What is meant by “baptized by fire and the Holy Ghost?” What does “fire” refer to?
Pres. Boyd K. Packer once gave a wonderful talk on this topic called, The Gift of the Holy Ghost: What Every Member Should Know. In this talk he said:
“When parents are teaching their children and when missionaries are teaching investigators, preparing them for baptism by water, they must also think of the gift of the Holy Ghost—baptism by fire. Think of it as one sentence. First comes the baptism of water and then the baptism of fire.”
“Baptism by fire” is symbolic, not literal. The study guide at LDS.org explains that fire is a symbol for cleansing, purifying, or sanctifying. Fire can also serve as a symbol of God’s presence.
Baptism by immersion in water takes only a few seconds, but the baptism of fire by the Holy Ghost takes time. By His influence and direction, the Holy Ghost helps us to become cleansed, purified and sanctified.
Elder David A. Bednar gave a classic talk on this subject called, “Ye Must Be Born Again,” in which he gave the “Parable of the Pickle.” He talked about making pickles with his mother as a child, and the many steps involved and compared this to the steps we pass through to become cleansed and purified. He quoted Mosiah 5:7 and then elaborated:
“Because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters” (Mosiah 5:7).
“The spiritual rebirth described in this verse typically does not occur quickly or all at once; it is an ongoing process—not a single event. Line upon line and precept upon precept, gradually and almost imperceptibly, our motives, our thoughts, our words, and our deeds become aligned with the will of God. This phase of the transformation process requires time, persistence, and patience.”