3 Nephi 11: 23

“Verily I say unto you, that whoso repenteth of his sins through your words, and desireth to be baptized in my name, on this wise shall ye baptize them—Behold, ye shall go down and stand in the water, and in my name shall ye baptize them.”

The candidate for baptism must first qualify themselves by “repent[ing] of his sins.” That’s an interesting pre-condition in the Lord’s instruction.  Until one has determined to abandon their sins, they are not fit for baptism. They first decide to lay things behind, move forward in following the Lord, determined to serve Him. This decision to make a change must come “through your words.” Meaning that before someone can repent, they must first learn the conditions for repentance and following the Lord.

This is much like the instructions given by revelation to this dispensation about how baptism is to be performed. We were told, “All those who humble themselves before God, and desire to be baptized, and come forth with broken hearts and contrite spirits, and witness before the church that they have truly repented of all their sins, and are willing to take upon them the name of Jesus Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end, and truly manifest by their works that they have received of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins, shall be received by baptism into his church.” (D&C 20: 37.) 
After having made the decision to be baptized with a broken heart and contrite spirit, confessing before the church that you have repented of your sins (or be willing to change and follow Christ), determined to endure to the end, a person receives from the Spirit of Christ a witness that changes their behavior. Their works show they are penitent. At this point a person is ready for baptism. Until then, they are not ready and the ordinance is not appropriate.
Now the instructions in Section 20 are more complete than the abbreviated statement in Christ’s instructions to His Nephite disciples, but it is to the same effect. When this pattern is followed, people are converted and follow Christ. Their baptism matters and will change them. When these instructions are not followed, the ordinance is relatively meaningless and people drift off into inactivity. I believe today the numbers evidence that approximately 10% of those who are baptized are actually converted. The rest are just names and numbers used as membership statistics to be reported and proclaimed each April in a worldwide conference.
The Gospel of Christ is quite exact and it works whenever it is tried. It is tried today in about 10% of the cases of those who are baptized by our missionaries.
Perhaps the ordinance ought to be offered to more of our adults as they come to recognize that they may not have actually been prepared to receive the ordinance when given to them. No matter, there’s always the Alma exception. (That’s when in the course of baptizing someone else, you go ahead and take the covenant yourself. See Mosiah 18: 13-15.) Clearly Alma was baptizing Helam at the time, and added himself for good measure; he (Alma) feeling the need for the ordinance himself. He went ahead and was baptized again for good measure. This seems to be a precedent that would allow for others to do likewise – perhaps when performing a vicarious baptism for the dead. I leave the Alma exception for your own consideration, and will stop short of advocating such a thing. I just notice things and share what I notice.  I’m not trying to convince anyone to do anything.
In Christ’s instructions, and in Section 20, the heavy lifting of repentance precedes baptism. Then, after determining to change and follow Christ, leaving behind the foolish errors of the past, the person is fit to be baptized. At that point the baptism symbolizes the new life being undertaken. The presence of the Holy Ghost then ratifies the purging of the repentant, now baptized convert. But that comes next in Christ’s teaching. 

13 thoughts on “3 Nephi 11: 23

  1. Wow! This was a beautiful description. I am going to forward this on to my son who is currently waiting for a mission call. If every missionary could truly understand what they are doing in the field and make sure that people are prepared in this way before they are baptized perhaps the percentages of those remaining true and faithful would be higher. It isn’t about the numbers…it is all about the heart. Truly a very clear teaching here, Denver. Thank you for such clarity. It even makes me stop and think about my own daily commitment even though I am an active member of the church.

  2. I never thought of Alma’s baptism that way , that’s very interesting. Apparently your sight and Brigham Young’s is very much the same. Was not Brigham baptized about 6 times. And did he not express that there are times that it was needed just to refresh ourselves with a new start in life to be recommitted and because of the repentance to again start out with a pure heart before the Lord in our own minds, to again be able to move on. Isn’t it neat how he looked at it yet to those leaders today one cant do as Brigham said . There are those that a second act like this would bring great peace to them in there mind and heart as it did to even Alma. And I believe Brigham understood that more than we know.Thanks for pointing that out.

  3. To Anon @ 9:12

    Can you even imagine the burden that would be placed upon the church and bearers of the priesthood if it were allowed that we be re-baptized every time we needed to recommit? Isn’t that why we take the sacrament every Sunday? It doesn’t take being re-baptized to repent and recommit once we have already received the ordinance.

  4. Still, Alma being buried again (during the first baptism) and participating in the baptism as he did, caught my attention a couple of weeks ago as I read through this section of the Book of Mormon. I was not sure what to make of it…. other than he seemed caught up in the spirit…. I paused there and wondered about that for some time. …. this blog has shared some interesting light upon that curious event.

  5. This is a pretty interesting post.
    This contradicts what often hear in that sins are “washed away” with baptism and THEN the repentance is complete.

    Also, I remember serving a mission and feeling the unrighteous pressure from a well meaning mission president to baptize as many people as possible and “build the kingdom.” I hope that there are fewer, if any, mission presidents like this today that mistake baptizing for truly building the kingdom.

  6. I love these comments. They are sometimes informative, always interesting and thought provoking and often I learn of something I needed for that day from you – even when they get a bit heated as did yesterday’s blog on 3 Ne 11:22 – I thank Denver in my heart all the time and I also thank you and thank the Lord for making it all possible through Denver. I pray he continues in spite of the ‘flack’ he gets sometimes.

  7. [This is longer than I planned – I learned something by writing it – so am going to send it as is. Whatever Denver does with it is okay – perhaps it has already served its purpose.]

    In reading today’s blog I realized that repentance is the building block upon which baptism and all that follows builds. The Greek word for repent is ‘Metanoia’ – it means a changing or turning the direction that our mind is set on.(Google it!) Since we are baptized in water to keep the commandment given by Christ (2Ne31:15ff) and Faith precedes repentance, which Faith is in God/Christ as per Lectures on Faith and faith in God requires a CORRECT idea of His character and attributes – then we really can’t ‘change or turn our minds toward Him = repent = unless we KNOW TRUTH about Christ whose Name we are covenanting to take upon us.

    So repentance requires a ‘correct understanding’ of Christ and His Father and their relationship to us in order to comply with the commandment to repent and (then) come unto Christ by entering the waters of baptism. This seems to me to be what Christ is teaching these people – who were already of ‘firm mind and strong faith’ – sufficient at least to bring them to the temple at Bountiful – so ask yourself, what was the reality of their ‘repentance’? What is the reality of OUR repentance before we come to the Sacrament table to renew the baptismal covenant?
    These are questions that have set me to seeking a better understanding of these people that Christ is teaching and Denver is writing about – A LOT to learn I am finding for they actually seem to fall into the same category as the people the angels of Christ are teaching in Moroni 7:30ff – That scripture has been the stimulus for my study for several months – these Bountiful people seem to fit into that same category of those the angels are taking up their ministry with -“Those of firm mind and strong faith in every form of godliness – and the work of their ministry is to teach repentance unto these so that the work of the covenants of the Father can be accomplished – and this for the sake of the whole world.
    Is repentance MORE about learning about Christ, which knowledge by its very nature CHANGES our concept of our OWN relation to Him – and prepares us to TURN unto Him instead of always turning inward and concentrating upon what is wrong with our own carnal nature – With this NEW understanding of Christ and the greater love for Him and His work, we begin to ‘change our mind-set’ and seek what is so much greater and of such great worth.

  8. In our dispensation after being ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood by the resurrected John the Baptist, Joseph baptized Oliver first and then Oliver baptized Joseph (JS-H 1:68-71).

    I’d always read Alma and Helam’s simultaneous baptism as a variant of the same approach.

    Alma requests authority in Mosiah 18:12, receives it in verse 13 and baptizes both of them at the same time.

    Interesting light to view it in if Alma was re-baptizing himself. Like Anonymous at 11:49am I’m curious how we know that Alma had previously been baptized.

  9. Water baptism never washed away sins. The Holy Ghost and baptism of fire are meant to do the scrubbing.
    Water baptism is a sign we make.
    No fire, no clean.

  10. Alma was part of the Priests (church) of Noah. To be so he had to participate as we do.
    What he had been lacking was the POWER of the Priesthood that comes from living right and having the Spirit with you.

    Alma the Elder was active in the Church (priest), so when I Prophet (Abinadi) came with the Spirit, HE(The Lords Sheep) Heard and followed.

    That is also why Alma really did understand what Alma the Younger was struggling with, as he had grown up in the Church and seen the Hypocrisy, but took the rebelious path instead of the going along with the flow.
    Alma the Youngers heart was good, as he likely (my opinion) saw the what was happening and reacted as he did. Still a sin, but his Heart was good inside.

    Hope that helps.

  11. For an interesting and informative doctrinal explanation of Baptism unto the remission of sins…(Anonymous,September 24, 2010 10:32 AM might like this)I recommend this link:


    It starts out with the following:

    “Recently a councilor in my bishopric spoke of the baptism of his eight-year-old daughter and how excited he was to explain to her that her spirit was going to be washed and cleansed from her sins in the waters of baptism. I have seen many bishops put there are around a child after baptism and present them to the ward as the “cleanest” member of the congregation. I have heard talks given at Stake baptisms about the cleansing that will take place as sins are going to be “washed” away in the waters of the baptismal ordinance. These experiences, as nice and comforting as they might be, are not harmonious with the doctrines and teachings of scriptures and the Prophet Joseph Smith.”

    Dave in Arizona

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