Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Easter Gift of Jesus Christ

It was thirteen years ago during Holy Week that my mother, Helen Lee Goates, passed away. Her funeral was held the day before Easter.

In the intervening years her influence on all of us has continued unabated. In fact, her influence may be more pronounced now that she is in the spirit world than it ever was when she was living in mortality. Life after death for us is not a matter of speculation, it is an absolute certainty. One day in the not too distant future she will be joined in the spirit world by my father. And in some future day beyond that they will come forth in the morning of the first resurrection, having been true and faithful to "the gospel" throughout their mortal probation.

Defining the term "the gospel" is a relatively easy matter if one cherishes the written Word. And the "fulness of the gospel" is also a term easily defined by the Lord's own declarations.

The Book of Mormon contains "the fulness of the gospel"

Our Resurrected Lord Jesus Christ
"Gospel" is a word one hears tossed loosely about in our modern world, but its meaning is defined in numerous ways. One fact remains -- the word is linked with scriptures and churches.  The Hebrew definition is simple.  It is usually translated as "glad tidings of great joy." The Greek translation is "good news." So what is the "good news" all about?  It's the reality of the redeeming blood of our Savior Jesus Christ that was shed for us in a voluntary act of love for all mankind regardless of ethnicity, gender, age or church affiliation. We may argue about the details as Christians, and it matters not what anyone else believes. Whether people even know about Jesus Christ does not alter in one iota the reality of His, and ultimately a universal, resurrection for all people.

His atonement is the integral centerpiece of a "plan" given to us by Heavenly Father. The plan involves creation, birth, the fall, the atonement, redemption from the fall and our eventual return to Him. Principles and ordinances of the gospel are involved. We are invited again and again to enlist our full participation and involvement in the plan.

These principles and ordinances are called "saving principles and ordinances"

Many have asked me over the years to define "the fulness of the gospel." I always defer to the Prophet Joseph Smith in answering this question because of the knowledge he received in restoring those saving principles and ordinances. What I think is never very useful if it doesn't align with scripture.

I have heard some sagacious high priests opine on this topic and conclude The Book of Mormon does not contain all the doctrines of the Restoration like temple marriage, the three degress of glory and baptism for the dead. Therefore, they claim, the fulness of the gospel cannot be found therein.  They point to the Doctrine and Covenants as a more complete record teaching the fulness of the gospel.

I could not disagree more strenuously. If words mean anything, Moroni revealed to Joseph Smith "there was a book [The Book of Mormon] deposited, written upon gold plates. . . that [contained] the fulness of the everlasting Gospel. . . as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants" of this continent (Joseph Smith History 1:34). In the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord says several times The Book of Mormon does contain the fulness of the gospel (D&C 20:9; D&C 27:5; D&C 35:12, 17; D&C 42:12).

The first reference to the fulness of the gospel in The Book of Mormon occurs when our resurrected Lord  commands the Nephites to record his words. The purpose, He explained, was so His words could be brought forth among the Gentiles in the latter days so "the fulness of these things shall be made known among them." (3 Nephi 16:4, 7).

We are warned in the record the latter-day Gentiles would sin against the gospel and reject the fulness of the gospel. The evidence of this fulfillment of prophecy needs no elaboration to even the most casual observer who is aware of the political debates in this country. The resurrected Savior mentions specifically what those sins would be and describes them as "all manner of lyings, and of deceits, and of mischiefs, and all manner of hypocrisy, and murders, and priestcrafts, and whoredoms, and of secret abominations" and clarifies the rejection of the fulness of the gospel will cause Him to bring the fulness of the gospel from among them (3 Nephi 16:8-10).

I've often pondered what that would look like. Would it mean our missionaries would be withdrawn from certain places in the last days because the people reject them? Are there gentile nations who would so fully reject the Word, causing us to withdraw? In recent years the Church has done just that among many European missons that were combined and consolidated. Now as the younger age for missionaries has kicked in, look where the prophet is re-deploying the missionaries in countries where the growth of the Church is exploding.

References from Moroni, the Doctrine and Covenants and The Book of Mormon itself all show The Book of Mormon does contain the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. By letting the scriptures define our terms, "the fulness of the gospel" and "the gospel" are used interchangeably in The Book of Mormon.

"The gospel" defined

The term "gospel" is defined by the Savior in 3 Nephi 27:9-22 as His coming to the earth to do the Father's will. As He was lifted up on the cross by men, so will all people eventually be lifted up and judged by the standards the Savior laid down for them as He taught them in person.

There are four specific conditions set forth for those who would obtain salvation from the effects of the fall of Adam and Eve:  (1) They have washed their garments in His blood through faith in His atoning sacrifice; (2) they have repented of all their sins; (3) they have been baptized in His name, which implies by the proper authority and method He outlined for them; and (4) they have been sanctified by receiving the Holy Ghost. 

Those who meet the conditions He set forth and subsequently endure in their faith in His redemption to the end of their mortal lives will be "lifted up" at the last day. That means they will be resurrected in a degree of glory, among the "many mansions" He prepared. (John 14:2; D&C 98:18).

This definition of the gospel or the fulness of the gospel is totally consistent with three of the Lord's definitions of the gospel we find in the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C 33:11-12; D&C 39:5-6; and D&C 76:40-43).

While the high priests who continue to debate the point are somewhat accurate in that there are some principles of the gospel, ordinances and doctrines which are not included in The Book of Mormon, all that is necessary -- the fulness of the gospel -- to lead a person to salvation in the celestial kingdom is included.  In the Doctrine and Covenants we have additional revelations coming later through the Prophet Joseph Smith about entrance into the highest degree of the celestial kingdom. These doctrines of exaltation include eternal marriage, salvation for our dead ancestors, and three heavens or degrees in the celestial glory (D&C 131:1-4).

Though they cannot be found in The Book of Mormon, some of these doctrines are implied. (See 4 Nephi 1:11; also 3 Nephi 25:5-6; Ether 12:32).

I have written before about the difference between power and authority in the priesthood, so a lengthy explanation is not needed here. But when the blessings of the Melchizedek Priesthood and the Holy Ghost are bestowed upon men (and women as outlined in previous posts), they may obtain through their faithfulness the power to receive all things the Father gives to His children. The doctrines of exaltation are bestowed through these powers. The Book of Mormon teaches the necessity of man's receiving both the priesthood and the Holy Ghost, noting all mankind may be exalted through these powers. (Alma 13:10-12).

Embrace the Fourth Article of Faith

In the great debates among the high priests (and they are many), the problem is too much repetition of only casual and occasional readings of the scriptures tending to mislead. If we did nothing more than embrace the Fourth Article of Faith we would find a perfect recitation of the first principles and ordinances of the gospel as taught in The Book of Mormon. All the steps of the fulness of the gospel are mentioned there and are ongoing, demanding a lifetime of dedication and effort to complete.

Ask yourself, when are we done with faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repentance, burying our old man of sin and walking in a newness of life in obedience to the promptings of the Holy Ghost?  

The path leading to eternal life

The initial embrace of the first principles and ordinances of the gospel only places us on the path leading to eternal life. Perpetual feasting at the banquet table of the doctrines contained in The Book of Mormon empowers us to embrace and live the fulness of the gospel.  We continue our journey of unknown length and complexity in the path of mortality until we are granted eternal life.

The Savior's own definition of the gospel as He gave it to the Nephites amplifies the path to eternal life. He testified He came into the world to do the will of the Father, that He "be lifted up upon the cross." (3 Nephi 27:13-14). His being lifted up on the cross at Golgotha was the culminating event of His ministry following His agony in Gethsemane. John corroborates this conclusion by recording that Jesus, after being lifted up, knew all things were now accomplished. (John 19:28).

We are faced with this unavoidable paradox as fallen mortals: The Savior told the Nephites "no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; . . . nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith." We can only hope to enter his kingdom if we are clean, and we can only be clean through our faith in His perfection. His garments were stained by His own blood as He voluntarily took upon Himself the stain of our sins, leaving our garments white and pure. This washing was done through "the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end." (3 Nephi 27:19).

Even before the atonement had been made, knowing it would be made (see Mosiah 16:6), all mankind were commanded to repent. (3 Nephi 27:19-20). This principle is expanded in The Book of Mormon. Amulek taught Zeezrom, "the Lord surely should come to redeem his people, but that he should not come to redeem them in their sins, but to redeem them from their sins." (Helaman 5:10). Repentance from all sins is clearly an ongoing process. That's why a one-time confession of the need for Christ in one's life is simply insufficient.

I have observed over a lifetime this unavoidable and sometimes uncomfortable truth -- the more I learn about the gospel the more my knowledge expands of the things for which I need to repent. That ongoing process is what brings us closer to sanctification in the blood of the Lamb. Nephi expressed it beautifully, and from the time I first read his words as a teenager until now there is always instant recognition of myself. He spoke of "the sins which do so easily beset me." The sins which agonize his soul slackened his strength because of his afflictions and he is angry because of his enemies. (2 Nephi 4:15-29). That's a highly developed sensitivity to the things of the Spirit that would never afflict one who is ambivalent or careless in his privileges with the Spirit.

That's why it's a process and we partake of the emblems of his death in the sacrament once a week in order to retain a remission of our sins.  (Mosiah 4:26).

Come unto Christ and be baptized in His name

When we obey the initial commandment to repent, we learn the commandment also includes coming unto Christ and being "baptized in [his] name." (3 Nephi 27:20). The Savior gave the Nephites explicit instructions regarding baptism. He had also given them authority to baptize, taught them immersion was the proper method of baptism, and gave them the exact wording to be used in the baptismal prayer. (3 Nephi 11:21-27).

In his definition of the gospel, the Savior specifies the purpose of baptism:  It is to receive the Holy Ghost. The gospel plan is that the person on whom the Holy Ghost is conferred "may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost" and thus stand spotless before Christ at the last day. (3 Nephi 27:20).

Being "born again"

We must be born again through a baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost. (3 Nephi 9:20). Baptism places us on the path to eternal life.  After that, we must then press forward as led by the Spirit. (2 Nephi 31:17-20; Moroni 8:25-26). Through obedience to the principles and the saving ordinances of the gospel administered by the priesthood we are sanctified. To become sanctified is to become "pure and spotless before God."

This means being pure in thoughts and actions, not being able to "look upon sin save it were with abhorrence." (Alma 13:11-12). However, there is a difference between looking on sin with abhorrence and looking on the sinner.

All our Father's children, regardless of their current situation in mortality have access to the Spirit of the Holy Ghost, the Comforter. In the words of Joseph Smith, "God does not look on sin with allowance, but when men have sinned, there must be allowance made for them." (TPJS, 240-41). Part of that "allowance" is offering them a spiritual guide, the Holy Ghost. Routinely, investigators are taught by the missionaries how to recognize their first experiences with the Spirit of the Holy Ghost. As the Testator, the Holy Ghost bears witness that the doctrines the missionaries teach are true.

The fulness of the gospel, as the Lord Jesus Christ defined it to the Nephites, means a lifelong process of seeking eternal life. It involves choices and accountability, but it also allows for abundant mercy and love.  There is obviously far too much "breakage" along the way, and ample provision has been made by our Savior to reclaim ALL of Heavenly Father's children who will claim their blessings through repentance.

After defining what the gospel is, the Savior taught the Nephites to continue doing the works in His church which they had seen Him do. (3 Nephi 27:21). He commanded them to write the things He had taught, which would judge the world. (3 Nephi 27:23-26). His teachings are the path for living in happiness. His teachings include enduring to the end of our mortal lives. (2 Nephi 9:24; 2 Nephi 31:15-16, 20; Alma 32:13, 15; 3 Nephi 15:9).

Learn the principle of the resurrection

President Wilford W. Woodruff
President Wilford W. Woodruff (1807-1898), said this: "Without the gospel of Christ the separation by death is one of the most gloomy subjects it is possible to contemplate; but just as soon as we obtain the gospel and learn the principle of the resurrection the gloom, sorrow and suffering occasioned by death are, in a great measure, taken away. . . The resurrection of the dead presents itself before the enlightened mind of man, and he has a foundation for his spirit to rest upon. That is the position of the Latter-day Saints today. We do know for ourselves, we are not in the dark with regard to this matter; God has revealed it to us and we do understand the principle of the resurrection of the dead, and that the gospel brings life and immortality to light." (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff [2004], 82-83).

"Enduring to the end"

It has been said enduring to the end is a fifth step in the gospel plan, but it is really part of the fourth step of becoming pure and spotless before God.

These examples of following the Savior and His Apostles in their teachings were recorded in the Bible, but  the Bible has lost many plain and precious parts (see 1 Nephi 13:23-29; also TPJS, 327, and the Eighth Article of Faith). The Lord has provided The Book of Mormon, the most correct book, to outline more clearly the plan given by our eternal Heavenly Father to return to His presence.

Although the world rejects The Book of Mormon as scripture, a prayerful examination of its contents will prove to the sincere seeker of truth it absolutely qualifies as holy scripture. There can be no other explanation for its origin, though many have been offered, that can be successfully substituted.

On this Easter weekend of 2013, I offer my own testimony that Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, is our Savior and Redeemer. He was resurrected. The borrowed tomb where He was first laid when dead on that fateful Friday afternoon now and forever remains empty. On Sunday morning it could not contain Him as He burst the bonds of death and brought to pass the glorious resurrection. As the "first fruits" of the resurrection, He prepared the way for each of us to someday be resurrected and eventually receive whatever degree of glory we choose.

I pray we may choose well, that we may know it, live it, and love it.

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