I moved here from New Zealand when I was 17, I have recently completed my paper work and will soon have the privilege of taking the oath that comes with citizenship. The Statue of Liberty has traditionally been the greeter to immigrants. She has become an image of hope and freedom to many an immigrant who has passed by her. Her message is one of compassion:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
For centuries people have answered that call, and come seeking greater opportunity, a better job, a home of their own, land to grow crops, religious freedom and prosperity. For many of these wanderers, they have paid a great price for this promise of a better life, they have traveled great distances, overcome disease and rough seas, and have finally found shelter and respite on the shores of Ellis Island.
Even though I did not have to endure a stormy ocean voyage or the persecution that sparks immigration for some, I too know the joy of coming to this country from a foreign land and the exciting prospect of becoming a Citizen of the United States.
American society is made up of native born citizens and immigrants. In the Church some of us have been members of this Gospel all our lives, we were born into the Church. Others were found by the missionaries and have come into the fold in that way. All of us however have to become spiritually reborn if we are to truly be followers of Christ and be called “His people”. As I thought about what it means to become spiritually reborn, I recalled the process to becoming a citizen. Allow me to take it step by step and help you understand that each one of us is eligible and can attain this wonderful gift of belonging to the fold of Christ.
I want so much to be a part of the American People. My process of naturalization began and continues to be fueled by this great desire I have. Faith is a lot more than that, but it sure begins with a desire. If we allow “the desire to work within us” it becomes faith. Once we have faith, it continues to increase as we experiment upon the word and practice obedience. This is the first step and as the fourth article of faith states the first principle of the Gospel. It is important to realize that faith is not “something we get and then keep it is something to be strengthened and nurtured much like a testimony. President Faust said that “To be born again means that we must exercise a faith that does not waver and is not easily distracted.”
Just as my application for citizenship began with me detailing my past, and the kind of moral decisions and character I have had, repentance is an essential step in the process to being spiritually reborn. Just like faith, this principle is not just something we practice once, right before we are baptized. It requires constant attention and vigilance. Just because we are spiritually reborn does not mean we will not make mistakes, but it does mean we will want to continually be repenting and experiencing the blessing of the Atonement so that we can be always worthy of the spirit.
The citizenship oath includes the words: I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen. These should not be difficult words to promise if one truly desires to be a citizen of this country. How often do we pick and choose the things we will and will not give up in order to give our whole souls to God. In fact, HOW CAN WE profess to be a disciple of Christ when we still give place in our hearts to anything that detracts us from obedience to his commandments. There are so many distractions in this world, not all of them inherently evil either, but we all have things that we like just a little too much to get rid of. We are told that the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance. This does not mean that we are expected to be perfect, but we should be doing all we can to be as close to it as possible.
I recently heard of a painting in which the artist painted an old man loaded up with packages and bags of every kind. He has maps and books under his arms and is barely able to move with this heavy load. Above his head is the iron rod…he sees it, and wants so badly to be able to reach it, but cannot seem to part with the things that are keeping him from being able to reach up and grasp hold of it. We can see how silly and seemingly easy his decision should be, however, we sometimes give priority to things in this life that cannot bring us peace and joy.
Alma 5 suggests that the things we should be giving up are pride, envy, mocking of one another, turning our backs from the poor and needy, setting our hearts on the vain things of this world among other things. We know, many of us from experience, that these things, are not only part of the natural man and therefore an “enemy to God” but are also an enemy to our happiness. As we become as a little child and submit to the will of our Father in Heaven, he looses the bands of our captivity and we become truly free. When we align our will with His we can realize all the blessings he has in store for us and we can be more open to bless others lives too.
In order to prepare for citizenship I have to study about 100 questions, present official documents, fill out paperwork and write a hefty check to cover...expenses...? The Lord requires something much different. Something we ALL can give no matter who we are, what we’ve done, or where we’ve been. He requires a broken heart and a contrite spirit.
Baptism is the ordinance that opens the gate for our entrance into the kingdom of God. It is a cleansing of our bodies and our spirits and is perhaps what we most often think about when we hear the term, spiritual rebirth. I remember going to a baptism of an elderly lady a few years ago. When she came up out of the water, she looked up at the witnesses of this ordinance and said “oh, THANKYOU!” it really struck me that here she was, near the end of her mortal journey, being in a real sense “re born” and how grateful she was for that. Do we take it for granted, this great blessing of baptism?
When I take my oath of citizenship I promise that I will:
- Support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies
- Bear true faith and allegiance to the same and that I will ;
- Bear arms on behalf of the United States and perform noncombatant service
When we are baptized we make promises to:
- Obey the commandments and keep any covenants we have made.
- Take upon ourselves the name of Christ and to always remember Him.
- Be always ready and willing to stand for and to defend the truth.
Elder Theodore M. Burton said of this taking of the name of Christ upon us as part of Spiritual rebirth:
If we truly understand the full stature of the name by which we then are called, we will live different lives. No longer will we do less than our best in our work or at school. No longer will we be dishonest in paying our bills or in the treatment of our family members, nor will we take unfair advantage of anyone in any way. Our word will be as binding on us as our bond. No longer will we be unkind to our associates or be immoral or selfish in any way, either secretly or openly. We will do nothing to bring dishonor or shame to that holy name we carry as children of Jesus Christ. We will respect and honor our covenant Father, Jesus Christ, and be righteously jealous and protective of the holy name we bear. We will judge everything we do on the basis of how it might reflect on Him whose name we carry, not only on our lips but in our very hearts.
A scripture in Mosiah describes this commitment:
Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places.
When I become American others will look to me as an example of what “an American” does and says. When I travel abroad without meaning to I will be an ambassador. Are there things that we are doing that are not in line with what a disciple of Christ should be doing? We need to be good examples of what we believe or we make ourselves into hypocrites. Being spiritually reborn changes not just our outward expressions of a commitment we’ve made, but we ourselves feel different, we are changed.
Following our baptism we are given the gift of the Holy Ghost as a guide and companion to us. I testify that having the Holy Ghost with us is so valuable. I have felt the power of the Spirit in my own life when I have been in danger several times with regard to dating, without knowing it myself, I was approached by someone who would not value and respect me and the quiet yet firm prompting of the Holy Ghost were a shield and protection.
Having the Holy Ghost with us will also prompt us to lift and help others and steer us in the paths of others we can bless. It is through doing the work of the Savior that we truly come to know the love he has for each of us.
President Faust says:
Those who take upon themselves His work shall be twice born, renewed in heart and in spirit. It is the message that they who drink of the water that the Master gives them “shall never thirst,” but that this water may be in them “a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14). They who take upon themselves the burdens of others shall find unspeakable joy. This great transcending happiness is available to all, even the most humble and forlorn. It is within the grasp of all. We reach the Creator through His children. Whoso gives a cup of water to the thirsting gives it to the Savior, and whoso receives that water receives the infinite Father who sent Him.
So, if we have exercised faith, repented, been baptized, and received the Holy Ghost, how can we know whether we have been spiritually reborn – what does that feel like and how can we measure our progress? Elder Oaks answers this with examples from the scriptures:
After King Benjamin’s great sermon, many of his hearers cried out that the Spirit of the Lord “has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2). If we are losing our desire to do evil, we are progressing toward our heavenly goal.
The Apostle Paul said that persons who have received the Spirit of God “have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). I understand this to mean that persons who are proceeding toward the needed conversion are beginning to see things as our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, see them. They are hearing His voice instead of the voice of the world, and they are doing things in His way instead of by the ways of the world. End Quote.
As we work toward our salvation, trying harder each day to be better, we can get ever closer to Christ.
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 (Mosiah 5:7).
The spiritual rebirth described in this verse typically does not occur quickly or all at once; it is an ongoing process—not a single event. Line upon line and precept upon precept, gradually and almost imperceptibly, our motives, our thoughts, our words, and our deeds become aligned with the will of God. This phase of the transformation process requires time, persistence, and patience.
Whether we are born into the Gospel, or have to join the Church as an adult, all of us need to become spiritually reborn and truly converted.
President Romney says of this:
Membership in the Church and conversion are not necessarily synonymous. Stated simply, true conversion is the fruit of faith, repentance, and consistent obedience. Faith comes by hearing the word of God and responding to it. You will receive from the Holy Ghost a confirming witness of things you accept on faith by willingly doing them. You will be led to repent of errors resulting from wrong things done or right things not done. As a consequence, your capacity to consistently obey will be strengthened. This cycle of faith, repentance, and consistent obedience will lead you to greater conversion with its attendant blessings. True conversion will strengthen your capacity to do what you know you should do, when you should do it, regardless of the circumstances.
All of us are familiar with the great freedoms available to citizens of this nation, they are included and protected by the Constitution. We have freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press the list goes on.
Christ offers those who follow him a freedom far greater than any of these. Some of these blessings are described in Alma chapter 5. They include freedom from the bondage of sin which weighs us down with feelings of inadequacy and guilt. We experience that “mighty change” in our hearts, we have the companionship of the Holy Ghost which testifies of truth and brings all things to our remembrance. We have an assurance of our divine nature as sons and daughters of God and are promised eternal life and exaltation if we are “faithful until the end.” What greater gifts can we hope for? What is not worth giving up for all that? The benefits of spiritual rebirth are lasting and eternal and bring a happiness the world cannot duplicate.
When we reach the end of this life, it will not matter where we have lived, what our house looked like, what job we had or how popular we were. What WILL matter is what kind of father, mother, sister, brother and friend we were, how we treated our neighbors and how we remained faithful to our covenants. In essence, our goal is to become like Christ. That is the point of our journey here in mortality.
Christ is the head of this Church, our Good Shepherd and the keeper of the gate that leads to our Father in Heaven and eternal life in His presence. His message has always been one of compassion. He welcomes all people regardless of situation or past, who truly repent and come unto Him. Alma 5 instructs that the Gospel be taught to everyone that dwelleth in the land, the old and the young, both bond and free, yea I say unto you the aged, and also the middle aged, and the rising generation, [that all these] must repent and be born again.”
The Savior says to each one of us “come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest”
I testify that true conversion comes as we are tested, and as we cross the rough seas of life, but as we keep our eyes fixed on the Savior he will guide us home and give us the rest and respite we are seeking. We will be His and through the atonement we will inherit all the Father hath.