Our path that began at the strait gate ends at the tree of life.
Lehi’s analogy of this process highlights the journey aspect. There is a path we must walk, and a rod to which we must cling. It may take us up and down, and through mists of darkness, but will eventually lead us to our destination.
Alma’s analogy highlights the transformation and personal growth that takes place along the way. A seed is planted and growing within us. When it is tended to, it will become everything it was designed to be.
For the concluding post in this series, I’d like to showcase scriptures that paint a picture of what every disciple ought to be aiming for. Not only is this our great privilege, but it is the very purpose of the gospel. This is what is meant by, “be ye therefore perfect.”
The Love of God
The image of a tree bearing fruit suggests maturity, or Hebrew “perfection.” We are told that this kind of perfection is “the love of God” and is “the most desirable above all things” (1 Nephi 11:22). In other words, when we are commanded to be “perfect, even as [God] is perfect,” we are being asked to have charity, even as God has charity. That’s the mature fruit of the word (or truth) of God, “And except ye have charity ye can in nowise be saved in the kingdom of God” (Moroni 10:21).
When you have charity, you have eternal life. This is more than a Christlike attribute we strive to obtain through lots of hard work on our part—this is the culmination of the narrow way, the intended end-result of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Because charity is the direct consequence of being filled with truth, all divine attributes are contained in and perfectly ordered by charity.
Paul described charity in these words: “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4-6).
When you have charity, you naturally have all other attributes; you are naturally long suffering, kind, humble, and patient; you think no evil, your heart only desires and rejoices in truth and righteousness. Hence, “Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:10). This is the condition of greatest joy.
We need not strive to develop these various attributes one-by-one. God is love, and as we give over our whole hearts over to Him, He will bestow upon us His Spirit (essence/character) in greater degrees. As we grow in His Spirit, we grow in love—and consequently, everything else falls into place. “And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins; and ye shall grow in the knowledge of the glory of him that created you, or in the knowledge of that which is just and true” (Mosiah 4:12).
Why does charity make you, as Peter says, full of “the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:5-8)? Because when our hearts are like His, we know Him. “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love” (1 John 4:7-8). And just as charity is equivalent to eternal life, so is knowing God and Christ (John 17:3). This is the purpose of the gospel: “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature [perfect], attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13, NIV).
“That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me” (John 17:21-23; emphasis added).
This is also what it means to become a son (or “child”) of God. As the Lord told Adam: “And thou art after the order of him who was without beginning of days or end of years, from all eternity to all eternity. Behold, thou art one in me, a son of God; and thus may all become my sons. Amen” (Moses 6:67-68 cf. D&C 35:2). And to Moses: “behold, thou art my son… and thou art in the similitude of mine Only Begotten” (Moses 1:4-6).
Regaining the Divine Presence
Furthermore, when our hearts are one with His, we are empowered to regain His presence and know Him face to face—like Adam and Moses. This is another aspect of what it means to regain the tree of life (Alma 42:6-9; 12:26-37).
“Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3).
“Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).
“He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. Judas saith unto him, not Iscariot, Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world? Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him” (John 14:21-23).
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:1-3).
“And when he had said these words, behold, the Lord showed himself unto him, and said: Because thou knowest these things ye are redeemed from the fall; therefore ye are brought back into my presence; therefore I show myself unto you” (Ether 3:13).
“For it was by faith that Christ showed himself unto our fathers, after he had risen from the dead; and he showed not himself unto them until after they had faith in him; wherefore, it must needs be that some had faith in him, for he showed himself not unto the world. But because of the faith of men he has shown himself unto the world, and glorified the name of the Father, and prepared a way that thereby others might be partakers of the heavenly gift, that they might hope for those things which they have not seen. Wherefore, ye may also have hope, and be partakers of the gift, if ye will but have faith” (Ether 12:7-9).
“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. Therefore, sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you shall see him; for he will unveil his face unto you, and it shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will” (D&C 88:67-68).
“But great and marvelous are the works of the Lord, and the mysteries of his kingdom which he showed unto us, which surpass all understanding in glory, and in might, and in dominion; which he commanded us we should not write while we were yet in the Spirit, and are not lawful for man to utter; Neither is man capable to make them known, for they are only to be seen and understood by the power of the Holy Spirit, which God bestows on those who love him, and purify themselves before him; to whom he grants this privilege of seeing and knowing for themselves; that through the power and manifestation of the Spirit, while in the flesh, they may be able to bear his presence in the world of glory” (D&C 76:114-118).
“Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am” (D&C 93:1).
The Lord will personally minister to and declare the reception of eternal life to those thus made perfect. This is what it means to make sure your calling and election (2 Peter 1:10-11). He is the keeper of the gate, and employs no servant there. “Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life” (2 Nephi 31:20).
Eternal life, the tree of life, the love of God, knowing God, becoming a “son” of God, regaining His presence, making your calling and election sure, obtaining a perfect brightness of hope, faith unto life and salvation—these all describe different angles of the same condition, and that condition is what the scriptures call “perfect.”
This is the condition of all those who come forth in Celestial glory. They have been totally transformed by the love of God and grace of Christ that they are holy—saints, or “sanctified ones” (Mosiah 3:19). As the Lord revealed to Joseph Smith:
“They are they who are the church of the Firstborn. They are they into whose hands the Father has given all things—They are they who are priests and kings, who have received of his fulness, and of his glory; And are priests of the Most High, after the order of Melchizedek, which was after the order of Enoch, which was after the order of the Only Begotten Son. Wherefore, as it is written, they are gods, even the sons of God—Wherefore, all things are theirs, whether life or death, or things present, or things to come, all are theirs and they are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. And they shall overcome all things. Wherefore, let no man glory in man, but rather let him glory in God, who shall subdue all enemies under his feet.
“These shall dwell in the presence of God and his Christ forever and ever. These are they whom he shall bring with him, when he shall come in the clouds of heaven to reign on the earth over his people. These are they who shall have part in the first resurrection. These are they who shall come forth in the resurrection of the just. These are they who are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly place, the holiest of all. These are they who have come to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of Enoch, and of the Firstborn. These are they whose names are written in heaven, where God and Christ are the judge of all. These are they who are just men made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, who wrought out this perfect atonement through the shedding of his own blood” (D&C 76:54-69).
Those who have desires to follow Christ are called to take upon themselves His name (nature, manner, order). This is what He invites us to become, and this is what His grace is sufficient to do (Ether 12:27-28).
“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen” (Moroni 7:48).
When we properly define these terms and concepts, we understand clearly that not only is perfection possible, but it is necessary for Celestial glory. The message of the gospel is that your entire nature must change in order to experience heaven’s glory. Just as Christ was full of grace and truth, so must we be full of grace and truth—and indeed can be by His atoning blood.
“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).
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The Heavenly Kingdom is not a place, it is a way of being!