As gospel doctrine teacher where I attend church, I have been expounding on the Old Testament and now recently the New Testament over the last year or two in Sunday School and striving to build upon a certain theme, continually helping those who attend to aggregate information line upon line and precept upon precept using figures like Noah, Job, and others to shed light on what I probably consider not only the most important saying of Jesus Christ, but also a commandment: to be perfect without delay. This has involved teaching repetitively two concepts: idolatry and repentance. The Old Testament provided a plethora of examples to illustrate both.
In my lifetime, I have heard so many friends say that it’s impossible to be perfect in this life. But what they really mean is it’s impossible to be flawless. The way most people use the word perfect, they really mean to say without fault. And yet we readily use the word perfect to describe a sunny day, an article of clothing, or even a gift. We throw the word around with hyperbolic flair all the time: “It’s perfect!”
Jesus Christ used this word differently when He summarized a powerful sermon: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48).” After His resurrection, He visited the people in the Book of Mormon and taught them essentially the same sermon and summarized it with a small difference: “Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect (3 Nephi 12:48).” Therefore many Latter-day Saints believe they will only be able to become perfect after they resurrect because of this modification and so this important sermon then gets pushed into the proverbial back burner to be given little to no more thought.
The New Testament’s usage of the word perfect was translated from the Greek word teleios which means complete and refers to a person’s integrity and maturity. The Old Testament’s usage of perfect was translated from the Hebrew word tam which means complete and also blameless. Consider the following scripture:
Job 1:8 And the Lord said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?
God describes Job in no uncertain terms: perfect, upright, etc. How could he have been the only one on Earth to be so highly regarded? Where were the patriarchs? Did Job live after Abraham? He did not have a covenant like Noah, Abraham, or Moses did. He was not under a law like the Israelites were. He was a random guy in the Old Testament from the land of Uz and yet God said he was perfect and God is not a liar. Because of Job and others in the scriptures that were considered perfect, blameless, etc, it is reasonable to conclude that any of us can be perfect in this life, too. And because Job was perfect, he had Satan’s and God’s attention. This resulted in Job not only suffering greatly because of Satan, but he was also given a personal tour of the universe by God, and more importantly developing a personal relationship with God.
I would like to postulate the following: They who are perfect in God’s eyes are they who have reached the full degree of development that God expects of them at any given time. And as they grow in the light and as their understanding increases, so does His expectation of their degree of development. Where much is given, much is required! Are we doing everything to our best ability that we understand God expects of us? We will not be able to claim ignorance while our scriptures collect dust on our shelves either. The following image is an oversimplified bar graph of Job’s development with relation to God’s expectation:
In the New Testament, a certain young ruler who was rich approached Jesus Christ, calling Him Good Master, and asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus essentially told him that he needed to keep all the commandments to which the young man said he had done from his youth up to that point. Jesus told him that he yet lacked one thing: “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me (Matthew 19:21).” If this young man had done so, he would have become perfect as Jesus declared or in other words, complete and blameless and no doubt Jesus would have taught him more things and expected more things of him. Instead the young man went away sorrowful because his heart was set upon his worldly treasures. A crude bar graph of his life would look something like the following:
He was so close yet so far! He had knelt before Jesus and Jesus had loved him, but did this young ruler really believe that Jesus was the Son of God or did he consider Jesus to be just another rabbi? So Jesus challenged him asking why he called Him good. Likewise, do we really believe Jesus Christ’s sayings? Do we really believe that He expects us to be meek, to refrain from being angry with a brother, to be reconciled with others before we bring our offerings to the altar and all the other things He commanded us to be and do in His sermon? Was His injunction to “be ye therefore perfect” just an arbitrary suggestion or is it a very real and paramount expectation? What would a bar graph look like for any of us today?
Are we slothful in our discipleship? Are we striving to learn everything that proceeded from Jesus Christ’s mouth and to do all that He said to do and to become all that He said to become? Are we aligning ourselves with ALL that we understand that God expects of us? If we are not aligned with Him, we will inevitably stray off the straight and narrow path. We must be oriented toward Him alone. To deviate from this path is to miss the mark. The Hebrew word for this is hata which means to stray or miss the mark. The English translation of this is to sin. How do we not sin? How do we ensure that we do not miss the mark or stray from the path? He gave the Nephites slightly different words than He did the Jews who needed to be more righteous than the Pharisees. In His sermon to the Nephites, He added:
3 Nephi 12:19 And behold, I have given you the law and the commandments of my Father, that ye shall believe in me, and that ye shall repent of your sins, and come unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Behold, ye have the commandments before you, and the law is fulfilled.
20 Therefore come unto me and be ye saved; for verily I say unto you, that except ye shall keep my commandments, which I have commanded you at this time, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
The “Sermon” wasn’t a set of suggestions. We are commanded to obey it. God expects us to become perfect and we can do that right now according to our best understanding. But we must do everything that we believe in our hearts that Jesus Christ would do in our place and not do anything that we believe in our hearts that Jesus would not do if He were in our place. Whatever your understanding is right now of loving your enemies, you are expected to live by it and as your understanding of it grows, so should your actions match it and so on with all the sayings, teachings, and commandments. As you learn line upon line, precept upon precept, you must live accordingly to remain perfect from day to day. Of course we know that Jesus Christ was perfect throughout His mortal life and the standard by which we must strive to live. He lived up to everything that He knew His Father in heaven expected of Him, thus He was sinless. And when He resurrected, His perfection was enlarged as He was glorified which is why He told the people in the Book of Mormon to be perfect as He also was perfect.
The more light and truth that we accumulate and live up to, the more like Jesus we become and this should be our focus. He is the light. He is the truth. Conversely, like that rich young man who preferred his riches and to go no further, but instead turned around, whenever we decide that we have had enough light and desire no more understanding, by halting our growth, we damn ourselves. This by definition is damnation. Like flowing water that becomes stopped, we simply stagnate and eventually dry up. This is spiritual death. Don’t be like that rich young man. Take inventory of all that you know you should do and be. Then begin living up to it today. If you’re not sure how Jesus would conduct Himself or what you should work on first, prayerfully ask the Lord, “what lack I yet?” Whatever inspiration the Lord gives you, work on that. You probably already know what you should be doing (or not doing) right now. Then work on the next thing. Take it one step at a time, incrementally, line upon line, precept upon precept. We become in spirit what we do in the flesh. Strive to become perfect today.
I enjoy working out in the yard and improving the garden little by little. It is also a time I get to spend a lot of conversation with the Lord and to give thanks for all the little things of the moment like butterflies, rain, or when I’m planting or picking fruits or vegetables. A lot of my time is also spent pulling weeds and keeping everything tidy, keenly aware that God allowed thorns, thistles, and weeds to grow and afflict and torment man. Goathead weeds are probably the worst and I never give them a chance to get far at all. But I don’t think I’ve ever thanked God for weeds or for afflicting me with them. I’ve been alive long enough to know better than to complain about them or anything else. God has given all things to us so that through opposition in all things we might learn to be like Him. So today I am also thankful for weeds.
But whenever things are too much for me to bear and I feel like complaining, I think about how much the early saints suffered and also Joseph Smith suffered in Liberty Jail and God’s words to him in D&C 121 and 122 wherein we read:
7 My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; 8 And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes. 9 Thy friends do stand by thee, and they shall hail thee again with warm hearts and friendly hands. 10 Thou art not yet as Job; thy friends do not contend against thee, neither charge thee with transgression, as they did Job…
5 If thou art called to pass through tribulation; if thou art in perils among false brethren; if thou art in perils among robbers; if thou art in perils by land or by sea; 6 If thou art accused with all manner of false accusations; if thine enemies fall upon thee; if they tear thee from the society of thy father and mother and brethren and sisters; and if with a drawn sword thine enemies tear thee from the bosom of thy wife, and of thine offspring, and thine elder son, although but six years of age, shall cling to thy garments, and shall say, My father, my father, why can’t you stay with us? O, my father, what are the men going to do with you? and if then he shall be thrust from thee by the sword, and thou be dragged to prison, and thine enemies prowl around thee like wolves for the blood of the lamb; 7 And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. 8 The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?
When I think of Joseph Smith’s suffering, I then think about what a lightweight I am. Then I think about Jesus telling Joseph that he is a lightweight compared to Job. Then I think about how next to Jesus Christ, we are all infinitely less than that. Jesus Christ descended below us all that He might lift us all up to be with Him. The root word con- in condescension means with or thoroughly. And that is what Jesus did. He descended so thoroughly and with us, having suffered all things for us. He knows our pains. He knew Joseph Smith’s pains. And He knew all of Job’s pains.
So in order to understand or at least appreciate what Job went through, I spent the last week studying his life. On the surface, Job was an upright man. God even said so to Satan when Satan approached Him saying that Job only worshiped Him because He favored and protected him. God did not deny this and He even allowed Satan to afflict Job short of taking his life. A few things I noticed about Job are that he lived before Moses’ time and he was not an Israelite. He offered sacrifices by himself without a priest to give the offerings. His wealth was measured in livestock and not gold, and in the end, he gave inheritances to his daughters. The Law of Moses stipulated giving inheritances only to sons. Scholars estimate that he lived sometime after the flood and before Moses. We read that he lived 140 years after all his afflictions. This was common among the people during the time of the patriarchs, but rarely if at all among the people of Moses’ day. I think he knew a guy who knew a guy who knew a guy who worshiped the one true God. In the final chapter, he tells God “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee.” Abraham lived to be 175 years old so it’s very possible they were contemporaries.
Anyway, Job wasn’t under any law or covenant. He was a random and just human being who offered sacrifices and worshiped God. God even called Him blameless and upright. But because Job had only heard of God and didn’t have a relationship with Him, his view of God was very incomplete and thus warped. As an example of this warped view, we read in chapter one how his sons and daughters had spent a lot of time together feasting and drinking. After they were all done, Job got up very early one morning to offer burnt offerings according to the number of his children just in case they had sinned by cursing God in their drunkenness. Reading between the lines throughout the book reveals Job to be a “works” oriented worshiper who was “working the system.” Grace was obviously a foreign concept to him. But God did not allow Satan to afflict Job as a punishment even though Satan insisted that Job’s true colors would be revealed by taking away all that he was blessed with. It is important to understand that while Job suffered unbearable trials, he was not on trial. As a matter of fact, the Book of Job is not about Job so much as it is about God and His own wisdom. It is also not about suffering as much as it is about how to think about God while we are suffering. You see, to Job, God was a divine Genie. He was a cosmic vending machine. Burnt offerings equaled blessings. Being upright and blameless equaled wealth. And Job owned thousands of sheep, thousands of camels, hundreds of yokes of oxen, and hundreds of she asses. He was the greatest man in the East of his time. Then Satan came along and took it all in one day. And thirty-something chapters are devoted to Job’s emotional roller coaster. His own wife told him to curse God and die. This is another example of appealing to the cosmic vending machine. But although Job did not curse God with his lips, he still demanded that God judge him if he did something wrong. In chapter 29 Job lists all his works to justify himself and in chapter 31, he declares that he’s done nothing wrong. He then welcomes punishment for anything he did wrong. But God had already acknowledged Job’s righteousness to Satan and although God finally does answer Job, He does not tell him about His conversation with Satan or why He allowed Satan to afflict Him. Instead, God gives Job a virtual tour of the universe and shows Job all the details of His creations.
The point of all this hearkens back to Job’s assumption that God is not just, neither is God capable of running the world according to justice. Job and his so-called friends believed that they had a broad enough perspective on life to make such a claim about how God ought to run the world. God uses this virtual tour to deconstruct for Job all of his assumptions. He shows Job how vast and complex the universe is and that He has his eyes on all of it down to every tiny detail. God then demands Job tell him if he thinks he is capable of micro-managing all of creation. He asks Job if his arm is mighty or can thunder with his voice and dispense justice to all of creation from moment to moment. He tells Job that if he can do all these glorious things and more, then will God confess that Job’s own right arm can save himself. God then describes two fantastic beasts called Behemoth and Leviathan and how great and wondrous they are. He then asks Job if he is able to play with one as a man plays with a bird. But even they are His and all things are God’s. After this virtual tour, Job is deeply humbled and acknowledges how tiny his perspective is and just how ignorant he is of the vast scope of God’s creation. He had only known about God because he had heard about him, but now he was able to see with his own eyes. Job then abhorred himself and repented in dust and ashes. Moses had a similar experience, and though at one time Moses was an exalted prince of Egypt, yet at another time after being given a virtual tour of the universe, exclaimed man is nothing.
Job never did learn why he suffered. But what he did learn was to develop a relationship with God. God then restored to Job double everything he had lost, but it was not as some kind of reward. Remember that Job did nothing wrong to begin with so all his suffering was not the result of any punishment. In God’s own wisdom, He apparently simply decided to give all these things to Job as a gift. What I have learned from the Book of Job is that God is not a magic genie who you can appeal to with burnt offerings in exchange for favors and blessings. God wanted Job to wrestle with him and to get to know Him. He wanted to have a relationship with Job. Before this experiment, Job was not relying on a relationship where he was walking with God, but rather relying on the sacrifices that he was offering up. He was relying on his own works and his own character. He was a blameless man and he had the list of deeds and attributes to prove it. God had even acknowledged it.
But this is the difference between relationship and religion. The Jews claimed Abraham as their father, but Jesus told them that God could raise children out of stones for Abraham. But God doesn’t want stones or dutiful robots who flawlessly perform their offerings. God wants a family. And He wants a relationship with each of us as His family. That is why Jesus came to die for us. It is because He loves us. But he doesn’t owe any of this to us. He owes us nothing. It is because of the love and the grace that He is filled with that motivates Him to manage the universe for us. We are His work and His glory. The lesson of the Book of Job is to mind your motives.
With religion, we get dutiful people like the Jews in the Bible who had no relationship with God. They made their offerings and relied on them for their righteousness just like Job did. The Jews knew better though and it is one reason why Jesus gave to them the parable of the prodigal son. But we tend to think that the parable was all about the wayward hedonist son who spent all his inheritance recklessly in a foreign land. But let’s look at the other moralist son’s attitude. In Luke chapter 15 we read:
25 Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing.
26 And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant.
27 And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound.
28 And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and entreated him.
29 And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends:
30 But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.
While the younger son had rebelled against God by going out to live the life of a hedonist, the elder son rebelled as a moralist. He doesn’t go into the house to be with his father and his penitent brother. Instead, he goes out—not into the world—but out into the field of his own works. He goes to where he has built his own identity which is what he thinks he is in God’s eyes. When his father comes out all he can think about is all he has done for his father and in return, his father never gave him anything. He essentially challenges his father to realize how good of a son he is and how much more deserving he is than his younger brother. You see, it’s all about him. He is using God to get all the things he wants and what he thinks he has earned rather than using the things he has to love God. In the parable, both sons were selfish, but only one was depicted as having seen the error of his hedonist ways. The elder son is never depicted as having seen the error of his moralist way and that is how Jesus left it, though, in the parable, the father graciously told him, “all that I have is thine.” The parable teaches us then about how gracious God is toward both the hedonist and the moralist. But the scriptures show us example after example of the blindness of the moralist who thinks to himself, “look at all my good works and attributes.” I am not like the hedonist sinners. That is exactly how the Pharisees behaved. The ones who don’t see themselves as lost but believe they have earned grace and blessings are in far more danger of being lost themselves.
C.S. Lewis once said, “Prostitutes are in no danger of finding their present life so satisfactory that they cannot turn to God: the proud, the avaricious, the self-righteous, are in that danger.”
When the Pharisees were offended by some of Jesus Christ’s teachings, he said, “let them alone. They be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.” Jesus didn’t even attempt to reclaim those who were so self-absorbed. He went after the sinners and sat and ate with them instead. This is why minding our motives is important and why Job’s life story should be deeply considered. When Lehi was given a promised land and had taken his family into the wilderness, he offered up burnt offerings of thanks. Lehi and his family were about to endure great trials and Lehi gave thanks. When his sons returned with the plates, again Lehi offered sacrifice and burnt offerings, giving thanks. When Ishmael and his family returned to the wilderness with Nephi and his brothers, again, Lehi gave thanks and offer sacrifice and burnt offerings.
Giving thanks is a good motive that allows us to be humble and trusting of God’s wisdom in our lives. It enables us to suffer hardships and trials, all of which are custom-designed to make us stronger, to make us humble, to make us meek, to make us all the things that Jesus Christ is. Everybody wants to go to heaven, but who wants to die? To follow Jesus is to take up our crosses and die to ourselves so that we can become alive in Him. Everybody wants to enter Zion, but who is willing to suffer for Christ’s sake?
Here is the story of the Silversmith: “And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver” (Mal. 3:3). This puzzled a Bible study group. One of the members offered to learn about the process of refining silver and inform them at their next study. He visited a silversmith and watched him at work. He watched the silversmith hold a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. The silversmith explained that in refining silver, you must hold the silver in the middle of the fire where the flames were hottest to burn away all the impurities. The member then thought about God holding us where the flames are the hottest to burn away our impurities. Then he thought again about the verse. “And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.” He asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit therein front of the fire and watch the process at all times. The silversmith answered that not only did he have to sit there holding the silver, but he had to keep his eyes on the silver the entire timeit was tested in the fire. If the silver was left a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed. You must leave it long enough to serve the purpose, but not too long as it would destroy it. The member was silent for a moment. Then asked the silversmith, “How do you know when silver is fully refined?” He smiled and answered, “Oh, that’s easy — when I see my image in it.” (Author Unknown). When we are feeling the heat of the fire, remember that God has his eye on us and He will “sit as a refiner and purifier” keeping watch until He sees His image in each of us. God is intimately aware of our needs and limits. He also knows just when you have had enough. So let us be grateful for His perfect wisdom and praise Him as we endure the fire, and not complain or cry “why is this happening to me?” And as we are being refined, are we doing what God wants us to do of our own volition and out of love? Or are we waiting to receive a calling or an assignment? Are we anxiously engaged in many good causes or are we compelled to do His will? In D&C 58 we read:
26 For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.
27 Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;
28 For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.
29 But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with doubtful heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned.
Now here’s the parable of the laborers in the vineyard in Matthew chapter 20:
1 For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard.
2 And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
3 And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
4 And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way.
5 Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise.
6 And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle?
7 They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive.
8 So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first.
9 And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny.
10 But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny.
11 And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house,
12 Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.
13 But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny?
14 Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee.
15 Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?
16 So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.
Here again, we read about people with their own worldview of justice and good works. Those who had worked the longest felt robbed because the idle laborers who were hired at the last hour received the same pay. They were motivated by their own reward rather than God’s glory to give to them the gift of eternal life. This parable was a direct answer to Peter’s question and an example of the philosophy of the Jewish rulers of the time. They believed that they earned rewards in the kingdom of heaven through their labors on the earth and that the greater the labor, the greater the reward. This belief overlooked some of the factors in the equation, including that of the grace of God. The Lord did not want this concept to carry over into the teachings of the gospel, and through this parable, he essentially declared that “he may do his work well, but he honors me less than others who trust in me without thinking of future gain.” This parable was a warning that the spirit in which one labors for the kingdom is what gives the service its value. This is why in the allegory of the olive trees in Jacob 5, the servants are few. If we are willing to suffer all the things that God sees fit to inflict upon us and if we do it because we love Him and because we are grateful for His infinite atonement, then we will find joy in the things we suffer because we will find ourselves yoked with Him whose burden is light. The burdens of the world are heavy and miserable. If we allow ourselves to be burdened by worldly cares and values, then we are suffering needlessly. Material wealth and goods will all perish. They have no value. But there is great value in suffering with gratitude in our hearts because when God pours out his love and His Spirit into us until we are brimming and bursting, we can likewise pour out this love upon others whose vessels may not be full. And they will rejoice as they begin to brim and burst with gratitude for God’s love.
When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed, When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost, Count your many blessings; name them one by one, And it will surprise you what the Lord has done. Are you ever burdened with a load of care? Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear? Count your many blessings; ev’ry doubt will fly, And you will be singing as the days go by. When you look at others with their lands and gold, Think that Christ has promised you his wealth untold. Count your many blessings; money cannot buy, Your reward in heaven nor your home on high. So amid the conflict, whether great or small, Do not be discouraged; God is over all. Count your many blessings; angels will attend, Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end. Count your blessings; Name them one by one. Count your blessings; See what God hath done. Count your blessings; Name them one by one. Count your many blessings; See what God hath done.
I didn’t expect to write this entry today, but I kept feeling nudged to do so while my previous entry “What Is Grace” is still fresh in the minds of those who have read it. More and more Christians are abandoning institutional religion while seeking and embracing Jesus Christ with real intent. While it is imperative to seek the Lord, it is equally important to fellowship with other worshippers. One cannot become a disciple of Jesus without loving and serving as He did. That does not happen as individuals on tops of individual mountains. Zion will be a nation of disciples dwelling together who have learned by grace to get along with each other. We must learn to be refined together in the same way that river rocks are rounded and smoothed together in the same running waters. You have to endure being bumped into each other, rubbed off of each other, and smoothed together by the uncomfortable flow of the rolling waters around you. Similarly does steel sharpen steel.
We must learn to receive “grace from grace” and continue from “grace to grace” as I wrote in my previous entry. When Jesus taught those around him to love God and also to love their neighbors as themselves, He was questioned by undiscerning disciples. “Who is my neighbor” and “how many times shall I forgive my neighbor?” Where they lacked in dos, they well made up for in don’ts. Jesus had to break down the concept of the kind of love He expected them to learn. They already knew it was wrong to steal and to lie and to covet. In His sermon on the mount, Jesus expounded on the concept of the higher law of love or in other words, the law of Christ. For example, he unequivocally declared, “Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again. And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise” (Luke 6:30-31).
I still get asked by fellow LDS what about this? Or what about that? Should I just let so and so do this or that? They have not taken the time to study the personal teachings of Jesus Christ. But to answer their particular questions, the Lord covered those questions in fine detail which He declared in its entirety in D&C 98. In short, Jesus Christ declared:
13 And whoso layeth down his life in my cause, for my name’s sake, shall find it again, even life eternal. 14 Therefore, be not afraid of your enemies, for I have decreed in my heart, saith the Lord, that I will prove you in all things, whether you will abide in my covenant, even unto death, that you may be found worthy. 15 For if ye will not abide in my covenant ye are not worthy of me.
But I’m getting off subject there. People tend to want every scenario spelled out for them because they do not believe ALL the things Jesus Christ has already instructed us to do. Thus we have His sermon on the mount as a model for living and for loving. I love what Peter wrote to the blossoming Christians in his second epistle who had obtained that kind of faith. He gave them actionable further light and knowledge so that they might receive even more grace.
2 Peter 1:1 Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ: 2 Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, 3 According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: 4 Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. 5 And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; 6 And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; 7 And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. 8 For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. 10 Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: 11 For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
In verses one through four, Peter greets those believers who had grown in faith and thus in grace. In verses five through eight, Peter then teaches them how they can grow from grace to grace. This is what disciples DO. They do these works to BECOME like Jesus Christ and all other heavenly beings who dwell with God. We are doing these things not necessarily in order to be saved, but we are doing them to become like saved beings. We cannot waltz into Zion or into heaven and expect Jesus to sprinkle magical fairy dust or magical grace dust and transform us into brotherly people. It doesn’t work that way. We develop brotherly kindness right now so that by abandoning our undesirable qualities (repentance), His grace covers us. This is why Peter says in verse nine that those religious and dutiful people who call themselves Christians do not do these things, it is as if they chose not to be baptized in the first place to be forgiven of their sins. They continue their journey ignorantly or hypocritically. And so Peter encouraged those Christians to give diligence to make their calling and election sure so that they never fall. They who forgive will be forgiven. They who love will be loved. They who elevate the downtrodden will themselves in the end be elevated. They will be saved in God’s kingdom as one who has received as much grace as he has been given the opportunity to receive while in this mortal life. Thus are we saved by grace. It’s an open book test and we have all the advantages and opportunities in the world to grow right now.
“The only time I had turned to God in the past was to ask for forgiveness, but now I also asked for grace—His ‘enabling power’ [Bible Dictionary, “Grace”]. I had never done that before. These days I spend a lot less time hating myself for what I have done and a lot more time loving Jesus for what He has done.”–Bradley R. Wilcox, Second Counselor in the Young Men General Presidency, October 2021 General Conference.
The LDS Bible Dictionary has a clunky explanation of what grace is and does. It is by Jesus Christ’s grace that we are saved. We are saved because of who He is and not because of who we are or what we can do. But the Greek word χάρις (Charis), or grace, is more than just favor or goodwill, though indeed it is by Jesus’ favor and goodwill that we are saved. Like Nephi in the Book of Mormon, I glory in plainness. I spend years pondering a subject so that I can simplify it in the most fundamental terms so that a child might understand it. After you finish reading this entry, you might understand grace better in your mind, but you must still learn to understand it in your heart and this only happens through a process.
So what exactly is grace if not favor and goodwill? There is more to it than that. Grace is also the condition of possessing light and truth. In the simplest term, it is the condition of being godly.
D&C93:6 And John saw and bore record of the fulness of my glory, and the fulness of John’s record is hereafter to be revealed. 7 And he bore record, saying: I saw his glory, that he was in the beginning, before the world was; 8 Therefore, in the beginning the Word was, for he was the Word, even the messenger of salvation— 9 The light and the Redeemer of the world; the Spirit of truth, who came into the world, because the world was made by him, and in him was the life of men and the light of men. 10 The worlds were made by him; men were made by him; all things were made by him, and through him, and of him. 11 And I, John, bear record that I beheld his glory, as the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth, even the Spirit of truth, which came and dwelt in the flesh, and dwelt among us. 12 And I, John, saw that he received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace; 13 And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness; 14 And thus he was called the Son of God, because he received not of the fulness at the first.
Before Jesus Christ resurrected clothed in glory and power like the Father, he was a mortal man clothed in a tabernacle of clay, subject to all the weaknesses and infirmities of the flesh and subject to mortal death. And before He was born into this mortal world, He was clothed only in spirit and not yet a tabernacle of clay like the rest of us today. But Alma gives us a little clue about our existence before Satan was cast down to the Earth as we read in Isaiah.
Alma 13:1 And again, my brethren, I would cite your minds forward to the time when the Lord God gave these commandments unto his children; and I would that ye should remember that the Lord God ordained priests, after his holy order, which was after the order of his Son, to teach these things unto the people. 2 And those priests were ordained after the order of his Son, in a manner that thereby the people might know in what manner to look forward to his Son for redemption. 3 And this is the manner after which they were ordained—being called and prepared from the foundation of the worldaccording to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works; in the first place being left to choose good or evil; therefore they having chosen good, and exercising exceedingly great faith, are called with a holy calling, yea, with that holy calling which was prepared with, and according to, a preparatory redemption for such. 4 And thus they have been called to this holy calling on account of their faith, while others would reject the Spirit of God on account of the hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds, while, if it had not been for this they might have had as great privilege as their brethren.
It was the Father’s foreknowledge of their individual capacities for good that men were called after the Holy Order of the Son of God. Before we were born to this Earth, some of us had already demonstrated our capacity for good and were called after the order of His Son who had already been ordained as our Great High Priest and Savior because of His great and infinite capacity for good and because of His great and infinite capacity for love and because of His great and infinite capacity to suffer more than all of us put together when that distant future hour would arrive and He would carry His cross and all our sins. Our Father had the foreknowledge of Jesus Christ’s capacity to love the world by being the instrument of our salvation with the capacity of tungsten steel to do what clay never could.
Joseph Smith once said, “Here, then, is eternal life—to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead, and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power.”–Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp.346-347.
So what does it mean to grow from grace to grace? When we grow from grace to grace, we grow in light and truth by degrees, line upon line and precept upon precept, possessing greater light and truth and that comes from our diligence in obedience to God in this life. This can be likened to making iron into steel through a certain process. We are willing to suffer the trials by fire that our Father sees fit to inflict upon us so that by growing from such trials, we develop the qualities produced by the intense heat and flames. Such qualities are patience, longsuffering, charity, etc. It is a process of growth wherein we change from being less god-like to being more godly. This typically happens through our suffering on behalf of others because of our love for them. The less willing you are to suffer to be a light to your neighbor, the less godly you are or will become (and perhaps the less faithful you were before the foundation of the world). You may possess a much greater capacity to love than you realize if you are willing to experiment and grow. God gives to us family members, neighbors, and various people in our life’s paths to challenge us and to provide us opportunities to express our love in different ways. Too many Christians are willing to do little more than their religious duties or perform rote tasks, but such performances do not make them more godly. It just makes them dutiful and task oriented. Machines and robots can be task oriented. Slaves can be very task oriented. God does not want slaves. He wants a family.
This, then, is grace and to be saved by grace: it is the condition of godliness and also God’s favor and goodwill because of His godliness that we are saved. Growing from grace to grace is a process whereby we change from being less godlike to being more godly. The heed and diligence we give to God’s instructions allows us to accomplish that growth. Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice makes possible the sins that we commit along the way to be forgiven so that we are able to grow without being damned by the errors that we wish to abandon through repentance. And becoming more and more godly also means our capacity to love others increases accordingly. The more godly we become, the more we are willing to suffer to elevate those who cannot elevate themselves, such as the poor and infirm. Jesus Christ, who is more godly than us all, has the greatest love and thus the greatest capacity to suffer all things for all of us with His condescension (1 Nephi 11:16), Latin “con” meaning with, which means the same in Spanish and “descend” which Christ did and does for us, below us, and WITH us all, He being full of grace and truth (John 1:14).
I have witnessed too many people ask this question lately. My answer to this question is no. That’s the easy answer. Miracles abound in my life. I am not sharing this to boast of my own strength because I am nothing. I am less than dirt and less than rocks. Dirt and rocks are greater than me because even dirt and rocks obey God. When God says to the mountain move, it moves. Whenever God tells me to do something, I don’t always listen or I don’t always hear, though I am sincerely endeavoring every day to become better and to become complete. But in Christ, I know I can do all things. I have seen too much to doubt and to doubt it all would be to look straight up toward the sun at noon day and declare in defiance that there is no light. But that isn’t so much denial as it is blatant rejection. Through Jesus, I have caused the lame to walk, I have healed the sick, I have escaped death, I have been God’s instrument in preventing the death of another, and I have been given a vision, just to name a few examples. And I acknowledge that it is only through Jesus that I have been able to partake in such events because of a genuine and sincere desire to be obedient to Him in all things and at all costs. That is a scary notion!
I have spent a lot of time sharing the teachings that Jesus taught in His sermon on the mount. They are not only teachings, but commandments. Jesus summarized his teachings by saying, “Be ye therefore perfect.” That wasn’t a suggestion. It was a commandment. “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Our love for Him is measured by our willingness to obey Him and our obedience to Him is measured by the things we suffer for His sake. The Greek word for perfect, τέλειος or Teleios, means complete. Jesus desires us to be complete in Him. Jesus obeyed His Father perfectly, or in other words, completely, by all the things He suffered for us.
Hebrews 5:8 Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; 9 And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him…
If you’ve read this far, then maybe you really are interested. Now I’m going to throw you into the deep end. Too much is at stake in the world right now.
Moroni 7:27Wherefore, my beloved brethren, have miracles ceased because Christ hath ascended into heaven, and hath sat down on the right hand of God, to claim of the Father his rights of mercy which he hath upon the children of men? 28For he hath answered the ends of the law, and he claimeth all those who have faith in him; and they who have faith in him will cleave unto every good thing; wherefore he advocateth the cause of the children of men; and he dwelleth eternally in the heavens. 29And because he hath done this, my beloved brethren, have miracles ceased? Behold I say unto you, Nay; neither have angels ceased to minister unto the children of men. 30 For behold, they are subject unto him, to minister according to the word of his command, showing themselves unto them of strong faith and a firm mind in every form of godliness… 35And now, my beloved brethren, if this be the case that these things are true which I have spoken unto you, and God will show unto you, with power and great glory at the last day, that they are true, and if they are true has the day of miracles ceased? 36 Or have angels ceased to appear unto the children of men? Or has he withheld the power of the Holy Ghost from them? Or will he, so long as time shall last, or the earth shall stand, or there shall be one man upon the face thereof to be saved? 37 Behold I say unto you, Nay; for it is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain.
I am going to give you an example of true discipleship. His name is Liu Zhenying and is known as Brother Yun. He learned obedience by the things he suffered in China and through him, Jesus Christ worked marvelous works. But does God expect all of us to suffer as brother Yun did? Probably not, but we should be willing to suffer whatever God requires of us in our individual lives to bring to pass the salvation of others, whether they are your neighbors, total strangers, or even your worst enemies. The Bible is filled with examples of people working mighty miracles by the things they suffered because of their obedience to God’s commandments. But this is Brother Yun’s story. I hope his experiences encourage you to seek Jesus Christ with the same zeal that Brother Yun sought Him until he found Jesus. Did Brother Yun embody Christ’s teachings in the sermon on the mount? Absolutely!