An opportunity for spiritual renewal


The very word sounds apocalyptic.And as the world crosses the threshold into the third thousand years since Christ's advent, Latter-day Saints are reminded of the scriptural significance of that word. It prompts one to look back to the first coming and forward to the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

For most of the world, time is reckoned from the birth of Christ. The standard designation "A.D." given with a year means Anno Domini, or "in the year of the Lord," and in a landmark year such as the turn of a century or millennium, one's thoughts turn to the global and eternal significance of the birth into mortality of the Lord Jesus Christ.

And it brings to mind the great future millennium, regarding which, "the day or the hour no man knoweth" (See D&C 39:20-21), when Christ will return in glory and reign personally upon the earth (see Articles of Faith 10) and the inhabitants will be blessed with 1,000 years of uninterrupted peace.

For the earth, that will be a time of cleansing. President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote:

"It is recorded in the Bible and other standard works of the Church that the earth will be cleansed of all its corruption and wickedness. Those who have lived virtuous lives, who have been honest in their dealings with their fellow man and have endeavored to do good to the best of their understanding [including many who have not yet received the gospel], shall remain." (Answers to Gospel Questions 1:108.)

President Smith added, "The gospel will be taught far more intensely and with greater power during the millennium until all the inhabitants of the earth shall embrace it. Satan shall be bound so that he cannot tempt any man." (p. 109.)

Thus the earth will undergo a spiritual regeneration when Christ returns, when "every corruptible thing, both of man, or of the beasts of the field, or of the fowls of the heavens, or of the fish of the sea, that dwells upon all the face of the earth, shall be consumed." (D&C 101:24)

Though the time is yet undisclosed when this global cleansing will occur, good people can act now to apply spiritual regeneration to their own lives. For those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, the beginning of the 21st Century can be an occasion marking their own millennial rebirth, the cleansing and purifying of their hearts, just as the earth itself will be purified with the coming of the Lord.

Indeed such purification -- what the prophets have variously termed as being born again, spiritual rebirth, conversion, sanctification -- is commanded by the Lord.

Alma asked pointedly: "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 5:14)

It is noteworthy that Alma posed these questions not to a group of gospel investigators or neophytes, but to "the people of the church" in the Nephite capital city of Zarahemla, people who no doubt were seasoned church members and probably needed no primer in the principles of the gospel.

Likewise, King Benjamin was speaking to established members of the church when he addressed them from the tower he caused to be erected near the Nephite temple. His preaching was so powerful and the influence of the Spirit so strong that these seasoned church members declared with one voice, "The Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent . . . 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.

"And we, ourselves, also, through the infinite goodness of God and the manifestations of his Spirit, have great views of that which is to come; and were it expedient, we could prophesy of all things.

"And it is the faith which we have had on the things which our king has spoken unto us that has brought us to this great knowledge, whereby we do rejoice with such exceedingly great joy." (Mosiah 5:2-4.)

Powerful as this experience was, the scriptural account suggests that for many it was not something they had been used to, even though they did hold membership in the Church of God.

All of this suggests that spiritual rebirth may not come to every single person immediately at the time of baptism or, if it does, it is something that can wane or be lost through neglect or iniquity and must be regained through the exercise of humility and the process of repentance.

Indeed, Alma asked his listeners, "If ye have experienced a change of heart, if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?" (Alma 5:26, emphasis added.)

It is a pertinent question for all Church members as they enter the year 2000.

How, one might ask, can one retain or regain this mighty change of heart to which the prophets refer?

One way is partaking worthily of the sacrament each week. Simple though that act may seem, Nephi and Alma counseled that "by small and simple things are great things brought to pass." (See1 Nephi 16:29; Alma 37:16.)

Citing the sacramental prayers, Robert L. Millett, dean of Religious Education at BYU, and Joseph Fielding McConkie, professor of ancient scripture at BYU, explained: "One is not truly born again until he receives and enjoys the enlivening and sanctifying powers of [the] Spirit in his life. As the covenant of baptism is renewed in the partaking of the sacrament, so the promise of the outpouring of the Spirit is renewed also. (See Moroni 4:3; Moroni 5:2; D&C 20:77, 79; [Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, vol. 2 -- Jacob through Mosiah, p. 258.])

As the earth was baptized at the time of the flood and will be spiritually purified during the millennium when Christ reigns, so can individual baptized members of the Church be spiritually purified as a new millennium dawns by seeking the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost.

To promote and encourage a spiritual rebirth going into the new millennium, the Church News this week presents a package of articles focusing on the sacrament as a means to attaining that desirable goal. The articles are found on the corresponding links at the top of this page.

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