Just a few chapters into the Book of Mormon we read the account of Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life. A couple of chapters later, we receive Nephi’s witness of the same vision with an added interpretation. This vision becomes the doctrinal theme of the entire work of scripture, with its imagery, allegory, and doctrine spread throughout. In chapters 31 and 32 of 2 Nephi we are given the doctrine of the vision. This is known as the doctrine of Christ.
The doctrine of Christ that is taught and testified of in the Book of Mormon is also the doctrine of the seed of faith found in Alma 32. Alma’s teaching on the seed is a restatement of Nephi and Lehi’s dream. When put together, the vision of the Tree of Life, the doctrine of Christ taught in 2 Nephi 30-33, and Alma’s teachings, particularly his sermon on the seed, of faith unlocks a rich and complex doctrinal framework. If we overlay the three accounts we find that they each offer a unique key to understanding this doctrinal framework that is at the heart of the purpose of the Book of Mormon. These essays use these three accounts of the doctrine of Christ to address critical gospel questions.
How Does One Get On the Strait and Narrow Path?
One of the first thing Lehi witnesses in his dream was “numberless concourses of people, many of whom wereforward, that they might obtain the which led unto the tree by which I stood” (1 Nephi 8: 21). I find it fascinating that he didn’t observe endless people trying to get to the tree, but to the path that leads to the tree. I think this is significant because it invites us to ask the question, what exactly is the narrow gate that leads to the path? What were people seeking?
We know that the physical ordinance of baptism is part of this gate, but we must understand all of the components of baptism to know if we are through the gate. As Christ first appeared to the Nephites he immediately taught them the doctrine of baptism. Here is what the Savior taught:
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 , was ) and behold, he stretched forth his hand unto the multitude, and cried unto them, saying: are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of these twelve whom I have 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 shallin 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 in your , and down into the depths of humility and be baptized, for they shall be visited fire and with the Holy Ghost, and shall receive a remission of their sins” (3 Nephi 12: 1-2).
We must be born of both water and spirit (John 3: 4-5). This is perhaps why Christ refers to the gate as being narrow and that few people find it. Many people can find the channel of receiving a physical baptism. Few repent sufficiently to be baptized by fire and the Holy Ghost. This baptism comes as an endowment from the Savior himself.
Lehi saw that his dream was that of the strait and narrow path (1 Nephi 8: 20-23). This may seem like a simple connection, but it is so important to remember that the events that Nephi and Lehi witness in their dream should be mapped against the doctrine outlined in the last chapters of 2 Nephi. Why is this important? Because it helps us understand where we exactly are on our own path. It helps us understand the ordinances, covenants, and experiences that we should have depending on where we are on the path.
First, in order to enter on the path, which is also the holding to the rod, Nephi explains very clearly that it is through the narrow channel of water baptism and the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost. It seems to be a commonly held assumption that we can refer to all those who have entered into the waters of baptism, have been confirmed a member of the church, and have received the laying on of hands for the Gift of the Holy Ghost are automatically on the path. This is not the case, and Nephi makes it clear that it is more than just physical ordinances needed to enter the path. You need to have the actual spiritual endowment of a baptism of fire experience.
“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I know that if ye shallthe Son, with full purpose of heart, acting no and no deception before God, but with real , repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are to take upon you the of Christ, by —yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, according to his word, behold, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the and of the Holy Ghost; and then can ye speak with the of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel” (2 Nephi 31: 13)
And then he teaches:
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 andby water; and then cometh a of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.
AND THEN are ye in thisand narrow 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 of the 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).
Christ teaches this powerful doctrine and promise to the Nephites when they heard his voice in the darkness after experiencing devastating calamity.
“And ye shall offer for aunto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I with fire and with the Holy Ghost,…” (3 Nephi 9:20)
Being baptized with fire and the Holy Ghost means you have a born again experience. It is something that happens to you. It is more than just a physical ordinance; if you haven’t had a born again experience, the mighty change of heart, and all of the accompanying fruits of that mighty change, they you have yet to enter into the channel of baptism. Consider the doctrine of born again and baptism being one single ordinance as taught in Alma:
“Now I say unto you that ye must, and be born again; for the Spirit saith if ye are not born again ye cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye may be washed from your sins, that ye may have faith on the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, who is mighty to save and to cleanse from all unrighteousness” (Alma 7: 14).
Being baptized (in the true and full sense of the ordinance) means you are born again. It requires a mighty change from the Lord himself. To be fully baptized we must be both physically immersed in water and receive the mighty change of heart. This is perhaps why we’ve been invited to not marvel at this miraculous invitation. It is so much more than just making a promise to keep the commandments. Baptism means sufficiently repenting and putting to death the natural man that we are formed in to a new creature in Christ. This is the event of baptism, and if you have not received the baptism of fire your baptism is not yet complete.
Joseph Smith clarified:
“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. The Savior says, ‘Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.’ [John 3:5.]”
He also went on to teach:
“Being born again, comes by the Spirit of God through ordinances.”
“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. The Gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, cannot be received through the medium of any other principle than the principle of righteousness.”
The principle of righteousness is the key. We can receive the physical ordinances, but that is not sufficient. We must also be born again. It comes by the Spirit of God. The reception of the Holy Ghost is the baptism of fire.
As Alma preached repentance he framed becoming born again with repentance.
“And now I say unto you that this is theafter 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
Mosiah taught so powerfully the following.
“And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be; yea, , from their carnal and state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his and daughters;
And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can ininherit the kingdom of God” (Mosiah 27: 25-26).
This is the requirement of baptism and this is the narrow gate through which we all must pass in order to enter into the strait and narrow path. It is not enough to be baptized by water. We must also go through a mighty change of heart in order to enter into the gate.
If we are baptized but not in a born again state, Alma records a powerful sermon in the 5th chapter of his record that emphasizes to the covenant members of the church that they must repent and regain the spiritual state of being born again.
“And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have yebeen ? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty in your hearts?…
Have ye walked, keeping yourselvesbefore God? Could ye say, if ye were called to die at this time, within yourselves, that ye have been sufficiently ? That your garments have been and made white through the blood of Christ, who will come to his people from their sins?
Behold, are ye stripped of? I say unto you, if ye are not ye are not prepared to meet God. Behold ye must prepare quickly; for the kingdom of heaven is soon at hand, and such an one hath not eternal life” (Alma 5: 14-28).
Just as Christ told the Nephites that HE would baptize them with fire by sending the Holy Ghost, King Benjamin’s people testified of this event:
“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 mightyin us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do , but to do good continually…
And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called theof Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are through faith on his name; therefore, ye are of him and have become his and his daughters” (Mosiah 5: 5-7).
The injunction is to become born of God and repent today. It’s not a process that takes a lifetime, even though we need to retain it for a lifetime. It’s not through a slow and imperceptible process. In order to pass through the narrow gate on to the strait and narrow path we must become born again, baptized by fire, and receive the mighty change of heart. We must first become a new creature in Christ.
The great hope of the doctrine of Christ is that we can receive this mighty change as quickly as we are willing to give up all our sins and that which we possess to know God. We receive it as quickly as we desire to give our whole lives to God without reservation and conditions. Just as King Lamoni’s father experienced, we are endowed with a mighty change of heart when we choose Christ above all other things in our life.
“And it came to pass that after Aaron had expounded these things unto him, the king said:shall I do that I may have this eternal life of which thou hast spoken? Yea, what shall I do that I may be , having this wicked spirit out of my breast, and receive his Spirit, that I may be filled with joy, that I may not be cast off at the last day? Behold, said he, I will give up that I possess, yea, I will forsake my kingdom, that I may receive this great joy” (Alma 22:15).
Alma chapters 32 through 34 is an account of Alma and Amulek teaching the doctrine of Christ to the Zoramites, who were a people that had once had the gospel, presumably made the covenants, but had fallen into pride and iniquity. Alma mentions to them baptism, but his and Amulek’s message to them wasn’t focused on the ordinance of baptism, presumably because they had already entered into the ordinances. They were reclaiming these people to the strait and narrow path.
Amulek declares to them the conditions and desperate need for repentance. He declares to them that this is the day of their repentance and that is the work of their life – their labors- is to repent with all of their heart. He said, “as ye have had so many, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not the day of your until the end” (Alma 34: 33).
And Amulek taught that if they repent, they would immediately partake of the plan of redemption, which is to become born again on the strait and narrow path.
“Yea, I would that ye would come forth andnot your hearts any longer; for behold, now is the time and the of your ; and therefore, if ye will repent and not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you” (Alma 34: 31).
The great hope and promise of the doctrine of Christ is that we can and must become born again to commence on the strait and narrow path. It is a blessing at which we should not marvel. It is the miracle of spiritual rebirth.
So, who is on the strait and narrow path? It is they that are born again. It is being in a state of a mighty change of heart. Being on the path is being in that place of mighty change. This is why it is strait. This is why it is narrow. It is a state of being that takes incredible diligence and daily attention. Perhaps this is why few find the gate and few retain it.