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Birth

by W. John Walsh

“Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee…”[1]

 

Latter-day Saints believe that every member of the human family is an eternal being.  The Prophet Joseph Smith taught:  “The spirit of man is not a created being; it existed from eternity, and will exist to eternity.”[2]  While each person is eternal, he or she goes through “successive phases”[3] of existence.  Each of these phases is marked by a birth or change, including our spirit birth, our mortal birth, and our spiritual conversion. This series of births is not to be confused with reincarnation, a belief which the Church rejects.[4]

 

Each birth is a milestone that marks achievement of a higher state of development than previously enjoyed.  Eventually, if we are faithful to the plan of salvation, this series of births increases our “capacity to grow in grace, knowledge power and intelligence itself, until [we], gaining the fulness of all things, become like [our] Father, the Supreme Intelligence.”[5] However, if we are not faithful to the proscribed plan, then our progression is stopped and we never complete the intended journey or reach the final milestone.  President Joseph F. Smith taught:

 

“What is damnation? It is being barred, or denied privileges of progression, because of failure to comply with law. All who fail to enter into the celestial kingdom are damned, or stopped in their progression, but they will enter into some other glory which they are entitled to receive.”[6]

 

Mankind began in the premortal world as spirit element which has always existed and is co-eternal with God.[7]  Our first birth occurred when our “self-existent spirit element [was] born as spirit children”[8] to our Heavenly Parents who used “the ordained procreative process…”[9]  The First Presidency noted:  “All men and women are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother, and are literally the sons and daughters of Deity.”[10]  Since “this birth constituted the beginning of the human ego as a conscious identity,”[11] it is a higher form of existence than that enjoyed previously as spirit element.

 

Mortal birth, our second birth, “is the event by which one's spirit body is temporarily joined with a mortal tabernacle begotten by earthly parents.”[12]  Beings with physical bodies are in a higher state of development than beings without such bodies:

 

“In contrast to the view that the subtle powers of intellect or soul must finally transcend the body or anything corporeal, the Prophet Joseph Smith taught that all beings ‘who have tabernacles (bodies), have power over those who have not’ (TPJS, p. 190; 2 Ne. 9:8). At minimum, this is taken to mean that intellectual and spiritual powers are enhanced by association with the flesh. It follows that a long absence of the spirit from the body in the realm of disembodied spirits awaiting resurrection will be viewed not as a beatific or blessed condition, but instead as a bondage (D&C 45:17; 138:50). Moreover, ‘spirit and element [the spirit body and the physical body], inseparably connected, [can] receive a fulness of joy. And when separated, man cannot receive a fulness of joy’ (D&C 93:33, 34).”[13]

 

Mortal birth is the first milestone which some members of the human family never reach.  In the premortal world, some spirit children of our Heavenly Father rebelled against him.  As punishment, the progression of these souls—Lucifer and his devils—has been stopped and “they remained unembodied”[14] and are forever denied the opportunity to receive a mortal body.[15]

 

While receiving a physical body is crucial to our continued eternal development, it is not sufficient to realize our full potential as divine children of our Heavenly Parents.  When we are born into mortality, we experience a form of spiritual death—or separation from the presence of God, as a result of the Fall of Adam.[16]  To overcome the effects of this spiritual death, it is necessary that we are born again. Christianson explained:

 

“Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ all people are given opportunity to be born again in a spiritual sense as his sons and daughters so as to return to God's presence as his spiritually begotten children (Mosiah 5:7-9; Alma 5:14). The process of being born of the spirit begins when one is baptized and receives the gift of the Holy Ghost. Since the Holy Ghost is a member of the Godhead, the effects of the spiritual death, or separation between man and God, is lessened individually when one is truly born of the Spirit.”[17]

 

A spiritually reborn person enjoys the “constant companionship of the Holy Ghost,”[18] “the third member of the Godhead.”[19]  With this companionship, a person ascends to a higher state of development and receives insights into the “solemnities of eternity”[20] as well as purification from all sin.[21]  Eventually, he will be prepared to live again with his Heavenly Father as an exalted being.  Unfortunately, most people will abuse their agency and reject this rebirth.  Thus, few people will reach this final milestone and thus enter into Godhood.[22]

 

(See Basic Beliefs home page; Teachings About the Premortal World home page)


[1] Jeremiah 1:5, The Holy Bible, The King James Version, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1987.

 

[2] Smith, J., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, ed. by Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1938, p. 158.

 

[3] McConkie, B., The Millennial Messiah, Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1982, p. 613.

 

[4] “The doctrine of reincarnation is, says the Prophet Joseph, the doctrine of the devil!” (Smith, J.,  Doctrines of Salvation Vol. 1, Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1954, p. 184.)  “…the doctrine of reincarnation is utterly foreign to every principle which God has revealed in the last days to His Church.” (Cannon, G., Gospel Truth Vol. 1, ed. by J. Newquist, Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1957, p. 28.)

 

[5] McConkie, B., Mormon Doctrine, Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1966, p. 387.

 

[6] Smith, J.,  Doctrines of Salvation Vol. 2, Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1954, p. 227.

 

[7] McConkie, B., Mormon Doctrine, Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1966, p. 751.

 

[8] McConkie, B., Mormon Doctrine, Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1966, p. 751.

 

[9] McConkie, B., Mormon Doctrine, Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1966, p. 84.

 

[10] The Origin of Man, (Statement of the First Presidency issued in November, 1909 by Joseph F. Smith, John R. Winder, Anton H. Lund.)

 

[11]McConkie, B., Mormon Doctrine, Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1966, p. 84.  Also, “This intelligence combined with the spirit constitutes a spiritual identity or individual.” (Smith, J., Answers to Gospel Questions Vol. 4, Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1972, p. 127.)

 

[12] “Birth,” Helen Lance Christianson, Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992.

 

[13] “Resurrection,” Douglas L. Callister, Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992.

 

[14] Talmage, J., Jesus the Christ, Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1982, p. 182.

 

[15] Talmage, J., Articles of Faith, Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1984, p. 428.

 

[16] Smith, J.,  Doctrines of Salvation Vol.2, Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1954, p. 325.

 

[17] “Birth,” Helen Lance Christianson, Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992.

 

[18] Smith, J., Answers to Gospel Questions Vol. 4, Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1972, p. 90.

 

[19] Smith, J., Doctrines of Salvation Vol.1, Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1954, p. 38.

 

[20] Doctrine and Covenants 43:34, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981.

 

 

[21] Whitney, O., The Birth of Water and the Spirit, p. 8.

 

[22] “Most of the adult people who have lived from the day of Adam to the present time will go to the telestial kingdom.” (McConkie, B., Mormon Doctrine, Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1966, p. 778.)

Copyright 2001 by All About Mormons

All About Mormons

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