If there was only one thing I could share with the world, and I could inscribe it in the hearts of every person alive, I think it would be this: The gospel isn’t about dying and going to heaven; it’s about bringing heaven down to earth.
That single paradigm shift will begin to open the scriptures in new ways.
Everything that seems arbitrary and unconnected about the gospel begins to fall into place. The ideas of priesthood, commandments, agency, degrees of glory, a temple, the justice of God, sealing power, the gathering of Israel, Zion, the second coming, the need for an atonement, exaltation, and many others all naturally fit together when understood properly.
Truly, nothing about the gospel is arbitrary; every concept is the natural extension of another. When understood properly, you will see that it all fits together inside a beautiful mosaic.
I can’t help but smile when people suggest Joseph changed his doctrine over time. Obviously certain truths were revealed to him line upon line, but everything he taught from New York to Nauvoo is beautifully consistent. These concepts only seem random or contradictory if you can’t see the larger pattern that they all fit into.
By reframing our understanding of the gospel in this way (namely, that Christ is trying to bring heaven down to earth), we allow the Spirit to reveal the doctrines of the gospel to us in greater clarity.
For too long, Christians have been asking the wrong questions. “How do I get to heaven?,” is not nearly as important as “how do I become heavenly?” The gospel isn’t a matter of securing a train ticket to a pleasant destination; it’s about fundamentally transforming who we are. When our hearts are inclined towards life and love, heaven will be the natural by-product.
As Ezra Taft Benson said on one occasion, “The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of the people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature . . . Christ changes men, and changed men can change the world.”
The law and commandments are more than an arbitrary list of do’s and dont’s: they’re the essence of heaven itself. The Lord seeks to bless us through the truths and commandments He teaches us; hence it has been said, we are not earning heaven, we are learning heaven. It is a lifestyle – the most optimal lifestyle in existence. There is no reason to debate what boxes you must check before you’re legally (technically) saved from a subterranean torture chamber. Christ offers us a better way, and through His grace and Spirit, can enable us to live it.
Everything functions according to eternal law because God is eternally just.
Because He respects our agency, the Lord will not force something upon us that we do not want (good or bad). Alma the Younger observed, “he that knoweth good and evil, to him it is given according to his desires, whether he desireth good or evil, life or death, joy or remorse of conscience” (Alma 29:5). He will allow us to do whatever we want to do, but He (and His ministers) frequently assume responsibility for the consequences of our actions to provide us an opportunity to repent and live.
Making this paradigm shift also gives us insight into the heart and motive of God. We begin to understand where suffering fits into the picture, and why the world must be cleansed (and its inhabitants be thus made pure) before the millennial day. We understand how and why we must repent of our sins.
In short, I think this shift in our thinking is the most essential one we can make to begin understanding the proper context for gospel truths.