April 20, 2011

"Except a man be born again..."

I have recently had the occasion to reflect on the concept of being "Born Again." Indeed, as a missionary I have been asked on numerous occasions if we, as member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint believe in being born again. In response to this question, I pose a question of my own. Are we not Christians? Do our beliefs not all center in our Savior, our Redeemer, the Prince of Peace, the Holy one of Israel, the Son of God, even Jesus the Christ?

A belief in Christ means a belief that he is our savior; that he atoned for the sins of the world, and that he payed the price for us to stand clean before the Father again, being saved by grace after all we can do.

A faith in any subject should inspire one to act, to change, to become. Surely then, should not faith in Jesus Christ, the greatest one who has ever or will ever walk the face of this earth inspire us to become any less than perfect? The Master Teacher himself explained, "I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect."

The process of being born again is more than a singular life changing event. Rather, it is a process of conversion that must come upon all of God's children. Each day of our lives, as we strive to live His teaching, we become more converted to His gospel.

In the Book of Mormon, there is a story of a prophet named Alma. However Alma didn't always have his stalwart testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, in his youth he went about the membership of the Church trying to destroy their faith in the Savior, and his teachings. His father happened to be the prophet at that time, and had prayed mightily for his son to repent, and see the error of his ways. That prayer of a faithful parent was answered; an angel of the Lord appeared to Alma and commanded him to stop. This left such a profound impact on young Alma that he could not speak, and left him incapacitated. Helpless, his friends had to carry him back to his Father's house.

For three days, Alma was in what he described as being "racked, even with the pains of a damned soul..." he was trapped in the memory of his sins. Somewhere in the depth of his agony and despair, he remembered the words of his father of a one Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

"Now when my mind caught hold of this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death. And now, behold when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more. And oh, what joy and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!" (Alma 36:18-20)

Alma was able to feel the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. After he received his strength, he got up and began to praise God.

"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 nowise inherit the kingdom of God." (Mosiah 27:24-26)

Alma teaches us that to be born again means we have to change. He gives us the example of his own life. After being what could be described as the "vilest of sinner," he repents, becomes a "new creature," and dedicates his life in service to God. He was a missionary, chief judge, high priest, and eventually prophet. Perhaps what is the most profound thing about Alma's story was that tough he experienced a life changing event, it didn't end with him seeing an angel. The well named experience did just that, it changed Alma's life. He became some one new, and labored all of his days to continue in the path of righteousness. This is what it means to be born again.
On a mission to the people of Gideon, Alma gives us further insight as to what it entails to be born again.

"Now I say unto you that ye must repent, and be born again; for the Spirit saith if ye are not born again ye cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye may be washed from you sins, that ye may have faith on the Lamb of God. who taketh away the sins of he world, who is mighty to save and to cleanse from all unrighteousness." (Alma 7:14)

Alma teaches that baptism is an essential part of being born again. As was taught to Nicodemus, a Pharisee, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of god....Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again." (John 3:5, 6) Indeed, baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, as well as receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands are essential in entering into the kingdom of God.

Being "Born Again" has a multitude of definitions. It means to change; to turn; to become; to transform; to repent; to be healed; to be redeemed.

It is a process of conversion. The Savior taught to Peter a fundamental principle of conversion. "...and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren." (Luke 22:32) Conversion, or being born again is not a one time, end all event. Rather it is a process that we live each day coming closer and closer to Christ.

Do we believe in being born again? Why yes.

I testify that Jesus is the Christ. I testify that he has prepared the way of our salvation which can only come in and through Him. He is our Lord and Savior. we must come unto him in order to be saved, changed, transformed, cleansed, and born again.

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