“How can we be ‘born again’?” Ensign, Apr. 1996, 52–53
C. Richard Chidester, instructor at the Salt Lake City University Institute of Religion.
This question is at the very heart of the gospel and of our purpose on earth, because the atonement of Jesus Christ makes it possible for us to undergo the necessary change in our natures known as spiritual rebirth.
In order to be “born again,” the “natural man” must be put off so that we each can become a “new creature” in Christ (Mosiah 3:19; Mosiah 27:26; JST, 2 Cor. 5:16–17). This new creature, “a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord” (Mosiah 3:19), is spiritual in nature as opposed to carnal or worldly. In essence, the driving or controlling forces within us must be altered from carnal, selfish, natural desires and motives to spiritually driven desires and motives. The scriptures refer to this change in disposition, temperament, or character as a “mighty change” in heart (Mosiah 5:2; Alma 5:12–14).
The Lord told Alma the Younger that without this change, we risk being “cast off” and “can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God” (Mosiah 27:25–27).
Everyone born on earth will eventually die and become resurrected. Each of us, however, is responsible for overcoming our own spiritual death—separation from God because of sin—by becoming spiritually reborn. By turning to Christ and allowing his atonement to purify us from sin, we become spiritually reborn.
Key to this transforming process are the first principles and ordinances of the gospel. “Being born again, comes by the Spirit of God through ordinances,” the Prophet Joseph Smith taught (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 162). It is only through faith in the redemptive power of Jesus Christ, followed by repentance, baptism by immersion (representing rebirth), and “the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost” (2 Ne. 31:13), that a new heart, or new spiritual nature, can come to us.
It was the faith that King Benjamin’s people had placed in his words about the coming of Jesus Christ and their willingness to repent and “to enter into a covenant with … God to do his will” that “wrought a mighty change in [them], or in [their] hearts, that [they had] no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2, 4–5).
Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained that spiritual rebirth “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” (Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966, p. 101).
We become spiritually alive through the influence of the Holy Ghost as we actively seek, receive, and act upon its promptings. “If this change does not take place,” President George Q. Cannon said, “it is because the person who has been baptized and who has had the laying on of the hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost has not sought for these blessings with diligence. Everyone who submits to the ordinances of the Gospel with sincerity and determination to serve God will undergo this change” (Gospel Truth, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1987, p. 140).
Spiritual rebirth, except in rare instances, is a gradual process. “It does not occur instantaneously,” Elder McConkie said. “It comes to pass by degrees. Repentant persons become alive to one spiritual reality after another, until they are wholly alive in Christ and are qualified to dwell in his presence forever. …
“Spiritual rebirth begins and ends with belief in Christ. When repentant souls turn to Christ and seek a new life with him, the processes of rebirth commence. When their belief in the Lord increases until they are able to do the works that he does, ‘and greater works than these’ (John 14:12), their rebirth is perfect, and they are prepared for salvation with him” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1973, 3:401).
The essence of being spiritually reborn is in following the enticings of the Spirit, which “giveth light to every man that cometh into the world … [and] hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit.
“And every one that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit cometh unto God, even the Father” (D&C 84:46–47).
As we obey the promptings of the Spirit, we receive the light and truth necessary for greater degrees of spiritual rebirth. “He that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (D&C 50:24).