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.

Seeing As We Are Seen: Discovering Who You Really Are

You are infinitely more than you think you are.

Because of the fall, we have been born into bodies cut off from the light and presence of God. Consequently, we have no recollection of our premortal (eternal) identity.

We say God is the Father of our spirits, and that is true enough. However, this sentiment takes on new meaning when we make some adjustments in our cultural understanding. To the Gentile mind, names and titles are like labels that cannot be changed. A “child” is the physical and genetic offspring of a man and woman. In Hebrew thinking, “father,” mother,” and child” are each defined by the role they play. A father is one who “gives strength to the family,” and the mother is one who “holds the family together.” A child submits to his/her parents, and willingly receives what they teach them.

In this sense, a person chooses whether or not they will be somebody’s child, based on who they are obedient to and receive from. Jesus told the Pharisees, “If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me… Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do” (John 8:42-44).

Of course, Christ’s point is not about who impregnated the woman that gave birth to them. Rather, it’s a question of who is “fathering” them; who are they being obedient to, learning from, and becoming like? Similarly, we read in the scriptures phrases like, “Love your enemies… that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:44-45), and, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God” (John 1:12). In other words, being a child of God isn’t just an immutable label on our identity, but something we willingly choose (“willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father”); it is to be a son or daughter of light and truth.

Your Premortal Identity

That being said, consider how this adds value to the idea that we were sons and daughters of God before this life. When we read that at the creation of the earth, “the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy” (Job 38:7), we are not just reading about the offspring of God (though we are indeed His offspring), but of immensely powerful beings who were full of light and truth, willing to freely receive and obey God’s light without reservation.

Joseph Smith taught: “At the first organization in heaven we were all present and saw the Savior chosen and appointed and the plan of salvation made, and we sanctioned it.”

This alone says a lot about our premortal identity. We sanctioned the plan made and Savior chosen. Furthermore, to stand in God’s presence requires a greater deal of intelligence (light and truth) than the world presently has. Similarly, before this life we possessed greater intelligence than we have now. When we were in God’s presence, the truth of who and what we are flowed to us freely, and we thus lived in perfect awareness of our true identity.

As Adam and Eve were “cut off” from God’s presence after the fall, so too are we born into a body that is cut off from His light. Our bodies do not receive light freely as did our spirits, and thus we’re cut off from a knowledge of our true identity. This creates a vacuum in our identity as we seek to discover who we really are. I believe it’s akin to being submerged in water, suddenly cut off from air, and desperately trying to get it back. This creates a deep desire in us to discover purpose and meaning.

Without a knowledge of our true identity, we try to create one. However, being in a fallen, veiled, and darkened state, our new perception of ourselves is extremely limited. We base it on our birthplace, our heritage, the values and beliefs we’re raised with, the desires of our bodies, the new interests we’ve taken, our relatively short-life experience, our mistakes, our future dreams and goals, etc. But thinking these things determine who we really are would be like waking up with severe amnesia—in a foreign land—and basing our entire identity on what we did in the first few hours.

We are more eternal than we realize.

Two Natures

You do not have a spirit, you are a spirit. You have a body.

Because you have taken residence in a fallen tabernacle, you are cut off from God “in the body”—but because your spirit has a connection to heaven, you can still access God in the spirit.

We talk of the different voices that entice us to either keep God’s commandments or sin. We say it is the angels who deliver God’s word by the Holy Ghost (D&C 76:86-88; cf. 2 Nephi 32:3), and that it’s evil spirits who tempt us to sin (Ephesian 6:12), and that is true enough. However, there is also a part in each of us that is inclined to obey one or the other. As Jesus remarked, “the spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). Or as King Benjamin taught, “the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam” (Mosiah 3:19), which natural man Alma describes as “carnal, sensual, and devilish” (Alma 42:10). So in a sense, while outside forces can seek to influence us (either for good or for evil), they are only appealing to the internal forces inside of us.

You are a divided being. On the one hand you are your spirit-self, who is eternal, intelligent, perceptive, powerful, and already has a godly nature: “Ye are gods (and goddesses); and all of you are children of the most High” (Psalms 82:6). On the other hand, your body is broken, subject to death, mentally slow compared to your spirit, unaware of spiritual things, and weak in every possible way. It is blinded by the screaming demands of the flesh, full of questions, uncertainty, pride, corruption, and self-will: an enemy to God.

But know this: you are not your body. When you notice this division of will—as your conscience quietly prompts you to do one thing and the flesh screams you do another—know that your voice, and your will, is not the voice of the flesh. Though we might be in the habit of thinking to ourselves, “I’m so angry,” or “I really want to indulge in this,” or “I have no desire for spiritual things,” this is in fact the voice of the false-self.

You are so much more than your body. You’re more than its desires, its brokenness, and the experiences you’ve had while occupying it for this brief period of time. You are your spirit self, who is divine, eternal, and of a godly nature.

Your true (eternal) self is reflected in the voice of your conscience. Promptings to do good and yield to the light of God are your deepest yearnings and desires. The voice that tries to dissuade you from obeying your conscience is always derived from fear. It is always a fear of something. The fear your body won’t get what it wants; the fear that the false-self is in danger of being erased; the fear that people will think less of you. Fundamentally, the desire for validation stems from our need to be aligned with God and truth, but because we are so steeped in fear we look to others to fill that need.

These fears are the essence of the false-self. They are the result of being cut off from God—not integrated to the light.

The false-self is a recent innovation for each of us as eternal beings—one that is the sum of our bodies’ fears.

I find I have a distaste for movements that emphasize ideas like “self-care,” “self-esteem,” and “self-compassion,” because they tend to cater to the wrong “self.” They spend a lot of time trying to soothe the fears of the false self, but never get to the root of the problem: it is altogether a false self. It’s not loving to only soothe those enchained in lies and deception—we ought to set them free. As it lies that make up the chains of hell (D&C 123:7-8), it is the light and truth of God flowing through us again that will dispel all darkness: “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).

The only role the self plays in this equation is the one prescribed by Christ: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:24-25).

This is what it means to have faith in Christ. When we have the faith to let go of who we think we are, we will begin to find who we truly are.

As C.S. Lewis wrote, “Our real selves are waiting for us in Him. The more I resist Him and try to live on my own, the more I become dominated by my own heredity and upbringing and natural desires… it is when I turn to Christ, when I give myself up to His personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own.”

Yielding to Light

The purpose of this life is to yield your body to the enticings of the Holy Spirit so that light and truth flow through your body as freely as they did your spirit (Mosiah 3:19; cf. Matthew 6:22). This “yielding” requires we voluntarily give up our false-selves— our desires, beliefs, and identity—placing our entire will on the altar of sacrifice.

As you yield yourself to the voice of your conscience, your body will come in alignment with your spirit. Consequently, you will begin to feel more like yourself—your true and eternal self. Whenever you act on spiritual promptings, you are acting according to your true nature.

When your body then undergoes the trials and experiences necessary for its refinement, it will be upgraded, changed, and sanctified sufficient to again be in God’s presence. It will be brought into full alignment with your spirit, and you will at last be you in the flesh; a son or daughter of God, freely receiving the light and truth that flows from His presence.

We must rend the veil created by the fall to reclaim our true identity. Concerning this transition, Paul wrote, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” (1 Corinthians 13:12; cf. D&C 88:67-68). In D&C 76, we read that those who dwell in God’s presence in Celestial glory are “gods, even the sons of God,” and also that they “see as they are seen, and know as they are known (D&C 76:58, 94). In other words, as the truth of God flows through them freely in His presence, they live in perfect awareness and clarity of who they really are—and whose they are.

And the world is in desperate need of who you really are, and what you really have to offer. Your light will make the world a truer place. To the extent that you yield your heart to God’s light it will flow through you and from you, and your presence will give those around you the opportunity to do the same.

The Light of the World

One aspect of Christ’s atoning role is that He descended into this world of darkness and lies, and was exactly who He is (Mosiah 15:1-2). The “Word became flesh” because His body was full of light and truth. His light made the world a truer place, lifting and inspiring those around Him to do the same:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not…

“That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:1, 4-5, 9-14; emphasis added).

Our Savior is the light of the world. To those who turn to His light, and believe on His name, He empowers to become the sons of God (in the flesh, as He is; 1 John 3:2). To “abide in Christ” is to surrender your whole being to His will. It is a state or condition of being, wherein we freely receive and live in the light He shines. This is how He redeems the world—freeing us from the lies that fetter our eternal soul.

Christ Himself taught: “And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27).

Christ sees us and knows us as we truly are. When we are in His presence, we see as we are seen, and know as we are known—and are otherwise guided by His increasing light until we arrive at that perfect day.

Christ is inviting us into an order. It is properly called the Holy Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God, because those who come into it are also made “sons” (and daughters) of God (D&C 76:56-58; cf. John 1:12).

When Christ turns our hearts, we are then inspired to turn the hearts of others. We invite them to awake, arise and abide in the light with us. When we forgive others, or respond charitably to evil, we are not just absorbing the effects of sin, but are lovingly inviting them to shake off the chains and lies that bind them, and to live in the truth of who they really are.

Charity is, in essence, to be so full of truth that we see through the lies of this fallen condition to who people really are—even (and especially) when they do not see it themselves. This is why we must pray with all the energy of heart in order to be filled with charity. By giving diligence unto prayer, we are filled with the mind of God—with light and truth—and can then see things as they really are, and people for who they really are. That is the essence of what it means to be like Christ, and to take His name upon us. It is to live in the light, and to be a light, while surrounded by a world of fear and darkness.

Charity will change the world; perfect love casts out all fear, light dispels darkness, and the truth sets us free. As we come to live in the truth of who we really are, we will bring heaven down to earth.

Don’t Let Knowledge Make You Bitter

Have you ever wondered why people become cynical, bitter, or resentful? It happens quite frequently, and I think understanding its cause (whether in others or ourselves) will help us know how to best approach it.

Here’s my best estimation:

As I covered in a previous video, we can overlay each spiritual journey in 2 or 3 major phases, mirroring the “three pillars of eternity”: Creation, Fall, and Atonement.

The first phase is akin to the Garden of Eden, or childhood. We exist inside the circle, where everything we’re aware of makes sense (as we understand it). We feel safe inside our bubble, not generally aware of all the evil and complexity of the outside world. This is Simba as a cub at Pride Rock, or Luke Skywalker living a casual life on Tatooine. It’s care free, and perhaps a bit naïve.

This first phase does not last forever, and at some point (sooner or later), every person is forced out of the Garden. Within Adam and Eve’s context, they partook of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and their eyes were “opened.” Increased knowledge opened their eyes, or made them aware, to the fact that their world is not all they thought it was. Mufassa is killed in a conspiracy more complex than Simba could even comprehend, and Luke similarly finds himself in the middle of something he wasn’t prepared for. Because their eyes have been opened, they can no longer remain in Eden; their world is spinning, everything seems like chaos.

This is a probationary state.

The journey is essentially complete when the hero conquers the new chaos. Simba defeats Scar and reclaims Pride Rock; Luke defeats the Emperor and frees the galaxy, etc. Greater peace and prosperity is enjoyed by all as the hero connects with his true identity.

The at-one-ment phase brings all things into order and harmony. This is a state of rest.

Whether or not people directly involve God, this process is always spiritual at its core. Peace of mind, security, order, chaos, and reconciliation are all spiritual concerns. We enjoy movies and books for the same reason the ancients were enthralled by myths – something about them resonates with the deep truths of our soul.

This three-act pattern can be found on many different levels. On perhaps the most general scale, these three states represent our pre-mortality, morality, and resurrection. Our imperfect, mortal, bodies separate us from God. As we submit the flesh to the Spirit, we are reconciled to Him and will come forth triumphant in the first resurrection.

On a smaller scale, this can happen when a child enters adolescence and becomes “self-conscious” about how they look to their peers, or when someone encounters the pain of a personal trial, like betrayal, or losing a loved one. It can happen when someone encounters information that causes them to question their faith, or even when receiving a commandment they don’t want to keep. Whatever it is, the result is the same: we become aware of something that we didn’t know, and it temporarily separates us from God.

There are, in reality, only two states of being: harmony with God, and disharmony with God. In a “Fall” stage we’re in disharmony, cut off from His presence (spiritually and physically), and in a state of death. When we are reconciled to His light, we are in a state of life. The end of one cycle is the beginning of another (note the similarity between “Creation” and “Re-Creation”).

Bitterness, Arrogance, and Resentment

The reason anyone becomes bitter or resentful is because they learn something that they don’t know how to reconcile. In other words, they get stuck in a fall state, which causes them to gradually lose greater and greater light.

Sometimes this happens because someone is exposed to too much chaos at a young age. Before they can even get their bearings in the world, their parents get divorced, a family member dies, or they suffer abuse from the very people they’re counting on for security.

Sometimes it happens because, even later in life, they don’t know how to reconcile severe trials. Sometimes they discover cracks in the foundations of their values and beliefs. Their eyes are opened. In some sense, they learn that Eden isn’t everything they thought it was; there are snakes in the garden.

Our response to greater knowledge and awareness is crucial. We must not allow the chaos to make us bitter or arrogant. Many people who do become cynical grow in hatred for those who seem happy and full of faith. They see them as naïve, and believe that the only reason they’re not miserable is because they’re ignorant of reality. They want to pop everyone’s “bubble,” and sometimes make it their life mission to do so. Like Satan, they seek that “all men might be miserable like unto [themselves]” (2 Nephi 2:27). This hatred for life and faith is the spirit of the Devil.

If you find that new knowledge (or awareness) has made you resentful to people who don’t have it in any way, you are being influenced by an evil spirit. If you allow that knowledge to lift you up in pride, or to cause you to think you are better than others, you are under an influence contrary to life. In short, if you use that knowledge for anything other than increasing your faith in Christ, it will work against you.

To those who increase in learning, Jacob warns: “O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish” (2 Nephi 9:28).

We must at all times maintain a spirit of humility and love. It is often our tendency to judge or criticize ourselves or others when we learn we have erred in something. This can be good if our criticism drives us to repentance, but we must guard against the temptation to use our new knowledge as sledgehammer to condemn those who have not learned what we have; to play the role of accuser is to play the part of Satan.

It is often the case that until we repent and reconcile our hearts back to light, love, and the Spirit, that we cannot even properly understand what we have been made aware of. As is depicted in the “Fall” diagram above, just because our awareness expands does not mean that we have made sense of it all. Only when we surrender to the light will everything be put in order.

The Remedy

The Savior descended below it all so that He could stand as a witness and comforter for every single person, no matter how severe their pain. He experienced all of these things in the flesh so that we could have faith in His ability to heal us. He has overcome the world.

“And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:11-12; cf. D&C 88:6).

We can have perfect faith in Him knowing that He knows the depth of our pain and alienation, and can bring us back into a state of reconciliation.

As time passes in a “Fall” state, our alienation from life and love grows from a smaller degree to a greater one. Time can make many people bitter and resentful: we get set in our ways, become hardened, and lose the joy and inspiration of childhood. The Savior’s injunction to become as a little child becomes especially meaningful in this context (Mosiah 3:19; 3 Nephi 9:22). He invites us to return to that place of childlike trust, assuring us that He has all of the light and truth pertinent to our reality. There is nothing He has not experienced and conquered. He has put all things under His feet, emanating love and life still. He is worthy and deserving of all of our faith.

The only real remedial course in these situations is to come unto Him with our whole heart and soul, in light of the things we’ve learned/experienced. He is the one that puts us into these situations, precisely so that we may learn to align ourselves with Him, and from Him become empowered to overcome the world. As we surrender all things to His will, His greater light will heal that which is broken in us, be it heartache, confusion, fear, doubt, cynicism, anger, or pride. He will order our chaos.

As we repeat this cycle with intentionality, we will find that the interval between each “Fall” and subsequent “Re-Creation” phase gets shorter and shorter, until at we arrive at the point where there is nothing God can reveal that would cause our faith to waiver; we will be immediately reconciled to His light. When we arrive at this point, our faith is perfect, and we are prepared to inherit the kingdom of God (or, all that He has) (2 Nephi 9:23; cf. D&C 84:38).

Nephi so testified: “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).

“I stand at the door, and knock”

Imagine for a moment the following scenario:

Christ appears to someone and visits with her in her living room. He has withheld His glory from her, like he did with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, so that she does not know who He is. During their conversation, the Lord wants to teach her something. He gently asks a series of questions to help her to begin thinking about things in a new way. As He meekly begins to propose a new point of view, she interrupts Him. She knows what point He’s going to make. She’s heard it before; as a matter of fact, she’s been taught that it’s wrong. She thinks she knows better, so instead of considering what He wants to teach her, she tries to correct Him. She tells Him He’s got it all wrong and needs to be careful about what He believes.

The Lord, who’s long-suffering and meek, does not insist. Though disappointed by her pride, He makes no effort to contend or compel. He doesn’t rail against her, or try to force His point. He doesn’t persist until she concedes He’s right. He doesn’t try to devise some logical argument that will leave her without a response. He just listens.

His Voice

Isaiah provided a description of the future Messiah when he wrote that He has “no beauty that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2). The Hebrew words in this verse imply that He would not be distinguishable, clothed in glamor and fame. He wouldn’t hold any position that was respected or acknowledged by men. Even among the covenant people, He had no priestly office. He was not a religious authority. He was not a Levite, and did not have a recognizable form of priesthood. He ensured that He would not be recognized, even by the covenant people, because of His appearance or priestly status. He ensured that the only reason men would follow Him was because they recognized His voice.

As He Himself noted, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). Or as Alma taught, “if ye will not hearken unto the voice of the good shepherd… ye are not the sheep of the good shepherd” (Alma 5:38).

Recognizing the Shepherd’s voice is just as much a challenge today as it was then.

He speaks to us through His Spirit, which is a still small voice (1 Kings 19:12). He does not compel, but invites us to follow Him.

In D&C 121, Christ explains the proper way to lead: “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile” (D&C 121:41-42).

This attitude is reflective of His character. When He came, this is how He taught. This is how He led. This is how He continues to lead and guide us day by day. He doesn’t intrude, but stands at the door and knocks (Revelation 3:20), except what He’s knocking on is our hearts. We have to be the ones to open up and let Him in.

The Mysteries of God

Whenever Nephi talks about learning truth from the Lord, He always defines it as “softening our hearts.” (1 Nephi 2:16; 14:1-2). Conversely, he defines rejecting truth from the Lord as “hardening our hearts” (1 Nephi 15:10 ; 2 Nephi 33:1-2). It’s clear he does this because he knows how the process works. Receiving revelation from the Lord is always a matter of humbling ourselves before God and opening our hearts to His Spirit. Nephi recounts that his initial answer from God about his father’s visions was a result of God softening his heart, causing him to believe (1 Nephi 2:16). As God continued to knock, and Nephi continued to open, he began to hear His voice (1 Nephi 2:19-24), then found himself in the presence of angels (1 Nephi 3:29-30), and ultimately had the heavens opened to Him, and beheld visions and things to come (1 Nephi 11-14). The key was softening his heart, and not resisting the Spirit of the Lord.

It’s been said that the Holy Ghost can carry the truth unto someone’s heart, but they must be the one’s to let it in. Unfortunately, our problem is that “there are many that harden  their hearts against the Holy Spirit, that it hath no place in them” (2 Nephi 33:1-2). We are often so prone to hardening our hearts against what God is telling us that we often don’t allow Him to get through to us. In this sense, we can be our own worst enemy; we’re so filled with fear of losing our temporal, natural man, things.

Alma taught this principle in these words:

“And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full. And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell.” (Alma 12:10-11)

Jospeh Smith taught that God had not revealed anything to Him that He would not reveal to anyone willing to receive it:

“This principle ought (in its proper place) to be taught, for God hath not revealed anything to Joseph, but what He will make known unto the Twelve, and even the least Saint may know all things as fast as he is able to bear them

“After a person has faith in Christ, repents of his sins, and is baptized for the remission of his sins and receives the Holy Ghost, (by the laying on of hands), which is the first Comforter, then let him continue to humble himself before God, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and living by every word of God, and the Lord will soon say unto him, Son, thou shalt be exalted. When the Lord has thoroughly proved him, and finds that the man is determined to serve Him at all hazards, then the man will find his calling and his election made sure, then it will be his privilege to receive the other Comforter…

“Now what is this other Comforter? It is no more nor less than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself; and this is the sum and substance of the whole matter; that when any man obtains this last Comforter, he will have the personage of Jesus Christ to attend him, or appear unto him from time to time, and even He will manifest the Father unto him, and they will take up their abode with him, and the visions of the heavens will be opened unto him, and the Lord will teach him face to face, and he may have a perfect knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of God; and this is the state and place the ancient Saints arrived at when they had such glorious visions—Isaiah, Ezekiel, John upon the Isle of Patmos, St. Paul in the three heavens, and all the Saints who held communion with the general assembly and Church of the Firstborn.” (TPJS 150-151).

What are We Willing to Receive?

This principle is also depicted in the Star of David. The intersection of the two triangles represents God on the one hand reaching down to us, and us on the other, reaching up to God.

Star of David - Wikipedia

This triangle represents the relationship with the Father that we ought to strive for. This is the ideal. What it does not depict is that often, star is much more lopsided. God is constantly reaching down to us, trying to offer us more and more. Like Joseph Smith taught, the Lord will gives us greater revelation as soon as we’re able to bear it. He is currently giving us the maximum amount of truth we’re willing to receive.

Another way we might think of it is like a cup. The Lord is eager to give us as much water as we’d like. The question is not whether He is willing to provide, but rather if we’re willing to receive. How big do we make our cups? Those like Joseph, Nephi, Alma, and Isaiah, who received the mysteries of God, were willing to receive anything and everything the Lord had to give. We seem to usually approach the Divine Throne with tiny dixie cups rather than five gallon jugs. Can we only imagine what the Lord has in store for those who completely open their hearts? What kind of trust would we need to drop all of our conditions?

Our minds are covered in a veil. This is the veil that separates us from God. It’s the same veil depicted in the Temple, and it has a name: unbelief. This dark veil draped over our eyes prevents us from seeing the light and glory of God. His light always shines, but we must rend the veil in order to see it. Consider the conversion 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, yea, he knew that this had overcome his natural frame, and he was carried away in God.” (Alma 19:6)

The Lord has also revealed that “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” (D&C 50:24).


His light always shines. He is always knocking on our hearts. It is our job then to receive the light, open our hearts, and cast away our dark veil of unbelief. The blessings that await are entitled “mysteries” because those who receive them in full are not permitted to share them with the world, “only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men” (Alma 12:9).

In the words of the apostle Paul, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:9-11)

It’s my genuine prayer we all be willing to soften our hearts and receive everything God would give us. We really do not know what great things God has in store for those who love Him.

Just as Joseph Smith wrote at the close of his vision of heaven, “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)

Faith Reconsidered

Your Least Favorite Question

What is faith?

This isn’t a fun question to hear in Sunday School, because the answer seems so straightforward and obvious. There are usually a few scriptures cited to define faith. Paul said in Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Another is found in Alma 32:21, which says: “And now as I said concerning faith—faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.”

As it turns out, these scriptures describe properties of faith, but don’t necessarily give a definition. To make a comparison, Charity is described as being longsuffering, kind, not envious, not prideful, selfless, etc. These are properties of charity, though a truer definition might be “the pure love of Christ” (Moroni 7:47). These properties can be used to see if you have faith, but don’t quite tell you how to get it in the first place. 

 So, what is faith? Here’s a definition straight out of the dictionary: “complete trust or confidence in someone or something.” This happens to fit very well when we’re talking about faith in God. In the Lectures on Faith, Joseph Smith describes faith as “the principle of action in all intelligent beings.” In a general sense, faith is what motivates you to act. You reap because you have faith you will sow. You take medicine because you have trust it will help you get better. You set an alarm clock because you trust that it will wake you up the next morning. Every action you take is motivated by faith–by trust or belief–even when it is so second nature that you don’t think twice about it. 

What does it mean, then, to have faith in God? If faith leads us to action, what action does faith in God lead us to? According to our dictionary definition, it means to have complete trust or confidence in Him. How should/does this affect the way we live? 

How do I actually “Follow Christ?”

God is the greatest good in the universe. He’s characterized by perfection. As mentioned previously, His goal is to provide all of us with the means and opportunity to become like Him. He told Moses: “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). Because this is His purpose–His work and His glory–He is constantly trying to reach us. He told Joseph Smith:

“This is the light of Christ. As also he is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was made.

“And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings;

“Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space

“The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things” (D&C 88:7,11-13). 

God’s light shines upon us at all times, similar to how the sun shines in the day time. It’s always being broadcasted. The prophet Mormon describes the Light, or “Spirit” of Christ, as being the agent whereby men may know good from evil. Outside of the gospel, this little agent is referred to as our “conscience.” This light is given to every person born into the world. Whenever we act on it, it grows brighter. Whenever we ignore it, or act contrary to it, it grows dimmer. Author John Pontius wrote:

“The light of Christ is many things. It is the power that keeps the sun burning, keeps the planets in their orbits, and gives life to all living creatures. It is the order of the universe, that which we call nature, and the power by which God governs (D&C 88:7-13). It is a free gift to His children. But most importantly for our purposes, it is the light of our understanding, and the source of our conscience. 

“Every person born into this world receives a birthday gift from his or her loving Heavenly Father. Through the Atonement of Christ, Father gives each child a precious gift of Light. This light serves as a guide, a teacher, and a voice of truth. It is commonly called the conscience, and is felt by everyone. It is constant, unerring, and persistent. It can only be extinguished by repeated abuse, but it can be extinguished. Most important of all, it is revelation. 

Christ Speaks to You

“The conscience of man constitutes our first and most important contact with the divine. 

“The Holy Ghost is the means by which Jesus Christ communicates all truth to mankind. The light of Christ emanates from Christ and is disseminated to us through the Holy Ghost. This function of the third member of the Godhead is commonly referred to as the Holy Spirit (as an example, see Mosiah 3:19). It is also appropriately called the light of truth, the voice of Christ, the voice of truth, the spirit of truth, the word(s) of Christ, His voice, my voice, the voice of the good shepherd, the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of the Lord, and the light of Christ.

“The Holy Spirit, which begins as our conscience, is a free gift to all mankind. It has power to warn, entice, enlighten, and urge to obedience. It will expand its mission to become a teacher of great eloquence as we give heed to its guiding voice. Prior to the ordinance of bestowing the gift of the Holy Ghost, the Holy Spirit is limited in its mission. It can only expand to a given level, and therefore, a person must receive the gift of the Holy Ghost in order to progress further …

“Even in its most powerful role, the Holy Spirit remains a still small voice. It rarely exceeds a quiet whisper, and even profound truths come silently and require faith to hear and obey. It requires much experience and righteous obedience to develop faith in the still small voice of the Spirit. 

“It would be easy to get confused if we assume all ‘promptings’ have language, words, or audible voices. Promptings generally lack an actual voice, and most often do not employ language. The phrase ‘still, small voice’ labels it as inaudible. ‘Still’ means without sound, subdued, hushed. ‘Small’ describes something tiny, in no great amount, of minor weight or consequence, easy to overlook. …

“Consider the impact of this truth. Your conscience is revelation to you as surely as if the Lord sent an angel to your bedroom with a flaming sword. 

“The truths communicated to you by your conscience come from Jesus Christ, are administered by the Holy Ghost, and are revelation. 

“No longer may we brush aside the still small voice and go our own way without knowing we are disobeying revelation from Jesus Christ. If Jesus Christ called you on the phone and asked you to go help your spouse with the dishes, wouldn’t you immediately go from the phone to the sink? Or would you return to your TV show and shrug it off with little or no thought? If a telephone call from Jesus Christ would impress you, then why not His voice in your spiritual ear, whispers from the eternal realms? Are we more impressed with electronics than we are with revelation?

The Voice Gets Louder

“Consider again the words just quoted above:

‘And everyone that hearkeneth to voice of the Spirit [which begins as the conscience], cometh unto God, even the Father. (D&C 84:47.)

“The Spirit of the Lord is talking to us constantly, and we have only to lift our heads from the confusion of the world to hear him and be inspired and led. This promise is profound. If we learn to hearken to His voice, we will be guided back into the presence of God. 

Bruce R. McConkie records:

“The conscience has three primary tasks: first, to give every person the knowledge that God exists; second, to instill the concept of right and wrong in the soul; and, third, and perhaps most important, to guide each person the to gospel of Jesus Christ, where he or she can receive the Holy Ghost and thus continue his or her journey home.

It makes no difference where we start in life; if we’ll learn to be obedient to this voice, it will get louder. Eventually, it will lead us to more truth, which will bring us closer to God. It may eventually lead you to the restoration, being baptized, and qualifying to receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, where God will pour out His Spirit to you in a way previously unknown. He will endow you with the necessary knowledge to finish your journey home.

One way to conceptualize this is to imagine you’re downtown, and you start to smell a distant, but powerful aroma. As you do your best to find out where it’s coming from, it gets stronger. After persistent pursuit, the source of the wonderful aroma is visible. If you’re determined to partake, you might cross the street and go inside. Inside, you’ll be greeted by those who can provide you with the food you’ve been in search of, and among others who are currently eating. After following the correct procedure, paying its price, and waiting, you’ll be presented with the food you’ve been in search of. You’ll see, taste, and experience it firsthand. It will become more powerful every step of the way, and unequivocally real once you partake for yourself.

John Pontius continues:

“Each prompting becomes an eternal stepping stone; each revealed direction constitutes a celestial boost heavenward; each truth building on the last, lifting with loving care. Each prompting obeyed qualifies the obedient for more and greater revelations. Each prompting disobeyed causes the disobedient to plateau and then sink. 

Image result for service to others

“The only thing that can stop a person endowed with continuous revelation is an unwillingness to obey. A person stalled on a spiritual platea must analyze his life and consider what it is he is unwilling to do. It will usually be amazingly small, yet soul stretching. It may be an unwillingness to tell your wife that you are sorry… Perhaps it is your tendency to stretch truth or push the wrong buttons on the cash register. Perhaps it is never-acted-upon feelings of lust or mismanagement of your body. It may be as simple as an unwillingness to turn off the TV, as urgent as going on a mission, or as dangerous as adultery. 

“Satan often attempts to use logic to negate the promptings of the Spirit and consequently cheat us out of blessings. If we obey Satan’s promptings, we counsel the Lord out of a tremendous opportunity, and our disobedience shuts the heavens for a time.”

This, of course, isn’t to imply that logic is on the side of the adversary, as every prompting has a greater “why.” However, immediately following many promptings, Satan will begin to sow seeds of doubt or disbelief in our minds. This is one hallmark of true revelation. We may have thoughts like “I shouldn’t say that, it will just make this person upset,” or, “I don’t need to do anything differently, that’s never happened before” or, “I’m a competent human being, I’m not going to let that happen.” It’s important to recognize that these are all attempts from the adversary to prevent us from obeying Christ.

“Perhaps the hardest things to learn about personal revelation is that it begins as the voice of the conscience. Every person knows what it is like to be prompted by their conscience to not do something. Fewer ever recognize the promptings to do something. It is the positive promptings that the beginnings, the seeds of revelation. Just like the conscience, they come without fanfare or heralding trumpets. No angel’s songs, no glorious lights from heaven, no burning in the bosom, or visions of eternity occur; just a still small voice. The only way you know it is actually revelation is that it prompts you to do something good, such as to say your prayers, to do some kindness, to share, to give, to expand and grow. 

“Hearing and obeying the voice of the conscience/Holy Spirit is the most important and powerful step you can take toward beginning your spiritual journey in earnest.

“Little progress can be made without it. These promptings are not limited to church subjects. They prompt us to do correctly in all aspects of our lives which bear upon our growth. Anything that will move you closer to God, that will bless you and those around you, that will build faith in the Lord’s voice may be the subject of these revelations. You may be prompted to pack up your tents and depart into the wilderness or to pick up your socks. You may be prompted to help you wife with the dishes or to stop at the scene of an accident and give a priesthood blessing. 

“Why would the Lord send you a revelation to pick up your socks? It is because even in something this small there is a right decision and a wrong outcome. If our spiritual hearing is so dim that we cannot be directed in very small things, how will He ever direct us to pick up our tents and save our families, as he did Lehi? We must first be obedient in small things–greater things come later. He will not elevate us to the profound until we advance beyond elementary obedience. 

Joseph Smith taught:

“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, til 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 up in the power and glory of his Maker, and is caught up to dwell with Him.”

This seems to echo a sentiment revealed by the Lord:

“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” (D&C 50:24).

Measuring Your Faith

Every prompting is an opportunity. Each has a purpose and a promise, and it requires faith to obey. Obedience to God’s daily and personal commandments is what faith in God leads us to do. Therefore, our faith can be measured by how obedient we are. Whenever we choose to disobey a prompting, we show God where we don’t trust Him. We demonstrate that we trust our own judgment more than His; that whatever we have in mind will be of more benefit to us than what He does. 

Do we trust God? In this new context, it’s an interesting question to consider. The degree to which we keep His commandments and act on spiritual promptings reveals how much we do. Keeping the commandments and doing what He asks is a matter of faith/trust, not willpower. Our only job is to learn to recognize His voice, and trust it enough to act on it. The scriptures say we’re saved by faith, and that is true enough. But merely proclaiming a belief in Christ does not constitute the amount of faith necessary to live eternal life. Joseph Smith taught:

“Let us here observe, 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). 

Sacrifice produces faith. Specifically, sacrificing our will for God’s will, because as Neal A. Maxwell said, 

“…the submission of one’s will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar. The many other things we ‘give,’ brothers and sisters, are actually the things He has already given or loaned to us. However, when you and I finally submit ourselves, by letting our individual wills be swallowed up in God’s will, then we are really giving something to Him! It is the only possession which is truly ours to give!”

And again, how do we learn His will, so that we know what and when to sacrifice? Paul taught that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). We obtain the word of God in a few different places. The most obvious form is His written word, as contained in the scriptures. Peter taught that men wrote as they were moved upon by the Holy Ghost (2 Peter 1:21). Another place we can obtain His word is through living servants who speak according to the Holy Ghost (D&C 1:38, D&C 68:4). The common denominator in both of these, however, is the original source from which they flow: the Holy Ghost!

Mormon? Mormon!: The Iron Rod
“And it came to pass that I beheld that the rod of iron, which my father had seen, was the word of God, which led to the fountain of living waters, or to the tree of life…” (1 Nephi 11:25).

God will speak to you as readily as He’ll speak to anyone who will listen. The most important way to obtain Christ’s word will be through direct revelation, because your life and your circumstances will require a specific set of instructions that only God can give. As Nephi taught,

“… feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do…I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do.” (2 Nephi 32:3).

One of Christ’s many titles is the “Word.” This is true because in one sense, He embodies the word and will of God. God says it, He does it. He’s characterized by His strict obedience. In another sense, any communication that comes from God comes from Him. The message is delivered by the Holy Ghost, but they are His words. As we strive to hear the Spirit and be guided by its influence in our lives, we’re striving to hear His voice and follow Him.