“Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water [baptism] and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).
The baptismal ordinance is rich with the symbolism of sanctification, death, and renewed life, and we enter into this covenant humbly, having repented of our sins with a commitment to keep God’s commandments. First submerged into water, we then rise from it, in similitude of Jesus Christ’s Resurrection and our own future resurrection. As we emerge we are “born again” of the water and of the Spirit. Baptism is a saving ordinance; its importance is spoken of by Jesus Christ in John 3:5: “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” The Savior Himself had already been baptized by immersion at the hand of His cousin John the Baptist, who held the same priesthood authority to do so that exists on earth today.
This divinely given priesthood authority is used after baptism to confirm us as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and through this confirmation we are also given the companionship of the Holy Ghost. As long as we remain worthy of it, this gift of the Holy Ghost remains with us, offering divine guidance and renewed sanctification throughout our lives as we repent and remain humble and teachable. In the Book of Mormon, the Savior describes this process of spiritual purification, this “baptism by fire” (see 3 Nephi 27:19–21). Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught, “By the power of the Holy Ghost—who is the Sanctifier (3 Ne. 27:19–21)—dross, iniquity, carnality, sensuality, and every evil thing is burned out of the repentant soul as if by fire; the cleansed person becomes literally a new creature of the Holy Ghost. . . . He is born again” (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. , 73).
This necessary and life-changing process is considered the first principle of the gospel, the way we join Christ’s Church on earth, and the first ordinance we participate in on the path that leads to eternal life. And as singular an event as this is in our lives, we also have the chance to reclaim this sanctification throughout our lives as we renew this covenant each time we take the sacrament in church on Sunday. This is the renewal that sustains us so that we can “endure to the end,” which we promise to do at baptism. This renewal sustains our hope-filled, imperfect lives, where we sin and feel remorse and repent. Each time we repent, we reclaim the sanctifying power of our baptismal covenants through the power of the Holy Ghost. It’s a remarkable, cyclical process of qualifying and receiving forgiveness and renewal, each step of which propels our progression, which is our life’s purpose.
We belong to the family of humankind, and we always have. Together we lived in heaven as spirit children of God, our Heavenly Father, and as His children we want to progress and become more like Him. To do so, to truly belong to Him, we have to go through a series of rebirths—the first of which is being born on earth and gaining agency and a physical body. Because we’re not perfect, we sin, and because Jesus Christ is perfect, He was able to die and be resurrected for us, thereby balancing the scales of justice so that we, too, will be resurrected one day—the ultimate rebirth. To accept this divine gift, we’re asked to repent for our sins and to be baptized.
We are accountable only for our own sins, not for Adam’s transgression, and we know that little children are redeemed through the mercy of Jesus Christ if they die before the age of accountability at eight years old. It is at this age that young people who are born and raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can participate in this saving ordinance. Baptism is performed by a Church member who has the proper priesthood authority, and it is done by submersion; both the baptizer and the person being baptized wear all white clothes. Converts to the Church are baptized after expressing faith in Jesus Christ, repenting of their sins, and committing to keep God’s commandments.
Because not everyone who has ever lived has had or will have the opportunity to be baptized, baptism by proxy can be performed by the living for the dead, and it becomes effective if the person who has died accepts the gospel in the afterlife while awaiting resurrection. In this manner, generations of families can be bound together, with living family members being baptized for their ancestors. This is realization of Elijah’s declaration in the Old Testament: “And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers” (Malachi 4: 6). This binding of the family of humankind makes us one people—God’s people—and as such we will live with Him again through baptism, repentance, additional covenant making, resurrection, and eternal progression.