What does it take to be born again?
When Jesus warned Nicodemus that we can’t enter the kingdom of God without being reborn, He specified that we must be “born of water and of the Spirit” (John 3:3-5). We usually associate this instruction with the ordinances of baptism and confirmation, but is that sufficient?
According to the prophet Enoch, when God instructed Adam on this topic, He included a third component:
Inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I have made, and so became of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory;
For by the water ye keep the commandment; by the Spirit ye are justified, and by the blood ye are sanctified.Moses 6:59-60 (Note the similarities between this passage and 1 John 5:6, 8.)
Elder D. Todd Christofferson has commented on this passage on multiple occasions.
In a 1998 devotional address, he pointed out that baptism by water occurs at a specific time and place, but that baptism by the Spirit “often occurs over time and is generally not an observable phenomenon.” He indicated that this transformation comes by the power of the atonement of Jesus Christ (the blood), and that “the medium by which the blood of Christ is applied to make us clean is the Spirit meaning the Holy Ghost” (“Born of the Spirit,” Ensign College (LDS Business College) Devotional Address, 15 April 1998).
More recently, Elder Christofferson paraphrased this scripture in the following way:
The baptism of repentance by water leads to the baptism of the Spirit. The Spirit brings the atoning grace of Christ, symbolized by His blood, both to justify (or pardon) our sins and to sanctify (or cleanse) us from the effects of sin, making us spotless and holy before God.“Born Again,” General Conference, April 2008, footnote 1
Later in that same talk, Elder Christofferson affirmed that, when we rely exclusively “’upon the merits of him who is mighty to save’ (2 Nephi 31:19), we are ‘quickened in the inner man’ (Moses 6:65) and, if not yet fully born again, then certainly well into the path of spiritual rebirth.” Again, he characterizes this rebirth as a process, not an event.
The same three components—water, blood, and spirit—appear in the following summary of the gospel, given by Jesus to His disciples on the American continent:
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.
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 27:19-20
Today, I will be grateful for the opportunity God has given me to be born again. I will remember that the covenants I have made in conjunction with formal ordinances, including baptism, are an important part of that process. But equally important is the impact of His grace over time in my daily life which I can receive through the influence of His Spirit because of His Atonement.