Baptized with Fire

John the Baptist described the effect of the Holy Ghost with a striking metaphor:

I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.

Matthew 3:11; see also Luke 3:16

As far as I know, that is the only place this metaphor appears in the Bible, but it appears extensively in the Book of Mormon. In the passages listed below, I have bolded the effects that this baptism with fire has on us:

  • After Nephi admonishes us to follow our Savior into the waters of baptism, he promises, “then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel.” He also says that after we are baptized by water, “then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost” (2 Nephi 31:13-14, 17).
  • After the destruction which coincided with the death of Jesus Christ, the survivors heard the voice of the Savior inviting them to offer for a sacrifice “a broken heart and a contrite spirit.” He promised to baptize anyone who did this “with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not” (3 Nephi 9:20). This was a reference to an event which had happened about 60 years earlier, in which a group of Lamanites had responded humbly to the preaching of two missionaries named Nephi and Lehi, and “the Holy Spirit of God did come down from heaven, and did enter into their hearts, and they were filled as if with fire, and they could speak forth marvelous words” (Helaman 5:45; see also Ether 12:14).
  • When Jesus subsequently visited a group of people at the temple at Bountiful, He told them that the Father would bear record of Him to those who believe, “for he [the Father] will visit him [the believer] with fire and with the Holy Ghost” (3 Nephi 11:35). Shortly after, He invited the people to be baptized with water, and He promised, “After that ye are baptized with water, behold, I will baptize you with fire and with the Holy Ghost…and [ye] shall receive a remission of [your] sins” (3 Nephi 12:1-2).
  • The following morning, the people saw this promise fulfilled. The twelve disciples were baptized, and immediately afterward, “the Holy Ghost did fall upon them, and they were filled with the Holy Ghost and with fire…and angels did come down out of heaven and did minister unto them” (3 Nephi 19:13-14).
  • The very last words Mormon wrote are an invitation to the descendants of his enemies to be “baptized, first with water, then with fire and with the Holy Ghost.” He promises that, if they will do this, “it shall be well with you in the day of judgment” (Mormon 7:10).

Elder David A. Bednar taught:

The Holy Ghost is the third member of the Godhead. He is a personage of spirit and bears witness of all truth. In the scriptures, the Holy Ghost is referred to as the Comforter, a teacher, and a revelator. Additionally, the Holy Ghost is a sanctifier who cleanses and burns dross and evil out of human souls as though by fire.

Always Retain a Remission of Your Sins,” General Conference, April 2016

So the Holy Ghost testifies, comforts, teaches, reveals, and sanctifies.

In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we sometimes treat “baptism with fire” as a synonym for confirmation, or receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. However, Elder David A. Bednar has clarified that the words “Receive the Holy Ghost” in that ordinance are not “a passive pronouncement,” but rather “an authoritative admonition to act.” We do not automatically receive the Holy Ghost simply because those words have been spoken. “As we receive this ordinance,” he said, “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).

Today, I will strive to fulfill that sacred responsibility. I will invite the Holy Ghost into my life, so that He can teach me, comfort me, and sanctify me.

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