Summary: On the day of Pentecost after the death of Jesus, the scriptures tells us that there came a sound like a mighty rushing wind from heaven and all the disciples were filled with the Holy Ghost. Then they went outside and began preaching to the people saying “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” What is the Holy Ghost and why do we need it, and what does it have to do with our salvation? Furthermore, what exactly is “the gift of the Holy Ghost?” Is that the same as the influence of God’s Spirit or is it something different? This article examines the importance of the Holy Ghost and his effect upon our salvation.
Shortly after the resurrection of Jesus, on the day of Pentecost when the disciples of Christ were gathered together, there came a sound like a mighty rushing wind from heaven and all the disciples were filled with the Holy Ghost. Imbued with God’s divine Spirit, they went outside and began preaching to the people. “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38).
The scriptures tell us that “John [the Baptist] did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Mark 1:4) and Peter called on the people of his day to “repent and be baptized.” According to the scriptures, in order for us to obtain a remission of our sins we must first have faith in Jesus Christ, then repent of our sins, and then be baptized.
But Peter went on to say that after we have obtained a remission of our sins that we will then “receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” The disciples were filled with the Holy Ghost, but why do we need it, and what does it have to do with our salvation? Furthermore, what exactly is “the gift of the Holy Ghost?” Is that the same as the influence of God’s Spirit or is it something different?
The apostle Paul explained that there are many kinds of gifts from the spirit, such as the gift of faith, healing, miracles, prophesying, speaking in tongues, and interpreting tongues (1 Corinthians 12:4-10). Is this what Peter meant when he talked about receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost? The scriptures tell us that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, [and] temperance” (Galatians 5:22-23). Is the fruit of the Spirit the same as the gift of the Spirit?
Shortly before his death Jesus told his disciples that “the comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26). A little later he told his disciples, “When the comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me” (John 15:26). The apostle Paul told the saints living in Rome that he was a minister of “the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost” (Romans 15:16). To the saints in Corinth he explained “ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). Paul further told the Corinthians “Now we have received not the spirit of the world but the Spirit which is of God, that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God” (I Corinthians 2:12).
From what the scriptures tell us, we know that the Holy Ghost is a teacher, a revealer, a comforter, a testifier, a justifier, a sanctifier, a giver of spiritual gifts, and the power that can change our hearts from wanting to do wickedly to desiring to be righteous.
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a person receives the gift of the Holy Ghost only after they are baptized, but why then? Furthermore, they teach that there is a difference between being influenced by the Holy Ghost and receiving the “gift” of the Holy Ghost, but what is that difference?
The answer that is most commonly given is that a person who has been properly and legally baptized can have the Holy Ghost with them as their constant companion, whereas people of other faiths only have it occasionally and mostly for the purpose of testifying to them that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of the world.
However, people of other faiths have experienced being taught gospel truths by the Holy Ghost, have come to have a testimony of Christ through the Spirit, have received comfort, have had spiritual gifts given to them, and even experienced a godly change in heart. Therefore, the stock answer to this question can’t be entirely correct for two reasons.
The first is that the Holy Ghost isn’t “given” to us. We have to do something to “receive” it. If that is true and we don’t properly receive him then it can’t be said that he is with us always. Secondly, we’ve been told that the Spirit cannot dwell in unclean temples, and since all of us sin from time to time and fail to repent of those sins, then it cannot be said that we are truly clean at all times. Then, is our baptism enough to make us sufficiently clean so that we can enjoy the Spirit as our constant companion?
Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has written, “We must be worthy in order to receive the Spirit. We must forsake our sins and have a firm determination to serve God and keep his commandments. Then and then only will we be fit recipients of the Holy Spirit. Should [we] thereafter cease to be clean and righteous, [we] lose the Spirit.”
In the sacrament prayer, it says that as long as we keep the commandments God has given us we will have his Spirit to be with us always. But none of us keep all of God’s commandment at all times. Therefore, the Spirit can’t be our “constant,” always present companion.
President Joseph F. Smith taught, “It does not follow that a man who has received the presentation or gift of the Holy Ghost shall always receive the recognition and witness and presence of the Holy Ghost himself, or he may receive all these, and yet the Holy Ghost [might] not tarry with him, but visit him from time to time” (See D&C 130:23). Jesus taught this same principle when he said, When they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak” (Matthew 10:19).
But, if that’s true, then what difference is there, if any, between someone who has received the gift of the Holy Ghost after being baptized and someone who is influenced by the Holy Ghost without being baptized?
The first thing we have to understand is why the gift of the Holy Ghost must be given only after the ordinance of baptism has been accomplished. Side-stepping the issue of how a baptism is to be performed, in order for it to be valid, it has to be done by someone who is officially authorized by God to perform that ceremony. If this doesn’t happen then the baptism has no meaning because it isn’t recognized by heaven.
This concept is understood by most Christian faiths because in most churches the pastor, priest, or minister is the person who must do the baptizing. In other words, an ordinary Christians can’t go out and baptize anyone they want anytime they want. It has to be done by someone recognized by the church as having the authority to perform this ordinance.
In most churches it is believed that if their pastor, priest, or minister has graduated from a recognized religious institution that this is all that’s needed to be authorized to perform a baptism. But even so, the Catholic Church doesn’t recognize the baptism of a Methodist preacher nor does the Lutheran church recognize the baptism of a minister from the Jehovah Witnesses. But the real question we have to ask is, which baptism does God recognize?
Since some churches don’t believe baptism is necessary for salvation while others teach it is, and considering there is a wide variety of beliefs about how baptisms are to be performed, obviously God can’t accept all of these different beliefs as being valid because if he did it would make any belief in baptism completely meaningless.
But baptism is more than just being dunked under water. It carries with it a number of symbolic meanings, one of which we have already seen is that it removes our sins. The term the scriptures use for this process is called having a remission of our sins or having our sins remitted. Thus, when this ordinance is administered by an authorized agent of God, all of our past sins are wiped away and God remembers them no more as soon as we come up out of the water. At that very moment, we are clean and spotless of sin as though we were a new born baby. Then, only after we have first been cleansed of sin, are we given the opportunity to “receive the Holy Ghost.”
Since the Holy Ghost cannot dwell in unholy places, that is why we first have to be made clean through the ordinance of baptism. But, unfortunately, we don’t retain our clean status for very long because we continue to sully ourselves with sin every day thereafter, and that’s where the gift of the Holy Ghost comes into play.
The Holy Ghost can teach, reveal, testify, comfort, and give spiritual gifts to people who have not been baptized, but he cannot perform his most important role until after we’ve been cleansed, and that is his role as a sanctifier.
To sanctify something means to make it holy or pure and that process begins when we are baptized. However, since we don’t stay clean for very long, therefore the act of sanctification is not a one-time event but an ongoing process.
However, there are two kinds of sanctifications that must happen in our life. The first is to be made spotless or free from sin, which happens when our sins are forgiven. Through participating in the ordinance of baptism, we have the opportunity to repent when we sin and it is in repenting that the atonement of Christ allows our past and current sins to be removed as though they had never happened. But, just being sinless doesn’t mean we are holy. It just means that God forgives us of the sins we’ve made. To be holy means we have no more disposition to sin, and merely washing away our sins doesn’t take away our desire to sin.
Therefore, another kind of sanctification process has to take place whereby our hearts are changed to the point where we no longer want to sin. When we reach that point in our spiritual progression then we have become perfect in the same way that our Father in heaven is perfect. And once we have attained that level of holiness then we are ready to inherit eternal life or, in other words, our exaltation.
The over-arching role of the Holy Ghost is not just to make us sinless but to help us become as holy to the same degree that God is holy. Everything else he does – teaches, reveals, testifies, comforts, gives spiritual gifts – are merely appendages or aids to help us in becoming holy.
This is what the gift of the Holy Ghost is really all about, but he can’t perform his work of sanctification until we have first been baptized. Therefore, no matter how much someone of another faith may enjoy the fruits of the Spirit, what they can’t receive from him is being made holy because they have never had their sins officially washed away through the ordinance of an authorized baptism, and until that happens their repentance has no effect on their salvation.
To illustrate what I mean, it does no one any good to learn how to keep from getting dirty if they have not first been cleaned, therefore our sins must first be washed away before we can move onto learning how to keep from getting dirty. But in the process of learning to do that, we will continue to make mistakes and sin. As long as we repent, the power of Christ’s atonement that was applied to us at the time of our baptism will continue to wipe away our sins. In this way we remain sinless as we learn how to become holy.
But what does it mean to “receive the Holy Ghost” and how does that help us to become sanctified? It means being willing to receive his instruction, guidance, and direction as he works to transform us into a god-like being. For example, when we do something wrong, the Spirit tells us we need to repent. At that point we can either be willing to receive his instruction or we can choose not to follow his direction. If we choose to ignore him, then we are not receiving, or allowing, the Holy Ghost to change our heart, and without that kind of transformation we will continue to act in ways that are unholy.
But. in addition to not doing unrighteous things, there are holy things we must want to do. For example, we must want to serve God with all of our heart. We must want to love others as God loves them. We must want to consecrate all that we have, including our material possession, time, talents, and anything else we have, to God. In short, we have to develop the same kind of attitude, thinking, desires, longing, yearning, aspirations, and other character traits that God has. Only then will we truly have become holy.
The Holy Ghost does this by helping us to become “a new creature in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:17), and he does this by changing the desires of our heart. The fruits of this change or the evidence of our transformation from being an enemy to God to being a lover of God is seen as we go from someone who is willing to engage in acts of “adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envying, drunkenness [and] revelings,” to someone who is filled with love for their fellow man, has joy and peace in their heart, who is longsuffering, gentle, meek, and temperate, is filled with goodness and faith (see Galatians 5:19-23), and has come to love God with all of their heart, mind, and soul.
However, before we can become like God we first have to gain a correct knowledge of him – who he is, what he loves, what he hates and why, what our relationship is to him and his relationship is to us, and what his work is all about. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). Without truly knowing God and his Son it is impossible for us to become like them.
But where do go to find that knowledge? Today there are tens of thousands of different Christian denominations throughout the word, with each one teaching something different than all the others, yet each them claim that they are only teaching what is found in the Bible. Obviously, they can’t all be teaching the correct knowledge of God, therefore it is vitally important that we come to discover which church is teaching the correct beliefs about God, the Father, and his Son, Jesus Christ.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints boldly declares that it alone is the true church of Jesus Christ which he himself has established on the earth in these latter days. But just having this knowledge isn’t enough. It is only after we have been baptized — which is just the first step in our process of sanctification — that we can then move forward in our spiritual progression of becoming as perfect and holy as our heavenly Father. But that can only happen once we have received the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Related articles can be found at The Nature of God