Summary: Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are very familiar with the verse of scripture that says that we “must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness.” This article examines how we can be born again whereby “we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” without going through the kind of experience Alma did.
After Alma the younger had laid unconscious for two days after being chastised by an angel of God, he received his strength and began to speak unto his people saying, “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. I say unto you, unless this be the case, they must be cast off; and this I know, because I was like to be cast off” (Mosiah 27:24-27).
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are very familiar with these verses of scripture that speak of being “born of God [by being] changed from their carnal and fallen state to a state of righteousness,” but what exactly does that mean, and how does that happen?
For Alma, it was easy for him to be born again, although it was very hard on him. To understand why, we have to see how he came to be reborn.
Alma was the son of Alma, the elder, who was the head of the church of God and the one who had established the churches throughout the land of Zarahemla. Clearly, Alma the younger grew up hearing his father teach the word of God nearly continually. “Nevertheless, he became a very wicked and an idolatrous man. And he was a man of many words, and did speak much flattery to the people; therefore he led many of the people to do after the manner of his iniquities” (verse 8).
Not only did he seek to lead people away from God and entice them to follow his wicked ways, but he became an enemy of God, and went about rebelling against him and seeking to destroy the church (verses 9-11),
We often say that his father “[had] prayed with much faith concerning [him] that [he] might be brought to a knowledge of the truth,” and that is true, but it wasn’t just his father who prayed for him. The angel that appeared to him also said that “the Lord hath heard the prayers of his people [as well as] the prayers of his servant, Alma [the elder].” (verse 11). No doubt the prayers of God’s people for Alma, the younger, were for a different reason than that of his father, but the angel who appeared to the younger Alma came as a result of the prayers of both his father and the people of the church.
When the angel spoke to Alma, he explained “for this purpose have I come to convince thee of the power and authority of God, that the prayers of my servants (plural) might be answered according to their faith” (verse 14). What we learn is that the angel didn’t come just in response to the prayers of Alma’s father, but because of the prayers of all of God’s servants in Zarahemla.
But there’s an interesting word that the angel used when he said, “I come to convince thee…” This reminds me of the famous line in the movie, “The Godfather,” where Don Vitto Corleone said, “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.” In more modern language, the angel was going to give Alma an attitude adjustment.
When the angel spoke, it was “as it were with a voice of thunder, which caused the earth to shake upon which stood” but that wasn’t what caused Alma to be convinced of the error of his ways. During those two days he lay motionless, he went through hell – literally.
He said, “after wading through much tribulation, repenting nigh unto death, the Lord in mercy hath seen fit to snatch me out of an everlasting burning. My soul hath been redeemed from the gall of bitterness and bonds of iniquity. I was in the darkest abyss… My soul was racked with eternal torment” (verses 28,29). Later in life, when relating this experience to his son, he said, “Yea, I say unto you, my son, that there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains” (Alma 36:21).
During those two days that Alma lay motionless, the pain he had to endure was so horrific and so excruciating that he wished he could die. That’s how bad it was.
But then he remembered the things he had learned from his father and began to call upon God, repenting of his sins, and that’s when the Lord in his mercy redeemed him from the gall of bitterness and the bonds of iniquity and he was brought into the marvelous light of God (verse 29).
It was at that point when he said, “I am born of God” (verse 28). It was at that point that he changed from his “carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness.” But why did he change?
To illustrate this, suppose you were in prison for committing a crime and all they fed you was mud pies. That would be rather gross and sickening. Then suppose someone let you out of prison and fed you fresh baked bread. If you had a choice between those two options, would you rather be in prison eating mud pies or free eating fresh bread? The choice between the two is rather obvious.
Alma had been in a prison of his own making and had to eat the bitter fruit of his own actions, and he didn’t like it at all. Then he had a taste of God’s mercy, love, and goodness, and once having tasted both, he never, ever, in a thousand lifetimes, wanted to do anything that would land him back in that horrible prison he was once in. But more than that, he now yearned and hungered for the sweet taste of God’s love and wanted to do whatever it took to always have that love with him.
After that experience, it was easy for Alma to make the switch from being a carnal and wicked man to being a man of righteousness. but what convinced him to make that choice was by first going through hell.
To be born again means having a change of heart where “we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2). “And thus they become new creatures.” This is what it means to be converted. But then Alma continued to say, “and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. I say unto you, unless this be the case, they must be cast off” (Mosiah 25:26,27).
But why must we be “born again” and “become new creatures” in order to inherit the kingdom of God? Why, “unless they do this… they must be cast off?”
The obvious answer is that these are the kind of people who are worthy, or capable of living in heaven. Therefore, if we want to live in heaven, then we must become the kind of people who feel comfortable living in the presence of a completely holy, righteous, and perfect God and associating closely with people like Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Peter, and Paul.
To help put this in perspective, suppose someone from another country came to the United States and wanted to live here. But to successfully do that, they needed to know how to speak English. Imagine someone from Japan going into an America restaurant and ordering food speaking in Japanese. They wouldn’t be able to read the menu, nor would they be able to communicate with the waitress because neither of them would be able to understand one another. And that same limitation would apply to buying a car, a house, getting a job, or doing anything else. Without knowing English, it would be difficult for them to live here.
In heaven, the language spoken there is righteousness. If all someone knows how to speak is the language of wickedness, then they would find it very difficult, if not impossible, to live there.
Another example is that of someone who loves farming and takes joy in getting dirty and sweaty working the soil and being around animals and their waste, but who suddenly finds themselves having to work behind a desk, dressed in business attire without ever being allowed to work in the dirt again.
If we take joy in immersing ourselves in the filth of the world, we will find living in the spotless cleanliness of heaven to be extremely uncomfortable. Therefore, to inherit the kingdom of God means having a change of attitude from taking joy in doing what the world does to taking joy doing what God does. That’s what it means to be born again, and unless that change takes place within us, we must be cast off, or barred from entering heaven. But that’s actually more for our own good than it is as a means of punishment.
The way this change took place for Alma, was “after wading through much tribulation, repenting nigh unto death… [being in] the gall of bitterness… in the darkest abyss… [and his] soul racked with eternal torment.” But how do we become born again to where we become a new creature, having no more disposition to do evil without having to go through such extreme suffering?
In our day, in speaking how the body and the spirit constitutes the soul of man, Jesus explained, “Therefore, it (the soul) must needs be sanctified from all unrighteousness, that it may be prepared for the celestial glory” (D&C 88:18).
The way we become converted, or have this change of heart, is from being “sanctified from all unrighteousness.” It’s in this way that we are “prepared for the celestial glory.” Obviously, Alma was sanctified from all of his unrighteousness because of what he experienced in hell, but how do we become sanctified?
Jesus taught the Nephites, saying, “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 27:20).
The first principles of the gospel are faith in Jesus Christ, repent of our sins, be baptized, and receive the Holy Ghost, but why must we receive the Holy Ghost to receive salvation? The answer is because we “may be[come] sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost.”
The Holy Ghost performs many functions on our behalf, but his most important role is to sanctify us. It is only “after being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, [that our] garments [are] made white, being pure and spotless before God.” It is through the sanctifying power of the Holy Ghost that people “could not look upon sin save it were with abhorrence” and it is through the sanctifying power of the Holy Ghost that we are “made pure and [can] enter into the rest of the Lord their God” (Alma 13:12).
Thus, “true conversion requires the influence of the Holy Ghost… He enlightens our minds, [and] quickens our understanding… The Holy Ghost purifies our hearts [and] he inspires in us a desire to live by truth…For these reasons… we should first and foremost seek the companionship of the Spirit.” (Come Follow Me manual, “Conversion is our goal”)
But notice that Alma doesn’t say that we will be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, but rather that we “may” be sanctified by him, meaning there is a condition that needs to be met before the Holy Ghost can sanctify us.
When speaking about those who belonged to the church of God in the days of Helaman we read, “Nevertheless they did fast and pray oft, and did wax stronger and stronger in their humility, and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ, unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God” (Helaman 3:35).
The way these ancient saints became sanctified was by fasting and praying, which helped them to become “stronger in their humility and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ.”
Before his encounter with an angel, Alma was a very proud man, boasting in his ability to draw people away from their belief in God, but after spending two days in a dark abyss of eternal torment, he was humbled to the point that he repented “neigh unto death.” Then, calling upon God, he beheld the marvelous light of God, and experienced his mercy, which helped him become firm in the faith of Christ. But knowledge alone is not sufficient to save us. The last and most crucial step is being willing to yield our heart to God.
However, all of these things by themselves, or even together, don’t have the power to save us. To understand why, all we have to do is learn how to bake a cake.
A basic cake is made with flour, eggs, sugar, and salt, then, after following the recipe that tells how much of each ingredient to use, we mix them thoroughly together and pour it into a greased pan. However, even though that’s all we need to do, we still don’t have a cake. Instead, what we have is a sweet gooey semi-liquid. To turn that liquid into a cake takes putting it in an oven at a specific temperature for a certain length of time. It is the oven – not us – that then converts all the ingredients into a cake. Yet, if the ingredients are not all there, or not in the right proportion, the oven will not produce the results we’re expecting.
In the same way, it’s the power of the Holy Ghost that acts like an oven, whereby he takes our prayers, mixed with humility, faith in Christ and yielding our hearts to God to produce a sanctified person. It is through the power of the Holy Ghost that we become purified to where we have no more disposition to do evil but to do good continually. It is through the sanctifying power of the Holy Ghost that our garments can be made white.
But this conversion process doesn’t happen quickly. Just like a cake must be kept in the oven at a specific temperature for a certain length of time to produce the desired outcome, so also it takes time to convert the carnal man into a man of holiness. The more we submit ourselves to God, the quicker that process will happen, but no matter how fast or slow it may be, the process of sanctification will continue long after we’ve put our bodies in the grave.
Although there are many things necessary for us to work out our salvation, yet without the Holy Ghost, we cannot truly become sanctified and be “made pure [so we can be prepared to] enter into the rest of the Lord [our] God.”
Related articles can be found at the Nature of God