Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Born Again 101: Making a Covenant to Follow Christ

I've had a number of people ask me what I think of "born again Christians." While some of those who use that term are often critical of Latter-day Saints, LDS doctrine is actually all about becoming born again Christians. Here's one of my favorite passages from the Book of Mormon, a scene where a great king and prophet, King Benjamin, has been teaching his people about Christ and urging them to repent and follow Him in a covenant relationship. As we read in Mosiah chapter 5, the people accept his call:
[5] And we are willing to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things that he shall command us, all the remainder of our days, that we may not bring upon ourselves a never-ending torment, as has been spoken by the angel, that we may not drink out of the cup of the wrath of God.

[6] And now, these are the words which king Benjamin desired of them; and therefore he said unto them: Ye have spoken the words that I desired; and the covenant which ye have made is a righteous covenant.

[7] And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters.

[8] And under this head ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free. There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh; therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives.

[9] And it shall come to pass that whosoever doeth this shall be found at the right hand of God, for he shall know the name by which he is called; for he shall be called by the name of Christ.

[10] And now it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall not take upon him the name of Christ must be called by some other name; therefore, he findeth himself on the left hand of God.

[11] And I would that ye should remember also, that this is the name that I said I should give unto you that never should be blotted out, except it be through transgression; therefore, take heed that ye do not transgress, that the name be not blotted out of your hearts.

[12] I say unto you, I would that ye should remember to retain the name written always in your hearts, that ye are not found on the left hand of God, but that ye hear and know the voice by which ye shall be called, and also, the name by which he shall call you.

[13] For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?
A key element of becoming born again is entering into a covenant to follow the Savior. We begin with faith in Christ, then turn toward Him by repenting of our sins and entering into a covenant to follow Him. The cleansing and rebirth of baptism is part of that, but even those who may have already been baptized need to refresh and renew that covenant, and may need to make some major changes in their lives to truly become born again through the power of the Atonement. And then we must retain that relationship and stay close to the Lord throughout our lives, seeking to follow Him all our days, for we are just as free to walk away from the Lord as we are to listen to Him in the first place.

May we all become born again Christians.

29 comments:

Tracy Keeney said...

Beautifully written, Jeff.
The words of King Benjamin are some of the most powerful passages in the Book Of Mormon. I love to read those chapters.
Thanks for writing this-- it's a great way to start off my day!

Anonymous said...

I tried to read the passage you provided but I'm afraid I have to agree with Mark Twain (born 30 years later than Joseph Smith) when he wrote:

"All men have heard of the Mormon Bible, but few except the 'elect' have seen it, or, at least, taken the trouble to read it. I brought away a copy from Salt Lake. The book is a curiosity to me, it is such a pretentious affair, and yet so 'slow,' so sleepy; such an insipid mess of inspiration. It is chloroform in print. If Joseph Smith composed this book, the act was a miracle--keeping awake while he did it was, at any rate. If he, according to tradition, merely translated it from certain ancient and mysteriously-engraved plates of copper, which he declares he found under a stone, in an out-of-the-way locality, the work of translating was equally a miracle, for the same reason.

"The book seems to be merely a prosy detail of imaginary history, with the Old Testament for a model; followed by a tedious plagiarism of the New Testament. The author labored to give his words and phrases the quaint, old-fashioned sound and structure of our King James's translation of the Scriptures; and the result is a mongrel--half modern glibness, and half ancient simplicity and gravity. The latter is awkward and constrained; the former natural, but grotesque by the contrast. Whenever he found his speech growing too modern--which was about every sentence or two--he ladled in a few such Scriptural phrases as 'exceeding sore,' 'and it came to pass,' etc., and made things satisfactory again. 'And it came to pass' was his pet. If he had left that out, his Bible would have been only a pamphlet.
"

cold pizza said...

His sheep will hear His voice. Others will be lulled away by the soothing words of Samuel Clemons. -cp

Anonymous said...

It's the LDS Doctrine AFTER the Book of Mormon that's the issue with Christians.

Troy said...

Thanks Jeff. I strive to be born again on a regular basis. King Benjamin is wonderful!

Ryan said...

This from the same fellow who wrote "The Awful German Language" and "Captain Stormfields's Visit to Heaven". Captain Stormy is a riot to read while it pokes fun at the sectarian notion of Heaven, but at the same time many of the (supposedly outrageous?) things the good Cap'n encounters seem perfectly reasonable to me.

Let's just say Mark Twain is not a threat to my faith... besides, you have to admit that the parting crack about 'and it came to pass' is hilarious, if a tad exaggerated.

Eileen said...

This post reminded me of our Sunday School lesson this past Sunday on Alma 5, about the 'mighty change of heart' and 'receiving His image in our countenance'. Another wonderful chapter in the Book of Mormon. Sweet sweet sweet. (Sorry, Anon 10:26, that you are immune to the spirit of this book!) Reading your post, Jeff, brought back the spirit from that class, thanks!

Re: "and it came to pass": in the German translation of the Book of Mormon, they essentially say that the original has an untranslatable phrase roughly rendered as "it happened" ("und es geschah") and then use a pair of brackets [] every time "it came to pass" occurs, instead of the words. The German translation was many pages shorter than the English! Not quite a pamphlet, but definitely shorter. Probably due to a difference in footnotes, but amusing to us missionaries there none the less. Mark Twain would have been tickled!

Anonymous said...

"It's the LDS Doctrine AFTER the Book of Mormon that's the issue with Christians."


The Christians would have issues with us no matter what the doctrine we have. Remember the first vision.

Anonymous said...

I would like to see Samuel Clemons face when he finds out it is true.

Anonymous said...

"I tried to read the passage you provided but I'm afraid I have to agree with Mark Twain."

I understand how you and Mark Twain missed it with out calling upon God in the name of Jesus Christ for a witness if it is not true.

Tracy Keeney said...

Didn't you know? Mark Twain was God's chosen "scripture authenticator". :)

As a side note, Mark Twain also said the following:

"A God who could make good children as easily a bad, yet preferred to make bad ones; who could have made every one of them happy, yet never made a single happy one; who made them prize their bitter life, yet stingily cut it short; who gave his angels eternal happiness unearned, yet required his other children to earn it; who gave is angels painless lives, yet cursed his other children with biting miseries and maladies of mind and body; who mouths justice, and invented hell -- mouths mercy, and invented hell-- mouths Golden Rules and forgiveness multiplied by seventy times seven, and invented hell; who mouths morals to other people, and has none himself; who frowns upon crimes, yet commits them all; who created man without invitation, then tries to shuffle the responsibility for man's acts upon man, instead of honorably placing it where it belongs, upon himself; and finally, with altogether divine obtuseness, invites his poor abused slave to worship him!"

Yeah... I don't put too much stock into what Mark Twain has to say about The Book of Mormon.

Pops said...

Mark Twain's condemnation of "God" is a strawman argument against the existence of God - one which is fairly common among unbelievers.

The proper reaction would have been for him to realize that the classical notions of God and his economy are apparently incorrect because they don't match up with the day-to-day reality we experience. Joseph Smith was instrumental in restoring many truths about the nature of God and our relationship with him that just happen to resolve these contradictions that stumped Twain.

If Twain had been a little smarter he could have figured it out. Or perhaps he figured it out and didn't like what he came up with, so he supressed it.

Mormanity said...

You guys, be easy on Twain and our first Anonymous. Neither managed to read the book, so it's natural that they wouldn't be impressed. Anon couldn't even make it through a few verses: "I tried to read the passage you provided but . . ."

On the day of judgment, I'm sure the Lord will consider the severe reading disorders that some people face.

Ryan said...

I remember in Seminary many years ago, our teacher pointed us to a Southern Baptist web site. The preacher there had a whole page about how "awesome" the Book of Mormon is for teaching about God's grace and mercy, and the idea of being "born again."

I think he even had bits of this King Benjamin quote as an example. He liked Abinadi, too. I wonder if there's a way to find that page again, assuming it even exists...

Re: Twain's reading impediment. I actually enjoy reading Twain. He was a surprisingly perceptive thinker who also knew how to write with humor. Of course, you have to take what he says with a grain of salt because in a contest between humor and accuracy humor usually wins...

The "anti-God" Twain quote someone cited reflects a very real and serious concern that has kept Christian thinkers busy for over 1500 years. One of Jeff's previous posts 15 Dec 2007 pointed to a talk by Teryl L. Givens which in turn mentioned "The Conflit of Ages" by Edward Beecher (a contemporary of Twain) in 1854. Beecher dedicates 500+ pages to the issue of God's justice in creating -- and then condemning -- imperfect beings. It documents efforts of early Christians, Reformers, and modern theologians, as well as his own insights (which were pretty "radical" by sectarian standards). It was a really interesting read, other than being in that verbose 19th century style.

SteSmo said...

I wonder if Mark Twain would have thought the Book of Mormon boring if he knew of all of the Hebraisms (chiasmus, etc.) in the Book of Mormon.

Pops said...

...or if he knew there is a Mayan glyph for "it came to pass"...

Anonymous said...

Regarding the German "it happened" instead of "and it came to pass", the phrase "it came to pass" means "it happened". The same sort of translation occurs in Italian also.

MikeC said...

Jeff, this is somewhat off-topic, but have you seen this? Site Leaks Church Handbook of Instructions.

carole said...

I don't understand why you need the Book of Mormon to come to the conclusion that we need to be born again:

John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotton Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."

John 10:9 "Yes. I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved"- Jesus

John 11:25 "Jesus answered and said to her, I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live even though He dies."

We are sinful, and we have fallen short of the law. But praise be to God that He came in the form of man to save us from ourselves. Jesus is the Immanuel "God with us."

The Bible is the Word of God. And He who is blessed forever is to be praised that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Ray said...

Replying to mikec:

If the Handbook of Instructions were to be serialized and published in Newsweek, it wouldn't damage the church's reputation any -- in fact, it might enhance the church's reputation when the world finds out that Mormons really do practice what they preach.

I've read the Handbook, both volumes, cover to cover, and there's nothing there that the general public would find objectionable.

It reminds me of the missionary folklore about the set of missionary discussions accidentally left at a bus stop in Rome, Italy, in the 1970s. According to the folklore, the good citizen who picked them up read the title page, realized what they were, and decided to use them to do a hatchet job on the Mormons. So he started reading, and everytime he disagreed with something printed on the right-hand page, he would read the "If the resonse is negative..." part of the left-hand page. According to the folklore, he ended up converting himself.

I can imagine a cover-to-cover reading of the Handbook having the same effect.

(I can also imagine a cover-to-cover reading of the Handbook having the "chloroform in print" effect. It put me to sleep many nights before I finally made it through.)

Ray said...

Carole said:

I don't understand why you need the Book of Mormon to come to the conclusion that we need to be born again

followed by some of my favorite verses on the subject from the Bible. (And can you add John 3:3-5 to the list?)

Part of the message of King Benjamin is that it's not sufficient to be born again just once.

I know a lot of people who are "born again" in the traditional Christian sense and then treat it as a "Get out of hell free" card, living utterly reprobate lives, secure in the knowledge that God will "justify them in commmitting a little sin" because they've been "born again" and accepted Christ as their Savior.

No, according to King Benjamin (and so many others in the Book of Mormon), we need to be born again, and again, and again. The spiritual rebirth is something that we should seek for over and over, until the day that we are finally without sin -- that is, dead.

Anonymous said...

"The Christians would have issues with us no matter what the doctrine we have. Remember the first vision."

Which one? At last count there was around 7 versions, and counting.

Anonymous said...

"Which one? At last count there was around 7 versions, and counting."



A bible, a bible we have no more need for a bible. Which one? At lest count there around 20 versions, and counting. Point is no matter how perfect the document is people will find fault. You even find fault with God.

Tracy Keeney said...

Carole said:
"I don't understand why you need the Book of Mormon to come to the conclusion that we need to be born again

Carole, you're under the assumption that we think we "need the Book of Mormon" to come to that conclusion.

But we've never said that, and that's NOT what we believe. Being born again is not a new concept to us that we only know about BECAUSE of the Book of Mormon.

We DON'T need the Book of Mormon to "come to the conclusion" that we need to be reborn.

The Book of Mormon is "ANOTHER" testament of Jesus Christ. King Benjamin's address about being born again is just ANOTHER prophet teaching the SAME thing that Bibical prophets taught.
We believe and use the same Bibical scriptures that you posted. We ALSO use the one the Jeff posted from the BOM.

Saying "I don't understand why you need the Book of Mormon to come to the conclusion that we need to be born again and then listing scriptures from the Bible to point out that it's already been said, is comparable to me saying,
"Carole, I don't understand why you need the book of John to tell you about the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus." Then quoting a bunch of scriptures from Matthew, Mark and Luke about the crucifixion. Does the fact that Matthew already testified about the Savior's sacrifice mean that the testimonies of the other apostles are pointless and useless??
Where did the scriptures ever say that only ONE person or witness should or could exist to testify of Christ and His teachings?
In fact, 2 Corinthians 13:1 teaches the exacat opposite.
".. In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established"

John 8:17 teaches the same idea.

We believe that the Bible is a collection of the witness and testimonies of the prophets in one part of the world, and The Book of Mormon is a collection of the witness and testimonies of the prophets in another part of the world.

Even if you don't believe as we do, that The Book of Mormon is scripture, do you understand that we see it as ANOTHER testament?
That we don't "need it" to understand the need to be born again? We see King Benjamin's address to his people about the need to be reborn as just "more proof" that we DO need to be reborn. It's ANOTHER witness of that teaching.

NM said...

I consider myself a born-again Christian. I grew up within an Evangelical church background, but it was only 3 years ago (in my mind) that I truly came to know Jesus =)

My conversion to follow Him was pretty tough and it nearly cost me my life - but it seems God was gracious and has blessed me with life in heaven and with this life on earth thrown in.

I think the main differences were before I was born-again was that I followed Jesus religiously - stoic-type following...but this time it's different. It seems that to be born-again is a change of heart, mind and strength - and following Jesus is a delight - because it is only in Jesus that I can depend upon =)

Great post Jeff. Thank you...

Anonymous said...

"You even find fault with God."

I find no fault with God. I find fault with a religion that diminishes the true nature and scope of God.

Jon said...

"If he, according to tradition, merely translated it from certain ancient and mysteriously-engraved plates of copper..."

Sorry, Mark. You got the metal wrong. Brass or gold are your two choices. Now, Dead Sea Scrolls are a different matter.

Anonymous said...

"I find fault with a religion that diminishes the true nature and scope of God."

How do can you say that we diminish the true nature when we state clearly God is as the Bible states?

Anonymous said...

"I find fault with a religion that diminishes the true nature and scope of God."

He means that we believe in a Jesus with two arms and two legs, who is the express image of the Father (Heb. 1). Maybe his God is a squid with ten (eight arms, two tentacles).