in the second birth! Jesus said that there were tow necessary parts in being "born again". He referred to it as "being born of the water and the Spirit".

Later, following His resurrection, He will send out the apostles to "make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit." (Matthew 28:18-20, cf. Mark 16:15,16). Obeying His commands, the apostles taught the believers on the day of Pentecost to "repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:37,38). When the Ethiopian nobleman heard the gospel and then saw some water, he expressed the desire to be baptized in the water, and subsequently was (Acts 8:35-39). Saul of Tarsus was told, "Arise, and be baptized, washing away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord." (Acts 22:16). This is how "baptism does also
now save (us)" (1 Peter 3:20,21).

But not only water is necessary. As Luther correctly pointed out, the water must be connected to the Lord's word. As Jesus said, "born of water and the Spirit". Jesus promised to send the Spirit to guide the apostles unto all the truth (John 16:12-14). When the apostles received and taught that truth, and people obeyed it, they were purified. As Peter later wrote, "Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls ...for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable, but imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding word of God." (1 Peter 1:22,23).

Since it was the Spirit who revealed this word of truth, when we obey the word, Jesus said we are "born of water and the Spirit" (see also James 1:21, 18; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Ephesians 5:26).

So, Luther was correct in his statements about baptism which we considered. He was right because what he said is what the Scriptures say. The bottom line, briefly put, is: "Born once - die twice; born twice - die once."

By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 9.12; December 2002