This topic — The Doctrine of Christ — has become the focus of recent talks, both in the Women’s Conference and in General Conference. The Lord explains His doctrine (to his newly called apostles in 3 Nephi) as follows:
I give you authority to baptize with water; that is, I give you authority to perform the ordinance as the symbol of a future spiritual immersion, a spiritual cleansing, the rebirth (to be born again.)
On the other hand, I (and my Father) Baptize you with fire and with the Holy Ghost, which is the way you ultimately receive a remission of sins; not by the water alone, but by progressing spiritually over time until you arrive at a point where something happens. That’s the real Doctrine of Christ. Its simple, and it’s everywhere. See for example, Holy Ghost, baptism of — in the Bible Dictionary.
Here’s the essence as found in 3 Nephi chapter 12 — it’s when Jesus visits the people in America and calls twelve men to be his apostles:
…I have given power that they (the twelve) may baptize you with water; and after that ye are baptized with water, behold, I will baptize you with fire and with the Holy Ghost… (3 Nephi 12:1)
…Yea, blessed are they who… come down into the depths of humility and be baptized, for they shall be visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and shall receive a remission of their sins. (3 Nephi 12:2)
Baptism by water is a sign to God that you believe and have a desire to follow Him and repent of your sins, then comes baptism by fire when you receive a forgiveness of all your sins.
Washing and then anointing is the order of events in ordinances. Water floods the earth, then fire purifies it. Note, that we may assume that the “gift of the Holy Ghost” is the second half of baptism — but really, the second part is the baptism by immersion in the Spirit — the baptism of fire. The remission of sins comes in the fire baptism, not the water baptism.
As 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.” Sunday, July 9, 1843 [“Meeting at the Grove in the morning. I addressed the Saints.” The following is a brief synopsis, as reported by Dr. Willard Richards:] And so as not to take it out of context here it is:
The inquiry is frequently made of me, “Wherein do you differ from others in your religious views?” In reality and essence we do not differ so far in our religious views, but that we could all drink into one principle of love. One of the grand fundamental principles or “Mormonism” is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may.
We believe in the Great Eloheim who sits enthroned in yonder heavens. So do the Presbyterians. If a skilful mechanic, in taking a welding heat, uses borax, alum, etc., and succeeds in welding together iron or steel more perfectly then any other mechanic, is he not deserving of praise? And if by the principles of truth I succeed in uniting men of all denominations in the bonds of love, shall I not have attained a good object?
If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way. Do you believe in Jesus Christ and the Gospel of salvation which He revealed? So do I. Christians should cease wrangling and contending with each other, and cultivate the principles of union and friendship in their midst; and they will do it before the millennium can be ushered in and Christ takes possession of His kingdom.
“Do you believe in the baptism of infants?”asks the Presbyterian. No. “Why?” Because it is nowhere written in the Bible. Circumcision is not baptism, neither was baptism instituted in the place of circumcision. Baptism is for remission of sins. Children have no sins. Jesus blessed them and said, “Do what you have seen me do.” Children are all made alive in Christ, and those of riper years through faith and repentance.
So far we are agreed with other Christian denominations. They all preach faith and repentance. The gospel requires baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, which is the meaning of the word in the original language—namely, to bury or immerse.
We ask the sects, Do you believe this? They answer, No. I believe in being converted. I believe in this tenaciously. So did the Apostle Peter and the disciples of Jesus. But I further believe in the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. Evidence by Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost, Acts 2:38. 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.
The Savior says, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Though we or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed,” according to Galatians 1:8 (History of the Church, volume 5, p 499)
We talk about “baptism by immersion for the remission of sins” — as if the water removes our sins. But if you look at the scriptures, that water baptism is a sign and fire baptism is the actual remission of sin. The term “baptism by immersion for the remission of sins” is a catchall phrase — like the heading of an outline.
15 Yea, I say unto you come and fear not, and lay aside every sin, which easily doth beset you, which doth bind you down to destruction, yea, come and go forth, and show unto your God that ye are willing to repent of your sins and enter into a covenant with him to keep his commandments, and witness it unto him this day by going into the waters of baptism. (Alma 7: 14)
Baptism by water is a sign and visible to anyone watching. It is a witness to God that you have faith and are repenting of your sins (which is a long process.) Baptism by fire is when your sins are entirely remitted and may not be visible to anyone but yourself — it is conveyed by the Holy Ghost and is a baptism of fire between you and God. But you will know when this happens.
Nephi explains this sign of water baptism when he speaks about Christ getting baptized when he was already holy:
17 Know ye not that he was holy? But notwithstanding he being holy, he showeth unto the children of men that, according to the flesh he humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments. (2 Nephi 31: 7)
13 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.
Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter. For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost. (2 Nephi 31: 13, 17)
I think Joseph Smith may have had the baptism of fire when he first went into the grove to pray (that is, baptism of fire was part of his first spiritual experience and he knew it not; so his writings don’t include much discussion about the entry level doctrine of Christ) –– he asked for forgiveness of his sins and then he had a fire immersion experience and was also blessed to receive the top level experience at the same time; to see the Lord face to face, etc:
therefore I cried unto the Lord for mercy for there was none else to whom I could go and to obtain mercy and the Lord heard my cry in the wilderness and while in <the> attitude of calling upon the Lord a piller of fire light above the brightness of the sun at noon day come down from above and rested upon me and I was filled with the spirit of god and the opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord (Summer of 1832, Joseph Smith Papers)
It seems sometimes, this baptism of fire can happen before the water baptism, or it can happen and someone does not know what it is — such as when the Lamanites “knew it not” meaning they did not know that their experience was called the baptism of fire. (Helaman 5)
20 And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize 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)
When the people divided into tribes, Nephi performed many miracles, and …
25 Therefore, there were ordained of Nephi, men unto this ministry, that all such as should come unto them should be baptized with water, and this as a witness and a testimony before God, and unto the people, that they had repented and received a remission of their sins. (3 Nephi 7: 25)
The baptism of fire is a rebirth — and therefore, you can’t miss that something spectacular has happened — you can’t miss a birth. That’s why Christ uses the “birth” example. There is a leading up to a birth — a process — conception, pregnancy, discomfort, sacrifice, pain, suffering, water, blood, and then there is a birth — a child is born. And receives a new name. And is called after his/her parents. All very similar to baptism by water and baptism by fire.
The Doctrine of Christ includes the baptism of fire by the Holy Ghost, at which point you know your sins have been remitted. They have been burned out of you, you have been born of the spirit. You have been born again. For most people, it does not happen with the gift of the Holy Ghost. It happens after a long pregnancy for most of us.