Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Are We Saved By Grace or By Works?

In 1999, I prepared some thoughts about this topic and handed it out to the members of my gospel doctrine class. Sixteen years later, my son Joe is now teaching gospel doctrine, and updated my original writing recently. When I read it again, I decided it was worth sharing with everyone who reads this page:

Saved by Grace or by Works? 
What Paul Taught
Joe Goates
September 27, 2015

I recently spoke with a friend about his sister, who has been struggling with her testimony and lacking hope. She feels that all the effort to live the gospel is not worth it, after all, only a relative few will make the highest degree of the celestial kingdom, and she isn’t living up to what she would need to do to obtain that kingdom anyway. My friend asked me if I had any suggestions on some reading material that could restore her hope in the gospel and help her understand how she can obtain this kingdom, which is greatest of all the gifts of God (D&C 6:13). I gave him some suggestions and I hope these thoughts are also helpful for this good sister, and anyone else who has struggled with the same thoughts of inadequacy and lack of hope.

The World Teaches About Paul

Millions of people throughout time have asked the question, “What do I need to do to be saved?” Preachers in churches everywhere proclaim the answer to that question, and it usually involves something like “accepting Jesus Christ as your personal Savior.” Almost all these Christian persuasions have a common thread in their preaching. Each preacher declares his or her version of what they think the Apostle Paul meant in his New Testament epistles.

Joseph Smith
Paul’s teachings about “grace” and being “born again” are often confusing and difficult to understand for many Latter-day Saints. Joseph Smith simply declared, “Being born again comes by the Spirit of God through ordinances.” (see TPJS, p. 162). Lacking a knowledge of the restoration and the ordinances of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost, most other Christian evangelists rely heavily upon Paul’s letters to the churches in his day. The missing link in their sermons is that the leaders of the branches of the church to whom Paul wrote (along with their followers) had already received the ordinances of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. That is why Paul rarely speaks of the preparatory ordinances.

Paul never mentions temple marriage and only makes vague references to the three degrees of glory. He focuses instead on the requirements for salvation after the ordinances of salvation have been received from legal administrators who have the authority “to preach the gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof” (Fifth Article of Faith). Paul presumes his readers already know about baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost, the priesthood and the temple.

What We Think We Believe

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who have possession of the fullness of the gospel, the priesthood and all its ordinances (including temple ordinances) are often unsure about their doctrinal position on salvation by grace and being born again.

Some Mormons, especially those raised in the Church think that salvation means only resurrection, a free gift, but that exaltation must be earned by performing good works and by keeping all the commandments. I believe we can trace this common belief back to the legacy of our Pioneer ancestry.

The notion of earning our own way is a cultural bias rooted in the fabric of Mormon history. Nobody gave our ancestors anything. His neighbors beat my great-great-great grandfather James Munns nearly to death the night before he left his hometown of Orwell in Cambridgeshire, England, to sail to America with the Mormons. He went to his grave in Lehi, Utah, bent over and scarred from the wounds he suffered that night for his faith.

We are the descendants of people who were chiseled out of the rock of adversity when they were forced to leave their homes in New York, Kirtland, Jackson County, and then Nauvoo. They eventually conquered the desert wilderness of the Utah territory. They earned everything they got.

This attitude of having to earn our stripes and prove ourselves before God often carries over when it comes to our view on salvation. I have heard many people say, “I’m just not good enough to be a Mormon.”  They end up staying outside the doors because they have an incorrect view of how salvation really works. Thinking you have to “prove yourself” to God is like cancer patients who feel they must cure themselves of the disease before they seek medical attention.

Church programs tend to perpetuate the perfection myth. The problem is that measuring the relative behavior of disciples of Christ and comparing their performance to each other seem completely contrary to the gospel. Perfection presumes that some are better than others, when in reality, all disciples of Christ are, by definition, sinners and fallen beings (Romans 3:23). If salvation was all about what you could accomplish on your own, then why would there be a need to come to Christ?

What is Grace?

If we immerse ourselves in the teaching of the prophets of The Book of Mormon there will come an assurance that we are truly saved by grace, and not by our “good works.” Grace and being born again are topics we should speak more freely of in the Church. (See Mosiah 27: 24-26; Alma 7:14; John 3: 1-5).

On Resurrection Morning
Bible Dictionary’s Definition of Grace:

"It is through the grace of the Lord Jesus, made possible by His atoning sacrifice, that mankind will be raised in immortality, every person receiving his body from the grave in a condition of everlasting life. It is likewise through the grace of the Lord that individuals, through faith in the Atonement of Jesus Christ and repentance of their sins, receive strength and assistance to do good works that they otherwise would not be able to maintain if left to their own means. This grace is an enabling power that allows men and women to lay hold on eternal life and exaltation after they have expended their own best efforts.

"Divine grace is needed by every soul in consequence of the Fall of Adam and also because of man’s weaknesses and shortcomings. However, grace cannot suffice without total effort on the part of the recipient. Hence the explanation, 'It is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.' (2 Ne. 25:23). It is truly the grace of Jesus Christ that makes salvation possible."

Because of Paul and Alma, we know that grace is not a gift that we must qualify for by virtue of righteousness initially, but it is also true that we may grow from “grace to grace” as we obtain “grace for grace.” (See D&C 93:1-20). It is not something you can earn on your own. Grace comes as a gift from God and is showered in doses over all his creations without discrimination.

No one summarizes the idea of what grace is better than Nephi:

"Therefore, cheer up your hearts, and remember that ye are free to act for yourselves -- to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life.
"Wherefore, my beloved brethren, reconcile yourselves to the will of God, and not to the will of the devil and the flesh; and remember, after ye are reconciled unto God, that it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved.
"Wherefore, may God raise you from death by the power of the resurrection, and also from everlasting death by the power of the atonement, that ye may be received into the eternal kingdom of God, that ye may praise him through grace divine. (2 Nephi 10: 23-25).

So, What are “Good Works?”

Simply put, the “good works” are part of the covenant relationship we enter into as members of the Church. We are to do the works of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. This faith leads us to truly repent of our sins. Then we can accept the ordinances of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, the laying on of the hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost. In time we receive priesthood ordinations and temple covenants. Enduring to the end of mortal life in those principles and ordinances to the best of our ability.

Those good works built on symbolic covenants are all inspired by obedience to the power of God and his Spirit in us. They are acts of grace growing out of the goodness of God within us. Jesus taught that only God was “good” (Mark 10:18). So did Paul. (Romans 3:10-12). Eternal life is attainable only because of our faith in Christ’s atonement. We earn nothing as fallen beings, because any good in us comes from God. The Holy Ghost either inspires our good works, or our works are merely the works of men and they perish. (3 Nephi 27:10-12). We love and serve others as He loves and serves us — not in an effort to deserve grace, but to accept it and offer it to others as freely as it is offered to us.

Do I Have to Keep the Commandments?

You will not find one latter-day Prophet who stood at the head of this Church in this dispensation who has not admonished the saints to keep the commandments of God.  But we all should realize that the ideal is never achieved in perfection in this life. The long list of commandments and outward ordinances is not unlike the “preparatory gospel” of the Law of Moses, designed to give Israel a “type and shadow” of the spiritual blessings they would ultimately attain through the atonement of Christ. The Law of Moses was never designed to produce salvation (see Mosiah 13: 30-31; 16: 14-15; 2 Nephi 2: 4-7; Romans 3: 20-24), but as sin in the world escalates we zealously admonish one another that not one must be lost. We learn to measure performance and compare relative compliance. We must remember to feed the sheep and not be satisfied with merely counting them. A “real” Mormon, who has been converted from the inside out, may not be praised by man, but he will be praised of God. (See Romans 2: 25-29).

Does Grace or Works Save Us?

The answer is “yes.” When we commit sin and we die a spiritual death we separate ourselves from the companionship of and constant influence of our Heavenly Father’s love and Spirit. When we repent of our sins and come unto Christ, we are rescued and become new creatures. This matter of being saved from sin and being rescued by the Redeemer, is not a one-time confession with our lips only. It takes a lifetime of persistent faith to achieve – but it must be the right “good works” that we do to “retain a remission of our sins” (see Mosiah 4). The works required for salvation are simply accepting, with a pure heart, the covenants and ordinances that give us access to Christ’s atonement and His grace that changes us.

“And of tenets thou shalt not talk, but thou shalt declare repentance and faith on the Savior, and remission of sins by baptism, and by fire, yea, even the Holy Ghost.
“Behold, this is a great and the last commandment which I shall give unto you concerning this matter; for this shall suffice for thy daily walk, even unto the end of thy life.” (D&C 19:31-32).

"And now, my beloved brethren, I would that ye should come unto Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel, and partake of his salvation, and the power of his redemption. Yea, come unto him, and offer your whole souls as an offering unto him, and continue in fasting and praying, and endure to the end; and as the Lord liveth ye will be saved." (Omni 1:26).

"And again I would exhort you that ye would come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift, and touch not the evil gift, nor the unclean thing....
"Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.
"And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot." (Moroni 10: 30, 32-32).

Sometimes this matter of being saved by grace takes a lifetime of learning and a quiet, but persistent overcoming of temptations and habits. We recognize our own feeble efforts will meet with frustration and failure week by week.  That is why we partake of the emblems of Christ’s atonement – the bread and water — each week in the sacramental covenant. The grace of God is the enabling power that makes possible our continued attempts to do better in the works of righteousness as we grow from “grace to grace.” We truly receive more and more as we give more and more grace. Salvation and exaltation is really that simple.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Saving The Nation

My father, now pushing 94 and still going strong mentally, is only the latest in my circle to be swept up in what has been called the "Trump Summer". He writes to his old missionaries from the California Arcadia Mission at General Conference time. One of his lesser-known qualities is his penchant for satire. When most people think of who L. Brent Goates is, the first thought is he was a conservative, even stodgy, old Church leader not much given to light-mindedness. With this latest installment of his self-styled "Heart Lines", however, he breaks the mold.

October, 2015


There were 22 candidates for President of the United States in a survey, and a pack of 17 were on the Republican ticket. The shocking news however, was that Donald Trump was the front-runner. Yes, that real estate billionaire, reality TV star and the same one called by some the “clown prince of slime” led all the GOP candidates. This forebodes a catastrophe. So, what else could a red-blooded patriot like me do except to throw my hat in the ring?

President Goates (r) with his running mate,
 President Monson (l)
Admittedly, I don’t have an Abraham Lincoln countenance, but I’ve got a grizzled, haggard face that mothers love to love. And just because I’m bent over with spinal deformity doesn’t mean I’m “crooked”. And the votes are pouring in. I can count on two from my sixth-grade traffic patrol, four from my Wasatch Elementary dance club, and maybe 75% may recall I came in last in the vice-president race at Irving Junior High School. There’s just no stopping that kind of snow-balling support.

As presidential candidate and sole member of the STAP (Straight Talkin’ American Party), I’m convinced that my platform charisma will win over the public. And if my personal magnetism isn’t enough, there are always my forthright stands on the big issues. . .

. . . Like POVERTY. I'd say, “This is the richest nation in the world, and we’d be even richer if it weren’t for all the poor people. Still, you just can’t give poor people money. They’d only go out and use it to buy food and clothes and pay the rent.” (Such pithy statements of policy make other candidates fade into stunning irrelevance.)

I started out my campaign by getting an admiral’s commission in the Great Salt Lake Navy, but fell out of a canoe while bringing my candidacy to the local Indian tribe. I’m still aiming for appearances before the National Press Club in Washington, and appearances at auto factories along with the keys to many cities. After viewing my bumper stickers, posters and sweatshirts, they wanted me to don a turban and show up at a pier in Vancouver, B.C., so I could walk on water for the edification of the crowd. I declined on the grounds that might sink the campaign.

But, I will appear in skits. I do well playing a solemn “Smokey the Bear”, where I warn viewers the number one cause of forest fires is trees. I might make as good a presidential candidate as anybody. I know what the average American wants. In fact, I’d like to get a little of it myself.

And so, I’m hitting the hustling campaign trail, clutching my press books and handouts. And the campaign chest is filling up. A recent 89-cent-a-plate testimonial dinner in Hollywood yielded a whopping $351.55. The Sisters of the Poor co-sponsored the bash.

I want to say unequivocally that if the public is swayed by my glamor and elected me, it wouldn’t go to my head. I will always be aware of my humble station in life as a common, ordinary, simple savior of America’s destiny.

California, which produced Ronald Reagan, is always a key battleground state. There was always a lot of talk for Reagan in California, but a lot of talk, too, for Donald Duck, who lost a close race with Reagan.

Some people think my campaign talk is too light-minded, but here is some evidence that I can handle the sensitive, hot issues of the day.

GUN CONTROL: Who knows when you might encounter a moose sauntering down Main Street? In such cases I think guns might be useful, but still dangerous for the public at large.

SUPREME COURT RULINGS: I have no sympathy for the Supreme Court ruling on the rights of accused criminals. Why should we have to tell embezzlers, kidnappers, burglars and murderers their rights? If they don’t know their rights, they’re in the wrong business.

FLUORIDATION OF WATER: It was first put into water supplies and drinking water in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1822. It’s powerful. Not one of those people is still alive today.

SEX EDUCATION: I am four-square against sex education. The teaching of (you know what) in our public schools delivers such a devastating psychological blow to the student who flunks the course.

SOCIAL SECURITY: I’ll tackle Social Security too. They said back in 1932 that it would take care of the whole “old-people problem”. Look, we’ve been paying into it for 83 years and what good has it done? There are more old people now than when we started.

On all of these issues and many others, I am neither left wing nor right wing, but more or less middle of the bird.

To prove my point, I plan to attend the conventions of both major political parties. All I asked was for the privilege of making a two-minute speech at the Democratic convention. But the Arrangement Committee apparently felt with my penchant for light-mindedness I might interfere with their serious caucus which has first priority. They get caucused right there in front of everyone, some of them two and three times a day! My speech, they felt, might detract from the habitual popping of balloons, tooting of paper horns and parading around in penguin suits. This, mind you, from folks who never misbehave at home.

I believe I will get many write-in votes in November, so I’m not letting up. I’ll keep working for an invitation to “Meet the Press”. Who’s to say I’d be worse than some of the numerous clowns running?

This thing started out as a big joke and ends that way too. Sometimes I just get bored with the restrictions of old age, and then I turn to my trusty old IBM Selectric typewriter. I push the fantasy-humor keys and you see what results. But to my prime audience of missionaries, there is a disclaimer. This is the only time you do not have to believe what you read in “Heart Lines”.

Keep that smile,

President L. Brent Goates

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The End of the World - Keep Your Eyes on Independence and Jerusalem

I learned yesterday that today was supposed to be "the big one" here in Utah. Someone (I'm not certain who because this is the essence of a good rumor) made a prediction that the "great earthquake" prophesied about in the book of Revelation was supposed to happen on September 13th, 2015, presumably triggering the Second Coming.

I'm not sure how many false prophecies I have heard during my lifetime, but they certainly number in the hundreds by now. As world events continue to point to the fulfilling of all the prophecies contained in Holy Writ, speculation continues to abound. This failed prophecy today won't be the last.

World Trade Center, NYC, September 11, 2001
We have just passed the 14th anniversary of the events of 9/11. There were many back then who assailed me with questions about the end of the world. "Is this the beginning of the battle of Armageddon?" they wondered and worried. "Is this the start of World War III?" others asked me. Fourteen years later, given all that has transpired since, can anyone doubt the ongoing reality of war, murder, death and destruction? It goes on without ceasing in the Middle East. The lust for the shedding of blood is continuing unabated.

Now we are poised on the brink of "a deal" with Iran, an illegitimate regime that has rejected democracy and enthroned the Ayatollahs of Shiite Muslims in a brutal dictatorship. No sooner was the ink dry on the documents than the supreme leader of Iran renewed his vow to wipe Israel off the map and to destroy "the Great Satan, America". Thinking America had "solved" the Iraq problem, what came in the place of the Sunnis in Iraq in now a Muslim caliphate, another rogue state called ISIS or ISIL. The chronicles of the swath of death and destruction wrought by them puts them in the same hall of shame as Stalin, Hitler and others. Refugees now are swarming the borders of the European nations for a safe haven as they flee these horrifying scenes and are compelled to abandon their homelands to preserve their lives and the lives of their children.

In the face of these dreadful realities on the world stage, it is no wonder we would welcome the imminent coming of the Savior to put things right again in the world. It is no wonder speculation about the timing of His return seems so rampant right now. So where can one turn for answers and for peace? Donald Trump would have everyone believe he can accomplish the task, and he certainly does not lack the confidence to take on the world. I submit, however, there is a better source for light and truth.

The Restoration of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints opened a new dispensation of the gospel on a spring morning in 1820. Joseph Smith, the boy prophet of 14 years of age, knelt in a grove of trees in upstate New York near Palmyra and declares: "I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other — This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him! My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong) — and which I should join. I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: 'they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.'" (JSH 1:16-19).

And thus began the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith, built upon the sure foundation of a restored knowledge of the true identity of God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ. From Them he learned the truth about Christ's return to the earth in a future day as foretold by all the ancient prophets of whom we have written testaments. In subsequent visits with other heavenly messengers, Joseph Smith learned of his role in bringing to pass the fulfillment of events that would precede the Second Coming of the Lord and the ushering in of the Millennium.

It was the angel, Moroni, a resurrected prophet, who first told him about the gold plates that contained the record of ancient American prophets, and provided the means whereby Joseph could translate the record and bring it forth as The Book of Mormon.

Joseph continues his history: "After telling me these things, he commenced quoting the prophecies of the Old Testament. He first quoted part of the third chapter of Malachi; and he quoted also the fourth or last chapter of the same prophecy, though with a little variation from the way it reads in our Bibles. Instead of quoting the first verse as it reads in our books, he quoted it thus: For behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven, and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly shall burn as stubble; for they that come shall burn them, saith the Lord of Hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. And again, he quoted the fifth verse thus: Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. He also quoted the next verse differently: And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming. In addition to these, he quoted the eleventh chapter of Isaiah, saying that it was about to be fulfilled. He quoted also the third chapter of Acts, twenty-second and twenty-third verses, precisely as they stand in our New Testament. He said that that prophet was Christ; but the day had not yet come when 'they who would not hear his voice should be cut off from among the people,' but soon would come. He also quoted the second chapter of Joel, from the twenty-eighth verse to the last. He also said that this was not yet fulfilled, but was soon to be. And he further stated that the fulness of the Gentiles was soon to come in. He quoted many other passages of scripture, and offered many explanations which cannot be mentioned here." (JSH 1:36-41).

In the revelation given November 1, 1831, we know as Section 1 of The Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord told Joseph: "And again, verily I say unto you, O inhabitants of the earth: I the Lord am willing to make these things known unto all flesh; For I am no respecter of persons, and will that all men shall know that the day speedily cometh; the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand, when peace shall be taken from the earth, and the devil shall have power over his own dominion. And also the Lord shall have power over his saints, and shall reign in their midst, and shall come down in judgment upon Idumea, or the world. Search these commandments, for they are true and faithful, and the prophecies and promises which are in them shall all be fulfilled. What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same. For behold, and lo, the Lord is God, and the Spirit beareth record, and the record is true, and the truth abideth forever and ever. Amen. (D&C 1:34-39).

Search high and low in the eschatology of other religions, and nowhere will one find the declarative voice of certainty to the degree it is found in the revelations that came forth originally from the Prophet Joseph Smith or from his interpretations of other ancient texts. All that remains is for honest seekers of truth to examine his writings, his sermons and his teachings.

If you want to know the truth about the end times, look no further than Joseph Smith. Do not be deceived by other voices of prophecy that are not nearly as precise.

Fifteen years ago (and twice again since then), the youth of our ward were invited to submit questions to me, then I presented the answers in a fifth Sunday combined meeting. Whenever I have taught the youth of the Church, there is always an abundant interest in this topic. My guess is they all want to know what I wanted to know when I was in their situation: "Will I have time to get married and have a career, a family and do all the things I want to do before the Second Coming?" Now a grandfather many times over, I can assure all the youth in the Church today the answer is still a resounding "Yes!" Here's a sampling of their questions and my answers from that first meeting:

Is there really going to be a Second Coming?

This is always one of my favorite questions. It springs from the fertile minds of some in the Church who think all the references to the Second Coming are simply “figurative” not literal. Like the circumstances surrounding the Savior’s mortal birth, some prefer to shroud the truth in dark and mysterious secrets that aren’t secrets at all. The Lord through his prophets has had a lot to say about the Second Coming in His own words. I plead with all to not be the source of unsubstantiated rumor mongering when there is so much in Holy Writ that has been revealed. Here’s a sampling of what the scriptural record has to say about that, then you make up your own mind:

Old Testament evidences:

The Lord said unto Enoch: “As I live, even so will I come in the last days.” (Moses 7:60). Enoch saw the day of the coming of the Son of Man, in the last days, to dwell on earth for a thousand years (verse 65). Enoch prophesied, saying: “Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints.” (Jude 14, 15). So did Job: “For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth.” (Job 19:25). “Our God shall come, and shall not keep silence.” (Psalms 50:3; note that verses 4 and 5 tell of conditions that shall attend the Lord's future coming). “He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.” (Psalms 72:8; see also verse 17; 82:8). “When the Lord shall build up Zion, he shall appear in his glory.” (Psalms 102:16). “The Lord of Hosts shall reign in mount Zion, and in Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 24:23). “The Lord God will come with strong hand.” (Isaiah 40:10). “The Lord shall reign in mount Zion even forever.” (Micah 4:7; see also Zechariah 14:9, 20, 21). “The Lord to come suddenly; but who may abide the day of his coming?” (Malachi 3:1-4). “Elijah the prophet to be sent before the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” (Malachi 4:5, 6).

New Testament evidences:

“The Son of Man to come in the glory of his Father.” (Matthew 16:27). “The Son of Man to come in glory and to judge the nations. (Matthew 25:31-46). “Then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven.” (Matthew 24:30). “Of the day and hour of the Lord's coming no man knoweth.” (Matthew 24:36). “Then shall they see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.” (Mark 13:26; see also verses 32, 33, 37). “Of him also shall the Son of Man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38). “After many tribulations the people shall see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” (Luke 21:27; read verse 10 and the verses following; also 17:26-30). “Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of Man cometh at an hour when ye think not.” (Luke 12:40). “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night to those not prepared.” (2 Peter 3:10; see also 1 Thessalonians 5:2). “This same Jesus shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11). “And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you.” (Acts 3:20). “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come.” (1 Corinthians 4:5; compare 11:26). “From whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 3:20). “At the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.” (1 Thessalonians 3:13; see also 2:19). “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16). “When the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels.” (2 Thessalonians 1:7; see also 2:1; 1 Timothy 6:14; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 9:28). “Stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh (James 5:8). “That we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming.” (1 John 2:28; see also 3:2). “Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him.” (Revelation 1:7; see also 6:12-17).

Book of Mormon and D&C evidences:

“The Holy One of Israel must reign in dominion, and might and power, and great glory.” (1 Nephi 22:24; see also verse 26). “The bands of death to be broken and the Son to reign.” (Mosiah 15:20). “Elijah to come before the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” (3 Nephi 25:5). “Christ expounded to the Nephites things that should occur until he should come in his glory.” (3 Nephi 26:3). The power of heaven to come down with Christ in the midst (3 Nephi 21:25; compare 20:22; see also 24:1-3). The Three Nephites to remain in the flesh until the Lord shall come in his glory with the powers of heaven. (3 Nephi 28:7). “Ye need not say that the Lord delays his coming.” (3 Nephi 29:2). “Christ to reveal himself from heaven with power and great glory, with all the hosts thereof.” (D&C 29:11; see also 45:44; 65:5). “The time is soon at hand when I shall come in a cloud with power and great glory.” (D&C 34:7, 8, 12). “When he shall come in the clouds of heaven to reign on the earth over his people.” (D&C 76:63). “The Lord to be in the midst of the saints in glory, and to be their king and lawgiver.” (D&C 45:59; see also 1:36). “The Son of Man now reigneth in the heavens, and will reign on the earth.” (D&C 49:6). “The Lord will come down from the presence of the Father to take judgment upon the wicked.” (D&C 63:34). “Preparing the way of the Lord for his second coming.” (D&C 34:6; see also 39:20; 77:12). “The Son of Man to come in an hour you think not.” (D&C 61:38). “The time of the Lord's coming nigh at hand.” (D&C 35:15; 43:17; 133:17). “Hour and day of the Lord's coming no man knoweth, neither the angels.” (D&C 49:7; 39:21; 133:11). “The good and the meek shall be looking for the time of the Lord's coming.” (D&C 35:15). “He that feareth me shall be looking for the great day of the Lord to come.” (D&C 45:39; see also verses 40-56, and verses 74, 75). “Unto some it shall be given to know the signs of the coming of the Son of Man.” (D&C 68:11 – and I can tell you who “some” are – the people who seek shall find). “I come quickly.” (D&C 34:12; 35:27; 39:24; 41:4; 49:28; 51:20; 54:10; 68:35; 87:8; 99:5; 112:34).

The Dome of the Rock,
Temple Mount, Jerusalem
What still must happen before the Second Coming?

That is a question with a very long answer, since most of the prophecies that describe the events preceding the Second Coming are as yet unfulfilled. I hope no one ever asks that question in the spirit of, “How much time do I have left?” We should always be repenting and be anxiously engaged in doing good and seeking to bring about Zion in our own sphere of influence.

My short response always favors Joseph Smith’s teachings about the seven seals in Revelation, each seal representing a 1,000-year period of the Earth’s temporal existence. We are living in the very end time of the sixth seal, because we are still waiting for the two major events of the sixth seal to occur: The “great earthquake” (see Revelation 6:12; also study D&C 77 in depth), and the sealing of the 144,000 high priests, 12,000 out of each tribe of Israel (see Revelation 7:4-8). The actual Second Coming does not occur until after all the events described in the sixth and seventh seals have been accomplished. So, those are two significant events yet to occur.

The Prophet Joseph Smith asked this question while in prayer one day. He was shown events in and around Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the Jewish temple yet to occur:

"I was once praying earnestly upon this subject, and a voice said unto me, 'My son, if thou livest until thou art eighty-five years of age, thou shalt see the face of the Son of Man.' I was left to draw my own conclusions concerning this; and I took the liberty to conclude that if I did live to that time, He would make His appearance. But I do not say whether He will make His appearance or I shall go where He is. I prophesy in the name of the Lord God, and let it be written — the Son of Man will not come in the clouds of heaven till I am eighty-five years old. Then read the 14th chapter of Revelation, 6th and 7th verses — 'And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, saying with a loud voice, Fear God and give glory to Him, for the our of His judgment is come.' And Hosea, 6th chapter, After two days, etc., — 2,520 years; which brings it to 1890. The coming of the Son of Man never will be — never can be till the judgments spoken of for this hour are poured out: which judgments are commenced. Paul says, 'Ye are the children of the light, and not of the darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief in the night.' It is not the design of the Almighty to come upon the earth and crush it and grind it to powder, but he will reveal it to His servants the prophets.

"Judah must return, Jerusalem must be rebuilt, and the temple, and water come out from under the temple, and the waters of the Dead Sea be healed. It will take some time to rebuild the walls of the city and the temple, Etc.; and all this must be done before the Son of Man will make his appearance. There will be wars and rumors of wars, signs in the heavens above and on the earth beneath, the sun turned into darkness and the moon to blood, earthquakes in divers places, the seas heaving beyond their bounds; then will appear one grand sign of the Son of Man in heaven. But what will the world do? They will say it is a planet, a comet, etc. But the Son of Man, which will be as the light of the morning cometh out of the east." (April 6, 1843.) DHC 5:336-337. (TPJS, p. 286-7).

Do you think that the Second Coming is closer than people think and are prepared for?

What I think – my opinion – doesn’t really matter. There are two widely held misconceptions in the Church about the Second Coming: 1) That you can somehow estimate the time in days, months or years before the Second Coming will occur; and 2) that it will occur when we are sufficiently righteous and prepared for it.

First, the Second Coming will occur when all the events related to it are fulfilled, and not a moment sooner. So you must measure the nearness of the Second Coming in events, rather than with a calendar or a clock. My counsel is that we all become familiar with those events, then we will not be deceived when false prophets come among us determined to deceive us.

Second, the scriptural record seems replete with references that the Second Coming will happen as a day of vengeance and wrath to cleanse the world. The Second Coming will come in a day of perverse wickedness, not unlike the condition of the world just before the great Flood in Noah’s day, not in a day of righteousness. The righteous saints, many of whom will be prepared and ready and waiting anxiously, will neither hasten nor delay the Lord’s coming one way or the other. The events are clearly delineated (though often “scrambled” rather than arranged topically) in the scriptures. The Lord has not been silent on this point:

“What I the Lord have decreed in them [the published revelations and prophecies] SHALL BE FULFILLED.” Again, “Search these commandments, for they are true and faithful, and the prophecies and promises which are in them SHALL ALL BE FULFILLED. What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but SHALL ALL BE FULFILLED, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.” (D&C 1:7; 37-38). The time of Christ’s Second Coming has always been known to the Father from the beginning. We have no power either to hasten it or to delay it. (Read Joseph Smith-Matthew 40).

How close do you feel the Second Coming is?

This is a serious question, but my answer is the same as above – it doesn’t really matter how I feel about it. As more gray hair grows in among the black ones on my head, my feelings have changed. I could have my own Second Coming tomorrow if I die. In that context, the Second Coming for me could be very close indeed. I suppose that is true for all of us, because no one I know has yet been able to predict the time of natural or accidental death with any degree of accuracy.

The Boundaries of the City of Zion, Independence, MO,
"the center place" (Revelation 21:16-27; D&C 57:1-5)
So you want my feelings anyway? There are many, many events that must yet occur on this Earth before the Second Coming. You could all be grandparents bouncing grandchildren on your knees before the events are all fulfilled. But I believe that one of the key elements of prophecy relating to the Second Coming is what happens to the two sites of the Millennial temples that must be built before the Second Coming: One in Independence, Missouri (see D&C 84:2-5), and one on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. All the ancient prophets, David, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Micah, Zechariah, to name a few, saw that future Jerusalem temple in vision. Keep your eye on Independence and Jerusalem if you want a gauge to measure nearness. Then ask yourselves, "Which Church on the earth today holds the authoritative priesthood keys that govern temple building?" When the Jews and the Mormons finally build their Millennial temples in preparation for the Lord’s return, you will know that the day of the Second Coming is not far off. Until then, do as President Wilford W. Woodruff did -- keep planting your cherry trees.

One final thought to younger folks than I. When you live a long time, you outlive your fears of all the things you thought were going to happen because the things you once feared never happened. So I no longer fear the future because I've seen the past and I love today. It's really all I have and I'm going to make the very best of it I can.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

"Keep the Commandments" - Here's How

The admonitions of prophets and the dictoms of Holy Writ to "keep the commandments" are legion in number. This simple declaration on its face seems easy enough, but then we think upon the lists of all those things we are admonished to do (or not do), and it seems the task becomes more daunting than we originally thought.

When one ponders the Christian way of life, and seeks to emulate Jesus in all He taught in His gospel, one can easily become overwhelmed with what seems to be the magnitude of the task to "keep the commandments". I remember well an encounter with a person not of our faith many years ago who "came close" to joining the Mormon church, he said, but "I just couldn't follow all the rules - there were too many," and he elected to remain as he was without the church.

Even people who do come into the Church often find kinship with my friend's observations. They flourish for a season, then fall by the wayside for a host of reasons. I've known too many returned missionaries who find it difficult to do the things they taught their investigators to do when they were teaching them the principles of the gospel. They suffer with living what I once called an "impossible gospel" of perfect compliance with a seemingly endless list of commandments.

President Harold B. Lee
It is hard to find a more iconic statement than the one offered by President Harold B. Lee in 1972, at his inaugural press conference after being named the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We even have a Primary song with the title to memorialize his statement. When asked what message he would give to the then-3 million members of the Church, he responded, "The greatest message that one in this position could give to the membership of the Church is to keep the commandments of God, for therein lies the safety of the Church and the safety of the individual. Keep the commandments. There could be nothing that I could say that would be a more powerful or important message today." (Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 85).

In the Bible, we read about a remarkable doctrine of being "born again". It comes in the story of a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, who came to Jesus by night so he would not be detected as a secret admirer of the Savior. He declares his testimony of the Savior's identity, when he said:

Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.
Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man he born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?
Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.

Then the Savior added a final meaningful observation: "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit." (John 3:2-8).

There are many commentaries that have been offered on those verses, but perhaps the thoughts I offer here will be sufficient. We must be born again to even see the kingdom of God. This is often the experience of new converts as they describe what first attracted them to the Church. Without the benefit of all the commandments, or as we might say, "the law", they are spiritually attracted to the teachings of the Savior. They become spiritually "born again" before they are shown the long lists of commandments. It suggests that to become truly converted, one has to have some spiritual change in order to know the gospel or to first see the Church. There must be some kind of spiritual experience.

And then subsequent to that spiritual enlightening, to enter into the kingdom of God — to become a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — there has to be a new birth "of water" and "of the Spirit" after they become more familiar with the commandments the Lord has given us. This entrance into the kingdom, of course, is baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, and the laying on of the hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.

The final observation I would offer is that how this spiritual rebirth takes place is just as impossible to explain as to explain where the wind comes from or where it goes. It is a spiritual reality that is as mysterious in its definition and as varied in its manifestations. It may be as elusive as a moonbeam, just as the origins and direction of the wind. And notwithstanding its elusive nature, it is precisely what makes our ability to keep the commandments possible.

I would suggest that being born again spiritually is the vital key to keeping all the commandments. Think of it this way: You do not know all the civil laws on the books in your city, state and nation, because mastering such a task would be nearly impossible. Lawyers go to school to learn those laws and how they are applied, but no one can attempt to master them all. However, if you as a citizen are determined to "be a good boy" and follow the light of your conscience within your heart, you will seldom run afoul of all those laws of which you have no knowledge.

I have known many, many Latter-day Saints who could not possibly come close to being or ever becoming gospel scholars capable of learning all God's laws. But they know and recognize the powerful influence of the Holy Ghost in their lives, and they live the commandments to the best of their ability without even knowing them in fine. The law was never written for "born-again" saints who know and recognize the Spirit in their lives and give heed to its promptings. Living in the Spirit assures compliance with "the law", whether it be God's law or civil law.

Elder Orson F. Whitney
Elder Orson F. Whitney expanded on the magnitude of the scope of the commandments we have been given in these words: "The principles which compose the gospel — and not merely the first principles, but all that have been or will ever be revealed — are self-existent and everlasting in their nature. They have existed from all eternity, and will endure through all eternities to come, for they are absolute, essential, uncreated truths, without beginning of day or end of years, the same yesterday, today, and forever. Concerning the time, place, and method of their compilation it is not man's present province to enquire." (Elder's Journal 4:26.)

We live in a day when the words of Nephi are truer than ever: "Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do. Wherefore, now after I have spoken these words, if ye cannot understand them it will be because ye ask not, neither do ye knock; wherefore, ye are not brought into the light, but must perish in the dark. For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way [get baptized], and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do." (2 Nephi 32:2-4, emphasis mine).

If you are currently a member of the Church, care-worn and still suffering under the illusion you can and should be toiling harder and harder to keep all the commandments of God perfectly before you will be an acceptable candidate for eternal life, think deeply on this message of liberation. You are like one of His lost little lambs. Embrace the Spirit instead and begin feasting upon the words of Christ. Accept the embrace of His loving arms around you. If you do, you are promised you will know the truth of all things and you will in process of time be keeping all of God's commandments without the stress that now accompanies your efforts under the law that is impossible to keep perfectly. Rely instead upon the perfection of the Savior to deliver you from the demands of justice. He is your Redeemer.

If you are one who became weary and lost your way in paths that now seem twisted, corrupted and confusing, turn around and come back home. He welcomes and searches for all His lost lambs in whatever paths they may have wandered. The path back into His warm embrace is the same for you. Become "born again" by feasting on the words of Christ, seeking for the spiritual experiences you have been lacking, and come back into the light of the Holy Ghost. You will find your mind embracing and eagerly welcoming the principles that comprise the gospel. These truths in the words of Elder Whitney that are "absolute, essential, uncreated truths, without beginning of day or end of years, the same yesterday, today, and forever" will begin to cast aside the scales of darkness that have shrouded your view until now. You will be "born again" and that rebirth will be glorious beyond description.