There are so many things to look at and consider when we discuss baptism. Today I want to single out the three main parts of baptism, those of baptism of water, the Holy Ghost, and of fire.
Do I ever “just” get baptized?
The answer is absolutely not. When President Boyd K. Packer was the acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, he gave a seminar to new Mission Presidents June 24, 2003. Here is the quote he used to start his talk.
Joseph Smith said: “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).
The above quote is rich with material to study, especially as we are studying the New Testament this year (2023). The baptism of water is of no use whatsoever to a person’s salvation without the second half of that ordinance. This is an important point. We generally tend to think of baptism as a standalone ordinance. The truth is, without the follow up ordinance of the confirmation, where the gift of the Holy Ghost is given, the baptism does no good in helping one become saved in the celestial kingdom. So when we talk about baptism we should always include either confirmation or the gift of the Holy Ghost in the reference. That is the whole point President Packer was trying to make in the first half of his talk.
John the Baptist preached the gospel of repentance to the people of Israel during his short ministry. He baptized them with the intent to set them on the path to salvation. But he knew full well that his baptism wouldn’t save them. They needed the baptism the Savior would bring, because John only had the Aaronic priesthood, and the gift of the Holy Ghost is a Melchizedek priesthood ordinance. That is the priesthood Jesus would bring to the people. So the people came repenting of their sins and confessing them, but that was just a start. Remember that John was only preaching for about six months before Jesus started his ministry. John’s role was to prepare the people for what Jesus would bring them. He came preaching correct doctrine that hadn’t been taught in hundreds of years since the prophets were taken from among the Jews.
Is there a difference between the baptism of the Holy Ghost and that of fire?
Yes and no. The two forms of baptism are referred to interchangeably throughout the scriptures, yet there are actually two parts to what the Holy Ghost does for us that can separate them into two distinct functions. This makes three forms of baptism available to us. We have the water baptism that is the first step, then comes the baptism of the Holy Ghost, and of fire.
What is the baptism of the Holy Ghost?
The function of the Holy Ghost is to teach us, guide us, and to testify to us of all truth. He is our personal tutor in all things of a celestial nature. Like our water baptism, for the baptism of the Holy Ghost to truly be effective, we must immerse ourselves in the culture of the disciples of Christ. That means we must live for our study of the scriptures, our progress in prayer, and to work hard at becoming proficient in finding ways to live like Christ. This means doing good in any way we can, wherever we can, whenever we can. Being a disciple of Christ is not an accidental thing. It takes deliberate choices to choose good and specifically the best form of good we know how to choose.
The power that comes from this full commitment to living as a disciple of Christ is that the Holy Ghost is better able to teach us through His promptings, revelations, and the feelings He will send us, to help us approximate how Jesus would act in the same situation. The more we learn to follow the Spirit, the more we learn how Jesus does things, and why He does them in that way. This is how we come to think like Christ, feel like Christ, and behave like Christ. This is not an instant thing. The key word here is becoming. This is a gradual change that happens over time. By committing ourselves to being the best disciples we know how to be, the Spirit (Holy Ghost) is able to influence our lives so that we discover what it means to be Christlike.
Because becoming like Christ has to be revealed to us, you will never see the Brethren give us specific steps to becoming Christlike. What each of us needs to do today is different from what our neighbor needs to do. This process is all guided by, and depends upon, revelation. So we start down the path of discipleship making our best guesses as to how to do what we think needs to be done, and over time the Spirit will correct our attitudes, behaviors, and our expectations. It is all done lovingly and with patience. This is the journey of discovery that is the process of becoming like Christ.
As important as this baptism or immersion in the life of a disciple is to our soul, the baptism of fire is what we are actually striving for. The baptism of the Holy Ghost brings us to the brink of conversion. The baptism of fire is what actually changes us. But both are part of what the Holy Ghost does with us, and they happen at the same time.
How does the baptism of fire work?
The short answer is that the baptism of fire is what converts us. To be converted is to be changed and committed to something in a more permanent way. When we repent of our sins because we want to become more like Christ, we are using the gift of the Holy Ghost in His most important capacity. It is the Spirit who helps convict us of the sins we have committed, leading us to come before Christ seeking forgiveness. And when we seek forgiveness it is the Holy Ghost who helps us do those things that are difficult that bring Christ’s forgiveness. Then it is the Holy Ghost who helps us receive the assurance to our soul that Christ has really forgiven that misdeed or sin. We cannot repent and be completely forgiven of our sins without the gift of the Holy Ghost. He is involved in every step of our repentance process.
To repent is to change our mind. Some have likened repenting to turning around and heading in another direction. Both descriptions of repentance are accurate. Whether we need to turn completely around from the direction we were headed or whether we just needed a minor course correction, both require repentance, the change of heart and mind that will set us on a better path toward being more Christlike.
When we listen to the promptings of the Spirit, He leads us to do, feel, and behave in more holy ways. Remember holiness is just to do good. The Saints are supposed to be holy people. Why? Because they listen to the Holy Ghost and follow His guidance and promptings. They do good as Christ would. This is why we never just are evil one moment and holy the next. Holiness is a process, just like repentance. Conversion takes time.
Why is it called a baptism of fire?
The scriptures are full of references to the refining process of metals, especially that of gold and silver. The Holy Ghost is the one who brings Christ’s love to bear in our refining process. This is a purifying experience. As you might imagine, the act of purifying anything requires some change, and most often some discomfort. When a refiner of silver puts the crucible of silver into the flames, he carefully watches over it, skimming off the waste materials as they slowly separate from the silver and float to the top. He knows when the silver is pure or free from impurity, when it becomes reflective and he can see his face in the reflection of the liquid silver.
I think this process is why the Savior uses silver so often as an analogy of what it takes to become converted and refined in the gospel. We must have all our bad attitudes, our misconceptions, our evil desires, etc. purged from our soul. This is never a fully instant process, but one that takes time, effort, prayer, study, preparation, and relying on the influence of the Spirit in our lives to attain.
This influence of the spirit is what I was talking about when I described the baptism of the Holy Ghost. Can you see that these two very separate parts of conversion actually rely heavily upon each other? It is only by listening to the promptings the Spirit gives us and following them that, over time, we come to rejoice in our communion with Him. We come to understand that as much as we can do good on our own, our efforts are always enlarged and made better when He is part of our efforts. He leads us to Christ. The Spirit teaches us what it means to be like Christ. He helps us find the joy that is available in the repentant life. The Holy ghost becomes an incalculable asset in our journey back to our heavenly home.
The repentance that leads to salvation can only happen with the gift of the Holy Ghost. The gift of the Holy Ghost is only given once your membership in the Lord’s kingdom has been confirmed by one holding the authority to perform the ordinance of confirmation and administers the gift of the Holy Ghost. Water baptism alone is ineffectual in saving us in the kingdom of God. We must receive the gift of the Holy Ghost and experience His baptism of fire as He helps us get purged of those things in our character what hold us back from progress towards our celestial home.
So whether we refer to baptism and confirmation, baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost, or baptism and the baptism of fire, they are all referring to the same process of covenant making and covenant keeping. They are all needed to access the full extent of the Savior’s atoning power. How we refer to this process is really a tomato/tomahto, potato/potahto scenario. They all refer to the same thing, and they all accomplish the same goal, becoming like Christ.
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