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First Principles of the Gospel
The Articles of Faith are a simple but effective compilation of many basic beliefs of Mormonism.
The 4th Article of Faith states that “We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.” (Joseph Smith).
Faith in God
The first principle of the Gospel is faith. Faith, as defined by the restored gospel, is faith in God the Father and in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Faith in God is more than a vague belief in Him. To have faith in God means to trust Him, to have confidence in Him, and to be willing to act in life according to a solid belief in Him.
Faith is awakened when people hear or read the word of God. In the Book of Mormon we read that to have faith is to “hope for things which are not seen, which are true” (Alma 32:21). Similarly, in the Bible, Paul explained, "Now faith is the substance [meaning the assurance] of things hoped for, the evidence [meaning the demonstration or proof] of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). Men and women must live by faith, because divine realities are veiled from our physical senses.
It has been said that faith is truly a principle of action and power. True faith is not only a belief, but includes good actions. To have faith doesn’t mean only to accept mentally a certain belief of principle, but requires its implementation.
Jesus said, "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 7:21).
Righteous behavior increases faith, while sin and wickedness diminish it. Not keeping the commandments of God brings not only a loss of the Spirit of God, but also a loss of faith. This fact leads to the second principle of the Gospel—repentance.
God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ have given us a plan of happiness. Sin, or any sort of iniquity, makes people unhappy because, as is taught by the Book of Mormon “wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10). Thanks to the Atonement of Jesus Christ, Heavenly Father has provided a way for men to repent and be forgiven.
A modern Mormon Prophet said that repentance is "to change one's mind in regard to past or intended actions or conduct" (McKay, p. 14). In the Bible the Apostle Paul observes that "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23), and for this reason, the Lord Jesus Christ "gave commandment that all men must repent" (2 Nephi 2:21). The implication of these scriptures is that repentance is necessary for every soul who has not yet reached perfection (and this includes any person who ever lived in this earth with the exception of Jesus Christ).
Usually in the Mormon Church we teach that in order to properly repent we need:
• To confess our sins to God, and if necessary, to the proper Church authority.
• To feel a sincere sorrow for our sins.
• To ask God to forgive us.
• To do all we can to correct the problems our actions may have caused (make restitution).
• To turn away from our sins and not repeat them.
Thanks to the Atonement of Christ, sincere repentance brings forgiveness and greater peace in this life, and it prepares us to live with Heavenly Father in the life to come.
After awakening faith in Christ in the hearts of his listeners on the day of Pentecost, Peter exhorted them to "repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and you shall receive the Holy Ghost" (Acts 2:38). So, even though repentance is necessary and truly indispensable to eternal salvation and to earthly happiness, it is not sufficient by itself to allow men to return to live with Heavenly Father in His Celestial Kingdom.
Only after repenting and abandoning former sinful deeds and thought is one prepared to be baptized, receive the Holy Ghost, and have all his previous sins remitted. These first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are strictly related to each other. A complete rebirth requires first, faith in Jesus Christ; second, repentance, which is a consequence of the realization of our unworthiness when we approach the Lord Jesus Christ in faith; third, baptism; and fourth, the reception of the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Jesus Christ and all true prophets in all the ages of the world taught that we must be baptized by complete immersion in water. When Jesus was living on this earth He set the example by being baptized to “fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). Mormons believe that baptism must be performed by one who has the proper priesthood authority. To perform this ordinance properly, the priesthood-holder raises his right hand, recites a prescribed baptismal prayer, and then completely immerses the candidate in the water (3 Nephi 11:23-26). Baptism is a symbol of the covenant by which people promise to follow Jesus Christ and enter into the fold of God. Men are not only baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38), but also to become members of the Church of Jesus Christ. If one is truly repentant when he enters the waters of baptism, he is forgiven of his sins and cleansed at that moment. Baptism is a symbol of the death and resurrection of the Savior. Thus, the newly baptized person becomes "born again."
The Gift of the Holy Ghost
The laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost is one of the basic principles and ordinances of the gospel, and it is integrally linked to faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, and baptism by immersion for the remission of sins. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, after the baptism by water, comes the "the baptism by fire," or Gift of the Holy Ghost, an indispensable step in the process of spiritual purification. The Savior told Nicodemus, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John 3:5).
Many people have felt the presence or promptings of the Holy Ghost at some time during their lives. However, there is an important difference between experiencing the occasional influence of the Holy Ghost and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost after baptism.
The Holy Ghost can temporarily influence people, comforting them, or even revealing truth to them, but the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost is reserved for those who have been baptized into the true Church of Jesus Christ by someone who has the proper priesthood authority. The gift of the Holy Ghost is a privilege that continues with the baptized member, if he continues keeping the commandments of God. The Holy Ghost cannot dwell in an unclean place, and will depart, if a person renders himself unclean through sin.
In Mormonism, the gift of the Holy Ghost is bestowed by the laying on of hands, as explained in the New Testament (Acts 8:17-18), within a few days after the baptism by water. A bearer of the proper priesthood authority lays his hands upon the head of the newly baptized member, and after calling the person by name, he confirms the person as a member of the Church, and says, "Receive the Holy Ghost." These first basic steps are often followed by a Priesthood blessing, which offers counsel and direction to the newly baptized member. This blessing is received and given through the spirit of revelation. Thus, it is specifically tailored to the needs of the one receiving it.