The attributes of Christ. Admirable? Motivating? Depressing? Some years ago, I was a bit startled to learn that women sit in church meetings on Mother’s Day Sundays hearing about how wonderful people’s mothers are or were and about the magnificence of mothers in general and it makes them… depressed? Apparently so—at least some of them. (Men, I now think, react similarly to hearing about great fathers, but not to the same degree.)
Might we react similarly when people talk about the attributes and character traits of the Savior? I hope not. It is true that he has commanded us to be “perfect.” And it is true that we are not. I suppose we could get depressed about our shortcomings (though that wouldn’t be very productive). As I understand it, though, “perfect,” in the sense he used it, means “complete” or “finished.” And, as I understand it, after much striving to become like Him—striving which will be good for me but ultimately insufficient—He will be the one to actually make me complete and finished and… Tough to bring myself to add, here, “perfect,” but it seems that we should. There is no good reason to beat myself up over my inadequacies vis-à-vis the Savior—or any person for that matter.
Jesus said, “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” It is interesting to equate (or at least associate strongly) eternal life with knowing God. It is even more interesting when considering Joseph Smith’s teaching that, in order to exercise faith, which is clearly essential, we must have “a correct idea of [God’s] character, perfections, and attributes.” I cannot actually exercise faith in the Savior or in my Father in Heaven if I do not have a reasonably accurate understanding of their attributes.
“He that hath seen me hath seen the Father,” Jesus taught. So becoming familiar with the Son makes us familiar with the Father—one of the great blessings for us of his condescension.
The Savior also said to the Samaritan woman at the well, “Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.” Of course, salvation is from Christ, himself, not from the Jews, so the meaning of “of the Jews” needs to be considered. But today, Mormons could say a similar thing to many: “You don’t know God to the extent that we do. We know what we worship and we can help you know, too, and find Him. For salvation is from Christ and in His Church you will find legitimate authority through which you can bind yourself to Him in covenants He recognizes.”
Of course, we don’t know everything there is to know about God by a long shot. Much remains to be revealed. As a Church and as individuals, we learn about Him incrementally. The Old Testament taught us much. The New Testament much more. The Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants… more yet.
I was interested to read from Robert L. Millet that Joseph Smith’s own understanding of God the Father having a body of flesh and bones took time to develop and was not had at the conclusion of the First Vision as I had believed (and been taught)—or at least that’s what the preponderance of evidence strongly suggests. (To find that reference, click here and search the text for the word “corporeal.”) So we, too, come to know of His nature and “character, perfections, and attributes” “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little.”
But there is much that we do know, including that God is a perfect man with a physical body, that God the Father is a separate person from God the Son, that we are literally His children (we have a Mother also), and that He not only wants us to be like Him, He facilitates exactly that for those who will receive His offerings.
God the Father possesses every good attribute in its perfection. So does the Savior. If we come to know the Son, we will come to know the Father and we will understand better what we should become, ourselves. The Son showed us that he is kind, merciful, compassionate, loving, and sensitive. He is also humble, obedient, and submissive. And He is strong, resilient, courageous, and steadfast. And He is all other good things. (One blogger has posted a list of 60 character traits of Christ, complete with biblical scripture references. It’s a neat list.)
In next Thursday’s class, we will talk more about “the character of Christ.” In the meantime, let us strive to acquire the attributes He has acquired. And let us be filled with gratitude, reverence, joy, and confidence knowing that He, in all His perfection, will yet be both our judge and our advocate—and will make us complete if we let Him.
A week ago, we discussed salvation being a free gift available to us through the grace of Christ—but one that must be received and, hence, does not come without condition. He requires us to be completely committed—“all in,” as they say. He requires our whole hearts and all that we have and are. Consider:
“And it came to pass, that, as they went in the way, a certain man said unto him, Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.
“And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God.
“And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house. And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57-62)
For what it’s worth, here’s my translation of the original Greek text in plain Juchau English…
“A random man comes up to the Savior and says to Him, ‘I’m committed to you. I will go anywhere you want me to go and do anything you want me to do.’ To which the Savior replies, That’s great, really great—but you must understand what it’s like to be sincere about being with me. It will not be the least bit easy and there will be little if any rest. You’re going to have to buckle up, big time.’
“Then the Savior says to a different man, ‘Follow me.’ And the man says, ‘Yes, of course, but first I must tend to my father’s funeral.’ And the Savior replies, ‘There are no ‘buts’ in following me. Following me comes first—ahead of the otherwise most important things in your life, including your family. Come now, right now, and help my cause.’
Then a third man says to the Savior, ‘I’m committed. I’m in. But before I really get started, I need to run tell my family good-bye.’ The Savior shakes his head sadly and says, ‘You must not have heard the previous conversation. There are no ‘buts.’ There are no false starts. You’re in or you’re out and if you’re in you’re all in—in which case you’re going to be with me for a long time—otherwise…not so much.’”
The Savior expects this kind of commitment from us. And he expects us to publicize and formalize our commitment through actual covenants made with him in sacred and symbolic rites, such as baptism and others in LDS temples. Through these covenants we promise to follow the Savior, keep His commandments, remember Him always, and steadfastly strive to be like Him. They’re not casual promises—at least they shouldn’t be, which He made clear, Himself, in Luke 9.
Of course, promises made must be promises kept. Or… hmm… how true is that, really? I fell short of perfection well before I promised the Savior that I would strive to be like Him and making those promises didn’t fix all my imperfections, unfortunately. I’m still impatient, rude, lazy, and myriad other bad things much too often. What if I don’t really keep completely my promise to follow His commandments and be like Him?
Well, this is where we come back to the heart. “I, the Lord, require the hearts of the children of men.” He wants our promises to be sincere. He wants our commitment to represent true dedication. He wants us to give our all in frank and honest effort to show that our whole hearts, minds, and souls are with Him. But He knows we will fall short and so He agrees to forgive our follies if we strive with sincerity—and even to forgive our more significant sins if we return our hearts to Him and reset ourselves on the path of honest striving after we have erred. It is the best deal ever offered to anyone at any time.
I cannot earn my salvation. If I had to, it would be utterly hopeless. Only the Lord can give it to me. He will do that if I receive HIm: if I commit to Him and if I am truly sincere and devoted in my efforts to follow Him. If my commitments are real and my efforts sincere, I can enjoy knowing that, in fact, I don’t have to be perfect today (or even tomorrow) and I, along with the Lord, can tolerate with patience the time it takes before He, ultimately, makes me complete. THIS is what living after the manner of happiness is all about. I’m going to swing for the fences, miss, and still circle the bases. He’s going to lead me around them.
[A topic for another day is the formality of those commitments and the authentic authority under which they are required to be made.]
I was reminded recently, by the anguish of a dear friend, that life is hard—and sometimes it is very, very hard. Given the relative ease of my own life (thus far) and the depths of human misery in faraway (and sometimes near) places, I’m hesitant to say that life is hard for all of us, but—at least to some extent—it is. The Savior said, “he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” We won’t all be tested in the same ways, but we will all be tested. It is part of life’s purpose and, as resistance does for muscles, provides for us opportunities to grow—even when that last phrase seems like such a cliché when we’re in the midst of significant adversity.
Yet, even knowing that life involves testing and opposition, we sometimes seem surprised, even shocked, that extreme difficulty would come to us. We tend to see ourselves as “the just” and think life unfair when the rain falls, as it surely will. Echoing the Savior, Longfellow said (as my mother often reminded me during rainy—meaning most—days in Seattle) that “Into each life some rain must fall.” We ask how this can be and why life is unfair and where God is, for heaven’s sake, and how He could let such things happen to us.
Adding to our confusion and perceived injustice is our knowledge that blessings follow obedience, which they surely do. But that’s not to say that the opposite is true: that adversity follows—and only follows—rebellion. Certainly negative consequences follow poor choices, but the worst consequence can follow even the best choices. Just consider the great martyrs.
Lawrence Corbridge said,
“Life is hard for all of us, but life is also simple. We have only two choices. We can either follow the Lord and be endowed with His power and have peace, light, strength, knowledge, confidence, love, and joy, or we can go some other way, any other way, whatever other way, and go it alone—without His support, without His power, without guidance, in darkness, turmoil, doubt, grief, and despair. And I ask, which way is easier?
“He said, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; … and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’ Life is hard, but life is simple. Get on the path and never, ever give up. You never give up. You just keep on going. You don’t quit, and you will make it.”
I agree. We do not—indeed cannot—always see specific tests coming. And there is no guarantee that when they come, our prayers and pleas for relief will be answered in the time and manner we want. But. Whatever happens, if we will place our trust in the Savior, walk with Him, and allow Him to walk with us—patiently, submissively, and constantly striving for the best outcome—we will be better off than if we dismiss God and try to go it alone.
Mormons are frequently accused of believing that they are saved by works. To make matters worse, many Mormons believe that Mormons believe that we are saved by works – or at least partially so. To be fair, it is a tricky matter—both in substance and semantics. I will explain how I see it.
First, it is clear that we are saved by the grace of Christ and through no other way. Period. An appeal to the Book of Mormon may be of even more value and less ambiguity than an appeal to the Bible. 2 Nephi includes these teachings: “Salvation is free.” “…it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved.” And, “for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” (I interpret “after” to mean “in spite of,” the whole point of that verse being to emphasize that grace is what saves and not the things “we can do.”) Paul said to the Ephesians, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.”
It is said that Mormons believe they earn their way to heaven on their own merits – at least in part. But this is not at all what Mormons believe. Jesus taught (in the Bible; Mormons believe in the Bible), “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” Similarly, King Benjamin taught, “there shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.” And Nephi taught that we succeed by “relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save,” speaking of Christ. He does not say “partially” nor make reference to our contributions.
But, of course, if salvation is a free gift from Him who loves all and love them perfectly and has the power to give or retain His grace… why, then, are not all saved?
I like to think of the answer to that question beginning with this verse from more recent scripture:
“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.”
The free gift of the Savior’s grace must be received.
How does one receive this gift? It is by giving ourselves “wholly” to Him who “purchased” us. “I, the Lord, require the hearts of the children of men.” In fact, he requires “all thy heart,… all thy soul, and… all thy mind.” Everything. If we give Him everything and thereby meet the conditions of free but not unconditional salvation, He gives us the full weight of His grace. It is an exchange entirely in our favor.
But, again, what does it mean to give him everything and how do we do that? More on that in my next post. For now, here are a few great references on the topic of grace and LDS reliance on the Savior…
“Salvation: By Grace or by Works?” by Gerald Lund
“The Way” by Lawrence Corbridge
“Grace Works” by Robert L. Millet