You are infinitely more than you think you are.
Because of the fall, we have been born into bodies cut off from the light and presence of God. Consequently, we have no recollection of our premortal (eternal) identity.
We say God is the Father of our spirits, and that is true enough. However, this sentiment takes on new meaning when we make some adjustments in our cultural understanding. To the Gentile mind, names and titles are like labels that cannot be changed. A “child” is the physical and genetic offspring of a man and woman. In Hebrew thinking, “father,” mother,” and child” are each defined by the role they play. A father is one who “gives strength to the family,” and the mother is one who “holds the family together.” A child submits to his/her parents, and willingly receives what they teach them.
In this sense, a person chooses whether or not they will be somebody’s child, based on who they are obedient to and receive from. Jesus told the Pharisees, “If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me… Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do” (John 8:42-44).
Of course, Christ’s point is not about who impregnated the woman that gave birth to them. Rather, it’s a question of who is “fathering” them; who are they being obedient to, learning from, and becoming like? Similarly, we read in the scriptures phrases like, “Love your enemies… that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:44-45), and, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God” (John 1:12). In other words, being a child of God isn’t just an immutable label on our identity, but something we willingly choose (“willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father”); it is to be a son or daughter of light and truth.
Your Premortal Identity
That being said, consider how this adds value to the idea that we were sons and daughters of God before this life. When we read that at the creation of the earth, “the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy” (Job 38:7), we are not just reading about the offspring of God (though we are indeed His offspring), but of immensely powerful beings who were full of light and truth, willing to freely receive and obey God’s light without reservation.
Joseph Smith taught: “At the first organization in heaven we were all present and saw the Savior chosen and appointed and the plan of salvation made, and we sanctioned it.”
This alone says a lot about our premortal identity. We sanctioned the plan made and Savior chosen. Furthermore, to stand in God’s presence requires a greater deal of intelligence (light and truth) than the world presently has. Similarly, before this life we possessed greater intelligence than we have now. When we were in God’s presence, the truth of who and what we are flowed to us freely, and we thus lived in perfect awareness of our true identity.
As Adam and Eve were “cut off” from God’s presence after the fall, so too are we born into a body that is cut off from His light. Our bodies do not receive light freely as did our spirits, and thus we’re cut off from a knowledge of our true identity. This creates a vacuum in our identity as we seek to discover who we really are. I believe it’s akin to being submerged in water, suddenly cut off from air, and desperately trying to get it back. This creates a deep desire in us to discover purpose and meaning.
Without a knowledge of our true identity, we try to create one. However, being in a fallen, veiled, and darkened state, our new perception of ourselves is extremely limited. We base it on our birthplace, our heritage, the values and beliefs we’re raised with, the desires of our bodies, the new interests we’ve taken, our relatively short-life experience, our mistakes, our future dreams and goals, etc. But thinking these things determine who we really are would be like waking up with severe amnesia—in a foreign land—and basing our entire identity on what we did in the first few hours.
We are more eternal than we realize.
You do not have a spirit, you are a spirit. You have a body.
Because you have taken residence in a fallen tabernacle, you are cut off from God “in the body”—but because your spirit has a connection to heaven, you can still access God in the spirit.
We talk of the different voices that entice us to either keep God’s commandments or sin. We say it is the angels who deliver God’s word by the Holy Ghost (D&C 76:86-88; cf. 2 Nephi 32:3), and that it’s evil spirits who tempt us to sin (Ephesian 6:12), and that is true enough. However, there is also a part in each of us that is inclined to obey one or the other. As Jesus remarked, “the spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). Or as King Benjamin taught, “the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam” (Mosiah 3:19), which natural man Alma describes as “carnal, sensual, and devilish” (Alma 42:10). So in a sense, while outside forces can seek to influence us (either for good or for evil), they are only appealing to the internal forces inside of us.
You are a divided being. On the one hand you are your spirit-self, who is eternal, intelligent, perceptive, powerful, and already has a godly nature: “Ye are gods (and goddesses); and all of you are children of the most High” (Psalms 82:6). On the other hand, your body is broken, subject to death, mentally slow compared to your spirit, unaware of spiritual things, and weak in every possible way. It is blinded by the screaming demands of the flesh, full of questions, uncertainty, pride, corruption, and self-will: an enemy to God.
But know this: you are not your body. When you notice this division of will—as your conscience quietly prompts you to do one thing and the flesh screams you do another—know that your voice, and your will, is not the voice of the flesh. Though we might be in the habit of thinking to ourselves, “I’m so angry,” or “I really want to indulge in this,” or “I have no desire for spiritual things,” this is in fact the voice of the false-self.
You are so much more than your body. You’re more than its desires, its brokenness, and the experiences you’ve had while occupying it for this brief period of time. You are your spirit self, who is divine, eternal, and of a godly nature.
Your true (eternal) self is reflected in the voice of your conscience. Promptings to do good and yield to the light of God are your deepest yearnings and desires. The voice that tries to dissuade you from obeying your conscience is always derived from fear. It is always a fear of something. The fear your body won’t get what it wants; the fear that the false-self is in danger of being erased; the fear that people will think less of you. Fundamentally, the desire for validation stems from our need to be aligned with God and truth, but because we are so steeped in fear we look to others to fill that need.
These fears are the essence of the false-self. They are the result of being cut off from God—not integrated to the light.
The false-self is a recent innovation for each of us as eternal beings—one that is the sum of our bodies’ fears.
I find I have a distaste for movements that emphasize ideas like “self-care,” “self-esteem,” and “self-compassion,” because they tend to cater to the wrong “self.” They spend a lot of time trying to soothe the fears of the false self, but never get to the root of the problem: it is altogether a false self. It’s not loving to only soothe those enchained in lies and deception—we ought to set them free. As it lies that make up the chains of hell (D&C 123:7-8), it is the light and truth of God flowing through us again that will dispel all darkness: “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).
The only role the self plays in this equation is the one prescribed by Christ: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:24-25).
This is what it means to have faith in Christ. When we have the faith to let go of who we think we are, we will begin to find who we truly are.
As C.S. Lewis wrote, “Our real selves are waiting for us in Him. The more I resist Him and try to live on my own, the more I become dominated by my own heredity and upbringing and natural desires… it is when I turn to Christ, when I give myself up to His personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own.”
Yielding to Light
The purpose of this life is to yield your body to the enticings of the Holy Spirit so that light and truth flow through your body as freely as they did your spirit (Mosiah 3:19; cf. Matthew 6:22). This “yielding” requires we voluntarily give up our false-selves— our desires, beliefs, and identity—placing our entire will on the altar of sacrifice.
As you yield yourself to the voice of your conscience, your body will come in alignment with your spirit. Consequently, you will begin to feel more like yourself—your true and eternal self. Whenever you act on spiritual promptings, you are acting according to your true nature.
When your body then undergoes the trials and experiences necessary for its refinement, it will be upgraded, changed, and sanctified sufficient to again be in God’s presence. It will be brought into full alignment with your spirit, and you will at last be you in the flesh; a son or daughter of God, freely receiving the light and truth that flows from His presence.
We must rend the veil created by the fall to reclaim our true identity. Concerning this transition, Paul wrote, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” (1 Corinthians 13:12; cf. D&C 88:67-68). In D&C 76, we read that those who dwell in God’s presence in Celestial glory are “gods, even the sons of God,” and also that they “see as they are seen, and know as they are known (D&C 76:58, 94). In other words, as the truth of God flows through them freely in His presence, they live in perfect awareness and clarity of who they really are—and whose they are.
And the world is in desperate need of who you really are, and what you really have to offer. Your light will make the world a truer place. To the extent that you yield your heart to God’s light it will flow through you and from you, and your presence will give those around you the opportunity to do the same.
The Light of the World
One aspect of Christ’s atoning role is that He descended into this world of darkness and lies, and was exactly who He is (Mosiah 15:1-2). The “Word became flesh” because His body was full of light and truth. His light made the world a truer place, lifting and inspiring those around Him to do the same:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not…
“That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:1, 4-5, 9-14; emphasis added).
Our Savior is the light of the world. To those who turn to His light, and believe on His name, He empowers to become the sons of God (in the flesh, as He is; 1 John 3:2). To “abide in Christ” is to surrender your whole being to His will. It is a state or condition of being, wherein we freely receive and live in the light He shines. This is how He redeems the world—freeing us from the lies that fetter our eternal soul.
Christ Himself taught: “And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27).
Christ sees us and knows us as we truly are. When we are in His presence, we see as we are seen, and know as we are known—and are otherwise guided by His increasing light until we arrive at that perfect day.
Christ is inviting us into an order. It is properly called the Holy Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God, because those who come into it are also made “sons” (and daughters) of God (D&C 76:56-58; cf. John 1:12).
When Christ turns our hearts, we are then inspired to turn the hearts of others. We invite them to awake, arise and abide in the light with us. When we forgive others, or respond charitably to evil, we are not just absorbing the effects of sin, but are lovingly inviting them to shake off the chains and lies that bind them, and to live in the truth of who they really are.
Charity is, in essence, to be so full of truth that we see through the lies of this fallen condition to who people really are—even (and especially) when they do not see it themselves. This is why we must pray with all the energy of heart in order to be filled with charity. By giving diligence unto prayer, we are filled with the mind of God—with light and truth—and can then see things as they really are, and people for who they really are. That is the essence of what it means to be like Christ, and to take His name upon us. It is to live in the light, and to be a light, while surrounded by a world of fear and darkness.
Charity will change the world; perfect love casts out all fear, light dispels darkness, and the truth sets us free. As we come to live in the truth of who we really are, we will bring heaven down to earth.