Question: When the Bible talks about being "born again," what does this mean?


Question: When the Bible talks about being "born again," what does this mean?

Latter-day Saints have unknowingly had the same interpretation as those early writers who came after the Apostles

Latter-day Saints have unknowingly had the same interpretation as those early writers who came after the Apostles. These authors may have had a more clear picture of the apostles' interpretation of Scripture than a modern reader does.

To be sure, baptism must be accompanied by faith in Christ and repentance of sins, or it is of no worth.[1] But, to argue that baptism is unnecessary, or only a formality, does not seem to be in keeping with either scriptural or early Patristic testimony.

A witness of the Spirit pushes those who are truly born again to repent, change their lives, and obey the Lord's commandments insofar as they are able to do so: e.g., be baptized. This witness by the Holy Ghost of the truth of the restored gospel has been shared by millions of people of all nations, ethnic backgrounds, cultures and tongues, and is the primary reason that thousands choose to join the Church even in the face of defamatory material published against it.

1. Baptisms

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. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? Jesus answered, 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.(John 3:3-5)

Latter-day Saints believe this scripture should be interpreted as saying a man must be baptized in order to enter into the kingdom of God, while some conservative Christians often interpret this as saying that one need only believe in Jesus Christ to enter into the kingdom of God.

It is interesting to note that the LDS interpretation concurs with what the ancients taught and believed. Justin Martyr (100-165 A.D) said the following:

For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water. For Christ also said, "Except ye be born again, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.[2]

Irenaeus wrote:

‘And dipped himself,’ says [the Scripture], "seven times in Jordan." It was not for nothing that Naaman of old, when suffering from leprosy, was purified upon his being baptized, but [it served] as an indication to us. For as we are lepers in sin, we are made clean, by means of the sacred water and the invocation of the Lord, from our old transgressions; being spiritually regenerated as new-born babes, even as the Lord has declared: ‘Except a man be born again through water and the Spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.’[3]

The Clementine Homilies reads:

And do not think, though you were more pious than all the pious that ever were, but if you be unbaptized, that you shall ever obtain hope. For all the more, on this account, you] shall endure the greater punishment, because you have done excellent works not excellently. For well-doing is excellent when it is done as God has commanded. But if you will not be baptized according to His pleasure, you serve your own will and oppose His counsel. But perhaps some one will say, What does it contribute to piety to be baptized with water? In the first place, because you do that which is pleasing to God; and in the second place, being born again to God of water, by reason of fear you change your first generation, which is of lust, and thus you are able to obtain salvation. But otherwise it is impossible. For thus the prophet has sworn to us, saying, "Verily I say to you, Unless ye be regenerated by living water into the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.[4]

The Apostolic Constitutions says:

Nay, he that, out of contempt, will not be baptized, shall be condemned as an unbeliever, and shall be reproached as ungrateful and foolish. For the Lord says: "Except a man be baptized of water and of the Spirit, he shall by no means enter into the kingdom of heaven." And again: "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned."[5]

2. A "born again" experience?

In some religious traditions the term “born again” often refers to a strong emotional experience that is interpreted in that tradition as a manifestation that he or she who has experienced it has been saved. Latter-day Saints do not accept the idea that one can enter the kingdom of God on this basis alone; but do not deny the sincerity of those who feel that the experience is sacred to them.

It is not uncommon for a Latter-day Saint to have a personal spiritual experience, or witness, which is often intense but differing from mere emotion. This experience is often life-changing, affirming, and strengthening to those that experience it. Occasionally members of other religious traditions tell a Latter-day Saint who has had such a spiritual witness that he or she has instead had a “born again” experience, inferring that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is false.

On the contrary, an actual spiritual experience affirms to the Latter-day Saint the truth and efficacy of the restored gospel. Latter-day Saints believe in all of the gifts of the Holy Ghost, and that these may be experienced by any Latter-day Saint as appropriate to his or her faith and circumstance.

People who are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but are investigating its truth may also experience a witness from the Holy Ghost that what they are being taught by missionaries, members, or the Book of Mormon is true. This enables them, by faith, to follow the Lord’s teachings and be baptized, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and become members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Notes

  1. Articles+of+Faith 1:4
  2. Justin Martyr, "First Apology of Justin," in Chapter 61 Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886)1:183. ANF ToC off-site This volume
  3. Irenaeus, "?," in ? Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886)1:574. ANF ToC off-site This volume
  4. Clementine Homilies, 11:25–26. off-site In Ante-Nicean Fathers 8:223–347. off-site
  5. Apostolic Constitutions, "?," in 6:15 Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886)7:456–457. ANF ToC off-site This volume