The objective of all who are baptized by water should be to receive the baptism of the Spirit. Otherwise, our baptism is incomplete. Baptism has two parts: baptism by water and baptism by the Spirit. (Please reread these three sentences several times.)
The prophet Joseph Smith emphasized the importance of being baptized by both water and the Spirit saying, “You might as well baptize a bag of sand as a man, if not done in view of the remission of sins and getting of the Holy Ghost. Baptism by water is but half a baptism, and is good for nothing without the other half—that is, the baptism of the Holy Ghost” (History of the Church, 5:499).
He also stated, “The baptism of water, without the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost attending it, is of no use; they are necessarily and inseparably connected” (History of the Church, 6:316).
Speaking to missionaries on this subject, Elder Boyd K. Packer said:
“Missionaries sometimes think they are only to do half the work; they are to teach and then baptize by water, and that concludes their work. In many cases the other half, the teaching about the baptism of fire, never really gets done… Get that idea in your mind with those two fixed together so tightly that, as one, it becomes part of you. Then we will not have the first half done, as is often the case at present, and the other half left undone” (Elder Boyd K. Packer, Ensign, Aug 2006, p. 50).
Elder Packer apparently feels we can do a better job teaching about the baptism of the Spirit.
Before going on, I would like to make sure that the terms being used are understood by the reader. Baptism of the Holy Ghost, baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, baptism of fire, and baptism of the Spirit are used to mean the same thing by some writers. However, others, myself included, feel they mean something related but have important differences. I’ll explain what I mean later on.
To understand what baptism of fire is, we can turn to the scriptures. Before doing so, it’s important to understand what the Lord provided us with when He gave us the scriptures. The scriptures are not like an encyclopedia or a dictionary containing precise, easy-to-understand definitions of terms. Apparently, the Lord intends for His followers to search the scriptures to gain understanding. The scriptures contain revelations, which are the key to understanding the mind and will of the Lord. Revelation is given “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little… ” (2 Nephi 28:30). This revelatory process, in some instances, can lead to difficulty for those searching the scriptures because each prophet is different in how he understands and teaches doctrine. With that said, let’s search the scriptures for understanding about baptism of fire.
The Savior taught, “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 27:20).
The Savior is teaching that repentance, faith in His name, baptism, and reception of the Holy Ghost will make His followers spotless at the judgment day. This verse is a general statement of the entire plan of salvation. It contains all of the elements of the fourth Article of Faith, with the addition of the doctrines of sanctification and last judgment.
In another verse the Savior gives more detail about the Holy Ghost, saying:
…“The Father, and I, and the Holy Ghost are one” 3 Nephi 11:36.
Studying the scriptures this way is like constructing a building with bricks; each brick adds one more part towards the completion of the structure.
Let’s consider other scriptures the Savior gave on this subject, 3 Nephi 12:1, 2, 6.
1. … After that ye are baptized with water, behold, I will baptize you with fire and with the Holy Ghost…
2. Yea, blessed are they who shall believe in your words, and come down into the depths of humility and be baptized, for they shall be visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and shall receive a remission of their sins…
6. And blessed are all they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled with the Holy Ghost.
In verse 1, the Savior introduces the term “fire and the Holy ghost,” saying He will baptize with fire and the Holy Ghost after we’re baptized with water.
In verse 2, we learn that fire and the Holy Ghost bring a remission of sins.
In verse 6, we learn that if our desire for righteousness is equivalent to hungering and thirsting (food and water) we can be filled with the Holy Ghost.
These three verses of scripture provide additional understanding. However, they also raise questions. One question that comes to my mind, is there a difference between “fire and the Holy Ghost,” and the Holy Ghost? Also, what does a remission of sins mean. Is it the same as forgiveness?
To answer these questions we can turn to the account of King Benjamin found in the book of Mosiah.
King Benjamin was nearing the end of his life and was visited by an angel. He and his people already knew about the coming of the Savior (having the plates of brass and also the plates of Nephi in their possession, see Mosiah 1:16). The angel provided additional details. King Benjamin gathered his people into a group to teach them what he’d learned from the angel. He taught them about the Lord Omnipotent, Jesus Christ, taking on Himself a tabernacle of clay, working mighty miracles, and suffering death to atone for the sins of mankind. He also taught them the doctrine of the Fall, teaching, “I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness…” (Mosiah 4:11). His words were carried into the hearts of his people by the power of the Holy Ghost to the extent that they were overcome and had fallen to the ground:
AND now, it came to pass that when king Benjamin had made an end of speaking the words which had been delivered unto him by the angel of the Lord, that he cast his eyes round about on the multitude, and behold they had fallen to the earth, for the fear of the Lord had come upon them.
And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men.
And it came to pass that after they had spoken these words the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come, according to the words which king Benjamin had spoken unto them. (Mosiah 4:1–3)
The people of King Benjamin were a righteous people. They were described as “a diligent people in keeping the commandments of the Lord” (Mosiah 1:11), and a “highly favored people of the Lord” (Mosiah 1:13). They had constructed a temple (Mosiah 1:18), and there were many holy men among them (The Words of Mormon 1:17). Yet, prior to the experience recorded above, most or all of them had not received a remission of their sins! They had been baptized with water, but not with fire and the Holy Ghost.
Prior to this experience, the people of Benjamin were much like church members today: they had faith in Jesus Christ, they repented, were baptized by immersion for the remission of sins, and they received the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Let’s stop here and consider a few things:
As the scripture above teaches, the people of King Benjamin were baptized by the Spirit, receiving a remission of their sins, thus completing their baptismal covenant. I love reading this account. However, it raises at least two important questions:
- Was this their first experience with repentance?
- Was this their first experience with the Holy Ghost?
To answer Yes to either of these questions leads to difficulty. How could a people be described as a diligent people in keeping the commandments, a highly favored people of the Lord, and having many holy men among them, and at the same time conclude this is their first experience with the Holy Ghost and repentance? This conclusion runs counter to what the Book of Mormon tells us about King Benjamin and his people.
To answer No to either of these questions requires us to conclude that they already had experienced repentance and had the Holy Ghost. If this is the case, then why did they have the outpouring of the Spirit recorded in Mosiah 4:1–3?
In part 2, I’ll explore some thoughts to answer the questions raised here.