After a baptismal service, I doubt that I am the only member of the Church who has heard a variation of the following statement given by a member of the Bishopric, “And we would like to introduce the newest and cleanest member of our Ward.” Is that individual necessarily the “cleanest” member of the Ward?
On May 15, 1829, the resurrected John the Baptist appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and ordained them to the Aaronic Priesthood. As explanation, John taught that the Aaronic Priesthood held, among other things, the keys of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins (see D&C 13)
As a result of such semantics it is supposed by many in the Church that the remission of sins comes in the waters of baptism. Independent of keeping the commandments, however, this is not and cannot be the case. The obvious example includes an individual who lies concerning his personal worthiness during his baptismal interview. Would this individual receive a remission of sins by simply entering the waters of baptism by immersion? Obviously not.
In “The Vision” received by Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon in 1832, the Lord revealed the separate qualifications required to enter the separate degrees of glory. With reference to Celestial Kingdom inhabitants, we learn that:
They are they who received the testimony of Jesus, and believed on his name and were baptized after the manner of his burial, being buried in the water in his name, and this according to the commandment which he has given— That by keeping the commandments they might be washed and cleansed from all their sins . . .
Notice the difference between “the commandment” in verse 51 and “the commandments” in verse 52. Verse 51 speaks of the commandment to be baptized in the same manner in which Christ was, while verse 52 speaks of general commandments of spiritual worthiness.
Similarly, Moroni said in teaching this principle, “Baptism cometh by faith unto the fulfilling the commandments; and the fulfilling the commandments bringeth forth remission of sins” (Moroni 8:25). Thus, it is not baptism that cleanses one from past sins, but keeping the commandments that make one worthy of such an ordinance. In some instance, this worthiness may occur some time after the fact.
The same principle, I believe, applies to ALL temple blessings as the Holy Spirit of Promise cannot seal the ordinance until worthiness has been demonstrated.