Perfect in Christ

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Some of my favorite verses of scripture are found at the very end of the Book of Mormon. At the conclusion of his record, the prophet Moroni, writes:

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. (Moroni 10:32-33)

In particular, I find strength and courage in the phrase “perfect in Christ” for the way that it teaches me about my Savior’s role, about my responsibilities, and about my relationship to Him.

Jesus Christ, as the poet Richard Alldridge put it, “seized the keys of death and hell” by suffering for our sins and sorrows and subsequently dying and then returning as a resurrected being. Because He holds those keys, Jesus Christ has the legal right to set the conditions redemption. He satisfied the law (Matthew 5:17-18) and, therefore, became a new Lawgiver, giving us a law that finds its expression in His gospel and which includes faith, repentance, baptism, and the laying on of hands for the Gift of the Holy Ghost.

Because we are all fated to die and because we all have or will commit sin at some point in our brief lives, we are all disqualified from inheriting a place in the kingdom of our Father in Heaven (Alma 11:37). No amount of effort on our part can secure our salvation. However, Jesus Christ paid the price and has set the terms for receiving His saving grace.

My efforts, then, are not valuable because they perfect me and lead me to salvation—they are valuable because they bring me into a covenant relationship with Christ. That covenant relationship is at the heart of these two verses from the Book of Mormon. Their basic claim is that if we eschew evil and live with love for God, Christ will forgive our sins, sanctify us, and qualify us for salvation in the Kingdom of God. Conversely, no matter how much good we manage do on our own, our efforts are insufficient if we are not bound to Christ in that covenant relationship—for “we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23).

The law that Jesus satisfied is a law of strict justice, a law that would have condemned each of us to an eternity far from the presence of our Father in Heaven. But, because Jesus satisfied that law of justice, we have access to mercy and to the hope that, as we follow Christ’s guiding counsel, He will qualify us for salvation on the strength of His merits. He has paid the price, and because of that, we all can have the hope that Elder J. Devn Cornish expressed when he said:

I witness to you that if you will really try and will not rationalize or rebel—repenting often and pleading for the grace, or help, of Christ—you positively are going to be “good enough,” that is, acceptable before the Lord; you are going to make it to the celestial kingdom, being perfect in Christ; and you are going to receive the blessings and glory and joy that God desires for each of His precious children—including specifically you and me.

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As I Have Done

young-adults-serving-1154923-wallpaperEarly in the Book of Mormon, the prophet Nephi receives a vision of Jesus Christ’s mortal ministry, seeing, nearly six hundred years before His birth, the life that Jesus was to lead. Nephi wrote:

And I beheld that he went forth ministering unto the people, in power and great glory…. [A]nd I beheld the Lamb of God going forth among the children of men. And I beheld multitudes of people who were sick, and who were afflicted with all manner of diseases, and with devils and unclean spirits…. And they were healed by the power of the Lamb of God; and the devils and the unclean spirits were cast out. (1 Nephi 11:28, 31).

In addition to the many sermons that Jesus gave, the many parables that He delivered, and the many miracles that He accomplished, Jesus demonstrated a life of service—healing, blessing, and lifting all those that He encountered. As the ancient apostle Peter put it, Jesus “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38), setting an incomparable example of love and kindness.

Speaking of Jesus’ example, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, “When I think of the Savior, I often picture Him with hands outstretched, reaching out to comfort, heal, bless, and love. And He always talked with, never down to, people. He loved the humble and the meek and walked among them, ministering to them and offering hope and salvation.” Everywhere He went, the Savior left people better than He found them. That pattern of lifting all those He met, President Uchtdorf went on to say, “is what He would be doing if He were living among us today; and it is what we should be doing as His disciples.”

Indeed, all that Jesus did, in addition to being an expression of love for those He lifted, was an example for us to follow, a model of true Christian living. He said as much to His disciples near the end of His mortal ministry: “For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15). Thus, if we are to count ourselves true followers of Christ, we ought to be anxiously engaged in doing good, in lifting and in loving those around us. Attending church isn’t enough, owning a Bible isn’t enough, having good feelings about Jesus isn’t enough—if we only embrace the precepts of religion without adopting the lifestyle of love and service that religion requires, we are only living with partial faith. Jesus’ ministry was not limited to good ideas—it was substantiated by good actions. If we are to truly follow Christ’s example, our actions must reflect our faith. As James puts it, “I will shew thee my faith by my works” (James 2:18).

We, as Christians, have a sacred charge to follow the example of the Savior and to go about doing good, leaving everyone that we meet better than we find them. The exact nature of our personal ministries will vary depending on our circumstances, but the purpose—the Christian love—that motivates our ministry will be the same. Speaking of that central responsibility to reflect Christ’s love in our lives, President Uchtdorf encourages us to action, saying:

I hope that we welcome and love all of God’s children, including those who might dress, look, speak, or just do things differently. It is not good to make others feel as though they are deficient. Let us lift those around us. Let us extend a welcoming hand. Let us bestow upon our brothers and sisters in the Church a special measure of humanity, compassion, and charity so that they feel, at long last, they have finally found home.

Every individual we meet on this journey of mortality is a child of God, a soul of infinite worth and eternal potential. With the eye of faith, we can see others’ true worth—and by the power of faith, we can act in order to confirm others’ worth and lift them, wherever they stand. Jesus lived and died to prepare a place for all of God’s children in our heavenly home. We can follow His example of love by making sure that we help God’s children to feel at home, to feel that they are a valued part of God’s eternal family.

A Sacred Library

girl-scriptures-flowers-1257297-wallpaper“We believe,” the Latter-day Saints’ ninth Article of Faith states, “all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.” We believe, in essence, that God has spoken and that He still speaks—and that all His words are scripture. Because of that, Latter-day Saints draw inspiration from the Bible and from other sacred texts, all of which have their origins in divine communication from God to His children through prophets. Each book of scripture accepted by Latter-day Saints conveys a different central message and serves its own unique purpose in teaching God’s children.

The Bible

Comprised of the Old Testament, which recounts God’s ancient dealings with the nation of Israel, and the New Testament, which recounts the ministries of Jesus Christ and His ancient apostles, the Bible teaches that God is a maker and keeper of promises. The Old Testament is full of promises that God made to prophets like Abraham, Moses, and Isaiah, many of which concerned the coming Messiah. Isaiah, for example, spoke of the Messiah, saying:

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne out griefs, and carried out sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. Be he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:3-5)

That promise was then fulfilled in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Paul’s words: “But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come…by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” (Hebrews 9:11-12).

God’s Biblical pattern of making and keeping promises fills my life with the reassurance that His promises are always valid. The faith that I gain from the Bible helps me to press on, knowing that because Christ is “an high priest of good things to come,” the best is yet to be—so long as I remain faithful.

The Book of Mormon

An ancient record detailing God’s interactions with the ancient peoples of the Americas, the Book of Mormon is a sacred text full of messages of God’s love and mercy for all of His children, wherever they might live. From the beginning, we read: “I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance” (1 Nephi 1:20). And, in the last chapter, we read the invitation: “that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts” (Moroni 10:3). From start to finish, the Book of Mormon serves as a reminder to me that God’s love is always accessible, that He cares for each of His children infinitely and tenderly, and that His richest blessings are available to all those who are willing to accept and keep His commandments.

The Doctrine and Covenants

The title page of the Doctrine and Covenants states that it is made up of “revelations given to Joseph Smith, the prophet, with some additions by his successors in the presidency of the church.” Unlike the previous books of scripture, the Doctrine of Covenants is unique in containing revelations given to modern prophets. It is no ancient record; rather, it is a collection of current revelation, reminding us that God’s work continues and that he continues to direct it through living prophets. Within the first few pages, He declares to the Church and to the world: “What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and thought the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (D&C 1:38), reminding us that God is still very much invested in the affairs of the world, that He certainly has not abandoned us in these turbulent times.

The Pearl of Great Price

Finally, the Pearl of Great Price contains a miscellany of revelations, translations, and histories. It is in the Pearl of Great of Price that we find an account of Joseph Smith’s search for truth and prophetic calling, the thirteen Articles of Faith, and inspired translations of Biblical texts. Perhaps more than any other book of scripture, this book reminds me of God’s eternal nature and purposes, directing my gaze beyond the vicissitudes of mortality and towards the more rarefied objectives of the eternities. “For behold this is my work and my glory,” the Lord declares in the Pearl of Great Price, “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39).

When read together, these four sacred texts provide a more complete representation of God’s nature and His eternal plan for His children. Because He loves us, He has provided channels by which to communicate with us, to teach us His commandments and the way to get safely back to His presence after this life. I am thankful for the scriptures—all of them—for the way that they have taught me, directed me, and continue still to lead me to become a better, happier person.

Fruits of a True Prophet

general-conference-october-2012-1057257-wallpaperWarning His disciples against the threat of false prophets, Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves,” afterwards giving His disciples the key by which to discern the character of anyone who claimed to be a prophet: “Ye shall know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-16). In this, the Savior taught His disciples then and now that the true measure of anyone who claims to be a prophet is in the fruit that they bear, in the products of their ministry. Today, the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Thomas S. Monson, is God’s prophet on the earth. While I could write about the many spectacular things that he has done in his life to serve God and His children throughout this world in over fifty years of dedicated church service, I want to share here some of the more personal fruits of President Monson’s ministry, the ways in which his teachings and counsel have influenced my life for the better.

Not Taking Myself So Seriously

During my time at Brigham Young University, President Monson came to speak to the students. He stood before us and spoke about lessons he had learned from previous prophets. At one point, he described an encounter that he and then-President Kimball had had with a man who was unhappy with the missionary assignment that his son had received. The man had come to tell President Kimball, the prophet, that he had gotten the son’s assignment wrong. After they listened to the man’s complaint, he left, and President Kimball said to Thomas Monson, “Aren’t some parents unusual?” At that point in the story, President Monson looked up at the gathered audience and said, “He would not use a word I might have used, but then he wasn’t in the navy like I was! (That line is not in my prepared message!)” There was the prophet of God, eschewing any pretense of infallible righteousness, poking fun at himself for his maritime vocabulary. In that moment and in many others, President Monson has taught me that there isn’t much to be gained by taking myself too seriously. His example has helped me to understand that humor is no sin and that the gospel is best lived with a brilliant smile.

Enacting my Feelings

In one General Conference, President Monson taught:

A grateful heart, then, comes through expressing gratitude to our Heavenly Father for His blessings and to those around us for all that they bring into our lives. This requires conscious effort—at least until we have truly learned and cultivated an attitude of gratitude. Often we feel grateful and intend to express our thanks but forget to do so or just don’t get around to it. Someone has said that “feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”

I’m a naturally reticent person, so, even when I feel gratitude, I’m not always been eager to express it. But,from President Monson, I’ve learned that feelings of gratitude don’t do any good unless they’re expressed. Further, I’ve learned that this principle applies to more than just gratitude. Unexpressed faith does nothing to bless others. Unexpressed sorrow denies our friends the opportunity to reach out in Christian fellowship. Unexpressed love does nothing to benefit the beloved. The feelings and matters of our hearts should not be limited to abstract attitudes. Rather, they should inform our actions and influence our relationships. The scriptures don’t say that God probably loves the world, but He keeps those feelings to Himself. No, they say, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son” (John 3:16). If God’s feelings for us were backed by action, shouldn’t our feelings be reflected in what we do?

Finding my Way

Lately, I’ve been trying to figure out the course that I want to take in life, trying to prepare as much to make a decent living as to adopt a direction that would be pleasing to the Lord. While pondering that question, I read one of President Monson’s recent addresses, a short little sermon that, I’ll confess, seemed too short to contain anything useful. But in that talk, President Monson describes the meeting between the Cheshire Cat and Alice. Alice, confronted with a fork in the road, asks the Cat which way she should go, and the Cheshire Cat replies, “That depends where you want to go. If you do not know where you want to go, it doesn’t matter which path you take.” That’s all well and good, I thought, but I don’t know where I want to go, where I should go—so how does this help me? In the very next sentence, President Monson quieted my anxiety and elevated my gaze, saying, “Unlike Alice, we know where we want to go, and it does matter which way we go, for the path we follow in this life leads to our destination in the next life” (emphasis added). In the time it took me to get from one sentence to the next, Thomas S. Monson cleared up my confusion, teaching me that there isn’t a single right  path but that, rather, any course is valid and acceptable to God so long as it allows me to live in harmony with His will and leads me back to His presence after this life.

Thomas S. Monson is a prophet of God. I know it—not because I’ve seen him perform miracles—but because his counsel has blessed me and has changed me as I’ve acted on it. His words have encouraged me, inspired me, and led me to a happier, more productive life. In my experience, those are the fruits of his prophetic calling, the evidence that our Heavenly Father still speaks to His children in our day through a living prophet.