Doctrine: The Gospel will feel (and be) possible when we 1) think “progress, not perfection,” 2) willingly repent, and 3) get to know God better. That’s all it takes.
A couple of days ago I wrote a rather frank blog about my frustrations with people thinking the Gospel of Jesus Christ is impossible. It was a passionate entry for many good reasons. And, while everything I said I believe to be true, I realized yesterday that I hadn’t given any simple, clear steps to helping make the Gospel FEEL possible.
You see, the Gospel IS POSSIBLE whether we feel it is or not. However, Satan wants us to feel that the Gospel is impossible, because as long as we think/feel that, we won’t put forth any effort (which is, according to Satan’s plan, exactly what makes it impossible). So, if we don’t feel the Gospel is possible, it’s hard to change those feelings.
Let’s recap from my previous blog. We tend to feel the law of Christ is impossible based on:
- An incomplete or incorrect understanding of grace
- A half-hearted, surface, or cursory desire to become like God (i.e. have Eternal Life)
- An incomplete knowledge of and relationship with God
- A stronger knowledge/relationship, and/or a stronger preference for a false God
- An unwillingness to repent fully
- A selfish and lazy demand to have Eternal Life on our terms, not God’s
So, if those are many of the common reasons people feel the Gospel is impossible. Then, let me suggest three very simple things a person can do to make the Gospel feel possible—immediately.
Progress Not Perfection
The first thing all of us need to do is to update our understanding of grace as provided to us through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Yes, God has commanded us to be perfect (Matthew 5:48; 3 Nephi 27:27). But, He has commanded us to do so “through Christ” by our sincere, imperfect efforts (Moroni 10:32).
This is critical! The command is to “Be perfect through/in Christ” NOT to “Be perfect to be perfect in Christ.”
Grace is what makes us perfect (over time) as we simply try to do God’s will. We don’t have to do God’s will perfectly. We just have to sincere desires behind our efforts (as per #’s 2, 5 & 6 above). Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “We get credit for trying even if we don’t always succeed” (Tomorrow the Lord Will do Wonders Among You, April 2016 General Conference). Trying is what turns on the #gracefactor. Grace is like a fiery forge. By simply sincerely trying to do God’s will (imperfectly) we enter the fiery forge of grace. Thus, our pounding, hammering efforts bend us “through the power of grace.” Thus, we become perfect because of our imperfect efforts through grace.
So, if you really, truly and sincerely, want to become like God but you know you’ve got a long way to go. That’s okay! Make your motto, “Progress not Perfection” (@SavedbyGraceCo in IG). Change your expectations for your actions to, “I’m going to always try sincerely, even if my efforts aren’t perfect,” rather than the impossible which is, “I’m going to live perfectly.”
The Gospel will FEEL possible if you understand that you can’t mess up by sincerely trying. You can only mess up by not sincerely trying. And you know for yourself what sincerity (proceeding from genuine feelings) is for you.
The Gospel is impossible to us as long as we try to live it on our own terms, not God’s. As long as our desires and ways are contrary to His, we will feel the impossibility of it. And, if we are unwilling to submit our will to God’s and continue to try to have things or do things our way, then, the Gospel IS impossible. So, we have to repent and submit to God’s will until the day comes that our will and His will is the same (Mosiah 3:19).
Christ’s atonement (pertaining to salvation) is not for everyone. It is for those who repent and submit to God’s will. Grace doesn’t make our wrongs right. It pays justice for the debt we incur for committing wrongs and make it possible for us to obtain mercy. We can’t just say, “Sorry God, now just let me do things my way and don’t expect me to change.”
The only thing the atonement buys for everyone is a resurrected, immortal body (see references below). But salvation (entrance into the lowest level of God’s Celestial Kingdom) is only received by those who repent, are baptized, receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost, TRY to keep God’s commandments, and endure to the end (Doctrine and Covenants 14:7; Alma 11:37, 40-44). Mercy cannot rob Justice. Therefore, mercy is only extended unto those who meet the conditions for it (Alma 42:24-25).
Life like God, i.e. Eternal Life, requires that we make more covenants (beyond baptism) and bind our will so closely to God’s that we become like Him by our sincere efforts (Note: I didn’t say “perfect efforts” I merely said “sincere efforts.”). Thus, by TRYING to keep these covenants (however imperfectly) we learn to sacrifice, forgive, change, consecrate, endure, etc., by these additional covenants. And, unless we enter into these covenants and sincerely TRY to keep them, we cannot have Eternal Life.
That’s why we take the sacrament every week. We take it to take inventory of our lives. We make note of what we’ve done pretty well. We make note of what we can do better. We ask God to grant us POWER TO KEEP TRYING. And, by sincerely partaking of this sacrament, God allows us to maintain the Gift and sanctifying, perfecting, comforting, incredible power of the Holy Ghost.
Many people go to the temple because they feel that they walk out with renewed power. The same blessings can come to us as we worthily and sincerely partake of the sacrament. It is an ordinance that when understood can send us out of a church building clothed with power. It is, in a way, a lesser temple experience just as the Aaronic priesthood is the lesser priesthood. The temples, then, provide a full experience because they are governed by the Melchizedek priesthood (the higher priesthood).
So, 1) think progress, not perfection, and 2) repent!
Get to Know God Better
A lot of people find the commandments difficult because they see them in the wrong light. They simply think, “This is something I’m supposed to do,” which in turn creates an incorrect expectation that simply doing it is going to move mountains in your life. If you go to church because you’re supposed to then when it fails to inspire you, change you, uplift you, or even comfort you—immediately—you are going to think, “Well, this is a load of crap.”
God has commanded us to go to church not to check off an item on some trivial spiritual checklist. He does so because there (at church) we have two critical and powerful opportunities. 1) We have the chance to learn more about Him (how He works, how He lives, how He loves, how He sacrifices, etc.), and 2) By partaking of the sacrament, we have the chance to be more open and prepared to receive promptings from the Holy Ghost.
So, yes, church can often be boring. But, if you’ve got a rough/poor teacher or speaker, you can say a silent prayer and ask, “What can I learn about Thee, God, from this experience?” and I guarantee you, with that kind of attitude (if it’s sincere), you will be taught simple, peaceful truths from on high. If you’re tired and feel your mind is fuzzy, you can still be assured that in God’s house you are less fuzzy when it comes to receiving promptings from the Holy Spirit. So, no matter what is going on (in sacrament meeting or your current class), get out your scriptures and read, or say a prayer, and things will be clearer there. Why clearer there? Because that’s where God has commanded you to be! So your conscience before Him is, in that moment, perfect. You could read and pray at home, too, but because you know, fundamentally, that God has asked you to be elsewhere (at church), then subconsciously (or consciously) you will have a less clear path to His throne because you know your life isn’t in even attempted alignment with His will.
If you read your scriptures because you expect to always be enveloped by pillars of light and receive earth-shattering, novel revelations; then when it fails to be all fireworks and singing choirs of angels, you are going to think, “Well, this is a load of crap.” This is because you’ve missed the point.
We have been commanded to read the scriptures for two reasons. 1) We have the chance to learn more about Him (how He works, how He lives, how He loves, how He sacrifices, etc.), and 2) We have the chance to be more open and prepared to receive promptings from the Holy Ghost.
So, it doesn’t matter how much you read. It doesn’t matter where you read. It only matters that you are reading with the sincere desire to learn more about God, about yourself, and to be more open to the promptings of the Holy Ghost.
For example, if you’re seeking an answer to a prayer, open your scriptures. Either open it up randomly (this works for some people), seek out a specific topic, or read it chronologically. It doesn’t matter. Go read the scriptures with the sincere intent to receive answers to your prayers and I guarantee you, you will be better able to get answers and you will get them faster. We’re talking days to weeks, instead of months to years. Or, if complete answers don’t come, critical guidance, comfort, and peace will—the kind you can’t get anywhere else than from God.
The scriptures also include General Conference addresses. Watch church produced scripture videos and messages from apostles and prophets! Mormon Messages these days are a great beginning step. If you find other scripture more tedious, begin with modern scripture and work your way up to ancient scripture. We need all of it because all of it teaches us about God and how He works, and who He is. We can’t get it all from a video. But, start small.
Experiment upon the word (Alma 32). After every attempt at ingesting some scripture ask yourself, “How do I feel? What does this make me want to do/feel inspired to do? What did I learn about God?” Do this, and you will get out of scripture reading what God intended.
If you pray because you’re supposed to or because you think God needs to hear from you then you are going to have unrealistic expectations about your prayers. Prayer is all about us, not God. And, we don’t do it because we are supposed to (though we are supposed to). We don’t do it to inform God. He’s perfectly informed. So, if it’s all about us, and not for God, why do it?
When you imagine yourself addressing God, what happens to your language? What happens to your thoughts about yourself and your life?
When you think about what you want to say in your prayers, what happens to your thoughts? Your focus? Your gratitude? What things are you reminded of?
When you really want something, and it seems it will take a miracle to get it, who do you turn to? Why is it we/you only turn to God when something seems impossible? Why is it that we think by suddenly praying that there is a chance that it will become possible?
Morning, night, while you’re running, in your car, at school, at work, before an important life event, etc., when we take the time to talk to God it is because by coming before Him we focus our minds (which are powerful beyond our understanding) long enough in the right direction to be re-aligned, to feel something higher than our day-to-day logic and feelings, to submit, to ask for, to plead, to hope, etc. By simply taking that moment or two to do that we learn about us and our relationship with God.
When I get on my knees to pray, I find out what is most important to me by what I take the time to ask for. It teaches me about myself. God already knows these things. But, by commanding me to take this time a few times a day to talk to Him, He is facilitating my ability to learn about myself, understand myself, and make conscious efforts to align my fundamental and underlying desires to His.
So, when it comes to keeping the commandments. Change the reason for why you do them. Don’t do them to “be perfect.” Don’t do them because you’re supposed to. Don’t do them to fulfill some obscure expectation you think God has. Do them because you want to get to know God and yourself better so that you can begin now to close the gap in your relationship with Him and your understanding of Him and how He works.
So, 1) think progress, not perfection, 2) repent, and 3) get to know God better.
That’s it. If you do these three things, then the Gospel will feel possible. It will feel doable. It will increase your hope for your life. It may change the course your life takes. It will increase your love of others. It will increase your ability to withstand your own struggles and the complexities of life. It will give you courage and certitude (especially as you embrace God’s covenants and ordinances) that no matter what life throws at you, if you simply keep trying, keep making progress, keep repenting, and keep getting to know God better, that you cannot fail. And, that is because IF YOU ARE DOING THESE THREE THINGS YOU CANNOT FAIL (Doctrine and Covenants 14:7; 82:10). It would be impossible. 😉