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.
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.
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;
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.