“O all ye that are spared because ye were more righteous than they, will ye not now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you?” (3 Nephi 9:13).
The Lord desires to bless us as much as He can while still respecting our agency. Because all blessings are predicated on eternal laws (D&C 130:20-21), the Lord’s primary goal is to have us live the laws that will bring the greatest blessings. Like any parent wants for their child, our Heavenly Father’s greatest desire is that we find joy and fulfillment through righteous living.
Unfortunately, because of the fall, everything eventually hits a peak and then declines; people, communities, tools, businesses, and nations alike. The world is in a state of death and limitation. At the heart of our fallen world is our fallen nature. The desires and appetites of the flesh ultimately aim downward, which is where they take us. We have become “carnal, sensual, and devilish” (Mosiah 16:3; Alma 42:10). Our nature is working against us, as our flesh is not inclined towards the things of God (1 Corinthians 2:14) – though our spirits long for Him.
This creates quite the wrestle within. One part of us is inclined to do good and be good, while the other seeks to satisfy its own appetites; one leads to the joy God seeks to bestow, the other to death and persistent misery.
In truth, our bodies distort not only the memory of our eternal identity, but also the knowledge, desires, and longings of our spirit.
Every single person, sooner or later, recognizes their flawed human nature. Not only are we imperfect in our actions, but we generally don’t even want what’s best for us. Like children who’d prefer an all-candy diet, our hearts are inclined towards that which does not serve us.
It breaks my heart when I hear people say they “hate people,” which generally includes themselves. It reminds me of the Lord’s comment to Enoch on one occasion, “they hate their own blood” (Moses 7:33). They’re angered by everyone and everything in the world. They frequently look for happiness in a place they’ve never been able to find it, convinced that eventually it will pay off – be it drugs, relationships, popularity, money, success, etc. But the flesh is never satisfied: it doesn’t know what it truly wants.
The Lord has a plan to fix this – a plan of salvation. He wanted to save us from our fleshy desires which are calculated to make us miserable, and instead give us a new heart. He spoke of this through the prophet Ezekiel, saying,
“A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God” (Ezekiel 36:26-28; cf. Jeremiah 31:33-34).
This giving of a new heart would later be the primary mission of Messiah. It’s very fitting that the Savior’s name in mortality was Jesus (from the Hebrew Yeshua) which literally means “salvation.” He came to give Israel a new heart, one with a desire to serve God, and keep His commandments. As the angel told Joseph, “And [Mary] shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21; emphasis added; cf. Isaiah 61:1).
This description takes on new meaning when we consider that being “saved from our sins” includes not only the consequences of our sins (suffering), but the actual sins themselves. He intends to do this by healing our brokenness and restoring our hearts. He intends to refine our desires so that we may say: “the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent… has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2). He seeks to give us a new heart so that we desire what’s best for us.
When most people talk about “salvation,” I believe the picture in their minds is one of dying and going to an eternal plane of clouds and harps and praising God in one long sustained note as opposed to burning forever in some kind of fire pit. Maybe you’ve even seen the billboards: “Where are you going, Heaven or Hell?” (with the associated clip art).
Ironically, about 98% of our conception of Heaven and Hell is based on centuries of Medieval art, not scripture.
Think about that for a minute.
There’s a reason Jews differ in their concept of the afterlife. There’s a reason the modern Christian depiction of “heaven and hell” can’t be found in the Old Testament. The scriptures deserve our careful attention on these subjects.
The predominant Christian viewpoint is that by default, we will all burn forever after death. However, if we accept Jesus as our Savior then we’re “saved” from eternal torture. What a hollow and arbitrary message that is!
Rightly so, it raises a lot of questions. What kind of God is creating these odd conditions? Why is He sending billions of people He created to hell, all just to save a few? What’s the point in all of this, and how do we even know it’s real?
In some circles of the Church, because of a partial understanding, some people are instead under the impression that they’re “trying out” to earn a spot in heaven. This creates its own pathology of anxiety and stress that still misses the point – as though the Lord is just waiting for you to fail badly enough to call you off stage.
Instead of thinking of “salvation” as a train ticket to a paradise destination, it ought to be thought of as a change of heart. We’re saved from our sins – our disposition to sin. The Lord has already revealed “the manner of happiness” through His commandments (2 Nephi 5:27), but we are absolutely free to live any way we want. Through persuasion and longsuffering, God intends to show us that His way is that which will bring the most joy, and that any other way will lead to greater and greater misery.
In this sense, you are in hell now, and have got to learn here in hell how to live after the order of heaven. Those who persist in hell will find that its flames grow ever hotter, and continue into the afterlife. At least one reason hell is described as a never-ending fire is because its effects persist until there’s nothing left of you. The “chains of hell” grow increasingly severe, your burden becomes heavier, and your light diminishes until at last you have lost everything, essentially including your agency.
The Lord seeks to bless our lives by showing us the manner of life and happiness, and then empowering us to live it. He wants us to succeed! He’s not waiting for us to “give up already” like some unimpressed judge on American Idol. He wants us to be happy, and He knows there’s only path that leads to deep and lasting happiness, and He’s pleading with us to walk it – for our own sake.
Joseph Smith once said, “Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God.”
As we learn to walk after “the manner of happiness,” the eternal peace and joy of “heaven” will be the natural consequence that follows – while still in this life. Then, a day will come in the future resurrection where we will be restored to what we are now. The wicked who continue to walk their own way will continue to be miserable, and the natural consequence will be hell. As Alma taught his son, “Do not suppose, because it has been spoken concerning restoration, that ye shall be restored from sin to happiness. Behold, I say unto you, wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10).
Those who walked after the order of heaven here will then be able to inherit the same in the resurrection, among others who likewise so walked. Just as Zion is both a place and a people, so must be heaven.
Therefore, salvation (at its core) is not about getting a ticket to heaven, but receiving a change of heart – what the scriptures call a “mighty change of heart.” Being “saved in the kingdom of heaven” will be the natural consequence of being saved from our fallen nature.
“And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters; and thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God” (Mosiah 27:25-26).
Just as the Savior invited the Nephites to return, repent, and be converted so that He could heal them, so extends He this invitation to us today. He will heal our broken and twisted flesh; He will restore our hearts and purify our desires, as though by fire. Following His invitation to the Nephites to repent and be healed, He said:
“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 saving grace that the Lord promises to pour out upon His people is referred to by many names: a mighty change of heart, being born again, being baptized by fire and the Holy Ghost, entering in by the gate, being redeemed of God, spiritually begotten, receiving a remission of your sins, etc.
This healing and redemptive power is the most essential thing any of us can receive in this life. It’s therefore of the utmost importance that we know how to receive it, as the Lord will not violate our own agency. He can change us, but we must allow Him to.
Allowing the Savior to Heal Us
The equation is simple, though it is not always easy.
Christ invites us to 1) Return, 2) Repent, and 3) Be converted (3 Nephi 9:13). Because of our familiarity with these words, we may be tempted to assume we know what they mean. We may be familiar with the “5 R’s of Repentance,” or limit “conversion” to merely joining the church or changing religions. I believe these ideas serve as good training wheels, but that there is a more complete and empowering process that leads to these spiritual blessings.
Note first that at Christ’s coming to the Nephites, it was the “more righteous” part that was spared from destruction, and yet these were still invited to “now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted” so that He could heal them.
I would suggest that what Christ is referring to is something much deeper than what we’re perhaps accustomed to. As noted previously, He also referred to these conditions as having a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Because our carnal hearts are almost stone-like, they require some breaking so that the Lord can get through to us.
We return to the Lord, not by committing to improve one thing about ourselves, but by entirely turning away from our manmade course and walking back towards Him. This commitment, as symbolized by baptism, must be one of total immersion. We must be willing to bury our weapons of rebellion and walk an entirely new course. To try and work on bad habits or Christlike attributes one at a time actually ends up being more difficult, because you do it by your own strength, and according to the partial image of Christ in your head (see “Modern-day Polytheism“). The way that the Lord has ordained we repent is not by gradually improving our habits, but by completely yielding to the influence of the Spirit.
An example in the Book of Mormon perfectly illustrates this principle:
“And it came to pass that after Aaron had expounded these things unto him, the king said: What shall I do that I may have this eternal life of which thou hast spoken? Yea, what shall I do that I may be born of God, having this wicked spirit rooted out of my breast, and receive his Spirit, that I may be filled with joy, that I may not be cast off at the last day? Behold, said he, I will give up all that I possess, yea, I will forsake my kingdom, that I may receive this great joy.
“But Aaron said unto him: If thou desirest this thing, if thou wilt bow down before God, yea, if thou wilt repent of all thy sins, and will bow down before God, and call on his name in faith, believing that ye shall receive, then shalt thou receive the hope which thou desirest.
“And it came to pass that when Aaron had said these words, the king did bow down before the Lord, upon his knees; yea, even he did prostrate himself upon the earth, and cried mightily, saying: O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee, and that I may be raised from the dead, and be saved at the last day. And now when the king had said these words, he was struck as if he were dead” (Alma 22:15-18; emphasis added).
In the scriptures, we never read of someone repenting of a sin, because it is in fact impossible to repent of a sin. Repentance must be an attitude – the re-alignment of our entire being with the Spirit. It is an attitude whereby we seek to give away all our sins, holding nothing back from the altar. We approach God in prayer and give Him our entire heart so that He may give us a new one.
I believe C.S. Lewis understood this when he wrote, “Christ says, ‘Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good… Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked–the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.'” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)
“For the natural man 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, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father” (Mosiah 3:19).
This of course requires much faith and humility on our part. We must trust that His course, no matter where He leads, no matter how inconvenient His commandments seem, will lead us to the greatest joy. We must believe He wants what’s best for us, and knows better than we do. We must be willing to submit to His will in all things.
When we are converted to trusting Him with our entire heart, and commit to obey every prompting and commandment we receive from the Lord, we flip a switch in heaven. On this principle hinges the gate to all spiritual blessings: Baptism by fire, sanctification, the ministry of angels, miracles, revelation, power, promises, etc.
Being born again is a point-event that takes place when we fully repent and reconcile ourselves to the will of God. As it was with Alma, King Lamoni, his father, the people of King Benjamin, and many others, this spiritual rebirth can happen as quickly as we put our entire heart on the altar. If we can come to Christ with everything we have in a day, it can happen in a day; if the Lord prompts us to take a few smaller steps first to set other things in order, then it will take as long as is required to do that. The universal requirement is that we come into complete submission to the Spirit.
As the Lord declared through Malachi, “unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings” (Malachi 4:2).
How Christ Heals
As was mentioned earlier, there is an internal conflict going on in each of us.
Our fallen bodies are carnal, sensual, and devilish, and seek to satisfy their own appetites. Our spirits are eternal and divine, desiring that which is good and pure and true.
Throughout our lives, as we’ve naturally fed the appetites of the flesh, our bodies have distorted our spirits, or rather the connection to its source: God.
The flesh is frequently referred to as being a veil. Our spirits are veiled from all we knew and could enjoy previously because our bodies are of a fallen nature. Though we connected to God premortaly through our spirits, our fallen bodies have presented an obstacle to making that connection.
In order to be healed, we must rend the veil of our flesh by having a “broken” heart and a contrite spirit. We must re-establish the connection between our spirit and the Lord’s. As we yield up our entire hearts to Him, it’s as though we align our spirits to a conduit from heaven and can begin downloading light. This is what’s called justification.
We will never be able to beat our flesh into submission, and it will not take a backseat to our spirit until our spirits are justified and re-aligned to light, truth, and God Himself.
When we make this shift, our connection to heaven begins to feed us like a spiritual umbilical chord. As light flows openly into our soul, our bodies then begin to take on the image of our eternal spirit as opposed to our spirits conforming to the image of our bodies. This is what’s called sanctification.
Our Savior is currently pouring out upon us as much light as we’re willing to receive. Like the sun, His effort is consistent and reliable; it is we who must take off our blinders and receive what He’s already trying to give us. We must open our hearts and ears to hear His voice (3 Nephi 11:5-6). The great irony is that for as long as we insist on doing things our way, we resist His love and prevent Him from healing us.
He has come as far as we will let Him. He invites us to let go of our pride and trust Him enough to give up our will for His. When we yield our hearts to Him, we begin to experience His light and love – and this transforms us.
In previous posts, such as “Seeking the Order of Heaven” and “Or, Are They All Wrong Together?“, we considered that God creates by taking raw material (matter unorganized) and orders it after a certain pattern so that it all works together in harmony. Unity is creation, chaos is de-creation (hence, a house divided against itself cannot stand). When God creates a Zion people, He brings together individuals who were previously unorganized and puts them in order and harmony. All creation works this way.
Light and love bring things into order. Order sustains life.
As it is, we are divided beings with divided wills – and a house divided against itself cannot stand. Just as Christ can organize matter to create a planet, or people to create Zion, He can organize and order that which is in us to work together in unity and harmony. It’s been said that to be pure in heart is to desire only one thing – and that is exactly what Christ intends to do for us, if we’ll let Him.
Our bodies have regular needs and functions. We were intended to eat, sleep, reproduce, work, etc. All of these desires must be properly and intelligently ordered to bring about the greatest joy (D&C 93:33-36).
The Hebrew word for peace (shalom) comes from the root shalem, meaning “whole” or “complete.” On our own, we are incomplete. We are chaos. When we create a space for His Spirit to dwell in us, He fills us with His light and love, which properly orders and completes us. His Spirit, which is the highest and purest form of love, is what brings us into a state of wholeness and peace.
Love truly is the life-force of all creation. It is light, and Spirit; it is that which brings together all that it is divided.
As Nephi was taught, it’s by holding on to the iron rod (obeying the word of God) that we are able to partake of the fruit of the tree of life (to taste the love of God). As we do, it heals our brokenness by bringing us into order and alignment. This “creation” is really a “re-creation,” or in other words, is to be “born” again.
For as long as we maintain this connection to heaven by yielding our will to His, the gift of the Holy Ghost will sanctify and purify our flesh. We have no power to make this change on our own, it can only come through the grace of Christ. As Paul taught,
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10).
While this verse is widely interpreted to mean, “we go to heaven by forgiveness through belief,” the larger gospel context sheds light on its true meaning. “Salvation,” or this mighty change of heart, is not something we can conjure up by our own strength, or by checking off any number of requirements from a laundry list. It comes “through faith,” meaning an abiding trust in God sufficient to give Him our whole heart. When we read that “it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23), know that “all we can do” is not some vague yet insurmountable task – it is reconciling ourselves to the will of God through a broken heart and contrite spirit (2 Nephi 10:24). It’s submission to His voice and will over ours in all things.
When we are thus “[re]created in Christ Jesus,” it is for the purpose of keeping His commandments. To those saved by grace, Paul asks:
“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:1-4).
This is the formula: Receive His word, resist not His Spirit, commit to yield to it in all things, and you will be healed. Then persist in that state until you are one with Christ (i.e. endure to the end).
As a quick side note, the laws that dictate physical healing operate upon the same principles. It is the Holy Ghost which cleanses and heals us, both body and/or spirit (e.g. James 5:14-15). Faith to be healed also includes repenting and opening your heart to receive the Holy Ghost.
To recap, salvation is not about securing a spot in the afterlife. It’s about experiencing a mighty change of heart – letting Christ heal our weakness. The Adversary has attempted to twist this doctrine in so many nuanced ways to brew confusion and doubt.
By leading people to believe salvation is just about belief now and a spot in heaven later, he prevents them from truly repenting of their sins and allowing the Spirit to cleanse them.
By leading others to believe that being born again is a gradual, imperceptible process that happens over a lifetime of participation in church programs and “keeping the commandments,” he likewise prevents them from repenting with all their hearts now, thereby keeping them from a full and complete transformation of the Holy Ghost.
Instead of repenting of one sin, we must repent of all our sins. Our belief in Christ should radically change our agenda, will, habits, and priorities. As we immerse ourselves in His word and will, and He will baptize us with fire and the Holy Ghost.
The Savior’s healing grace and salvation is sufficient for all those who humble themselves before Him. To those who humble themselves in the faith, he will turn weakness into strength (Ether 12:27; cf. Matt. 23:12). Moroni put it most powerfully in the concluding remarks of his record:
“Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.
“And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot” (Moroni 10:32-33).