Relief Society Lesson #7: Baptism and the Gift of the Holy Ghost

The lesson begins with a description of the Joseph Smith’s vision of John the Baptist on the banks of the Susquehanna River. I’d start there. I’m sure this story is told frequently in YM’s and Elder’s quorum, but I don’t know that I’ve heard it mentioned in YW or Relief Society more than a couple of times in 20 years. First Vision and Moroni? Check. John the Baptist? Not so much.

And it’s a beautiful story – once again, Joseph retreats to nature to ponder and pray (something we should learn here?). He comes with a specific question. He chooses to pray with a friend. And the resulting vision requires them to use each other – one baptizes the other, and then they confirm each other in turn. They cannot complete the task alone. Does this offer any personal insight into prayer and ordinances?

After they confirm each other, they experience a Pentacostal moment:

“We experienced great and glorious blessings from our Heavenly Father. No sooner had I baptized Oliver Cowdery, than the Holy Ghost fell upon him, and he stood up and prophesied many things which should shortly come to pass. And again, so soon as I had been baptized by him, I also had the spirit of prophecy, when, standing up, I prophesied concerning the rise of this Church, and many other things connected with the Church, and this generation of the children of men. We were filled with the Holy Ghost, and rejoiced in the God of our salvation” (Joseph Smith—History 1:73).

Compare to Jesus’ baptism: Matthew Chapter 3
Compare to Day of Pentecost: Acts 2:1-11
Compare also to the baptismal scene in Mosiah 18

These four scenes, discussed together, might yield some insights.

Onto the core of the lesson!

The ordinance of baptism is necessary for exaltation.

Key Quotes:

  • “God has set many signs on the earth, as well as in the heavens; for instance, the oak of the forest, the fruit of the tree, the herb of the field—all bear a sign that seed hath been planted there; for it is a decree of the Lord that every tree, plant, and herb bearing seed should bring forth of its kind, and cannot come forth after any other law or principle.

This is an intriguing analogy – that an grown oak is a sign that a seed was once planted, and that trees give of seeds to create more trees of its kind. How does this relate to baptism? Discuss.

Here’s the second half of the quote:

  • “Upon the same principle do I contend that baptism is a sign ordained of God, for the believer in Christ to take upon himself in order to enter into the kingdom of God, ‘for except ye are born of water and of the Spirit ye cannot enter into the kingdom of God,’ said the Savior [see John 3:5]. It is a sign and a commandment which God has set for man to enter into His kingdom.

More quotes:

  • “Baptism is a sign to God, to angels, and to heaven that we do the will of God, and there is no other way beneath the heavens whereby God hath ordained for man to come to Him to be saved, and enter into the kingdom of God, except faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, and baptism for the remission of sins, and any other course is in vain; then you have the promise of the gift of the Holy Ghost.”
  • “Upon looking over the sacred pages of the Bible, searching into the prophets and sayings of the apostles, we find no subject so nearly connected with salvation, as that of baptism. … Let us understand that the word baptise is derived from the Greek verb baptiso, and means to immerse.
  • Are the purposes of baptism literal, symbolic, or both? Is it the act – something binding about immersion? The intent – the willingness to be obedient? Why might the ordinance take this form: immersion in water (perhaps even in the wilderness, in a river or lake)?

Children who die before the age of accountability do not need to be baptized; they are redeemed by the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

  • “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.”

Careful, these conversations too often become 1) speculative theology (are these children raised in the millennium or 2) thinly-veiled anti-Catholic smugness (that’s why their baptism is bad). RESIST! ☺

I might pose this question: According to our understanding, God wants baptism to be an informed, willing choice. Why? What insights does this give us about the baptism . . . or about the relationship between God and his children?

After baptism by water, we receive the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands.

  • “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. … I further believe in the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, [as evidenced] 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.’ [John 3:5.]”

Let’s look at the phrase “born of water and of the Spirit.” What does it mean to be “born of the Spirit”?

It also might be worth discussion “the light of Christ” (a universal grace) vs. “the Gift of the Holy Ghost.” The word “gift” makes me think of spiritual gifts. As a woman, I have often taken refuge in the “gifts of the spirit” described in the scriptures. (There are several quotes later in the lesson that point this direction, as well.)

Many women were drawn to the church because it claimed access to overt spiritual gifts – and in women’s ability to exercise them. I’d directly tie “gift of the holy ghost” to “gifts of the spirit” and have a conversation about the spiritual powers available to everybody sitting in the class – not vicariously, but directly. Hopefully, that’s an empowering way to end the lesson — linking baptism and confirmation to current spiritual potential.


  1. I have always enjoyed reading your comments and suggestions. They are very helpful in my preparation for teaching. However, I have to be honest and tell you that I am having a very difficult time getting my arms around this one. I’m a convert of 6 years and feel like I just am lost on this one. My Father was Jewish and my mother din’t practice any relegion (close to being agnostic) so there is SO much I am still trying to learn. Any simple advise anyone can offer to me would be greatly appreciated. Thanks for all you do. I love reading your posts

  2. Kate: Here’s one thought. Use the general outline in the manual (I followed that order above) but in doing so, bring some of YOUR questions to the class. e.g. “The lesson uses this scripture _____ but I’m not entirely sure what that means? How have you come to understand it?” I love that kind of honesty in a teacher.

    I’d also reflect on the experience of your own baptism — and invite others to do the same (since people in the audience will have been baptized at different ages. That might create some great give and take. If you have specific questions as you prepare, write another comment — I’m sure someone here will be more than willing to share more ideas!

  3. Would it be so wrong to reemphize the baptismal covenants and talk about how we can make them stronger and improve on living them every day of our lives? We need to learn to Use the wonderful gift of the Holy Ghost to it’s fullest potential. Do we draw on it in our decisions. Do we quiet our lives so we can feel it and talk with the voices of angels? I just feel very strongly that we need to ask the question How can we more fully realize the covenants that we have and live them day to day? What blessings and Helps are then there for me?

  4. I appreciate your thoughtful insights and questions and read them each month as I prepare my lesson. This month I am also finding it helpful to read Elder Christofferson’s last Sunday’s afternoon conference talk, “Born Again”. The concept of “baptism by fire” or being “born of the spirit” isn’t taught enough in my opinion and I have only a limited understanding of it. I think it’s because it is an internal or inward change unlike the preliminary baptism by water and I even though I think this has happened for me, how do I know? How does anybody know? I assume if I have “no more disposition to do evil” and am following the commandments, and using repentance? I guess Christ, the ultimate judge of all will see if it is written in our hearts and be able to tell by our actions.

  5. I apologize for a second entry but when I googled for a translation of the Greek “baptizo” I got this explanation which could be a helpful comparison as we consider baptism and the change it is intended to jump start in our lives. I suppose this was also the basis for Elder Bednar’s : “Ye Must Be Born Again” (parable of the pickle) conference talk in April 2007

    : to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge (of vessels sunk)
    to cleanse by dipping or submerging, to wash, to make clean with water, to wash one’s self, bathe
    to overwhelm
    Not to be confused with “bapto”. The clearest example that shows the meaning of baptizo is a text from the Greek poet and physicianNicander, who lived about 200 B.C. It is a recipe for making pickles and is helpful because it uses both words. Nicander says that in order to make a pickle, the vegetable should first be ‘dipped'(bapto) into boiling water and then ‘baptised’ (baptizo) in the vinegar solution. Both verbs concern the immersing of vegetables in a solution. But the first is temporary. The second, the act of baptising the vegetable, produces a permanent change. When used in the New Testament, this word more often refers to our union and identification with Christ than to our water baptism. e.g.Mark 16:16. ‘He that believes and is baptised shall be saved’.Christ is saying that mere intellectual assent is not enough. Theremust be a union with him, a real change, like the vegetable to the pickle! Bible Study Magazine, James Montgomery Boice, May 1989.

  6. Thanks for your added thoughts, Marilyn and Lorrie.

    Per baptism by fire. Perhaps it’s the English teacher in me, but I’m attracted to the imagery of birth by water and birth by fire. It feels elemental — it also makes me think of the waters of birthing and the “refiner’s fire” of living. Water and fire are awesomely powerful forces — capable of life-giving but also of destruction. I’m a bit afraid of both, actually — I’m not a good swimmer, and am definitely nervous around large open flames. So to have such powerful, beautiful forces be the central metaphor for our spiritual rebirth. There’s something richly beautiful there that I don’t fully understand . . .

  7. Thank you so much for all your hard work in producing such interesting outlines for RS lessons. I visit your site every week as part of my preparation for teaching the High Priests in my Ward. I feel a bit like a thief – always taking and never giving.

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