So, you’re standing at the starting line for a half marathon. The shot is about to sound. Do you have faith that you can finish this race? Here are 4 possible answers to this question.

  1. If you’ve been training for years and have run a half marathon before, you will feel confident, assured, and certain that you will finish. The only question may be your timing. Will you improve upon the last race? Will you run a personal best? Doubt about finishing? Not at all. You only wonder how and when you will finish and what level of success you will attain.
  2. If you’ve been training for the half marathon for months (though you’ve never run one before), you will likely feel that you can finish. After all, you’ve run shorter races. You have an assurance that your efforts to train and prepare your body for this exertion will enable to you at least, minimally, finish. Even more, you may hope that beyond finishing that you finish in a respectable time. And beyond that you may even hope to succeed in running well enough to secure an achievement. Again, it is most the how and when that is unknown.
  3. If you haven’t been training for a long enough time and have not run many races in your life, you may feel a sense of doubt, fear, or dread. You may be apprehensive and lack confidence in your ability to make it three miles let alone 13.1. You may be nervous that injury or exhaustion will take you down before you can reach the end. Thus, your faith in your ability to finish lacks assurance and lacks confidence.
  4. If you haven’t trained at all, it’s almost certain you aren’t even trying to run the half marathon. You may merely be on the sidelines prepared to cheer the others on. Your faith in your own ability to run a half marathon is dormant, because you have no desire to run a half marathon and therefore no need to exercise your feelings toward such a feat. The race itself has little meaning except perhaps that you may wish you had the courage to try to do such a thing. But it is a feat that seems somewhat abstract. Or, you may simply admire the worth it has to others you care about who are participating and you are happy to cheer them on.

Faith in Christ

Similar to this metaphor of a half marathon, faith in Christ is a lot more than believing He exists. It’s more than being on the sidelines watching His life and admiring His teachings. It’s more than doing a few of the commandments that you like, but leaving many of the others un-attempted. It’s a lot more than simply confessing His name.

Our ability to approach God and take advantage of His grace is directly related to our efforts to serve Him and keep His commandments. Our desire to be like Him—completely—and to follow Him—completely—affects our actions and therefore our assurance in the blessings He offers and the things of the gospel that are unseen, but are true. Our belief and trust in what God offers, shown by our faithful actions, is what translates to assurance that blessings (things we can’t yet see perfectly and don’t know how and when God will fulfill them) will come. That we’ll make it!

When we approach God in prayer asking for guidance, help, miracles, blessings, and understanding; the assurance we have of His response is directly related to the amount of desire we have to obey Him and how we have exercised that desire in our daily thoughts, words, and deeds.

In Hebrews 11:1, Ether 12:6, and Alma 32:21 we learn that

Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge (meaning that we have seen the future and know it precisely and exactly without any need to hope for it). It is the substance of things hoped for, the assurance of things hoped for, it is the evidence of things not seen, which are true.

In Lectures on Faith (lecture first, paragraph 9) we learn that:

Faith is the assurance which men have of the existence of things which they have not seen; and the principle of action in all intelligent beings.

What is meant by “principle of action”? We learn further (lecture third, paragraphs 2-5) that:

…three things are necessary in order that any rational and intelligent being may exercise faith in God unto life and salvation. First, the idea that he actually exists. Secondly, a correct idea of his character, perfections and attributes. Thirdly, an actual knowledge that the course of life which [he/she] is pursuing, is according to [God’s] will

Faith is a principle of action because our assurance of God’s blessings gives us the motivation we need to act as He has commanded us to act. We act out of an assurance (not a perfect knowledge) that God’s blessings and words will be fulfilled, though we may not know how or when.

So, if God has said that He will bless us if we keep His commandments. And, because we feel that this is true, and we determine to keep His commandments the best we can, then we have a feeling of assurance that blessings will come. This assurance is a gift from the Holy Spirit. The Spirit testifies to our hearts and minds that our lives are “according to God’s will” and such a feeling gives us confidence when we approach Him in prayer and seek for things that we need. The very act of praying is an act of faith and hope because we have an assurance that we ask not amiss (2 Nephi 4:35) because we are trying to do His will.

Faith begins with a desire. Such desire leads to a hope that we can receive, or accomplish, something good that God has asked us to do. That hope and faith leads us to act in ways that increase our hope and faith. Then, when we approach God (or our figurative half marathon) we have a response that resembles numbers 1 and 2 above. Our actions, made in faith and hope, give us assurance that we will finish. It is only the how and the when that is unknown.

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Eye of Faith

Living our lives with an eye of faith is living a life of trust and assurance in God. But, such assurance, such substance, such evidence of things unseen (which are true) comes from experimenting upon God’s word/commandments (John 7:17, Alma 32:27-43) and acting in hope and faith. As we do so, we will slowly, little by little, increase our power to do good—or in other words, our faith. The more times we test God’s plan for us and find it to be good, and to be right, and to give us what God promises, the greater our power to do more. Why? Because our assurance and confidence in God increases proportionate to the heed and diligence we give to His requests of us.

In Alma 12:9-11 we read:

…It is given unto many to now the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed an diligence which they give unto him.

And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser potion of the world; 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 the 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.

In other words, the more we spiritually train (heed God’s commands and keep the covenants we’ve made with Him, or press forward to make more covenants) the greater our capacity to receive, and do, more. Just as an athlete starts with small goals, 5K’s, 10K’s, half marathons, marathons, triathlons, etc., spiritually, we start by desiring to do good and acting on that desire and on a hope for God’s promised blessings. When the blessings come, our belief and trust and assurance in God’s promises increases until there is nothing we can’t achieve—that is according to His will.

Which is True

You’ll note the caveat in the scripture, that our faith must be exercised toward something which is true. Truth is things as they really are and as they always will be (Jacob 4:13). There are many things we may choose to believe that are untrue. And, no amount of action in the pursuit of those false beliefs can produce a positive result—or a result that increases our faith, hope, and salvation. Thus, finding truth is critical to achieving the peace, assurance, evidence, and substance of things unseen.

Conclusion

Faith, and acting on our faith, has nothing to do with earning our salvation. We can’t earn it, and that’s not what God’s commandments and covenants are for. Faith, and living with an eye of faith, has everything to do with our intention to become truly Christian, like Christ. It’s a schooling process to keep commandments and receive and keep ordinances and covenants. His grace makes it possible for us to become just such people through such godly schooling. Repentance is His admonition to partake of His grace by accepting this process. Our righteous action—made in faith that we can become like God—is what we do to actively accept that grace.

Living with an eye of faith is hard. And, it gets ever more difficult in these modern days where our technology makes us believe that God doesn’t exist, that His plan is unfair, biased, prejudiced, or that we can find happiness without Him. But all who pursue such false truths will eventually come to learn that such things are not true. We all have our struggles and differences, but we can never fully separate ourselves from our eternal identity as children of God (Romans 8:35, 39).

The busier, faster, and more self-focused, and more distracted and occupied this world becomes with technology, communication, and self-invented progression, the more I feel compelled to slow down, focus more on home and family, trust in God’s simple truths, and to develop my talents to bless my family rather than to gain recognition from a lot of people I don’t know or to mold my life to make them approve. And, I feel strongly that those who live “with an eye of faith” will also feel inspired to do the same; to detach from the world and to follow the path that God presents for them; a path that is fuller, richer, and full of true progression.

BT

I tend to feel guilty asking God to bless me when I’ve messed up that particular day. I feel unworthy to seek His help when I’ve struggled with my temper, said something unkind, or been impatient with others around me. I will sit down to blog and I’m afraid to start knowing that my heart hasn’t been perfectly kind and loving all day. “Who am I to try and do this good when I’ve acted so poorly?” I ask myself.

Have I said my sorrys? Yes. Have I asked for forgiveness of those I’ve offended? Yes. Then, why can’t I trust God to help me despite my failings? Why do I avoid asking for His help or sitting down to share my love of His character and His words when I know that these are most certainly things He wants me to do?

Here’s the big question: Does my imperfection in one area make it impossible for God to bless me in other areas?

The answer: No.

Why? Because God is just.

The Story of Samson Illustrates God’s Just Nature

Recently, while pressing forward with my #dailydoctrines (see @theDoctrineLady on Instagram), I got to Judges 14+ where there are several chapters devoted to Samson. Samson is precisely the kind of guy I can’t stand. I’m naturally annoyed and disgusted by guys who like to show off, seem to like to prove to others their superiority (whether or not they are), and who are womanizers. Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh on Samson. But, the reality is that when I read his story I’m supremely skeptical of him as a heroic character. I focus more on his failings than his positive attributes.

Because of my bias, I recently turned to my husband for his viewpoint. I have to do this when my own feelings cloud my ability to be taught doctrine by the Spirit. Normally, I see doctrines quite quickly. With the Samson story, I just read and read and read…

What my husband and I discussed and what I have pondered regarding Samson’s story has truly enlightened me. It has strengthened my testimony of God’s just nature. Instead of being clouded by Samson’s weaknesses, I can at last see what his story teaches me about God (which is what #dailydoctrines are…#whatgodislike). Samson’s story is one that testifies of God’s justice and trustworthiness.

Samson is a Nazarite

Even before he was born, and angel told Samson’s parents that he was to be a Nazarite. Being a Nazarite is similar to, or semi-related to, being a nun, monk, or dedicated missionary. Not only do they keep basic commandments, but they have specific rules and covenants they keep that set them apart, even among believers. Being a Nazarite can be a lifetime vow, but it wasn’t always.

Samson was raised as a Nazarite (don’t confuse it with Nazarene, or being from Nazareth) from birth and it is clear that he honored the specific rules and covenants with being a Nazarite; most especially that of not cutting his hair. These covenants and ways of living marked him as God’s. He was set apart by these rules.

It seems, from the account in Judges, that the blessings Samson received from keeping his Nazarite covenant included an incredible amount of physical strength, which I suspect he had genetically but was amplified by his faithfulness. It also made him an extra talented fighter. It witnesses clearly that God can give us gifts and talents, but that these talents can become even more powerful and can even be multiplied when we use them in His service.

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Samson has Weaknesses and So Do We

Right alongside his righteous Nazarite observance, Samson has two very visible weaknesses. First, he is arrogant and has a need to prove his superiority. It seems evident that he needed a reason to boast about his secret, or unknown, acts of strength by challenging his wedding party with riddles. And, he does so not only to boast (in a sense) but also to win more gifts off of them.

Samson succeeds in stumping his guests until his new wife convinces him to tell her about the riddle’s meaning. Then, in order to make good on his betting debt (since he doesn’t have the possessions) he runs off and slaughters some of the Philistines and takes their stuff. Not such a Christlike showing, is it?

Often in Judges we see phrases like “the Spirit of the Lord came upon him” right before he runs off and slaughters people. While I have no way of knowing exactly Samson’s situation, I think it’s probable to consider that this may refer to the power of God as manifested through Samson’s gifts and talent of strength and fighting prowess. So, you could also word it his talents of strength and fighting prowess were activated or were amplified. Whether or not God actually guided/commanded Samson to slay the lion or to kill a thousand Philistines with a jawbone, or whether God honored the blessings of strength and fighting talent that came with Samson’s obedience to his Nazarite vow may not matter. But, I feel it’s more consistent with God’s character as displayed in all of scripture to say that God honored the blessings attached to Samson’s obedience to his Nazarite vow; rather than to say God guided/commanded Samson to slay the lion or to pay off his gamble by killing 40 people, or to slay a thousand Philistines with a jawbone because they offended him.

Was Samson’s job to deliver Israel from the Philistines? Yes. And perhaps though he never fully rose to this opportunity because of his weaknesses, these small battles were allowed or did not contribute to his condemnation because he was, in a sense, attempting to fulfill his mission.

So, Samson was full of human weakness. But, he was also an extremely faithful Nazarite until nearly the end of his reign as judge. Which makes him just like all of us. We are all full of a myriad of weaknesses and issues and yet all of us do many wonderful, righteous, and powerful things in the service of our fellow men.

God is Just

The story of Samson shows that God is just. How? Because even though Samson was sort of a mess, with many weaknesses, God still blessed him for the commandments he did keep. And, God was unable to bless Samson in the areas where he didn’t keep the commandments, thus proving Doctrine and Covenants 130:20-21 and 137:9 accurate.

There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.

For I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts.

Samson didn’t desire to marry “in the covenant,” or, in other words, within his religion (according to the command of God, Deuteronomy 7:2-5) and people. His actions reflected that desire. He sought out Philistine women, not repenting when his parents tried to counsel him otherwise. Thus, he lost out on the blessings. His women were repeatedly a snare to him and ultimately his undoing (because he didn’t repent), as prophesied in Deuteronomy.

A God who will bless us where we are righteous even when we are wicked in some areas is just. A God who knows we will ultimately abandon Him in some aspects of our life in the future but blesses us in the present while we are faithful is just. We often forget that justice is as much about blessings earned as it is cursing or consequences earned. Consequences are not all from one end of the spectrum. Consequences are directly related to the laws of God. He must bless us when we do right, just as He must withdraw blessings (or curse us) when we don’t do what’s right (Doctrine & Covenants 82:10).

Conclusion

So, while it’s hard to approach God, say a prayer, seek for spiritual guidance, even to serve in our families and church callings on the days when we feel we’ve failed miserably; as long as we are penitent and the desires of our heart are good, we can pick ourselves up with gratitude and hope that God is just. He can and will bless us in the righteousness we do even when other aspects of our lives are still a work-in-progress.

However, in this let us be un-like Samson. Samson could have repented and received more power and blessings and fulfilled his earthly mission (and received eternal glory too), yet he did not. We don’t have to be like him. We can continue, through grace, to repent and work on the areas in which we repeatedly fail or struggle. We can seek for blessings and keep trying. And the mistakes we do make should not deter us from pressing forward in the good we seek to do.

BT

If I was an investigator of the Jewish church, in Jesus time, and I had as my example Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes, I might have been extremely resistant to joining up. The Pharisees certainly never appear to be peaceful and happy. They were judgmental and preoccupied with others, rather than themselves—in a negative way. I certainly would not have been willing to count my steps on Sundays or avoid pork simply because some God commanded it if…their sour-faced life was the result.

I sometimes can’t figure out why the Pharisees stayed converted to their own version (because it was certainly of their creation) of Judaism. The only thing I can determine is that they stayed faithful out of fear. And, it was fear they passed on to others. Fear of breaking a commandment. So much did fear guide their actions that they passed it on to others—judgmentally. Everyone was doomed in their eyes…even Christ.

And, because the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes led the religion, (and their principles), it was dying out. Israel had been conquered and scattered and would have continued to dwindle had not Christ come to fulfill the law and restore the truths that had been lost. Fear does not convert people to God. It only keeps them afraid. And obeying out of fear, ultimately, cannot produce salvation.

So, why do people choose a religion? Why do people convert? Why do people stay faithful? Why do people come back to God?

I think I can sum it up in two words: happiness.

2 Nephi 2:25 teaches us that “men are that they might have joy.” So, are we so surprised that the reason we seek God, or religion, is because we believe it will bring us happiness? No. And, the gospel of Jesus Christ is about happiness. It is not about temporary, fleeting excitement. It is not about intense, dizzying highs followed by horrific lows. The gospel of Jesus Christ is about peace, happiness, and continual joy.

But, are you happy? Are you peaceful? Do you experience joy despite the struggles of life? If not, why? Why aren’t you happy?

Happiness is Personal Peace

When most of us think of happiness, we think of the absence of trials, struggles, pain, suffering, sorrow, etc. And yet, God has shown us that joy can only come from opposition (2 Nephi 2:11). If there is no down there can be no up. If there is no sorrow there can be no happiness. This life is about the ups and the downs. The triumphs and the sins, and the weaknesses, and the mistakes (Ether 12:27). The gospel of Jesus Christ is about finding peace in knowing the downs are part of the ups and that ultimately Christ has overcome all of the downs. The ups become precious because of the downs. We become godly during the downs.

Now we come back to the Pharisees. They made the gospel about fear. Fear of making mistakes. When instead they should have preached the hope of overcoming them. They made the gospel about lines, boundaries, and achievement. When instead they should have preached the destination of godliness. Because ultimately there are no lines. There is only becoming godly. There are commandments, but they are practice in becoming godly, not an end unto themselves. The Pharisees, out of fear, made the commandments and end unto themselves.

Nothing, in the gospel, has a beginning or end, save in Christ. If we give it another beginning or end, apart from Christ, it will cease to belong to Him. When it has a beginning or end in anything else it becomes the gospel of that thing or person. Grace is not about not sinning. It’s about becoming godly as we learn from sins and mistakes. And so forth.

Personal peace comes from knowing we can do it, we can make it, despite our struggles, sins, weaknesses, and so forth. And when we say that, so many pharisaical people want to freak out. They’re so afraid that if we tell people that, that those people will stop keeping commandments and staying away from those lines. Again…they’re so afraid. And so they can’t be happy. And they can’t let others be happy, or peaceful.

Problems with the Rising Generation

I was pondering this blog post when the memory of the Olive Tree Allegory came into my mind from Jacob 5. You know, that chapter everyone dreads reading because they’re so worried that it has 70+ verses rather than what’s in it?

In the Olive Tree Allegory we always have the Lord of the vineyard grafting branches in and grafting braches out. Pruning branches off and dunging and aerating the roots. And, it’s always about the roots and the branches. Either the roots go bad or the branches overcome the good of the roots.

As I was staring out a window, watching the highway go by, a principle jumped into my head. The roots of the gospel are: faith, repentance, baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and the ordinances and covenants that follow. All of these things are centered in Christ. The branches of the gospel are the commandments and the organization put in place to keep the roots healthy. When the branches overcome the roots, the tree (person, family, ward, stake, region, area, etc.) gets sick. If the tree stays sick too long then the roots get ruined.

The gospel ceases to be the gospel if we let the branches overcome the roots. The roots can become corrupted if we allow in false doctrine. But usually, the problem with long-term religious culture (like the Pharisees) in our homes is that we start focusing on the branches without tending to the roots. We start making the gospel about fear instead of happiness.

Oh, we may preach happiness and peace, but that doesn’t equivocate. It must also be a part of us. It must show in our lives. We can say going to church will make us happy, but if we go to church and then are not happy, what are we really teaching? It’s something different than what we’re saying.

Branches Overcoming the Roots

It’s easy for this to happen when you get past the first generation of converts to a religion. The original crew is usually converted. They get the foundation of the gospel because they depended upon it so heavily in their conversion. Thereafter, however, to children and posterity, the gospel becomes something it is not—it becomes a tradition. It becomes a system of do’s and don’ts rather than a framework for joy, peace, strength, healing, and happiness. It becomes a set of lines and rules and lectures about negative consequences instead of tools and paths for the greatest amounts of joy, peace, strength, healing, and happiness.

The culture of religion so often preaches that happiness can only be had from a strict regimen of religious ritual and participation but fails to continue on to explain the doctrine WHY. Happiness can be found in lesser amounts in less strict religious observance. It can. And when it does, we appear as liars and control freaks determined to force our children into a life they can’t see the benefit of. A life they don’t yet believe in.

God doesn’t want our obedience and our devotion to His gospel and His plan out of fear, awe, and reverence. Those are mildly important. What He wants is our obedience and our devotion out of love for Him. Love that stems from an understanding of what He offers, what He gives, how He loves, and who He is. That is the kind of understanding that creates a visible peace and happiness in us that transcends life’s struggles and problems. That is the kind of example others, especially our kids, need to see. If they can’t see what it is to be truly at peace, to experience true joy, and to know a fullness of happiness, how can they desire it? How can they see that it’s not worth it to settle for less?

The Pharisees (and the others), as nearly as I can tell from scripture always seemed to be unhappy. They were so caught up in the details of not crossing the wrong lines and not appearing evil that they had room for little else, aside from pride. They were so stressed and preoccupied with building fences around fences to prevent themselves (and others) from sinning that they sinned worse than if they had crossed those lines. They omitted love, mercy, and righteous judgment (Luke 11:42). They were absolutely miserable. The only happiness they seemed to get was from judging others by their over-zealous piety and righteous data. And, that’s not real happiness.

In the Book of Mormon we have the story of the people of King Benjamin. They extol Benjamin as an incredible king. They listen to his final sermons and have magnificent changes of heart, covenanting to follow Christ and take upon them His name. Then, as always happens throughout the Book of Mormon when there has been a great Christian revival, the rising generation doesn’t become converted, or doesn’t remain converted (Mosiah 26:1).

Obviously, even our children, our responsible for acting upon righteous principles and gaining their own conversion to the gospel. But, it’s highly important that they know what the gospel is and not just the rules, lines, and commandments. The gospel is the atonement of Jesus Christ. All else stems from it. From His love. From His plan of happiness.

Parents giving piggyback ride to children

We Don’t Have to Be Perfect to Teach the Gospel of Happiness

Now, I’m not saying parents have to be perfect and that as families we can’t have struggles. Life is hard for everyone. But, to some extent, there are those who preach the gospel and yet create toxicity surrounding it. They don’t embody the godly characteristics (to any great extent) that they keep preaching to their kids. They pound into their kids heads that if they read and pray and keep all the commandments that they’ll have the Spirit and be happy. And yet, these kids see parents who do all these things and yet are rarely, if ever, happy. They see parents preoccupied with commandments, not doctrines. They see family going through righteous motions but not becoming happier or more Christlike. And that’s because that’s what’s really happening! They aren’t progressing. They are tripping and stumbling over major stumbling blocks, just like the Pharisees.

Now, one or more parents or family members may struggle with keeping the commandments. And yet, this also should not create crisis. The gospel is the atonement. The principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ can be lived and taught in any home even with varying levels of belief and testimony. The atonement is mercy, forgiveness, patience, long-suffering, etc. Even with family members who lack righteous consistency, or who sometimes fail to say a kind word, peace can abide. I’m not saying it’s easy. I’m not saying it doesn’t take heroic effort. I’m saying it’s possible. That’s what the gospel should provide. That’s what people, especially our kids, should see. The gospel should be lived so that our kids can see that despite weaknesses, struggles, and differing levels of testimony, the basic principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ can abide. And that those principles are what create peace, joy, love, and happiness.

If we preach forgiveness and mercy to our kids. Then we have to show it to them and our spouses. If we preach that keeping the commandments makes us peaceful and gives us strength to find happiness. Then, we have to show it. And, if we fall short a bit in showing what we know to be true, then we have to be open, communicate and bear testimony of the hope and faith we have in Christ despite our shortcomings. We have to frequently, outwardly, and honestly show the gospel of Jesus Christ working in our lives. Our imperfections are what give us the opportunity to show our children that the gospel works! We should not pretend to be perfect when our kids are smart enough to know we’re not.

I was sitting in Relief Society one day, and a woman said, “If we were perfect our kids would never learn anything about the atonement of Jesus Christ.”

I was floored. I had been feeling so miserable that day for my failings as a mother. Then, here this woman brings me back to the gospel. I have worked hard to focus my efforts as a mother into using my own failings to teach my kids more about the atonement. I am also trying to get better, and not mess up as much, but I know that as long as I keep trying, I can have peace. I want so much for my kids to see this and to never despair. I want to show them the happiness and peace that comes from God’s grace. I want them to feel the faith I have and to be infected with it as they face their own weaknesses, sins, and struggles. I want them to see that for me it is a gospel of happiness and peace.

So, is the gospel a gospel of happiness and peace for you? If it’s not, it’s time to get back to the roots. It’s time to make it a gospel of happiness and not a gospel of fear.

BT

This blog post has a deceptive title. But, I can almost guarantee it’s not what you think. I challenge you to read it and see if I bring up any doctrines that surprise you.

Know Do Be

This morning at choir practice, the choir director had us singing a very well-sung Primary Hymn: I am a Child of God. Years ago, when this song was first accepted and used, the chorus lyrics read thus, “Teach me all that I must know to live with Him someday.” Later, prophet Spencer W. Kimball requested the lyrics to be changed to, “Teach me all that I must do to live with Him someday.” Then, this morning, our choir director talked about how it would make sense to her if another alteration was made (and might’ve been made when Gordon B. Hinckley was prophet) reading thusly, “Teach me all that I must be to live with Him someday.”

In the simple words know, do, and be we see the natural progression of faith that we all pass through. First, we are taught truth. Then, we are asked to act upon what we know, to do. However, often, in our haste to do we forget the actual purpose of doing, which is to become.

God doesn’t just go through the motions. He is love. He is mercy. Etc. All these traits come to Him naturally. He doesn’t have think about being just, He is just, and so forth. We all easily forget that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is about knowing, doing and most importantly becoming.

These three words (know, do, become) are at the core of the answer, “what does it mean to be active in the church?” This is because becoming truly active is both an internal and an external process. We all tend to start by knowing the Gospel (internal). Then, we try very hard to do the Gospel (external). However, the doing is often given to us and supplied to us naturally by the programs and inspired organization of God’s church. And because the doing is so readily available and provided for us, it is quite easy to get caught up in the external-doing and forget to press forward to the becoming (which is both internal and external).

Sometimes, we get so caught up in the doing that the doing overwhelms us and we forget what the Gospel is all about. This is often when people choose to go inactive in the church, by which they often become lax and inactive in the actual Gospel.

Becoming implies that doing has actually changed us into a different type of being. Which, if that’s the case, we no longer do, we are. Kind of blows the mind, but there it is.

In fact, many people complain that being a Mormon is very difficult. That our “church” requires too much of us. So much “activity” required, so much doing (which granted, can be empty doing if we forget its purpose and many of us do). Yet, what they misunderstand is that the organization of the church is set up in an inspired way. It is nothing less than a Spiritual University.

God commands us to serve our fellow men, in the scriptures. The church then provides frequent and long-term opportunities to do this serving. God commands us to sacrifice. The church then provides opportunities to give ritually and as inspired of our income, time, talents, and other resources. We sacrifice much that is earthly in our pursuit of godhood—which is what the church and gospel are all about. We are asked to pay tithing and offerings the same as the widow who was asked by Elijah to make him a little loaf of bread out of the last of her oil and meal before feeding herself and her son. We often do and give and serve when we have not even enough for ourselves and our family. And yet, it is such service, faith, and sacrifice which brings about miracles, and miraculously our cruses of oil never go dry and our barrel of meal seems to never become empty.

God commands us…and the church provides… It goes on and on. The Gospel is the Gospel. The church is the fundamental, critical, and godly instituted organization ordained with the power and resources to aid us in succeeding in the Gospel. It is a Spiritual University.

The church is a school of godhood. It is the highest and truest form of Christian education. God commands us to become like Him and to get to know Him. The church (as set up by God, Himself) is meant to provide the framework (Spiritual University) to help us accomplish what He has commanded us—to become like Him and to get to know Him. The church is His help, His support, His book of answers! There is no secret to godhood save attending His school and studying sincerely and genuinely—to become.

Thus, to be “active” in the church means to be “active” in the Gospel of Jesus Christ—to be active in accepting and acting upon all the support God has offered us. It’s not hard to be a Mormon any more than it’s hard to be any type of Christian. In fact, in many ways it’s easier because we have a spiritual curriculum, training ground, and a host of spiritual coaches. We don’t have to set out on our own seeking to figure out how to accomplish God’s commands. He’s given us the day-to-day framework and an entire organization to take the guesswork out of becoming like Him.

Active or Inactive

So, it is a common, traditional thing in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to identify individuals and families as “active” in the church or “inactive.” I’m not a big fan of these labels, but I also recognize the intent with which they became so commonly used. And, if seen in the right light, they make absolute sense.

The word active means: doing things for an organization, campaign, or cause rather than simply giving it ones support.

When we refer to people as being “active” in the church, we usually mean that we can see outward evidence of their beliefs and desires to become godly. We see them going to church, serving in callings, etc. rather than them merely being a record on our rosters as someone who has been baptized but doesn’t outwardly act on their beliefs. Those who we don’t see actively participating in the organization (or spiritual university) of the church are often called “inactive.” Meaning, we suspect they belief in the core doctrines but they are not “acting” outwardly on that belief in ways we’ve come to expect.

However, members of the church are getting better (though far from perfect) at not too quickly assigning these labels. This is because many people who are outwardly “active” are not necessarily inwardly converted to the actual idea of becoming like God. They are, literally, going through the motions for all sorts of other reasons and motivations. And this happens when they forget that the whole purpose of doing is to become.

We also have the issue of people being very Christian and “active” in trying to be Christlike who are less comfortable with the more guided and structural spiritual educational framework provided by the church. And yet, the organization of the church has been put in place by God. And by acting outside of it individuals find themselves limited in their progression toward godhood. They can only progress so far without certain ordinances and covenants. They can only access so much grace and power. Thus, it is clear that to some extent we must all submit to God’s Formal School of Godhood.

I love this quote by Donald L. Hallstrom of the Seventy from the April 2012 Conference:

Some have come to think of activity in the Church as the ultimate goal. Therein lies a danger. It is possible to be active in the Church and less active in the gospel. Let me stress: activity in the Church is a highly desirable goal; however, it is insufficient. Activity in the Church is an outward indication of our spiritual desire. If we attend our meetings, hold and fulfill Church responsibilities, and serve others, it is publicly observed.

By contrast, the things of the gospel are usually less visible and more difficult to measure, but they are of greater eternal importance. For example, how much faith do we really have? How repentant are we? How meaningful are the ordinances in our lives? How focused are we on our covenants?

I repeat: we need the gospel and the Church. In fact, the purpose of the Church is to help us live the gospel. We often wonder: How can someone be fully active in the Church as a youth and then not be when they are older? How can an adult who has regularly attended and served stop coming? How can a person who was disappointed by a leader or another member allow that to end their Church participation? Perhaps the reason is they were not sufficiently converted to the gospel—the things of eternity.

Elder Hallstrom then goes on to suggest how to be “active” in the church and “active” in the Gospel.

I suggest three fundamental ways to have the gospel be our foundation:

Deepen our understanding of Deity. A sustained knowledge of and love for the three members of the Godhead are indispensable. Mindfully pray to the Father, in the name of the Son, and seek direction from the Holy Ghost. Couple prayer with constant study and humble pondering to continually build unshakable faith in Jesus Christ. “For how knoweth a man the master … who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?” (Mosiah 5:13).

Focus on the ordinances and covenants. If there are any of the essential ordinances yet to be performed in your life, intently prepare to receive each of them. Then we need to establish the discipline to live faithful to our covenants, fully using the weekly gift of the sacrament. Many of us are not being regularly changed by its cleansing power because of our lack of reverence for this holy ordinance.

Unite the gospel with the Church. As we concentrate on the gospel, the Church will become more, not less, of a blessing in our lives. As we come to each meeting prepared to “seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118), the Holy Spirit will be our teacher. If we come to be entertained, we often will be disappointed. President Spencer W. Kimball was once asked, “What do you do when you find yourself in a boring sacrament meeting?” His response: “I don’t know. I’ve never been in one” (quoted by Gene R. Cook, in Gerry Avant, “Learning Gospel Is Lifetime Pursuit,” Church News, Mar. 24, 1990, 10).

Here’s a link to the whole article for those who are interested.

Converted to His Gospel Through His Church, Elder Donald L. Hallstrom, of the Seventy, April 2012 Conference Address

Now, if I were to suggest anything, it would be two of the things Elder Hallstrom pointed out:

  • Get to know God better
  • Focus on the Gospel and use the Church to strengthen your ability to live the Gospel

The Pharisees looked beyond the mark (the mark being Christ) and focused so much on “doing” that they couldn’t see Christ through the wall of rules they created. And yet, Christ chastened them not for their excessive rules, but for the more internal aspects of the Gospel which they had omitted: faith, love, charity, mercy, righteous judgment… (Matthew 23:23).

Thus, we can see that the Pharisees largest mistake was putting rules before Christ, instead of Christ before rules. If we put the Gospel of Jesus Christ first and then look to the Church, we will at last find the peace and power God intended us to have in our spiritual education. We will find relief and support and guidance in our pursuit of the Gospel.

If we seek to serve our fellow men, as God commanded (Matthew 25:35-40; John 21:15; James 1:27), we will find all these ways laid out for us in the inspired organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

  • …when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King [Christ] shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
  • So, when they had dined, Jesus saith unto Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.
  • Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

There are certainly thousands of scripture references from God exhorting us to be unselfish, charitable, kind, meek, mild, loving, merciful, willing to stand as a witness of God at all times and in all things, to be perfect! How can one person manufacture enough experiences, resources, and so forth to accomplish the magnitude of such commands—to even come close to learning what needs to be learned? That’s just it. We can’t. No one person can become like God on their own.

The very organization of the Church is in place to give us the chance to help others learn the gospel (to be fed. Every member is exhorted to live a life that exemplifies Christ. We are “every member a missionary.” Every member is asked to be a visiting or home teacher. We visit those in our area and we seek to fill their needs (physical and spiritual), to comfort, to bless. We are encouraged (when we have the resources) to sacrifice conventional lives to serve official missions. Young men accept such a sacrifice as a personal duty, given to them by God through the prophet. Young women offer their lives as well. We have a lay clergy. Each person in every ward and stake, the world over, is called to serve (without pay—or purse or scrip…) in volunteer positions and callings from Bishop to nursery leader. Everyone serves in the “body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12, 27). The Church helps us focus our lives around becoming godly. By entering the church (through baptism) we promise to be “in the world” but not “of the world.”

Active is Being in the World but NOT of the World

What does that mean? To me it means to be living in the world but to have one’s most important priority and focus as the goal to become like God. All other worldly offerings take second priority. That is, to me, what being “active” is. When our highest priority and focus is anything other than becoming like God, then we are to some extent “inactive.” We are to some extent omitting or ignoring Spiritual University courses, classes, labs, tests, certifications, and practicals.

To me, to be “active” means to be trying to become like God and using His Spiritual University to reach that goal. To be “inactive” means to be a temporary dropout from what is certainly a rigorous course of study and an ambitious eternal career. We can choose another eternal career. We have the agency. But God will never stop sending us scholarship reminders and new class registrations until the final judgment when whatever eternal profession we choose can no longer be changed.

The neat thing about the Church, or Spiritual University, is that you can get a lot of Ds and Fs and have a GPA of 1.5 and still maintain your scholarship (grace). You simply have to not quit. You simply have to keep repenting and keep trying. Talk about a sweet scholarship. To be “active” you simply have to keep going to school and not quit.

And trust me, there are actually no A-students with 4.0s in God’s Spiritual University. There was only ever one valedictorian—Christ. He had a 4.0 and got an A in every class, and He did it to show us how. To give us the hope to not quit and to keep our scholarship. Even the most faithful to have lived on this earth had many courses with Cs, Ds, and Fs. All of us get Bs and As on some assignments, but ultimately, we are poor students. That’s why our scholarship (grace) is so powerful. We can only lose it (in varying degrees) as we drop out of classes.

So, with such a miraculous scholarship and such a priceless education why not be “active”?

BT

I have two very wise mothers. My own mother will often be heard to say, “We’re all a mess,” which is meant to be a graceful equalizer, not a criticism, to remind herself and me to cut other people some slack. As well, my mother-in-law will often be heard to say, “We’re all doing the best we can,” which is also a graceful equalizer. She uses it to remind herself and others (including me) that though we may want more from others, (or sometimes ourselves) that we should understand that with few exceptions, we are all doing the best we can—or all that we’re presently capable of. And I would add my mother’s phrase…because we’re all a mess.

It’s the truth. Even those of us who look put together on the outside are a mess on the inside due to weakness, trials, past hurts and future fears. Even those of us who seem to do the outward commandments well struggle to bat .500 on the more internal commandments. And it goes the other way. People who seem to be a mess on the outside are not always the mess we assume them to be on the inside. Even those who may not seem to do all the outward commandments well may be much better than we could ever be on the internal commandments.

We’re all a mess—in some way. We’re all—with few exceptions—doing the best we can, or all that we’re presently capable of, despite the fact that we’re a mess.

We all sin differently. We all try differently. Most of keep trying even when we struggle or fail.

My very wise mother and I recently talked in detail about a very popular scripture.

For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to be believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace we are saved, after all we can do. (2 Ne 25:23)

The problem with this scripture in the conversation of grace, is that it is horribly misunderstood and falsely interpreted. So many people beat themselves up day in and day out trying to earn grace by doing their “best,” hoping that it will be enough for God to accept so that He’ll do “the rest.” As if it’s solely a cause/effect relationship. It’s not.

This is not an accurate interpretation of this scripture—in this limited sense. The reason it is so inaccurately interpreted is because it is so often quoted out of context. Nephi goes on to talk about how he and his people keep “the law,” because it points them to Christ, “For this end was the law given…[to point us to Christ]” and “we keep the law because of the commandments” (2 Nephi 25:24-25, brackets added).

Two key doctrines here:

  1. The law of ordinances and covenants brings us to Christ and points us toward Him
  2. The commandments of God point us to Christ and help us obtain ordinances and covenants with God

Nowhere in these verses in the implication made that the law, or commandments, save us. Paul was right. The law, by itself, is dead (Galatians 2:21). It is Christ who saves us through grace. It is the law, ordinances, covenants, and commandments that bring us to Christ, point us toward Him, and help us become like Him—through grace. They have a purpose, just not the one we often think.

Do you keep your covenants perfectly? No, you’re a mess, remember? We all are. Do you keep every commandment perfectly? Of course you don’t. But, you are pretty much doing the best you can within your present capability, most of the time. So, if we had to do the “law” and “commandments” perfectly before God would save us or even help us, there would be no purpose to this life, or the atonement of Jesus Christ. It would be a silly system because there would be no chance for ultimate salvation and exaltation.

So, why did God allow us all to be such messes and yet give us a law asking us to not be a mess?

I take you to another frequently misquoted and possibly misunderstood scripture:

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)

When most people read this scripture they say, “weaknesses.” And yet, it doesn’t say that. So, what’s the difference between the possible interpretations and doctrines to be found in this scripture by ensuring we read it as weakness and not weaknesses? Here’s one that I suggest may be helpful, after many years of discussions with my wise mother and husband.

In comparison to God, what is our greatest weakness? My answer to that is mortality. And, by mortality I mean the conditions necessary for us to have and maintain agency in this life. These mortal conditions are:

  1. Mother nature acts independently and indifferently to us. No mortal can control or gain favoritism from Mother nature.
  2. We can be hurt, or killed, (mentally, emotionally, and physically) by everything and everyone, including ourselves. The actions and reactions of every person on the earth impacts us (and nature).

Now, if we read this scripture with the word mortality in the place of weakness it reads quite a bit more powerfully (in my opinion):

And if men come unto me I will show unto them their mortality. I give unto men mortality 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 mortal things become strong unto them.

So, what’s the big deal?

Well, we’re all a mess because we’re mortal. God didn’t give us specific weaknesses. He didn’t make some people blind and some lame and some short and some fat. But, He did give us mortality, which in its indifferent state (which is necessary to maintain our agency and power to choose and be fully accountable) brought about the individual weaknesses we all suffer. Did God know which weaknesses mortality would bring upon us? Yes. But that is not the same thing as handpicking weaknesses for us. And for me, that has incredible impact on my ability to trust and have faith in God. And to understand both His plan for me and His over-arching plan for us all.

God didn’t purposefully choose for me to bust out my two front teeth in fourth grade (right after getting my permanent teeth). But, He did make me mortal which meant my teeth were capable of being busted out by sufficient impact with asphalt. Will I get them back someday in the resurrection? Yes. But that moment is not now and so it’s a huge physical weakness. I’m always worried about my dental work. That song All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth is often one I sing in my head. No joke.

God gave us mortality so that we could progress in His ultimate plan for us to become like Him. Mortality is a gift. But, it is also our primary weakness. We can’t prevent eventual death. We can’t prevent natural disasters. We can’t prevent all the symptoms and results of most diseases. We can’t predict genetic mutations (due to nature and our independently functioning DNA). We can’t go in and reprogram our bodies. There is so much about mortality that leaves us weak. It is in this weak state that mortal things, mortal problems bring about myriads of weaknesses (plural here). Thus, we are all a mess so that we can humble ourselves and submit to the godly learning process.

No matter our mortal things, we can become strong in Christ—through grace. That is what God is saying—at least to me.

Now, the last thing my mother and I talked about recently, was what has come to her. And, for her, she words 2 Nephi 25:23 a little bit differently to reflect this understanding about the grace we all constantly receive because we really all are doing the best we can. She words that final phrase like this:

It’s by grace we are saved after all the obedience we are capable of.

This really rings true as we consider God’s own words about the innocence of children. He does not say they cannot be taught to repent and to keep His commandments, but He is very clear that their accountability is dependent upon their ability to commit sin.

So it goes with us all. Each of us has differing levels of capability, knowledge, instruction, etc. God, through grace, not only enables us to obey Him—when we desire to do so—He slowly perfects us and increases our capability to obey as we try. This is what some people misunderstand. They procrastinate obeying or only partially obey because they don’t feel they can, or can’t maintain it. Not knowing that the effort made will be amplified by grace and increase their capacity to obey over time. Covenants and obedience to God are how we receive more grace and power to become like Him. It’s a beautiful system…all powered by grace.

Behold I say unto you that this thing shall ye teach—repentance and baptism unto those who are accountable and capable of committing sin… Behold baptism is unto repentance to the fulfilling the commandments unto the remission of sins… For the power of redemption cometh on all them that have no law; wherefore, he that is not condemned, or he that is under no condemnation, cannot repent… (Moroni 8:10-11, 22)

People forget that sin is rebellion. I’m not saying we shouldn’t repent of transgressions, omissions, or mistakes. But it is quite a different thing to truly desire goodness and react unfavorably to stress, provocation, and trials than it is to purposefully and knowingly act out against God and others. Obviously, we still need to recognize these transgression and work to be more godly. But because we are all a mess, God accepts even our weakest efforts. He knows we are always doing pretty much the best we can, or what we are presently capable of. And He consistently offers to increase that capability through His grace.

Now, lest anyone panic and think that people can become like God without ever becoming accountable. Simply remember God’s mandate to preach the gospel to both the living and the dead. Eventually all must be taught and become accountable, because we cannot be saved in ignorance (D&C 131:6; 136:32).

Double exposure of beautiful thoughtful girl portrait and colorful flowers

My final thought on this scripture (2 Nephi 25:23) is tearing apart the word AFTER.

Some definitions of the word AFTER that I particularly like to place in this scripture are:

In pursuit of or in quest of; behind; next to or following in order of importance.

Now, let’s put this all together:

It is by grace that we are saved in pursuit of or in quest of all the obedience that we are capable of.

OR

It is by grace that we are saved following in order of importance of all the obedience we are capable of

Aren’t these cool! We are all in pursuit (or have been given the opportunity to pursue) godhood. To be even as He is, joint heirs with Christ (Romans 8:16-17). Grace saves us while we are in this pursuit of learning to reach the level of obedience of God!

Or, grace follows in importance our obedience. Why is obedience first? Because it is an act of will, of agency. God won’t force anything on us—not even His grace. We must choose it. Obedience points us to Christ, as Nephi so clearly points out in 2 Nephi 25:24-25. Obedience is not how we earn grace. It’s how we say “Yes,” to increasing portions and levels of grace. God has far more grace to offer, more power to offer, as we desire to increase our capability to obey—and become godly. Thus, we must first accept—through the obedience we are capable of—before we can receive more grace, and more grace, until our capability to obey reaches that godly fullness, or perfect day (D&C 93:19-20; 50:24).

So, yes, we’re all a mess. But, if we really are all doing the best we can, or offering all the obedience we are presently capable of, then God will not only remit our sins, He will give us more grace and increase our power and  capability to obey. It’s such a beautiful thing.

BT

Doctrine: God may know our hearts, but we can’t know our own hearts or the true extent of our spiritual devotion without outward action and ritual. Such ritual creates mental, emotional, and spiritual landmarks, memories, and grooves that change us fundamentally. Passive, inward, devotion alone cannot produce the faith and power necessary for us to lay hold upon the full measure of God’s grace and glory.

We live in a time where people shun organized religion and ritual. To them the ritual of attending meetings and doing prayers and other formal outward acts of devotion are outdated and unnecessary. They may even consider them ridiculous and empty. Their defense against such things is that God (if there is a God) knows their heart and therefore doesn’t need such things. And, I cannot disagree with that.

However, I can promise these people that while God knows their heart, they, themselves do not know it. They think they do. But, they don’t. I can also promise that while God doesn’t need their rituals, they do, and that they cannot be true Christians without it.

Ritual Teaches Us About Us

Those who profess to know God and to follow Him without ritual and organized religion do not know the extent of their devotion to Christ, the depth of their feelings about Him, or the breadth of their capacity to follow Him. To put it bluntly, they don’t know anything about their spiritual power and capability. They don’t really know if they want to live with God forever. They don’t really know if they want to live like God forever. They can’t know these things without such devotion being tested. Ritual illustrates, tests, and teaches us about the level of our spiritual devotion and desires.

My Mother-in-law has what she calls a “God Box.” When she bumps into something in her life that she cannot control or change and she is struggling to let go and give it over to God, she writes it down on a piece of paper and puts it in her God Box.

“What good is that?” a skeptic may ask. She can just tell herself in her head and heart that she will let it go. Why then go through the hassle of writing it down and putting it in some random box?

But let me suggest that by going through the ritual (however small) of putting those things in her God Box, my Mother-in-law has created a spiritual groove in her soul, and also a mental and emotional groove in her heart and mind. The very act of doing something ritualistic and outward creates a powerful memory. It becomes personal evidence. Then, when she is tempted to stress about it, try to control it, or try to carry it, her spirit, mind, and heart trip on those grooves. She is then reminded, and knows for herself, that she has given this burden over to God. It then becomes easier and easier to let it go. Going through the ritual has the power to create unshakable knowledge and thereby unshakable faith.

Note the principle: by ritualistically writing something down and putting it in the box she has a clear memory of giving the burden over to God. She knows, perfectly, without a doubt, that she has given it away to Him. Because of this perfect knowledge because of her ritual, she also knows perfectly that God knows she has given it away. Thus, she can trust Him completely to carry it.

The ritual is an outward signification that marks, and shows to herself, her inner desires to accomplish or do something. It sounds simple, but by going through the ritual, she makes it nearly impossible to go back on her desires and intent.

Let’s now ask, “If she hadn’t gone through the ritual, what would she have lost out on?” She would have lost out on the chance to give meaning to her individual devotion and resolve. She would have lost out on the chance to know the extent of her intent to give such burdens to the Lord. By doing she gained a testimony of her own ability to act on her intent. She would have also lost out on receiving the power that comes from making an outward commitment to herself and God. By making it physical and outward, she made it real. She gave her desire life and to go back on it would be destructive to her spiritually and emotionally. That’s how powerful ritual is.

Ritual is the Evidence of Faith and Gives Our Faith Power

It is one thing to believe in Christ. It is another thing to act on that belief. Without the action, there is no evidence of our belief, it is only potential belief, or dormant belief. We can say we believe in Christ but there is no evidence or proof that we can offer, especially to ourselves. On the other hand, it is possible to go through the motions of belief and not actually believe, but it exceedingly rare and usually temporary. If such a course is pursued in a cursory way, it will in time transform and unbeliever into a true believer if they continue. That is the nature and power of righteous action.

Thus, we cannot say we have faith unless we also have works. Faith without works is dead (James 2:20, 26). Let me explain fully what that means.

Abraham, in the Old Testament, is asked by Jehovah to sacrifice his only covenant son, Isaac. Abraham could have said all day and night in his mind and to his relations, “I will do whatever God asks of me, withholding nothing.” And, God knew that Abraham would do anything he was asked to do. But, saying it was not sufficient for Abraham to know for himself that he really would. It wasn’t until Abraham was about to put a knife to Isaac that the Lord provided a ram in the thicket. It was in that moment, in what was sure to be the most godly trial any mortal man has ever had to carry, that Abraham knew, for himself, the depth of his love of God and his devotion to the Almighty Jehovah (President Hugh B. Brown in Truman G. Madsen, The Highest in Us [1978], 49). And Abraham could not have known it without the physical ritual.

beautiful retro chest with open lid on wooden background with pl

So, why do works? Why get married if it could end in divorce? Why get baptized? Why repent openly and before authorized representatives and judges of God? Why get married or enter into covenants accompanied by outward ritual? Why pray out loud? Why get on your knees? Why pay your tithing and offerings? Why sacrifice the things of the world for the things of a better? Why go to church? Why partake of the sacrament? Why, why, why…

It’s for us. It is all for us. And doing it has everything to do with us and what we know about our own souls. For without doing we can only suppose or guess about our love of God and devotion to Him. But, with the doing we then come to know about our love and devotion to Him.

God doesn’t need our sacrifices (1 Samuel 15:22). We need them. God doesn’t need our prayers. We need them. God doesn’t need our money. We need to offer it for our own knowledge and understanding of our willingness to sacrifice and obey God, no matter the outcome (though God’s blessings are absolutely, universally, and eternally guaranteed for the sacrifices we make to do His will: Doctrine and Covenants 130:20-21; 82:10).

The whole Gospel of Jesus Christ is set up for us to learn about the depth of our spiritual commitment, desires, and goals and to grant us power to be saved.

In Lectures on Faith we learn that in order to have faith in God, one of the critical components is a “an actual knowledge that the course of life which one is pursuing is according to His will (Lecture Third).” That means that we know, for ourselves, without a doubt, that the course of our life is as God would have it be. It means we know we are sincerely trying to do what God wants us to do. It doesn’t mean we’re perfect, but it means we know we are sincerely trying and that we never stop trying—even when we continually mess up.

In order to exercise the full power of faith; the kind of faith that precedes miracles; the kind of faith that moves mountains and compels martyrs to die for Christ; the kind of faith that can save us; we must know we are on the right track for ourselves. And, we can’t know that for ourselves without outward ritual and organized religion. We need that outward ritual and devotion as evidence for ourselves—not for God.

Christ said (Matthew 7:21):

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

Why do we have to DO God’s will in conjunction with our inward devotion?

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; for from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things: it was through this sacrifice, and this only, that God has ordained that men should enjoy eternal life; and it is through the medium of the sacrifice of all earthly things, that men do actually know that they are doing the things that are well pleasing in the sight of God. When a man has offered in sacrifice all that he has, for the truth’s sake, not even withholding his life, and believing before God that he has been called to make this sacrifice, because he seeks to do his will, he does know most assuredly, that God does and will accept his sacrifice and offering, and that he has not nor will not seek his face in vain. Under these circumstances, then, he can obtain the faith necessary for him to lay hold on eternal life. (Lectures on Faith, Lecture 6, italics added)

Our faith in Christ’s grace and offer of salvation is dead without our efforts at the accompanying works. Faith without works cannot save us and it certainly cannot exalt us.

When we KNOW, without a doubt, the extent of our spiritual devotion (and we can know it without a doubt by the evidence we give to ourselves through ritual and outward devotion), we have confidence before God—the kind of confidence that can call down miracles from heaven and bear life-changing testimony to those we meet. And this is because this confidence in our own righteousness (not pride) and heart removes all fear. It creates in us a well of grace that simply cannot go dry (St. John 4:13-15) on our own behalf or others—if we maintain it.

Lack of Ritual Decreases our Spiritual Power

Just as people gain godly power from proper ritual and outward devotion, so also many lose power the moment they cease such efforts. “Well, I got baptized, served a mission, and got married in the temple, so I’m good.” BEEP. Wrong. “I went to Seminary for a couple years, so I’m good.” BEEP. Wrong. Etc. That’s like saying you’ve worked hard for several years to get to the peak of your physical capacity and now that you’ve reached it your body will simply stay at that peak of fitness. BEEP. Wrong.

All of us know that mundane physical exercises and stretches must be performed by even the most fit of individuals, and that those mundane exercises and stretches are the foundation of their fitness. Thus, the same applies spiritually. The small acts of devotion and ritual that we do to become spiritual to begin with are the very things that help us maintain our power to remain so. We may build upon them from time to time, but those minimal acts should never cease if we expect to maintain our knowledge of our faithfulness and our power to continue faithful.

It’s strange, the moment I get out of shape, I suddenly start to believe that I’ll never get in shape again. It happens long before I’m actually totally out of shape. That’s because I’ve lost momentum. And, getting that momentum going again is difficult. We all know what it’s like to “suck air” for a week or so of running until we build up our lungs and muscle endurance again.

The moment we realize we’ve gained some weight, we suddenly start to believe that we’ll be overweight forever. We see others who are in shape and we mourn. Yet, there is no evidence that our silly depressed emotions are true. There is, in fact, only evidence that we have complete power over our ability to lose weight and get fit. So, why do we start believing something so false? Because we have stopped doing, we are no longer certain about ourselves any longer.

Without outward action, devotion, and ritual we can never have any certainty about spiritual selves. And, so it is a lie to think that one can be devoted to God without it.

We all need a God Box. We all need ritual.

BT

Doctrine: The Gospel is only impossible to us inasmuch as we refuse to have faith in it, refuse to believe in it, and refuse to try to live it. What we believe will directly correlate to what we feel is possible. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the most possible thing on earth.

impossible4

Climbing Mount Everest seems impossible to do. Yet, people have done it. And the people that did it desired to climb it, read about past people who tried to climb it (both those who succeeded and failed), prepared and trained to climb it, and then eventually, in time climbed it.

Running a marathon seems impossible to do. Yet, people do it every day. They desired to run a marathon, they read up on food and training, prepared and trained to run a marathon, and then eventually, they ran one.

Walking seems impossible to someone who has just been through knee surgery. I know. Because I’ve seen people go through it. So, how do they walk again? They desire to walk more than anything else. Thus, they are willing to stretch, ice, elevate, rest, and participate in physical therapy until they can walk again.

C.S. Lewis said:

Aim at Heaven and you will get earth thrown in: aim at earth and you will get neither.

Alice in Wonderland believed six impossible things before breakfast, thus, fictionally, she was able to visit other worlds and accomplish great things, especially going against societal norms. The principle is similar. What we believe will directly correlate to what we feel is possible.

The point here is this, I’ve heard so many people say that they are leaving the church because God asks too much of them. They say it’s impossible to live the law of Christ. They say trying to become like God is impossible.

However, they fail to note (when they are saying this) that many people have succeeded in living the law of Christ. Many people have lived it, do live it, and are trying to live it every day. So, what makes it impossible? I’ll tell you.

People who think God’s plan is too difficult, that His expectations and commandments are too steep, and that the Gospel is impossible have a few common problems:

  • First, they don’t understand grace properly.
  • Second, their desires for eternal life (life “like” God) are likely surface desires only and not the true desires of their heart. Such an accomplishment seems like Mount Everest and they do not have sufficient desire to put in the hard work to climb it—though it is technically possible.
  • Third, they don’t know God well (because of a lack of faith, prayer, study, and at least attempts at keeping the commandments) and because they don’t know Him they don’t really understand what it is they are being asked to become; therefore, developing a strong desire to be like Him is difficult to do.
  • Fourth, perhaps they used to want eternal life but their current life and desires have superseded that original desire and so they have set it aside as a “nice thing” but no longer find it appealing—again, too much work. They truly believe that they will be happier living life their way and that belief guides their actions. They can’t trust God’s promises because they haven’t come to trust Him and they haven’t tried the experiment to see if He can be trusted.
  • Along with this, most people who think the gospel is impossible find that it is impossible to live when they aren’t willing to repent—and, it is, especially since repentance is the 2nd principle of the Gospel.
  • Finally, the Gospel is impossible to those who want salvation and exaltation on their terms, and not God’s. Since God is bound by law and covenant in order to have the exaltation that He enjoys—because that’s the only way to get it—then He can’t break those laws and covenants to give us exaltation or He would cease to be God (see blog post, God’s Power is Not Absolute).

If You Understand Grace, then the Gospel is Not Impossible

The purpose of Grace is to allow us to learn to become godly, and to give us the power to become godly, without being condemned by the learning and becoming process. God’s commandments, ordinances and covenants are not a list of things to do or to check off perfectly so that then we can become godly. They are things we enter into and do so that as we try to do and become them grace can make actual changes in us. Thus, it’s the trying that matters, not perfection in trying. But, we have to try. If we don’t try, then grace can’t function to make the changes necessary for godhood.

I have had piano students over the years who always got frustrated if they couldn’t play a song perfectly with only a few tries. These students would often quit lessons or at the least struggle with practicing as they should. However, when I could encourage them to practice, it would always surprise them that in time they could master the song. Thus, their parents (who paid for the lessons) didn’t pay for the lessons so that their child would play perfectly the first time every time. The parents paid for the lessons so that the child could learn to play well and love playing. They paid for the lessons so that their kid would learn to love music, appreciate it’s depth and intricacies, enjoy the spirit of the songs, and hopefully be able to serve in the future with the talent they had gained.

This is grace. Christ suffered for everything: sin, injustice, injury, physical infirmity, etc. so that we can take “becoming like God lessons” and learn to love Christ, God and the process of becoming like them. Grace pays for the lessons so that we can get good at aspects of godhood, learn to appreciate the depth and intricacy of what it takes to become like God, enjoy the Gift of the Holy Ghost as He teaches us more and more of God’s truth and light, and eventually learn to serve as a God—bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of others.

If you understand this basic principle about grace, then you can never say the Gospel is impossible or that the law of Christ is too hard. You can only say that you don’t understand it and haven’t taken the time to try.impossible possible

If You Truly Desire to Become Like God, then the Gospel Does Not Seem Impossible

I know a lot of people who say things like, “I wish I could play the piano like that,” or, “I wish I could teach like you,” or, “I wish I could sing like that,” or, “I wish I could become a doctor, lawyer, etc…” And yet, they don’t really wish it. What they like is the idea of it. They like the idea of something but not enough to put in the work for it.

The scriptures have records of people being saved and exalted, even translated. To say that it’s not possible indicates that there is a lack of true desire. It is possible. We have evidence of it. But, we also have evidence that you have to really want it in order to achieve it. Godhood is not something we achieve by a casual desire. And, would you really want a god that received godhood without having to work for it?

In Doctrine and Covenants 137:9, it says:

For I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts.

Note, God does NOT say “according to their works and the desire of their hearts.” People often read this verse and understand it that way, but that’s not actually what He says. He says, “according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts.” Meaning, that God judges us by the true desires of our hearts which are evident in our efforts (i.e. sincere actions, attempts at trying, true focus, etc.)

Do you want the salary of a self-made billionaire but you aren’t willing to do what that man/woman did to get it? Then, you don’t really want what they have. You only think you do. But, then, once you learn what they had to do to get it or how many times they failed before achieving it, then you lose the desire to have their enormous sums of money. Why? Because you don’t want that much money bad enough to go through what they went through to get it.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is in place to help us become like God, is only impossible to you if you think the end result isn’t worth the work. And, guess what, technically, that’s okay. That’s why there are multiple kingdoms of glory. And, whatever law you consider to be worthwhile and possible; the one you desire to live, that is the one that will govern the ultimate eternal kingdom you receive. But, you are also limited to the blessings of  that kingdom and you can’t choose otherwise once you get there (Doctrine and Covenants 88:36-40; 131:1-4).

So, it’s no use saying the Gospel is impossible simply because it seems hard to you. You only need to admit that you don’t have the desire to actually do the work it takes to live it.

If You Know Your God (and Christ) then the Gospel Doesn’t Seem Impossible

If you are asked to become like someone, but you don’t know anything about them, then initially, you’re going to consider such a request an impossible task. You may even ask, “Why would I want to become like God?” And, this is a great question.

Those of us who want to become like God want to because we want: 1) eternal family (or family with us forever and not just for this life), 2) a glorified, resurrected, celestial body, that has the ability to procreate and produce eternal offspring, 3) a perfect character (including perfect love, perfect justice, perfect mercy, etc.), 4) a perfect knowledge of the past, present, and future, and 5) the power to create worlds with the sole intent of bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of others.

But, if you haven’t taken the time to get to know God by talking to Him, trying to emulate Him, and testing out His trustworthiness and promises, then you aren’t going to believe that He is what He says He is. You aren’t going to see the value in becoming like Him. You aren’t going to trust that it’s possible.

The prophet Lorenzo Snow taught:

As man now is, God once was
As God now is, man may become

So, if you think that becoming like God is impossible, it’s not because it isn’t. It is (Moroni 10:32-33) possible. But, you don’t think it is because you don’t know Him. And, unless you get to know Him, it will always be impossible to you (St. John 17:3).

If Becoming Like God is Your Primary Desire in this Life then the Gospel Doesn’t Seem Impossible

The second commandment is: Thou shalt have no other Gods before me (Exodus 20:3).

Thus, if we put a desire before the desire to become like God, then we have begun desiring or worshipping another God. And, the sad thing about this is that there is no other thing/person/situation that has the power to ultimately give us anything that we want. Everything that has it’s center in this life (and not in Eternal Life, i.e. life like God) is temporary and will end when we die. Only those things that are sanctioned by God, entered into by His guidelines and commandments, etc. will continue after this life (Doctrine and Covenants 132:7).

So, the Gospel is impossible to you if you have put something/someone in your life before your goal/desire to become like God. It is impossible because you have given your agency to a false god. Thus, that false god has no power to give you what you ultimately want. Thus, the Gospel is of no effect in your life, or only to the extent that you allow it.

So, to say the Gospel is impossible because you trust the power and authority of whatever false god you have chosen over Christ and God, the Father; then, of course it is impossible. But only because you are putting your trust in something/someone with “0” power. The moment you begin to put God first in your life again, your life will regain the power to bring you ultimate joy and happiness. The Gospel will then again become possible.

When You are Willing to Repent, the Gospel Doesn’t Seem Impossible

Salvation (and differing levels of grace and mercy) are disbursed on the conditions of repentance and faithfulness we give to God and His Gospel. When we aren’t willing to repent, change, and try to become godly, then the Gospel seems impossible. But that’s because as long as we aren’t willing to meet the conditions God has established for His grace and mercy (bought through the blood, example, and Atonement of Jesus Christ), then technically, the Gospel is impossible. God doesn’t forgive us without true repentance. We don’t get to become gods simply by being born into this life. The only thing we get for being born is an immortal, resurrected body.

Grace is spiritual money. God is the spiritual gazillionaire. We can’t demand His spiritual money on our own terms. We have to meet the conditions He has set. And, the conditions He has set are also those that will ultimately bring us more happiness and joy than we could ever imagine. Whatever you think you can imagine, God can do way better. But, of course, because you can’t imagine it, it’s hard to understand the scope of what He offers.

So, don’t say the Gospel is impossible simply because you are unwilling to repent fully. Admit to yourself that you have rendered the Gospel inoperable (and the fullness of the Atonement) by your own pride and unwillingness to submit to the will of God (Mosiah 3:19).

Mia Wasikowska is Alice in Alice Through the Looking Glass.

Conclusion

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the most possible thing on the earth. The only things that render it impossible we have complete control over: our desires, our willingness to act on those desires, our love of and desire to learn about and become like God, and our willingness to repent and submit to the conditions God has set upon His abundant and incredibly accessible grace.

Want steps to make the Gospel FEEL possible? Check out my next blog post.

BT

Doctrine: Perfectionism is prideful, self-focused,  and judgmental; it amplifies fear, creates failure, feeds despair, and ultimately discourages righteous intent and action. Sanctification is humble, Christ-focused,  and judges righteously;  it increases peace, creates hope, and faith, and ultimately encourages righteous intent and increases the power and frequency of righteous action.

I spent a good portion of my life suffering from aspects of perfectionism. This perfectionism was a manifestation of my belief in doing good, keeping God’s commandments, and trying to become like Him. Only, it took me a long time to realize that my mindset was flawed about how to go about achieving all that goodness.

How did I know my mindset was flawed? Because I kept mentally beating myself up when I fell short using self-deprecation to make myself suffer extra-sufficiently for my wrongs. Because I lived in fear of messing up thinking that I would lose out on hopes, dreams, and blessings if I forgot even one prayer. Because I kept thinking that I was going to be tricked by Satan in some sneaky way despite my best efforts—that he would take me down with one little mistake.

I remember the day I finally realized that I was so afraid of messing up or being taken in by Satan, that I HAD BEEN TAKEN IN. If you are living in fear, you have been “taken in” by Lucifer.

Now, when I use the word fear, I’m not referring to godly awe and respect. I’m also not referring to the love I have for God that makes me not want to offend Him. I’m talking about crippling fear; the kind that inhibits progress. And, many, many Christians (and most certainly a large portion of Latter-day Saints) live by this kind of fear, and it manifests itself in perfectionism.

It is important to note that perfectionism is a chronic mindset. It is preoccupied with self and comparison to others. Perfectionism is prideful in the worst sense because it is blind to its own pride.  Perfectionism is not healthy, nor is it ultimately, eternally productive. Perfectionism is an aspect of self-imposed environmental, and personal control that has exceeded rational limits. It is NEVER okay to devalue yourself, mentally berate and abuse yourself, and the like imitations. It is okay to feel guilt and remorse, but those feelings alone are sufficient. When we have those feelings, they are not license for us to begin hacking away mentally at our self-worth and eternal potential.

“But, doesn’t God command us to be perfect?” you ask?

Well, let’s take a look at some scriptures and study this whole perfection thing a little closer.

Matthew 5:48 says, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

From this scripture we receive the command to be perfect even as God, the Father. We could replace the words “even as” with the word “like.” But, either way, this command requires several readings and a lot of pondering. Does God really expect us to attain His level of godly perfection in this life? Why would He command such an impossible thing?

We could also consider the fact that God became who He is, perfect, by first going through the Plan of Salvation as we are. Lorenzo Snow taught this in his famous couplet: As man now is God once was, as God now is man may be. So, we could interpret Matthew 5:48 as becoming perfect in the “same way” God became perfect (which is certainly not immediate or possible in mortality).

But, let’s assume for a moment that the scripture is literal, and God is commanding us to become as He is, perfect, now, while we are mortal. Then, why do we also read the following (from God) in Moroni 10:32-33 which says:

Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.

And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot.

This scripture in the Book of Mormon about perfection is directly related to the atonement of Jesus Christ and the grace of God which it facilitates. In fact, it asks us to become perfected through grace, and perfected in Christ and to deny not the power of that grace and of God. And, when we’ve attained this kind of earthly perfection, then we are sanctified; or in other words we have been made holy—like God.

If you take the time to study all the scriptures about perfection, I think you will find, as I have, that God is not as concerned about perfection in action (during mortality) as He is about perfection in our desires and the intent/sincerity behind our actions—even, and especially, the flawed actions. Note that in Doctrine and Covenants 137:9 it says, “For I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts.” We tend to understand this scripture as a dual thing: according to our works AND the desires of our hearts. But, that is NOT what it says. It says, “…according to [our] works, according to the desire of [our] hearts.”

Do you see what this is saying? God is clearly letting us know that it is not the perfection of our works, or actions, that we are judged by. In fact, He is stating quite clearly that it is the intent and true desires behind our works (whether offered perfectly or flawed) that we are ultimately judged by. This is huge!

Can you do a work perfectly and still have desires and intent that are contrary to the action/work performed? Absolutely. Can you do a work imperfectly and still have desires and intent that are pure, sincere, and true? Absolutely. Why do we always assume that if a work is performed sub-par that the intent or desire is sub-par? Why do we always assume that if a work is performed perfectly that the intent or desire is perfect? This is simply not the case.

black and white pencils

This brings us back to the idea of sanctification over perfectionism. Both are states of being. However, a sanctified person is focused more on perfecting their intent and purifying their desires rather than simply performing an externally perfect work. A sanctified person recognizes that it is perfection in intent that will perfect their outward works, and not the other way around. A sanctified person is trying to become like God and accepts that as they work toward learning and becoming that the works themselves will fall short, but takes confidence in the fact that grace accepts the perfect intent behind such imperfect works.

This, may still be confusing, so let me clarify.

I was sitting in the Gospel Doctrine class in my ward a few weeks past, and a pretty wise man and well-respected in the ward said something akin to the following: “There are two types of perfection. There is ultimate perfection—God’s perfection. And, then there is sanctification, which is the only type of perfection we can attain to on this earth. Sanctification is a state of being which while we are not yet perfect as God is perfect, we are in a state of sanctification, or earthly perfection—which is as much as we are able to attain to in this life.”

Sanctification is, again, a state of being. You don’t ever exit it by being imperfect in action/works. You can only exit sanctification (once you are in it) by being in open rebellion against God, which pertains to your desires and intent (and by extension to your works). And, I would like to point out that I have not found many perfectionists that would ever consider openly rebelling against God UNLESS they allow their perfectionism to destroy their understanding of His nature and their faith in Him.

Sanctification is a state of grace. It doesn’t mean that we actually do everything perfectly. It means that as long as we are sincerely trying to become godly, we are in a constant state of grace—or mortal perfection.

Intent is like a validating watermark on a check or the security features of paper money. Anyone can print a check or money that “looks good”, but it is not real unless it has a validating feature recognized by the institutions its presented to. Actions without sincere, genuine, pure, godly intent are just actions—no matter how good they look on the outside.

Romans 8:3-4 says, “For what the law [i.e. works] could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”

What Paul seems to be talking about here is the fact that commandments and covenants and ordinances, which are all part of the law (and necessary in helping us learn to become godly), are weak by themselves. In other words, they are great things, but without the grace of Christ provided through His atonement, those aspects of the law can’t bend us into what we need to become. Just spitting out perfectly performed actions and works (checking commandments off a list) CANNOT and WILL NOT make us like God. Works alone are insufficiently powerful to sanctify us. But, actions and works performed (whether perfectly or imperfectly) with righteous desires and sincere intent DO HAVE POWER because it is our intent which validates our efforts and triggers the power of God’s grace.

When we embrace the life and atonement and grace God offers us, we are presently saved in a graceful, sanctified state. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus (or who are sanctified), who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made [them] free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2).

On the other hand, if we rebel against and refuse to enter into God’s laws (receive covenants, receive ordinances, and try to keep commandments), then we cannot receive His grace (or sanctification). This is because we are not fulfilling the conditions for sanctification. Nor are we even perfectionists. We are in a state of rebellion, which is yet another state of being.

“For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law [or grace] of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:5-8).

Perfectionists are obsessed with self. They judge themselves and others by the quality of their commandment keeping. If they keep a commandment poorly, they are less likely to judge others who struggle with it. Yet, if they keep a commandment perfectly (in their own eyes), then they are more likely to judge others who struggle with it. Indeed, perfectionists cannot see anyone as perfect, sanctified, or even saved unless they have not yet been witness to these individuals weaknesses.

Have you ever entered the home or hung out with someone you religiously idolized, only to find that they keep a commandment different than you? What was your reaction? Were you shocked? Did your faith waiver in their ability to be deified? Did you suddenly feel a sense of your own righteousness in contrast to them, and perhaps a sense of disappointment and pity for this “lost soul?” Then, you are a perfectionist.

Perfectionists are selfish (though they don’t recognize it). Perfectionists judge themselves and others by their own standards of outward righteousness. They have a terrible incapability to see beyond the outward actions of themselves and others, and to consider a person’s heart. This is NOT how God judges. God looks on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7); the intent and the desires behind all that we do.

“Do ye look on things after the outward appearance? If any man trust to himself that he is Christ’s, let him of himself think this again, that, as he is Christ’s, even so are we [or they] Christ’s” (2 Corinthians 10:7).

People who have entered into God’s covenants and who are trying ARE CHRIST’S and are perfected in Christ. This means, that if their intent and desires are godly, they are in a state of sanctification, or mortal perfection despite imperfect action. Wow!

And, that means that since we can’t see into everyone’s hearts that we must see and judge others always as if they are in a sanctified state, unless they are clearly in a state of open rebellion. The only deviations from this rare those given the keys to sit as judges in Israel (bishops, stake presidents, presiding authorities, high council, apostles, prophets). They alone are given the inspiration to make other judgment calls. We, however, must see others who are trying as currently sanctified and treat them as such.

“And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you… For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons [and daughters] of God… For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (excerpts from Romans 8:10-17, brackets added)

“Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Romans 8:26).

One of the things that I love about this chapter in the New Testament, is that it is one of the few places that acknowledges the Holy Spirit’s role in grace and sanctification. I would venture that most Latter-day Saints when asked what the difference between “the light of Christ” and “the Gift of the Holy Ghost” would struggle to come up with an answer. But, this chapter makes it clear. The light of Christ is the basic conscience of right and wrong that we all receive upon entering this world. The “power of the Holy Ghost” refers to validations and witnesses of truth, and are given to those both inside and outside the covenant of baptism. The “Gift of the Holy Ghost,” however, is a gift of sanctification given to, and retained, only by those who receive the law and act upon it with sincere, righteous, and pure intent—NOT perfection actions.

Luke 11:34: “The light of the body is the eye; wherefore when thine eye be single, thy whole body is also full of light…”

In this verse, which we also see in Matthew, where the Joseph Smith Translation (JST) adds, “single to the glory of god,” it is possible that a correct interpretation may be that the eye represents intent. Which, if the intent of a person is godly, then their whole body becomes godly. Just food for thought. This makes the possibility of many “perfected” individuals walking the earth extremely likely. This is also where the confidence of prophets in the scriptures comes from; how they know that they are saved and will meet us at the judgment bar of Christ (2 Nephi 33:11). They understood sanctification. They had transcended the weak understanding and satanic bonds of perfectionism.

Those who are in a state of sanctification are humble in their judgments of others. They do not take themselves too seriously. They are not quick to judge others, and are, in fact, charitable, hopeful, and faithful in every way. Because they can see themselves as presently perfected and saved, they can see others presently perfected and saved. This perspective changes the way they treat themselves and others at a deeply mental level. Fear and panic are replaced with peace and long-suffering (with self and others). Arrogance and excessive, rigid self-control is replaced with empathy, sympathy, and compassion which doesn’t beget laziness; it begets a hope that increases the energy one has to keep trying to do right.

Perfectionists are always afraid of the doctrine of grace and sanctification. They always fear that if people believe it too deeply they will stop doing and keeping commandments. But their fear lies deeper. They are afraid others will get exaltation and salvation by doing less while they themselves have worked so hard and beat themselves up to achieve it. They throw in God’s face all that they’ve done and resent when others get blessed who have visibly done less. What a terrible way to live!

The truth is that true, righteous intent (despite imperfect action) breeds more hope and confidence in God and His plan, which translates to better, more sincere efforts, and in time, better overall execution of His commandments.  This is because those who are in a state of sanctification recognize all effort as positive because any effort, with the right intent, is a perfect effort—in God’s eyes—and leads them further along in His plan.

Perfectionism does the exact opposite. Perfectionism breeds despair and uncertainty in one’s own standing before God and one’s own place in God’s plan; which translates to worse overall execution of God’s commandments. Perfectionists tend to be all or nothing—if they can’t do it perfectly they don’t do it at all. Perfectionists can also be lazy—if they can’t do it perfectly they procrastinate. A perfectionist cannot see value in any effort but a perfect effort. What a sad and depressing way to live.

If you’re afraid that if you don’t live in crippling, perfectionist fear that you will fall away from God and become evil, then you are openly admitting that you are not confident in the true desires and intent of your heart. So, it’s time to figure out what those are and take confidence in what you love, who you love, what you want eternally, and the intent behind your righteous actions.

So, if you are, as I once was, living in a state of perfectionism. Stop. Pray to have your eyes opened to the godly, and correct, path of sanctification. It will take time. You will have lapses. But, all the efforts you make—with pure intent—to live in a state of sanctification will, to your utter surprise, bring you closer to mortal perfection than you ever had the chance of attaining before in your perfectionist state. Most importantly, you will be able to cast off the bonds Satan has wound about you. You will feel relief. You will feel peace. You will feel a hope you have never before understood or comprehended. Your faith will become increasingly powerful and unshakeable. And, you will receive personal revelation and power never before comprehended. Your eyes will be opened to God and His mysteries in a way they never have been before.

You will gain confidence before God and your fellow men with an accompanying and equal charity and humility that will fill your soul with joy. So, LET GO.

BT

Doctrine: You can’t be removed from God’s love. But, you can be removed from his ultimate blessings and glory. You may never stop hearing the voice of the Spirit, but you can limit the kinds of messages He is able to deliver.

LDS Living puts out some good articles. But, people need to remember that they are a periodical that is NOT church supported. Thus, they get some good stuff from time to time, but they are prone to emotionalism (which all newspapers/magazines) are, and they will turn a title or publish an article just to get readers. They subsist on readers and they will do what it takes to get them.

I don’t follow LDSLiving, though I do often check out the articles shared by others who read them. Most of the time they are alright. Sometimes, they are great. But, I have often noted a strong lack of doctrinal underpinning (which is a major problem leading to doctrinal aberrations), and a quick propensity to publish articles that lead to doubt rather than faith. So, today’s post is to address an article they’ve posted (based on a request from a good friend who found it confusing) that’s lacking a clear, doctrinal foundation.

That article is titled One Dangerous and Untrue Thing About Sin Mormons Need to Stop Believing.

The first issue with this article is the emotionalism the title prompts. This is a journalism tactic. It evokes fear and panic. However, if the panic is well-founded (which it rarely is), then OK. But, this article, by a wonderful lady (@qnoor_templedress) whom I follow on Instagram, has been titled wrong. It should be called, You Can’t Escape God’s Love.

The title is the biggest issue, and that is because it pre-conditions the reader to look for some major issue or sin with how the LDS Church (or its lay members) teaches truth. It breeds doubt before faith…my biggest issue with a lot of LDSLiving articles. Thus, it becomes an accusatory article. However, the article (in near direct opposition to its title) is a personal testimony about how God is always with us.

The fact that the author of the article refers to her own uncertainties about how lay leaders and members understand and teach how the Spirit works is not unprecedented. Keeping the doctrine of the church pure is a primary function of The Church (i.e., the organization of prophets, apostles, etc.); and it gets more and more difficult the larger the church gets, and that’s because people play the game telephone by generalizing church doctrines into phrases that lead to open interpretation and misunderstanding by those who didn’t coin the phrase (I’ve blogged about this issue before). And, so when it gets regurgitated it comes out as an aberration which is nearly always turned into a false doctrine.

Each person who teaches the gospel is required to pass on to others, in pure and undistorted form, the truths for which such great sacrifices have been made.

President Gordon B. Hinckley stated:

I have spoken before about the importance of keeping the doctrine of the Church pure, and seeing that it is taught in all of our meetings. I worry about this. Small aberrations in doctrinal teaching can lead to large and evil falsehoods (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley [1997], 620).

What we have in this article by LDSLiving is a small aberration. An aberration is a precursor to false doctrine NOT because the individual always intends to teach false doctrine but because the way they state something leaves it open to interpretations that spread false doctrine. This is easy to do because none of us understands everything. This is why it’s so important for us to study, prepare, and to be careful what we teach and how we teach it. If we are unsure of something, we should not BS or makeup stuff, or generalize hoping that the Spirit cleans it up for us. We must obtain the word before we preach it (Doctrine and Covenants 11:21).

So, if you have issues trying to figure out how the Holy Ghost works, then I refer you to a previous blog and from there a host of scriptures, hard work, pondering, and study. From here onward, I’m going to talk about grace, the Spirit, AND the things about sin people need to keep believing.

This article, with its aberration, prompts the idea that there are no consequences to sin. Note, the author doesn’t say there are no consequences to sin AT ALL. And, I would bet if you asked her that teaching such an idea was not her purpose. But, her frustrations and the accompanying generalities in her testimony leave the reader open to the idea (if they choose to entertain it) that there are no consequences to sin as regards the Holy Ghost. But, there clearly are, so, let’s refer to some scriptures which can clarify the doctrines we need to understand about sin, the Holy Ghost, and God’s mercy and grace.

Doctrine and Covenants 1:31, “For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance.”

Doctrine and Covenants 130:20-21, “There is a law irrevocably decreed in heaven upon which all blessings are predicated—and when we receive any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.”

Doctrine and Covenants 82:10, “I the Lord am bound when ye do what I say, but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.”

1 Nephi 17:45, “…he hath spoken to you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words; wherefore he has spoken unto you like the voice of thunder…”

1 Nephi 15:9, “And they said unto me: we have not, for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us.”

Doctrine and Covenants 88:34, “And again, verily I say unto you, that which is governed by law is also preserved by law and perfected and sanctified by the same.”

Doctrine and Covenants 137:9, “For I the Lord God will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts.”

Now, I could keep going with scriptural references, but now let’s get to the point.

Does God ever abandon us? Ever? No (Luke 15:4; Romans 8:29). But, the type of relationship we can have with Him (now, and eternally), and the type of communication we can receive from Him (now, and eternally) does change based upon our actions, whether sinful or righteous.

God gives truth and light (and salvation) to us line upon line and precept upon precept (Doctrine and Covenants 98:12); and I would add, covenant upon kept covenant.

Truth Torn Paper

What people misunderstand and thereby teach with aberrations is how the Holy Ghost works. The Gift of the Holy Ghost works very much like the Liahona, according to the faith and heed and diligence we give unto Him (1 Nephi 16:28; Alma 12:9). If we listen to Him and follow, we will get more and more personal revelations, knowledge, and light which is intended to sanctify us over time and make us godly. If we only listen to Him when we feel like it, the messages and information we get will reflect our faith, heed, and diligence.

For example:

Note that Nephi tried to keep the commandments of God. I’m sure he was far from perfect (even annoying as a person), but he was in a state of forward progression, living the commandments, repenting, and following the Spirit. Thus, his own actions and diligence in seeking God’s will, guidance, and mysteries led him in a path of revelation and personal sanctification. He got to see visions and receive doctrinal truths and interpretations of scripture and dreams. His mind was opened up to amazing things. And, whatever his personality or disposition, he was faithful, diligent, humble, and quick to forgive.

In contrast, Laman and Lemuel were fair weather friends with God. They only followed God’s commandments if it suited their own, personally designated plans for happiness. They were often rude, vulgar, impatient, mocking, bullying, degrading, prone to anger and violence, pride, and grudge-holding. Lehi communicated God’s love to them through priesthood blessings and fatherly council, but he couldn’t promise them the same blessings as Nephi, Sam, and Zoram—because of their sinfulness.

Thus, when Nephi asked Laman and Lemuel why they hadn’t asked God about their questions regarding Lehi’s dream, they said, “…the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us,” and they were right. God never had communicated such things to them because they had never sought it nor been worthy of it. Because of their mindset about God, God’s commandments, and His plan and will for them, they were not abandoned by the Spirit, but the types of communications they could receive from Him were limited to their limited faith, heed, and diligence.

The author of the LDSLiving article likely understands this principle. Yet, her frustrations were with an apparent lack of correct doctrinal teaching in her youth. She was led to believe, based on generalizations and aberrations, that God, and the Holy Ghost, would completely forsake her if she sinned. What she found in her own straying times did not agree with what she felt she had been taught. Thus, her frustration that these girls she speaks to might be getting the same soup of aberrated thoughts and false doctrines. Her desire was pure. She wanted them to know that even if they messed up, God loved them. And, she wanted them to know that so that they would have the courage to repent and seek His face again…with hope—as she did.

Can God communicate His love to us even if He can’t allow us into the temple? Yes. Can God comfort us even if He can’t teach us deeper truths and reveal to us things that will make us more like Him? Certainly.

As the author of the LDSLiving article indicated, God is always with us. However, it’s the status of the relationship and our ability to progress that is affected by our sins. If we persist in sin we can’t expect God to answer all our questions about Him and His plan…because we aren’t capable of understanding, accepting, and acting on such revelation. Therefore, we are limited in our progress in becoming like Him in many areas of truth we become “past feeling” until we sincerely repent and open ourselves up again to those other messages.

Also, it is important to note that since all sin and righteousness are accompanied by consequences (both mortal and eternal), that any sin does result in a loss of access to upward progress toward God, and often as well in a loss of mortal protection and guidance (because we are “past feeling”). Well did Lehi quote God when he said, “And inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper, and shall be led to land of promise…(1 Nephi 2:20).Portrait of a liar

God’s whole plan is to lead us to become like Him. Thus, any other path leads us to not become like Him and is thereby a lesser path with lesser messages, blessings, and progress. It does not lead us to the same knowledge, protection, blessings, and ultimate glory UNLESS we repent and change course. Which, of course, we can always do—if we are sincere. Then, our sinful experiences are changed to glorified ones BECAUSE WE REPENTED. Sin cannot lead us upward if it is not accompanied by repentance.

Now, the worst aberration that I see members and leaders of the Church spreading is, “Our goal is to get home to God.” WRONG. Our goal is to BECOME LIKE GOD. There is a HUGE DIFFERENCE. And this aberration, I have found, leads to most others, including misconceptions about grace and the atonement. But, I’ve blogged about those repeatedly and will likely continue so I won’t go into those today.

So, does sin affect our access to the Holy Ghost? Yes, it affects the types of messages He can deliver. Does sin affect our progress in becoming like God? Yes, if we do not learn from it, truly desire righteousness, and meet the conditions for repentance. Does God ever abandon us? No, but He cannot change the law for us or deny His word, and so consequences for sin stand.

If you are a youth and you are living in sin, you will still feel God’s love. He will still seek after you. He will still offer as much to you as you are willing to receive by your actions and sincere desires. But, you will lose out on blessings IF you do not repent. You will lose out on spiritual (and sometimes other mortal) opportunities during those times you persist in sin. IF you repent sooner, rather than later, much can be maintained (or restored to you). But, IF you persist in sin and procrastinate repentance you will begin to become the actions you espouse, and therefore repentance becomes more difficult as the years pass, though it is ALWAYS possible.

You can’t be removed from God’s love (Roman’s 8:29). But you can be removed from His ultimate blessings and glory (Doctrine and Covenants 132:21-23).

BT

Doctrine: The problem with every utopia ever theorized was that it presumed the existence of a certain, fixed kind of human being, which doesn’t currently exist. Utopia ideals always fail because they can create a society, but they can’t control human nature. The only way to create a successful utopia is to first create/form a certain type of individual who will be happy to live there, bound by specific laws and conditions, forever. This is God’s plan—to help us become like Him so that we can live like Him and dwell with Him.

A few years back I read a book I never would have read without a little encouragement. It was Louis Mumford’s Story of Utopia.

What’s this book about? It’s Louis Mumford summarizing all the different utopias that have been thought up, suggested, and some even poorly attempted. Louis talks about the ideals of each utopia, what ideals they are based on, and the flaws in their creation—in other words, why they didn’t work, couldn’t have worked, and/or were never actually attempted.

They all ultimately had many flaws that made them impossible to implement. However, the one unique flaw they all shared: they didn’t factor in human nature.

Each utopia—or perfect world—ever theorized has presumed the existence of a certain kind of human being which doesn’t currently exist. These dreamers drew up the framework of their “perfect worlds” and based them on types of “perfect individuals.” They presumed that these worlds would work but could never bridge the gap on how to arrive at the type of human being that would adhere to the utopia’s belief system—forever.TheStoryofUtopias

Even if a utopic society could be created and people induced, convinced, or converted to live there, eventually they would have offspring. And, if the offspring didn’t adhere to the utopic laws they would either be “cast out” or would leave of their own accord. Then, even if the original mortal utopians remained, they would either eventually leave themselves (based on the changeability of human nature) or eventually die off and the society would end. Utopia experiment—fail.

So, is the idea of a utopia completely ridiculous? No.

Is the idea of a utopia possible? Absolutely.

The way to achieve any kind of utopia is to first create/form the people you intend to live there.

Every individual brought into a utopia must first become the type of person who will be perfect, or best suited for the utopia created. Then, they must be totally converted (heart, mind, might, and spirit) to the utopia. Each individual must believe wholeheartedly in the laws of the utopia, have become—through trial, error, and learning—the kind of person who will like and be comfortable in the utopia, and be content to remain in that utopia within the bounds it has been given. In other words, based on their exposure to (and perhaps even attempts at) other utopia options, every time these individuals will choose the same utopia.

A person destined for any kind of utopia must know, inside and out and in every fiber of their being, what their type of utopia is and thus be content, happy, and joyful to live in it. That means that knowing other options exist (options that may or may not have different, lesser, or greater opportunities and responsibilities) does nothing to change their final desires and designs. They know what they want and that is what they have and where they are.

I suppose it is possible that an individual, once in a certain utopia, may realize that they might have, or could have, chosen a different utopia; but it’s the kind of momentary and shallow longing we all display when we see something another has and see real benefits in it. Yet, when presented with the work and effort designed to have those benefits, we count what we have sufficient (even preferable, smarter, or better) in comparison to the work and responsibility required to achieve what others have.

Once you have a certain type of fixed person you can place them in a utopia designed to meet the type of person they are, and whala! You have a utopia that will work, that will be peaceful, that will last—forever.

And, this process is exactly the process we are all in. We are, because of God’s plan, in the process of becoming what we will be forever, and which will determine our eternal utopia.

Fantasy world.

In Doctrine and Covenants 88:15-47 (excerpts, brackets, italics, and parenthesis added by me to make a point) we read:

And the spirit and the body are the soul of man.

And the resurrection from the dead is the redemption of the soul.

And the redemption of the soul is through him that quickeneth all things…

Therefore, it [the soul] must needs be sanctified from all unrighteousness, that it may be prepared for the celestial glory (Utopia #1);

For after it [the soul] hath filled the measure of its creation, it shall be crowned with glory, even with the presence of God the Father (Utopia #1);

That bodies who are of the celestial kingdom may possess it forever and ever; for, for this intent was it [the soul] made and created, and for this intent are they sanctified.

And they who are not sanctified through the law which I have given unto you, even the law of Christ, must inherit another kingdom (or utopia), even that of a terrestrial kingdom (Utopia #2), or that of a telestial kingdom (Utopia #3).

For he who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory (Utopia #1).

And he who cannot abide the law of a terrestrial kingdom cannot abide a terrestrial glory (Utopia #2).

And he who cannot abide the law of a telestial kingdom cannot abide a telestial glory (Utopia #3); therefore he is not meet for a kingdom of glory (or utopia). Therefore he must abide a kingdom which is not a kingdom of glory.

…For notwithstanding they [our bodies] die, they also shall rise again, a spiritual body.

They who are of a celestial spirit (who have become a celestial type of person) shall receive the same body which was a natural body; even ye shall receive your bodies, and your glory shall be that glory by which your bodies are quickened.

Ye who are quickened by a portion of the celestial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fullness (or a body that is suited to Utopia #1).

And they who are quickened by a portion of the terrestrial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fullness (or a body that is suited to Utopia #2).

And also they who are quickened by a portion of the telestial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fullness (or a body that is suited to Utopia #3).

And they who remain (who don’t get a utopia) shall also be quickened; nevertheless, they shall return again to their own place, to enjoy that which they are willing to receive, because they were not willing to enjoy that which they might have received.

For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift. (Or, in other words, they wouldn’t have wanted to other utopias because they were not the type of person suited for any of them and they wouldn’t have had joy in the laws that governed those utopias.)

And again, verily I say unto you, that which is governed by law (e.g. a utopia, or a utopic person) is also preserved by law and perfected and sanctified by the same.

That which breaketh a law, and abideth not by law, but seeketh to become a law unto itself, and willeth to abide in sin, and altogether abideth in sin, cannot be sanctified by law, neither by mercy, justice, nor judgment. Therefore, they must remain filthy still.

All kingdoms (utopias) have a law given;

And there are many kingdoms (utopias); for there is no space in the which there is no kingdom; and there is no kingdom in which there is no space, either a greater or a lesser kingdom.

And unto every kingdom (utopia) is given a law; and unto every law there are certain bounds also and conditions.

All beings who abide not in those conditions are not justified (and so they don’t get one of those utopias).

For intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence; wisdom receiveth wisdom; truth embraceth truth; virtue loveth virtue; light cleaveth unto light; mercy hath compassion on mercy and claimeth her own; justice continueth its course and claimeth its own; judgment goeth before the face of him who sitteth upon the throne and governeth and executeth all things.

He comprehendeth all things, and all things are before him, and all things are round about him; and he is above all things, and in all things, and is through all things, and is round about all things; and all things are by him, and of him, even God, forever and ever.

Here we see, quite clearly what God’s plan is for His children. His goal is for all of us to have the kingdom of glory (utopia), the powers, the privileges, the binding covenants, the traits, and the eternal responsibilities that He has and that He enjoys. He enjoys the celestial kingdom (or Utopia #1).

utopia, 3D rendering, blue street sign

However, if after making a go (in this life) at the laws, ordinances, responsibilities, etc. that turn us into a Utopia #1 person, we decide that while it sounds nice, we are far more comfortable with something less and that we have become something less, then He grants unto us as much as we will receive.

(You can get more information on the different types of people who live in these different utopias by reading, and studying, Doctrine and Covenants section 76, as well as other scriptural resources…if you’re up for the study challenge).

We also read in Doctrine and Covenants 131:1-4:

In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees; And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage]; And if he does not, he cannot obtain it. He may enter into the other, but that is the end of his kingdom; he cannot have an increase.

What does this mean? It means that even within Utopia #1 there are different levels of law, obedience, responsibility, and power. And, that once we’ve become a certain type of person and chosen/discovered where we are comfortable, that not only will we likely not want an increase, but God’s laws forbid it.

How can God be so sure where we belong? How can He consign us to a place for…eternity? Well, He knows everything perfectly and knew it long before we were ever born into His plan; but when the day of our resurrection comes, we will know what we want and what utopia will be ours without God telling us. We will have already been pitted against the requirements for each and our own lives, choices, and experiences will reveal to us exactly what we want and where we would like to spend our eternity. We are not going to be surprised.

In Alma 34:32-34 (and I suggest reading also some of the accompanying verses) we read:

For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors.

And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed.

Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world.

What does this mean?

It means that when the time comes and our resurrection and judgment comes about, we will be who we have chosen (and made a sincere effort) to become. Standing before God isn’t going to suddenly change what we have become or what we want. As I mentioned near the beginning, we will have already been pitted against the requirements and laws for all the possible utopias (whether in mortality or the spirit world, if we didn’t get the opportunity in mortality, prior to our resurrection). We will have become certain type of person. Just dying or standing before God isn’t going to change that.

Whether in this life (mortality) or the spirit world (for those who didn’t get a chance to be taught regarding all their eternal utopia options in mortality) we will ALL have had more than ample opportunity to figure out for ourselves what we want. God is long-suffering and patient and He will ensure we have had the chance to come to know ourselves. We will have no excuse or complaint when we approach the throne of God. And, if we aren’t celestial beings we will not be comfortable in His presence, even for that short time while we reckon with Him prior to being given our chosen glory.

Either our works, thoughts, and words will save and exalt us (to Utopia #1) or they:

“will condemn us…and we would fain be glad if we could command the rocks and the mountains to fall upon us to hide us from [God’s] presence” (Alma 12:14). But, “we must come forth and stand before him in his glory, and in his power, and in his might, majesty, and dominion, and acknowledge…that all his judgments [and plans] are just; that he is just in all his works, and that he is merciful unto the children of men… (Alma 12:15). For, “he granteth unto men according to their desire, whether it be unto death or unto life; yea, he allotteth unto men, yea, decreeth unto them decrees which are unalterable, according to their wills, whether they be unto salvation or unto destruction” (Alma 29:4).

So, is any utopia possible? Sure, and God has a perfect and sure plan to ensure we all receive the most wonderful, peaceful, and perfect place that we are willing to receive. Our only goal then is to decide what utopia we want and become that kind of person by keeping the laws set for that place.

And so on and so forth.

So, what utopia do you want? Who will you become and where will you dwell—for eternity?

BT