Joseph Smith taught:
"But except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. This eternal truth settles the question of all men's religion. A man may be saved, after the judgment, in the terrestrial kingdom, or in the telestial kingdom, but he can never see the celestial kingdom of God, without being born of water and the Spirit. He may receive a glory like unto the moon, [i.e., of which the light of the moon is typical], or a star, [i.e., of which the light of the stars is typical], but he can never come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God..." (TPJS)
Many would like to think that they are on the strait and narrow path that leads to eternal life, having been baptized, confirmed, received temple ordinances, etc. However, Nephi taught that the gateway to the path is not baptism by water, but baptism by fire:
"...then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost. And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea..." (2 Nephi 31:17-18)
Some would teach that the baptism by fire is a subtle event that you don't notice. Others incorrectly conflate it with confirmation. It is important that you understand the truth.
Read what the scriptures say about baptism by fire. Read what those who have experienced it have written. If you have not received it, cry unto God and find out why.
BAPTISM OF FIRE AS A POINT EVENT
Did the Ammonites know they were baptized by fire? Imagine that, unbeknownst to you, someone did your taxes for you and submitted them. Then, one day, you notice a sizeable deposit in your bank account. Could you say that you didn't understand why you had a sizeable deposit in your account? You could. There was an obvious change in your bank account. But could you say that you were not aware of that change in your account? Not if you had seen it. The only way would be if you had not looked at the account.
The baptism by fire is a crucial, necessary event. There are many outcomes manifested in individuals who have been baptized by fire. I will mention only a few. They have no more desire to do evil, but to do good. They receive the Holy Ghost. They receive spiritual gifts. They receive a remission of their sins. They understand the scriptures in a way that they could not before. Said Orson Pratt, "Now then, if I receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, or if my brethren receive it, I should expect that we would receive the manifestations of these gifts, one receiving one gift and another another, according to the Bible pattern. If we did not receive these gifts, then we might doubt that we had received the Holy Spirit." Now, I hope that it would be clear if any of us received, in a moment, gifts of the Spirit that we did not possess previously. I hope it would be clear if, in a moment, our desire to do evil was replaced with a desire to do good. I hope we would perceive if our sins were forgiven us. I hope we would know it if we went from a carnal and devilish state to a state of being reconciled with God. I would hope all of these things because there are numerous examples of these things in the scriptures, and it is always a very big deal. You see this is just as the tax return example, except that you are attached to your body for a few years here on earth, and things like this can't happen to you without you perceiving it. It would be absolutely impossible.
"But," you may ask, "can't the baptism of fire occur gradually?" I challenge anyone to find a scriptural example of baptism by fire happening gradually. You won't find it. It doesn't exist. If God wanted us to understand that some people are baptized by fire as a point event, but most are baptized by fire gradually, don't you think that he would have put at least one example of the latter into the scriptures to balance the perhaps hundred or so examples of the former? Yet, he didn't. Besides, if you understand what it takes to obtain the baptism by fire---a total, unconditional submission to God---you would realize that such cannot be accomplished partially. It is not like a mortgage, where your share of ownership in your home increases with each payment. It is like buying a sandwich: you can't actually take possession until you have the exact amount of money required to buy it. It is a binary condition: you either meet the requirements or you do not. Now, some of you are thinking:
"Couldn't it happen without us perceiving it?" Perception is a funny thing. Many times we perceive in the scriptures what we want to see, not what is actually there. Is it possible to have an interaction with heaven and not perceive it? Perhaps the most popular experience that would fit the bill is the voice of the Lord heard by the Nephites in 3 Nephi 11 just before Jesus descends to visit them. Here, the Lord speaks to them. Now, in the movies this is depicted as a quiet voice at first that gets louder with each of the three repititions. So, if you go by the movies, you might assume that the first time God speaks, the people may not have heard it over their own speaking. And maybe some didn't even hear it the second time. Thus, you could conclude that some of them didn't notice this interaction with heaven until the third time God spoke. But the scriptures give a different account. They say that the very first time God spoke, they heard it. In fact, they heard it so plainly that they cast their eyes about. Of course, they heard it the other two times as well. So what was the hangup? They didn't understand the voice. Suppose you could pause God between the second and third repetition and bring one of these Nephites to testify in court. You would ask them, "did you hear a voice?" and they would say, "absolutely." Then you would ask them, "what did it say?" and he would say, "I don't know, I couldn't understand it." What was the difference between the second and third time? Well, they understood from how they felt that this must be a message from God, because they experienced the same heart burning and piercing feeling that they felt whenever God had given them revelation previously. You see, they needed instruction to understand the experience, but they did not have a shadow of doubt as to whether they had had the experience or not.
Now let us consider the example of the conversion of the Lamanites, and see if this could be interpreted as an example of a group of people who were baptized by fire without knowing it.
The account reads:
20 And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not. (3 Nephi 9:20)
You may say, "Well, that's is as plain as it can be, isn't it?" Not so fast. First, let me note that here, Jesus gives us the requirement for receiving baptism by fire. Note that, as I said before, it is indeed a point event. Your heart may gradually become more broken and your spirit more contrite, but until it is actually broken or contrite, this will not occur. And as soon as it is, this baptism will occur. That is not a gradual process. But now let's talk about this "and they knew it not bit." In our dictionary today, to know is to "Be aware of through observation, inquiry, or information." If Jesus meant they knew it not as in they had not observed the effects of baptism by fire in their own persons, then we could conclude that it can happen without one noticing. However, as I have described before and could more fully prove from the scriptures if I had time, this is not possible. You cannot be baptized by fire without receiving abundant manifestations of the gifts of the Spirit in your lives. If you could, then what would be the point of being baptized by fire in the first place? Unlike baptism by water, baptism by fire is not simply a symbol of your loyalty to God, a promise witnessed by an ordinance with no accompanying power or blessings. Baptism by fire IS the blessing that follows baptism by water. It is the bestowal of gifts necessary for you to learn what you need to reconcile yoursef to the will of heaven. Thinking of baptism by fire without the gifts always associated with it is like thinking about a check for a million dollars drawn on an empty bank account. There just isn't any point! Of course, the end of the definition I cited is the meaning that Jesus had in this verse: they were baptized by fire but they understood not whence the gifts of the Spirit had come from. Like the Nephites who heard the voice of the Lord, but did not understand what the voice said, the Lamanites experienced the power of the Lord, but could not understand why. This matches the 1828 Webster definition of "to know," which includes "to understand clearly." The power was there, but the information about it was not.
This is essential for all of us to understand so that we don't consider the experiences of non-baptism by fire to be the experiences of baptism by fire. If you have not been baptized by fire, and assume you have, and lack spiritual power and blessings in your life, you could erroneously conclude that the gospel is a load of rubbish and, even if it were true, would not be worth the cost. If you went to a restaurant and paid full price but got a picture of your meal instead of the real thing, you would probably conclude it wasn't worth the price.
We like to bring the experiences of heaven down to our own experiences, supposing we have received all that God has to give. This is a grave mistake. Instead, we ought to bring our experiences up to the experiences heaven offers us. If you have not been baptized by fire, I promise you this is an experience that you can obtain. I also promise you that you cannot learn what God desires for you to learn in this life before this event occurs. The Holy Ghost is the gateway to the knowledge required to craft your life after the pattern of heaven. I invite you to seek this experience by studying what the Lord has said about it in the scriptures and doing what you learn you need to do.
WHAT IS IT?``And thus he was baptized, and the Spirit of God descended upon him, and thus he was born of the Spirit, and became quickened in the inner man. And he heard a voice out of heaven, saying: Thou art baptized with fire, and with the Holy Ghost. This is the record of the Father, and the Son, from henceforth and forever;'' (Moses 6:65-66)
WHY IS IT NECESSARY?``Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.'' (John 3:3)
``Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.'' (John 3:5)
``And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters; And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. I say unto you, unless this be the case, they must be cast off; and this I know, because I was like to be cast off.'' (Mosiah 27:24-27)
Impossible to receive Second Comforter without B by F. Impossible to be saved without Second Comforter. B by F is the whole point of baptism by water: ``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.'' (Joseph Smith, HC, 5:499)
HOW CAN I KNOW IF I HAVE RECEIVED IT?Alma describes the following as common place among the Nephite church: ``Having been visited by the Spirit of God; having conversed with angels, and having been spoken unto by the voice of the Lord; and having the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and also many gifts, the gift of speaking with tongues, and the gift of preaching, and the gift of the Holy Ghost, and the gift of translation;'' (Alma 9:21)
If the Lamanites received it and didn't know it, how can you know if the same has occurred to you? ``Now then, if I receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, or if my brethren receive it, I should expect that we would receive the manifestations of these gifts, one receiving one gift and another another, according to the Bible pattern. If we did not receive these gifts, then we might doubt that we had received the Holy Spirit. We are commanded in the Scriptures to try the spirits, for there are many spirits who are gone abroad into the world who are false spirits. Try them: by what rule? Try them by the written word, and see if we have the gifts as recorded in the New Testament. If we have them, we may be assured that the Holy Ghost has been given to us. For instance, if a person receives the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, and the heavens are opened to him he is not mistaken. If the Lord inspires him to lay hands upon a sick child or a sick person, and he commands the disease to be removed, he knows that God is with him, and that he hearkens to the supplications and prayers which he offers in the name of Jesus in behalf of the sick. If a person has the vision of his mind opened to behold the future and to know that which will shortly come to pass, and he sees these things fulfilled, from time to time, he has every reason to believe that he has really received the Holy Ghost. So in regard to speaking in tongues. If an illiterate, uneducated man, who never understood any language but his mother tongue, is inspired at the very moment to rise and testify in an unknown tongue and to proclaim the wonderful works of God, he knows whether his tongue has been used by a supernatural power, or whether it is merely gibberish out of his own heart. He knows it very well for himself; and so we might continue throughout all the gifts mentioned in the Bible. If he beholds angels, and they descend before him in their glory, and he hears the sound of their voices, beholds the light of their countenances and the glory that radiates from their personages, he knows for himself, consequently this constitutes him a witness as well as those who proclaimed this Gospel before him.'' (Journal of Discourses, Vol.16, p.216, Orson Pratt, September 28, 1873)
WHY HAVE I NOT YET RECEIVED IT?
Not humble enough
``And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost...'' (3 Nephi 9:20)
``And again, more blessed are they who shall believe in your words because that ye shall testify that ye have seen me, and that ye know that I am. Yea, blessed are they who shall believe in your words, and come down into the depths of humility and be baptized, for they shall be visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and shall receive a remission of their sins.'' (3 Nephi 12:2)
``becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.'' (Mosiah 3:19)
King of Lamanites giving away all his sins.
Few children are adequately taught this principle, and for this reason few receive the B by F at baptism (D&C 68:25). The Apostles did not, either. After the resurrection Jesus said to them ``ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.'' (Acts 1:5)
Too attached to false notions
``The early customs and teachings of parents and friends...influence the minds of children, but...when their minds are enlightened by the Spirit of truth, so that they can see things that are unseen by the natural eye, they may then be corrected in their doctrine and belief, and in their manner of life, but not until then.'' (JD 1:2, Brigham Young, January 16, 1853)
Lamanites/Nephites had false traditions. We do too.
Set up stakes. ``To all those who are disposed to say to set up stakes for the almighty will come short of the glory of god. To become a joint heir of the heirship of the son he must put away all his traditions.'' (Words of Joseph Smith)
Persist in Sin
Alma's instruction for baptism: ``I say unto you come and fear not, and lay aside every sin, which easily doth beset you, which doth bind you down to destruction, yea, come and go forth, and show unto your God that ye are willing to repent of your sins and enter into a covenant with him to keep his commandments, and witness it unto him this day by going into the waters of baptism.'' (Alma 7:14-15)
``I say, the Holy Ghost, being a pure spirit or influence, even after all this is done, will have an objection to perform his office in an impure tabernacle. That is the reason why a great many never receive the Holy Ghost, because they say they are pure, and lie to God, and also to the Holy Ghost.'' (HCK JD 7:16)
``Pray the Lord to inspire your hearts. Ask for wisdom and knowledge. It is our duty to seek after it. Let us seek, and we shall find; knock, and it will be opened unto us. But as for His coming down here to pour His Spirit upon you, while you are aiming after the vain and frivolous things of the world; indulging in all the vanity, nonsense, and foolery which surrounds you; drinking in all the filthy abomination which should be spurned from every community on the earth − so long as you continue this course, rest assured He will not come near you...refrain, purify, and sanctify yourselves before your God, and get so much of the spirit of truth that you may become filled with it, so that you can shout aloud with all your might to the praise of God, and feel your hearts clear as the noon−day sun.'' (JD 1:120, Brigham Young, February 27, 1853)
``The gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands cannot be received through the medium of any other principle. than the principle of Righteousness, for if the proposals are not complied with it is of no use but withdraws'' (Words of Joseph Smith)