Is The Change Really an Event — And Just How Important Is It, Really?
We have said that the PROCESS of repentance culminates in a discernible, divinely bestowed experience or event of change. It is certainly fair to ask, “Is it really an identifiable event? “Is there no other way?”, and “Just how important is this change, really?” The focus of this chapter is to look somewhat into the scriptures, the Prophet Joseph’s and President Benson’s statements on these questions. We emphasize that this is only an overview, not a complete discussion of every relevant scripture.
IS IT REALLY AN IDENTIFIABLE EVENT
We start by considering two verses from Alma upon which the title of this work is based. Note the repeated use of the word “experienced.”
Alma 5:14 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 5:26 And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have EXPERIENCED a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?
Next we turn to the accounts of Adam found in our modern restored scriptures. There we learn that the baptism of the spirit existed from the days of Adam. Recall Moses 6:64-65 describing the baptism of Adam quoted in Chapter 1. Indeed, most of the detailed descriptions of people experiencing the baptism of the spirit found in the Book of Mormon occurred before the time of the Savior. Consider for example the events described in Mosiah 4:1-3, which occurred about 124 B.C.:
1 And now, it came to pass that when King Benjamin had made an end of speaking the words which had been delivered unto him by the angel of the Lord, that he cast his eyes round about on the multitude, and behold they had fallen to the earth, for the fear of the Lord had come upon them.
2 And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice saying: 0 have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men. 3 And it came to pass that after they had spoken these words the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come, according to the words which King Benjamin had spoken unto them.
The Prophet Joseph gave us the following description of the effects of the Holy Ghost as found on pages 149 to 150 of The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith:
There are two Comforters spoken of. One is the Holy Ghost, the same as given on the day of Pentecost, and that all Saints receive after faith, repentance, and baptism. This first Comforter or Holy Ghost has no other effect than pure intelligence. It is more powerful in expanding the mind, enlightening the understanding, and storing the intellect with present knowledge, of a man who is of the literal seed of Abraham, than one that is a Gentile, though it may not have half as much visible effect upon the body; for as the Holy Ghost falls upon one of the literal seed of Abraham, it is calm and serene; and his whole soul and body are only exercised by the pure spirit of intelligence; while the effect of the Holy Ghost upon a Gentile, is to purge out the old blood and make him actually of the seed of Abraham. That man that has none of the blood of Abraham (naturally) must have a new creation by the Holy Ghost. In such a case, there may be more of a powerful effect upon the body, and visible to the eye, than upon an Israelite, while the Israelite at first might be far before the Gentile in pure intelligence.
Do these scriptural accounts and the descriptions by the Prophet Joseph appear to you to be describing an imperceptible process or a discernible event?
Next, let us consider what we think is the single most instructive incident in all of the scriptures on the baptism of the spirit in 3 Nephi Chapter 19. The events described there occurred on the morning of the second day of the Savior’s appearance to the Nephites. That morning the twelve whom the Savior had selected the preceding day were baptized (presumably this was a rebaptism) and then received a baptism of the spirit, but only after special prayers and a single minded intense desire to receive the Holy Ghost. This is an especially interesting point today in as much as prior to this time Nephi, and presumably the other 11, had been valiant and faithful church members and leaders, even working mighty miracles, including raising the dead. [See 3
Nephi 7:19 & 19:4 where Nephi raised his brother Timothy from the dead after Timothy had been stoned to death! Not only was this a raising from the dead, but it obviously had to include a dramatic restoration of Timothy’s badly damaged body.] We begin at verse 5:
5 And behold, the multitude was so great that they did cause that they should be separated into twelve bodies.
6 And the twelve did teach the multitude; and behold, they did cause that the multitude should kneel down upon the face of the earth, and should pray unto the Father in the name of Jesus.
7 And the disciples did pray unto the Father also in the name of Jesus. And it came to pass that they arose and ministered unto the people.
8 And when they had ministered those same words which Jesus had spoken nothing varying from the words which Jesus had spoken—behold, they knelt again and prayed to the Father in the name of Jesus.
9 And they did pray for that which they most desired; and they desired that the Holy Ghost should be given unto them.
10 And when they had thus prayed they went down unto the water’s edge, and the multitude followed them.
11 And it came to pass that Nephi went down into the water and was baptized.
12 And he came up out of the water and began to baptize. And he baptized all those whom Jesus had chosen.
13 And it came to pass 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.
14 And behold, they were encircled about as if it were by fire; and it came down from heaven, and the multitude did witness it, and did bear record; and angels did come down out of heaven and did minister unto them.
15 And it came to pass that while the angels were ministering unto the disciples, behold, Jesus came and stood in the midst and ministered unto them.
16 And it came to pass that he spake unto the multitude, and commanded them that they should kneel down again upon the earth, and also that his disciples should kneel down upon the earth.
17 And it came to pass that when they had all knelt down upon the earth, he commanded his disciples that they should pray. 18 And behold, they began to pray; and they did pray unto Jesus, calling him their Lord and their God. 19 And it came to pass that Jesus departed out of the midst of them and went a little way off from them and bowed himself to the earth, and he said: 20 Father, I thank thee that thou hast given the Holy Ghost unto these whom I have chosen; and it is because of their belief in me that I have chosen them out of the world. 21 Father, I pray thee that thou wilt give the Holy Ghost unto all them that shall believe in their words. 22 Father, thou hast given them the Holy Ghost because they believe in me; and thou seest that they believe in me because thou hearest them, and they pray unto me; and they pray unto me because I am with them. 23 And now Father, I pray unto thee for them, and also for all those who shall believe on their words, that they may believe in me, that I may be in them as thou, Father, are in me, that we may be one.
This was certainly an extraordinary spiritual event. Was this the first time that these men experienced the baptism of fire? The record does not say, but based on what we do know of them this was probably not the first time for Nephi and perhaps many, if not all, of the rest. Nothing says there is only one such event per person. There is some indication that the cleansing or remission of sins may be renewed from time to time, which we’ll discuss later. However, we know of no clear answer to this, either in the scriptures or from spiritual experiences. On the question of whether the change is an imperceptible process or a recognizable, discernible event, most church members who have a view on the subject seem to believe that the baptism of fire is a process that occurs unbeknownst to the recipient rather than a powerful, life-changing, personal spiritual experience and cite as support for that view the Savior’s statement in 3 Nephi 9:20 wherein He refers to “… the Lamanites, … [who] .. were baptized with fire and the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.”
From the time that we began to seek for understanding about the Baptism of the Spirit this scripture has puzzled us because every other scripture on the subject either explicitly describes or strongly implies that the baptism of the spirit or of fire is a distinct, powerful, personal experience, rather than something that happens slowly, gradually and unbeknownst to the recipient. So we began to try to identify the specific event to which the Savior was referring. One of the first questions we asked was whether the event was included in the Book of Mormon record. Although the references are vague at best, we began by assuming that the event to which the Savior referred was in the record, otherwise we would be forever in the dark on the meaning unless one obtained the explanation by personal revelation. And, given the attention that the Lord has given to making and preserving this record we reasoned that the event to which He was referring simply had to be in the book. The next question is what event was it? A good friend who had pondered the same question for seventeen years after he experienced the mighty change then shared with me the answer that the Spirit had led him to. He pointed out that in the former version of the scriptures, the footnotes on this verse referenced Helaman 5:45 and Ether 12:14. Unfortunately neither of these references are now separately indicated on this verse, instead the reference in the new scriptures is to the topical Guide subject “Holy Ghost, Baptism of” which is extremely lengthy and which only the most diligent student will wade through.
After perusing the references we concluded that the event had to be the powerful experience recorded in Helaman 5. There, beginning with verse 21, we read of a series of tremendously powerful spiritual events experienced simultaneously by about three hundred Lamanites who had gone as a lynch mob to the prison to kill Nephi and Lehi. When the mob got to the prison they were “overshadowed with a cloud of darkness, and a solemn fear came upon them.” Then in verses 40-49 we learn that the “cloud of darkness” was removed from around them; then “they were encircled about, yea every soul, by a pillar of fire” and “filled with that joy which is unspeakable and full of glory”, and “filled with fire, and they could speak forth marvelous words”; finally, they were even administered to by angels! This account certainly shows that those who experienced these extraordinary events were aware that they’d had such experiences. After rereading this experience we concluded that the Savior’s statement that they “knew it not” could ONLY have meant that this group of Lamanites did not know that their miraculous experience was caused by and properly named or known as the baptism of fire, rather than the meaning that is commonly accepted in the church that the experience happened to them in such a way that they did not sense it or perceive it.
As further evidence that these three hundred people knew that they’d had an extraordinary experience let us read on in this account.
Helaman 5:49-50 And there were about three hundred souls who saw and heard these things; and they were bidden to go forth and marvel not, neither should they doubt.
50 And it came to pass that they did go forth, and did minister unto the people, declaring throughout all the regions round about ALL THE THINGS WHICH THEY HAD HEARD AND SEEN, insomuch that the more part of the Lamanites were convinced of them, because of the greatness of the evidences which they had received.
And again in Chapter 6 we encounter the following in verse 4:
4 And it came to pass that many of the Lamanites did come down into the land of Zarahemla, and did declare unto the people of the Nephites THE MANNER OF THEIR CONVERSION, and did exhort them to faith and repentance.
Certainly the only way that those who were part of the three hundred could testify of “the things which they had heard and seen” and also describe ”the manner of their conversion, was that they knew what had happened to them.
My friend experienced similar confusion during his born again experience. As he told me about it, he explained, “The experience lasted six days. It was near the end that the Lord actually revealed to me that I had been baptized with fire and the Holy Ghost.” In other words, until the spirit explained to him exactly what his extraordinary experience was in scriptural terms he too did not know exactly what it was that was happening to him.
To the best of our ability to understand the scriptures, the scriptural evidence appears to be unanimous that the baptism of the spirit is NOT AN IMPERCEPTIBLE PROCESS but is a separate, distinct, clearly identifiable, and extraordinarily powerful PERSONAL SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE. In short, if you have experienced it you know it. You may not know what it was, but you will definitely know that something happened to you.
To those who may wish to advance a different point of view, all we can say is that our desire is to understand whatever the truth is and are most interested in the scriptural and other supporting evidence for other possibilities. But, after all, it is not our views that matter. What matters is the way things really are. And that is what we have sought to consider in this work.
Is it possible that some may receive the baptism of the spirit without knowing that anything has happened? Obviously we do not know all things so the only honest answer we can give is, “We don’t know.” We do know however, that we can not find in the scriptures even a single scriptural incident or discussion that supports the proposition that the actual baptism of the spirit is an unperceived process! One considering this question has to ask why every single one of the scriptural passages describing instances of such baptism are either explicitly or implicitly descriptions of a discernible event rather than of an imperceptible process? As we considered our experiences and the scriptures quoted here and elsewhere throughout this work the only answer to that question that makes any sense to us is that Heavenly Father really wants us to understand that the change is an extraordinary blessing that He wants us to understand and to receive.
If this is not true then why are the scriptures and particularly the three modern day scriptures, especially 2 Nephi chapters 31 & 32 and 3 Nephi chapters 9-27, filled with directions about and reports of the experience? As further evidence that the mighty change is a powerful and clearly discernible experience, has not the Lord, our master teacher, likened the mighty change to two vital life experiences, birth and baptism in such phrases as being “BORN of the spirit” and as the “BAPTISM of fire and the Holy Ghost”? Does not everyone know the dates of their own birth and baptism? Would not Adam, Enos, Alma the younger, King Benjamin’s people, and the twelve Nephite disciples chosen by the Savior, among many others, remember forever the occasions of their baptisms by fire as spiritual rebirths? Both baptism in water and birth are identifiable events that occur at the culmination of processes. With baptism the preceding process is the development of faith which Alma in Chapter 32 of Alma has so beautifully likened to a seed and its germination and development. With birth the preceding processes are conception and a nine month gestation. With the mighty change the preceding process is known as repentance which culminates in receiving a forgiveness of your sins and the mighty change of the baptism of fire. Perhaps you are wondering why are we taking so much time on this point? It is because we have encountered so very many who vigorously resist believing that the mighty change, the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost is a discernible event or experience. All of us who have contributed to this effort have struggled to share it with others for as long as we have had understanding about it. Would you be surprised to hear that more often than not we have encountered stiff resistence? However, on this we’re in some pretty good company. The following well known statement of the Prophet Joseph shows that he also wrestled with the difficulties of teaching things that people were not eager to hear.
But there has been great difficulty in getting anything into the heads of this generation. It has been like splitting hemlock knots with a corn dodger for a wedge, and a pumpkin for a beetle. Even the Saints are slow to understand. I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God; but we frequently see some of them, after suffering all they have for the work of God, will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions: they cannot stand the fire at all. How many will be able to abide a celestial law, and go through and receive their exaltation, I am unable to say, as many are called, but few are chosen. Teachings of The Prophet Joseph Smith, pg. 331.
IS THERE ANOTHER WAY We now shift our focus to the question of whether or not there is another way. What about Moroni 7:47-48 on charity, is that possibly another way? Let us examine carefully these important verses:
46 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail —
47 But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.
48 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath BESTOWED upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen
Let’s look at the statements concerning the effects on those who have charity, which are, (1) “it shall be well with them”, (2) they “become the sons of God”, (3) “when he shall appear we shall be like him”, and (4) “we may be purified even as he is pure.” That certainly sounds like the descriptions of those in the celestial kingdom that we have encountered in Moses 6 and elsewhere. Next, the steps listed here for receiving it are (1) “pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart” and (2) be a “true follower of his Son”. As we have seen that is quite similar to the steps mentioned in 3 Nephi 19 for receiving the baptism of the spirit. Third, when one receives charity it comes as a “bestowal” (or gift) from the Father. This also is the same as the gift of the Holy Ghost. Finally one of the effects of receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost is to be filled with the pure love of Christ. In short, it is difficult to find any significant differences between the experience of receiving a bestowal of charity and the baptism of the spirit; thus we conclude that the two experiences appear to be substantially if not exactly identical.
JUST HOW IMPORTANT IS THIS CHANGE
The last question of “Just how important is this change, really?” brings us to some additional important scriptures.
First, several key scriptures show that the baptism of the spirit brings about the remission of sins and the mighty change of heart that results in being born again. Following is a sampling of some of these:
John 3:5: 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.
2 Nephi 31:17: 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 of our sins by fire and the Holy Ghost.
Mosiah 4:2-3: And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice saying: 0 have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men.
3 And it came to pass that after they had spoken these words the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come, according to the words which King Benjamin had spoken unto them.
Mosiah 27:23-29: And it came to pass after they had fasted and prayed for the space of two days and two nights, the limbs of Alma received their strength, and he stood up and began to speak unto them, bidding them to be of good comfort:
24 For, said he, I have repented of my sins, and have been redeemed of the Lord; behold I am born of the Spirit.
25 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;
26 And thus they become new creatures;
and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. 27 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. 28 Nevertheless, after wading 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. 29 My soul hath been redeemed from the gall of bitterness and bonds of iniquity. I was in the darkest abyss; but now I behold the marvelous light of God. My soul was racked with eternal torment; but I am snatched, and my soul is pained no more.
3 Nephi 12:2: And again, more blessed are they who shall believe in your words because that ye shall testify that ye have seen me, and that ye know that I am. Yea, blessed are they who shall believe in your words, and come down into the depths of humility and be baptized, for they shall be visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and shall receive a remission of their sins.
For those who thought that water baptism brought about the remission of sins sufficient for entrance into the Celestial kingdom consider the Prophet Joseph’s striking statements on baptism. You might as well baptize a bag of sand as a man, if not done in view of the remission of sins and getting of the Holy Ghost. Baptism by water is but half a baptism, and is good for nothing without the other half-that is the baptism of the Holy Ghost. The Savior says, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
“Though we or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” according to Galations 1:8. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Joseph Fielding Smith at pg. 314.
I will leave this subject here, and make a few remarks on the subject of baptism. The baptism of water, without the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost attending it, is of no use; they are necessarily and inseparably connected. An individual MUST be born of water and the Spirit in order to get into the kingdom of God. TPJS at pg. 360.
Every man lives for himself. Adam was made to open the way of the world, and for dressing the garden. Noah was born to save seed of everything, when the earth was washed of its wickedness by the flood; and the Son of God came into the world to redeem it from the fall. But except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. This eternal truth settles the question of all men’s religion. A man may be saved, after the judgment, in the terrestrial kingdom, or in the telestial kingdom, but he can never see the celestial kingdom of God, without being born of water and the Spirit. He may receive a glory like unto the moon, [i.e. of which the light of the moon is typical], or a star, [i.e. of which the light of the stars is typical], but he can never come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels; to the general assembly and Church of the Firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, unless he becomes as a little child and is taught by the Spirit of God. TPJS at pg. 12
From these scriptures and the teachings of the Prophet Joseph it seems that baptism is really a two part ordinance and that the baptism in water portion is essentially ineffective or useless without the other part, the baptism of the spirit. In other words, it appears that one has not even completed the ordinance of baptism until one has received the baptism of the spirit. The reason, of course, that one cannot enter the celestial kingdom without the baptism of the Holy Ghost is that is what brings about one’s remission of sins and cleansing so that one is without spot and blemish and able to be in the presence of our Father in Heaven, into whose presence no unclean thing may come.
We have sought to share some of the evidence showing that receiving the baptism of the spirit is a vital, essential, even critical step in one s personal spiritual journey. It seems so essential that according to the original Nephi, one has not even entered into the “strait and
narrow path which leads to eternal life” until one has received both baptisms. Consider his words in 2 Nephi 31:17-19:
17 … For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water, and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.
18 And then are in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son, unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made, that if ye entered in by the way ye should receive.
19 And now, my beloved brethren, after have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? I say unto you nay;
In fact, some scriptures, such as Moroni 6:4, state that until one has received the baptism of fire one is NOT truly a member of the church of Christ.
Moroni 6:4: And AFTER they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and CLEANSED by the power of the Holy Ghost THEY WERE NUMBERED AMONG THE PEOPLE OF THE CHURCH OF CHRIST and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith.
An article by President Benson published in the October 1989 Ensign seems to say essentially the same thing in the following words:
“In the usual sense of the term, Church membership means that a person has his or her name officially recorded on the membership records of the Church. By that definition, we have more than six million members of the Church.
But the Lord defines a member of His kingdom in quite a different way. In 1828, through the Prophet Joseph Smith, He said, “Behold, this is my doctrine – whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church.” (D&C 10:67) To Him whose Church this is, membership involves far more than simply being a member of record.
I would therefore like to set forth important concepts that we must understand and apply if we are to truly repent and come unto the Lord. “A Mighty Change of Heart”, Pres. Benson, Ensign, Oct. ’89, pg 3.
We also think it important to touch on the significance of “sanctification”, one of the many synonyms for this change. One day as we were considering Moses 6:59 and 3 Nep 27:20, the two key scriptures on sanctification, our eyes were opened as we read and reread the words that we are “sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost” and were pondering the connection between the baptism of the Holy Ghost and sanctification. As we were doing this the spirit whispered that they were the same thing. We finally understood that we are sanctified or cleansed by the baptism of the spirit which brings about a remission of sins, which is the necessary cleansing. In other words, the term “sanctification” is simply the term that is used to describe the state one is in when and as one receives the baptism of the spirit. Read carefully now these two key scriptures. Moses 6:59 is Enoch quoting from the record of Adam.
59 That by reason of transgression cometh the fall, which fall bringeth death, and inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I have made, and so become of dust a living soul, even so must be born again into the kingdom of water, and of the spirit, and be cleansed by even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory;
3 Nephi 27:19-21 is from the Savior’s own summary of the Gospel.
19 And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end.
20 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.
21 Verily, verily, I say unto you, THIS IS MY GOSPEL and ye know the things that ye must do in my church; for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do; for that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do;
If you want an interesting exercise in appreciating the central importance of sanctification, check out how many key verses commonly used over and over again in the church include a reference to being sanctified. You might begin by reviewing the oath and covenant of the priesthood in D&C 84:33-39, which specifically includes in verse 33 being “sanctified by the spirit” as an essential element to receiving the spiritual blessings especially including the priesthood powers there spoken of.
Sanctification is essential for entering the Celestial Kingdom. In D&C 88:21, the Lord plainly states that unless one has been sanctified one can not obtain the celestial kingdom:
21 And they who are not sanctified through the law which I have given unto you, even the law of Christ, MUST inherit another kingdom, even that of a terrestrial kingdom, or that of a telestial kingdom.
Is such an event the only way for we as baptized members of the church to become eligible for the Celestial Kingdom as D&C 88:21, John 3:5, and Mosiah 27:27, quoted earlier, indicate? From what we have read it seems that is certainly what the Prophet Joseph taught. Some have suggested that it may not be strictly true that every person who will be exalted must personally experience the baptism of spirit in view of the experience of Joseph Smith with his brother Alvin, described in D & C 137 which teaches us that ultimately we are judged on the bona fide desires of our heart. There Joseph very briefly describes a vision he had of the celestial kingdom in which he saw his brother Alvin present and asked the Lord how that was possible since Alvin “had departed this life before” the restoration of the Gospel. To that question the Lord gave this answer:
7 Thus came the voice of the Lord unto me, saying: All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God;
8 Also all that shall die henceforth without a knowledge of it, who would have received it with all their hearts, shall be heirs of that kingdom;
9 For I, the Lord, will judge all men according to the desire of their hearts.
One can see a clear distinction between Alvin’s situation as compared to the situation that baptized members of the church are in. Whether this is a distinction that the Lord strictly follows (the language, by explicitly describing this distinction, certainly suggests that He does) we simply do not know. Strictly from a personal point of view we would like to believe that there are other ways. However, we must acknowledge that we simply have not been able to find anything in the way of scriptural support or even reliable personal experiences in support of that proposition.
Now, having read the preceding quotes from the scriptures and the Prophet Joseph, would you care to try to state in your own words your thoughts on just how important you think this change is, really?
What we have sought to do here is ask what we think are some worthwhile questions and then refer to what appears to us to be some relevant scriptures and prophetic teachings as we seek for the answers. We think that these questions and the
material discussed will certainly get your attention, just as it has ours, about both the reality and importance of this change known by so many different names. If you would like even more scriptures about the central importance of this mighty change then please turn to Chapter 23 entitled “One More Time – A Review” and read carefully pages 23-1 through 23-5. There we show it’s importance from four separate statements of the perfected, resurrected Christ on precisely what His gospel is. Our whole purpose is to do our best to provide sufficient information to enable those who so desire to personally experience this mighty change. As with all blessings the Lord has clearly stated that there are laws which govern receipt of His blessings. D&C 130:20-21 There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated. And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.
Our individual searches for understanding of the laws governing this mighty change began as we each became aware from the rarity of this change among those with whom we were acquainted that the “law” of receiving this blessing was far more than simply being baptized in water and receiving a blessing containing the instruction to receive the Holy Ghost In Part II we will identify and discuss each of the simple scriptural elements that are the predicates of receiving this vital gift. We will also explore many of the different aspects and effects of this truly mighty change. In case you are still wrestling with or perhaps even resisting the reality that the mighty change is a clearly discernible, even observable, powerful spiritual experience, perhaps you might ask just who it might be that might want you to believe that it is a gradually occurring imperceptible process that occurs over a long time? For, if it is an event or a short
process of a few hours or days then surely you must give it your attention. However, if one can be persuaded to believe that he (or she) can not know whether or not he has experienced it because it is an imperceptible process, would he not also then readily accept the idea that he must have already experienced it, because, after all, he (or she) is a valiant, faithful member of the Lord’s true church, isn’t he? (Could this possibly be pride?) Could not this then lead to apathy and indifference towards the whole idea, for, if it is a very long, imperceptible process, there really is not any reason for one to hurry or be concerned, is there?
Can you see the possible application of the sober warning that Nephi wrote to us more than 2500 years ago? 2 Nephi 28:20-21 For behold, at that day shall he rage in the hearts of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good. 21 And others will he pacify, and LULL THEM AWAY INTO CARNAL SECURITY, THAT THEY WILL SAY: ALL IS WELL IN ZION; YEA, ZION PROSPERETH, ALL IS WELL – and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away CAREFULLY down to hell.
Can you see how our Adversary can win by getting people to believe such things as, (1) You have till the beginning of the Millenium, so why hurry?, or (2) You have until the END of the Millenium, so what’s the rush?, or (3) The process is eternal, so take your time? Do you think that procrastination in this matter serves our interests or those of our Adversary? Has not Amulek told us,
Alma 34:35 For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, AND HE DOTH SEAL YOU HIS.
There is yet another delusion that causes great confusion among some. This is the belief that those who have experienced the mighty change should now be perfect. As discussed earlier, the mighty change is only the BEGINNING as we have only just entered the gate onto the strait and narrow path that leads to eternal life. 2 Nephi 31:17-18. At this point we have just been reborn spiritually and are spiritually only little children. We now have to mature spiritually and like all children will make many mistakes along the way.
Hopefully, our detailing the abundance of evidence that the mighty change known by so many names is a real, identifiable, discernible, landmark event or experience is helpful. In our personal discussions we have found that the biggest single barrier to understanding was the belief that it was an imperceptible process rather than a discernible event or experience. It is our hope that by addressing the matter directly at the beginning and by showing you the wealth of evidence that it is a profound, discernible event or experience, that you can then more readily follow the detailed discussion in Part II of the steps, elements or components of preparing and seeking for that change rather than repeatedly rehashing the “imperceptible process versus discernible event” question.