The baptism of the Spirit is a process that takes an entire lifetime.
What does that process look like? There is an old legend that you may be familiar with. It is the story of a boy whose wise grandfather chief teaches him that inside every human soul are two wolves fighting viciously for the ownership of the soul. When the little boy asks his grandfather which wolf wins, the grandfather replies, “The one you feed.” This idea is all over the world. We all sense it—a battle between good and evil in our souls. Some people describe it with the wolf story and others tell it in cartoons with an angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other (like Kronk!).
King Benjamin used these words to describe the same story: “For the natural man [wolf number one or shoulder devil] is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit (wolf number two or shoulder angel), and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord” (Mosiah 3:19).
Each day, as we live our lives, we are tempted by the devil and enticed by the Holy Spirit to choose one way or the other. As we yield or give in to the Holy Spirit, we exercise our agency and allow the Holy Spirit to bring the cleansing, sanctifying, and changing power of Jesus into our hearts and character. Usually this change is happening without us even knowing it.
Elder David B. Haight was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles when I was younger. I once heard him tell a story about seeing this change happening in his wife. When they were a younger couple, they were called to serve as mission president and companion for the Scotland Mission. This was before planes were popular for flying across the ocean, so he and his wife took a cruise ship to get across the sea to their mission. Not bad! The cruise ship had a movie theater on it, so on the way over, they watched the movie that was playing. After three years serving in Scotland, they hopped back on another cruise ship to sail back home. It just so happened that the same movie was playing on the way home as the way there. (I guess they didn’t make as many movies back then—thank goodness for the abundance of movies and planes in our day!) Sister Haight remembered seeing the movie and how much she had loved it, so she decided to watch it again on the way home. Elder Haight said that when they walked out of the movie, she turned to him and said, “Oh, that’s too bad. Why did they go and ruin such a perfectly good movie by adding all that bad stuff into it? They shouldn’t have changed it.” At first he didn’t know what she was talking about, but then he realized something powerful. The movie didn’t change—she did. For three years she fed the right wolf, and she was more of a Saint on the way home than she had been on the way there.
As you look back over your life, you will be able to see the changes that are slowly happening in you. Are there movies or jokes you used to like a year ago that don’t appeal to you much anymore? Are you kinder to people than you were in the past? Alma asked a group of friends, “Have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts? . . . If ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?” (Alma 5:14, 26).
I love those questions. They are so good to ask.
Can you sing that song of praise—the one you want to bust out when you feel forgiven of sins? The one with the second verse about how you are so different today than you were back then?
I will be the first one to say that when I ask myself these questions, I realize that I am not quite yet who I want to be (and that was putting it nicely). It will definitely be a long, slow, but mighty change. I am so glad I have had the opportunity since I was eight to experience this more consistently in my life. But no matter how long it takes me (and I am near the back of the line—not even kidding!), I will also be the first to say that even with someone like me it is possible. It is possible first and foremost because of Jesus. And it is possible because of the gift of the Holy Ghost. They work together tirelessly to bring about this miracle in us. Every day—one day at a time.
And this is true for all of us. One night, the wonderful and admirable prophet Isaiah had a dream where he walked into the temple. You can read this in Isaiah 6. When he got inside, he saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, surrounded by angels of fire. Immediately, he bowed his head and let out a groan, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.”
But then one of those angels grabbed some tongs and picked up a red-hot coal from the burning altar and laid it on his mouth and said, “Thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.” In the ancient temple, the altar with the burning sacrifice was a symbol of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. In his dream, Isaiah was seeing a symbolic vision of what happens in our lives. I like to think of that angel as a symbolic representative of the Holy Ghost. The one who brings the red-hot love and power of Jesus’s Atonement to us—to cleanse us and sanctify us. After this happens, the Lord then asks, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Isaiah immediately calls out, “Here am I; send me” (Isaiah 6:5, 7–8).
I think about this story occasionally when I press the bread and water cup against my lips during the sacrament. Emblems that are brought to me from an altar by a messenger.
In those moments, I relate to Isaiah, who walked into the holy place with his head bowed—ashamed of who he was—feeling unfit to be in the presence of God or beating himself up for not being good enough yet. Like that boy on the day after his baptism, wishing he could be someone different. And then afterward, after the Holy Spirit delivers and confirms the cleansing, sanctifying, changing love of Christ, and pours some confidence into his heart, and pulls him close in a holy embrace to whisper in his ear a reminder that the journey is still continuing, that he is not a disappointment, and that He will be right there next to him until the very end—after all of that—that same Isaiah lifts his head boldly before the throne of grace and calls out to the Lord to send him wherever He needs him. Isaiah feels like he was made holy for a certain purpose. He was underqualified and too young and maybe not ready on his own.
Interestingly, he even used the same words Jesus used when the Father first asked in the premortal world whom He should send. “Here am I; send me.” Isaiah was receiving Jesus’s image in his countenance. And I bet he felt like singing the song of redeeming love.
Lead image: Deseret News Archives
Following David Butler's best sellers Almighty and Redeemer, this engaging new book walks readers through the various roles the Holy Ghost takes in our lives. Spirit helps readers learn what the Holy Ghost can do for them, from comforting them to acting as a witness and a guide or a companion. It also helps readers recognize promptings and know how to use the Spirit's promises and privileges in their lives on a day-to-day basis. Available now at DeseretBook.com.