Toby asks two great questions:
It seems to be a popular teaching to believe (or trust) in the finished work of Christ on the cross for salvation. I hold to the position that we believe in Jesus’ promise of everlasting life. Is the former view correct? How should I talk to people who hold this position?
Question #1: Is the former view correct? As stated by Toby, the answer is no. It is not true that all who believe in the finished work of Christ are born again. Many people believe that Jesus paid for all our sins on the cross, yet they also believe that they must persevere in good works in order to gain final salvation. They believe that if they fall away, then they go to hell.
In other words, many people believe in 1 Cor 15:3-4, yet do not believe John 3:16.
I believe in both 1 Cor 15:3-4 and John 3:16. But I’m convinced that I’m born again because I believe John 3:16 is true. If I only believed 1 Cor 15:3-4, I would still be unregenerate. (For a discussion of the words “by which also you are [being] saved if you hold fast that word which I preached to you” (1 Cor 15:2), see this article and listen to this podcast. That verse concerns sanctification, not regeneration.)
Question #2: How should I talk to people who hold this position? I suggest you take this as an opportunity to discuss the assurance of everlasting life. You might say something like this: I, too, believe the good news that Jesus removed the sin barrier at the cross. His finished work convinces me that John 3:16 is true. I am sure I will never perish and have everlasting life that can’t be lost. What about you? Have you come to the point where you are sure that you will never perish and that you have everlasting life that can’t be lost?
This allows you to share the promise of everlasting life with your friend in a non-confrontational way. You affirm what he believes and bring up the assurance issue.
Now, he might say he believes you must persevere in order to gain final salvation. If he does, you can share the truth that salvation is final when we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
He might say that he is sure of his eternal destiny, but he thinks that assurance is unnecessary in order to be born again. He might believe that most professing Christians are born again. If he does, you can share that Gal 1:6-9 (and John 6:28-29) calls works salvation a false gospel. You evangelize those who believe in works salvation. Your friend does not because he thinks they are already born again.
Great questions, Toby.