Baptism and Confirmation Are Essential
The fourth Article of Faith states that the first ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ are “baptism by immersion for the remission of sins” and the “laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.” Jesus taught that baptism and confirmation are needed for all who want to follow Him and return to our Heavenly Father after this life. Baptism is thus the gate to the covenant path that leads to receiving all of the blessings that our Heavenly Father desires to give us. It is also the gateway to becoming “perfect in Christ" (Moroni 10, 32, 33) as we fully embrace His gospel.
At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus traveled from Galilee to the Jordan River in Judea. John the Baptist was there, teaching people to repent and be baptized. Jesus asked to be baptized, but John was reluctant because he knew that Jesus was sinless. The Savior explained that He needed to be baptized to “fulfil all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15) and be obedient to the commandments of our Heavenly Father. So Jesus Christ set the example for all of us when He entered the water and John baptized Him (see 2 Nephi 31:5). John also received a personal witness of that sacred experience:
“And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:
“And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16–17).
Later, a Jewish ruler named Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. He recognized that Jesus was “a teacher come from God” (John 3:2), and he wanted to learn more. Jesus taught him that both baptism and receiving the Holy Ghost through confirmation were needed for salvation:
“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).
Being born of water refers to baptism. Being born of the Spirit refers to receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost (also called the Holy Spirit) through confirmation. These ordinances are sacred, and we make solemn covenants when we receive them. We promise that we are willing to take the name of Jesus Christ upon us, always remember Him, and keep the commandments of God. As we keep these promises, we show our faith in Jesus Christ and our willingness to follow Him.
After His Resurrection, the Savior again taught the importance of baptism. He sent the Apostles forth to preach His gospel to all people, saying, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16).
When the Savior restored His Church through the Prophet Joseph Smith, He taught again that baptism is still needed (Doctrine and Covenants 22:4). He also revealed the proper method of baptism. He made it clear that baptism must be done by immersion and by proper priesthood authority (Doctrine and Covenants 20:73–74).
God Loves All of His Children
Every person is a child of God. All are precious to Him. He knows them and He loves them. He declared, “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). He has provided a way for all of His children to return to Him after this life. That way is the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Many people have the opportunity to accept the gospel and be baptized in this life. But what about those who die without being baptized or even knowing about Jesus? How can they also be saved? God has not forgotten them!
Death is not the end of life, but rather a step on our journey back to God. When we die, our spirits temporarily leave our bodies. We enter the spirit world and join family members and others who have also passed away. There we prepare for that wonderful day when we will be resurrected and our spirits will be reunited with perfected bodies. We will then be free from sickness, disease, and all the disabilities and weaknesses we now endure. In the spirit world, those who have died without the chance to learn about the gospel in this life are taught about the Savior and the plan of salvation (1 Peter 3:18–20; Doctrine and Covenants 138:16–19). They can then choose to accept the gospel and repent. But they can't be baptized there because they don't have their physical bodies. A kind Heavenly Father has provided another way for them to receive baptism.
In the temple, we can be baptized and confirmed for those who have died without that opportunity. In other words, we can represent them and act in their place. Ordinances performed for others are called proxy ordinances (or vicarious ordinances). The Apostle Paul taught the Corinthians that baptism for the dead was practiced because all people will be resurrected through the Atonement of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:29, 55–57).
The doctrine of vicarious ordinances has always been part of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, His Atonement is the greatest vicarious act in the history of the world. Through His sacrifice, He did for all people what we cannot do for ourselves. Because of Him, all people will be resurrected. All will hear the gospel, and all will have the chance to return to our Heavenly Parents.
Temple baptisms and confirmations done for those who have died are gifts offered in love. And because we believe that life continues after death, we also believe that those who have died are aware of the ordinances. They can then choose whether or not to accept them.
You Can Serve Others in the Temple
Each temple has a baptistry inside with a large baptismal font. The font rests on the backs of twelve oxen statues that represent the twelve tribes of Israel. This follows a tradition dating back to Solomon’s temple in the Old Testament (see 2 Chronicles 4:2–4). The oxen also represent the strength and the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Faithful members of the Church may obtain a temple recommend to perform baptisms and confirmations beginning January of the year they turn 12. To receive a temple recommend, schedule a "temple recommend interview" with your bishop or branch president. You may then go to the temple to be baptized and confirmed for those who have passed away.
Just like your own baptism, you will have a private dressing area where you will change into white clothing to do baptisms for those who have died. After the baptisms, you will return to your dressing area and change into dry clothing. You will then go to a separate confirmation room in the baptistry. Priesthood holders will lay their hands on your head and bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost for those who have died. Once these ordinances are done, they can decide if they wish to accept them. Proxy baptisms and confirmations are performed only in temples.
In the temple, you can also have the special opportunity to be baptized for your own family members who have died. As you research your family history, you will find your ancestors. Going to the temple and being baptized and confirmed for them can be a wonderful and personal experience.
You can provide this service for parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, and others. Families can be strengthened through this act of kindness. You can feel deeper connections to your family and closer to God. This sense of belonging can give you strength, direction, and confidence and will bless you in countless ways. You can find peace and insight for your own life as you find and serve your ancestors. You will understand and know the Savior better as you also do for others what they cannot do for themselves.
A Special Promise for You
Elder David A. Bednar said: “I encourage you to study, to search out your ancestors, and to prepare yourselves to perform proxy baptisms in the house of the Lord for your kindred dead. … As you respond in faith to this invitation, your hearts shall turn to the fathers. The promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will be implanted in your hearts. … Your love and gratitude for your ancestors will increase. Your testimony of and conversion to the Savior will become deep and abiding. And I promise you will be protected against the intensifying influence of the adversary. As you participate in and love this holy work, you will be safeguarded … throughout your lives” (“The Hearts of the Children Shall Turn,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2011, 26–27).