Born of the Spirit – Baptism by Fire

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The scriptures make frequent reference to being born of God, being born  of the Spirit,  even  being  baptized with  fire and  with the Holy Ghost.  Just what  is that  rebirth,  and  how  is it brought about?
Sacrifice  and the  Birth of the Spirit

Mormons born againIn the Book of Mormon King Benjamin  taught  that the nature  of mortal man was alien to God’s  nature. He also defined, in the same verse, the desired  status of a saint: “submissive, meek,  humble,  patient,  full of love,  willing  to submit  to all things  which the  Lord  seeth  fit to inflict  upon  him.” (Mosiah 3:19.) A true  saint  is willing to be completely submissive to God.

Joseph  Smith  gives a similar definition:

Let us here  observe,  that a religion  that  does  not re­ quire the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient  to produce  the faith  necessary   unto  life and  salvation; for, from the first existence of man, the faith necessary  unto the enjoyment of life and salvation  never could be obtained without  the sacrifice of all earthly  things….

It is in vain for persons to fancy to themselves that they are heirs with  those,  or can be heirs with  them,  who  have offered their all in sacrifice, … unless they, in like manner, offer unto him the same sacrifice, and through that offering obtain  the knowledge that they are accepted  of him. (Lec­ haes on Faith, Salt Lake City: N. B. Lundwall,  n.d.,  6:7-8.)

Note that Latter-day Saints, under Prophet Joseph Smith, or under any ensuing prophet, have never been required to sacrifice all things (except for those who were martyred in the early days of the Church).  However, many of the faithful were willing, and could see how temporary and unworthy worldly things were when compared to the value of the gospel and salvation.

Being Born Again

Nicodemus  went  to Jesus  by night  desiring  to know  what  the requirements were for salvation.  Succinctly,  Jesus replied, “Except a man be born again,  he cannot see the kingdom  of God.” Not under­ standing, thinking  Jesus was referring  to a second mortal birth, Nicodemus asked how such could be. Then the Savior further defined the requirement: “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot  enter  into the kingdom  of God.” John 3:5.)

Thus the requirements were outlined  for entrance into God’s kingdom. “Born of water” is certainly water baptism. Have we fulfilled this ordinance?  For those of us in the Church of Jesus Christ, the answer  is yes.

But have we been “born of the Spirit”? That is not quite so easy to answer. We have received the ordinance of laying on of hands called confirmation [for the receiving of the companionship of the Holy Ghost], but  is that  all there  is to it? Does everything happen automatically after hands are laid upon our heads by those who have the Melchizedek  Priesthood?

Have we been born of the Spirit? Have we been baptized  with fire and  with the Holy Ghost?

Let Alma ask it in a different way: “And now behold,  I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received  his  image  in  your  countenances? Have ye experienced  this mighty change in your hearts?” (Alma 5:14; italics added.)

Of course,  there is no simple answer  to the question, “Have you been spiritually  reborn?” But there is an answer. To understand it, we must first understand the two separate and distinct blessings that can result from the ordinance of confirmation — first, the right of enjoy­ment of certain gifts of the Spirit;  and second,  that marvelous change that comes from the  baptism  of fire and  the Holy Ghost.

Gifts of the Spirit

The scriptures specify that  the gifts of the Spirit  are to

- know  that Jesus is the Christ

- believe on the words  of those  that know

- know  the differences of administrations

- have  the gift of discernment

- have the word  of knowledge

- have  the gift of wisdom

- have  the faith  to be healed

- have the faith  to heal

- have the opportunity of working  miracles

- have  the gift of prophecy

- speak  in tongues

- have interpretation of tongues.

None of the preceding gifts speak of the mighty change  that must be wrought upon  the heart  of man or of the forgiveness of sins that comes with the birth of the Spirit. Elder Bruce R. McConkie defines the “Gifts  of the Spirit” as follows:

By the grace of God-following devotion, faith, and obedience  on man’s part-certain special  spiritual bless­ings called gifts of the Spirit are bestowed upon  man….

Their purpose is to enlighten, encourage, and edify the faithful  so that  they  will inherit  peace in this  life and  be guided  toward eternal  life in the world  to come….

Faithful  persons are expected  to seek  the gifts of the Spirit with all their hearts. They are to “covet  earnestly the best gifts.” … To some  will be given  one  gift; to others, another…. (Mormon  Doctrine,  2nd ed.,  Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966, p. 314.)

Baptism of Fire

Contrast the preceding comments on the gifts of the Spirit with Elder McConkie’s  definition under  “Baptism  of Fire”:

To gain salvation every accountable  person  must receive  two baptisms. They are baptism  of water and of the Spirit. … The baptism of the Spirit is called the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost. … By the power of the Holy Ghost- who is the sanctifier (3 Nephi 27:19-21) -dross,iniquity,carnality,sensu­ality, and every evil thing  is burned out of the human soul as if by fire; the cleansed  person becomes literally  a new creature  of the Holy Ghost. (Mosiah 27:24-26.) He is born again.

The baptism of fire is not something in addition  to the receipt of the Holy Ghost; rather, it is the actual enjoyment of the gift which is offered by the laying on of hands  at the time of baptism. “Remission  of sins,” the Lord says, comes “by baptism and by fire, yea, even the Holy Ghost.” (D & C 19:31; 2 Nephi 31:17.) Those who receive the baptism  of fire are “filled  as if with fire.” (Helaman 5:45.) (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed.,  p. 73; italics added.)

He also states  under  the section “Born  Again”:

To gain salvation in the celestial kingdom  men must be born again (Alma  7:14); born  of water  and  of the  Spirit  (John 3:1-13); born of God,  so that  they are changed  from their “carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness,” becom­ing  new  creatures of the Holy  Ghost.  (Mosiah  27:24-29.) They must  become newborn  babes in Christ  (1 Peter  2:2); they  must  be “spiritually begotten” of God,  be born  of Christ,  thus  becoming  his sons  and  daughters.  (Mosiah 5:7.)

… The elements of water,  blood, and Spirit are pres­ent in both births. (Moses 6:59-60.) The second birth begins when men are baptized  in water by a legal administrator; it is completed  when they actually receive the companionship of the Holy Ghost, becoming new creatures by the cleansing power of that  member  of the Godhead. (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed.,  p. 101.)

From Elder  McConkie’s  discussion, describing  the  gifts of the Spirit and birth of the Spirit, it is easy to discern the differences. First, the birth of the Spirit  is essential  to salvation,  while the gifts of the Spirit are available as a great blessing to assist and give comfort to the Saints as they pursue  the course of their lives. Second,  the birth of the Spirit purges and sanctifies an individual  so that as a “new  creature of the Holy Ghost” he is capable of a life that approaches the standard necessary for exaltation–he is willing to sacrifice all earthly  things.

Becoming a “New Creature in Christ”

Spiritual rebirth MormonismThe ancient  prophets made it clear that a baptism of fire is neces­sary  for us to be able  to live in God’s presence  eternally. One good example  is  Nephi’s explanation of  what  is  required   to  be “in  the straight  and  narrow  way”:

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  31:13; italics added.)

A few verses later  Nephi  reiterates  what  we must  do to be born again:

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 and baptism  by water; and then cometh a remission  o,f  your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost. (2 Nephi  31:17; italics added.)

Alma, during  his great  discourse on priesthood, states:

Therefore  they  were called after this holy order,  and were  sanctified,   and  their  garments were  washed   white through  the blood of the lamb.

Now they, after being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, having their garments made white,  being pure and spotless before God, could not look upon sin save it were with abhorrence; and  there  were  many,  exceeding  great  many,  who  were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord their God. (Alma 13:11-12; italics added.)

Alma also vividly describes  his own conversion:

… I  have  repented of my sins,  and  have  been  re­deemed  of the Lord; behold  I am born of the Spirit.  And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again;  yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters;  And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this,  they can in no wise inherit  the kingdom  of God.  I say unto you,  unless  this be the case,  they  must  be cast off ….Nevertheless, after wandering through  much  tribula­tion,  repenting nigh  unto  death,  the Lord in mercy  hath seen fit to snatch me out of an everlasting burning, and I am born of God.  (Mosiah 27:24-28; italics added.)

As the Savior taught  the Nephites,  he specifically declared  their need to be born of the Spirit, saying: “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.”  (3 Nephi 12:1; italics added.)

The Nephites then prayed that they would  receive this great blessing, and

” … when they were all baptized and had come up out of the water, the Holy Ghost did fall upon them, and they were filled with the Holy Ghost and with fire.

“And behold, they were encircled about as if it were by fire;  and it came down from heaven, … and angels did come down out of heaven and did minister  unto  them.” (3 Nephi 19:13-14; italics added.)

Next listen to Orson  Pratt:

Without  the aid of the Holy Ghost,  a person  who  has  long  been  accustomed to love  sin,  and whose affections and desires  have long run with delight  in the degraded channel of vice, would  have but very little power  to change  his  mind,  at  once,  from  its habituated course, and to walk in newness of life. Though his sins may have been cleansed  away,  yet so great is the force of habit that he would,  without being renewed by the Holy Ghost, be easily overcome,  and contaminated again by sin. Hence, it is  infinitely  important that  the  affections  and  desires should  be, in a measure, changed  and  renewed, so as to cause  him to hate  that  which he before loved,  and  to love that which he before hated: to thus renew the mind of man is the work of the Holy Ghost . ...The  Baptism of  fire, without doubt, had reference  to the purifying qualities of the Holy Ghost, which, like fire, consumes or destroys the unholy affections of those who are made partakers of it. (N. B. Lundwall, comp.,  Discourses on the Holy Ghost, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft,  Inc.,  pp.  33, 35; italics added.)

A beautiful  description of the effect of a spiritual  rebirth is given by Elder B. H. Roberts:

 In addition to this splendid array of powers and gifts of the Holy  Ghost,  we are told that  the result  of possessing him “is  love,  joy, peace,  longsuffering, gentleness, good­ ness,  faith,  meekness, and  temperance.” Indeed we may say  with  the  Apostle  Parley  P.  Pratt  - though  slightly changing his language-the Holy Spirit adapts himself to all the organs and attributes of man. His influence  quickens all the  intellectual faculties,  increases, enlarges, expands and  purifies  all  the  natural   passions and affections;  and adapts  them by the gift of wisdom to their lawful use. It inspires, develops, cultivates and matures all the fine-toned sympathies, joys, tastes,  kindred  feelings and affections  of our nature. It inspires virtue,  kindness, goodness, tender­ ness, gentleness and charity. It develops  beauty of person, form and  feature. It tends  to health,  vigor, animation and social feeling. It develops and invigorates all the faculties of the  physical and   intellectual  man.  It strengthens, in­ vigorates  and  gives tone to the nerves.  In short,  it is, as it were, marrow to the bone, joy to the heart, light to the eyes, music to the ears, and life to the whole being. (Key to Theol­ ogy, p. 102) (TheGospel,9th ed., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1950, pp. 204-5.)

 No Automatic Bestowal

With the preceding powerful  statements of ancient  and  modern prophets fresh in our minds, some may be led to say in their hearts: “I have received the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands; why have I not received  such an experience?”

The answer  to that may well be that indeed  they have not received the “gift” of the Holy Ghost! The ordinance of laying on of hands only entitles   one  to  the  gift  when   he  qualifies  for  it.  Listen  to  Elder McConkie:

Mere compliance with the formality of the ordinance of baptism  does not mean that a person  has been born again. No one can be born again without  baptism,  but the immer­sion in water and the laying on of hands to confer the Holy Ghost  do  not of themselves guarantee that  a person  has been or will be born again. The new birth  takes place only for those  who actually enjoy the gift or companionship of the  Holy Ghost,  only  for those  who  are fully converted, who have given  themselves without  restraint  to the Lord. Thus  Alma addressed himself to his “brethren of the church,” and pointedly asked them if they had “spiritually been born of God,” received the Lord’s image in their countenances, and had the “mighty change” in their hearts which always attends the birth of the Spirit. (Alma 5:14-31.) (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed.,  p. 101.)

The birth of the  Spirit will not come automatically. A person  must make a concentrated effort in seeking  this great  blessing. Sometimes months and  years of preparation will be required.

Will we know  when  we receive  the birth  of the Spirit?  Does it come gradually so that  we may have  received  it already  and  do not recognize it? There is no question that spiritual  preparation to receive this “new  birth”  could  be a long,  gradual  process. But the distinctive change spoken of by Alma leads me to believe that one cannot  receive such an experience without a powerful awareness of it. Like the “wit­ness of the Spirit,” we will easily recognize this gift when it comes, and we will know  the day and  the hour  we receive it.

Another reason I believe we will know when the birth of the Spirit comes  is that  at that  point  our  sins  will be cleansed  from  us – an experience  described by such  words as “fire” and “burning.” Surely such an inward  purging will be noticeable.

A modern prophet. President Marion  G. Romney,  says:

Conversion is effected  by divine forgiveness, which  remits sins. The sequence is something like this. An honest seeker hears  the message. He asks the Lord in prayer  if it is true. The Holy Spirit gives him a witness. This is a testimony. If one’s testimony is strong enough, he repents and obeys the commandments. By such obedience he receives divine forgive­ ness wlzich remits sin. Thus  he is converted to a newness of life. His  spirit  is healed.  (Improvement  Era, Dec. 1963,  p. 1066; italics added.)

Rebirth Experiences of Believers

Pentecost mormonPerhaps  if we look at some of those  who  have experienced the spiritual rebirth we can better identify and relate to the process. A good starting  point is the experience  of Peter; his spiritual development is clearly delineated  in the scriptures. Peter was closely associated  with the Savior throughout most of His three-year ministry.  Peter saw the healing of the sick, the raising of the dead, the calming of the seas. He saw Christ transfigured with Moses and Elias on the mount and heard the voice of God declare, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 17:5.)

Can we say that Peter had a testimony prior to the Savior’s death?

Most certainly we can. At one point Jesus asked his disciples, “Whom say ye that I am?” And “Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.

“And Jesus answered  and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood  hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 16:15-17; italics added.) Here Jesus con­ firmed  that  Peter  did  indeed  know, by revelation,  of the  divinity  of Christ’s mission.

But even though  Peter had a testimony,  he still wasn’t converted. A year later Jesus said to him, “When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” (Luke 22:32; italics added.)

It is interesting to see the remarkable  change  that  took place in Peter when  he did become converted.  The power  and  strength of Peter in the book of Acts is beyond question. When did  Peter  receive this “mighty change” in his heart? Keep in mind  that Peter’s preaching in Acts was directed  to the very people  who  had  killed  Christ  and  could  do  the  same  to  him.  The “mighty change” that drove out the fear, intensified the commitment, and  gave power  to his testimony came forty-nine days after  the res­ urrection  of our Savior at Pentacost with the bestowal of the Holy Ghost upon the Church.

Could  it be that the Twelve Apostles  were “born of fire” at this time? I believe they were.  Peter’s experience not only verifies the difference between  testimony  and conversion, but it also dramatically reveals the intensity of the impact which the “mighty change” makes upon  the hearts  of men.Some more  modern  examples  may  also   help the   reader  to evaluate his status relative to spiritual rebirth. Note  how  similar these examples are to the scriptural accounts. Elder Parley  P. Pratt  recounts the  following incident in his autobiography:

 My dear  wife had now lived to accomplish her destiny; and  when the child  was dressed, and  she  had  looked  upon it and embraced it, she ceased to live in the flesh.  Her death happened about three  hours after  the  birth  of this  child  of promise. A few days previous to her death she  had a vision in open  day while sitting in her room. She was overwhelmed or immersed in a pillar of fire, which seemed to fill the whole room, as if  it  would consume it and all things therein; and the Spirit whispered to her mind, saying: “Thou art baptized with fire and the Holy Ghost.” It also intimated to her that she should have the  privilege of departing from  this  world  of sorrow and pain, and  of going to the Paradise of rest as soon  as she  had fulfilled  the prophecy in relation  to the promised son. This vision was repeated on the next day at the same hour, viz:­ twelve  o’clock. She  was overwhelmed with a joy and  peace indescribable, and  seemed changed in her  whole nature from that time forth. (Autobiography of  Parley P. Pratt, Salt  Lake City:  Deseret Book Co.,  1972.  p. 166; italics  added.)

President Lorenzo Snow  also relates the choice  experience of his rebirth:

 Some two or three  weeks  after I was baptized, one day while engaged  in my studies, I began to reflect upon the fact that  I   had  not  obtained   a knowledge of  the  truth  of  the work … and  I  began  to feel very  uneasy. I   laid aside  my books,  left the house,  and  wandered around through the fields under  the oppressive influence of a gloomy,  dis­consolate  spirit,  while an indescribable cloud  of darkness seemed  to envelope  me. I had been accustomed, at the close of the day, to retire for secret prayer, to a grove … but at this time I  felt no inclination  to do so. The spirit of prayer  had departed and the heavens seemed  like brass over my head. At length,  realizing that the usual time had come for secret prayer,  I concluded I would not forego my evening service, and,  as a matter of formality,  knelt as I was in the habit of doing,  and in my accustomed  retired place, but not feeling as I  was wont  to feel.

I  had no sooner opened my lips in an effort to pray, than I heard a sound, just above my head, like the rustling of silken robes, and immediately  the Spirit of God descended  upon me, completely enveloping my whole person, filling me, from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet, and 0, the joy and happiness I felt! No language  can describe  the almost  instantaneous transition from a dense  cloud of mental and spiritual  darkness into a refulgence  of light and  knowledge, as it was at that  time imparted  to my understanding…. It was a complete baptism­ a tangible immersion in the heavenly principle or element, the Holy Ghost; and even more real and physical in its effects upon every part of  my  system than  the immersion by water; dispelling forever, so long as reason and memory last, all possibility of doubt. …

I cannot  tell how long I remained  in the full flow of the blissful enjoyment and divine enlightenment, but it was several minutes before the celestial element which filled and surrounded me began  gradually  to withdraw. On  arising from my kneeling  posture, … I knew.’  that He had conferred on  me what  only an omnipotent being can confer – that which  is of greater  value  than  all the  wealth  and  honors worlds can bestow. That night, as I retired to rest, the same wonderful manifestations were repeated, and continued to be for several successive nights. The sweet remembrance of those  glorious  experiences … impart[s]  an  inspiring   in­fluence … and  I  trust  will to the close of my earthly  ex­istence. (Biography a11d  Family  Record of Lorenzo Snow, comp. Eliza R. Snow,  Salt Lake City: Deseret  Book Co., 1884, pp. 7-9; most italics added.)

With these  examples fresh  in your  mind,  can you  visualize  the spiritual impact of such an experience? Can you picture how those who have been reborn  can more fully live the law of sacrifice after such  a rebirth? Can you see how the ability to live much closer to the standard of a Christlike life would  be increased? The desirability of the spiritual rebirth  is beyond  question.

Have we had that experience?  As Alma asked: “Have ye spiritu­ally been born  of God?  Have  ye received  his image in your counte­nances?  Have  ye experienced this  mighty  change  in  your  hearts?”

*Adapted from Born of the Spirit by E. Richard Packham, CFI Publishers, Springville, Utah, 2008.

Summary
Article Name
Born of the Spirit - Baptism by Fire
Author
Description
About the baptism by fire in which we may become new creatures in Christ.

About Gale
Gale is Managing Editor for More Good Foundation. She is a convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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