Archive for September, 2016
This post was adapted from a presentation given at Sunstone Kirtland in May 2016.
Growing up as a faithful Mormon, I never recall any discussion about being born again. The message I received was that my path would be to accept my water baptism when I turned eight years old. In this baptism, I would be washed and cleansed of sin. Then, being confirmed a member of the church by the laying on of hands, I would have the gift of the presence of the Holy Ghost as long as I maintained my worthiness. It was implied to me that no one outside the church would have access to this special bestowal. Today, as you may understand from my earlier blog posts, I hold that the remission of sins is a product of sincere repentance, the baptism of water followed by the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost. Thus, as defined in the doctrine of Christ, we are told that steps represent the gate which we must pass through in order to be on the strait and narrow path to eternal life (2 Nephi 31:17-18). Nephi states that ‘there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God’ (2 Nephi 31:21).
So, what does it mean to be born again in the context of Mormonism? Do we have it ‘covered’ within our spiritual practice and can, therefore, leave the concept of being born again to the evangelical Christians? I have been prompted to examine the aspects of being born again from both a scriptural and ritual perspective. What is it that we are asked to do in order to enter the kingdom of God? Please allow me to start from what could be considered mainstream evangelical Christianity. What does it mean to be born again?
Who better to rely on for a traditional evangelical Christian definition of being ‘born again’ than Billy Graham:
My prayer is that you too may be born again and become part of God’s family. By a simple prayer of faith, tell God that you know you are a sinner, and you are sorry for your sins. Then ask Christ to come into your life and save you. When you do, God will come to live within you by His Spirit, and you will be born again. (Billy Graham, http://billygraham.org/answer/what-is-your-definition-of-a-born-again-christian/)
As an evangelical Christian, being saved (cleansed of sin) is a result of being born again – the act of acknowledging one’s sinful nature, expressing sorrow and inviting Christ to save us. Is that sufficient from a Biblical perspective? Let me primarily center on what we can learn from the Bible and latter-day scriptures relative to this spiritual experience, where being born again fits and how it relates to the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost.
I hold that there are many terms that are used in the scriptures that convey the same meaning and experience; born again, becoming a new creature, a mighty change, filled with the spirit, born of God, converted, sanctified, cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, purified, receive a remission of sins, receive the Holy Ghost, become sons and daughters of God, baptized by fire and by the Holy Ghost, redeemed of God. All of these phrases speak to the specific event in our lives and the associated implications on our spiritual well-being.
Have you been born again, born of water and of the spirit? Let’s examine the topic from the perspective of the New Testament.
There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:
The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.
Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?
Jesus answered, 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. (John 3:1-5)
According to the words of the Lord found in John, being born again is needed to comprehend the kingdom of God. Could it be that we must be born again to understand what the kingdom of God means, to be able to comprehend it? Secondly this dual baptism of both water and of the spirit is necessary to enter the kingdom of God. While these verses represent the core of the experience of the evangelical, what should they teach us in the larger context of the scriptures?
I would suggest that there are other scriptures in the New Testament that should be considered on this topic. First, let’s start with a comment by John the Baptist:
I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire. (Matthew 3:11)
These words, spoken by John during his ministry (also recorded in Luke 3:16) represent the only instance of the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost found in the Bible. I would suggest that the response to Nicodemus and the comment by John are talking about the same concept. That the words ‘being born again’ and the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost are speaking of the same event.
To understand how I came to this, let me start with Peter. We are all familiar of the event where Peter, as a disciple, stated the depths of his allegiance to Christ.
And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat:
But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.
And he said unto him, Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death.
And he said, I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me. (Luke 22:31-34)
I would suggest that there is a difference between having a testimony and being ‘converted.’ Peter had a testimony but, according to Christ, he was not converted. When was Peter converted and what are the implications on us?
For Peter and the rest of the twelve, I would suggest that this conversion occurred on the Day of Pentecost.
And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.
And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.
And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:1-4)
The apostles and those with them were baptized by fire and by the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost. I believe this was in fulfillment of the words of John the Baptist. They were then converted, their hearts were changed, they were born again. It was with the power of this experience that Peter was able to heal the lame man, the next event described in the Acts of the Apostles. What kind of spiritual experience is sufficient to ‘convert’ us? Is it enough for us to be shuttled into the water when we are eight years old and be confirmed a member of the church, or is there more to this? Is it different from what Peter and the apostles experienced?
I would suggest that the introduction of the gospel to the gentiles provides an additional description of the baptism component in the conversion process. Cornelius was a centurion, a non-Jew, who had a vision of an angel of God. The angel told Cornelius to send for Simon Peter. As the men Cornelius sent neared the city, Peter, while praying on the roof, had a vision where he was told to kill and eat a variety of clean and unclean animals. When Peter objected, he was told “what God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.” (Acts 10:15) Peter was led by the spirit to return with the men to Cornelius. Peter began to preach to those who had assembled with Cornelius of their witness of Jesus Christ.
And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead.
To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.
While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.”
And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.
For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter,
Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?
And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days. (Acts 10:42-48)
It is important to note that Peter spoke of the remission of sins. It was when he, Peter, spoke these words that the Holy Ghost came upon those that were listening. I hold that the reason for the timing is that this baptism of the Holy Ghost, as we learn in the Book of Mormon, is the conduit for a remission of sins. It is also interesting to note that though Cornelius had been baptized by fire, he was subsequently baptized with water. Also note that those with Peter equated the experience that Cornelius with what they had experienced on the day of Pentecost when they received the Holy Ghost. Cornelius has been converted and baptized by fire and by the Holy Ghost, just as Peter had been ‘converted.’
What is the Mormon version of being born again? I would suggest that the latter-day scriptures contain a significant amount of dialog around the concept of being born again.
And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts? (Alma 5:14)
What is the change of heart discussed here? What is it to be spiritually born of God? Let us turn to the Book of Mormon.
It is interesting to note that Alma the younger was likely present at the sermon of King Benjamin but may have been too young to fully appreciate the experience. By the way, what does that tell us of what age we need to be to be accountable? Here is part of Alma’s story from the Book of Mosiah.
Now the sons of Mosiah were numbered among the unbelievers; and also one of the sons of Alma was numbered among them, he being called Alma, after his father; nevertheless, he became a very wicked and an idolatrous man. And he was a man of many words, and did speak much flattery to the people; therefore he led many of the people to do after the manner of his iniquities.
And as I said unto you, as they were going about rebelling against God, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto them; and he descended as it were in a cloud; and he spake as it were with a voice of thunder, which caused the earth to shake upon which they stood;
And again, the angel said: Behold, the Lord hath heard the prayers of his people, and also the prayers of his servant, Alma, who is thy father; for he has prayed with much faith concerning thee that thou mightest be brought to the knowledge of the truth; therefore, for this purpose have I come to convince thee of the power and authority of God, that the prayers of his servants might be answered according to their faith.
And now behold, can ye dispute the power of God? For behold, doth not my voice shake the earth? And can ye not also behold me before you? And I am sent from God.
Now I say unto thee: Go, and remember the captivity of thy fathers in the land of Helam, and in the land of Nephi; and remember how great things he has done for them; for they were in bondage, and he has delivered them. And now I say unto thee, Alma, go thy way, and seek to destroy the church no more, that their prayers may be answered, and this even if thou wilt of thyself be cast off.
And now it came to pass that these were the last words which the angel spake unto Alma, and he departed.
And now Alma and those that were with him fell again to the earth, for great was their astonishment; for with their own eyes they had beheld an angel of the Lord; and his voice was as thunder, which shook the earth; and they knew that there was nothing save the power of God that could shake the earth and cause it to tremble as though it would part asunder.
And now the astonishment of Alma was so great that he became dumb, that he could not open his mouth; yea, and he became weak, even that he could not move his hands; therefore he was taken by those that were with him, and carried helpless, even until he was laid before his father. (Mosiah 27:8,11,14-19)
Alma the younger, along with the sons of Mosiah, were leading people away from God. The prayers of his father appear to be, at least partially, responsible for his angelic experience. His father, Alma, sought to restore strength to his son through prayer and fasting.
And he caused that the priests should assemble themselves together; and they began to fast, and to pray to the Lord their God that he would open the mouth of Alma, that he might speak, and also that his limbs might receive their strength—that the eyes of the people might be opened to see and know of the goodness and glory of God.
And it came to pass after they had fasted and prayed for the space of two days and two nights, the limbs of Alma received their strength, and he stood up and began to speak unto them, bidding them to be of good comfort:
For, said he, I have repented of my sins, and have been redeemed of the Lord; behold I am born of the Spirit.
And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters;
And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. (Mosiah 27:22-26)
Alma was a changed man, he became a new creature. He defined his experience as being born of the Spirit and being redeemed of the Lord. From this event, I would suggest that being born again is how we are invited into the family of the Lord, how we become sons and daughters of God and inherit the kingdom of God
Later as recorded in Alma 38, Alma talks of his experience with his son Shiblon.
And it came to pass that I was three days and three nights in the most bitter pain and anguish of soul; and never, until I did cry out unto the Lord Jesus Christ for mercy, did I receive a remission of my sins. But behold, I did cry unto him and I did find peace to my soul. (Alma 38:8)
What should we take from Alma’s experience? All mankind must be born again; this mighty change is accompanied by a remission of our sins. We are a new creature; we have cast off the natural man. What is this experience supposed to be like for us. Are we all challenged to seek the same kind of experience that Alma had? Here is the response given by a current general authority of the Church from a recent fireside.
What should we pray for to receive the same testimony if not conversion that Alma the Younger experienced??
Elder Oaks answers:
What should you pray for to have the kind of experience that Alma the Younger had? I don’t think you are likely to have the kind of experience that Alma the Younger had, remember he had a miraculous appearance of an angel and really got hit over the head, spiritually. Most of us don’t have that kind of experience, but I interpret your question, Heather, as being ‘how can we get the kind of testimony that he received.’ I don’t think we will get it like Paul did on the road to [Damascus] where an angel appeared to him, where Alma the younger had that startling experience. The Lord gives a few of those kinds of experiences and they are recorded in the scriptures to catch our attention and teach us the answer.
But, I’ve never had an experience like that and I don’t know anyone among the 1st Presidency or Quorum of the 12 who’ve had that kind of experience. Yet everyone of us knows of a certainty the things that Alma knew. But it’s just that unless the Lord chooses to do it another way, as he sometimes does; for millions and millions of His children the testimony settles upon us gradually, like so much dust on the windowsill, or so much dew on the grass. One day you didn’t have it and another day you did and you don’t know which day it happened. That’s the way I got my testimony.
And then I knew it was true when it continued to grow. And what you have to do to get that is, first of all, is to desire it, and as I explained earlier, when I was your age, I don’t think I had the level of desire that I wish I had had. We desire it and then we do our best to keep the commandments so the Lord can fulfill for us that promise that if you keep the commandments, you will come to know that it is true. (Dallin H. Oaks, multi-stake youth fireside in Bellevue, Washington on 1/23/2016)
Is getting a testimony, as Peter had when he was challenged by Christ, sufficient to enter his kingdom? I do not find scriptural support for that idea. Just has Peter was told that his testimony was not complete; that he was still to be converted, so should we seek this complete conversion to Him.
How should we treat the examples on the latter day scriptures of being born again, and of receiving a remission of our sins? What does it take to be ‘saved’ according to latter day scripture? I would suggest being born again and receiving a remission of our sins. If you call yourself a ‘Latter-day Saint, is this not the equivalent to being sanctified, as the name of the church signifies?
I would suggest we take Alma at his word. He states that he had been ‘born of the Spirit,’ Further he said that ‘ all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again. What better witness does one need to encourage us to seek to understand what baptism is and the role that baptism plays in our spiritual development.
From a Mormon perspective, let me start with this question: What is baptism?
As we read earlier in John chapter 3, to enter the kingdom of God, one must be born of water and of the Spirit. Here is what I feel is the equivalent statement from the Book of Mormon:
And ye will also know that ye are a remnant of the seed of Jacob; therefore ye are numbered among the people of the first covenant; and if it so be that ye believe in Christ, and are baptized, first with water, then with fire and with the Holy Ghost, following the example of our Savior, according to that which he hath commanded us, it shall be well with you in the day of judgment. (Mormon 7:10)
I would suggest that the definitions are consistent between the New Testament and the Book of Mormon. Baptism has two components, water and spirit. If one adopts this definition, throughout the scriptures ‘baptism’ takes on a new meaning.
Elder Bednar, in the April 2016 general conference reinforced this point with several statements by the Prophet Joseph Smith which emphasize the vital linkage between the ordinances of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Statement 1: “Baptism is a holy ordinance preparatory to the reception of the Holy Ghost; it is the channel and key by which the Holy Ghost will be administered.”21
Statement 2: “You might as well baptize a bag of sand as a man, if not done in view of the remission of sins and getting of the Holy Ghost. Baptism by water is but half a baptism, and is good for nothing without the other half—that is, the baptism of the Holy Ghost.”22
Statement 3: “The baptism of water, without the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost attending it, is of no use. They are necessarily and inseparably connected.”23 Bednar, April Conference 2016, Always Retain a Remission of our Sins
Let’s look at some of the other events found in the Book of Mormon that relate to being born again, receiving a remission of our sins, and the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost. First, let’s consider the teachings of the Savior as he was among the Nephites.
And it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words unto Nephi, and to those who had been called, (now the number of them who had been called, and received power and authority to baptize, was twelve) and behold, he stretched forth his hand unto the multitude, and cried unto them, saying: Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of these twelve whom I have chosen from among you to minister unto you, and to be your servants; and unto them I have given power that they may baptize you with water; and after that ye are baptized with water, behold, I will baptize you with fire and with the Holy Ghost; therefore blessed are ye if ye shall believe in me and be baptized, after that ye have seen me and know that I am.
And again, more blessed are they who shall believe in your words because that ye shall testify that ye have seen me, and that ye know that I am. Yea, blessed are they who shall believe in your words, and come down into the depths of humility and be baptized, for they shall be visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and shall receive a remission of their sins. (3 Nephi 12:1-2)
The disciples that Christ picked were given the power to baptize with water those who accepted His message. But, Christ also promised to baptize the Nephites with fire and the Holy Ghost. Through that experience they would receive a remission of their sins. I would suggest that this is a critical element in identifying other born again narratives in the scriptures. The baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost the mechanism to receive a remission of one’s sins.
In an act of obedience, the disciples were the first to partake of the baptism through the power granted by the Lord.
And it came to pass that Nephi went down into the water and was baptized.
And he came up out of the water and began to baptize. And he baptized all those whom Jesus had chosen.
And it came to pass when they were all baptized and had come up out of the water, the Holy Ghost did fall upon them, and they were filled with the Holy Ghost and with fire.
And behold, they were encircled about as if it were by fire; and it came down from heaven, and the multitude did witness it, and did bear record; and angels did come down out of heaven and did minister unto them. (3 Nephi 19:11-14)
Again, the baptism by water, following by the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost were demonstrated among the disciples of Christ among the Nephites. I also find it interesting that this experience followed the administration of the sacrament.
How about Enos and his effort to receive a remission of his sins?
And I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God, before I received a remission of my sins.
Behold, I went to hunt beasts in the forests; and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart.
And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens.
And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.
And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away.
And I said: Lord, how is it done?
And he said unto me: Because of thy faith in Christ, whom thou hast never before heard nor seen. And many years pass away before he shall manifest himself in the flesh; wherefore, go to, thy faith hath made thee whole. (Enos 1:2-8)
For some, the experience will come as with Alma. For others, it may require a humility-induced prayer that lasts into the night. Enos received a remission of his sins, implicit in this is that he was baptized by fire and by the Holy Ghost; his guilt was replaced with joy.
The preceding events, those of Alma and Enos, recount the experience of being born again as an individual. Let’s look at the group experience. As we read in Mosiah, King Benjamin given a message by an angel to deliver to his people.
And the Lord God hath sent his holy prophets among all the children of men, to declare these things to every kindred, nation, and tongue, that thereby whosoever should believe that Christ should come, the same might receive remission of their sins, and rejoice with exceedingly great joy, even as though he had already come among them. (Mosiah 3:13)
Mosiah taught the people that they had to humble themselves before God.
For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father. (Mosiah 3:19)
The people of King Benjamin were instructed that they needed to ‘become a saint through the enticings of the Holy Spirit.’ If you call yourself a Saint, you should seek to be sanctified, cleansed of sin. They were told that they gift of joy was available to the through the reception of a remission of their sin. There appears to be two key two things that are needed – humility and earnest prayer. The people took this instruction to heart as we read in Mosiah, chapter 4:
And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men.
And it came to pass that after they had spoken these words the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come, according to the words which king Benjamin had spoken unto them. (Mosiah 4:2-3)
Note that these people asked for their hearts to be purified. The resulting experience filled them with joy and they received a remission of their sins. This is their response:
And they all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually. (Mosiah 5:2)
The people of King Benjamin experienced a mighty change in their hearts. They no longer held a disposition to do evil. This experience changed them in a fundamental manner, they were converted, they were, in their hearts, a different and new creature and they received a remission of their sins.
Not only did they have the experience, but they were taught how to retain a remission of their sins. In effect, how one can preserve the sanctifying power in their lives going forward.
And again I say unto you as I have said before, that as ye have come to the knowledge of the glory of God, or if ye have known of his goodness and have tasted of his love, and have received a remission of your sins, which causeth such exceedingly great joy in your souls, even so I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness, and his goodness and long-suffering towards you, unworthy creatures, and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith of that which is to come, which was spoken by the mouth of the angel.
And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins; and ye shall grow in the knowledge of the glory of him that created you, or in the knowledge of that which is just and true. (Mosiah 4:11-12)
Humility and prayer are, given what we gather from the experience of the people of King Benjamin, the keys to retaining a remission of our sins. But, this is not all, we must also act upon what we have received. The was an inner change but also an outer change.
And now, for the sake of these things which I have spoken unto you—that is, for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants. (Mosiah 4:26)
Being born of God changes how we treat those around us. We are to demonstrate that all people are to share in the gifts of the spirit as well as in the material of this world. We are taught from this example, that we can retain a remission of our sins. I take this to mean that we can remain sinless going forward through humility, prayer, and service to others. The New Testament appears to agree:
Whosoever is born of God doth not continue in sin, for the Spirit of God remaineth in him; for he cannot continue in sin, because he is born of God, having received the holy Spirit of promise. (JST 1 John 3:9)
Let’s now look at another ‘mass conversion event from the Book of Mormon. In Helaman we find the story of the two missionaries, Nephi and Lehi, who are imprisoned by the Lamanites and are facing death.
And after they had been cast into prison many days without food, behold, they went forth into the prison to take them that they might slay them.
And it came to pass that Nephi and Lehi were encircled about as if by fire, even insomuch that they durst not lay their hands upon them for fear lest they should be burned. Nevertheless, Nephi and Lehi were not burned; and they were as standing in the midst of fire and were not burned. (Helaman 5:22-23)
Nephi and Lehi were ‘encircled about as if by fire,’ for the benefit of the Lamanites who had come to put them to death. As the event transpired, they were stopped by the darkness and sought to understand what they were seeing.
And they said unto the man: Behold, what do all these things mean, and who is it with whom these men do converse?
Now the man’s name was Aminadab. And Aminadab said unto them: They do converse with the angels of God.
And it came to pass that the Lamanites said unto him: What shall we do, that this cloud of darkness may be removed from overshadowing us?
And Aminadab said unto them: You must repent, and cry unto the voice, even until ye shall have faith in Christ, who was taught unto you by Alma, and Amulek, and Zeezrom; and when ye shall do this, the cloud of darkness shall be removed from overshadowing you.
And it came to pass that they all did begin to cry unto the voice of him who had shaken the earth; yea, they did cry even until the cloud of darkness was dispersed.
And it came to pass that when they cast their eyes about, and saw that the cloud of darkness was dispersed from overshadowing them, behold, they saw that they were encircled about, yea every soul, by a pillar of fire.
And Nephi and Lehi were in the midst of them; yea, they were encircled about; yea, they were as if in the midst of a flaming fire, yet it did harm them not, neither did it take hold upon the walls of the prison; and they were filled with that joy which is unspeakable and full of glory.
And behold, the Holy Spirit of God did come down from heaven, and did enter into their hearts, and they were filled as if with fire, and they could speak forth marvelous words. (Helaman 5:38-45)
The three hundred Lamanites were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost. But they began the process not understanding what was happening. They were instructed to pray until the darkness as dispersed. They were freed from the cloud of darkness and exhibited the gifts of the spirit. These Lamanites were able to receive this gift because of the faith of Nephi and Lehi. They were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost as we read in Ether 12:
Behold, it was the faith of Nephi and Lehi that wrought the change upon the Lamanites, that they were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost. (Ether 12:14)
The footnote in Helaman 5:45 points to 3 Nephi 9. This scripture has been used to suggest that the baptism of fire can be an imperceptible change over time. I find no support for that concept in the examples in the scriptures.
And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not. (3 Nephi 9:20)
I would submit that the change that occurred to the 300 Lamanites was not imperceptible, rather, they did not understand what was happening to them until they were taught. Examples in the scriptures all characterize the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost as an event, not as a process. In each case, humility and fervent prayer were the qualifiers for the experience. Being born of the spirit enabled a remission of their sins and was a source of great joy. An experience that all mankind should seek.
What is the connection between the gospel and being born again or receiving the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost? Here are two definitions of the gospel from the Doctrine and Covenants:
Yea, repent and be baptized, every one of you, for a remission of your sins; yea, be baptized even by water, and then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost.
Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and remember that they shall have faith in me or they can in nowise be saved; (D&C 33:11-12)
And this is my gospel—repentance and baptism by water, and then cometh the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, even the Comforter, which showeth all things, and teacheth the peaceable things of the kingdom. (D&C 39:6)
In these two definitions of the gospel, we come to understand the centrality of the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost. Two aspects of baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost, first is a remission of sins as the drought is burned out of us as is by fire. And, second, the words of Christ that teach us all things that we should do. Baptism is both a cleansing and an enlightening experience. (2 Nephi 32:3)
In 3 Nephi, chapter 27, Christ defined his gospel and summed it up in this way:
Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and ye know the things that ye must do in my church; for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do; for that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do; (3 Nephi 27:20-21)
Shouldn’t being called a saint suggest that we have been sanctified, or cleansed of sin? Shouldn’t we be, as the people of King Benjamin, able to exhibit the traits and characteristics of new creatures, those who have been redeemed of God?
Let’s look at the doctrine of Christ. In 2 Nephi:31:2, Nephi states that he was to ‘speak concerning the doctrine of Christ’ – he described that we are to follow the example of the Savior and receive the baptism of water and the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost.
Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter. For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.
And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son, unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made, that if ye entered in by the way ye should receive. (2 Nephi 31:17-18)
According to the doctrine of Christ as expounded upon by Nephi, we are not on the strait and narrow path to eternal life until we have received the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost. In a similar vein, Moroni tells us that we are to have this experience before we are to be numbered with the church of Christ
And none were received unto baptism save they took upon them the name of Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end.
And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith. (Moroni 6:3-4)
What would our congregations look like today if only those who had been cleansed of sin through the power of the Holy Ghost were a included? I would suggest that being ‘numbered among the people of the church of Christ’ is equivalent to membership in his church today. Could one say that the reception of both a baptism of water and of the spirit are required today to be a member of His church?
What does Christ say of His doctrine regarding the baptism of fire when He was among the Nephites?
Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and I bear record of it from the Father; and whoso believeth in me believeth in the Father also; and unto him will the Father bear record of me, for he will visit him with fire and with the Holy Ghost.
And thus will the Father bear record of me, and the Holy Ghost will bear record unto him of the Father and me; for the Father, and I, and the Holy Ghost are one.
And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and become as a little child, and be baptized in my name, or ye can in nowise receive these things.
And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.
And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock; but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation, and the gates of hell stand open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them. (3 Nephi 11:35-40)
Baptism, first by water, and then by fire and the Holy Ghost, is core to the gospel of Jesus Christ. These principles are also present, and central to the doctrine of Jesus Christ, even to the point of no other doctrine shall be permitted. It is important to consider the weight of this statement that ‘whoso declare more or less than this’ is not aligned with the doctrine of Christ. Could the doctrine of Christ be so simple yet so complete?
Descriptions of the experience can also be found in the annals of the membership. Here we find a description from the journal of Parley P. Pratt.
My dear wife [Thankful Halsey Pratt] had now lived to accomplish her destiny; and when the child was dressed, and she had looked upon it and embraced it, she ceased to live in the flesh. Her death happened about three hours after the birth of this child of promise. A few days previous to her death she had a vision in open day while sitting in her room. She was overwhelmed or immersed in a pillar of fire, which seemed to fill the whole room, as if it would consume it and all things therein; and the Spirit whispered to her mind, saying: “Thou art baptized with fire and the Holy Ghost.” It also intimated to her that she should have the privilege of departing from this world of sorrow and pain, and of going to the Paradise of rest as soon as she had fulfilled the prophecy in relation to the promised son. This vision was repeated on the next day at the same hour, viz: twelve o’clock. She was overwhelmed with a joy and peace indescribable, and seemed changed in her whole nature from that time forth. (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1972. p. 166; italics added.)
President Lorenzo Snow also relates the choice experience of his rebirth:
Some two or three weeks after I was baptized, one day while engaged in my studies, I began to reflect upon the fact that I had not obtained a knowledge of the truth of the work … and I began to feel very uneasy. I laid aside my books, left the house, and wandered around through the fields under the oppressive influence of a gloomy, disconsolate spirit, while an indescribable cloud of darkness seemed to envelope me. I had been accustomed, at the close of the day, to retire for secret prayer, to a grove … but at this time I felt no inclination to do so. The spirit of prayer had departed and the heavens seemed like brass over my head. At length, realizing that the usual time had come for secret prayer, I concluded I would not forego my evening service, and, as a matter of formality, knelt as I was in the habit of doing, and in my accustomed retired place, but not feeling as I was wont to feel.
I had no sooner opened my lips in an effort to pray, than I heard a sound, just above my head, like the rustling of silken robes, and immediately the Spirit of God descended upon me, completely enveloping my whole person, filling me, from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet, and 0, the joy and happiness I felt! No language can describe the almost instantaneous transition from a dense cloud of mental and spiritual darkness into a refulgence of light and knowledge, as it was at that time imparted to my understanding…. It was a complete baptism a tangible immersion in the heavenly principle or element, the Holy Ghost; and even more real and physical in its effects upon every part of my system than the immersion by water; dispelling forever, so long as reason and memory last, all possibility of doubt. …
I cannot tell how long I remained in the full flow of the blissful enjoyment and divine enlightenment, but it was several minutes before the celestial element which filled and surrounded me began gradually to withdraw. On arising from my kneeling posture, … I knew.’ that He had conferred on me what only an omnipotent being can confer – that which is of greater value than all the wealth and honors worlds can bestow. That night, as I retired to rest, the same wonderful manifestations were repeated, and continued to be for several successive nights. The sweet remembrance of those glorious experiences … impart[s] an inspiring influence … and I trust will to the close of my earthly existence.
(Biography – Family Record of Lorenzo Snow, comp. Eliza R. Snow, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1884, pp. 7-9; most italics added.) http://jesus.christ.org/teachings-of-jesus-christ/born-of-the-spirit-baptism-by-fire
We have examples of the baptism of fire in scripture, we find them infused in the testimonies of several of the early saints. Are there modern day occurrences of being born again?
I wanted a spiritual experience, so I prayed and fasted the next day, Sunday. I broke my fast because we were invited to eat at someone’s house that night. On Monday I decided to do as Enos and Nephi and fast and pray all day. I went out into a bungalow and prayed vocally for as long as I could. When I couldn’t think of things to pray about I read my scriptures. I prayed until the afternoon, but nothing happened. I was really discouraged. That night I went to my … friend’s house to talk about things. He gave me a blessing.
The next day was Tuesday. … I decided to give it another go. I broke my fast and went out to the bungalow to pray again. I prayed for about an hour and this happened:
From my journal:
I knelt down and was praying to the Lord with all my heart that I might receive evidence that what I was doing was right. I could feel the spirit in my chest and my face was tingling. While feeling this I pleaded that I might have greater evidence. All of a sudden I felt power come into my body. As Nephi said it consumed my flesh. So much so that I felt that my hands were out stretched and my chest was pulled up and power surged through me like I have never felt in all my life. It was so powerful that I could hardly control myself. I felt like I was being shocked with energy. I knew it was the energy of God. I felt His power!
At the time I wasn’t sure what had happened, but it wasn’t long after that Heavenly Father began to help me understand that I had experienced the baptism of fire.
Is the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost an event or process? I would emphatically state that it can definitely occur as an event.
What I have attempted to accomplish in this treatise is to synthesize the understanding I received from the scriptures, both Biblical and from the latter day restoration. I submit that it is incumbent upon each of us to seek and receive the both elements of baptism, both water and spirit. As Billy Graham stated:
By a simple prayer of faith, tell God that you know you are a sinner, and you are sorry for your sins. Then ask Christ to come into your life and save you. When you do, God will come to live within you by His Spirit, and you will be born again.
As I see it, the key ingredients are: humility, and a deep felt sorrow for our sins, prayer and ask for Christ to accept your repentance, the spirit comes and you are cleansed of sin – you are born again. The Book of Mormon adds a lot of color to the answer. But there is a fundamental agreement between Billy Graham’s definition of being born again and the latter day scriptures. Being born again is to be born of water and of the spirit. It is a baptism first by water, and then by fire and the Holy Ghost. It is core to the gospel of Jesus Christ as contained in the scriptures of the restoration. I believe that it is something that we should all strive for. It is required of all, as Alma stated:
… all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters; (Mosiah 28:25)
And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?
Behold, he sendeth an invitation unto all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he saith: Repent, and I will receive you.
Yea, he saith: Come unto me and ye shall partake of the fruit of the tree of life; yea, ye shall eat and drink of the bread and the waters of life freely; (Alma 5:14,33-34)
Repentance, baptism by water and the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost represent the gate of entry onto the strait and narrow path to eternal life. It is the beginning and the a gate to the remainder of our journey. Let’s go back to 2 Nephi, chapter 31.
And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.
Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life. (2 Nephi 31:19-21)
May we all seek this eternal life made available through the complete baptism defined in the scripture. It is achieved by following the the example of Jesus Christ; we are to be born of water and spirit to enter the kingdom of God, even, as taught by Moroni, to be numbered among those of His church.
What think ye?