[Stake Conference, April 2019, General Session]
As this conference comes to a close, I would like to offer an encouraging word…
Men (and women) are that we might have joy. Can we really have joy in this life? Not very well if we think joy is the result of everything going perfectly (or nearly perfectly) in our lives. Joy does not come from living the life that everybody else is trying say they live through their social media. Joy does not come from being outwardly attractive or popular or financially successful. It doesn’t come from being healthy, though we should strive to be healthy. It doesn’t come from being good at something, though we should strive to be good at many good things. It doesn’t come from serving in a particular calling, though we should all strive to serve well. It doesn’t come from being righteous.
Where does joy come from?
Toward the end of King Benjamin’s sermon, his people humbly cry out for mercy and for the atonement of Christ to be applied to them. Here is what happens next:
“the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ.”
From this story, joy is the result of knowing that our sins have been remitted, of having peace of conscience, and having faith in Jesus Christ. King Benjamin later says to his people, “ye have known of his goodness and have tasted of his love, and have received a remission of your sins, which causeth such exceedingly great joy in your souls.”
On another occasion, Alma mentions three sets of opposites: “good or evil, life or death, joy or—[its opposite]—remorse of conscience.” Alma would understand this. Of the height of his conversion, he said, “And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy… and… there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was joy.”
How did he get to that joy? Immediately before that joy came, he says,
“I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy … concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world. Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death. And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more.” And then he speaks of his joy.
His life didn’t become perfect. It was difficult. He didn’t become perfect, I’m sure. He probably disappointed himself, occasionally. But I would bet you, based on what we know of him, that he retained his sense of joy which came to him because of his faith in the Savior and because he believed what the Savior had done for him.
I believe that too many of us are living with too little joy. We are burdened by the challenges of life, by disappointments in ourselves, and by the struggles of our loved ones. But that is not what causes us to miss out on joy. We miss out on joy because we are slow to believe that the Savior has done for us what he has done for us. And we can be slow to place our faith in him regarding loved ones and situations beyond our control.
We must accept what Jesus has done for us; accept that our sins have been remitted; loosen the death-grip we sometimes have on our guilt and self-loathing; and receive the gift of the Atonement.
Have you ever read the stories of Jesus healing a person and thought it would be wonderful if that had been you? Think of the ten lepers who were healed; the woman with the issue of blood; Peter’s mother-in-law; blind men; Lazarus; Jairus’s daughter; all the diseased and disabled Nephites who were brought to him…
These healings were wonderful for the people who received them and their loved ones. But Jesus’ mission was not to physically heal people. There are millions of people before, during, and after the life of the Savior who have lived in miserable conditions and were not physically healed. All the Savior’s physical healings were metaphors.
Jesus came so that all can be healed spiritually—that all can receive a remission of sins and, like Alma, have our guilt swept away.
He healed those people physically, so that you may know that he can heal you spiritually. A leper was made whole so that you and I will understand that we can be made whole from even persistent sin. He healed the Gentile woman so that you and I understand that his healing applies to all, including you and me. He raised Lazarus and the son of the widow from Nain so that you and I understand that there isn’t anything he can’t overcome.
Why do we persist in believing that we are dirty?
When you were baptized, you received a remission of your sins. Minutes later, you were confirmed and invited to receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost so that, upon condition of a broken heart and a striving to change and improve, we would, through that priceless gift, retain a remission of our sins. Retaining a remission of our sins is not dependent on our changing. It is dependent on our striving to change (which is largely what repentance is) and on our retaining faith in the Savior.
Remission of sins isn’t a one-time, momentary experience. It is with us as long as our faith in the Savior is genuine and active.
In the temple, we receive blessings which, in more than one respect, are unspeakable. Those were not one-time pleasant moments. Actually receiving those blessings now (including promises of some blessings that will be realized in the future) is where joy comes from. All based on the Savior and our connection to him.
The Anti-Nephi-Lehies testified that God had “taken away the guilt from our hearts, through the merits of his Son.”
We have to ask ourselves this question: In which do I place the greatest faith: my failings or the Savior’s success; my imperfection or his perfection; my guilt or his forgiveness? My failings, my imperfections, and my sins are absolute realities. But all of them are weaker than the Savior’s success. Otherwise, he would not have healed Lazarus. Nor would he have declared to the paralytic—straight in the face of those who opposed him—“thy sins be forgiven thee.” He didn’t do that just for Lazarus or just for the sick man. He did it for you. Joy is yours if you believe him.
Sometimes, people accuse members of the Church of Jesus Christ of not being Christian. In those moments when we hold more tightly to our guilt and self-loathing than to the Savior’s forgiveness, they might be right.
Let’s remind ourselves for a few minutes of one of the great stories from Jesus’ life and teachings. There is great joy for all who believe it.
It is the story of two actual people who are opposites and it is also involves a parable.
Jesus accepts an invitation to eat with a Pharisee named Simon—in Simon’s home. An unnamed woman is also there. She is only identified as a sinner—by Simon—though Jesus also acknowledges this.
During the meal, the woman weeps, washes Jesus’s feet with her tears, wipes them with her hair, kisses his feet, and applies an ointment to them. Simon is disgusted that Jesus permits this. Jesus perceives Simon’s thoughts and says these tender, ominous words, “Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee.” And then he tells this parable:
“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.”
Please note the point in the story at which the creditor (God) forgives the debtors (us). It is when they accept and acknowledge that they have nothing to pay, which indicates that their hearts had become truly broken and their spirits contrite. When we hold fast to the idea that we must be righteous in order to qualify for heaven, we are believing that we have something to pay. That belief keeps us from joy.
Jesus then asks:
“Which of them will love him most? Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And [Jesus] said unto him, Thou hast rightly said.”
We can take from this that the more we recognize our dependence on the Savior, the more we will receive forgiveness and the more we will love Him.
Jesus then turns to the woman, but speaks to 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.”
And here it comes:
“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.”
Why were her sins forgiven? Because she loved the Lord, acknowledged her inability to save herself, acknowledged his ability to save her, and had a broken heart and a contrite spirit.
Why did Jesus not declare Simon’s sins forgiven? Because his heart was hard. He failed to express love for the Savior. And he believed more in his own righteousness than in the Savior’s ability to remedy an inability to pay.
Brothers and Sisters, our outward acts of righteousness will do very little for us.
On the other hand, a love for God, genuine humility before him, and our sincerely striving to follow him will enable him to do everything for us.
Am I saying that we don’t have to succeed in our efforts to follow the Savior? If that’s a yes/no question, then, yes, that’s what I’m saying.
Am I saying that we don’t have to humbly, sincerely strive with all our best efforts to keep the commandments, keep our covenants, and follow the Savior? No. We must strive. Enduring to the end in faithful effort is part of the deal. We must be deeply sincere in our efforts. We must recognize our failures and shortcomings. We must experience Godly Sorrow—frequently if not constantly. Repentance must be our way of life.
The scriptures say that if we follow God and keep the commandments, we will prosper. Is that true? Absolutely. If we do so with a humble dependence on him and a willingness to accept the realities of the Atonement, we will experience peace of conscience and joy. Will I be exempt from cancer or from job loss or from the illness of a child or from a child’s painful choices? Of course not. The greatest, joyful prosperity comes in our hearts and minds through our faith in the Savior. Will we prosper temporally? Yes, to the extent that we follow principles of self reliance and it is the will of God. Even the righteous eventually get sick and die.
Nephi said, “I glory in plainness; I glory in truth; I glory in my Jesus, for he hath redeemed my soul from hell.”
That we may glory in Jesus, exercise faith in him (and not merely belief), and experience the joy of having our guilt swept away in Him is my prayer for every member of our stake. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.