Remission of Sins
"Remission of sins" is the scriptural phrase that describes the primary purpose of baptism: to obtain God's forgiveness for breaking his commandments and receive a newness of life. It is fundamental among the first principles and ordinances of the gospel: faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, and laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost. To grant pardon of sins is one manifestation of God's mercy, made possible by the atonement. It is the blessing sought by those who fervently prayed, "O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified" (Mosiah 4:2). Having one's sins remitted is a vital part of the developmental process that results in godhood and lies at the heart of the religious experience of a Latter-day Saint.
Baptism for the remission of sins is one of the most prominent themes of the scriptures, being both a requirement and a blessing associated with accepting Christ as the divine Redeemer and Savior of the world and joining his Church. According to LDS scriptures and teachings, the principles and ordinances of the gospel, including baptism for the remission of sins, were taught and practiced by all the prophets from Adam and Enoch (Moses 6:52—60, 64—68; 7:10—11) to the present time. The doctrine was taught before the earthly ministry of Jesus by Benjamin (Mosiah 4:3—4) and John the Baptist (Mark 1:3—4). It was articulated by Christ himself to the twelve apostles in Jerusalem (Matt. 28:16—20; John 20:21—23) and to the Nephites (3 Ne. 12:2), preached by Peter following Christ's ascension (Acts 2:37—38), and commanded of the Church as part of the restoration (D&C 49:11—14; 84:64). Authority to administer the ordinance of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins is held by bearers of the Aaronic Priesthood (D&C 13; 107:20) as well as by those who hold the Melchizedek Priesthood (D&C 20:38—45).
God commands all but little children and the mentally incompetent to submit to the first principles and ordinances (Moro. 8:11; D&C 29:46—50; 68:27), not as acts of compliance with his sovereignty, but because uncleanliness (sinfulness) is incompatible with godliness. There is no alternative path to exaltation (1 Ne. 15:33; 3 Ne. 27:19; Moses 6:57). Thus, those who do not receive a remission of sins through baptism are not born of god and exclude themselves from his kingdom (Alma 7:14—16; D&C 84:74). Remission includes the pardoning of sins by God, who releases sinners with the promise that "their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more" (Heb. 8:12). Remission also includes the repentant person's recognition of God's communication of that forgiveness. Such a realization is accompanied by peace of conscience and feelings of inexpressible joy (Mosiah 4:1—3, 20). Having been "washed [by] the blood of Christ" (Alma 24:13; 3 Ne. 27:19), one is granted relief from the unhappiness that accompanies wickedness (Alma 41:10; 36:12—21) and increases in love for God, knowing that forgiveness is made possible only by the Savior's atoning sacrifice (D&C 27:2; 2 Ne. 9:21—27).
Remission of sins is an achievement made possible through the Atonement and earned through genuine changes in spirit and a discontinuation of behavior known to be wrong. Enos described the process as a "wrestle . . . before God" (Enos 1:2). The essential experience is to recognize one's unworthiness, taste of Christ's love, stand steadfast in faith toward him (Mosiah 4:11), and with contrite heart acknowledge that he was crucified for the sins of the world (D&C 21:9; 3 Ne. 9:20—22). Thus committed to Christ and engaged in repentance, one keeps the commandments by submitting to baptism and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. The initial sense of repentance and forgiveness that leads one to the ordinances (3 Ne. 7:25; D&C 20:37) is amplified and confirmed through the baptism of fire administered by the Comforter (2 Ne. 31:17; D&C 19:31). This series of experiences forms the basis for a spiritual testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ and a lifelong commitment to Christian living and Church service.
Remission of sins can be lost through recurrent transgression, for "unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return, saith the Lord your God" (D&C 82:7). Benjamin therefore enjoins the forgiven to retain their state by righteous living: "For the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God . . . ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants" (Mosiah 4:26).
Kimball, Spencer W. The Miracle of Forgiveness. Salt Lake City, 1969.
William S. Bradshaw