In a church where people talk about having “the truth,” and being so grateful to have “the truth,” I find that so many are fuzzy on what an actual truth, or doctrine, is. I know all of us understand that we have been blessed with truth. But, when I ask people (adults or youth) to state a truth, they often stare at me uncertain of what to say.
Now, I suspect that many factors may be the cause. Perhaps it’s because I’ve put them on the spot. Perhaps it’s because it’s hard to choose from hundreds of truths that they know. Or, it might also be that while they understand the idea of truth generally, they have very little understanding of it specifically, or how to generate or identify specific truths from looking at a piece of content.
For example. If I say, “Read St. John 17:3 and tell me what truth(s) you find there,” many people look at me stumped. And, I look back, stumped as to what the issue is. It’s a fairly simple scripture: “And this is life eternal that they might know thee the only true God and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent.”
Possible truths from this very short scripture (though there are likely many more) that I can identify:
- God and Jesus Christ are separate beings (if we have to come to know them both)
- Eternal life comes through knowing God and Jesus
- God sent Jesus Christ to us
- Eternal life is possible
However, if I ask someone to tell me what they believe, what their beliefs are, then, all of the sudden they are spouting truths…and doctrines—for the most part.
What is a Doctrine?
A doctrine is: a fundamental, eternal, unchanging truth. It is something that was, is, and always will be (D&C 93:24; Jacob 4:13). It doesn’t change. Principles are tied very closely to doctrines and so often it makes little sense to define them separately. But, most usually they are the framework built upon foundational doctrines. Thus, principles rarely, if ever, change. But, applications—which people teach more than anything else—are changeable, adaptable, and often individual and personal.
So, when we are seeking for doctrines, we are looking for fundamental, unchanging truths. Looking back up, notice that the truths/doctrines I pulled from St. John 17:3 are exactly that—fundamental. God and Christ will always be separate beings. We can’t get eternal life if we don’t know God and Jesus Christ and have a relationship with them. God sent Christ to us (St. John 3:16-17). Eternal life is possible or we wouldn’t be here. All unchanging, fundamental truths of our life here on earth and of the gospel.
All of these individual statements of truth are a whole blog on their own. But today my focus is helping others find and identify clear doctrines. It’s a spiritual skill many lack merely because they’ve never been presented with the idea that they should acquire it. I would like to suggest that from this point in history onward, the ability to identify both true and false doctrine is the most important spiritual skill we can acquire.
I was reading last night in 1 Nephi and I came upon some very beautiful scripture—scripture referring to our time, our day, and doctrine.
1 Nephi 15:14
And at that day shall the remnant of our seed know that they are of the house of Israel, and that they are the covenant people of the Lord; and then shall they know and come to the knowledge of their forefathers, and also to the knowledge of the gospel of their Redeemer, which was ministered unto their fathers by him; wherefore, they shall come to the knowledge of their Redeemer and the very points of his doctrine, that they may know how to come unto him and be saved.
Here are the truths/doctrines that I can pull from this scripture:
- We are of the House of Israel
- We are the covenant people of the Lord (with a sacred responsibility–not an elite title–to dispense the gospel and it’s ordinances to the world)
- We need the knowledge of the Redeemer and the very points of His doctrine so that we may know how to come unto Him and be saved
Obviously, the truth that sticks out the most to me is that we need to know Christ (have a relationship with Him) and understand “the very points of His doctrine,” so that we can know how to come unto Him and be saved.
Do you know how to identify doctrine? Do you know how to identify false doctrine?
So many people fall away from the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ because they fail to understand true doctrine and how to identify false doctrine. Thus, they are led away by “every wind of [false] doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14).
In 1 Nephi 15:11 it says:
Do ye not remember the things which the Lord hath said?—If ye will not harden your hearts, and ask me in faith, believing that ye shall receive, with diligence in keeping my commandments, surely these things shall be made known unto you.
Here is one of many scriptures in which God gives a formula for getting answers (i.e. doctrine), for receiving personal revelation.
- Harden not your hearts
- Ask in faith, believing ye shall receive
- While diligently keeping the commandments you do understand
What does it mean to “harden not your hearts?” Well, something hard is inflexible. It’s usually impenetrable. It’s sometimes easily broken or brittle. Other substances roll off, cannot penetrate, or bounce off of it.
So, if you have a hard heart you can surmise the figurative connections. You have a set way of thinking and you are not willing to consider other information or perspectives (inflexible), not even for comparison or to strengthen your current point of view. You do not let the Spirit get in. You stop Him from entering by justifying actions or emotions that do not have the Spirit/Him as their source (impenetrable). Your anger or emotions are so full within you that it takes very little to break you, or set you off (brittle). You deny, dismiss, devalue, or reject kindness, guidance, help, service, or especially the idea that you may be wrong or deceived.
If you want to be able to identify true doctrine and false doctrine, you must have a soft heart. If your heart is hard, you have to soften it. If you’re going through the motions, you have to stop and smell the spiritual roses. If you’re justifying unrighteous actions in the name of righteousness, you’ve got to stop. If you’re justifying emotions and actions that are not godly to prevent being confronted with other ideals, you’ve got to stop deceiving yourself. If you’re looking for pillars of light every time you seek for truth you’re going to have to open yourself up to other types of light: enlightenment, peace, love, joy, feelings of wanting to do good and to serve, etc.
Asking in faith, believing that ye shall receive. This is not overly complex. It has to at least refer to our attitude. If you ask God as a dare or challenge, that is not faith. That is a doubtful, vengeful attitude. Asking in faith doesn’t require vast amounts of energy. It merely translates to allowing yourself to hope and to believe. To ask help for your unbeliefs or doubts, and express your hope for confirmations and guidance. It’s far more about eliminating the negative than pretending to be overly confident, or to not have doubts (Mark 9:24). We all have doubts. It’s humility. It’s hope and belief.
Continuing to be diligent… Often people want to put their obedience on hold until they have proof. That’s like asking your current employer to give you a raise and more responsibility while you quit working and chill in the work room. Promising then to go back to work and assume your new responsibilities once the raise has been issued. Yes, it’s that silly.
Asking in faith while diligently keeping the commandments is critical to being able to identify true and false doctrines. You can’t abandon the truth you thought you understood while hoping to figure out the truth you are still trying to figure out.
- All doctrine—all fundamental, unchanging, eternal truths are interrelated and connected with other fundamental, unchanging truths. This is because it all comes from God.
- If you are acting upon the truths you know, or are more confident in, then it makes you more susceptible to discovering the truths you seek.
- If you are acting in truth, it makes it possible to identify false truths. The very quality of being involved in truth makes untruths more clear. It increases the contrast.
- The less truth/light you espouse (while you wait for confirmation) decreases your ability to recognize and to identify false truths.
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.
That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.
And again, verily I say unto you, and I say it that you may know the truth, that you may chase darkness from among you;
Truths/doctrines I identified from these scriptures (though there are likely more):
- True doctrine is light
- Truth/doctrine is inseparable from the Spirit
- That which comes from God is light (and truth/doctrine)
- The more light (truth/doctrine) we receive the more light (and truth/doctrine) we can perceive and receive
- Understanding that truth is light allows us to perceive and remove the darkness
So, if you have a soft heart and you are wanting God to reveal truth to you, all you have to do is immerse yourself in the word of God (including the Bible—as far as it is translated correctly, Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price, Doctrine and Covenants, Conference addresses, and Church lesson manuals).
Now, I’m not saying there isn’t truth outside the Standards Work of the church. I’m not. There is truth everywhere. But, I am suggesting that all truths—even more secular ones (like psychology, chemistry, geology, etc.) still tie back, fundamentally to the most deep and fundamental gospel truths. So, I would admonish caution. Just like spring water that bubbles up from the ground. The further you get from the pure source of God’s word, the more likely you’ll find the purity infused with interpolations, omissions, and speculation. And, the tinier the interpolations, omissions, and speculation the easier it is to be taught false doctrine. So, be cautious.
How to Identify Doctrines
One of the best ways to identify doctrine is to focus on small portions. Take one quote from a prophet, or one verse or two from the scriptures. Or, look at a whole storyline from a chapter (or chapters). After reading the quote, or verses, follow a series of questions or pondering similar to this:
- Write what it means to you in your own words.
- Try to start with the words, “I can_______” or “Because of ______ I can _______” or “My ______” so that your formulate your feelings and ideas into a statement of truth. Trying to come up with if/then statements is also a good way to tackle it. There are other ways to start statements, but this helps if you struggle to begin.
- Break the quote, verses, or storyline down into several small phrases or ideas/teachings. Write what each of these phrases means to you in your own words (trying to formulate it as a statement of truth).
- Answer the following questions (as applicable):
- What action, trait, feeling, or habit does this quote teach me about that helps me become like God?
- What principles of the gospel does this pertain to?
- What ordinances and covenants does this help me to make/keep?
- What part of the plan of salvation does this help me to accomplish?
- What would my life be like without this belief, teaching, or truth?
Consider this quote by Dieter F. Uchtdorf from the most recent October 2017 Conference and run through the steps above. Try not to read past it (to my examples) before you’ve tried at least one on your own. Why? Because you may be prompted by the Spirit to see something I didn’t see. If you look only at my examples, you may miss personal revelation and direction.
There may be many things about life that are beyond your control. But in the end, you have the power to choose both your destination and many of your experiences along the way. It is not so much your abilities but your choices that make the difference in life.
No, go try the steps before reading on. Just try one or two to start. Not all questions apply to every quote, scripture, or storyline.
Possible truths, put into my own words, from this quote:
- I can control only certain things in my life
- I can choose my destinations
- I can choose many, but not all, of my experiences in life
- My choices make more of a difference than my abilities
How these statements of truth help me to become like God:
God acts, He is not acted upon (2 Nephi 2:14). He is not a reactor, He is an actor. That’s how He remains God. By taking control of what I can control and letting go of what I can’t control, I become an active agent who does not allow my circumstances to dictate who I am or who I will become. I can choose.
What would my life be like without these truths?
Now, that’s a question that each of you can answer. Because, you know what your life is like currently. You know if you currently understand and act upon these truths. You know if you need to embrace and act upon these truths. Thus, you know what your life has been like without them, and you may likely guess how you need to change to integrate them into your life.
These statements of truths above are doctrines. They will not change.
Consider this scripture Ether 12:27:
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.
No, go try some of the steps…
Possible truths put into my own words from this quote:
- I can be shown my weakness if I come unto Christ
- I can choose to be humble (I may be humble) because of the weakness God has given unto me
- My weakness can become a strength if I humble myself before God and have faith in Him
What trait this helps me to develop as I try to become like God:
Christ was humble before God despite His godly strengths. He was also humble before God because of His mortality (or weakness). His weakness made Him able to be our Savior, set an example for us, truly sympathize with our mortal struggles, and thus it became a strength to Him, to God, and to us. By using my weakness to serve the Lord I can also be a savior of others, set a specific example, truly sympathize with others’ mortal struggles, and thus turn it into a strength.
The part of the plan that this helps me to accomplish:
Weakness increases my opportunity to live by and exercise my faith in Christ. Faith is the first step in becoming like God and embracing the ordinances and covenants that will help me become like Him.
Note that every time I tried to make a statement I created a doctrine/truth. Every time I tried to answer one of the questions, I ended up making several statements of doctrine/truth. The applications…they were vague. What actions I need to control and not try to control. What ways I use my weakness to serve the Lord, set an example, etc. are all up to me. But, the doctrines discovered and noted were clear. The “why” behind the applications was clear, though I took no time to develop possible applications.
Don’t Focus on Seeking Applications or Teaching Applications
Too often we all judge others by our own individual applications of doctrine and thus judge unrighteously. We judge by the applications (which are variable) and not by the doctrine. We often then teach applications instead of doctrine…thus, polluting the doctrine with our own interpolations and omissions and speculations. We think if we tell others how to live they will live and be happy. Only to find that they don’t “get it,” because they don’t understand the gospel. This is because we have taught them behaviors and applications and not doctrine. We can’t do that anymore. Not for one more day or hour. We, and our children, need doctrine. They need to know how to recognize it, find it, and identify it. They need God’s light! We need God’s light.
Learning to recognize, find, and identify true doctrines is how the paragraph in 1 Nephi 15:14 can be accomplished in our time
As we learn to identify true doctrines we will be able to more clearly identify false doctrines. And thus, as a generation of the gospel, we will have the power to come unto Christ and be saved. We can be saved from the false doctrines of our day. We can be saved from much sorrow and pain and confusion as we actively seek doctrine. As we more deeply understand the “why” behind all of the commandments, principles, and applications of the gospel, we will have our testimonies built firmly upon the foundations of the doctrines of Christ (Helaman 5:12). We will be unshakeable. We will know God and Jesus Christ through our experiences with their very personal instruction to us through the power and Gift of the Holy Ghost.
We can come unto Christ and be saved as we learn to identify and understand “the very points of His doctrine.”
Boyd K. Packer taught:
True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior.
The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior [or application] quicker than a study of behavior [or applications] will improve behavior. Preoccupation with unworthy behavior can lead to unworthy behavior. That is why we stress so forcefully the study of the doctrines of the gospel.
I love doctrine. I crave it. I look for it (true and false) in everything I watch, read, or hear. We all need to learn to love true doctrine and to crave it, not only so that we can come unto Christ. But so that we can help others come unto Him, and be saved.
Want More Holy Ghost? Seek More Doctrine!
Just remember, doctrines don’t change. Applications can. The Holy Ghost uses doctrine to teach us individual application. It’s not the other way around. Teaching applications is a dramatic spiritual power drain. Doctrine/truth and the Spirit are inseparable. So, without doctrine, the Holy Ghost is limited in His power to guide us. As we learn to pull doctrine from everything we are exposed to (or learn to identify false doctrine), our power to be taught by the Holy Ghost will increase exponentially. He will use those clear, unchanging truths to teach us specific applications for our own lives (not necessarily for others). We will recognize His voice in our lives more than ever before. His ways of communicating with us will become clear.
What is doctrine? It’s truth. It’s light. It’s the power to be taught and tutored by the Holy Spirit. It’s life eternal.