What Does It Mean to Be “Baptized with Fire?”

John the Baptist testified of the mission of the Savior by telling the people that he was not worthy to carry the Savior’s shoes. He said, “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but…he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire” (Matthew 3:11). (See also Luke 3:16, JST John 1:28, Mark 1:8, JST in footnote a.)

After the destruction on the American continent which coincided with the death of the Savior, the people heard His voice inviting them to repent of their sins so that He could heal them (3 Nephi 9:13). He promised the people that, if they would come unto Him “with a broken heart and a contrite spirit,” He would baptize them “with fire and with the Holy Ghost.”

Sometime later, when He appeared to them, He taught them the proper way to be baptized and He selected twelve men with authority to perform those baptisms. He promised the people that, if they would follow the teachings of these men and be baptized by water, “I will baptize you with fire and with the Holy Ghost” (3 Nephi 12:1-2). Just as John taught, an authorized human being can baptize with water, but it is the Savior who will baptize us with fire.

The following morning, a much larger crowd assembled at the temple in Bountiful. People had worked all night to tell their friends and neighbors about the appearance of the Savior. The twelve whom Jesus had chosen divided the multitude into twelve groups and taught them the same things the Savior had taught the day before. They all knelt on the ground and prayed “that the Holy Ghost should be given unto them” (3 Nephi 19:9). Then, those twelve men went into the water and were baptized themselves. When they had all been baptized, the Holy Ghost fell upon them, and the people could see that “they were encircled about as if it were by fire” (3 Nephi 19:13-14). Angels ministered to them, and the Savior visited them and taught them again.

The prophet Joseph Smith taught:

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 (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, Chapter 7: Baptism and the Gift of the Holy Ghost).

In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, after we are baptized by immersion in water, we are confirmed members of the church. Hands are laid on our head, and a blessing is given to us, which is consistent with the practice described in both the New Testament and the Book of Mormon (Acts 8:17, Acts 19:6Moroni 2). During that ordinance, we hear the words, “Receive the Holy Ghost.” As Elder David A. Bednar has taught, those words are an instruction for us to act, not a description of something that will automatically happen:

These four words—“Receive the Holy Ghost”—are not a passive pronouncement; rather, they constitute a priesthood injunction—an authoritative admonition to act and not simply to be acted upon (see 2 Nephi 2:26). The Holy Ghost does not become operative in our lives merely because hands are placed upon our heads and those four important words are spoken. As we receive this ordinance, each of us accepts a sacred and ongoing responsibility to desire, to seek, to work, and to so live that we indeed “receive the Holy Ghost” and its attendant spiritual gifts (“Receive the Holy Ghost,” General Conference, October 2010).

So the baptism of the Holy Ghost is more than the priesthood ordinance of confirmation. Elder Bednar said, “The statement ‘receive the Holy Ghost’ in our confirmation was a directive to strive for the baptism of the Spirit” (“That We May Always Have His Spirit to Be with Us,” General Conference, April 2006).

Why is the metaphor of fire used to describe the baptism of the Holy Ghost? I can think of three properties of fire which apply:

  1. Heat: While water washes off the visible impurities, fire can purge impurities that can’t be seen. “The Holy Ghost is a sanctifier who cleanses and burns dross and evil out of human souls as though by fire” (David A. Bednar, “Always Retain a Remission of Your Sins,” General Conference, April 2016).
  2. Light: The Holy Ghost enlightens our minds and helps us see things that we could not otherwise see. When the twelve disciples were baptized, the people saw that they were surrounded by light: “encircled about as if by fire.” Joseph Smith said that, after he and Oliver Cowdery were baptized and received the Holy Ghost, they were able to understand the scriptures with a depth that they had never been able to achieve previously (Joseph Smith—History 1:74).
  3. Energy: The Holy Ghost inspires us and motivates us to action. The Apostle Paul taught that God would “quicken [our] mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in [us]” (Romans 8:11). To “quicken” is to stimulate or to bring to life.

Today, I will be grateful for the influence of the Holy Ghost in my life. I will strive to follow the injunction I was given at my confirmation, to “receive the Holy Ghost.” I will remember that the Holy Ghost has the power to sanctify me, to enlighten my mind, and to motivate me to action.

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