Yes, they believe in Jesus. And yes, they try to live Christian lives. When a Catholic says that he has been "born again," he refers to the transformation that God?s grace accomplished in him during baptism.
The only biblical use of the term ?born again? occurs in John 3:3-5 ? although, as we shall see, similar and related expressions such as ?new birth? and ,regeneration? occur elsewhere in Scripture (Titus 3:5; 1 Pet 1:3, 23). In John 3:3, Jesus tells Nicodemus, ?Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.? The Greek expression translated ?born again? (gennathei anothen) also means ?born from above.? Jesus, it seems, makes a play on words with Nicodemus, contrasting earthly life, or what theologians would later dub natural life (?what is born of flesh?), with the new life of heaven, or what they would later call supernatural life (?what is born of Spirit?).
Nicodemus' reply: ?How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?? (John 3:4). Does he simply mistake Jesus to be speaking literally or is Nicodemus himself answering figuratively, meaning, ?How can an old man learn new ways as if he were a child again?? We cannot say for sure, but in any case Jesus answers, ?Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, `You must be born again.?' (John 3:5-7).
Here Jesus equates ?born again? or ?born from above? with ?born of water and the Spirit.? If, as the Catholic Church has always held, being ?born of water and the Spirit? refers to baptism, then it follows that being ?born again? or ?born from above? means being baptized.
Clearly, the context implies that born of ?water and the Spirit? refers to baptism. The Evangelist tells us that immediately after talking with Nicodemus, Jesus took his disciples into the wilderness where they baptized people (John 3:22). Furthermore, water is closely linked to the Spirit throughout John's Gospel (for instance, in Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:9-13) and in the Johannine tradition (cf. 1 John 5:7). It seems reasonable, then, to conclude that John the Evangelist understands Jesus' words about being ?born again? and ?born of water and the Spirit? to have a sacramental, baptismal meaning.
Catholics must never forget the following text because they clearly refute the Evangelical position: "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he that does the will of the Father who is heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matt 7:21),"
All Christians (both Catholic and non-Catholic alike) believe that the Old Covenant foreshadowed the New Covenant. We agree that the Old points to something that is Reality in the New. For example...the rite of circumcision was how one entered into the Old Covenant. Nobody disagrees with that. When a person (usually when they were eight days old unless the individual was a Gentile convert to Judaism) was circumcised they were then joined into the covenantal family of God.
So, if circumcision foreshadows something in the New Covenant...what was it?
According to St. Paul, in Col 2:11-12, circumcision was replaced with Baptism in the New Covenant:
11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ; 12 and you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.
And so we can see that Christians are circumcised in a special way: in the circumcision of Christ when we are buried with Him in baptism. Therefore, circumcision foreshadowed baptism. And if that is the case then it follows that whereas one entered into the Old Covenant via circumcision one now enters into the New Covenant via baptism. And this fits perfectly with the passage cited above. For St. Paul is telling his readers that in baptism we are "buried WITH Christ" so that when God "raised" Him from the dead we too (meaning those who were first buried with Him in baptism) can rise AGAIN.
This theme is also seen quite clearly in Romans 6:4 in which St. Paul says:
"We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life."
And here we can see that a person who is born physically alive but spiritually fallen and dead can be regenerated into new life. How? By being baptized INTO the death of Christ - by being mysteriously joined to Him in death - so that by the power of the Father through the working of the Holy Spirit - when Christ is raised from the dead we too will rise WITH Him into "newness of life."
Newness of life = born again. Get the connection?
Now this presents some great difficulties for Evangelicals who claim that we are born again ONLY by a conversion experience BEFORE we are baptized (a baptism only being seen as an after-the-fact symbolic-only act of obedience).
Simply stated, it is because if we are born again by our conversion experience before baptism, then it renders Paul's words as absurd. One cannot be "born again" BEFORE one is buried into death can one? If we are born again (in a conversion experience) and then afterwards are baptized into the death of Christ (wow that second life sure was short) and then rise again in "newness of life" does that mean that we are born again - again??? Are we born a third time?
And so the term "born again" has ALWAYS meant to all Christians everywhere (until the modern era in which Evangelicals - primarily in America - hijacked the term) to refer to baptismal regeneration. That was what Jesus was referring to when, in John 3:5, He spoke of the necessity of being born again of "water AND the spirit." That is also why Peter said that "baptism now saves" us (1 Peter 3:21). Simply stated, we are saved ONLY by the grace we receive in the New Covenant and the New Covenant is entered into via baptism. * See Footnote below.
All that being said, we are NOT saying that if we are baptized that we are therefore automatically saved no matter what. No. For we also teach that those of us old enough to know and understand the Lord - and hence old enough to actually sin and rupture our relationship with God - we MUST also be conformed to Christ. We MUST be interiorly converted to Christ. We must repent of our sins and we must walk in His footsteps making Him our personal Lord and Savior.
And so both Catholics and Evangelicals agree that we must be converted and we must be born again...but how it is that we define the phrase itself is under dispute in this modern era.
So, are baptized Catholics "born again"? Yes. Are they saved merely by their baptism even if they have not converted their lives to Christ? No. Both are necessary to salvation.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, in Mark 16:16, said as much when He said this:
"He who believes and is baptize will be saved..."
Faith AND baptism are both necessary, no matter in what order they manifest themselves.
One cannot be saved, unless they are born again (John 3:3) and accept Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. This is partially true but the meaning is distorted. The verse non-Catholics like to quote, John 3:3, is not completed by Jesus, or let us say interpreted until verse 3:5. Let us look two verses ahead at John 3:5. In John 3:5, Nicodemus is confused about being born again. Jesus clarifies what He states to Nicodemus stating:
(John 3:5) - Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."
Here we see that born again means the sacrament of baptism! If the non-Catholic would only read a little further he would find the true meaning of being "born again."
Do Catholics believe that the good works they do will get them into Heaven? Catholics do believe that works will get them to Heaven accompanied by faith and God's grace. There are so many verses in the Bible stating that entrance into Heaven is not as simple as saying "I accept Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior." Let us see what the Bible has to say about salvation:
(Phil 2:12) -?work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
(Rom 2:5-6) - ?the righteous judgment of God; Who will render to every man according to his deeds:
(James 2:14) - What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him?
(Mt 16:27) - For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.
(2 Cor. 5:10) - For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.
(Mt. 25:31 46) - (the verse is too long to quote, here is a summary) Jesus states that He will separate His sheep from the goats. Jesus goes on to say; when I was hungry did you feed me? When I was thirsty did you give me drink? When I was naked did you clothe me? When I was sick did you visit me? When I was in prison did you visit me? When I was stranger did you take me in and clothe me? Jesus then states that anyone who has done these things for his brother did so for Himself and He invites the righteous into life eternal. Those who did not help his brother in need, were sent into everlasting punishment.
In the verses above, it is quite clear to see that salvation is not as simple as stating that one proclaim Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. It is a nice thing to say and should be said every day, but there is more to salvation then accepting Christ as one's personal Lord and Savior.
Supporting verses: John 3:1?21, Titus 3:4-7, 1Cor 3:2, John 14:16-18, Isaiah 59:21