I have been called to serve a mission in the Illinois Chicago Mission, Spanish speaking. And I’m not going to lie to you guys, I’m really nervous. I never really planned on going on a mission, but this past fall I started to get a prompting I couldn’t ignore, and here I am. As I started to research the topic for this talk, I found a scripture that really helped reinforce my feelings that this is what I’m supposed to be doing, and also helps illustrate why I am going. The scripture is Alma 5:49, and it states, “I say unto you that this is the order after which I am called, 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.”
Born again. What does that phrase mean? It’s kind of a confusing phrase, isn’t it? In John chapter 3, we are told a story about Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a ruler among the Jews. Nicodemus was also confused about the term, “born again.” In the story, Nicodemus goes to Jesus one night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.”
“Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
At this response, Nicodemus was confused. He asked Jesus, “how can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?”
Jesus then explained to Nicodemus that he was referring to being born spiritually. He told him, “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. “
“That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the spirit is spirit.”
So, in this story, Jesus explains that being born again does not refer to being physically reborn, but rather spiritually, and that being spiritually reborn is necessary to return to our Father in Heaven. Still, I feel that the term, “born again,” is a little fuzzy.
In my research on what it means to be born again, I found a list in the New Testament Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual of phrases found in scriptures that relate to being born again. I found this list of phrases very helpful in adequately describing what it means to be born again. The list reads:
1. Believing in Jesus Christ (John 3:16, 18)
2. Experiencing “a mighty change in . . . our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2, Alma 5:12-14, 26.)
3. Being “changed from [a] carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness” (Mosiah 27:26)
4. Becoming “[God’s] sons and daughters” (Mosiah 5:7; 27:25)
5. Becoming “new creatures” (Mosiah 27:26)
6. Having “the image of God engraven upon [our] countenances” (Alma 5:19,14)
7. Repenting so our “garments [are] purified until they are cleansed from all stain, through the blood of [Christ]” (Alma 5:21, also Alma 5:19, 33-34; 22:18)
Now, let’s look a little closer at some of these phrases and examine more thoroughly the aspects of being born again. Once again, number one on the list is Believing in Jesus Christ. In John 3:16, 18 it says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoseoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
These scriptures tell us that it is absolutely crucial to believe in Jesus Christ, and acknowledge that he is the Savior of the world. However, there are some in the Christian community who believe that being born again entails only acknowledging Christ as the Savior of the world, without any personal behavioral changes. Some believe that this one time assertion that Christ is the Savior is all that is needed to allow them to return to live with our Father in heaven. As we go throughout the remainder of the list, we will see that this one step, while crucial in being spiritually reborn, is not all that is necessary.
The second phrase on our list relating to being born again is, Experiencing “a mighty change in . . . our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.” This tells us that if we are truly born again, we will have a desire to always follow the gospel principles.
King Benjamin of the Book of Mormon gives his people an address that counsels them on how to live gospel principles in Mosiah chapters 2-4, and when he asks them if they believe what he has told them, they respond in this manner saying, “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 mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.” They also said, “We are willing to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things that he shall command us, all the remainder of our days.”
King Benjamin’s people had experienced a great change of heart, so that they no longer desired to do evil. King Benjamin explained to them what happened, giving a superb definition of what it means to be born again in saying, “Ye have spoken the words that I desired; and the covenant which ye have made is a righteous covenant. 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.”
King Bejamin’s people were born again of Christ, and this was manifested by a mighty change of heart, and a desire to always do good. Just as they experience a change of heart, so might all of us if we are spiritually born again.
The fourth phrase in our list says that being born again entails becoming “[God’s] sons and daughters.” For this phrase we can go back to the story of King Benjamin’s people. In Mosiah 5:7 it refers to King Benjamin’s people being born again of Christ, and again it says . . . “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.”
I am going to combine the third, fifth, and sixth phrases, “Being “changed from [a] carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness”, “becoming new creatures,” and “Having “the image of God engraven upon [our] countenances,” and use a story to illustrate what these phrases can mean. In the June 2008 Liahona, Elder Keith K. Hilbig of the Seventy tells a story of an elder in Eastern Europe. This elder and his companion had found and taught a man named Ivan, who had come from a difficult background, as was reflected in his well-used clothing, ragged beard, and hesitant demeanor. Life had been harsh and unkind to him. Without any prior religious training, Ivan had much to overcome. Practices not in harmony with the restored gospel had to be set aside. New principles needed to be accepted and then incorporated. Ivan wanted to learn, and he prepared himself diligently for his baptism and confirmation. His clothing remained threadbare, and his beard ragged, but he had taken the first steps. Shortly after Ivan was baptized, the elder was transferred. He hoped that he might cross paths with Ivan again.
Six months later the mission president reassigned the elder to his former branch. Surprised, but eager to return, the elder, with a new companion, came early to sacrament meeting his first Sunday back in the branch. The members were pleased to see the missionary in their midst again. They rushed forward with broad smiles and warm greetings.
The elder recognized nearly everyone in the small congregation. However, he searched in vain among the faces for the man he and his companion had taught and baptized six months earlier. There arose within the elder a sense of disappointment and sadness. Had Ivan returned to his harmful habits? Had he failed to honor his covenant of baptism? Had he lost the blessings promised by his repentance?
The elder’s fears and reflections were interrupted by the approach of an unfamiliar man who was rushing forward to embrace the missionary. The clean-shaven man had a confident smile and an obvious goodness radiating from his countenance. Wearing a white shirt and a carefully knotted tie, he was on his way to prepare the sacrament for the small gathering that morning. Only when the man began to speak did the elder recognize him. It was the new Ivan, not the former Ivan they had taught and baptized .The elder saw embodied in his friend the miracle of faith, repentance, and forgiveness; he saw the reality of the Atonement.
This man that the elder had baptized had indeed been born again, risen to a state of righteousness, become a new creature and had the image of God engraven upon his countenance.
The last phrase that I want to examine more closely is the seventh one, which says that being born again requires repenting so our “garments [are] purified until they are cleansed from all stain, through the blood of [Christ].”
When this phrase refers to the being cleansed through the blood of Christ, it is referring to using the Atonement of Christ in order to fully repent.
Once we have repented of our sins, they can be completely wiped away through the ordinance of baptism. When we are baptized we are spiritually born of God, and should experience a mighty change of heart so that we can become new people and exercise faith in the redemption of our Savior, Jesus Christ, to maintain our standards of worthiness.
In Doctrine and Covenants 20:37, it says, “ all those who humble themselves before God, and desire to be baptized, and come forth with broken hearts and contrite spirits, and witness before the church that they have truly repented of all their sins, and are willing to take upon them the name of Jesus Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end, and truly manifest by their works that they have received of the spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins, shall be received by baptism into his church.”
In the Bible Dictionary we learn that baptism by immersion in water is “the introductory ordinance of the gospel, and must be followed by baptism of the Spirit in order to be complete.” The Prophet Joseph Smith said in not too uncertain terms that, “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.”
Once we are baptized we begin to receive the full benefit of forgiveness of sin through the Savior’s Atonement, but these benefits are only fully applicable upon receiving the Holy Ghost. Nephi referred to baptism as a gate that opens the way for blessings through the priesthood and temple blessings.
Before I go any further, I do want to make it clear that we believe that the Spirit of Christ comes to everyone, but that this is different and distinct from the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Joseph Smith taught, “There is a difference between the Holy Ghost and the gift of the Holy Ghost.” Many people outside of the LDS church have received revelation and promptings by the power of the Holy Ghost, however, the administrations of the Holy Ghost are limited without the gift of the Holy Ghost.
President James E. Faust in his April 2001 General Conference talk tells us, “If worthy, those possessing this spiritual gift, (meaning the gift of the Holy Ghost), can come to enjoy greater understanding and enrichment and guidance in all of life’s activities, both spiritual and temporal. The Holy Ghost bears witness to us of the truth and impresses upon our souls the reality of God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, so surely that no earthly power or authority can separate us from that knowledge. Indeed, not having the gift of the Holy Ghost is somewhat like having a body without an immune system. ”
President Faust goes on to tell us that, “Those who possess the gift of the Holy Ghost after baptism and confirmation can receive more light and testimony. This is because the gift of the Holy Ghost is “a permanent witness and higher endowment than the ordinary manifestation of the Holy Spirit.” It is the higher endowment because the gift of the Holy Ghost can act as “a cleansing agent to purify a person and sanctify him from all sin.”
As you can see from all of these steps, being truly converted and born again is not necessarily a simple and easy thing to do, however, it is necessary for us to be able to live with our Heavenly Father again.
When I was younger I remember hearing a talk in sacrament meeting about being truly converted. At the time I felt terrible because I assumed that the fact that I was not perfectly following all of Heavenly Father’s commandments meant that I was not truly converted, and thus didn’t really have a testimony. This was reinforced by many of the scripture stories we hear of people being reborn, such as Paul and Alma the Younger, where they are converted in a seemingly sudden and remarkable event. I have learned that for most people however, the change of heart is a gradual process, rather than a singular event. Elder McConkie, speaking at a BYU first stake conference said this of the process, “With most people, conversion [spiritual rebirth and accompanying remission of sins] is a process; and it goes step by step, degree by degree, level by level, from a lower state to a higher, from grace to grace, until the time that the individual is wholly turned to the cause of righteousness. Now, this means that an individual overcomes one sin today and another sin tomorrow. He perfects his life in one field now, and in another field later on. And the conversion process goes on until it is completed, until we become, literally, as the Book of Mormon says, saints of God instead of natural men.”
Elder Keith K. Hilbig of the Seventy tells us, “It matters not whether our spiritual rebirth is sudden or, as is more common, gradual. While the process may be different, the results will be similar. There is no difference in the quality of the conversion. For each individual, experiencing a mighty change of heart is manifested by feelings of joy and love, both of which eliminate the prior pain of disobedience.”
I’d like to close by bearing my testimony to you that I know that being truly converted and spiritually reborn is necessary to return to our Heavenly Father, I also know that this is the only way to be truly happy, and despite the fact that all of the necessary components to being born again may seem much, it is worth it. I know that through the power of the Atonement, baptism by immersion, and the Gift of the Holy Ghost, we can all experience a mighty change of hearts. I also know that for this reason I was called to serve a mission for the Lord. I am not going because I’m not married, and I’m not going because school is hard and I need a break. I know that I am going to share with the people of Illinois the gospel and help them also experience a mighty change of heart. I want you to know that I know that the gospel is true, that Jesus Christ is our Savior and that he died for us that we may return to live with Him again. I know he loves each and every one of us, and I know that he loves me. I know that President Monson is a living prophet and that he receives revelation on our behalves and that despite not knowing each of us, he cares deeply for us. I know my mission is going to be hard, probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I know that I am doing the right thing, and I am so excited to share with the people of Illinois my testimony of the Gospel.
Shaelyn and friends
Shaelyn's Grandmother and Great Aunt and Uncle