Born of the Spirit
The First Presidency in a letter to priesthood leaders dated January 23, 1998, announced that, "In harmony with instruction given in the revelations, the confirmation of new convert members will no longer occur at the time of baptism but will be performed in a subsequent sacrament meeting of the ward or branch in which the new member resides." This modification in what had been Church practice for some years will have several salutary effects. Certainly as new members are confirmed in a sacrament meeting, they will be identified to the ward or branch members who inevitably will be anxious to greet and welcome them into the fellowship and community of saints. Among the most important consequences of this change will be the added recognition and importance accorded to the ordinance of laying on hands to confer the gift of the Holy Ghost. When confirmation occurs as something of an appendage at the end of a baptismal service, it is sometimes neglected in the sense of not receiving the attention it merits. When confirmation is performed at a separate time and place, we may have occasion to reflect more deeply on its significance. That is my hope.
Early in his ministry the Savior identified the two baptisms needed to achieve a spiritual or rebirth into the kingdom of God. To Nicodemus he declared, "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 3:3-5). The rebirth or baptism of water is an event that occurs in a particular place at a given moment in time. Consequently it is not difficult to comprehend. The rebirth or baptism of the Spirit which often occurs over time and is generally not an observable phenomenon, is not so easily understood. It is my purpose to speak today to this essential matter in the hope of adding a degree of clarity.
In a number of places where baptism is discussed in the scriptures, it seems that the speaker urges his listeners to receive baptism not simply for the benefit inherent in that ordinance, but because taking that step opens the door for the influence of the Holy Spirit in his or her life. The sense is, "You should be baptized so that you can receive the gift of the Holy Ghost which will introduce you to the kingdom of God."
Peter in his great sermon at Pentecost says: "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38)." Nephi, relating his vision of Jesus' baptism declares:
"And also, the voice of the Son came unto me, saying: He that is baptized in my name, to him will the Father give the Holy Ghost, like unto me; wherefore, follow me, and do the things which ye have seen me do.
"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 31:12-13)
One gets the same sense of the wonder and desire to receive the Holy Ghost from the words of God himself as spoken to Adam:
"And he called upon our father Adam by his own voice, saying: I am God; I made the world, and men before they were in the flesh.
"And he also said unto him: If thou wilt turn unto me, and hearken unto my voice, and believe, and repent of all thy transgressions, and be baptized, even in water, in the name of mine Only Begotten Son, who is full of grace and truth, which is Jesus Christ, the only name which shall be given under heaven, whereby salvation shall come unto the children of men, ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, asking all things in his name, and whatsoever ye shall ask, it shall be given you." (Moses 6:51-52)
The revealed prayers used in blessing the bread and water in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, also emphasize the importance of the Holy Ghost. In both prayers, the great reward for our promises to take upon us the name of Christ, always remember him and keep his commandments is that we "may always have his Spirit to be with [us]" (D&C 20:77, 79).
Clearly there is something very important here. The role of the Holy Spirit in our rebirth is elaborated further in this same revelation to Adam as God instructs him further saying:
"Wherefore teach it unto your children, that all men, everywhere, must repent, or they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God, for no unclean thing can dwell there, or dwell in his presence; for, in the language of Adam, Man of Holiness is his name, and the name of his Only Begotten is the Son of Man, even Jesus Christ, a righteous Judge, who shall come in the meridian of time.
"Therefore I give unto you a commandment, to teach these things freely unto your children, saying: 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 6:57-60)
I gather from these verses that the essence of our rebirth into the kingdom of heaven is a cleansing. No unclean thing can dwell in the presence of the Man of Holiness or the Son of the Man of Holiness, and so to enter or be born into his kingdom a cleansing must be effected in us. It is conditioned on our choice manifested by repentance, or in other words the abandonment of sin, all that makes us unclean, so that we cease defiling ourselves. That choice is followed by a manifestation of commitment that we will serve God, and that our supreme loyalty henceforth is to Him. This occurs as we are baptized in water signaling our commitment and prefiguring the cleansing that can now come to us. The cleansing comes "by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten," that is, the power of the atonement of Jesus Christ or what we sometimes refer to as grace. The agency or medium by which the blood of Christ is applied to make us clean is the Spirit meaning the Holy Ghost.
These verses mention being "justified" and "sanctified" as elements of our rebirth. This is confirmed by two verses in the Doctrine and Covenants:
"And we know that justification through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true; And we know also, that sanctification through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true, to all those who love and serve God with all their mights, minds, and strength." (D&C 20:30-31)
What do these terms mean? How do they relate to being cleansed and born again into the kingdom of heaven? A review of scriptures listed in the Topical Guide under "Justification" reveals that this term, having the same root as "justice," has to do with being guiltless or justified before the law, or in other words, without sin. For example, the Savior states, "whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name shall be filled [with the Holy Spirit]; and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world" (3 Nephi 27:16). The Guide to the Scriptures that is included in some of our non-English editions of the "Triple Combination" [Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price] has this simple definition of "justification": "To be pardoned from punishment for sin and declared guiltless. A person is justified by the Savior's grace through faith in him. This faith is shown by repentance and obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel. Jesus Christ's atonement enables mankind to repent and be justified or pardoned from punishment they otherwise would receive" (The Guide to the Scriptures, p. 141). Thus, the person who repents and is baptized in water and thereafter receives the Holy Ghost, will receive through the Holy Ghost the benefit of the Savior's grace. Christ's blood will answer the law of justice on behalf of such a person, and he or she will be justified before the law. Justification is to be pardoned.
Also in the Topical Guide you will find the term "Sanctification" with a number of scriptures listed. These verses suggest to us that there is a further necessary step for our rebirth beyond having justice satisfied on our account. Not only must our sin be pardoned, but the stain and effects of sin in us must be erased. Alma says, "[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, through the blood of him of whom it has been spoken by our fathers, who should come to redeem his people from their sins" (Alma 5:21). The resurrected Messiah stressed the same doctrine:
"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." (3 Nephi 27:19-20)
Turning again to The Guide to the Scriptures, we find this simple definition of "sanctification": "The process of becoming free from sin, pure, clean, and holy through the atonement of Jesus Christ" (The Guide to the Scriptures, p.219). A sanctified person, then, is not only free from responsibility for sin, but also free from the effects of sin, a holy being fit to live in the presence of the Man of Holiness.
Justification and sanctification, therefore, together constitute that perfect cleansing that God intended when he told Adam that he and all of his children "must be born again into the kingdom of heaven" (Moses 6:59). While it was Adam's choice, just as it is our action and choice, if we will, to repent, be baptized and commit to receive this cleansing, we must always remember that the cleansing itself occurs by virtue of the blood or grace or atonement of Jesus Christ through the agency of the Holy Ghost. It is the blood of Christ that justifies or pardons us. It is the blood of Christ that sanctifies us or removes our stain.
The supreme value of the gift of the Holy Ghost is evident. We must receive the Spirit so that the grace of Christ may work in us to effect our cleansing and rebirth. This is that other baptism, the baptism of the Spirit, the baptism of fire, the baptism of the Holy Ghost (see D&C 19:31). This is being born of the Spirit.
The baptism of water is, of course, an easily identifiable event in our lives. We can pinpoint when it happens. The baptism of the Spirit, so essential to our rebirth into the kingdom of heaven, is not so easily linked to a particular moment in time. In fact, it generally occurs in process of time. We may not even be fully aware as it happens. The Savior referred to an example among the ancient Lamanites: "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).
It is true that we are able to find in scriptural history instances where a spiritual rebirth took place seemingly at one particular moment as with King Lamoni (see Alma 19:33) or Alma the Younger (see Mosiah 27:24) or even an entire people as with those who heard King Benjamin's remarkable discourse:
"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.
"And under this head ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free. There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh; therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives." (Mosiah 5:7-8)
President Ezra Taft Benson on one occasion cautioned us about these examples, noting that they do not represent what this process will be for most of us:
"Becoming Christlike is a lifetime pursuit and very often involves growth and change that is slow, almost imperceptible. The scriptures record remarkable accounts of men whose lives changed dramatically, in an instant, as it were: Alma the Younger, Paul on the road to Damascus, Enos praying far into the night, King Lamoni. Such astonishing examples of the power to change even those steeped in sin give confidence that the Atonement can reach even those deepest in despair.
"But we must be cautious as we discuss these remarkable examples. Though they are real and powerful, they are the exception more than the rule. For every Paul, for every Enos, and for every King Lamoni, there are hundreds and thousands of people who find the process of repentance much more subtle, much more imperceptible. Day by day they move closer to the Lord, little realizing they are building a godlike life. They live quiet lives of goodness, service, and commitment. They are like the Lamanites, who the Lord said "were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not." (3 Nephi 9:20; italics added.)
"We must not lose hope.... The Lord is pleased with every effort, even the tiny, daily ones in which we strive to be more like Him." (Ensign, October, 1989, p.9)
For all, however, whether the baptism of fire comes in a moment or over time, it will be important to stay on course and to preserve the rebirth achieved by the grace of our Lord through the workings of the Holy Spirit. In the verses immediately following the powerful witness in Section 20 concerning justification and sanctification through the grace of Jesus Christ, there is this warning:
"But there is a possibility that man may fall from grace and depart from the living God; Therefore let the church take heed and pray always, lest they fall into temptation; Yea, and even let those who are sanctified take heed also." (D&C 20:32-34)
It is therefore essential that we not only receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and through that medium that impact of the atonement in our lives, but that we act to retain the Spirit. It must remain with us throughout life if we would preserve the cleansing that permits our entry into the heavenly kingdom. Here we see the other roles of the Holy Ghost as it comforts, warns, teaches, testifies and brings to greater maturity the attributes of godliness within us. Referring again to God's conversation with Adam, we have this divine assurance: "Therefore it is given to abide in you; the record of heaven; the Comforter; the peaceable things of immortal glory; the truth of all things; that which quickeneth all things, which maketh alive all things; that which knoweth all things, and hat all power according to wisdom, mercy, truth, justice, and judgment" (Moses 6:61).
The ordinance of confirmation unlocks the door to something wonderful, nothing less than our becoming new creatures, cleansed, holy and free from every influence of sin in us. Surely we must not treat it lightly. Surely we must strive to realize the potential of this gift in our lives. I conclude with what Adam experienced after he came to understand what we have today discussed:
"And it came to pass, when the Lord had spoken with Adam, our father, that Adam cried unto the Lord, and he was caught away by the Spirit of the Lord, and was carried down into the water, and was laid under the water, and was brought forth out of the water.
"And thus he was baptized, and the Spirit of God descended upon him, and thus he was born of the Spirit, and became quickened in the inner man.
"And he heard a voice out of heaven, saying: Thou art baptized with fire, and with the Holy Ghost. This is the record of the Father, and the Son, from henceforth and forever;
"Behold, thou art one in me, a son of God; and thus may all become my sons [and daughters]. Amen." (Moses 6:64-66, 68)
May this be your blessing. May you have the Holy Spirit to be with you in the most complete sense so that your baptism of fire, the cleansing and purifying influence of the Spirit in you, may carry forward day by day until you are both justified and sanctified. I bear witness that by the grace of Jesus Christ it may be so with you. "Ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you" (D&C 4:7).
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