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)
Do you consider yourself a born again Christian? Someone who has recognized that God exists? Someone who is willing to repent and change their lives to the good? Are you a person who has acknowledged that Jesus is the Christ and accepted Him as your personal Savior?
Do I sound like a mainstream Christian? Perhaps, but is the concept of being born again solely the opportunity of those who belong to one of the ‘standard’ churches who claim Christ as their Lord? For many years, I sneered internally as I heard a friend or neighbor, or Mr. Brown speak of being born again. I, of course, had more light and knowledge on the subject having received the Holy Ghost at age 8 and would often return with the thread of living prophets and continuous revelation. I never really considered that any credible thought needed to be put toward the Christian churches definition of being saved; that I simply needed to claim Christ as my personal Savior and become a changed person.
Things are different now. As I have come to understand what the scriptures teach on the topic, I now know more about what that first question above means.
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)
Have we been spiritually born of God? Have we had a mighty change come to our hearts? Can we be satisfied that someone, at some time in the past, laid their hands upon our heads, confirmed us members of His church, and told us to receive the Holy Ghost? Is that necessary and sufficient for us to be classified as ‘born again?’ To be a different creature?
As Alma the younger and the sons of Mosiah were going about to destroy the church of God, they were confronted by an angel who told him that his father had prayed mightily in hopes that his son would ‘be brought to a knowledge of the truth.’ For several days, Alma could not move. Then he arose and spoke to his family and brethren:
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 27:24-26)
Alma had been ‘born of the spirit.’ In this statement, he provided more information about the change that was wrought upon him; he had been changed from carnal to righteous; he had been redeemed; he had become a son of God.
More than twenty years later, Alma in speaking to his son, Shiblon, spoke again of this experience. Perhaps the intervening years had added to his understanding of the event.
Now, my son, I would not that ye should think that I know these things of myself, but it is the Spirit of God which is in me which maketh these things known unto me; for if I had not been born of God I should not have known these things.
But behold, the Lord in his great mercy sent his angel to declare unto me that I must stop the work of destruction among his people; yea, and I have seen an angel face to face, and he spake with me, and his voice was as thunder, and it shook the whole earth.
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.
And now, my son, I have told you this that ye may learn wisdom, that ye may learn of me that there is no other way or means whereby man can be saved, only in and through Christ. Behold, he is the life and the light of the world. Behold, he is the word of truth and righteousness. (Alma 38:6-9)
Of note, Alma teaches us that the experience of being born again opened a conduit of knowledge through presence of the Spirit of God within him. Being born of God, somehow, brought him a link with the heavens that conveyed truth and intelligence. I also find it interesting that Alma now speaks of having received a remission of his sins through his experience. Perhaps it took Alma some time to realize the lasting impact and meaning of his spiritual experience, being taught by the Spirit of God. He speaks of being released from ‘the most bitter pain and anguish of the soul’ only when he began to cry unto the Lord. He then bore testimony of salvation coming ‘only in and through Christ.’
Alma is not the only example, in the scriptures, of someone receiving a remission of their sins through a glorious interaction with heaven. After Joseph Smith was identified by the Lord as first elder, we find the following words in scripture:
After it was truly manifested unto this first elder that he had received a remission of his sins, he was entangled again in the vanities of the world;
But after repenting, and humbling himself sincerely, through faith, God ministered unto him by an holy angel, whose countenance was as lightning, and whose garments were pure and white above all other whiteness;
And gave unto him commandments which inspired him;
And gave him power from on high, by the means which were before prepared, to translate the Book of Mormon;
Which contains a record of a fallen people, and the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles and to the Jews also; (D&C 20:5-9)
Joseph Smith, in his experience wrought in the sacred grove, had received a remission of his sins. He was cleansed and purified so that he could endure the presence of God. Another important lesson is derived from this passage. Joseph apparently lost what he had received in that first encounter with the Lord, due to the ‘vanities of the world,’ and had to repent and ‘humble himself sincerely’ before he could regain his purified state in preparation to receive the visitation of the angel Moroni.
This suggests that one can receive a remission of sins and lose it again. Fortunately, the loss can be resolved through mighty repentance and humility. How many times, though, would one want to test the patience of the Lord?
What is this remission of sins and what is its relationship to the gospel of Christ? In the Doctrine and Covenants one can find several places where the Lord declares his gospel. One such instance is found here where the Lord is speaking to Northrup Sweet and Ezra Thayer as they prepared for their mission:
Yea, open your mouths and spare not, and you shall be laden with sheaves upon your backs, for lo, I am with you.
Yea, open your mouths and they shall be filled, saying: Repent, repent, and prepare ye the way of the Lord, and make his paths straight; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand;
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 33:9-12)
The Lord states here that His gospel contains repentance and baptism, first with water and then with fire and with the Holy Ghost. The result of this multi-faceted baptism is a remission of our sins. In a similar vein, Mormon taught that belief and baptism, ‘first with water, and then with fire and the Holy Ghost’ (Mormon 7:10) were required of those who wish to follow Christ. To see the kingdom of God, one must be baptized by water and by the spirit. To receive a remission of sins, one must be baptized by water and by fire and the Holy Ghost.
Is there any reason why one should not equate being born again with receiving a remission of their sins by baptism, water and spirit?
In a second definition of the gospel, the Lord illuminates another attribute:
And verily, verily, I say unto you, he that receiveth my gospel receiveth me; and he that receiveth not my gospel receiveth not me.
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 39:5-6)
Here again, the Lord defines His gospel as being inclusive of both the baptism of water and the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost. The benefit highlighted here is not a remission of sins given by the previous example but the benefit of being taught by the Comforter. The baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost opens up, as it did for Alma in an earlier reference, the flow of knowledge and intelligence from heaven.
Perhaps I wasn’t paying sufficient attention, but I don’t recall that any time during my several decades as an active member of the LDS church did I ever hear in any meeting either of these two definitions of the gospel. Why is that? Why, in my many attempts to read through the Doctrine and Covenants, did this not present itself to my understanding? I don’t have an answer… other than I must have been asleep.
As the resurrected Lord stood among the Nephites, he took the occasion to rehearse to those listening to him the definition of the gospel. The full rendition can be found in the 27th chapter of Third Nephi. I will quote from the end of that discussion:
And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end.
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 27:19-21)
We again find in verse 20 that repentance and baptism are components of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Here we are taught that these two items are necessary for sanctification. Being sanctified by having our garments washed in the blood of Christ. Can one not assume, then, that sanctification is delivered by the remission of our sins? That repentance and baptism, with both water, fire, and the Holy Ghost, are items that redeem us, that sanctify us and remit our sins?
My attempt here as been to illuminate the overlap between being born again and receiving the complete baptism, consisting of both water and spirit. Can one be surprised, then, when it is noted that the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost is mentioned three times within the doctrine of Christ found in Second Nephi, chapter 31, and again in the 11th chapter of Third Nephi where the Lord speaks of His doctrine?
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.
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 31:17-20)
I consider this segment from the doctrine of Christ, as delivered by Nephi, to be the one of the best guides for a spiritual life that I have found in the scriptures. It contains the same references to a ‘remission of sins’ and to a life opened up to ‘feasting on the word of Christ.’ Are these not the same components that Alma indicated were a result of his ‘born again’ experience?
And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God.
And whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned.
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. (3 Nephi 11:33-35)
Should we not consider the fact that the ‘baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost’ is mentioned four times within the doctrine of Christ found in the latter-day scriptures sufficient to make it a key component in our search for godliness? I believe it is incumbent upon each of us who truly seek God to understand and apply the doctrine of Christ to its fullest extent in our lives.
Back to the point of this post. Can I be permitted to interchangeably use the phrases ‘born again’ and ‘baptized by water and by fire and the Holy Ghost? From a scriptural perspective these two described events deliver the same results, a remission of sins and the words of Christ.
I would like to return to the Alma words as he regained his strength. He noted that being born again was needed by all men and women in order to become the ‘sons and daughters of God.’ (Mosiah 27:25). I find that there was another occasion where this blessing was bestowed upon a people who had experienced a mighty change. After the people of King Benjamin has received a remission of their sins, they were taught regarding how they were to conduct themselves as recipients of this sanctification (Mosiah, chapter 5). They were to teach and govern their children, they were to take care of the poor without judgment.
Then King Benjamin asked is they believed the words that he had spoken. Here is the reference that details 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.
And we, ourselves, also, through the infinite goodness of God, and the manifestations of his Spirit, have great views of that which is to come; and were it expedient, we could prophesy of all things.
And it is the faith which we have had on the things which our king has spoken unto us that has brought us to this great knowledge, whereby we do rejoice with such exceedingly great joy.
And we are willing to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things that he shall command us, all the remainder of our days, that we may not bring upon ourselves a never-ending torment, as has been spoken by the angel, that we may not drink out of the cup of the wrath of God.
And now, these are the words which king Benjamin desired of them; and therefore he said unto them: Ye have spoken the words that I desired; and the covenant which ye have made is a righteous covenant.
And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters. (Mosiah 5:2-5)
The people of King Benjamin were willing to make a covenant to obey God in all things. King Benjamin then tells them that because of this covenant, they have been born spiritually of God and in the process have become His sons and daughters.
When we are born of God, we have the opportunity to become His offspring. We have joined the family of God by a remission of our sins through the baptism of water, ‘and then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost.’
I cannot stress sufficiently what I believe to be the importance of a clear understanding of what it means to be born of God, to be born of water and of the spirit, to be baptized by water and then by fire and by the Holy Ghost, to be redeemed of God, to be sanctified, to become, by covenant, His sons and His daughters.
I ask of you, my brothers and sisters,
Have you been spiritually born of God?
Have you received His image on your countenances?
Have you experienced this mighty change in your hearts?
Have you been redeemed of God?
Have you become His sons and daughters?
I offer the same encouragement that Alma did for ‘there can no man be saved except his garments are washed white; yes, his garments must be purified until they are cleansed from all stain, through the blood of Him of whom it has been spoken by our fathers, who should come to redeem his people from his sins.’ (Alma 5:21)
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; (Mosiah 27:25)
What think ye?