Article of Faith #4, "We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost."
So I think first we must define what a principle is and what an ordinance is. So first off, a principle is "an underlying faculty or endowment" and an ordinance is "a prescribed usage, practice, or ceremony." So what that is saying is that a principle is a basic need that's established, like faith, and an ordinance is something that is performed, like baptism. (Definitions came from Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
Now that we have that established we can get into what the first principles and ordinances are. The first one being, "Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ." So what is faith, and why do we need it? Faith as explained in the scriptures is, "faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true." (Alma 32:21) So we must hope for things that we can't see, but we know are there. It's like the air we breathe, we can't see the air but we know it's there. It fills our lungs every time we take a breath, and so it is with Jesus Christ and our Heavenly Father. We can't see them, but we can still know that they are there. We can feel the Spirit, and we can have their influence in our lives. We need faith in our lives so that we can know who to turn to in our times of need. It is what gets us through those hard times and picks us up when we are down.
Second is repentance. What is repentance? Repentance is a change of heart. It is turning away from the thing we don't want in our lives and adding something we do want in our lives. There is 5 steps to repentance: 1) To acknowledge that we are sinning, 2) be sorry and feel godly sorrow, 3) confess to God, 4) correct the mistake, and 5) endure to the end. As we apply these five steps in our lives, our lives become so much easier to handle and to get through. It's not making big changes, but the small ones that really add up to making big ones.
Third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins. Why is baptism by immersion so important? What is it a symbol of? What Christ baptized? Baptism is so important because it does exactly what Joseph Smith said it does, and that is gives us a remission of our sins, or it cleanses us. It symbolizes not only Christ's death, burial, and resurrection, but our own as well, by dying to our old life, burying it and coming up renewed with a new life, or in other words being born again. Christ showed us the way in all things, including baptism. In Matthew 3:13-17, we can witness Christ's baptism. We get a little bit better glimpse at what Christ did for us in the Book of Mormon, Nephi gives us a great explanation in 2 Nephi 31, he tells us, "And now, if the Lamb of God, he being holy, should have need to be baptized by water, to fulfil all righteousness, O then, how much more need have we, being unholy, to be baptized, yea, even by water! And now, I would ask of you, my beloved brethren, wherein the Lamb of God did fulfil all righteousness in being baptized by water? Know ye not that he was holy? But notwithstanding he being holy, he showeth unto the children of men that, according to the flesh he humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments. Wherefore, after he was baptized with water the Holy Ghost descended upon him in the form of a dove. And again, it showeth unto the children of men the straitness of the path, and the narrowness of the gate, by which they should enter, he having set the example before them. And he said unto the children of men: Follow thou me. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, can we follow Jesus save we shall be willing to keep the commandments of the Father? And the Father said: Repent ye, repent ye, and be baptized in the name of my Beloved Son. And also, the voice of the Son came unto me, saying: He that is baptized in my name, to him will the Father give the Holy Ghost, like unto me; wherefore, follow me, and do the things which ye have seen me do. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I know that if ye shall followthe Son, with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ, by baptism—yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, according to his word, behold, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel." Christ has set forth the example and we all need to follow it. Baptism is our first covenant and ordinance that must be performed if we are to inherit the Kingdom of God, except it's not finish. Christ said, "yet a man be born of water and of the spirit he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God," which leads into the fourth thing.
Fourth, the Gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. This is also known as the baptism by fire.The gift of the Holy Ghost is so very important. It is the purifying, or sanctifying, part of baptism. The gift of the Holy Ghost allows us to have the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. This can help us stay closer to our Heavenly Father, and to have to ability to be guided in all things. The Holy Ghost provides comfort, protection, and revelation.
These are the first principles and ordinances of the gospel. We know that we need to continue on and endure to the end in order to live with God in the end. These are just the beginning. I love this gospel. It is so simple and allows all to come closer to Jesus Christ.