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. (Moroni 9:20)
The promises and fruits of becoming born again through the baptism of fire and reception of the Holy Ghost are great and powerful. The baptism by fire is a transformation of the whole being. It is to become purified and cleansed without spot. It is to become a Son or Daughter of God.
When we are baptized by fire and the Holy Ghost we receive the righteousness of Jesus Christ and are transformed in his nature and in his holiness. Our dispositions are fundamentally changed.
The experience of being baptized by fire and the Holy Ghost is unmistakable. Here is a list of descriptions throughout scripture of this transformation and its fruit.
Become born again (John 3:3)
Mighty change in your heart (Alma 5:14)
Cleansed from all unrighteousness (Alma 7:14)
Changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness (Mosiah 27:25)
Being Redeemed of God (Mosiah 27:25)
Become the Sons and Daughters of God (Mosiah 27:25)
You are blessed to enjoy the words of eternal life in this world (Moses 6:59)
Become sanctified from all sin (Moses 6:59)
You know God (1 John 4:7)
Overcome the world (1 John 5:4)
Receive the Lord’s image in your countenance (Alma 5:14)
Be filled with the Holy Ghost (Alma 36:24)
Have the wicked spirit rooted from our breast (Alma 22:15)
Receive great joy (Alma 22:15; Mosiah 4:3)
Garments are washed white, purified until they are cleansed from all sin (Alma 5:21)
Sufficiently humble (Alma 5:27)
Stripped of pride (Alma 5:28)
Stripped of envy (Alma 5:29)
Bring forth works meet for repentance (Alma 5:54)
Sing the song of redeeming love (Alma 5:9)
Illuminated by the light of the everlasting word (Alma 5:7)
Quickened in the inner man (Moses 6:65)
Receive a remission of sin (3 Nephi 12:1)
You have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually (Mosiah 5:2)
Willing to be obedient to everything the Lord commands (Mosiah 5:5)
Become spiritually begotten (Mosiah 5:7)
Will not have a mind to injure one another (Mosiah 4:13)
Filled with the pure love of Christ (Moroni 7:48)
Filled with hope and perfect love (Moroni 8:26)
You cannot deny the power of God (Moroni 10:32)
You become holy, without spot (Moroni 10:33)
The promises of transformation in the spirit are so great it brought King Lamoni’s father to be willing to give up all that he possessed, even all of his kingdom to receive this transformation.
How then, is it possible, that a group of Lamanites were baptized by fire and the Holy Ghost and knew it not? Considering the description and power of the blessing of receiving the mighty change how could someone receive this great blessing and not even know it?
Perhaps there is a different reading of this scripture that could be considered.
Instead of reading it as they did not realize they had experienced a baptism of fire, a careful reading suggests another way of understanding this scripture.
What if they were very aware of being changed in the spirit and transformed – that they knew something powerful and life changing had happened to their being, but what they didn’t know was what to call it.
The Lamanites experienced the miraculous conversion of the spirit. What they didn’t understand, perhaps, is that this thing was the doctrine of Christ. It was the power of the Holy Ghost.
For example, about eight years ago, I went through a few months of experiencing burning, debilitating pain in the back of my right leg. It was so painful, that some days I would have to lay on the ground for a few hours so it would settle down. In fact, it was during this time that I met my wife. When she saw me for the first time she thought I walked with a limp.
Even though I felt this pain in my leg it wasn’t until I went to a doctor that I learned what to call it. It wasn’t until I met someone with knowledge about this condition that I could be taught what it was, what caused it, and ultimately how to fix it.
And so, I believe, it was with the Lamanites. They experienced powerful and life-changing transformation. It probably was later that they had to be taught the doctrine of what they experienced, and why exactly it happened. They had to be taught the doctrine to understand what they had already experienced.
Who Are These Lamanites?
So, this leads us to ask a critical question. Who are the Lamanites to which this scripture is referring?
In 3rd Nephi chapter 9 it is a record of the Savior’s words. The author of the chapter is Nephi, the son of Nephi. It was his father and uncle, Lehi that was present when 300 Lamanites in prison were baptized in a powerful and miraculous way. This account is found in Helaman chapter 5.
“And behold, the Holy Spirit of God did come down from heaven, and did enter into their hearts, and they were filled as if with fire, and they could speak forth marvelous words.” (Helaman 5:45).
It was this group of 300 Lamanites that were commanded not to doubt what had happened to them. (Helaman 5:49)
It is clear to me that the reference to the Lamanites that were baptized by fire in 3 Nephi 9 would be the miracle that Nephi’s father and uncle had participated in by their faith. These Lamanites went on to convert the more part of the Lamanite nation. This would be an event that could be mentioned by Nephi and would be an unmistakable reference to one of the greatest miracles of their immediate generation.
This was such a great occurrence it was also mentioned in Ether chapter 12.
“Behold, it was the faith of Nephi and Lehi that wrought the change upon the Lamanites, that they were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost.” (Ether 12:14)
This scripture also refers to that conversion experience specifically as a baptism of fire.
Is it possible that 3 Nephi is referencing another account of Lamanites being baptized by fire and not knowing something had happened to them? I suppose it is possible. But it is completely improbable. There is no other example in scripture to which this could possibly be referring. If it’s not the Lamanites in Helaman 5 then we should, at a minimum, withhold interpreting the verse given that we have no idea to who what kind of experience it is referring.
Personally, I am 100% comfortable connecting 3 Nephi 9:20 with the conversion of the Lamanites in Helaman 5. Because of this connection, there is no reason to teach that one could experience a baptism and also not be aware that something had happened. This possibility is not represented in the scriptures. They do not give us that option.
In fact, as demonstrated above, all accounts of the baptism of fire in the scriptures are powerful, miraculous, and unmistakable in the experience. They are for each Latter Day Saint. We should all receive the admonition to “Marvel not, that all mankind must be born again.”
I love the scriptures and the invitation to believe and receive of the miracle of redemption and transformation.