In the first of these articles on the Holy Ghost, we discussed some of what we know and don’t know about Holy Ghost. Just as interesting as who the Holy Ghost is, is what He does and how He does it, which we’ll discuss here.

We need the gift of the Holy Ghost to be saved in the celestial kingdom, because it is by this gift the Holy Ghost sanctifies us, based on Christ’s atonement. What is sanctification? We must first be justified—forgiven, or declared sinless, through Christ’s atonement. But sanctification means our very natures are changed. My weight loss was like justification; but a change in my body’s nature—increased metabolism preventing weight gain in the first place—would be like sanctification. A pardoned criminal has been “justified,” but changing goals from crime to community service would be analogous to sanctification. True sanctification requires a relationship with God; there are no sanctified atheists. Salvation requires both justification and sanctification.

Many of our talks and lessons on the Holy Ghost focus on His comfort, promptings and warnings—and these are important for us—but the sanctification He provides to us is why all accountable people need His gift. We must therefore distinguish between essential and nonessential roles of the Holy Ghost, just as we distinguish between essential and nonessential (but still important!) priesthood ordinances. We should also distinguish the Holy Ghost’s messenger roles from angels’ messenger roles. What can the Holy Ghost do that angels cannot? Well, the Holy Ghost is a spirit; but so are some angels! Is the Holy Ghost a spirit just so He can whisper to us? I propose, rather, that any Godhead member, embodied or not, can whisper to our minds. But sanctifying requires spirit-only status, and I’ll propose a reason for this below, and return to my angel comparison.

The scriptures do not always clearly distinguish between outpourings of the Spirit and the actual gift of the Holy Ghost, which can only be received after authorized baptism. For example, Helaman 5:21-49 describes some Lamanites’ marvelous spiritual experience, and Christ referred to it: “And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not (3 Nephi 9:20). This certainly sounds like the gift of the Holy Ghost, but it could not have been, as these Lamanites had not yet received water baptism. Also, in the New Testament, God told the Gentile religious seeker Cornelius to seek further light from Peter. When Peter taught him and others, “the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word,” enabling them to speak with tongues. Peter noted that these Gentiles had “received the Holy Ghost,” and the Jews were surprised that “on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 10:44-47). The scripture also makes it clear that these Gentiles had not been baptized, so we must be careful in interpreting the word “gift” in verse 45. In fact, Joseph Smith said

The sign of Peter was to repent, and be baptized for the remission of sins, with the promise of the gift of the Holy Ghost: and in no other way is the gift of the Holy Ghost obtained.…There is a difference between the Holy Ghost, and the gift of the Holy Ghost. Cornelius received the Holy Ghost before he was baptized; which was the convincing power of God unto him of the truth of the gospel; but he could not receive the gift of the Holy Ghost until after he was baptized.[i]

Therefore, we must be cautious in distinguishing the Holy Ghost’s power from His gift.

The Holy Ghost and “Spiritual DNA”

We were begotten, not just created, as spirit sons and daughters of heavenly parents. This means we inherited something from them. Spirits are some kind of substance (D&C 131:7). As a geneticist, I submit that our spirits inherited some kind of “spiritual DNA” from our Heavenly Parents. I don’t know what this is exactly, but I propose that “spiritual DNA” is similar enough to our physical DNA that Christ’s body’s DNA was inherited from His Father. So, there are perhaps three kinds of “DNA”—spiritual DNA in our spirits; mortal DNA in our mortal bodies; and immortal DNA in resurrected bodies.

I believe that sin damages our spirits, and that Christ’s atonement heals them; this happens when the Holy Ghost transfers Christ’s DNA to our spirits, in a manner analogous to “gene therapy”—that late 20th century medical advance that cures genetic diseases by adding “good genes” to patients that have been born with mutated genes. Transferring DNA is a fatherly action, and it makes Christ our spiritual father, and us His spiritual children, and it is the method of our sanctification. The Holy Ghost is a perfect God, but He does not transfer his own perfect DNA; he transfers Christ’s DNA, because Christ is our Savior and atoned for our sins. (In fact, I submit that during His atonement, Christ’s spirit body was damaged by our sins, and that as a perfect God, He was able to heal himself. But this spirit damage was especially painful; the nails’ physical damage to his body, painful and real as it was, was just a hint of what happened to His spirit.)

The Lord—Christ—has His own spirit body, so why is the Holy Ghost often called “the spirit of the Lord”? When we receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, we can have the Holy Ghost’s “constant companionship” (see below); but when partaking the sacrament, we are promised “His [Christ’s] spirit to be with us.” So, whose spirit is with us, Christ’s or the Holy Ghost’s? Both! The Holy Ghost is a spirit and transfers to us portions of Christ’s spirit—His spiritual DNA—which explains how the Holy Ghost’s title “The spirit of the Lord” is more literal than we might have thought.

We must, of course, use this DNA to become Christlike. After all, Satan is also a spirit son of Heavenly Parents and so has also inherited godly DNA.

Only a spirit being can enter our bodies and transfer this “spiritual DNA” and only a God can work with our spirits this intimately. This is what the Holy Ghost can do that angels cannot. This is also what the Melchizedek priesthood can do that the Aaronic priesthood cannot: modify spirits. I believe that the Holy Ghost not only adds Christ’s spiritual DNA, but can give us sure knowledge by modifying our “spiritual brains”—and by this I mean actual “physical” changes to our spirits. Due to our agency, such spiritual modification cannot happen unless we desire it; we must actively “receive” the Holy Ghost.

Extending this DNA idea, what if resurrection is not just God rebuilding our bodies, but also involves our obtaining “immortality genes” from Christ? This would make Christ the “father” of our resurrected bodies, and assuming that He could not distribute such genes until He, Himself was resurrected, this would explain why Christ’s resurrection was necessary for our own—how Christ “breaketh the bands of death” (Mosiah 15:8). Perhaps other celestial gifts are also given by obtaining further “genes” from Christ—those genes that give us exalted bodies, that allow eternal procreation, and that supply priesthood power. And perhaps these genes are also distributed by the Holy Ghost.

Extending this DNA idea in another direction, another essential role of the Holy Ghost is sealing—the Holy Ghost is called the Holy Spirit of Promise and in this role, He seals our ordinances on us when we keep the associated covenants. This is related to His Comforter role, because the promise of eternal life is the most comforting thing there is. I used to picture the Holy Ghost using a checklist to record who kept their covenants, but now I think His actions are much more literal. Being sealed to eternal life really means obtaining and keeping all of Christ’s and God’s “godly genes.” So, it is a literal modification of our spirits. Being sealed to our parents or children could mean their DNA is in us—not just their mortal DNA (my kids have mine, and I have my parents’ DNA), but also their spiritual and immortal DNA. This marks us as family members; a similar situation is involved in being adopted of Abraham or of Moses and Aaron (D&C 84:34). Joseph Smith described that as Gentiles accept the gospel, they are adopted into Israel:

The effect of the Holy Ghost upon a Gentile, is to purge out the old blood, and make him actually of the seed of Abraham. That man that has none of the blood of Abraham (naturally) must have a new creation by the Holy Ghost. [ii]

Joseph Smith didn’t know about DNA, but today we might say instead that the Holy Ghost purges out the old DNA and replaces it with Abraham’s, making the Gentile become a seed of Abraham. Furthermore, the chain of exalted beings who are sealed together back to Adam would have spiritual and immortal DNA that marks them as relatives. We may even obtain our spouses’ spiritual DNA when we’re sealed to them.

The Constant Companionship of the Holy Ghost

Having considered the roles of the Holy Ghost and how He might perform them in cooperation with Christ and Christ’s atonement, let us finally consider what it means to have the “constant companionship” of the Holy Ghost. “Constant companionship” is not mentioned in the scriptures, but it is likely based on the closely related phrase that Joseph Smith penned in a letter from the Liberty Jail: “The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion” (D&C 121:46). One might assume that because the Holy Ghost is a revelator, having His “constant companionship” would mean that all our questions, or at least most of them—including both gospel questions and questions about our own lives—would be answered. Because the Holy Ghost is a comforter—in fact, The Comforter—one might think that His constant companionship would give us constant comfort. I suspect I’m not the only person to ever wonder why I failed to detect the “constant companionship” of the Holy Ghost and therefore doubted my own worthiness, or even if God loved me. It turns out that several General Authorities from Brigham Young and Orson Pratt to David A. Bednar have explained that we shouldn’t expect to always feel the Holy Ghost; that God sometimes leaves us alone as a test; and that if we feel left alone so has everyone else on occasion.[iii] In fact, Joseph Smith’s letter, the very one promising the Holy Ghost as our “constant companion,” described Joseph’s own despondency during his time in the ironically-named Liberty Jail when he also felt left alone, asking, “O God, where art thou?” (D&C 121:1).

The Holy Ghost is indeed a revelator, but it is not God’s plan to tell us all we want to know—not yet anyway. We don’t get constant revelations; we’re often expected to go on faith for a time after our previous revelations. The Holy Ghost indeed testifies of the Father and Son and Their gospel, but this doesn’t mean we can’t have doubts. The Holy Ghost is indeed a comforter, but that doesn’t mean we have no trials; and in my experience, some comfort only comes from learning to trust in God. Such trust takes work and practice. It is difficult when we can see no way out of our bad situations or those of our loved ones, and to trust God that things can ever be OK can be equally difficult. The Holy Ghost has given us our testimonies of God, and of His love, character, and steadfastness, and we must learn to rely on those testimonies. It may be that “constant companionship” is to be in a position where we are in a state of forgiveness, spiritual healing, and eligibility for revelations even if we are not to receive particular answers at this time. It would mean having our spiritual DNA being continually renewed by Christ’s. This is not to say we must be perfect, but in a state where the Holy Ghost is preserving our status as children of Christ—not only obtaining but retaining a remission of sins. It should be comforting to know that we are on the right path. Perhaps at times, we are so focused on the answers we are not getting that we fail to recognize the promptings we are getting—and if we are getting any promptings or revelation at all, we must be “in tune.” So, we know that we can receive revelation whenever the Lord chooses to give it; we keep asking for it but we forge ahead and try to be patient in the meantime.

Although this article is nominally about the Holy Ghost, it is really about the entire Godhead, since They all work together, and the Holy Ghost brings Christ’s blessings to our spirits and to our bodies. To do so, He must be a spirit, to literally modify our spirits—but only if we let Him. The Holy Ghost’s roles as I envision them are truly spectacular, so it is especially important to remember that He is not the Savior and that His roles depend on Christ’s atonement; therefore, the Holy Ghost speaks little of Himself.

[i] “Times and Seasons, 15 April 1842,” p. 752, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed May 30, 2024, OR, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Deseret Book Company, 1976), p. 199.

[ii] “Discourse, between circa 26 June and circa 2 July 1839, as Reported by Willard Richards,” pp. 18-19, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed May 31, 2024,, OR, Joseph Smith. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Deseret Book Company, 1976), pp. 149-150, italics mine.

[iii] Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses 4:199 (1 February 1857); Orson Pratt, in Journal of Discourses 15:233 (24 November 1872); Orson Pratt, in Journal of Discourses 15:236-237 (24 November 1872); Joseph F. Smith. Gospel Doctrine (Deseret Book Company, 1989), pp. 60-61; Bruce R. McConkie. “Gift of the Holy Ghost,” in Mormon Doctrine (Second Edition, 1966; Bookcraft), p. 313; David A. Bednar. “That We May Always Have His Spirit to be with Us.” General Conference, April 2006.