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.
Salvation is Free
[Given by Chris Juchau at Stake Conference April 27, 2015.]
In this general session of stake conference we have tried to focus on the Savior and on better understanding Him and our relationship to Him. I would like to add some of my thoughts. While the message of my talk is both important and serious, I admit that I smile a little bit at the protestant-sounding nature of what I’m going to say.
Some of you have heard me talk about my experience in eighth grade having my faith challenged by two teachers at my school. They were evangelical Christians and they believed that Mormons are not Christians at all—for a number of reasons, one important one of which is our belief in the importance of obedience and keeping the commandments as those concepts relate to salvation. They insisted that I believe in earning my way to heaven whereas they, in contrast (in their minds), rely solely on the Savior. They refused to believe that I worship and actually rely—wholly—on the same Jesus Christ that they do.
I have a dear evangelical Christian friend today who sometimes tells me that that I’ll be going to hell due to my lack of reliance on the Biblical Jesus. She tells me this with much genuine love and sincere concern for me. She prays for me and wants to help save me. I assure her that I love her, too; that I’ve already met all her requirements for salvation; and that the Mormon view of the alternatives to the Celestial Kingdom are much more attractive than her views of hell, so she needn’t worry about herself quite as much as she thinks I need to worry about myself.
Thankfully, my discussions with my protestant friends over the years have helped me clarify my own understanding of the Savior’s role and of my dependence on him. I understand better because I have listened to my teachers, including my parents and the scriptures and others and because I have tried to sincerely understand the position of others with contrary views.
If my talk today had a title, it would be taken from 2 Nephi 2:4 in which father Lehi says three very important words: “salvation is free.” I was delighted to hear President Uchtdorf’s conference talk three weeks ago titled “The Gift of Grace.” He said many of the things I’ve wanted to say in this conference—but with more eloquence and skill than I have. I will refer to some of his words as I go.
Let me begin by clarifying four important points…
First, the word “salvation” can have many different meanings, particularly within LDS doctrine. Most members will quickly agree with me that some forms of salvation, such as salvation from physical death through the resurrection, are, in fact, free. But some will just as quickly argue that other forms of salvation, such as exaltation, are not free. I believe, however, along with Bruce R. McConkie, who, referring to Lehi’s three words, posed an important question and then answered it, himself. He asked, “What salvation is free? What salvation comes by the grace of God?” And then he answered in typical Elder McConkie style, “With all the emphasis of the rolling thunders of Sinai, we answer: All salvation is free; all comes by the merits and mercy and grace of the Holy Messiah; there is no salvation of any kind, nature, or degree that is not bound to Christ and his atonement.” [Emphasis added by me.] Consistent with that message, President Uchtdorf, in his talk about “saving grace,” connected exaltation and becoming like our Heavenly Father to this grace.
Second, salvation is not earned. We do not and cannot earn salvation. President Uchtdorf said, “Even if we were to serve God with our whole souls, it is not enough. We cannot earn our way into heaven; the demands of justice stand as a barrier, which we are powerless to overcome on our own.” He continues, “Salvation cannot be bought with the currency of obedience; it is purchased by the blood of the Son of God. Thinking that we can trade our good works for salvation is like buying a plane ticket and then supposing we own the airline. Or thinking that after paying rent for our home, we now hold title to the entire planet earth.” In my own mind I liken the concept of salvation being earned to thinking that if I just try hard enough, I will be able to leap across the Grand Canyon on the strength of my own legs. No matter how good at leaping I may be or become, the result will be the same.
Third, just as salvation is free, so, too, are we free to choose as “agents unto ourselves.” We are not only free to “act for [ourselves],” but we are also free to “choose the way of everlasting death” or, “through the great Mediator of all men,” choose “the way of eternal life.” As the hymn says, “God will force no man to heaven.” So it is not true that all will be saved in every way, because even though I will not and cannot earn my salvation, even a free gift must be received, unwrapped, appreciated, and used if it is to have any value for the recipient. As the Savior asked in the D&C, “What doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift?” My job, as it is your job, is to accept “the grace that so fully he proffers me.”
Fourth, though salvation is free in every form, because we have our agency, not all will take the necessary steps to receive it. Those who don’t will not qualify for all the blessings the Savior offers us and will therefore ultimately not have all those blessings available to them. The fullness of God’s grace will not be realized by all people.
When I say that salvation is free and that it comes solely from the grace of God, I am saying that no amount of righteousness on my part will get me across the Grand Canyon when I try to leap across it. My one and only way across the Grand Canyon is through the Savior, who, after I jump, will reach out and carry me across. Some members, I believe, need to quit beating themselves up because they’re only able to leap seven or eight feet of the way across the Grand Canyon when they feel like they should be leaping much further—perhaps even the whole way across. Many members would do better to accept the covenants that God makes with them—and His promises that He will get us across that divide.
So, why is it important that we understand that salvation is free and that it is not earned?
I find one answer to that question back in my experience with my born-again Christian friends. I was always struck by how happy they seemed. I used to think it was a happiness born out of ignorance or perhaps only an apparent happiness. But I have come to respect it as a genuine fruit of their sincere faith. They believe that Jesus has saved them and so they are happy. Which makes me wonder… Many latter-day saints seem quite happy to me. But many also seem too burdened by the weight of their own imperfections—which weight they seem to insist on carrying because they believe they must carry it and do not comprehend or accept that the Savior will carry it. They are reluctant to believe that God will accept them, let alone sanctify and save them, if their level of worthiness does not satisfy the Savior’s invitation to us to become perfected in Him.
I wonder if there aren’t more among us who are over-burdened by their short-comings than there are those rejoicing over the fact that the Savior has paid the price for their shortcomings. We sing the hymn, “How Gentle God’s Commands” over and over and it tells us to “cast your burdens on the Lord and trust his constant care.” It also tells us to find “sweet refreshment” and to “drop [our] burden at his feet and bear a song away.” I propose that we all do that.
Life is serious and there are serious things at stake and there is much to worry and stress about—no doubt about it. But I believe that too many of us hold on to too much of our burdens and are reluctant to accept the Savior’s offer to carry them for us and so are missing opportunities to be a little lighter in our step, a little less furrowed in our brows, a little less bent at our backs, and a little more inclined toward hope and optimism and faith and trust. Part of accepting the gift is just accepting the gift!
Now let’s return to the ideas that salvation being free doesn’t mean I don’t need to receive it—and to the idea that all the blessings of salvation are not ultimately extended to all. There are, in fact, things I must do. However, I would like to invite you today to adopt a little more of a New Testament view of what you must do and to have a little less of an Old Testament view of what you must do, so to speak.
In President Uchtdorf’s talk, he used the example of the Savior’s dinner with Simon the Pharisee to make this point. Simon tried to take comfort in his own righteousness, his own worthiness, his own strict adherence to the rules and the laws of the gospel. He seemed to think that those things were getting him across the Grand Canyon. And so he had a view of others that discounted them if they did not meet his false standards. He was indignant when a woman, a sinner in his view, came in and wept over the Savior’s feet, kissed his feet, and rubbed them with ointment.
The Savior said, “Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee” and then he told this parable and taught its lesson:
“There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged.
And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven.”
The Savior taught repeatedly and clearly that love is the higher law. The first commandment is to love God. The second is to love our fellow man. It is our hearts that matter. Hence, Lehi said the Savior “offereth himself a sacrifice for sin… unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else….”
Receiving the gift means having and maintaining a broken heart and a contrite spirit. The scriptures also teach repeatedly and clearly that it is our hearts that matter. “The Lord looketh on the heart.” “I, the Lord, require the hearts of the children of men.” Those who fail to receive all of God’s gifts will do so by having hard hearts and therefore failing to yield their hearts in submissiveness to God. It will be their hearts, not their imperfections, that will damn them.
Why did the Savior tell the rich young ruler to go and sell all that he had and to distribute it to the poor? Is it because that so doing is a strict requirement for getting into heaven—or it is because the Lord wanted that young man to see clearly where his own heart was? Why did the Savior decry hypocrisy so much? Because hypocrisy comes from a false heart.
What is it like to have a broken heart and a contrite spirit? What does such a person do?
One thing is truly necessary if God is going to extend all forms of his grace to us: we must bind ourselves to the Lord in humility and submissiveness through ordinances and covenants and then strive with all sincerity to keep those covenants.
People with broken hearts and contrite spirits do not recoil at the notion of being obedient, nor at the notion of being submissive. They are humble and submissive.
People with broken hearts and contrite spirits see more clearly. They see more clearly who God is and why He loves them. They see more clearly who they are and why they are lovable. They see more clearly that in one sense they are lower than the dust of the earth and in another sense they are priceless—and they can accommodate both ideas at the same time.
People with broken hearts and contrite spirits see those things so clearly that they extend them to others. They see why God loves others, too, and why those others are lovable. They see why those people, too, are priceless—and so their hearts are soft and forgiving toward others, even those who annoy or frustrate or offend them.
People with broken hearts and contrite spirits earnestly strive to keep the commandments. Jesus said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” and so people with broken hearts and contrite spirits humbly strive to do all that God wants them to do.
Did the Savior teach that we should be perfect? Yes. But the scriptures teach that we are to come unto Him and be perfected in Him. We are to have a broken heart and a contrite spirit—and then let Him perfect us. You will no more be able to perfect yourself than you will be able to earn your own salvation—and the sooner you accept the Savior’s offer to perfect you instead of you insisting on doing it all, yourself, the happier you’ll be. Go to the Church’s online scriptures and search for the phrase “perfect yourself” and you will get this message: “Sorry, your search returned no results.” That is telling!
Let me close just reminding you of one other brief story from the Savior’s life and one of his teachings…
In Luke 10, we read of the Savior visiting Mary and Martha, two sisters of Lazarus. Martha was busy – and stressed—trying to do all the right things. She was “cumbered” and became annoyed with Mary who sat with the Savior, listening to him. She became so annoyed that she asked the Savior to ask Mary to quit sitting around and get to work. The Savior responds,
“Martha, thou art careful [which could also be translated as worried or anxious] and troubled about many things:” Notice he does not condemn her for this, but he points it out and then he continues, “But one thing is needful: And Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”
It’s interesting to me that the Savior says “one thing is needful” but he doesn’t say exactly that that is. I think it is about hearts and the love that is expressed from them.
Lastly, a reminder that the Savior, in trying to teach us what our Father is like, asked, “What man is there of you, who, if his son ask bread, will give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give good things to them that ask him.”
I testify that salvation, including exaltation, is a gift—a free gift, which we cannot earn. It is a gift that our Father in Heaven offers to us through the grace of his perfect son and through his own grace if we will but receive the gift. I testify that the gift is received within a broken heart and a contrite spirit that leads us to make and keep covenants, to love, to be submissive to God, and to be as obedient as we can be. I testify that happiness accompanies a willingness to receive the gift and to accept the Savior’s offer to let us yoke ourselves together with him that our burdens may be light and that we may find rest unto our souls.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
“Wilt thou be made whole?”
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