Hey guys, so, quick rundown on the Holy Ghost: Latter-day Saints believe that the Holy Ghost is a member of the Godhead. He does not have a physical body of flesh and bone but is rather a personage of Spirit (hence, ghost). The Holy Ghost is a sanctifier, a teacher, a comforter, and a revelator. His spirit body cannot be everywhere at once, but his influence can be experienced by anyone who is worthy of it at any time. The influence of the Holy Ghost is not something that we believe is exclusive to Latter-day Saints.
That said, after someone is baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, authorized priesthood-holders will lay their hands on the person’s head to confirm their membership in the Church and to confer upon them what we call the gift of the Holy Ghost. And this brings us to the subject of today’s video: What is the gift of the Holy Ghost, and what is the difference between just feeling or experiencing the Holy Ghost and being given the gift of the Holy Ghost through the laying on of hands? Let’s talk about it.
Alright, so the first thing I want to do is lay some groundwork just to establish that the gift of the Holy Ghost is not something we’re just making up. It is something with biblical roots. For example, in Acts 2:38, Peter says, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”
A few chapters later, in Acts 8, Peter and John show how that gift was received by a group of recently-baptized Christians in Samaria. “…when [Peter and John] were come down, [they] prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.” When a guy named Simon “saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.” Peter goes on to point out that this is a gift from God that cannot be purchased, indicating that only certain people had the authority to do this.
Now, this is not to say that our current policies and procedures exactly match those from biblical times, but the idea is that baptism and receiving the Holy Ghost go hand in hand. And we continue to see this connection in other Latter-day Saint scripture as well, in the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.
The Latter-day Saint prophet Joseph Smith went so far as to say that “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.”
So, with that as a foundation, what then is the difference between, for example, feeling the Spirit before you are baptized (or even if you never plan on being baptized) versus receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost after baptism? Allow me to illustrate.
The end goal for Latter-day Saints is to return to the presence of God the Father after this life. Christ is the one who makes that possible. But we believe Christ still expects effort on our part to keep His commandments and to try to become more like Him. As part of this process, we believe that we’ve been commanded to make covenants or promises with God through certain ordinances, such as baptism. There is a sequence to these ordinances, and they build on each other. They are designed to bind us to God and help us become the kind of beings that we need to become in order to be in God’s presence. We call this progression of covenants “the covenant path.”
The first ordinance on this path is baptism. We often refer to baptism as the gate or the doorway that leads into the covenant path. One of the resources that God has provided to us to help us find this path is the Holy Ghost. Before baptism, the influence of the Holy Ghost will come and go, periodically touching our lives, teaching us, and revealing truth to us.
But when we take that first step onto the covenant path through baptism, as Elder D. Todd Christofferson taught, “God provides an almost incomprehensible gift to help covenant-makers be covenant-keepers: the gift of the Holy Ghost. This gift is the right to the constant companionship, protection, and guidance of the Holy Spirit.”
When you covenant through baptism to take upon yourself the name of Christ and commit to following him, God strengthens you with the Holy Ghost for the journey ahead. Now, hopefully, this isn’t too sacrilegious, and it’s certainly an inadequate comparison, but because I’m a total nerd, I like to compare the gift of the Holy Ghost to your own personal Samwise Gamgee from Lord of the Rings. Frodo and Sam were friends before setting out on their quest. They saw each other often around the Shire. But as you step onto that covenant path and embark on your perilous journey through mortality, Sam is going to stick by your side through thick and thin, to protect you, to comfort you, and to keep you going when you can’t do it alone.
Of course, this companionship is not unconditional. In the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, we read, “Only after baptism can the gift be conferred by one in authority (Moro. 10:3-5; D&C 76:52). And even then, the Holy Ghost cannot be received by someone who is not worthy of it, since the Holy Ghost will not dwell in the heart of an unrighteous person. Thus, the actual companionship of the Holy Ghost may be received immediately after baptism or at a subsequent time, when the one receiving the promise becomes a fit companion for that holy being. Should the individual cease thereafter to be clean and obedient, the Holy Ghost will withdraw (1 Cor. 3:16-17).”
I hope this helps answer some of your questions on this subject. There’s still plenty more to talk about, so check out the links in the YouTube description for more info, watch some of our other videos while you’re here, and have a great day!
- “Laying On of Hands,” via the Church’s website: http://bit.ly/3QLVnZr
- “The Gift of the Holy Ghost,” via the Church’s gospel principles manual: http://bit.ly/3HhScFT
- “Holy Ghost,” via the Encyclopedia of Mormonism: http://bit.ly/3iJyCZK
- “Why the Covenant Path?” by D. Todd Christofferson (April 2021 general conference): http://bit.ly/3XGoWye
- “Ever heard of the ‘covenant path’?” via the Church’s website: http://bit.ly/3JiHosl
- What has been said about the gift of the Holy Ghost in general conference over the years? Check out the LDS General Conference Corpus and find out: https://www.lds-general-conference.org/