Mere compliance with the formality of the ordinance of baptism does not mean that a person has been born again. No one can be born again without baptism but the immersion in water and the laying on of hands to confer the Holy Ghost do not of themselves guarantee that a person been or will be born again (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed., pp. 100-01)What is meant by being born again or spiritual rebirth? Jesus told Nicodemus, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). He then added, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (v. 5) Here Jesus is making it clear that for the rebirth to occur at least two things must happen: a person must be born of water (baptism) and be born of the Spirit (Holy Ghost). These steps enable us to become, in effect, newborn babes in Christ (1 Peter 1:3; 2:2).
The Book of Mormon speaks a great deal about this rebirth that must take place for salvation to occur:
And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters;And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the Kingdom of God (Mosiah 27:25-26).When an individual becomes aware of his own weaknesses and his dependence on Christ for salvation, he makes a covenant to follow Christ. The emerging new creature is seen as a new person, the offspring of Christ, being spiritually reborn:
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 (Mosiah 5:7).The late Apostle Mark E. Petersen describes the rebirth:
Unless a man is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God. I do not believe that a person will ever see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again . . . that birth of the spirit means something more than most of us normally realize. Through proper teaching, a conviction is born in our soul. Faith develops, through it we see how important it is to become like Christ. We see ourselves as we are in contrast to a Christlike soul. A desire for a change-over is born within us. The change-over begins. We call it repentance (Address to Seminary and Institute of Religion Personnel, BYU, July 11, 1956).The late Prophet, David 0. McKay indicated:
No man can sincerely resolve to apply to his daily life the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth without sensing a change in his own nature. The phrase, "born again," has a deeper significance than many attach to it. This changed feeling may be indescribable, but it is real. Happy the person who has truly sensed the uplifting, transforming power that comes from this nearness to the Savior, this kinship to the Living Christ (Conference Report, April 1962, p. 7).The rebirth is a very personal, spiritual experience which usually follows water baptism and reception of the gift of the Holy Ghost. In fact, we have no New Testament account of individuals being "born again" until after they had been baptized by water.
While the second birth conceivably may occur at the same time one is baptized into the Kingdom it usually occurs some time after, as one continues to hunger and thirst for the companionship of the Spirit. Only on rare occasions does a birth of the Spirit occur before baptism, as was the case with King Lamoni (Alma 19:33-35) and the Lamanites taught by Lehi and Nephi (Hel. 5:20-52). They were, however, baptized soon thereafter.
Spiritual birth is an experience shared by those who are seeking the Christlike life and who have the hope of salvation. Water baptism for Latter-day Saints is one of several essential components of the rebirth process, not the completion.