Perfection, pt. 4: The Strait Gate

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.

We enter in at the straight gate when we offer everything to God.

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 you are 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.

Catalog of Blessings

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

One principle of the gospel that should give us faith and confidence in the Lord’s goodness is that He works by eternal law, and is no respecter of persons. Consequently, any of the blessings, miracles, or revelations that we read about in the scriptures are just as accessible to us as they were anciently. All blessings are obtained by the fulfillment of certain laws and conditions. If we learn and fulfill the conditions, we will have a right to the same blessings. Furthermore, God does not love Enoch, Moses, or Nephi more than He loves you or me, and anything He was willing to do for them, He is willing to do for us.

As the Lord told Moroni, “And in that day that they shall exercise faith in me, saith the Lord, even as the brother of Jared did, that they may become sanctified in me, then will I manifest unto them the things which the brother of Jared saw, even to the unfolding unto them all my revelations, saith Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of the heavens and of the earth, and all things that in them are” (Ether 4:7).

What is the key phrase on which these blessings hinge? “Faith… even as the brother of Jared.” Notice it is not predicated on what calling you hold, your marital status, age, occupation, or anything else. All these things may be affected by whether or not you exercise great faith, but the only condition upon which these blessings flow is having the same degree of faith that the brother of Jared had. The individual circumstances of our lives will vary from person to person, depending on the course the Lord takes to get us there – but when we fulfill the law, we will receive the blessing as did Enoch, Moses, Mahonri, and many others.

This principle of equal privilege is made clear in the Lectures on Faith:

“But it is equally as necessary that men should have the idea that he is a God who changes not, in order to have faith in him, as it is to have the idea that he is gracious and long suffering. For without the idea of unchangeableness in the character of the Deity, doubt would take the place of faith. But with the idea that he changes not, faith lays hold upon the excellencies in his character with unshaken confidence, believing he is the same yesterday, today and forever, and that his course is one eternal round.

“But it is also necessary that men should have an idea that he is no respecter of persons; for with the idea of all the other excellencies in his character, and this one wanting, men could not exercise faith in him, because if he were a respecter of persons, they could not tell what their privileges were, nor how far they were authorized to exercise faith in him, or whether they were authorized to do it at all, but all must be confusion; but no sooner are the minds of men made acquainted with the truth on this point, that he is no respecter of persons, than they see that they have authority by faith to lay hold on eternal life the richest boon of heaven, because God is no respecter of persons, and that every man in every nation has an equal privilege.”
(Lectures on Faith 3:21, 23)

Should we find ourselves in need, pleading with God for certain blessings or revelations, it’s our duty and privilege to seek out what the Lord has done for His people in times past, and by meeting the same requirements, reap the same blessings.

There is a price associated with every blessing. When the Savior instructs us to ask, seek, and knock (Matt. 7:7-8), He is doing more than suggesting we make passive wishes to a genie. He is inviting us into a process whereby our desires lead us to become the kind of person who can receive what we’re asking for. For example, those who seek the blessing of making their calling and election sure must first learn the conditions upon which that blessing is given. Upon studying what those conditions are, they will learn that they must have unconditional faith; an unrelenting obedience to everything God reveals to them. What they then are truly seeking is to become the kind of person willing to serve God at all hazards, no matter the cost. Their prayers will not be fleeting wishes for a place in God’s kingdom, but rather for humility, faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity. They will ask the Lord to take them through whatever kinds of experiences are necessary to obtain those things, and will willingly submit to whatever He asks of them. They will seek His grace for strength, perspective, and understanding. They will knock by humbly petitioning the Lord for that grace, and learning the laws whereby they obtain it.

When viewed in this light, the scriptures become a catalog of blessings. God blesses His children by eternal law. If we will therefore study out the price associated with each blessing, we will be empowered to obtain them. Whether we seek divine for intervention for physical protection of our families (like Helaman and the stripling warriors), to reclaim wayward children (like Alma, Mosiah, or Lehi), to heal sickness and disease, to entertain angels, or to obtain revelation and personal guidance—all these blessings and more have conditions that can be discovered by studying the experiences of others.

From Bruce R. McConkie:

“Unless we enjoy the same gifts and work the same miracles that marked the lives of those who have gone before, we are not the Lord’s people. The Lord our King is the same yesterday, today, and forever. A soul is just as precious in his sight now as it ever was. He is no respecter of persons, and anytime any of us exercise the same faith that moved the ancients in their pursuit of righteousness, we will enjoy the same gifts and blessings that attended their ministries.

“It is an eternal law that ‘these signs shall follow them that believe.’ (Mark 16:17.) They ‘never will be done away, even as long as the world shall stand, only according to the unbelief of the children of men.’ (Moro. 10:19.) At any moment when we have the faith of the ancients, we shall also enjoy the same gifts and blessings that they possessed.

“I think the proper course for us to pursue is to turn to the holy scriptures and learn what the Lord has done for the people of his church in days of old. The more we know about the way an unchangeable God has operated in days past, the greater surety we will have that he will repeat himself in days present.

“The faith-promoting stories in the scriptures will accomplish their purpose if we will let them, and that purpose is to create faith in our hearts so that we will trust in the same Lord who blessed our forebears and thereby inherit the same blessings that he poured out upon them.” (McConkie, The How and Why of Faith-promoting Stories, 1978)

“Can ye feel so now?”: Approaching Faith Crisis

I put together a presentation for those struggling with faith. I hope you find something meaningful in it.

Here’s a parting passage to meditate on:

“The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!

“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. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?

“Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” (Matthew 6:22-34)

Links to faith crisis articles: part one and part two.

Fighting Anxiety with Faith

In my last post, I addressed our common mismanagement of guilt. Today I’d like to offer the solution as outlined in the scriptures.

We’re trying to find the balance between two extremes: complacency and overstress. On the one hand, there are those who settle in their complacency, believing that Christ has abolished the necessity to actually follow him; on the other hand, there are those who live in a constant state of stress, worried that there’s always something more they should be doing (as a side note, it’s my observation that men typically err on the former, whereas women, the latter). These are factors that play a role in managing guilt properly. The Savior prescribes a simple yet beautiful pass down the middle.

There is, in all reality, only ever one thing you have to worry about at a time. When you train a young baseball player to hit baseballs, you do not start by correcting his hands, shoulders, wrists, elbows, foot position, stride, upper body loading, torque at the mid-body, counter-rotation, release, contact, and follow through in one lesson. If you do, you are neither a good teacher nor will the batter develop any skill. There is too much going on for anything to actually improve. You teach complicated or intricate skills one step at a time. There should be in the mind of the student only one thing to do. There is always only one thing to do. There is never more than the single thing to be addressed. It is the thing most wrong at the moment. Once that is addressed and corrected, then you can move on to the next thing, where again there is only one thing to do—and it is the next thing in the sequence. When the next skill is acquired, then there is still only one thing to do.

The same principle applies to living the gospel. There is only one thing for you to do. The Spirit will tell you what you need to do within the context of your own life, and it will always be the thing that most hinders you which requires your immediate attention.

Learn to hear his voice from hour to hour. Go where he prompts you to go, say what he gives you to say, and do what he asks you to do. He, whose ways are higher than our own, will guide you through your life with perfect precision. He will tell you when, where, and how to act.

But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God (Matthew 4).

Consider what it means to live by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. What would that look like in your own life?

3 …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).

Most of our anxieties in life come as a result of our plans not being aligned with God’s. When we have a million options laid out before us, we need only be concerned with the one God wants us to take at that moment.

Sometimes we sense our own weakness when considering all that we need to do. God has a solution for this dilemma as well:

And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father: I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them (1 Nephi 3).

Again, there’s only ever one variable we have to worry about: is God commanding you to do it? If he is, then your own capability doesn’t matter. Nephi and his brothers had no idea how they’d get the plates from Laban when they left for Jerusalem; they just trusted the Lord would prepare a way. If it’s not God’s will, then it either doesn’t matter enough in the grand scheme of things, or there’s something else he’d rather you do.

We know that “all things work together for good to them that love God” (Romans 8:28). When we consider that those who love God are those who keep his commandments (John 14:15), and keeping his commandments involves living by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God, we understand how by controlling this one variable, he will cause every external variable to work for our eventual benefit.

There is only ever one thing at a time God asks of you. Learning to take life one step at a time, obeying every prompting he gives you, will bring your life in perfect harmony with his will. When you’re aligned with God, nothing else matters.

It is possible to be be completely reconciled to him. Not while you’re carrying a load of sins that trouble you and worry you and distract you, but that’s what the Lord will remove from you. He can take all of that away, but it is entirely up to you to choose, then, to do follow obey his voice. That kind of faith will bring you the blessings King Benjamin’s people received:

And it came to pass that after they had spoken these words the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come, according to the words which king Benjamin had spoken unto them (Mosiah 4).

Consider the experience of this Book of Mormon writer’s experience:

And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens.

And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.

And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away.

And I said: Lord, how is it done?

And he said unto me: Because of thy faith in Christ, whom thou hast never before heard nor seen… (Enos 1).

What made Enos’ experience real and authentic? How was it that he actually felt his guilt swept away?

Trusting God is not something we learn to do all at once. It comes gradually. The more we trust him, the more we’ll obey him. The more we obey him, the more we learn to trust him. As we learn to trust him, our faith will grow to the point that, like Enos’, our own guilt will be swept away. These things are all connected.

Alma the younger had a powerful conversion experience over the course of a few days. Note the distinction here between his pains and his memories,

17 And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.

18 Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.

19 And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.

20 And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain! (Alma 36.)

Alma doesn’t say that he could remember his sins no more. He said he could remember his pains no more. He wasn’t “harrowed up” by the memory of his sins. He still remembered them, and I’m sure reflected on them with some amount of regret. I’m sure he wished he would have rather not done those things. He was totally forgiven in God’s eyes, but likely had remorse for his past. It’s my opinion that that serves as a protection to keep us from repeating our errors. It’s among the spiritual intelligence that we gain in this life.

The remedy to all of this is faith in Christ. Not mere belief, but an actual abiding trust in him.