The Born Again Benchmark Questions

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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.

Alma asks:

  1. Have ye spiritually been born of God? (vs.14)

 

  1. Have ye received his image in your countenances? (vs. 14)

 

  1. Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts? (vs.14)

 

  1. Can ye look up to God at that day with a pure heart and clean hands?(vs. 19)

 

  1. Can you look up, having the image of God engraven upon your countenances?(vs.19)

 

  1. 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)

 

  1. Have ye walked, keeping yourselves blameless before God?(vs. 27)

 

  1. Could ye say, if ye were called to die at this time, within yourselves, that ye have been sufficiently humble? (vs. 27)

 

  1. Behold, are ye stripped of pride? (vs. 28)

 

  1. 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.

 

 

 

 

Baptized by Fire and They Knew It Not?

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. (Moroni 9:20)

Converted Prisoners

The promises and fruits of becoming born again through the baptism of fire and reception of the Holy Ghost are great and powerful. The baptism by fire is a transformation of the whole being. It is to become purified and cleansed without spot. It is to become a Son or Daughter of God.

When we are baptized by fire and the Holy Ghost we receive the righteousness of Jesus Christ and are transformed in his nature and in his holiness. Our dispositions are fundamentally changed.

The experience of being baptized by fire and the Holy Ghost is unmistakable. Here is a list of descriptions throughout scripture of this transformation and its fruit.

Become born again (John 3:3)

Mighty change in your heart (Alma 5:14)

Cleansed from all unrighteousness (Alma 7:14)

Changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness (Mosiah 27:25)

Being Redeemed of God (Mosiah 27:25)

Become the Sons and Daughters of God (Mosiah 27:25)

You are blessed to enjoy the words of eternal life in this world (Moses 6:59)

Become sanctified from all sin (Moses 6:59)

You know God (1 John 4:7)

Overcome the world (1 John 5:4)

Receive the Lord’s image in your countenance (Alma 5:14)

Be filled with the Holy Ghost (Alma 36:24)

Have the wicked spirit rooted from our breast (Alma 22:15)

Receive great joy (Alma 22:15; Mosiah 4:3)

Garments are washed white, purified until they are cleansed from all sin (Alma 5:21)

Sufficiently humble (Alma 5:27)

Stripped of pride (Alma 5:28)

Stripped of envy (Alma 5:29)

Bring forth works meet for repentance (Alma 5:54)

Sing the song of redeeming love (Alma 5:9)

Illuminated by the light of the everlasting word (Alma 5:7)

Quickened in the inner man (Moses 6:65)

Receive a remission of sin (3 Nephi 12:1)

You have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually (Mosiah 5:2)

Willing to be obedient to everything the Lord commands (Mosiah 5:5)

Become spiritually begotten (Mosiah 5:7)

Will not have a mind to injure one another (Mosiah 4:13)

Filled with the pure love of Christ (Moroni 7:48)

Filled with hope and perfect love (Moroni 8:26)

You cannot deny the power of God (Moroni 10:32)

You become holy, without spot (Moroni 10:33)

The promises of transformation in the spirit are so great it brought King Lamoni’s father to be willing to give up all that he possessed, even all of his kingdom to receive this transformation.

How then, is it possible, that a group of Lamanites were baptized by fire and the Holy Ghost and knew it not?  Considering the description and power of the blessing of receiving the mighty change how could someone receive this great blessing and not even know it?

Perhaps there is a different reading of this scripture that could be considered.

Instead of reading it as they did not realize they had experienced a baptism of fire, a careful reading suggests another way of understanding this scripture.

What if they were very aware of being changed in the spirit and transformed – that they knew something powerful and life changing had happened to their being, but what they didn’t know was what to call it.

The Lamanites experienced the miraculous conversion of the spirit. What they didn’t understand, perhaps, is that this thing was the doctrine of Christ. It was the power of the Holy Ghost.

For example, about eight years ago, I went through a few months of experiencing burning, debilitating pain in the back of my right leg. It was so painful, that some days I would have to lay on the ground for a few hours so it would settle down. In fact, it was during this time that I met my wife. When she saw me for the first time she thought I walked with a limp.

Even though I felt this pain in my leg it wasn’t until I went to a doctor that I learned what to call it. It wasn’t until I met someone with knowledge about this condition that I could be taught what it was, what caused it, and ultimately how to fix it.

And so, I believe, it was with the Lamanites. They experienced powerful and life-changing transformation. It probably was later that they had to be taught the doctrine of what they experienced, and why exactly it happened. They had to be taught the doctrine to understand what they had already experienced.

 

Who Are These Lamanites?

So, this leads us to ask a critical question. Who are the Lamanites to which this scripture is referring?

In 3rd Nephi chapter 9 it is a record of the Savior’s words. The author of the chapter is Nephi, the son of Nephi. It was his father and uncle, Lehi that was present when 300 Lamanites in prison were baptized in a powerful and miraculous way. This account is found in Helaman chapter 5.

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 5:45).

It was this group of 300 Lamanites that were commanded not to doubt what had happened to them.  (Helaman 5:49)

It is clear to me that the reference to the Lamanites that were baptized by fire in 3 Nephi 9 would be the miracle that Nephi’s father and uncle had participated in by their faith. These Lamanites went on to convert the more part of the Lamanite nation. This would be an event that could be mentioned by Nephi and would be an unmistakable reference to one of the greatest miracles of their immediate generation.

This was such a great occurrence it was also mentioned in Ether chapter 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)

This scripture also refers to that conversion experience specifically as a baptism of fire.

Is it possible that 3 Nephi is referencing another account of Lamanites being baptized by fire and not knowing something had happened to them? I suppose it is possible. But it is completely improbable. There is no other example in scripture to which this could possibly be referring. If it’s not the Lamanites in Helaman 5 then we should, at a minimum, withhold interpreting the verse given that we have no idea to who what kind of experience it is referring.

 

Conclusion

Personally, I am 100% comfortable connecting 3 Nephi 9:20 with the conversion of the Lamanites in Helaman 5. Because of this connection, there is no reason to teach that one could experience a baptism and also not be aware that something had happened. This possibility is not represented in the scriptures. They do not give us that option.

In fact, as demonstrated above, all accounts of the baptism of fire in the scriptures are powerful, miraculous, and unmistakable in the experience. They are for each Latter Day Saint. We should all receive the admonition to “Marvel not, that all mankind must be born again.”

I love the scriptures and the invitation to believe and receive of the miracle of redemption and transformation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Vision of David O. McKay

I love this account from President McKay. The connection of being born again to having overcome the world is powerful.

“I then fell asleep, and beheld in vision something infinitely sublime. In the distance I beheld a beautiful white city. Though it was far away, yet I seemed to realize that trees with luscious fruit, shrubbery with gorgeously tinted leaves, and flowers in perfect bloom abounded everywhere. The clear sky above seemed to reflect these beautiful shades of color. I then saw a great concourse of people approaching the city. Each one wore a white flowing robe and a white headdress. Instantly  my attention seemed centered upon their leader, and though I could see only the profile of his features and his body, I recognized him at once as my Savior! The tint and radiance of his countenance were glorious to behold. There was a peace about him which seemed sublime–it was divine!

The city, I understood, was his. It was the City Eternal; and the people following him were to abide there in peace and eternal happiness.

But who were they? As if the Savior read my thoughts, he answered by pointing to a semicircle that then appeared above them, and on which were written in gold the words: “These Are They Who Have Overcome The World–Who Have Truly Been Born Again!”

[Cherished Experiences from the Writings of David O. McKay, comp. Clare Middlemiss (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1955), pp. 59-60]

Being Present and Sanctified Today

This was made known to me by my good friend Therese Cooper.

Brigham Young:

Our work is a work of the present. The salvation we are seeking is for the present, and, sought correctly, it can be obtained, and be continually enjoyed….If we are saved, we are happy, we are filled with light, glory, intelligence, and we pursue a course to enjoy the blessings that The Lord has in store for us. If we continue to pursue that course, it produces just the thing we want, that is, to be saved at this present moment. And this will lay the foundation to be saved forever and ever, which will amount to an eternal salvation…..Some will inquire, “Do you suppose we shall finish the temple Brother Brigham?” I have had such questions put to me already. My answer is, I do not know and I do not care any more about it than I should if my body was dead and in the grave and my spirit in Paradise. I never have cared but for one thing, and that is, simply to know that I am now right before my Father in Heaven. If I am this moment, this day, doing the things God requires of my hands, and precisely where my Father in Heaven wanted me to be, I care no more about tomorrow than though it never would come.

– A Sermon by President B. Young, Delivered in the Tabernacle, Great Salt Lake City, April 6, 1853, at the General Conference.

Becoming Born Again: Event of Process?

This week I’ve spent a lot of time pondering the principle of becoming born again. The question that I’ve struggled with is whether the experience is an event or a process.

The first thing to recognize is that, as far as I am aware, the scriptures never refer to becoming born again, experiencing the mighty change of heart, the baptism of fire, or becoming a Son and Daughter of Christ as a process. The scriptural pattern is always an event.

What confuses the issue is the process of sanctification and conflating it too closely with the baptism of fire. Although they are both principles of the same transformative process it is important to understand their purposes separately.

The baptism of fire is the cleansing and transformative experience of receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost when one fully repents, commits to whole-hearted obedience, and is willing to sacrifice all for the redemptive power of Jesus Christ.

The fruits of having one’s baptism of fire is that the natural man is neutralized by becoming a Son or Daughter of God. One loses their disposition to do evil. They feel a pure love for all people and a desire to bless the lives of all they encounter. They thirst and hunger after righteousness. They cannot wait to study the scriptures and they immerse themselves in them.

The person that is born again loves to pray and worship the Savior. They desire that all partake of the love and forgiveness of Christ. It becomes the primary motivation and desire of their lives. They lose a taste and desire of the things of the world.

The process of sanctification is the process that we engage in after we are born again. Since the fruits of being born again will always fade, one must be in the constant discipline of sanctifying themselves. This process of sanctification leads them to deeper and more fundamental experiences in the Spirit. It is the process of receiving revelation and the continuous purification of heart.

As we are invited to endure to the end, it is my feeling that that is an invitation to endure to the end in a state of redemption. In a state of grace.

It does not mean “white knuckling it” as an active member of the church. It is to learn to endure as a Son or Daughter of God.

Being born again is being in a state of grace. It is living in a state of redemption. The power, love, light, revelation, and knowledge of Christ flows through your being. It is to experience a fundamental change in your disposition. It is to become like Christ.