Like many principles and doctrines of the gospel, repentance has degrees and types. These types of repentance bring us closer to God in the kingdom of which law we abide, and also are preparatory to ascending into greater laws and covenants that bring us into oneness with God.
The three degrees of repentance are what prepare us and bring us into the three kingdoms of glory. There are telestial, terrestrial, and celestial forms of repentance. Each have a different purpose and each prepare us for our next ascension if we have the faith to press forward.
The telestial kingdom is the kingdom in which we all reside. In a state of nature, this earth is both a place of death and a place where the light of Christ sheds itself abroad to the hearts of all people. As we choose to yield to light we are able to grow in light and become brighter individuals with a greater sense of what is light and darkness. As we yield to darkness we lose light and have less ability to discern between light and darkness. We are beings that are in flux. We are divided. There is a war in our hearts and a struggle over territory for light and darkness.
Telestial repentance is the decision to follow light instead of darkness. It is to choose to add light to the current condition. This is articulated a number of ways – but telestial repentance is the path of incremental improvement.
“Do better today than you did yesterday,” is a summary of the approach of this type or repentance. It produces light. It produces progress. It is the type of progress that betters individuals and betters a telestial kingdom. As a telestial kingdom becomes a kingdom of glory, it will be inherited by numberless people of different varieties and intensities of light according to how well they succeeded at gathering light to themselves and spreading it in this kingdom.
The Lord blesses those that desire this path. “Doing better, and being better” is a path of light, and if it is followed it can lead to greater heights and greater levels of repentance (terrestrial/celestial). This path is articulate well by President Nelson.
“All of us can do better and be better than ever before… Nothing is more liberating, more ennobling, or more crucial to our individual progression than is a regular, daily focus on repentance. Repentance is not an event; it is a process. It is the key to happiness and peace of mind. When coupled with faith, repentance opens our access to the power of the Atonement of Jesus ChristPresident Nelson, April 4, 2019 General Conference
Choosing light over darkness will lead a person into greater and greater levels of power in the light of Christ.
This process of receiving light is often described in this manner. This is from Elder Bednar’s talk discussing the pickle and the brine of how to become born again. It is framed from a telestial repentance perspective.
The spiritual rebirth,… does not occur quickly or all at once; it is an ongoing process – not a single event. Line upon line and precept upon precept, gradually and almost imperceptibly, our motives, our thoughts, our words, and our deeds become aligned with the will of God. This phase of the transformation process requires time, persistence, and patience.Elder Bednar, April, 2004 General Conference
The telestial path of transition and rebirth is long, slow, and almost imperceptible for a fundamental reason. Telestial paths or repentance bring light, but they can also be exhausting, slow, and deeply discouraging. The reason for this is simple and described many ways in the scriptures. It is almost impossible to both build a kingdom on earth and also a kingdom in heaven. The slow pace of telestial repentance is due to the reality that your heart is always in competition with the world. Never really leaving it, you try to both be a star citizen in Babylon and a builder of the kingdom of God. It is tiring, exhausing, long, and almost imperceptible to live the gospel in a way that neither wants to offend the world nor God.
It’s not to say it doesn’t work, it just takes a really long time. If fact, it takes precisely the amount of time that small decisions to follow light ultimately bring you to the decision point of loving God with all of your heart, or not.
Telestial repentance brings light, and it can lead a person to transition to terestrial repentance, which is the ideal, but in and of itself it only produces varying degrees of light in a telestial kingdom. Without transitioning, telestial repentance produces telestial glory.
Unfortunately, many have, in good faith, tried to reconcile this level of repentance with celestial reward. Formulations of this repentance vary, but one of the more popular teaching goes something like, “Do your best and let God do the rest.” Although this sentiment is intended to take the pressure off of someone seeking God that they carry when they believe Telestial repentance is the path to the Celestial Kingdom, the inherent untruth in reality does not provide relief. This will be explained later.
The Covenant Path
As a person learns the gospel, this type of obedience is often associated with other laws of the telestial kingdom, which are physical ordinances of the priesthood. Being baptized by water, receiving the physical ordinance of priesthood endowment, and receiving the physical sealing of marriage are all telestial rites of the priesthood as they are currently administered on earth. Telestial compliance is the price of entry. One need only comply with outward forms of obedience to be qualified to have these ordinances administered. As we receive these physical ordinances they can orient us to new levels of repentance and preparation for us to realize these blessings and higher covenants.
Receiving physical ordinances in a telestial spiritual state is what seems to be the implicit definition of the “covenant path”. It is receiving the covenants and ordinances of higher kingdoms of heaven without qualifying for the actual blessing and revelatory experiences of those ordinances and kingdoms. The covenants outline the path, but they are yet to be realized in reality.
Consider the following three covenants and ordinances and what they represent:
- Baptism – Becoming fully born again and a new creature in Christ
- Endowment – Receiving your calling and election made sure
- Marriage Sealing – The calling and election made sure of your marriage
Those that are administered these physical ordinances rarely comply with the terms of those covenants when they are received in their physical form. Very few, if any, are receiving their calling and election made sure when they receive their endowment in the temple. Very few, if any, are having their marriage sealed in the heavens when they are married (How could it be? They haven’t been married yet to be tested according to the covenant. Can you receive the calling and election of your marriage before you have received your own personal calling and election made sure?)
So, we administer celestial and terrestrial ordinances to those that only qualify for telestial light. This seems to be the way of the covenant path.
Both Lehi and Nephi saw this in their respective visions of the tree of life. There is a distinction to be made between the covenant path and the straight and narrow path. The straight and narrow path is the actual path of realizing both the physical and spiritual manifestation of ordinances and and covenants. The covenant path is the receiving of the phyical ordinances without the endowment of power that comes when an ordinance is completely fulfilled. Those blessings occur when passed through the repentance of the terrestrial and celestial kingdoms, which will be described in preceding sections.
Lehi described seeing this in his dream when he recorded:
“And I saw numberless concourses of people, many of whom were pressing forward, that they might obtain the path which led unto the tree which I stood.”1 Nephi 8: 21
This is a description of the covenant path: It is those that are seeking to obtain the straight and narrow path. It is those that have received higher ordinances but have yet to repent and qualify for the spiritual manifestations and power of Godliness that MUST accompany those ordinances for them to be true and complete (D&C 84: 20-21).
Please do not mistake this as a criticism of administering physical ordinances to those that qualify on a telestial level. There is power in learning the physical representation of what should be happening spiritually. What we should be cautioned of, however, is to not mistake the physical ordinance for the real thing if the power of God associated with that ordinance is not being made manifest.
Baptism of water is an ordinance that is authorized to be fully received and administered in a telestial kingdom. It is an Aaronic order, which order of the priesthood is telestial. It is preparatory for the terrestrial and celestial orders. Baptism is the ordinance of making a sign to God that one has received a forgiveness of sins (D&C 20: 37)
But, as Joseph Smith taught, water baptism is just half a baptism.
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.’Joseph Smith
As telestial repentance is the decision to choose to follow light in an incremental process, terestrial repentance is represented in the ordinance of baptism. It is full and immersive repentance. It is the movement of going “all in”.
Just as wading through water doesn’t baptise you, doing your best everyday to follow the light of Christ without the full commitment of one’s heart to follow Christ at any cost or sacrifice does not qualify you for a terrestrial kingdom.
The process of baptism represents this. Baptism of water and the Holy Ghost is the transition from telestial to terrestrial. But we should be very careful and precise what we mean by baptism. As noted by Joseph Smith, water baptism is half a baptism. We must also receive the baptism of sprit, which is the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost.
If we confuse the ordinance of the laying on of hands as the reception of the Holy ghost we will be greatly mistaken about this ordinance and its full completion. One’s baptism is not complete until they are born again and wrought upon by the spirit and become a new creature in Christ. The Book of Mormon teaches this clearly and often. It is a primary message of the scriptural record.
“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I know that if ye shall follow the Son, with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ, by baptism—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 baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel” (2 Nephi 31: 16)
The physical portion of the ordinance is conducted by the laying on of hands, but the portion that completes the ordinance is the spiritual endowment and experience that transforms someone from the natural man to a new creature in Christ.
This is the event of becoming born again. It is a spiritual transition. It is what is being described by King Benjamin.
“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 5:7).
Alma gives the charge that we repent and become born again. He declares, “Now I say unto you that ye must repent, and be born again; for the Spirit saith if you are not born again ye cannot inhert the kingdom of heaven…” (Alma 7: 14).
Christ declares this doctrine as a voice from the heavens to the Nephites.
“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).
Some misinterpret this verse to mean the baptism of fire can be so imperceptible that you do not always recognize your baptism of fire. If we understand contextually that Christ was referring the experience at the temple in Helaman chapter 5, we understand that this was not at all the case. The Lamanites were endowed with a mighty change of heart; they most likely just didn’t know what to call it.
The baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost is an experience of transformation. It is the total transformation of the heart and mind to a new creature in Christ. You become in nature a son and daughter of Christ.
This transformation occurs when someone exercises terrestrial level repentance. When a person decides to come to Christ with their entire being and hold nothing back, when they fully commit at whatever sacrifice is asked of them, they enter into a state of having a broken heart and contrite spirit. This is the condition of becoming born again.
In telestial repentance, a person may commit to following Christ, but they also may not commit to having a heart fully broken of desiring things of this world. They desire further light, but not at the expense of telestial gifts and desires.
In order to become fully born again, a person must cease to desire to build their own kingdom on earth. This is a key point. It doesn’t mean that they cease their labors on this earth, but they no longer consecrate their labors to their own glory. They consecrate their labors to God and his purposes. This is the natural desire of someone who is born again; they no longer desire to build a kingdom for themselves in this world. They no longer see their wealth or status or accomplishments as evidence of their greatness. They don’t want to build that kingdom. They desire to consecrate the resources and talents they possess to making this telestial world into Zion.
This principle may be best demonstrated by the account of King Lamoni’s father. He was Aaron how he mary receive the joy of his redemption. He desired to become a new creature in Christ. He pleaded with Aaron the following:
“What shall I do that I may have this eternal life of which thou hast spoken? Yea, what shall I do that I may be born of God, having this wicked spirit rooted 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 all that I possess, yea, I will forsake my kingdom, that I may receive this great joy” (Alma 22: 15).
This desire to forsake his kingdom and give up all that he possessed is what triggered the experience that brought him into a fully redeemed state.
If Lamoni’s father had committed to a path of incremental improvement, following the light of Christ but at the same time trying to retain and keep his kingdom for his glory, he would not have experienced the dramatic transformation that the scriptures record.
And so it is with our own repentance. If we desire to become born again as an event in our lives, in the same way that baptism of water is an event, we must fully commit everything in our hearts to God and perform the sacrifices required at our hands.
Telestial repentance can prepare us and bring us to this point over time – but that is the path of the lower road. It is long, and more painful, and carries a heavy burden. Christ says that his burden is light. This is true only when one fully accepts the burden of Christ. What is difficult is both retaining a foothold in a telestial kingdom and order, and also negotiating with the light of Christ. This becomes very onerous very quickly. If we cast off the telestial kingdom and submit to the death of the natural man in a single movement, then we receive the powerful blessings of being baptized by fire.
Those that choose the path of telestial repentance certainly can find that their path ultimately leads to this place of having to decide if they are going to go “all in” or not. No matter how slowly we take the path, we must face the decision point at some time or another to make the move from incremental improvement to complete and total immersion.
C.S. Lewis described this when he wrote the following two passages.
“The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self–all your wishes and precautions–to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is to remain what we call “ourselves,” to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be “good.”
“Christ says give me all. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work. I want you. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent, as well as the ones you think wicked; the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you myself; my own will shall become yours.”C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
The Gift of the Holy Ghost
When someone desires to completely come to Christ with a broken heart and contrite spirit, and they are baptized with the Holy Ghost, this is what is actually meant by the Gift of the Holy Ghost.
A person who is in a born again condition is animated by the Holy Ghost in a way that their nature is changed. They no longer desire to do evil. They are full of love. They sing the song of redeeming love. They make manifest the gifts of the spirit (Alma chapter 5).
When one possesses the Gift of the Holy Ghost they are in a spiritual condition. This condition is in a state of comfort. It is the first comforter. They are in a terrestrial state of rest. In this condition they are sanctified according to the knowledge they possess. They are also in a condition of being preparatory for the Holy Ghost to reveal to them knowledge, mysteries, and their own unique path to the presence of the Savior. They are now on the straight and narrow path.
The Gift of the Holy Ghost is often confused with the light of Christ. As we are prompted by light we can increase and be warned and know the truth of things by the light of Christ. The Gift of the Holy Ghost, however, is entirely different. It is being in a sanctified state where the Holy Ghost has complete influence. It is in this state that we are endowed with knowledge and mysteries that can only come through the channel of the Holy Ghost. The Gift of the Holy Ghost is being in a born again condition.
It should also be understood that being in a born again condition is the straight and narrow path. The reason the path is straight and narrow is because it is very difficult to retain the born again disposition. We must learn how to endure to the end, which means, we must learn how to endure in this elevated, spiritual state.
Because becoming born again is not a one-time event, someone who enters the gate will learn that they must repent often, continually yielding their entire hearts back to God, again and again. They must repent continually on this path, but they must repent according to terrestrial repentance – they must be consumed over and over.
When someone is on the path they are also being taught higher covenants, laws, and principles. This comes by the tutoring of the Holy Ghost and is also patterned in the temple endowment. Each time they enter into a higher covenant structure on this path they are sanctified into a higher level of light, truth, and obedience. Each one of these ascension experiences is its own baptism of fire. Thus, along the path, as one ascends into higher covenants and understanding, they will be baptized many times. Sanctification increases as we are sanctified into higher laws.
The terrestrial kingdom is a probationary state. It is the state of being in which we will prove faithful as sons and daughters of Christ. The terrestrial kingdom is the straight and narrow path.
Water, Spirit, and Blood
I would like to suggest a reason why it is the case that as someone is baptized by fire, experiences a born again experience, and tastes the peace and love of being a new creature in Christ, how such a person could ever fall back to their old, fallen and natural ways. Because amongst those that receive a baptism of spirit, this is an inevitability.
The reason for this is that even though our spirits become sanctified and we can become full of the spirit, our bodies are still fallen and our blood has yet to transform from a fallen state to a redeemed state. Our spirits may become born again, but our flesh must go through its own transition. Until that transition is complete, one must continue to repent and submit their spirits completely to God so that it may rule over the flesh. This explains, however, why it is that even though an individual may experience a dramatic and true transformation, they will inevitably experience a fall back to their natural state. They then begin the journey of learning how to continually submit to this higher state of existing and prepare themselves to complete the full blood transformation.
Please consider the following scripture in the record of Moses. He describes three levels of baptism. There is a water level, a spirit, and a blood.
“That by reason of transgression cometh the fall, which fall bringeth death, and inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I have made, and so became of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory;For by the water ye keep the commandment; by the Spirit ye are justified, and by the blood ye are sanctified” (Moses 6: 59-60).
Moses identifies three elements of being reborn. Water, is the baptism of water. Spirit, is the baptism of fire – the sanctification of the spirit. And then there is blood. What is interesting is that Moses identifies the cleansing of blood as what ultimately sanctifies you from all sin. The product of this sanctification is the enjoying of the words of eternal life in this world. This is the blessing of receiving one’s calling and election made sure.
In a technical way, when one is born again they are brought into a probationary terrestrial state. This is where Zion is first being built in preparation to living a celestial law. Similarly, an individual is born again through a baptism of fire they are also in a probationary state. If they endure in this state and receive increasing endowments of sanctification along the straight and narrow path they will enter into that place where their spirit, blood and flesh is also transformed for a complete sanctified state.
How does one repent so that their blood also transforms? I’d like to suggest one aspect of this process, and that is repenting of multi-generational iniquity. When we are born on this earth we inherit the DNA, habits, culture, and flesh of our extended family. We carry the weight of thousands of years of fallen matter in our bodies. We inherit generational sins and iniquities of our past family generations.
Coming clean from the blood and sins of this generation is part of this process. We cease the continuance of these iniquities and we subject the fallen matter of our flesh to the spirit, causing a physical transformation on this earth to reflect the reality and higher glory of a terrestrial kingdom. As we seek to come clean every wit of our inherited family lines we become, as the scriptures describe, saviors on Mt. Zion.
As the physical matter of our bodies starts to take the form of our sanctified spirits we receive priesthood power, which is in one sense, the process of matter begining to yield to our words as we become sanctified and the Father and Son hearken to our words as we have hearkened to their words. The transformation of blood occurs when our sanctified spirits invite our physical bodies to elevate to a singular and unified state. It is in this state that we receive a fullness of priesthood power. This is the process of Celestial repentance.
Understanding how each kingdom has its own level of repentance, that is sufficient for the kingdom in which glory it provides, but also how each kingdom’s repentance is preparatory to ascend into the next kingdom should prove extremely helpful in understanding what state of being we are receiving and according to what laws. Difficulty, confusion, and condemnation occurs when we confuse one type or repentance for another. For example, it is commonplace to mistake telestial repentance of incremental improvement as the type of repentance that occurs on the straight and narrow path. In this state, the vast majority of people mistakenly believe they are on the straight and narrow path whereas in reality they are actually striving to obtain the gate that leads to the path.
It is also not uncommon for someone to have a born again experience and then mistakenly believe they are permanently on the path, not understanding the level of repentance and focus required to stay on the path.
Another common mistake is to believe that one is not born again until they have experiences that are in reality at the level of having their calling and election made sure. Some believe and teach that the born again experience must be so dramatic that very few (if any) are actually receiving these experiences. Instead, they are conjuring up false experiences and vain imaginations in their desire to become baptized by fire.
Clarity of doctrine and the plan of salvation is critical. If the paths aren’t clear then there is a good chance that we will make the mistake of believing we are experiencing something that we aren’t. Understanding how telestial, terrestrial, and celestial repentance works will help us understand where we are on the path(s) to God and what it will take for us to make our next ascension.