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.” The Savior taught that baptism and confirmation are essential for all who desire to follow Him and return to our Heavenly Father after this life.
At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus traveled from Galilee to the Jordan River in Judea. John the Baptist was there, preaching about repentance and baptizing people. Jesus also asked to be baptized, but John was reluctant because he knew Jesus was righteous in every way. The Savior explained that He needed to be baptized to “fulfill 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.
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 in the Savior’s ministry, a Jewish ruler named Nicodemus came to Him 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 confirmation are necessary for our 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 3:2-5).
Being “born of water” refers to baptism, and being “born of the Spirit” refers to receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. These ordinances are sacred, and we make solemn covenants, or promises, when we receive them. These covenants include taking the name of Jesus Christ upon us, always remembering Him, and keeping the commandments of God. As we honor these commitments, we demonstrate 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 to the earth in modern times, He also revealed the proper method of baptism to the Prophet Joseph Smith. He made it clear that the ordinance must be performed by one having priesthood authority and that it must be done by immersion (D&C 20:73–74).
God Loves All of His Children
Every person is a child of our Heavenly Father. Each is precious to Him. He knows them and He loves them. “For behold, this is my work and my glory—," He declared, "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 while they are alive. 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.
Those who die without the chance to learn about the gospel in this life are taught in the spirit world. (1 Peter 3:18-20; D&C 138:16-19) There they have the opportunity to accept the gospel and repent. However, as spirits, they are not able to be baptized because they do not have physical bodies. A merciful Heavenly Father has provided another way for them to accept baptism.
In the temple, we can perform the ordinances of baptism and confirmation on behalf of those who have died without that opportunity. In other words, we can act in their place. Ordinances performed on behalf of others are called proxy ordinances (or vicarious ordinances). As one of the many eyewitnesses of the risen Lord, the Apostle Paul taught the Corinthians that proxy 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 proxy 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 infinite 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 opportunity to return to our Heavenly Parents.
Temple baptisms performed for those who have died are gifts offered in love. Because we believe that life continues after death, we also believe that those who have died are aware of the baptism and can choose whether to accept it.
You Can Serve Others in the Temple
If you are a faithful member of the Church and at least twelve years old, you may receive a temple recommend from your bishop and go to the temple to perform proxy baptisms for those who have died. After baptism, you can be confirmed for them so they can receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. Proxy baptisms and confirmations are performed only in temples.
In each temple, there is a baptistry with a large baptismal font. The font rests on the backs of twelve oxen statues that represent the twelve tribes of Israel, which follows a tradition dating back to Solomon’s temple in the Old Testament (2 Chronicles 4:2-4). Just like your own baptism, you will dress in white to perform proxy baptisms for those who have died.
After the baptisms, you will return to your dressing room 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 confer the gift of the Holy Ghost in behalf of the deceased person. Once the ordinances are performed, those who have died are able to decide if they wish to accept them.
A special blessing of proxy baptisms is that you may be baptized for your own ancestors. As you research your own family history, you will find your ancestors. Taking the name of an ancestor to the temple and being baptized and confirmed in their behalf is a very personal experience.
You can provide this service for parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, and beyond. Families can be strengthened through this act of kindness. You can feel deeper connections to your family and a closeness to God. You can discover peace and insight for your own life by finding and serving your ancestors. You will understand and know the Savior better as you also do for others what they cannot do for themselves.
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).