Feast upon the Word Blog

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RS/MP Lesson 20: “Baptism”

Posted by NathanG on October 10, 2010

Why must we be baptized?

We Must Be Baptized for the Remission of Our Sins

There are ample scripture references which discuss baptism for the remission of sins, but what does this actually mean?  Is there something inherently different between forgiveness and remission of our sins?  Remission comes from the Latin remitto meaning to send back (Webster’s 1828 dictionary).  Among the definitions is “forgiveness; pardon; that is, the giving up of the punishment due to a crime; as the remission of sins”.   

Is baptism a required part of true repentance?  Is repentance possible without baptism (baptism is the first fruits of repentance)?   To the best of my understanding, people who inherit the terrestrial kingdom will not be required to suffer for their sins as those who inherit the telestial kingdom.  Those inheriting the terrestrial kingdom would include “honorable men of the earth, who were blinded by the craftiness of men.” (D&C 76:76)  This seems to include people who have not received baptism, so is there forgiveness without baptism? Is there deliverance from pain and sorrow, but a part of the punishment for sin, being separated from God, is not fully remitted?  Or do they receive their forgiveness on account of the baptism that will eventually be performed by proxy for each person?

When we talk about washing away our sins (Acts 22:16), what are we suggesting?  Is there really something at the exact time of baptism that brings about some completion of repentance?  If we believe this, what do we then say about the baptism of fire, or receiving the Holy Ghost?  It seems the scriptures discuss receiving forgiveness when we repent, are baptized, and/or when we receive the Holy Ghost.  Is this a conflict, or is it all expected to be one whole process?

We Must Be Baptized to Become Members of the Church of Jesus Christ

Simple enough concept.  The follow up question not discussed is why is it important to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ (more below)?

We Must Be Baptized before We Can Receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost

Also a simple enough concept.  The Gift of the Holy Ghost will be discussed in detail over the next couple lessons as both the Gift of the Holy Ghost and the Gifts of the Spirit.

We Must Be Baptized to Show Obedience

Moses 6:60 states “by the water ye keep the commandment” as explanation of being born of the water, blood, and spirit.  Baptism is a commandment which we must keep.  As the manual points out, Jesus is the example.

We Must Be Baptized to Enter the Celestial Kingdom

Another concept that we simply accept as true because we believe the scriptures to be true.

The Correct Mode of Baptism

I have found it striking that when Christ visits the Nephites in 3 Nephi, after allowing the people to come forth to feel the wounds in his hands and feet and know by hearing, feeling, and seeing that he is the Christ, he immediately turns to discussing the mode of baptism.  (3 Nephi 11:18-27).  He begins by giving authority to Nephi and others to baptize (what did they have before?), and then directs them in the correct mode of baptism, also given to Joseph Smith when the church is organized in D&C 20:73-74. 

The correct mode is by immersion, which the Apostle Paul spends a lot of time explaining is symbolic of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Importantly, this description (see at least all of Romans 5 and 6) appears to be in a larger framework of what true repentance should entail.  If we believe that we are alive through the grace of God, we should remember it is because our sinful selves have died, been buried in the water with Christ’s death, and because Christ lives, we also live anew.  Since we are in this new life, and our sinful self has died, we should not allow sin to return to our mortal selves.  (OK, I admit freely I am not a scholar on Paul and it would take much more time to do justice to these chapters).  The symbolism Paul describes should at least help us to see how baptism relates to the remission of sins.

Baptism at the Age of Accountability

I have always felt that to understand Mormon’s discourse on why infant baptism is wrong (Moroni 8) is to understand the foundational principles and ordinances of the gospel.  Particularly verses 24-26.

  24 Behold, my son, this thing ought not to be; for repentance is unto them that are under condemnation and under the curse of a broken law.

  25 And the first fruits of repentance is baptism; and baptism cometh by faith unto the fulfilling the commandments; and the fulfilling the commandments bringeth remission of sins;

  26 And the remission of sins bringeth meekness, and lowliness of heart; and because of meekness and lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost, which Comforter filleth with hope and perfect love, which love endureth by diligence unto prayer, until the end shall come, when all the saints shall dwell with God.

Note the tying together of the concepts of repentance, obedience, and remission of sins.

We Make Covenants When We Are Baptized

The material in the lesson manual is ample on this topic and focuses on Mosiah 18.  The covenant taken by us at baptism lays a foundation for why the church is an essential part of the gospel of Jesus Christ, why it is not enough to “be spiritual, but not religious.”  The first principles and ordinances of the gospel are very personal or individual. We must personally obtain/be granted faith in Jesus Christ.  We must personally repent of our sins.  We must make the individual witness to God by receiving the ordinance of baptism.  We must receive the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.  From then on, everything we do in the gospel is focused on other people.  We are essentially accepting the call to bring all souls unto Christ.  That is the essence of the covenants that are described.  We cannot hope to keep the covenant and receive Christ’s life by remaining a self-centered individual. 

Baptism Gives Us a New Beginning

“With baptism we begin a new way of life.  That is why we call it a rebirth.”  One advantage of having the Gospel Principles lessons taught in priesthood and relief society is the opportunity to reflect on the truths that may have been overlooked at the time of baptism.  I was baptized at age 8, and perhaps now am beginning to understand the implication of the new life at baptism some 24 years later.  I definitely am in no position to speak for all who were baptized at a later age, but my mission experience suggests that this truth may be somewhat obscured by the excitement of the change itself, and when the excitement wears off, people may not realize that their baptism was truly a new beginning.

The pearl regarding rebirth touched upon in the lesson manual comes from Moses 6, copied here for your reading leisure.

 55 And the Lord spake unto Adam, saying: Inasmuch as thy children are conceived in sin, even so when they begin to grow up, sin conceiveth in their hearts, and they taste the bitter, that they may know to prize the good.

  56 And it is given unto them to know good from evil; wherefore they are agents unto themselves, and I have given unto you another law and commandment.

  57 Wherefore teach it unto your children, that all men, everywhere, must repent, or they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God, for no unclean thing can dwell there, or dwell in his presence; for, in the language of Adam, Man of Holiness is his name, and the name of his Only Begotten is the Son of Man, even Jesus Christ, a righteous Judge, who shall come in the meridian of time.

  58 Therefore I give unto you a commandment, to teach these things freely unto your children, saying:

  59 That by reason of transgression cometh the fall, which fall bringeth death, and inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I have made, and so became of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory;

  60 For by the water ye keep the commandment; by the Spirit ye are justified, and by the blood ye are sanctified;

  61 Therefore it is given to abide in you; the record of heaven; the Comforter; the peaceable things of immortal glory; the truth of all things; that which quickeneth all things, which maketh alive all things; that which knoweth all things, and hath all power according to wisdom, mercy, truth, justice, and judgment.

  62 And now, behold, I say unto you: This is the plan of salvation unto all men, through the blood of mine Only Begotten, who shall come in the meridian of time.

14 Responses to “RS/MP Lesson 20: “Baptism””

  1. BrianJ said

    “Is there something inherently different between forgiveness and remission of our sins?”

    I got into this question a few weeks ago. I’m interested to hear others’ responses.

  2. Matt W. said

    I have to teach this next month, and am having a tough time with it.

    So far, my studies on the topic have lead me to look into the precursor to the Christian notion of baptism, the mikvah. This is good because the mikvah is a ritual purification prescribed in the Torah to purify against defilement, but also as an initiatory component for conversion on one to Judaism. (interestingly, for people and for cutlery).

    However, a key difference is that I can not find any connection to the necessity of priesthood authority in the Mikvah, outside of the requirement that one have a witness for it. One ritually purifies oneself before God, rather than being ritually purified by another.

    The Arguement in mormonism for authority rests in the idea that Jesus went to John the Baptist to be baptized as the one who had authority to baptize him, but if Jesus, being a Jew, was participating in a mikvah, then how do we understand the authority of John, and John’s claim that “I have need to be baptised of thee?”

  3. NathanG said

    Matt,
    That’s an interesting line of questions and one I don’t know much about.

    I would ask what was the baptism of Adam as recorded in the Pearl of Great Price and what was happening amongst the Nephites? We know that Alma had authority to perform baptism and others declined to baptize as they had no authority or did not feel worth (Ammon with the people of Limhi), yet the first thing Christ does when he comes to the Nephites is give them authority to baptize. Is there a difference between pre-Christ authority and post-Christ authority? Is it because of the fulfillment of the law, a new order needed to be established? (Doesn’t answer the question about John). It probably was not related to giving the gift of the Holy Ghost as that experience happens just prior to his ascension at the end of the first day.

    • Deno P said

      I believe that Christ set into motion the baptisms identified in 3rd Nephi for two reasons. First, the baptism were conducted for those who had not yet received that ordinance. I also believe that there were many who had already received that ordinance by proper authority who were baptised again for the same reason Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were baptised a second time on April 6,1830: baptism is required for membership in the Lord’s church. Joseph’s and Oliver’s first baptism was for the remission of their sins, and the other saving graces that go along with baptism. However, the church was not organized in 1829 when they were first baptized by heavenly messengers. Thus the need to have a second baptism after the church was officially organized in this dispensation. The Lord reorganized his church among the Nephites. Perhaps the Nephite people needed to confirm their membership in His church just as Joseph and Oliver did.

  4. Matt W. said

    Thanks Nathan, I’d forgotten about Adam. I found this to add to that:

    The Midrash, (references are made to it in the Old Testament in 2 Chronicles 13:22 and 24:27, both of which are translated “story” in the KJV.) relates that after being banished
    from Eden, Adam sat in a river that flowed from the garden. This was an integral part of
    his teshuvah (repentance) process, of his attempt at return to his original perfection.

    -“Total Immersion” Rivkah Slonim, Published by Jason Aronson, Inc., Northvale, NJ

    Thanks for the thoughts.

  5. p160 said

    The Names of the New Birth

    Regeneration (being “born again”) is the transformation from death to life that occurs in our souls when we first come to God and are justified.

    He washes us clean of our sins and gives us a new nature, breaking the power of sin over us so that we will no longer be its slaves, but its enemies, who must fight it as part of the Christian life (cf. Romans 6:1–22; Ephesians 6:11–17).

    To understand the biblical teaching of being born again, we must understand the terms it uses to refer to this event.

    The term “born again” may not appear in the Bible. The Greek phrase often translated “born again” (gennatha anothen) occurs twice in the Bible—John 3:3 and 3:7—and there is a question of how it should be translated.

    The Greek word anothen sometimes can be translated “again,” but in the New Testament, it most often means “from above.” In the King James Version, the only two times it is translated “again” are in John 3:3 and 3:7; every other time it is given a different rendering.

    Another term is “regeneration.” When referring to something that occurs in the life of an individual believer, it only appears in Titus 3:5.

    In other passages, the new birth phenomenon is also described as receiving new life (Romans 6:4), receiving the circumcision of the heart (Romans 2:29; Colossians 2:11–12), and becoming a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15).

    http://michael-boystown.blogspot.com/

  6. kirkcaudle said

    “Is there something inherently different between forgiveness and remission of our sins?”

    Here is how I see it in a nutshell.

    Forgiveness, when you have been forgiven that thing is over and done with. True forgiveness means that thing is no longer held against you. If I forgive someone I no longer see their sin.

    Remission, I look at this word how it is used in conjunction with disease. For example, I could have cancer, yet at somepoint be in remission. The remission does not mean the cancer is gone, just that it is no longer active. However, the cancer could always actively return within a few years. Therefore, I think when we are baptized our sins are “washed away” but can easily come back if we fall into sin quickly after.

    So…

    First we gain a remission of sins. Second, we gain forgiveness of sins. I see remission as temporary and forgiveness as permanent. Therefore, receiving a remission of your sins is a necessarily step to receiving a full forgiveness of your sins.

  7. NathanG said

    Kirk,

    Thanks for the nutshell. I wonder how you might incorporate D&C 82 into your explanation.

  8. Justin said

    We Make Covenants When We Are Baptized

    Where in the ordinance does the person make any covenant? Can you state what the covenant is? From reading Mosiah 18, it appears that baptism is more like a notary’s seal — validating that a person has made a covenant already. If you are entering baptism waiting to make some covenant, then you will be disappointed — because no such thing happens.

    It is a public witness that a personal covenant has already taken place between the person and God.

  9. CHRISTINE said

    I WANT THE ANSWER TO OCTOBER 31, 2010 SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON IT SAYS FILLING OUR EMPTINESS GIVE ME THE ANAWER

  10. Mike said

    Justin, I think D&C 20:37 makes your point. One of the qualifications for baptism is that converts should have already received of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins before they’re received by baptism in the Church.

  11. NathanG said

    Mike,
    You quote converts should have already received of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins .

    So that comes back to the first part of the lesson where baptism is for the remission of sins. Why be baptized if candidates have already received the Spirit of Christ unto the remssion of sins? We hear often that baptism without confirmation is an imcomplete ordinance. Perhaps it is fair to say that faith, repentance, baptism, and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost is one complete package, or the whole process of being born again. That’s the trick to entering the kingdom of God. Moses 6 details it more (and baptism is keeping the commandment). After that we need to be actively building the kingdom of God in all that we do (priesthood and temple ordinances definitely point towards this).

  12. joespencer said

    I was set to teach lesson 21 (wrote up the notes, got pretty excited about the content in one of these lessons for once), and then I was asked to switch for this month and teach this one. And it’s not nearly so interesting….

    I’m thinking of focusing on the difference in wording between the baptismal prayers in 3 Nephi 11 and D&C 20: What is the difference between “having authority given me of Jesus Christ” and “having been commissioned of Jesus Christ”?

    There is, of course, a bit of history here. The original version of D&C 20 had the wording of 3 Nephi 11, and it appeared thus in the Church newspapers, as well as the Book of Commandments. It was changed for the 1835 (that is, the first) edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. To some extent, then, I’m asking what motivated the change. Obviously, there is buried in the D&C 20 version a reference to the last verses of Matthew. That’s interesting and certainly productive, but there is a sense in which the change comes precisely at the wrong time. Joseph Smith did not talk a whole lot about divinely bestowed authority before 1835. He and Oliver had visits from John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John in 1829-1830, but they said nothing about them until Oliver wrote letters referring to the visits in 1834, and the associated titles “Aaronic Priesthood” and “Melchizedek Priesthood” did not appear in scripture until 1835 (in the first edition of the D&C). While there was a relative de-emphasis on divinely bestowed authority between 1829 and 1835 and a strong emphasis on divinely bestowed authority from 1835 on, we have the prayer saying “having authority given me of Jesus Christ” until 1835 and thereafter saying “having been commissioned of Jesus Christ.” What’s going on there?

    Another point I’m thinking about dwelling on is the one line that was removed from this lesson: Just before the last sentence of the second-to-last paragraph on page 116, there used to appear “Our sins are washed away when we are baptized.” I’m interested in the removal of that sentence. While there are a couple of scriptures that at least seem to suggest that the imagery of baptism is that of a washing away of sin (see Acts 22:16; Alma 7:14; and D&C 39:10), scripture generally focuses on other, much richer images. Is there a reason to avoid thinking of baptism as a washing?

    Another point: Is it worth taking up the difference between “Abinadite” and “Nephite” baptism, that is between baptism as understood in Mosiah 18 and baptism as understood in 2 Nephi 31 (and 3 Nephi 11, incidentally)? I worry that that will become too complex to address in the time allowed.

    Finally, I’m thinking just about spending a good deal of time in 2 Nephi 31, working through that chapter in some detail, since the lesson cites a number of verses from it. It certainly has a good deal to say about baptism….

  13. Bill said

    This response is a LONG time after the original post but perhaps the references to “washing away sins” is really incorrect, particularly when you think of children who get baptized right at the age of 8. They in fact, have no sins at that time and therefore, there is not “washing away” of sins. Furthermore, if you think of the conversion/remission/forgiveness as a complete process, it fits better by not thinking about that particular moment in time as when sins are washed away.

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