Baptism by Fire
The Guide to The Scriptures defines “Fire” as, “A symbol for cleansing, purifying, or sanctifying. Fire can also serve as a symbol of God’s presence.”
The “Baptism of Fire” spoken about in the gospel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often inadvertently called the “Mormon” Church) is the second “baptism” or cleansing by The Holy Ghost after the baptism by immersion in water.
The Guide To the Scriptures gives us more guidance under the “Fire” entry:
- …He is like a refiner’s fire: (Malachi 3:2; 3 Nephi 24:2; Doctrine and Covenants 128:24)
- But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers’ soap:
- And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness (Malachi 3:2-3).
Nephi, a Book of Mormon prophet, explained how we receive the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost: (2 Nephi 31:13–14; 3 Nephi 9:20; 3 Nephi 12:1; 3 Nephi 19:13; Ether 12:14; Doctrine and Covenants 33:11)
- Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I know that if ye shall follow the Son, with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ, by baptism—yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, according to his word, behold, 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.
- But, behold, my beloved brethren, thus came the voice of the Son unto me, saying: After ye have repented of your sins, and witnessed unto the Father that ye are willing to keep my commandments, by the baptism of water, and have received the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost, and can speak with a new tongue, yea, even with the tongue of angels, and after this should deny me, it would have been better for you that ye had not known me (2 Nephi 13-14).
Elder David A. Bednar spoke on the baptism of fire as not only a cleansing, but also a changing of character and nature. He said in 2007 that the Baptism of Fire helps us put off the natural man and be cleansed by the Atonement of Jesus Christ. He said:
- We are commanded and instructed to so live that our fallen nature is changed through the sanctifying power of the Holy Ghost. President Marion G. Romney taught that the baptism of fire by the Holy Ghost “converts [us] from carnality to spirituality. It cleanses, heals, and purifies the soul. … Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repentance, and water baptism are all preliminary and prerequisite to it, but [the baptism of fire] is the consummation. To receive [this baptism of fire] is to have one’s garments washed in the atoning blood of Jesus Christ” (Learning for the Eternities, comp. George J. Romney , 133; see also 3 Nephi 27:19–20).
Hence, as we are born again and strive to always have His Spirit to be with us, the Holy Ghost sanctifies and refines our souls as if by fire (see 2 Nephi 31:13–14, 17). Ultimately, we are to stand spotless before God.
- The gospel of Jesus Christ encompasses much more than avoiding, overcoming, and being cleansed from sin and the bad influences in our lives; it also essentially entails doing good, being good, and becoming better. Repenting of our sins and seeking forgiveness are spiritually necessary, and we must always do so. But remission of sin is not the only or even the ultimate purpose of the gospel. To have our hearts changed by the Holy Spirit such that “we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2), as did King Benjamin’s people, is the covenant responsibility we have accepted. This mighty change is not simply the result of working harder or developing greater individual discipline. Rather, it is the consequence of a fundamental change in our desires, our motives, and our natures made possible through the Atonement of Christ the Lord.
In 3 Nephi 11:35 in the Book of Mormon it teaches that our faith and belief in Jesus Christ and God, the Father, is confirmed by the cleansing of the fire of the Holy Ghost:
- Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and I bear record of it from the Father; and whoso believeth in me believeth in the Father also; and unto him will the Father bear record of me, for he will visit him with fire and with the Holy Ghost.
Elder Marion G. Romney also spoke about the Baptism of Fire as the conferring of the Gift of the Holy Ghost after the ordinance of baptism. The Gift of The Holy Ghost is different than a temporary witness of the Holy Ghost, or The Light of Christ, which is available to all people on the earth. The Gift of the Holy Ghost is conferred upon those who have accepted the gospel and have been baptized by proper authority into the true church.
Elder Romney spoke about Jesus’ teachings on the matter:
- When Paul came to Ephesus and found certain disciples there, “He said unto them,
- "Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.
- “And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism.
- “Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.
- “When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
- “And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.” (Acts 19:2–6.)
In prescribing the duties of elders in his latter-day church, the Lord said, among other things, that they were “to confirm those who are baptized into the church, by the laying on of hands for the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, according to the scriptures” (Doctrine and Covenants 20:41.)
In calling several of the brethren to do missionary service, he said:
- “… I give unto you a commandment that ye go among this people, and say unto them, like unto mine apostle of old, whose name was Peter:
- “Believe on the name of the Lord Jesus. …
- “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, according to the holy commandment, for the remission of sins;
- “And whoso doeth this shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, by the laying on of the hands of the elders of the church.” (D&C 49:11–14).
In the same address in 2007, Elder Bednar gave comforting words regarding our steady spiritual progress and ever ongoing baptism of fire. He reminded us that perfection does not come all at once and that the Savior’s Atonement is available to all as we repent – even when we make mistakes:
- Some who hear or read this message may think the spiritual progress I am describing is not attainable in their lives. We may believe these truths apply to others but not to us.
- We will not attain a state of perfection in this life, but we can and should press forward with faith in Christ along the strait and narrow path and make steady progress toward our eternal destiny. The Lord’s pattern for spiritual development is “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little” (2 Nephi 28:30). Small, steady, incremental spiritual improvements are the steps the Lord would have us take. Preparing to walk guiltless before God is one of the primary purposes of mortality and the pursuit of a lifetime; it does not result from sporadic spurts of intense spiritual activity.
- I witness that the Savior will strengthen and assist us to make sustained, paced progress. The example in the Book of Mormon of “many, exceedingly great many” (Alma 13:12) in the ancient Church who were pure and spotless before God is a source of encouragement and comfort to me. I suspect those members of the ancient Church were ordinary men and women just like you and me. These individuals could not look upon sin save it were with abhorrence, and they “were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord their God” (v. 12). And these principles and this process of spiritual progress apply to each of us equally and always.