An ongoing question regarding the Baptism of Fire and being born again is that of process versus event. I prefer not to frame the doctrine in this manner. It is not so much a question of process versus event, but rather in what ways is it an event and in what ways is it a process?
First, in this blog post (we’ll address the process aspect in a separate blog), let’s address the aspect of the spiritual rebirth from the perspective that it is an event. That it is something that happens to you. You can put a date on it the same way that I know the date of my baptism of water, I can tell you the day that I experienced the complete cleansing of the Holy Ghost.
Now, because we rarely talk about the Baptism of Fire, mistaking it for the physical ordination of confirmation, we also aren’t very aware when we have great spiritual manifestations that we would associate it with a Baptism of Fire. Much like the Lamanites in Helaman 5 who were baptized by fire and knew it not. They, like us, were not familiar with the doctrine to fully understand what, doctrinally, was happening to us.
The Alma 5 Questions
As this central doctrine of the New and Everlasting Covenant distills upon our minds and hearts, and we try to come to a greater understanding of our spiritual possibilities, we can read Alma to learn what to expect when we are born again.
The questions Alma asks the saints in Zarahemla provides great insight into understanding both what we should both experience and what fruit we should experience as we receive a Baptism of Fire and the Holy Ghost, and how we should live the gospel on an ongoing basis.
The first principle Alma teaches is that a mighty change of heart is a function of your faith. And that faith is unto repentance.
And according to his faith there was a mighty change wrought in his heart. Behold I say unto you that this is all true. And behold, he preached the word unto your fathers, and a mighty change was also wrought in their hearts, and they humbled themselves and put their trust in the true and living God. (Alma 12:12-13)
In other words, if you have yet to experience the mighty change of heart, it is not because the change is a long, imperceptible process, as sanctification can be. It is because you have yet to receive the faith to repent sufficiently. If you feel like this is you, please do not despair. You probably have never been taught or invited to have this type of faith.
Also, as an individual, one must be prepared and ready. You must be seeking and desirous to have a broken heart and contrite spirit. One must be invited in the spirit to awake and arise. Perhaps you are now feeling this invitation for the first time.
The Born Again Benchmark Questions and Baptism of Fire Test.
Alma asks a series of questions that gives a benchmark to know if we have been born of the spirit. These are poignant. And serious. And I believe they must be taken on their face as a very real yardstick to determine if we have participated in the promises of the covenants in the way the Lord intends.
- Have ye spiritually been born of God? (vs.14)
- Have ye received his image in your countenances? (vs. 14)
- Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts? (vs.14)
- Can ye look up to God at that day with a pure heart and clean hands?(vs. 19)
- Can you look up, having the image of God engraven upon your countenances?(vs.19)
- If ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now? (vs. 26)
- Have ye walked, keeping yourselves blameless before God?(vs. 27)
- Could ye say, if ye were called to die at this time, within yourselves, that ye have been sufficiently humble? (vs. 27)
- Behold, are ye stripped of pride? (vs. 28)
- Is there one among you who is not stripped of envy? (vs. 29)
Are these questions you ask someone who believes conversion is a life long process? Are these they types of questions you ask a people who believe that becoming born again is a lifetime process of almost imperceptible change?
Alma then asks a question that reveals whether we understand if we’ve been born again because there is a faith and confidence of redemption associated with the experience. This faith and confidence is a fruit. This is why Alma asks the following question:
I say unto you, can you imagine to yourselves that ye hear the voice of the Lord, saying unto you, in that day: Come unto me ye blessed, for behold, your works have been the works of righteousness upon the face of the earth? (vs. 16)
Alma then asks questions that reveal that today is the day to receive the mighty change of heart. If we persist in a condition of not being fully born again we may find ourselves in the category that Alma now identifies:
Or do ye imagine to yourselves that ye can lie unto the Lord in that day, and say—Lord, our works have been righteous works upon the face of the earth—and that he will save you?
Or otherwise, can ye imagine yourselves brought before the tribunal of God with your souls filled with guilt and remorse, having a remembrance of all your guilt, yea, a perfect remembrance of all your wickedness, yea, a remembrance that ye have set at defiance the commandments of God? (Alma 5:17-18)
What are these commandments set at defiance? In context of his sermon, are they not to come to the Lord and be born again?
And if we aren’t in a state of being born again, or in a state of redemption, won’t it be us who find ourselves lying to the Lord with the false self-satisfaction that we have yet to experience the mighty change of heart and yet believe we are righteous?
Alma boldly declares:
There can no man be saved except his garments are washed white; yea, his garments must be purified until they are cleansed from all stain. (vs. 21)
Is this a condition that one receives by just “doing his best everyday?” This is an altogether different doctrine. It is a declaration that one must be purified and cleansed from all sin today. And then we must learn to endure in that state of being.
For those that believe they can persist in not full and complete repentance, having not received a mighty change of heart, and being born again he has hard things to say and a clear warning to those of the church who profess believe and yet put off the day of their full and complete repentance:
O ye workers of iniquity; ye that are puffed up in the vain things of the world, ye that have professed to have known the ways of righteousness nevertheless have gone astray, as sheep having no shepherd, notwithstanding a shepherd hath called after you and is still calling after you, but ye will not hearken unto his voice! (vs. 37)
These powerful words should bring all of us who have yet to repent and be born a gain to tremble with fear and trepidation. The warning is clear. And the warning is to those of the church.
Finally, Alma declares the words he was commanded speak and the invitation is, once again, unmistakable.
And now I say unto you that this is the order after which I am called, yea, to preach unto my beloved brethren, yea, and every one that dwelleth in the land; yea, to preach unto all, both old and young, both bond and free; yea, I say unto you the aged, and also the middle aged, and the rising generation; yea, to cry unto them that they must repent and be born again. (vs. 49)
And it is by their fruit that we will know who has repented and been born again, and those that have not.
And again I say unto you, the Spirit saith: Behold, the ax is laid at the root of the tree; therefore every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit shall be hewn down and cast into the fire, yea, a fire which cannot be consumed, even an unquenchable fire. Behold, and remember, the Holy One hath spoken it. (vs. 52)
And so, is this not one of the most powerful chapters of all scripture to teach us not only the importance of being born again today, the type of fruit produced when one partakes of this spiritual condition, and the consequences of persisting in the false belief that we are still righteous even if we have yet to experience the mighty change of heart and have yet to bring forth fruit meet for repentance?
This entire chapter suggests something quite radical. Read straightforwardly and honestly, it can produce deep anxiety and fear that one has not yet experienced these things, and yet is regularly affirmed as an active and righteous member of the restored Church. Perhaps, we need to look at the principles of faith, and repentance in a fresh and different way. The Book of Mormon will help us do this. If you feel like despairing because Alma preaches hard things, take hope. The true principle of repentance will provide a clear path to experience this miraculous and mighty change of heart. We will discuss this in many subsequent posts.
It is my testimony that this doctrine is at the core of the New and Everlasting Covenant. And that the blessing, opportunity, and miracle of being born again is available to everyone today. We just have to learn how to repent.