Joy in the Gospel
[Given by Chris Juchau at the Saturday evening adult session of Stake Conference April 2016.]
You have already been asked tonight to do a couple of things. I’m going to ask you to do one more thing, which is to believe the gospel. Let me tell you what I mean by that.
The word gospel very literally means “good news.”
In the first chapter of Mark, King James Version, the first words we hear from the Savior are these: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.” (In many other translations, those last words read: “repent and believe the good news.” In the New Century Version, the Savior says, “Change your hearts and lives and believe the Good News!” – exclamation point!)
We need to believe the good news. We need to receive it and accept it.
What is the good news? The good news is that, because of the Savior, His Atonement, and His Grace, we have a clear path back to our Father in Heaven. But there is more. The good news includes that this path is not impossible. It does not require perfection in this life—nor does it require us to be constantly or even frequently weighed down and disheartened by our shortcomings and weaknesses. The good news is that the one who will ultimately judge us is the same one who will be our advocate. The good news is that to all of life’s other challenges we do not need to add the burdens of feeling inadequate, unworthy, and imperfect—even though we are all inadequate, and imperfect. Rather, we are free to embrace the Good News and all the joy, positive anticipation, and buoyancy that comes from believing it.
Am I suggesting that we get a free pass and don’t have to do anything? No, but between the lie that you don’t have to do anything and the lie that you have to do and be everything (which is the lie I’m trying to address here) is the truth that the Lord wants our commitment to our covenants and He wants our hearts to be humble, contrite, sincere, and—in a wonderful and liberating sense—broken. He requires our striving, but He does not require our perfection right now and he does not require you to beat yourself up over your imperfection. In fact, what He wants is for you to believe the gospel—the good news—which is that if you give him your sincere, broken heart and your sincere effort in support of your covenants (and surely many here today do), then He has you and your inadequacies and deficiencies covered. His grace is sufficient.
Consider D&C 88:33. I talk about this little verse a lot, but I don’t think I’ve been teaching it very effectively, so I’m going to keep trying. In this verse, the Savior asks this question:
For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices no in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift.
Alternatively: For what doth it profit a woman if a gift is bestowed upon her, and she receive not the gift? Behold, she rejoices not in that which is given unto her, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift.
A gift has been and is being offered to you and me. It is a gift of kindness, a gift of generosity, a gift of mercy, a gift of grace, a gift of perfect love. Will we receive it? Will you—do you—really believe the gospel, the good news? Jesus once dined with a man named Zacchaeus and said to him: “This day is salvation come to this house.” Brothers and Sisters, salvation has come to your house. The question is whether you will receive it. And to fully receive it, you’re going to have to “drop your burden at His feet and bear a song away.” You’re going to have to believe that He has taken your burden. You will have to be yoked with Him, but His burden is light.
A few weeks ago, I decided to read Pilgrim’s Promise by John Bunyan, written in England in the 1600s. It is an allegory about a man and his wife making the difficult journey to heaven. At the beginning, the hero (his name is Christian) labors down the strait and narrow path with a heavy sack on his back that he is unable to shed. But there comes a point early in his journey when he encounters the traditional symbol of the Savior: the cross; and when he comes to it and worships there, his burden miraculously falls from his back. He is not done facing adversity. He still faces difficulties and tests and he still has to avoid making major mistakes along the way, but from that point on, he does so without being crushed by the weight of his own imperfection.
It is a good allegory. You and I will have plenty of adversity and difficulties and tests during our life. Repentance from all of our sins should be constant, lifelong effort. If we sin in particularly egregious ways, we should turn to the bishop for help right away and he will help. But there is no need to face life’s many challenges with the unnecessary burden of our defects and petty sins weighing us down.
In our particularly intense LDS culture in Utah County, we are especially adept at setting aside the good news in favor of the bad news which we tend to heap upon ourselves which weakens the quality of our lives. We do things like this:
- We insist on comparing ourselves to others as a means of depressing ourselves almost like we’re addicted to it. In doing so, we reject the truth that the standard we really need to measure up to is the generous and compassionate one the Lord offers us.
- We insist on appearing as near-perfect as we can toward each other. We over-stress about our outward physical and spiritual appearance and the appearance of our things and we keep our challenges so private that we create the destructive illusion of being virtually problem-free. We sort of air-brush the outward appearance of our lives to others lest we will not be accepted.
Two siblings will sometimes play a game of “villain and victim.” One pokes the other and then the other screams and whines about being poked. Mom gets upset with one who then blames the other and everybody gets lots of attention from Mom. We sometimes make a similar arrangement with each other. I decide I’ll try to look perfect and you decide to believe that I’m perfect. I get to enjoy the pride of someone thinking I’m really great and you get to enjoy the misery of feeling inadequate. Like the two children, neither of us really ends up happy.
- We take the concepts of self-reliance and works too far. Are you supposed to do all that you can do? Of course. Are you supposed to give it your all? Of course. Should good works accompany your faith? Of course. Will you save yourself? No chance. Will your good works save you? No chance. None. It is good to humbly do our very best while living a religion of complete and total surrender to and reliance on Him who becomes the father of our rebirth. We are totally dependent on Him and we ought to acknowledge that and rejoice in His perfect reliability.
- We pound ourselves with what seems to be the literal meaning of Matthew 5:48: be ye therefore perfect. I reject the apparent meaning of that verse as it stands alone. Do I hope to become perfect one day like my Father in Heaven? Do I think that I should strive to become perfect? But I believe the rest of the doctrine taught in the scriptures about perfection, which includes the fact that He will perfect me; He will make me whole and complete as I yield my heart to Him. I cannot insist on my own immediate perfection and, at the same time, receive the gift He offers me, which gift is the very means of letting go of the burden of my imperfection.
- Lastly, we judge others too harshly. We forget that the gift that is offered to us is also offered to them and that the Lord sees things in their hearts we’ll never see. He also knows all the background and backstory. His bowels are filled with compassion and mercy toward the broken-hearted. We would do well to judge enough to keep ourselves safe—and little or no more than that.
Why is it that so many good people trying so hard hesitate so much when asked the temple recommend question, “Do you feel worthy to enter the temple?”
I was so thrilled to hear Elder Bednar’s talk in this last General Conference. Quite frequently I have asked people during interviews, “Is it possible that you could be sitting here with me right now just as clean as you were when you exited the waters of baptism?” Many people seem confused by the question. It does not seem to register that they could be spiritually clean today. But how else could any of us possibly have a hope of making it to heaven, into which no unclean thing may enter?
Elder Bednar taught that it is possible, as King Benjamin taught, for us to always retain a remission of our sins. You and I can be retaining a remission of our sins right now, at this very moment. Surely a great many here are doing exactly that. Yet too many are unwilling to believe the Good News and say with humble confidence, “Yes, I am worthy to enter the temple.”
Notice that in the same verse from King Benjamin which references “always retaining a remission of your sins,” these two phrases are also present: 1) “[ye shall] be filled with the love of God” and, 2) “ye shall always rejoice.”
We frequently teach that covenants are “two-way promises” and we correctly focus on the promises we make through covenants. But the Lord would like us to receive the gift of his promises to us and He would like us to rejoice in them. Remember, that when we receive the gift, He also rejoices “who is the giver of the gift.”
We have a tendency to under-appreciate the Gift of the Holy Ghost. He will testify to us of the Savior. He will help bring all things necessary to our remembrance. He may provide warnings to us on occasion. But He also sanctifies and cleanses us as we remember and follow the Savior. Elder Bednar speaks of the Holy Ghost providing “ongoing cleansing” for us. In that we may rejoice, indeed, and be of good cheer.
In the time I have spent outside of Utah County, mostly in Seattle, I have been close to two groups of notably religious people: Mormons and Evangelical (or “born-again”) Christians. I have long noticed and been impressed by the smiles and happiness of my born-again Christian friends. I have also been impressed, though not in a particularly good way, by the muted happiness of so many Mormons. Clearly, the true doctrine and restored authority within the LDS Church should make us the most Christian people on the earth. And therefore nobody should have a greater understanding of the reasons why—or greater reasons to embrace the reasons why—we may feel so much joy inside ourselves that it is also outwardly noticeable.
Brothers and Sisters, the gospel of Jesus Christ is a message of joy and peace. That joy and peace isn’t just for disciples of the Savior who have no problems. All disciples of the Savior have problems. Some of them are very acute. You may have worries and struggles right now that are just eating you inside out. You may be struggling with health, with employment and finances, with testimony, with addiction, with your marriage, with loneliness, discouragement or depression—or perhaps even more difficult, you may be intensely hurting for loved ones who are struggling with those things and whose struggles you cannot remove.
The good news of the gospel extends both to you and to the ones you love and worry about the most.
The message of the gospel includes hope and optimism and trust. I join so many of you when I say that when we place our trust in God, when we lean on Him, when we receive His gift and drop our burden at His feet… in those moments our trust is well placed. It is, in fact, perfectly placed.
May each of you feel a great sense of joy and life and hope and buoyancy through the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. May you receive the gift with both humility and confidence in Him. May we trust in Him who is perfectly trustworthy and who has your very best interests (and those of your loved ones) as His interests.
I testify that John the Baptist, Joseph Smith, President Monson and 14 other living special witnesses—and the Savior, Himself—have come bearing Good News. I pray that you and I will believe it, accept it, and allow Him to lift the burden of our shortcomings and failures from off our backs. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
“…except for the character of Christ.”
Neal A. Maxwell said, “There would have been no Atonement except for the character of Christ.” My dictionary defines character as “the combination of qualities or features that distinguishes one person… from another” or “a description of a person’s attributes, traits, or abilities.”
Last week in our YSA Seminar, we discussed the attributes of Christ and this week we discussed them some more. We came up with a list of 35 attributes and connected them with the Savior through examples in both the New Testament and the Book of Mormon. (You can read that list here and your thoughts for improvement are welcome.) We also tied about three-fourths of them directly back to the Atonement and Elder Maxwell’s statement by successfully completing this sentence for them: “There would have been no Atonement except for Jesus’s [attribute goes here].”
Lastly, we took a stab at identifying a single attribute, which, by itself, best summarizes the character of Christ. Among our leading vote-getters were “compassionate,” “loving,” “obedient,” and “selfless.” Of course, such an exercise isn’t necessary, but… I personally favor “selfless,” which I think sums up many of his other attributes and is also the focus of Elder Bednar’s talk on The Character of Christ. I am also swayed by a statement I once heard from a general authority (who wasn’t a general authority, or even a member of the Church, for much longer after he said it; nevertheless…) that the root of all sin is selfishness. Perhaps that means that the root of all virtue is selflessness(?). Anyway, in his talk, Elder Bednar says,
Perhaps the greatest indicator of character is the capacity to recognize and appropriately respond to other people who are experiencing the very challenge or adversity that is most immediately and forcefully pressing upon us. Character is revealed, for example, in the power to discern the suffering of other people when we ourselves are suffering; in the ability to detect the hunger of others when we are hungry; and in the power to reach out and extend compassion for the spiritual agony of others when we are in the midst of our own spiritual distress. Thus, character is demonstrated by looking and reaching outward when the natural and instinctive response is to be self-absorbed and turn inward. If such a capacity is indeed the ultimate criterion of moral character, then the Savior of the world is the perfect example of such a consistent and charitable character.
In support of his last sentence, he cites a number of examples of the Savior thinking of others during the last days and hours of his mortal life. He also cites Matthew 4:11 and the Joseph Smith translation of that verse which entirely changes its meaning. At a time when Jesus must have been completely physically, spiritually, and emotionally spent, He called for angelic support not for himself, but for John. If you’re not familiar with the article, you really should read it. He also includes some incredible examples from women he has known. None of us should ever complain that our local Relief Society president isn’t supplying us with enough relief!
We should be in awe of the Savior and his character. We should do all we can to emulate Him. And our prayers should be filled with expressions of worship and gratitude knowing that we are the beneficiaries of his perfectly selfless nature.