In 1842, Chicago newspaperman, John Wentworth asked the Prophet Joseph Smith for a description of the “rise, progress, persecution, and faith of the Latter-Day Saints.” In response, Joseph Smith wrote a letter detailing the short history of the twelve-year-old Church. As a part of that response, he enumerated thirteen key beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ranging from belief in God, the Eternal Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost to belief that members of the Church should be law-abiding citizens of the nations in which they live. The fourth of those Articles of Faith outlines the essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ—the central teachings of the Church that bears His name:
We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Simple though it may be, the gospel of Jesus Christ outlines the pattern for living a life of eternal significance. Jesus Himself explained His gospel in these words, saying, “[A]ccording to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me…and…whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name shall be filled; and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world” (3 Nephi 27:15-16). In all its simplicity, the gospel of Jesus Christ shows us how to live abundantly, how to prepare for eternity, and how to come to know the love and strength of its Author and our Savior. It is far more than a to-do list—it is a how-to guide. As Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught, “In contrast to the institutions of the world, which teach us to know something, the gospel of Jesus Christ challenges us to become something.” Indeed, the gospel is the way whereby we may “become the sons [and daughters] of God” (John 1:12).
As Joseph Smith wrote, the first step in living the gospel of Jesus Christ is to have faith in Jesus Christ. Faith is fundamental, but it can be difficult to comprehend. I can hardly say that I understand faith completely, but, in my own efforts to understand it, I’ve come to think of faith as trust. Thus, when we have faith in Jesus Christ, we trust Jesus Christ. The Gospel of Matthew illustrates this well:
And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him, [a]nd saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented. And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him. The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it. When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no not in Israel…. And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour. (Matthew 8 5-10, 13)
The centurion came to Jesus, trusting that Jesus had the power to heal his servant. Jesus called that trust faith, and the centurion’s trust was so great that his servant was healed of his affliction. I think it’s important that the centurion’s trust led him to seek out the Lord and ask for His help: faith is much more than passive belief. If we only make Jesus Christ the recipient of our silent wishes, we can hardly say that we trust Him. However, if we are moved to accept His teachings and follow His example and then act in accordance with that hope—even and especially when tangible confirmation is scarce—then we can say that He trust Him, that we have faith in Him. Then, we will see miracles, blessings that come in response to our trust.
If faith, then, is trusting Christ enough to act in accordance with His teachings, one of the first manifestations of our faith is in repentance, the second of the first principles of the gospel. Like faith, repentance is a subject that could comfortably fill volumes; however, I understand repentance to be essentially a turning from sin and worldliness and then a turning towards God and holiness. The Book of Mormon illustrates the fundamentals of repentance with an account of a violent and warring people and of the missionary named Ammon who taught them. The gospel that Ammon brought impressed them and showed them a higher way to live, and, ready to change for the better, that violent and aggressive people joined their king who voiced their desire, saying:
Oh, how merciful is our God! And now behold, since it has been as much as we could do to get our stains taken away from us, and our swords are made bright, let us hide them away that they may be kept bright, as a testimony to our God at the last day, or at the day that we shall be brought to stand before him to be judged, that we have not stained our swords in the blood of our brethren since he imparted his word unto us and has made us clean thereby. And now, my brethren, if our brethren seek to destroy us, behold, we will hide away our swords, yea even we will bury them deep in the earth, that they may be kept bright, as a testimony that we have never used them, at the last day; and if our brethren destroy us, behold, we shall go to our God and shall be saved. (Alma 24:15-16)
By burying their weapons, the people of this account forsook the errors of their past and began their repentance. The account continues to deepen our understanding of repentance when it says that “this they did, vouching and covenanting with God, that rather than shed the blood of their brethren they would give up their own lives; and rather than take away from a brother they would give unto him; and rather than spend their days in idleness they would labor abundantly with their hands” (Alma 24:18). Thus, we see that repentance does not just mean ceasing to sin—it also requires replacing vices with virtues and weakness with strength. The great promise Christ makes to those who repent is, in the prophet Ezekiel’s words, that “[i]f the wicked restore the pledge, give again that he had robbed, walk in the statutes of life, without committing iniquity; he shall surely live, he shall not die. None of his sins that he hath committed shall be mentioned unto him: he hath done that which is lawful and right; he shall surely live” (Ezekiel 33:15-16).
On a quiet night, the Savior explained to Nicodemus, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5), highlighting the necessity of baptism for all of God’s children. In fact, baptism is so essential to our eternal well-being, that even perfect Jesus was baptized in Jordan to set the example for us (Matthew 3: 14-17; 2 Nephi 31:5-10). Properly performed only by immersion (as Christ was baptized) and only by an authorized servant of God (as John the Baptist surely was), baptism symbolizes the burial of an old life of sin and rebirth into a life of commitment to the teachings and example of Christ. Beyond the physical act of immersion, baptism signifies a spiritual commitment—a covenant with God. Covenants are mutual agreements in which two parties commit to uphold their respective commitments. Teaching a group of people who were about to be baptized, the Book of Mormon prophet Alma explained the covenant of baptism by first outlining their twofold commitment, saying that as they were “desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people,” they had to be “ willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; [y]ea and [be] willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and  to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things and in all places that ye may be in” (Mosiah 18:8-9). The promises they made—and that all who are baptized are expected to make—were to live selflessly, emulating Jesus Christ, in lifting and strengthening those around them and to be fearless in sharing their testimonies of the gospel in both word and deed. Alma then continued by outlining the promises that God makes to those who honor the commitments they make through their baptismal covenants, explaining that they would be “redeemed of God,” that they would qualify for “eternal life,” and that God would “pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon [them]” (Mosiah 18:9-10).
The Gift of the Holy Ghost
After baptism and as part of the Lord’s promise to pour out His Spirit, new members of the Church of Jesus Christ are confirmed and receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost. As Elder David A. Bednar taught:
The Holy Ghost is the third member of the Godhead; He is a personage of spirit and bears witness of all truth. In the scriptures the Holy Ghost is referred to as the Comforter, a teacher, and a revelator. Revelations from the Father and the Son are conveyed through the Holy Ghost. He is the messenger for and the witness of the Father and the Son.
When God’s children receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost, they receive the right and blessing to have the constant companionship of that Comforter, teacher, and revelator as long as they uphold their end of their baptismal covenants. The Holy Ghost’s is a quiet and gentle influence, but it’s one that has had a real impact on my life and on the decisions I’ve made. It has been, for me, an essential part of every important thing I’ve done. To explain the value of the companionship of the Holy Ghost, Brigham Young, the second president of the Church of Jesus Christ, related what Joseph Smith had taught him:
Be careful and not turn away the small still voice; it will teach [you what] to do and where to go; it will yield the fruits of the kingdom. Tell the brethren to keep their hearts open to conviction so that when the Holy Ghost comes to them, their hearts will be ready to receive it…. It will whisper peace and joy to their souls, and it will take malice, hatred, envying, strife, and all evil from their hearts; and their whole desire will be to do good, bring forth righteousness, and build up the kingdom of God. Tell the brethren if they will follow the Spirit of the Lord they will go right.
Enduring to the End
Having reviewed, as we have here, the fundamental components of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Book of Mormon prophet Nephi wrote, “And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life…and ye have received the Holy Ghost…. And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay” (2 Nephi 31:18-19). While Nephi knew that faith, repentance, baptism, and the Gift of the Holy Ghost were necessary to get us on the path which leads to eternal life, he recognized that being on the path and reaching the destination are two different things. As mentioned in the beginning, the gospel of Jesus Christ is about becoming—not merely doing. As a result, the Lord expects us to continue to develop faith in Him, to repent of our weakness, and to prepare ourselves to live in His presence. The blessing of baptism is not that it frees us from the work of living well but that it grants us continuous access to the Holy Ghost who will lead and strengthen us on our way to salvation. “Wherefore,” Nephi taught, “ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life” (2 Nephi 31:20), and that is the greatest of all the gifts of God.