When a seed has been planted, the growth process is not finished—it’s only just begun. As the seed persists in its state of immersion, receiving all the necessary nutrients, it will in time grow into a tree bringing forth fruit; then it will be perfect. As Nephi rightly points out, after we enter in at the strait gate, all is not done. There is an entire journey to be had; an adventure to be lived.
To enter in at the strait gate, we must immerse ourselves in the will of God, giving up all we are to follow Him. To walk the narrow way, we must continue in that state of immersion through all the Lord has in store for us. The seed must remain planted; we cannot return to Babylon. As we do, the day will come when all darkness is dispelled from our bodies; when perfect love casts out all fear (Moroni 8:16; 1 John 4:18).
Because the Holy Ghost is the shared mind of the Father and Son, those who are fully immersed by it undergo a mighty change wherein they are brought into alignment with the Father and Son. However, just because they are immersed in the Holy Ghost doesn’t mean they are yet perfect (fully mature); all it means is that the seed has been planted.
Joseph Smith also said, “We consider that God has created man with a mind capable of instruction, and a faculty which may be enlarged in proportion to the heed and diligence given to the light communicated from heaven to the intellect; and that the nearer man approaches perfection, the clearer are his views, and the greater his enjoyments, till he has overcome the evils of his life and lost every desire for sin; and like the ancients, arrives at that point of faith where he is wrapped in the power and glory of his Maker, and is caught up to dwell with Him. But we consider that this is a station to which no man ever arrived in a moment” (TPJS p. 51).
Growing in Light and Truth
Consider the following analogy: When you’re building a campfire, you start with kindling and the smallest twigs you can find. If you try to start with logs and branches, the fire won’t be hot enough to burn them, and will instead be smothered. When you manage to first burn smaller sticks, you can then add bigger ones. At each level, the fire must be consummate before adding more—though at each level, the the size of that fire will be bigger.
Baptism by fire and the Holy Ghost works the same way.
We possess the Holy Ghost by degrees. Although the offering must always be consummate on our part, we can only offer to God the parts of ourselves that we are aware of. It may be that sometime after you’ve given everything over to God, He brings to your awareness some part of you that isn’t reconciled to Him. This is like adding another log to the fire. You will then have the chance to either burn the new wood, in which case the Lord “pours out his Spirit more abundantly upon you” (Mosiah 18:10), or let it smother the fire you had before.
If you continue to yield to the Spirit in all things the Lord reveals to you, “feasting upon the words of Christ,” there will come a point at which your whole body is aligned to God’s light. Then your heart will be pure, and His image will be engraven in your countenance.
When we were born into these fallen bodies, we inherited some degree of darkness. Being dispelled of all darkness, lies, impurity, etc., is certainly not a condition at which someone arrives in a moment. We can only be aware of and work on these things as fast as we are able (and willing) to bear them. We will only be given more when we are reconciled to what we already have.
As Joseph taught, “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. But we cannot keep all the commandments without first knowing them, and we cannot expect to know all, or more than we now know unless we comply with or keep those we have already received” (TPJS p. 255).
First, the Lord’s commandments are a blessing, not a burden. You will know you have passed through the strait gate when this is your attitude towards all of the commandments within your awareness (1 John 5:3). That’s an indication that you are reconciled to Him.
Second, the Lord’s invitation into greater truth begins with His expanding your awareness. “And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness” (Ether 12:27). There are several ways He can do this.
He may reveal something to you in a dream, or vision. He may send an angel to reveal further commandments, or perhaps just a small impression.
It could come in a conversation with a spouse, or co-worker. Someone might teach you something that resonates with the light within you, but which requires you to rework your current understanding, or change the way you live.
The Spirit could confirm the truthfulness of someone’s criticism to you, or you might notice yourself feeling angry, fearful, stressed, or struggling with some temptation under certain circumstances.
It could be a greater trial, or deeper suffering, that exposes the limits of your faith in God. These things are all invitations to obtain and be reconciled to greater light and truth.
To compare to patterns in storytelling, there is almost always a “call to adventure,” that requires the hero to step into and fill bigger shoes than they’re currently wearing. They’re called outside of the familiar territory they’ve already conquered into something greater. In the Lord of the Rings, Gandalf asks Frodo to take a ring far away from home in order to save Middle-Earth. In the Lion King, Nala confronts Simba with the fact that everyone is suffering, and his strength is needed. You can probably think of countless other examples that follow this same pattern.
It’s not uncommon that the hero initially hesitates at the call; stepping outside of what you’ve already mastered requires humility and faith. The rod of iron in Lehi’s dream goes directly into the mist of darkness. You must willingly become the “fool” or beginner again, and also have the trust in God that the next step is surmountable. “And because thou hast seen thy weakness thou shalt be made strong” (Ether 12:35).
A Heart Problem
Now, all that being said, greater awareness is not an end in and of itself. It is only the means to develop a greater capacity of the Spirit; it’s like taking a cup that is filled to the brim, and expanding it so that it can receive more. Being willing to engage with it is the first step, but it is not the same thing as closing the gap.
For example, let’s say you discover that being ignored makes you angry. Step one is a willingness to see your weakness and desire to change. However, those things alone will likely be insufficient. Repentance is not about willpower, or beating your flesh into submission. You will not be able to tell yourself “don’t be angry, do better” enough times that it sinks in and changes your heart. If you try to discipline your body in this way, you will always find yourself white-knuckling it through moments of temptation with inevitable outbursts.
Remember, the Lord is ultimately revealing a heart problem, not a behavioral one.
Returning to our fountain analogy, a bitter fountain will produce bitter water, no matter how hard it wills itself to do otherwise. What you need is to be transformed on par with your awareness. If God makes you aware of any “bitterness” in your heart, it is your heart that must change.
The ultimate goal is to be purged of all impurity and corruption so that our hearts are pure—our eyes are single to the glory of God. “And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things” (D&C 88:67).
How do we reach a place of such purity? How do we allow the fire of God’s Spirit to burn away all the dross and distortion within us?
As we will explore in the next post, it is all a matter of obtaining greater light and truth (or intelligence). By continuing in this path or pattern—courageously confronting those parts of our hearts that are not reconciled to God, and obtaining the truth necessary to reconcile them—we will eventually overcome the evils of life and lose every desire for sin.
As we grow in light and truth, we grow towards perfection. It is therefore incumbent on us, if we will walk the narrow way, to learn how to obtain and assimilate these things.