I think the attitude of every light bearer is something like this:
“In the absence of an enemy You think me the enemy In the presence of an enemy I am your greatest friend”
It’s becoming more and more clear to me that one’s ability to discern light is proportional to the degree of darkness they perceive. People hold on so tightly to their current structures because they haven’t yet faced the earthquakes that reveal their insufficiencies. Nobody who thinks Babylon has all the answers will see those insisting on exodus as friendly. It’s only after the apocalypse (Greek pun intended) that people have a better idea of what’s valuable, and what isn’t.
“The things of God are of deep import, and time and experience and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind, O Man, if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost Heavens, and search into and contemplate the lowest considerations of the darkest abyss, and expand upon the broad considerations of eternal expanse; he must commune with God.”
A very distinct feeling came over me the morning Roe v. Wade was overturned—like a condemnation that rested on the United States as a whole had been lifted. This lifted curse allows for two things to happen: 1) those who insist on supporting abortion will create more centralized spaces where this can happen; the most extreme will even be inclined to move to states where the culture reflects their inner-spirit, and 2) those desiring to repent and move closer to God will have greater mobility and power to do so. In essence, it will be a catalyst for the ripening of both wheat and tare.
As a result of this lifted curse, the Lord will pour out His Spirit in greater measure. Truth will increase—to the benefit of the righteous and detriment of the wicked. As the spiritual temperature of the earth increases by a few degrees, those choosing to rise with it will be sanctified and renewed by this greater outpouring (which will eventually culminate in the Joel 2:28 prophecy, but not yet).
As light breaks forth, it exposes what was before unseen. Not only does this mean that new truths are had pertaining to the building up of Zion, but wickedness and corruption are exposed at a greater level as well. It is as though we’re living in a dark room, and the light is gradually increasing. Things that were before obscure are seen in greater clarity. Works of darkness come to light.
Following the overturn of Roe v. Wade, we will begin to see a greater outpouring of light, and consequently evil exposed to a greater degree.
As this understanding distilled on my soul, the Lord took me through a chain of scriptures that outline this prophetic pattern.
“Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is” (1 Corinthians 3:13).
“Wherefore, the things of all nations shall be made known; yea, all things shall be made known unto the children of men. There is nothing which is secret save it shall be revealed; there is no work of darkness save it shall be made manifest in the light; and there is nothing which is sealed upon the earth save it shall be loosed. Wherefore, all things which have been revealed unto the children of men shall at that day be revealed; and Satan shall have power over the hearts of the children of men no more, for a long time. And now, my beloved brethren, I make an end of my sayings” (2 Nephi 30:16-18; cf. Luke 8:17-18).
“But the words which are sealed he shall not deliver, neither shall he deliver the book. For the book shall be sealed by the power of God, and the revelation which was sealed shall be kept in the book until the own due time of the Lord, that they may come forth; for behold, they reveal all things from the foundation of the world unto the end thereof. And the day cometh that the words of the book which were sealed shall be read upon the house tops; and they shall be read by the power of Christ; and all things shall be revealed unto the children of men which ever have been among the children of men, and which ever will be even unto the end of the earth…
“And wo unto them that seek deep to hide their counsel from the Lord! And their works are in the dark; and they say: Who seeth us, and who knoweth us? And they also say: Surely, your turning of things upside down shall be esteemed as the potter’s clay. But behold, I will show unto them, saith the Lord of Hosts, that I know all their works. For shall the work say of him that made it, he made me not? Or shall the thing framed say of him that framed it, he had no understanding?” (2 Nephi 27:10-11, 27; cf. D&C 1:1-3; Luke 12:1-3).
“And now, I will speak unto you concerning those twenty-four plates, that ye keep them, that the mysteries and the works of darkness, and their secret works, or the secret works of those people who have been destroyed, may be made manifest unto this people; yea, all their murders, and robbings, and their plunderings, and all their wickedness and abominations, may be made manifest unto this people; yea, and that ye preserve these interpreters. For behold, the Lord saw that his people began to work in darkness, yea, work secret murders and abominations; therefore the Lord said, if they did not repent they should be destroyed from off the face of the earth.
“And the Lord said: I will prepare unto my servant Gazelem, a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light, that I may discover unto my people who serve me, that I may discover unto them the works of their brethren, yea, their secret works, their works of darkness, and their wickedness and abominations.
“And now, my son, these interpreters were prepared that the word of God might be fulfilled, which he spake, saying: I will bring forth out of darkness unto light all their secret works and their abominations; and except they repent I will destroy them from off the face of the earth; and I will bring to light all their secrets and abominations, unto every nation that shall hereafter possess the land” (Alma 37:21-25).
“You have supposed, by taking refuge in deception and hiding behind falsehoods, to have covenanted with Death, or reached an understanding with Sheol, that, should a flooding scourge sweep through the earth, it shall not reach you. Therefore, thus says my Lord Jehovah: I lay in Zion a stone, a keystone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation. They who believe it will not do rashly” (Isaiah 28:15-16, Gileadi Translation).
As I meditated on these scriptures, another revelation opened up to me, and I was left with the understanding that the coming forth of the sealed portion (which will reveal the works of darkness among us) is the ultimate fulfillment of this pattern, and will mark the end of this phase. Between now and that crescendo, this pattern will swell in increasing intensity.
The fulfillment of these scriptures is upon us; first spiritually, and then literally. I so testify in the name of the Lord, according to the Spirit which is in me.
“And upon my house shall it begin, and from my house shall it go forth, saith the Lord; First among those among you, saith the Lord, who have professed to know my name and have not known me, and have blasphemed against me in the midst of my house, saith the Lord” (D&C 112:25-26).
“For nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest; neither any thing hid, that shall not be known and come abroad. Take heed therefore how ye hear: for whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have” (Luke 8:17-18).
There was a certain village that dwelt at the bottom of a canyon.
Though their ancestors were said to have prospered on higher planes, they found comfort in the canyon’s familiarity. As a matter of fact, most had never left the canyon, and regarded any such legend concerning their ancestors to be mere myth.
Those with eyes to see recognized that life in the canyon was far less than life could be. They believed the legends regarding their forebears, and sought to climb out of the canyon to reach the higher planes.
As they began their climb out, others wondered at their faith and began to consider the veracity of the legends as well. They looked around at their present condition and noticed something they had never seen before: the tide of the canyon’s river was gradually rising. They tried to warn others and decided to trek for higher ground; some believed them and followed suit, others disregarded the discovery. “It will come back down soon enough,” one remarked. “This happens all the time, this is normal,” “we knew this would happen,” others reasoned.
With time, the flood waters began rushing in at greater speeds. Those who hadn’t responded to the warning to flee were forced to do so—or double down in their belief that the canyon was a perfectly suitable home.
Eventually, the flood rushed in and filled the canyon. Those who had not previously sought to escape were swept up in it, while those who had proactively and voluntarily climbed to the higher planes were unaffected. Not only were they saved from the flood, but they enjoyed the prosperity had among their ancestors.
Regarding the last days, the Savior said: “But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left” (Matthew 24:37-41; emphasis added).
How does this apply to our day?
In Noah’s day, the earth was baptized by water. In our day, it will be baptized by fire and the Holy Ghost—that is to say, truth. Those who acclimate to the new level of revealed truth will abide the day in greater glory—those who do not will be burned by it.
If you are not actively exercising diligence in knowing God, coming to His truth, and seeking to understand His will, you will get swept up in the coming flood. As each revelation is made, the children of men will be forced to choose repentance or death.
I’ll provide some examples.
1. The CES Letter, Under the Banner of Heaven, etc. It’s been supposed by members of the Church for some time that a simple “testimony” and faithful church participation is all that was necessary to be saved. However, this is akin to living at the bottom of the canyon. Content like the CES Letter functions as the left hand of God, scourging His people and stirring them up to repentance. It challenges their worldview and demands they either seek higher ground or be lost to the flood.
Because most of us are not proactively seeking greater spiritual truth (as a whole), these things catch us off guard. My observation is that the vast majority of people are unprepared to contend with these things, and it overwhelms their faith to the point of doubt. It’s highly likely that such content will increase in volume and prevalence in the coming years, challenging those whose faith has not yet taken them higher, and further hardening those who have already given way to the flood.
The following is a fact: the Sunday School narrative of both Church history and doctrine is so low-resolution that it has become a stumbling block to almost everyone. If we are not seeking higher ground, we will realize in greater and greater degrees how sandy of a foundation we are built upon—and when the floods come, great shall be the fall of it. “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children” (Hosea 4:6).
Nearly all the criticisms I see floating around online are responding to a caricature of a narrative regarding the Church/restoration—a caricature which we are in large part responsible for creating. Mormon and anti-Mormon alike must realize that the battle for truth is not happening on the level they think it is. This is almost impossible to see or understand at the bottom of the canyon. Unfortunately, we’ve espoused the belief (whether consciously or subconsciously) that once you’ve gotten the ordinances and know enough to teach Sunday School, you know basically everything you need to know—and if there is anything else that matters, it will come through the current Church President; everything else is trivia, bonus material, or “looking beyond the mark.” Such an attitude keeps one at the bottom of the canyon, and will prove itself untrue in this generation.
2. Social Justice If we’re not actively seeking to understand the Lord’s morals and ideals on their own terms, the rising tide of Western leftist ideology will sweep us up. Before their destruction, the Israelites were guilty of worshipping the gods of the gentile nations. Being enticed by the world’s morals and ideals, and even turning around and reading them back into the scriptures, accomplishes the same thing spiritually. Many of us worship the gods of the gentiles without realizing it.
The reason that this happens is similar to the reason the previous issue does. If there is not an active effort being made on an individual’s part to know God, they will be introduced to and become faithful to some other god—whichever one is the most popular in a given culture.
Our faith ought to inform our politics. Social movements should not determine our religious beliefs, but vice versa. If we don’t bother to figure these things out, the world will figure them out for us—or quickly convince us our beliefs are bigoted, shallow, and immoral. “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20).
These also function as the left hand of God.
3. A World in Commotion Another similar issue is the way the world is reacting to the natural consequences of general wickedness. In all contexts and places, we are beginning to reap the consequences of corruption, pride, and vanity.
Life at the bottom of the canyon is of a lower quality already, but one thing that seals the deal for the honest in heart is the fact that it can and does flood. Those who love their “things” down here—their telestial way of life—will either have to confront the fact that their idols are insufficient to rely on, or blame their frustration and unmet expectations on others.
When vacations, TV, and A/C disappear, when money loses its value, when government proves unreliable, when leaders, political, religious, or otherwise are caught in corruption, how will we react?
Every idol must be thrown down. Anything that could deter or distract us from faith in Christ will be put to the test. Will it stand the fire of greater truth?
“For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is” (1 Corinthians 3:11-13).
This is the left hand of God.
This pattern applies in other ways as well. We must be anxiously, proactively, engaged in knowing God (D&C 58:26-27). Those who do not exercise diligence now will be caught off guard when the floods rise.
There are two dimensions to the flood. One enacted by the left hand of God, which will find its fullest manifestation in the endtime King of Assyria (Isaiah 28), and the other by the right hand of God, which will gather out the elect and take them higher:
“And righteousness will I send down out of heaven; and truth will I send forth out of the earth, to bear testimony of mine Only Begotten; his resurrection from the dead; yea, and also the resurrection of all men; and righteousness and truth will I cause to sweep the earth as with a flood, to gather out mine elect from the four quarters of the earth, unto a place which I shall prepare, an Holy City, that my people may gird up their loins, and be looking forth for the time of my coming; for there shall be my tabernacle, and it shall be called Zion, a New Jerusalem” (Moses 7:62; cf. JSH 1:37).
The world is beginning to transition into a greater degree of truth and glory. Who will abide the day of his coming? We must personally decide whether we will transition with it, or be burned by the coming day (Malachi 4:1).
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).
Christ promises a new heart to every person who comes to Him. His intention is to put His law in our inward parts, and write it in our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33; cf. Ezekiel 36:26-28). He is the Word of God; as we plant Him in our hearts, His love, character, and Spirit will grow within us until we are transformed into what He is. Then we will be like Him.
After entering in by the way, Nephi emphasizes the importance of feasting upon the words of the Christ, “for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do” (2 Nephi 32:3).
There are layers to this mystery, but we’ll just explore one as it relates to this topic.
The word of God is truth (John 17:17). Christ is the Word of God (John 1:14), and He is truth (John 14:6). It’s not just that He intellectually knows truth, but rather is truth. It’s characteristic of His being.
What then are the “words of Christ?” As Nephi points out, the words of Christ are associated with the angels who embody and deliver His words (2 Nephi 32:3). Angels (seen and unseen) minister for the purpose of bringing us to Christ, and Christ for bringing us to the Father. However, all of these “words” are equally so the “truth,” because of the source from which they flow. The word of Christ is truth. Feasting upon it will be the key to going further in our journey. It is how we “come unto Christ”— following His words back to the source.
“And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save. 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 31:19-20).
When you eat, or “feast” on something, you internalize it; it becomes a part of you. This is the idea of Christ putting His law in our “inward parts” and writing it in our hearts.” It’s also the spiritual truth being conveyed in the symbol of the Sacrament. We are internalizing Christ—His words and truth—so that we become like Him (John 6:53-56).
If the Lord has shown us our weakness—some part of our heart that is not aligned to Him—it is further truth that will enable us to overcome that. This is how He turns weakness into strength.
That being said, we must maintain the attitude of desiring and submitting to His truth at all times—whatever that might be. That requires continual faith on our part, or what Nephi calls a “steadfastness in Christ.” There is a difference between discovering some part of your heart is not in harmony with God, and outright rejecting or resisting the truth that can save you. One is entering into the mist of darkness, the other is abandoning the iron rod.
As we continue to grow in truth, we will become like He who is Truth.
Now, I’d like to move beyond the abstract and break down the mechanics of how this works. What is it about internalizing greater truth that allows us to become like Christ is?
Temptation and Intelligence
If Jesus’s command was “be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect,” we should start by asking: why is God the way He is? What makes Him a perfect and glorious Being? Why doesn’t He sin?
In D&C 93, we read: “The glory of God is intelligence, or in other words light and truth” (D&C 93:36). God is who He is as a consequence of the light and truth He possesses; that is His glory. The difference between God and fallen man is a matter of intelligence. If we want to be “perfect, even as he is perfect,” we must be intelligent, even as He is intelligent. We must possess greater light and truth.
Deception, temptation and sin are always based in lies. Always. Every tactic of the adversary involves getting you to accept a lie that will then weaken you, lessening the light and truth that you possess. He is “the father of all lies,” a “liar from the beginning.” Every time he offers you a lie (whether it be deception, temptation, discouragement, etc.) and you accept it, you take in greater darkness.
In the scriptures, darkness and lies are synonymous with chains—what Alma calls “the chains of hell” (Alma 12:11; cf. D&C 123:7-8). This is because, whereas light and truth empower you, darkness and lies restrict you.
Agency is really a function of how much light we have; the greater light we possess, the greater power we have to act in the world (God being the greatest light we can conceive of, and consequently the Being of greatest power). Conversely, the less light we have, the more restricted we are in our ability to act (drug addiction is a great example—it’s a form of bondage/captivity; you’re subject to external circumstances, being “acted upon,” etc.).
So in this context, why do we sin?
Because all temptation is rooted in lies, we are only enticed by them if we believe the “lie” in question could be true. For example, you’ll probably never be enticed by the prospect of eating a rock, because you have no reason to believe that will be a good experience. On the other hand, though downing an entire sleeve of Oreos will probably make you sick, you might have a reason to believe that that could be a good idea (e.g. it tastes good). The lie is, “it doesn’t matter,” or “you probably won’t feel that bad,” or “just don’t think about it.” You get the idea. Satan tends to minimize the negative consequences of sin and overplay the positive ones; like he told Eve regarding the fruit, “thou shalt not surely die” but “shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.”
Our desires are not inherently bad. We’re intended to eat, sleep, reproduce, be in relationship with one another, create, learn, etc. Temptation happens when our desires are disorganized, or out of order. In order to be like Christ, all of these things must be intelligently ordered according to His light. He does this by providing us with spiritual truth.
Losing the Desire to Sin
Because temptations are always based in lies and deception, they have no power over beings filled with light and truth. Hence, “light and truth forsake that evil one” (D&C 93:37) . When you are filled with truth, temptation loses its appeal.
Another funny example I like to refer to is being 6 years-old and hearing the ice cream truck come down the street. At 6, you might lose your mind begging your parents for ice cream money, and then have a total meltdown when they say no. With a limited perspective, it can seem like your whole world hangs on this one thing. At 36, you probably (hopefully) don’t feel the same way. Even with enough money to clear the shelf, an over-priced Tweety Bird popsicle just doesn’t seem to have the same appeal anymore.
What changed? Perspective. You have a better understanding of value in light of a bigger picture. And the knowledge you’ve gained isn’t just intellectual—it’s woven into the very essence of your being. The same way that Christ doesn’t just “know” truth, but is truth, the perspective you’ve gained becomes a part of who you are.
We might also think about this in terms of our tree analogy from earlier in this series. As you “mature” in the gospel, you lose the desire for sins, habits, and activities that once seemed appealing. Why? Perspective. You see their true value and consequences with greater clarity. Where stretching the truth, or vegging on TV, or trying to maintain an “image” may have once seemed desirable, those things are seen for what they really are.
“What value does ‘x’ thing have in view of eternity?” You might find, in considering that question, that most of what entrances the world is like an overpriced Tweety Bird popsicle. Sports, video games, fashion, material things, money. The value and appeal of all these things is an illusion sustained by a limited perspective. As you grow in truth, your desires are realigned.
Truth puts lies to shame. Temptation only has power over you to the extent that you lack truth. For this reason God, whose glory is light and truth, is neither swayed nor enticed by any of these things. As we trust in God, and seek His light, He will show us why these things will not fulfill what we’re seeking, or that they’re inadequate to do what we think they’ll do.
If you feed off the dopamine that comes from scrolling on social media, or watching porn, or getting high, He will show you why those things are hollow and insufficient to meet your actual needs. He will take away their appeal by infusing you with greater light and truth, and then you will understand the condition Isaiah described of the wicked regarding that thing—it is like “when an hungry man dreameth, and, behold, he eateth; but he awaketh, and his soul is empty: or as when a thirsty man dreameth, and, behold, he drinketh; but he awaketh, and, behold, he is faint, and his soul hath appetite” (Isaiah 29:8).
On the other hand, He will also show you why His path is the only one that will bring you true joy and fulfillment. Every other option, no matter how enticing, is an illusion and will actually cause you greater suffering. And so it is always a matter of finding and holding onto the iron rod—greater truth—and pressing forward on its path. We must trust that that the Lord’s course will bring about the greatest outcome at increasingly higher levels; then with the doing comes the understanding (faith leads to knowledge).
When we possess lies, we possess distortion and impurity. If I believe I am the central reality in my universe, I’m going to be inclined to see others as objects—either as tools or obstacles—in the context of getting what I want. If someone else had needs that postpone me from fulfilling my self-centered desires, I’d be inclined to be frustrated, angry, impatient, etc. However, that belief is not true.
If I turn to the Lord and seek the truth I am missing, He may reveal to me that I’ve been placing myself above others, acting selfishly, and seeing them as objects rather than people whose lives are as real as mine. In order to continue on the Lord’s course, I must humbly receive this truth, repent, and let the old beliefs go—no matter how hard it may be. If I harden my heart against that revelation, I am turning my back on the iron rod and insisting I can find my own way through the darkness—but I can’t. No one can. There is no other way.
When I internalize this truth, “feasting upon the words of Christ,” my emotional disposition will change when others’ needs arise. The core belief is what dictates my feelings and behavior—the frequency on which I vibrate. God is truth, and God is love; these things are of the same nature. To have greater truth is to have greater love.
Because our desires are determined by the truth (or lies) we possess, intelligence is synonymous with purity/holiness. Intelligence indicates the degree of light and truth we possess. Because lies are distorted truths, our desires are distorted when we hold them. On the other hand, because truth is pure, we are made purer by receiving it—the greater truth we possess, the purer are our hearts and desires.
Sanctified Through Truth
Spiritual truth is the key to transforming our desires.
The Savior prayed, “Sanctify [my disciples] through thy truth: thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; 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” (John 17:17-21; emphasis added).
In D&C 130, we read: “Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come” (D&C 130:18-19).
This is why the prophet taught, “Knowledge saves a man” (TPJS p. 357), and “A man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge, for if he does not get knowledge, he will be brought into captivity by some evil power in the other world, as evil spirits will have more knowledge, and consequently more power than many men who are on the earth. Hence it needs revelation to assist us, and give us knowledge of the things of God” (TPJS p. 217).
When you are made aware of some part of yourself that is not aligned to the light of Jesus Christ, it’s important to identify precisely what that is. If we sin, it’s because we lack truth. If we lack truth, we ought to search it out and receive it with full purpose of heart.
Seeking truth is more than an intellectual attempt to think your way out of the natural man, but is rather the process of spiritually bonding with God and allowing His glory to work in you. “Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (D&C 88:63). As we come nearer to Him, the glory (light and truth) of His presence can sanctify us, if we yield our hearts to Him.
Much of this work can only be done in solemn prayer and meditation. The references Nephi makes to prayer in his discourse on Christ’s doctrine are worthy of their own study. Know that when you are baptized with fire and the Holy Ghost, “then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel” (2 Nephi 31:13). “And now, how could ye speak with the tongue of angels save it were by the Holy Ghost? Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do” (2 Nephi 32:2-3). We are all directed to “hearken unto the Spirit which teacheth a man to pray” (2 Nephi 32:8), because this is the mechanism whereby we are brought into a state of oneness with God (Romans 8:26; D&C 46:30; 3 Nephi 19:24; Moroni 7:48; Moroni 8:26). That’s all I will say here, but the scriptures are replete with insight on this principle and I would highly recommend making a study of it.
The book of Helaman provides an example in the righteous Nephites who suffered persecution at the hands of their brethren: “Nevertheless they did fast and pray oft, and did wax stronger and stronger in their humility, and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ, unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God” (Helaman 3:35).
When we prayerfully identify the part of ourselves that is not reconciled to God, and offer it up in complete faith, we prepare our hearts to approach Him and receive the greater truth He desires to bestow upon us.
As we draw near to Him, the truth of who He is will illuminate our souls. This is more than intellectual information, abstract facts, or ideas. It is as though He shares with you the very essence of His being. And if you’ll receive it, it will have the power to replace lies with truth, and a disposition to sin with one to do righteousness.
This requires us to live in His light, to seek Him, and to surrender to any higher truth He reveals to us. This may be difficult at times, but for this reason it’s imperative we have faith that His ways are higher than our ways, and that He seeks our joy and welfare.
“As far as we degenerate from God, we descend to the devil and lose knowledge, and without knowledge we cannot be saved, and while our hearts are filled with evil, and we are studying evil, there is no room in our hearts for good, or studying good. Is not God good? Then you be good; if He is faithful, then you be faithful. Add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, and seek for every good thing.” (TPJS p. 217).
By reconciling to God in prayer and meditation, feasting upon the words of Christ, our belief systems can be restructured so that we know what God knows, feel what He feels, and do what He does.
Consider Nephi’s example in this process. He is first made aware of “sins which so do easily beset [him].” There is a weakness he falls prey to. In this instance, he’s referring to the anger he feels towards his enemies—presumably Laman and Lemuel—because of the afflictions they cause him. He is controlled by his external circumstances (being “acted upon” rather than acting), and desires greater light and truth so that he is free from these temptations.
Notice how he works through the root desire by orienting himself towards God. He reaffirms that his trust is in God, and not “the arm of the flesh.” He trusts that God is just, and will deliver him and make all he has suffered right. Internalizing that truth dispels any fear or belief that these things will go unrecognized by God, and will sap the temptation to be angry of its power.
“Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities. I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me. And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.
“My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness; and he hath preserved me upon the waters of the great deep. He hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh. He hath confounded mine enemies, unto the causing of them to quake before me. Behold, he hath heard my cry by day, and he hath given me knowledge by visions in the night-time. And by day have I waxed bold in mighty prayer before him; yea, my voice have I sent up on high; and angels came down and ministered unto me. And upon the wings of his Spirit hath my body been carried away upon exceedingly high mountains. And mine eyes have beheld great things, yea, even too great for man; therefore I was bidden that I should not write them.
“O then, if I have seen so great things, if the Lord in his condescension unto the children of men hath visited men in so much mercy, why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow, and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken, because of mine afflictions?
“And why should I yield to sin, because of my flesh? Yea, why should I give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul? Why am I angry because of mine enemy?
“Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul. Do not anger again because of mine enemies. Do not slacken my strength because of mine afflictions. Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord, and say: O Lord, I will praise thee forever; yea, my soul will rejoice in thee, my God, and the rock of my salvation.
“O Lord, wilt thou redeem my soul? Wilt thou deliver me out of the hands of mine enemies? Wilt thou make me that I may shake at the appearance of sin? May the gates of hell be shut continually before me, because that my heart is broken and my spirit is contrite! O Lord, wilt thou not shut the gates of thy righteousness before me, that I may walk in the path of the low valley, that I may be strict in the plain road!
“O Lord, wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness! O Lord, wilt thou make a way for mine escape before mine enemies! Wilt thou make my path straight before me! Wilt thou not place a stumbling block in my way—but that thou wouldst clear my way before me, and hedge not up my way, but the ways of mine enemy.
“O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm. Yea, I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh. Yea, my God will give me, if I ask not amiss; therefore I will lift up my voice unto thee; yea, I will cry unto thee, my God, the rock of my righteousness. Behold, my voice shall forever ascend up unto thee, my rock and mine everlasting God. Amen.” (2 Nephi 4:17-35)
Faith in God allows us to receive greater truth, and greater truth is the cure to temptation. We are sanctified by truth, which is the glory of God. Light dispels darkness, love casts out fear, and truth sets us free.
In the scriptures (particularly in Isaiah), salvation is equated with healing, wholeness, and peace. The peace Christ gives is “not as the world giveth.” It is not dependent on external factors—it is peace in the face of all adversity; to grow in agency, or the capacity to act and not be acted upon. It is to overcome the world; to arrive at a point where you possess sufficient truth to overcome the lies pertaining to this world, so that Satan loses all power to tempt you here, and you bind him through your faith and righteousness. This is how and why he will be bound for a thousand years—and it is something you can begin doing today through your faith. This is what it means to overcome the world.
Transformation through Christ is possible. As a person grows from grace to grace in His truth, his heart will become increasingly pure until he has “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” (TPJS p. 51).
Alma taught, “Now they, after being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, having their garments made white, being pure and spotless before God, could not look upon sin save it were with abhorrence; and there were many, exceedingly great many, who were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord their God”(Alma 13:12). In other words, when we are “pure, even as he is pure,” we shall “see him as he is” (1 John 3:2; cf. Matthew 5:5).
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.
In order to enjoy the glory that Christ enjoys, we must live the law that Christ lives. There is no other way. Heaven is a lifestyle, the same way a healthy diet is; those who eat healthy are naturally going to feel better than those who do not. The order of heaven is no different; those who live the way Christ lived are going to have greater peace, joy, and fulfillment than those who do not. The question, in both cases, is whether you trust the higher path will actually be better than the lower one.
You would think the answer obvious—and yet because of the fall, we are continually enticed by lower paths and ways of being.
According to Our Desires
God respects our agency enough to not interfere, and will grant us according to our desires, “whether it be unto death or unto life… whether they be unto salvation or unto destruction.” (Alma 29:4). In other words, if you want to go on consuming nothing but Ramen, Reese’s, and Red Bull, He’ll let you. You may feel awful as a consequence, but He has no intention of overriding your choice.
As the common adage goes: “you are free to choose your actions, but you are not free to choose the consequences of those actions.” It would therefore be a good idea to want the consequences of whatever you want.
This is why we’ll ultimately be judged “according to the desire of [our] hearts” (D&C 137:9) As Alma said of those in the resurrection, “The one raised to happiness according to his desires of happiness, or good according to his desires of good; and the other to evil according to his desires of evil; for as he has desired to do evil all the day long even so shall he have his reward of evil when the night cometh” (Alma 41:5).
Hell is the natural consequence of what most of us want, by default. Being carnal, sensual, and devilish, if our desires were left unchecked we would act in a way that would create hell—not only for ourselves, but for the world around us.
The only remedy is to transform our desires so that what we want will bring true happiness. Even knowing the correct path alone is not enough; we must know the path and desire it. A child can know vegetables are “healthy,” but if they don’t want vegetables, they’re not going to enjoy eating them. Again, the same is true for the order of heaven; if you do not want to live like Christ, you’re going to be miserable trying to do so. The commandments will seem like a burden that are constantly restraining you, keeping you from doing what you actually want to do.
Being saved is a matter of being changed. It’s a matter of purifying your desires so that you want what is best, and can then be truly happy.
The Doctrine of Christ
The doctrine of Christ, at its most fundamental level, is the transformational process whereby we lose the desire for sin and are made pure. Though we typically think of it in terms of a 5-point checklist (faith, repentance, baptism, Holy Ghost, endure to the end), I think focusing on the outward “steps” without an understanding of what ought to be taking place inwardly misses the mark. It’s going through the motions without heart, “having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof” (2 Timothy 3:5).
This process is described in many ways, though I believe the best way to start thinking about it is in Christ’s own words: “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5).
In order to be transformed from our carnal and fallen state to a state of righteousness, we must abide in Christ (like a branch abides in a vine), until we are perfect in Christ (bringing forth much fruit).
By default, we are cut off from the tree of life (Alma 42:6). The first step in the process, then, is to graft ourselves into Christ so that His life-giving grace can begin flowing to us. What does this mean?
In Lehi’s analogy, it’s to take hold upon the rod of iron; in Alma’s analogy, it’s to plant the seed in your heart. Both the rod of iron and the seed represent the same thing: the word of God (1 Nephi 11:25; Alma 32:8).
This is where our journey must begin.
The Word of God
Given its centrality to the process, one of the most important details to understand is what is meant by “the word of God.”
Culturally, a lot of Christians have come to talk about the word of God in reference to the Bible. However, this is a rather narrow definition. Ultimately, the word of God is anything that God says. The Bible (and all scripture) constitutes the word of God inasmuch as it contains the word of God, but it surely isn’t exhaustive. Imagine if someone limited everything they thought you could say to a few emails you sent last year.
Christ is also called the Word of God because He embodies God’s living word (John 1:14; John 5:39-40). His words and actions always reflected the Father’s will. Christ is a living person; He is active, dynamic, and contextual. What He says or does will change based on circumstance—there’s no laundry list that can be memorized. He is the light of the world, and the truth of God.
The light of Christ is the means by which Jesus Christ communicates His words to mankind. It forms the light of our understanding, and the source of our conscience:
“For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night. For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil” (Moroni 7:15-16).
Because of the atonement of Jesus Christ, every single person born into this world is given a gift of light. This light is commonly referred to as our conscience, and is experienced by all. Like the sun, Christ’s light shines on each of us at all times. We can choose, by our agency, to turn towards this light and receive more of it, or block it out and diminish its influence. The voice of your conscience is the light and word of Christ, and is revelation as surely as if He appeared and spoke to you directly. It is your connection to God.
If you feel that still small voice tell you to stop what you’re doing and call someone, or check on something, or to hold your tongue, that is revelation. That is the word of Christ being communicated to you. If you follow that voice every time you hear it, it will lead you back to God.
“For you shall live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God. For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light, and whatsoever is light is Spirit, even the Spirit of Jesus Christ. And the Spirit giveth light to every man that cometh into the world; and the Spirit enlighteneth every man through the world, that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit. And every one that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit cometh unto God, even the Father” (D&C 84:44-47; emphasis added).
Following Christ is a matter of following His voice, which begins in your conscience. That is the word which we must take hold of; that is the word we must plant in our hearts. We must learn to yield ourselves to Him in all things, trusting that whatever path He prompts us to walk will lead to our greatest joy. This is where faith comes into the equation.
Joseph Smith defined faith as “the principle of action in all intelligent beings” (Lectures on Faith 1:9). Faith is essentially the trust or belief that a certain course of action is going to bring about the greatest outcome—therefore, the moving force behind every action is faith in something. If you indulge in a half gallon of chocolate ice cream, you’re expressing faith that that is the optimal path to happiness. If after some research you instead decide to try a more balanced diet, you’re exercising faith in that approach.
Faith requires an initial proposition, which comes from a proposer. In order to exercise faith in God, we must first hear His word. As Paul said, “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?… So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:13-14, 17; emphasis added). This word can be delivered by a preacher sent by God, anyone who speaks under inspiration, or can be transmitted through the unseen network we call the Spirit. In either case, you must first hear the word, and then act on it.
Faith in God is more than a belief that He exists; it’s a an abiding trust that whatever course of action He proposes will lead to the greatest happiness. Similarly, faith in Christ (among other things) is to believe that His character and lifestyle reflects the order of heaven—that He is the Word of God made flesh.
Experimenting on that proposition will then have consequences, which will tell you something about its value. Alma put it this way:
“Now, as I said concerning faith—that it was not a perfect knowledge—even so it is with my words. Ye cannot know of their surety at first, unto perfection, any more than faith is a perfect knowledge. But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.
“Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me” (Alma 32:26-28).
Alma asks you to observe what kind of effect it has on you. Does it swell within you? Does it enlarge your soul? Does it enlighten your understanding? Is it delicious to the light within you?
With every action, we are exercising faith in something. Faith in the word of God is what marks the path that leads to eternal life; faith in anything else will take us down the broad way that leads to destruction (Matt. 7:13-14). For this reason, faith is the first principle of the gospel.
Exercising faith in God will first lead to repentance. When you recognize that the life you are living is contrary to His voice, the first thing faith will require you to do is change course. Because repentance is how you begin walking the path, it is correctly called “the gate by which ye should enter” (2 Nephi 31:17). However, this too needs qualifying.
Much of modern Christianity has come to think of repentance as fixing our mistakes. We use terms like “daily repentance,” believing daily transgression is inevitable, and so daily repentance shows our efforts to be a good person who’s trying their best. However, Joseph Smith taught, “Repentance is a thing that cannot be trifled with every day. Daily transgression and daily repentance is not that which is pleasing in the sight of God” (TPJS p. 148). In order to understand this, we’ll need to reframe our understanding of repentance.
Because we’ve so long considered perfection to be a matter of doing, our understanding of the purpose and function of repentance has been distorted. When we think of perfection as, “don’t make any mistakes,” repentance becomes, “I’m sorry I messed up, I’ll try to do better next time.” However, when we shift our paradigm from the goal of doing perfect to being perfect, repentance becomes less about willpower and more about the condition of our heart.
We have to begin by recognizing that sin (or rebelling against the voice of our conscience) is a symptom of the natural man. It tells us something about our state of being. Therefore, repentance has to be a change that is at the being level; not just in our actions, but in our very hearts and desires. We must pull the weeds out at the root.
In the scriptures, we never read of someone repenting of a sin because it’s impossible to repent of a sin. Repentance is an attitude, and can only be done in the context of all of your sins. 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” (Alma 22:15-18; emphasis added).
I believe C.S. Lewis understood this concept when he wrote, “Fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who needs to lay down his arms. Laying down your arms, surrendering, saying you are sorry, realizing that you have been on the wrong track and getting ready to start life over again from the right one—that is the only way out of our ‘hole.’ This process of surrender is what Christians call ‘repentance.’ Now repentance is no fun at all. It is something much harder than merely eating humble pie. It means unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves in for thousands of years. It means killing a part of yourself, undergoing a kind of death” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity; emphasis added).
Consider what Paul meant when he said, “And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:24-25). Repentance is more than fixing one’s mistakes and committing to not make them again; repentance is to crucify the flesh. It’s to recognize that sin is the fruit of a heart turned from God, and to then offer up a “broken heart and contrite spirit” as an offering in the similitude of Christ’s total sacrifice (3 Nephi 9:20).
This is the inward truth that the outward symbol of baptism is intended to reflect: “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 6:3-4).
Christ taught, “He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 10:39). We commit to yield to every prompting from the Spirit—in all times, and in all things, and in all places. When we reach the point where we stop living for ourselves, but for God, we can say with Paul: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20).
When we make of ourselves a consummate offering, no only do we give our time, talents, and efforts, but we give ourselves—all of our desires—in total surrender. We no longer inconvenience ourselves to do His will, because His will becomes our will.
You Cannot Serve Two Masters
Total surrender is a condition, or state of being. As such, you are either living in it, or you’re withholding part of your heart—there is no in between. Christ asks for our whole hearts because He knows anything less will take us down a different path. This is why it is called “the straight gate.”
C.S. Lewis said, “The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self—all your wishes and precautions—to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is to remain what we call ‘ourselves,’ to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be ‘good.'” (C.S Lewis, Mere Christianity)
As a matter of fact, trying to live the gospel without giving over your whole heart is actually much harder than total surrender, because it it begins to feel like a burden. The commandments become the inconvenient obstacle in the way of doing what we want to do. The greater the sacrifice, the greater we come to resent it for getting in the way. Christ noted that, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other.” (Matt. 6:24).
Trying to serve Him while also pursuing your own ends (like riches, video games, vanity, or other idols you “live” for) will inevitably lead to internal conflict. C.S. Lewis further wrote,
“As long as we are thinking that way, one or other of two results is likely to follow. Either we give up trying to be good, or else we become very unhappy indeed. For, make no mistake: if you are really going to try to meet all the demands made on the natural self, it will not have enough left over to live on. The more you obey your conscience, the more your conscience will demand of you. And your natural self, which is thus being starved and hampered and worried at every turn, will get angrier and angrier. In the end you will either give up trying to be good, or else become one of those people who, as they say, ‘live for others’ but always in a discontented, grumbling way—always wondering why the others do not notice it more and always making a martyr of yourself” (Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis).
Insightfully, Joseph Smith taught that “a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things, never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation” (Lectures on Faith 6:7).
Lastly, here’s the kicker: For all the good works we might muster up, for all the time we sacrifice, for all the inconveniences we put ourselves through to serve God, if we withhold our hearts from the altar of sacrifice, it is meaningless. If we strive to serve God but do so begrudgingly, it’s worth just as much as if we didn’t serve Him at all. Mormon wrote:
“God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good; for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing. For behold, it is not counted unto him for righteousness. For behold, if a man being evil giveth a gift, he doeth it grudgingly; wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God. And likewise also is it counted evil unto a man, if he shall pray and not with real intent of heart; yea, and it profiteth him nothing, for God receiveth none such. Wherefore, a man being evil cannot do that which is good; neither will he give a good gift” (Moroni 7:6-10).
Why does God seem so strict on this point? If you’re still thinking about things from a “doing” perfect perspective, this may seem harsh—as if God is looking at the offering and saying,”not good enough.” However, God’s purpose in sending His Word in the first place is to change our hearts, or state of being. If our heart is missing from the equation, anything we do will miss the point.
True repentance is a lot like passing through an hour glass. As we move towards total submission, putting everything on the altar might at first seem to be increasingly restricive. However, when we finally exercise the faith necessary to live only for Christ, a new world opens up to us which we couldn’t before see. We learn that, ironically, true freedom is found in submission to God’s voice.
When we fundamentally shift the direction we are facing—desiring only to do God’s will and nothing else—we open a conduit from heaven through which we receive the divine fire the scriptures call the Holy Ghost.
In reality, because God’s light is always shining, it may be more accurate to imagine that youare aligning yourself to that celestial conduit. You’re turning your whole body to the light, Spirit, and glory of Christ. This is what it means to graft ourselves into the true vine—to abide Christ, and He in us. This is what it means to receive grace. This is what it means to enter in at the straight gate; to be born of God; to plant the seed in our hearts.; to take hold of the iron rod. You cannot do any of these things half way; it is the immersive commitment that allows the process of sanctification to begin.
“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 6:4). “He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked” (1 John 2:6).
“Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him. Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God” (1 John 3:6-9).
Fire and the Holy Ghost
Anciently, the Lord asked for animal sacrifices as an offering to teach the pattern of the future sacrifice Christ would make (Moses 5:6-7). Once that sacrifice had been made, Christ asked us to follow His example: “And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost” (3 Nephi 9:20).
All those who make this sacrifice unto death, burying the old self entirely to walk in new life, will be baptized with fire and the Holy Ghost. “He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 10:39). “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” (John 12:24).
Similarly, Nephi taught “the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost. And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life” (2 Nephi 31:17-18; emphasis added). Only when we enter into this condition of total surrender, having been baptized by fire and the Holy Ghost, have we passed through the straight gate and begin our journey on the narrow way. Merely going through the physical ordinance of baptism, being an active member of the Church, or progressing through ordinances on “the covenant path” does not guarantee you have entered through the gate and are on the strait and narrow path. One of these deals in certain outward standards, the other is an inward state of being.
In order to walk down the path that leads to perfection, we must be in a condition of being immersed in Holy Ghost. What role does the Holy Ghost play in salvation?
While most Latter-day Saints typically describe it in the way we defined the light of Christ, the function of the gift of Holy Ghost is actually much more central to the role of transformation. Joseph Smith said that the “Holy Ghost has no other effect than pure intelligence” (TPJS p. 149). The Father and the Son are of one heart and one mind; the Holy Ghost is the shared mind (or oneness) between them. Because Christ intends to make us one with Him, even as He is one with the Father (John 17:21), He sends the Holy Ghost upon all those who repent and come unto Him.
“[The] Spirit is shed forth upon all who believe on his name and keep his commandments: and all those who keep his commandments shall grow up from grace to grace, and become heirs of the heavenly kingdom, and joint heirs with Jesus Christ; possessing the same mind, being transformed into the same image or likeness, even the express image of him who fills all in all: being filled with the fulness of his glory, and become one in him, even as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one” (Lectures on Faith 5:2).
This change comes as a result of abiding in Christ’s word, yielding to it unconditionally: “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; emphasis added).
Instead of thinking you’re supposed to go through and acquire these attributes one at a time through your own willpower, consider that in the context of what we’ve discussed so far, the attributes of a saint (literally “holy one”) come as the natural consequence of yielding “to the enticings of the Holy Spirit.” As you yield your will to the Spirit, it will fill you with God’s character and likeness.
In other words, repenting and receiving the Holy Ghost is the means whereby our heart and mind is brought into tune with Christ’s heart and mind. To the extent that we have the Holy Ghost, we are one with Christ. This is what allows for fundamental spiritual transformation.
As C.S. Lewis put it: “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).
At the end of King Benjamin’s speech, the people declared, “we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which 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).
The people took the mighty change the Spirit wrought upon them as a witness that King Benjamin’s words were true; their desires had in fact been purified and made like God’s, so they knew the message He was delivering was in accordance with His mind and word. This is why the Holy Ghost is said to bear record of the Father and the Son—because they are one, sharing the same mind: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and I bear record of it from the Father; and whoso believeth in me believeth in the Father also; and unto him will the Father bear record of me, for he will visit him with fire and with the Holy Ghost. And thus will the Father bear record of me, and the Holy Ghost will bear record unto him of the Father and me; for the Father, and I, and the Holy Ghost are one” (3 Nephi 11:35-36).
Transformation by fire and the Holy Ghost is how the Father bears record of the Son. Possession of the Holy Ghost is how we know we are abiding in Him, and He in us: “And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us” (1 John 3:24).
The Spirit bears witness, by fire and the Holy Ghost, to all those who enter in at the gate. If we are unsure whether or not we have entered in at the gate, it is likely that we have not.
From Lectures on Faith: “Those, then, who make the sacrifice [of all things] will have the testimony that their course is pleasing in the sight of God, and those who have this testimony will have faith to lay hold on eternal life, and will be enabled, through faith, to endure unto the end, and receive the crown that is laid up for them that love the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ… But those who have not made this sacrifice to God, do not know that the course which they pursue is well pleasing in his sight; for whatever may be their belief or their opinion, it is a matter of doubt and uncertainty in their mind” (Lectures on Faith 6:10-12).
Alma asked some poignant question to those of the church in his day. We would do well to consider these questions as if they were being asked of us, and reflect on whether or not we have entered in at the straight gate: Alma 5:14-36.
What if you allowed this very moment to be the moment where you exercised the faith necessary to surrender all things to the Lord—both your carnal desires and the ones you think are good? What if you let Him dictate what your life should be? What if instead of waiting to be 1% better every day until you obey Him in all things, you abandon your summer home in Babylon and follow the Son with full purpose of heart? What if you came before Him as you are, and exposed every part yourself to Him, that He might heal you?
If you will bring yourself into His light and truth, even those parts of yourself you’re scared to bring into the light, He will transform you into something holy. That is what His grace is sufficient to do.
Is All Done?
It takes a great deal of faith to enter in at the straight gate. It is analogous to the faith the children of Israel exercised when they fled Egypt, or Lehi and his family when they left their homes in a wicked Jerusalem, to begin a journey to a land of promise. Leaving behind all you know to follow God’s command requires total commitment. You must walk away from your old life to follow Him (Mark 10:17-21).
However, walking away from spiritual Babylon is only the beginning of the journey. Ironically, most of us treat this level of faith as the end-goal of a lifetime of discipline. In Lehi’s context, we struggle to even leave Jerusalem. We like our sports, our fashion, our money—our vain things—too much. Many of us are comfortable where we are, thinking that some day in the future we’ll manage to leave Jerusalem.
Contrary to the desires and expectations of a wicked heart, leaving Jerusalem behind is only the first step. Then the journey begins.
“For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost. And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son, unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made, that if ye entered in by the way ye should receive.
“And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save” (2 Nephi 31:17-19).
We have begun our journey by yielding our hearts to the word of Christ; it is the word of Christ that will continue to guide us until we reach our destination. As Alma taught his son Helaman: “For behold, it is as easy to give heed to the word of Christ, which will point to you a straight course to eternal bliss, as it was for our fathers to give heed to this compass [the Liahona], which would point unto them a straight course to the promised land. And now I say, is there not a type in this thing? For just as surely as this director did bring our fathers, by following its course, to the promised land, shall the words of Christ, if we follow their course, carry us beyond this vale of sorrow into a far better land of promise” (Alma 37:44-45; emphasis added).
What does the remainder of our journey look like, and how do the words of Christ play a role, as Alma indicates?
You are one with Christ proportional to the degree of His Spirit that you have received. As you repent of all your sins, He will “pour out His Spirit more abundantly upon you” (Mosiah 18:10). This is justification. As you maintain that Spirit and state of oneness, you will receive it in greater degrees through obedience to a greater portion of Christ’s word, until you at last obtain a “fulness of the Holy Ghost” (D&C 109:15). This process, called sanctification, will be the topic of the next post in this series.
After finishing my last post, I couldn’t help but feel something was left unfinished. As I pondered on it for a few days, I realized I needed to make an interjection here before diving any further into the actual process of becoming heavenly.
Previously, we defined perfection as full maturity (like a tree bearing fruit). Consequently, to be perfect in Christ means we abide in Christ and bring forth the fruit thereof (John 15:5), which is charity (1 John 2:5; Colossians 3:14; 1 Nephi 11:22).
Being full of charity is not something you do, but something you are; it is a state or condition of being. To have charity is to be perfect. Why? Jesus taught, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40; emphasis added). As every whit of the law points to love of God and man, any sin is a sin against the nature of charity—to be full of love.
As Paul wrote, “Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:10)—because 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 13:4-7).
King Benjamin similarly taught that if you are full of love you will “always retain a remission of your sins” (Mosiah 4:12); you will “not have a mind to injure one another, but to live peaceably,” raise your children in righteousness, “succor those that stand in need of your succor,” and minister to the poor (Mosiah 4:13-16).
The gospel is designed to transform you into a being full of love. Why? Because this is the nature of heaven. When you are made perfect in Christ, the fruit you bear is the love of God, which is sweet above all that is sweet, white above all that is white, and pure above all that is pure (Alma 32:42). As Nephi learned in vision, this is “the most desirable above all things,” and “most joyous to the soul” (1 Nephi 11:22-23). Nothing will bring you greater happiness, meaning, and fulfillment than to be full of the love of God.
Love, law, happiness—these things are all connected. Love fulfills the law, and the law is the manner of happiness (2 Nephi 5:27). Joseph Smith 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” (TPJS p. 255).
Instead of thinking of heaven as the reward for keeping certain rules, giving an adequate performance, or confessing a belief, we ought to think of it as a condition or state of being. It is a lifestyle.
The eternal peace and joy of heaven is the natural consequence of living the law that is kept in heaven. God is no respecter of persons, and all blessings and glory are enjoyed on the same conditions; namely, by keeping the law associated with them. “There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated” (D&C 130:20-21).
Every kingdom has a law given, and the blessings and glory associated with each kingdom are a consequence of the law that is kept there (D&C 88:38). “For he who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory. And he who cannot abide the law of a terrestrial kingdom cannot abide a terrestrial glory. And he who cannot abide the law of a telestial kingdom cannot abide a telestial glory; therefore he is not meet for a kingdom of glory. Therefore he must abide a kingdom which is not a kingdom of glory” (D&C 88:22-24).
The law of the celestial kingdom is the law of Christ (D&C 88:21), and the law of Zion (D&C 105:5). Those who abide that law in the flesh establish Zion—heaven on earth. They enjoy open communion with angels—the general assembly and Church of the Firstborn—Jesus Christ, and God the Father. They are partakers of the joy and peace of heaven (both individually and collectively), and experience an abundance of the gifts and power of heaven in their lives. All of these blessings are as readily available to you or me as they were to Enoch, Moses, Moroni, the brother of Jared, and many more.
The law was made for man, and not man for the law. It is given as a blessing to show us the way to a fuller life. We should want to keep all of the commandments, not because it’s just a high standard we must meet to avoid suffering in the afterlife, but because it is the optimal way of living.
When we are at last resurrected, we will be restored to whatever law and glory we attained here. Those like Enoch’s city, who enjoyed the law, blessings, and glory of Zion in their lifetime, will receive a celestial body (D&C 76:54-69). These are also the same who obtain charity (Moroni 10:21; Ether 12:34).
Those who persist in sin will persist in misery, because they are in a state that is contrary to the nature of happiness. As Alma taught, “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. And now, my son, all men that are in a state of nature, or I would say, in a carnal state, are in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; they are without God in the world, and they have gone contrary to the nature of God; therefore, they are in a state contrary to the nature of happiness” (Alma 41:10-11).
Aren’t those without love the most miserable and bitter people you know?
Conformed to the Image of Christ
In order to receive a place with Christ in the resurrection, enjoying the same glory and blessing, we must keep the law He kept. If we want to be “joint-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17), experiencing the same joy and satisfaction that He does, we must become like Him. There is no other way.
The nature of God is the nature of happiness. He is the law (3 Nephi 15:9), which is the manner of happiness (2 Nephi 5:27); He is love (1 John 4:8), which love is most joyous to the soul (1 Nephi 11:22-23). Therefore, it is in becoming like Him—living, seeing, understanding and loving the way He does—that we find eternal joy and happiness. This is why Paul bids us to be “conformed to the image of [the] Son” (Romans 8:29), and Alma asks, “can ye look up to God at that day with a pure heart and clean hands? I say unto you, can you look up, having the image of God engraven upon your countenances?” (Alma 5:19). This is the same thing as saying, “except ye have charity ye can in nowise be saved in the kingdom of God” (Moroni 10:21). In order to share in Christ’s inheritance, we must be like His is.
On this wise, Joseph Smith taught: “But to be a little more particular, let us ask, where shall we find a prototype into whose likeness we may be assimilated, in order that we may be made partakers of life and salvation? or in other words, where shall we find a saved being? for if we can find a saved being, we may ascertain, without much difficulty, what all others must be, in order to be saved—they must be like that individual or they cannot be saved: we think, that it will not be a matter of dispute, that two beings, who are unlike each other, cannot both be saved; for whatever constitutes the salvation of one, will constitute the salvation of every creature which will be saved: and if we find one saved being in all existence, we may see what all others must be, or else not be saved. We ask, then, where is the prototype? or where is the saved being? We conclude as to the answer of this question there will be no dispute among those who believe the bible, that it is Christ: all will agree in this that he is the prototype or standard of salvation, or in other words, that he is a saved being. And if we should continue our interrogation, and ask how it is that he is saved, the answer would be, because he is a just and holy being; and if he were any thing different from what he is he would not be saved; for his salvation depends on his being precisely what he is and nothing else; for if it were possible for him to change in the least degree, so sure he would fail of salvation and lose all his dominion, power, authority and glory, which constitutes salvation; for salvation consists in the glory, authority, majesty, power and dominion which Jehovah possesses, and in nothing else; and no being can possess it but himself or one like him: Thus says John, in his first epistle, 3:2 and 3: Behold, now we are the sons of God, and it doth not 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 any man that has this hope in him purifies himself, even as he is pure.—Why purify himself as he is pure? because, if they do not they cannot be like him.
“The Lord said unto Moses, Leviticus 19:2:—Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy. And Peter says, first epistle, 1:15 and 16: But as he who has called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. And the Savior says, Matthew 5:48: Be ye perfect, even as your Father who is in heaven is perfect. If any should ask why all these sayings? the answer is to be found from what is before quoted from John’s epistle, that when he (the Lord) shall appear, the saints will be like him: and if they are not holy, as he is holy, and perfect as he is perfect, they cannot be like him; for no being can enjoy his glory without possessing his perfections and holiness, no more than they could reign in his kingdom without his power.
“… He had said, in another part of his prayer, that he desired of his Father, that those who believed on him should be one in him, as he, and the Father were one in each other: Neither pray I for these (the apostles) alone, but for them also who shall believe on me through their words; that they all may be one: that is, they who believe on him through the apostles’ words, as well as the apostles themselves: that they all may be one, as thou, Father, art in me and I in thee: that they also may be one in us.
“What language can be plainer than this? The Savior surely intended to be understood by his disciples: and he so spake that they might understand him; for he declares to his Father, in language not to be easily mistaken, that he wanted his disciples, even all of them, to be as himself and the Father: for as he and the Father were one, so they might be one with them. And what is said in the 22nd verse is calculated to more firmly establish this belief, if it needs any thing to establish it. He says, And the glory which thou gavest me, I have given them, that they may be one, even as we are one. As much as to say, that unless they have the glory which the Father had given him, they could not be one with them: For he says he had given them the glory that the Father had given him, that they might be one; or in other words, to make them one.
“This fills up the measure of information on this subject, and shows most clearly, that the Savior wished his disciples to understand, that they were to be partakers with him in all things: not even his glory excepted.
“It is scarcely necessary here to observe what we have previously noticed: That the glory which the Father and the Son have, is because they are just and holy beings; and that if they were lacking in one attribute or perfection which they have, the glory which they have, never could be enjoyed by them; for it requires them to be precisely what they are in order to enjoy it: and if the Savior gives this glory to any others, he must do it in the very way set forth in his prayer to his Father: by making them one with him, as he and the Father are one.—In so doing he would give them the glory which the Father has given him; and when his disciples are made one with the Father and the Son, as the Father and the Son are one, who cannot see the propriety of the Savior’s saying, The works which I do, shall they do; and greater works than these shall they do, because I go to the Father?
“These teachings of the Savior must clearly show unto us the nature of salvation; and what he proposed unto the human family when he proposed to save them—That he proposed to make them like unto himself; and he was like the Father, the great prototype of all saved beings: And for any portion of the human family to be assimilated into their likeness is to be saved; and to be unlike them is to be destroyed: and on this hinge turns the door of salvation.” (Lectures on Faith 7:9-10, 12-16).
Christ is the Being of greatest joy; therefore, the greatest joy is found in being like Christ. When we are filled with the pure love of Christ, then we are like Him:
“But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him. 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” (Moroni 7:47-48).
We are powerless to do this on our own; for that, we will need a Savior. “When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved? But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:25-26).
This is what His grace is sufficient to do—and nothing is sweeter.
Because perfection is a matter of being, our focus ought to be in becoming more rather than doing more. Once we take care of the becoming, the doing will naturally follow.
The only hope we have of becoming heavenly is through the grace of Christ. His grace is sufficient to transform us—to turn our weakness into strength. As He Himself declared to Moroni, “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; cf. 2 Corinthians 12:9). And as Moroni declared to us: “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” (Moroni 10:32).
His grace is the enabling, sanctifying power that is sufficient to save us from our fallen natures. This is how we are saved from our sins. This is how we experience a mighty change of heart. This is how we are “born again,” changed from our carnal and fallen state to a state of righteousness. This is what it truly means to have faith in Christ; not that He’ll just come through for you on judgment day, but that He can and will save you here and now—as quickly as you’ll let Him in.
There is an actual process to this, and I hope that after we examine its parts in this and the following posts it will seem less vague and mysterious, and more within reach.
Like we’ve said, Christ’s grace is the central key to this transformational process. Salvation is the result of allowing His grace to work within you to bring about a mighty change. By nature, we resist His light. We put up blinders, we draw the shades, we close our eyes or look the other direction. The first step in allowing Christ to do His work is to put down your weapons of rebellion and surrender to Him. The natural man does not want to surrender, or submit, or yield. This is why faith is required.
Alma uses the analogy of a seed. Before you can have a tree, you must give place for a seed to be planted. This planting will take place as you make room in your heart for the word of God. Once the seed has been planted, you diligently nourish it so that it takes root in your heart, and by and by “it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life,” whose fruit is “sweet above all that is sweet, and… white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure” (Alma 32:41-42).
Nephi uses the analogy of a rod of iron. You must take hold and cling to the word of God, pushing forward along its path until you at last come to tree of life, which Lehi described as being “most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted,” and “white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen” (1 Nephi 8:11). As Nephi learned, this fruit represents “the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things” (1 Nephi 11:22).
In both analogies, it is the word of God which leads to the love of God. There is only one process being described. As we yield to the word of God, which is the light and Spirit of God, then we are infused with the love of God (the maturefruit of the word of God). “But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected [or fully matured]: hereby know we that we are in him” (1 John 2:5).
This is also the same process Christ described when He said, “strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:13). There is a beginning, middle, and end.
Taking Hold of the Rod
Tree of Life
Planting the Seed
Nourishing the Seed
Tree of Life
Once you realize that this is the pattern, you’ll begin recognizing it all over the scriptures: turn to God’s light, receive it, and then persist in it until your whole body is full of light. When you are full of light you will be like the Savior, having His image engraven in your countenance; “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13, NIV; emphasis added).
The Lord declared: “That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day. And again, verily I say unto you, and I say it that you may know the truth, that you may chase darkness from among you” (D&C 50:24-25). Also, “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).
This was also what was noted in the case of king Lamoni: “Now, this was what Ammon desired, for he knew that king Lamoni was under the power of God; he knew that the dark veil of unbelief was being cast away from his mind, and the light which did light up his mind, which was the light of the glory of God, which was a marvelous light of his goodness—yea, this light had infused such joy into his soul, the cloud of darkness having been dispelled, and that the light of everlasting life was lit up in his soul” (Alma 19:6).
Christ intends to heal us of our weakness by the gift and power of His Spirit. Rather than beat our fallen bodies into submission, the gospel is designed to elevate, purify, and sanctify our flesh by dispelling all darkness and infusing it with light. When all darkness has been dispelled and we are full of light, the process is complete—which is what it means to “endure to the end.” We are enduring to the end of a process or path: “they came and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press their way forward, continually holding fast to the rod of iron, until they came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree” (1 Nephi 8:30 cf. Alma 32:40-42).
“O then, my beloved brethren, repent ye, and enter in at the strait gate, and continue in the way which is narrow, until ye shall obtain eternal life” (Jacob 6:11)
As a matter of fact, the word “end” in the New Testament phrase “endure to the end” (Matthew 24:13) comes from the Greek word τέλος, which has the same root as “perfect,” fully mature, completed, etc. “End” in this context refers to the principal aim or purpose. You are enduring to the purpose—persisting in the process until you become what He intends to make of you.
If you were planting and nourishing a seed, the end (τέλος) of that endeavor would be to have a fully mature tree bearing fruit. The purpose of Christ’s gospel is to make you holy, without spot—bearing fruit that is “pure above all that is pure” and “most joyous to the soul.” In short, He intends to make you perfect by filling you with His love, which is the hallmark of completion. “And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness” (Colossians 3:14).
This is the essence of the doctrine of Christ; we make room in our hearts to receive His word/Spirit, and let it work in us until we become fully mature in Him. Put another way, Christ said, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). He is the life force of all creation; as we abide in Him, He will fill us with His Spirit until we bring forth fruit—then we are made perfect in Him.
Grace, Charity, and Perfection
His grace is sufficient; sufficient to make weak things strong; sufficient to save us from our sins; sufficient to turn us into the kinds of beings who can keep the whole law; sufficient to perfect us.
When you think of perfection, think of a tree bearing fruit. When you think of perfection in Christ, think of the fruit you would bring forth by grafting yourself into Him, and allowing His Spirit to flow into you; or think of the fruit you would bring forth by planting His word in your heart, and letting it grow to perfection. It is the fruit of the tree of life, which is the love of God. We are made perfect in love (1 John 4:18).
“By his grace, ye may be perfect in Christ” (Moroni 10:32). This is why Moroni pleaded with the Lord that He would give the Gentiles “grace, that they might have charity” (Ether 12:36). It is the only way our weakness can be made strong.
This is what we must become in order to inherit the kingdom of God in the resurrection: “And except ye have charity ye can in nowise be saved in the kingdom of God” (Moroni 10:21; cf. Ether 12:34). “But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him” (Moroni 7:47).
How do we receive Christ’s grace that we might bear this fruit in our lives? Stay tuned.
When Jesus said, “Be ye therefore perfect” (Matthew 5:48), the word perfect is translated from the Greek τέλειοι meaning mature (like a tree bearing fruit), full grown, having reached its end, complete, etc. This is a much different idea than our Greek/Western conception of perfect, which has more to do with giving a flawless performance (like a musician on stage not making a single mistake).
Perfection, as Jesus is speaking about it here, is a state of being. A fully developed tree will bear fruit as a natural consequence of what it is. Conversely, if a tree has not reached a condition of maturity, it will not be able to do the things a mature tree can do. A young sapling cannot produce fruit, no matter how hard it tries.
Jesus’s injunction was to be perfect, not to do perfect. There is a major difference.
The fruits of a perfect person will naturally follow as a consequence of who they are. On the other hand, if a person has not first developed a perfect heart it does not matter how hard they try to be good; they will fail. They are wrestling with the fallen nature of their own flesh and will inevitably give way to it.
“For behold, a bitter fountain cannot bring forth good water; neither can a good fountain bring forth bitter water; wherefore, a man being a servant of the devil cannot follow Christ; and if he follow Christ he cannot be a servant of the devil” (Moroni 7:11)
The natural man is carnal, sensual, and devilish. It is a bitter fountain, and cannot bring forth good water. Any attempt to do so will be in vain because it goes contrary to its own nature.
If a bitter fountain wants to bring forth good water, no amount of grit and willpower will make it so. It must first become a good fountain, and then good water will flow naturally. Because we are always subject to our nature, it is our nature that must change. When our nature is fallen and corrupt, sin will naturally follow; when our nature is godly, godliness will naturally follow.
The way we’ve come to talk about perfection culturally misses the being aspect. Perhaps this a consequence of reading the scriptures with Greek eyes; the philosophies of men mingled with scripture.
Growing up in the south, I encountered Southern Baptist pamphlets and handouts from time to time. The narrative usually went something like this: “Have you ever wondered where you’ll go when you die? Here’s a quick way to figure it out: Have you ever sinned? Even one time? God’s standard is absolute perfection, and if you’ve sinned even once, you’ve already disqualified yourself from heaven when you die. If you’ve sinned, you’re a sinner, and sinners go to hell—it doesn’t matter how many other good things you try to do. As a matter of fact, ‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23). We deserve nothing less than hell. BUT! There’s good news. God sent His Son Jesus as a perfect sacrifice for our sins so we can be forgiven, and live with Him again. And because He was perfect, all we have to do is believe in Him, and His perfect life will cover us. So if you want to be saved, confess your belief in Jesus in this prayer…”
This is what I call, “Straw-man Salvation.”
Do you hear the doing perfect language embedded into this story? “If you make one mistake, if there’s one error on your spiritual report card, you’re through.” “If you don’t walk up on stage and give an absolutely flawless performance, then God will reject you when you come to Him.”
So this is “the problem” as Christianity puts it. The “solution” is that we need to turn in a perfect report card, and Christ will let us turn in His.
The restored gospel tells a fundamentally different story, but because we’re surrounded by a culture that still toils under the darkness of apostasy, we’ve unconsciously inherited many of its traditions and assumptions. Consequently, not seeking to understand the fulness of the gospel on its own terms results in our being pulled back into the current of mainstream Christianity. Very frequently we teach restored doctrine with a protestant twist, or protestant doctrine with a Mormon twist.
For example, many of us still hold onto the notion that “getting into heaven” is a matter of giving a flawless performance, and that if we’ve made a single mistake we’ve disqualified ourselves and therefore need a Savior. But instead of saying “heaven” we say “the Celestial Kingdom.”
Because we tend to accept these premises, approaching the how of salvation is a bit awkward. What do we have to do to make sure we have it good in the next life? We know ordinances by correct authority fit somewhere in the mix, and also “enduring to the end.” The commandments seem important, but most of us believe that we can’t keep them all which is why we needed a Savior in the first place. The temple fits somewhere in the mix… but at the end of the day we don’t really find out how well we did on everything until judgment day… right? On the other side of all this, people usually come out with a few different conclusions.
One position that’s become popular in the last 30 years is that once we’ve made the covenant to follow Christ through baptism, we’re “in” the kingdom, and will be “in” the kingdom unless we decide to leave. This idea posits that once we’ve made the covenant, and just have the desire to follow Christ, He makes up for all of our imperfections and can let us into heaven. It’s compared to a child who wants to buy a bicycle, who then works and saves every penny for a few weeks only to find out she has nowhere near what it will actually cost. Her father then tells her that if she’ll give him everything she’s saved with a hug and a kiss, he’ll take care of the rest. This is virtually the same as the protestant position, but just swaps “confession of belief” for “ordinances.” Its contingent concern is still in the doing.
There are other variations of this that are a bit more nebulous and conditional. Some people will say you have to do your best before Christ’s mercy kicks in. If you only give half the effort you could have, for example, you won’t have done enough on your part to inherit Celestial glory. Others will say “if you’re worthy of a temple recommend, you’re worthy of the Celestial Kingdom.” Or, “you just need to be heading in the right direction when you die,” or “stay in the mainstream of the Church and die in full fellowship.”
These all miss the point, and leave people feeling a little uncertain. Many are unsure about their standing with God, and question whether or not they’re doing enough to be saved. They question whether all of their sacrifices, time, and effort are enough to meet God’s demands.
A comment made frequently in Sunday school is: “The Lord doesn’t ask us to be perfect, He just wants us to try our best.” This is generally met with an enthusiastic nod of agreement from everyone in the room, because everyone who has tried beating their flesh into submission knows it doesn’t work. They conclude, “we can’t be perfect, and the Lord doesn’t expect us to do anything out of our control… and besides, isn’t that what a Savior is for? If we could be perfect, we wouldn’t need a Savior. We just need to do our best, and He’ll make up the difference.”
There’s a major problem with this line of thinking though, and that is that “do your best” is not a principle of the gospel. This is to fundamentally miss this point of what this life and the atonement are all about.
To go back to our fountain analogy, it’s as though most people are saying: Did the fountain ever produce any bad water? If it did, it can’t go to heaven. However, if it accepts Jesus (either by confession or ordinance) then it can be forgiven for producing bad water and can be a fountain in heaven. Or, if it accepts Jesus and then tries its best to produce good water, He’ll make up for the bad water it produces so that it can be a fountain in heaven.
When people view salvation this way, their main concern is forgiveness of past sins. However, what the fountain needs is not merely to be forgiven (although that’s an important first step), but to be fundamentally changed. If a bad fountain is forgiven but not changed, it will continue to produce bad water. Put another way, sin is just a symptom of a deeper issue. If the deeper issue is never treated, bandaids won’t fix it.
Consider this for a moment: do you believe people will continue to sin in heaven?
If the answer is yes, then what do you think will make heaven any different than the world we currently live in, or the church you currently attend?
If the answer is no, then in order to dwell in God’s presence you will need to be sinless; not just forgiven of past sins, but you must never commit any kind of sin again. That prospect on its own might create a lot of anxiety and discouragement; will we just be anxiously trying to stay in line, fearing the slightest misstep will result in our being kicked out? That sounds like a perfectionist’s hell.
Some people are under the impression that our desires will be magically changed once we’re resurrected. Alma tells us that this not the case; in the resurrection, we will in fact be restored back to exactly what we were in the life:
“Do not suppose, because it has been spoken concerning restoration [resurrection], that ye shall be restored from sin to happiness. Behold, I say unto you, wickedness never was happiness. And now, my son, all men that are in a state of nature, or I would say, in a carnal state, are in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; they are without God in the world, and they have gone contrary to the nature of God; therefore, they are in a state contrary to the nature of happiness.
“And now behold, is the meaning of the word restoration to take a thing of a natural state and place it in an unnatural state, or to place it in a state opposite to its nature? O, my son, this is not the case; but the meaning of the word restoration is to bring back again evil for evil, or carnal for carnal, or devilish for devilish—good for that which is good; righteous for that which is righteous; just for that which is just; merciful for that which is merciful. (Alma 41:10-13).
We really have to consider the implications of this scripture. If we will be restored to exactly what we are here, desires, nature, and all—then even if salvation was all about forgiveness, it wouldn’t be too long after being admitted back into God’s presence that we would sin again. And then, like Adam and Eve, we would be cut off from His presence all over again. By its nature, a bad fountain will produce bad water.
So what is the solution? Is there any hope at all if our nature and disposition is to sin?
Now we’re getting to the heart of the problem. It’s not about bad marks on our report card—it’s about who we are.
Instead of thinking about sin as a mistake, misstep, or hitting a wrong note, think of sin as a symptom. It’s a symptom that something in your heart is not right. It’s bent out of place, or facing the wrong way, or not arranged right.
What we need is not to be saved in our sins, but from our sins.
As Helaman told his sons: “And remember also the words which Amulek spake unto Zeezrom, in the city of Ammonihah; for he said unto him that the Lord surely should come to redeem his people, but that he should not come to redeem them in their sins, but to redeem them from their sins” (Helaman 5:10; emphasis added).
It’s important to really think about this. Do you believe Christ came to save us in our sins, or from our sins? Is His atonement for the purpose of saving us despite the fact that we sin, or is it about pulling us out of that lifestyle entirely? Do you believe “he will justify in committing a little sin” (2 Nephi 28:8)? Or that in the resurrection, we will be restored “from sin to happiness” (Alma 41:10)?
Consider what the Lord told Alma, “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).
The purpose of the gospel is not just about being forgiven, or “making up the difference,” but being fundamentally changed. The Savior is the Master Physician, come to heal us (3 Nephi 9:13). He intends to change our nature from being bitter fountains to pure ones. If our hearts are not changed, we will have a hard time producing good fruit. When our hearts are changed, good fruit will naturally follow.
As He spoke through Ezekiel: “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).
We see what this looks like with the people of King Benjamin: “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). Or as Alma taught, “Now they, after being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, having their garments made white, being pure and spotless before God, could not look upon sin save it were with abhorrence; and there were many, exceedingly great many, who were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord their God” (Alma 13:12).
Consider how different your life would be if the very desire to sin was rooted out of your heart. Consider how different things would be if instead of trying to wrestle with the flesh, God’s will became your will; if His heart was your heart.
C.S. Lewis wisely observed Christ’s intention: “Give me all of you! I don’t want so much of your time, so much of your talents and money, and so much of your work. I want you! All of you! I have not come to torment or frustrate the natural man or woman, but to kill it! No half measures will do. I don’t want to only prune a branch here and a branch there; rather I want the whole tree out! Hand it over to me, the whole outfit, all of your desires, all of your wants and wishes and dreams. Turn them all over to me, give yourself to me and I will make of you a new self—in my image. Give me yourself and in exchange I will give you Myself. My will, shall become your will. My heart, shall become your heart.”
When His will becomes our will, and His heart becomes our heart, Satan will have no power over us, and sinlessness will be the natural fruit that follows. Consider how this will be the condition of all living in the millennial day: “And Satan shall be bound, that he shall have no place in the hearts of the children of men… And the earth shall be given unto them for an inheritance; and they shall multiply and wax strong, and their children shall grow up without sin unto salvation” (D&C 45:55, 58).
So many of us long for a life in the millennium—that perfect day of peace when Christ will reign personally upon the earth—but what do you suppose will make it so? Why will Satan be bound? Nephi gives the answer: “because of the righteousness of his people, Satan has no power; wherefore, he cannot be loosed for the space of many years; for he hath no power over the hearts of the people, for they dwell in righteousness, and the Holy One of Israel reigneth” (1 Nephi 22:26; emphasis added).
Satan’s being bound is not an arbitrary decision made by God to suddenly remove our opposition. He will be bound because those on earth will have overcome; they will be sufficiently sanctified that they have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually. Satan will have no power over their hearts because His temptations will no longer appeal to them. This is the only way something like Zion gets established; our hearts must all be purified.
The law of Zion is the law of the Celestial kingdom (D&C 105:5). Only those who abide the law of the Celestial kingdom (Zion) can abide in a Celestial glory (D&C 88:22). As the prophet taught, “any person who is exalted to the highest mansion has to abide a celestial law, and the whole law too” (TPJS p. 331).
Because the resurrection is only a restoration of what we already are, the only ones who will be resurrected to a celestial glory are those who have already become celestial here. Those who have allowed the Lord to transform them into celestial, Zion-like individuals in this life.
“For notwithstanding they die, they also shall rise again, a spiritual body. They who are of a celestial spirit shall receive the same body which was a natural body; even ye shall receive your bodies, and your glory shall be that glory by which your bodies are quickened. Ye who are quickened by a portion of the celestial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness” (D&C 88:27-29).
These are the kinds of people who establish Zion on earth, or at least live a Zion-lifestyle when no such society is present: “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 who are just men made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant” (see D&C 76:54-69).
Enoch’s city didn’t just happen to have more willpower than everyone else; they were fundamentally transformed by the grace of Christ. When we think of those living in the millennial day, or Celestial kingdom, who have no disposition to sin, and over whom Satan has no power—that is what we must become here and now, through the atonement of Christ.
If this is truly something we can (indeed must) become in this life, what is the process? How do we become the kinds of people who can live a Celestial law? Who bind Satan because of their righteousness? Who have no disposition to do evil, and who cannot look upon sin save it be with abhorrence?