Sunday, August 22, 2010

Prerequisite Three: God Has Established Laws as Part of His Plan (Part Three)

God’s Law Reveals God’s Nature

You may have read this heading and said, “Now, hold on. What does knowing God’s nature have to do with our salvation?” The answer to your question is, “Everything.” Jesus Christ defined eternal life―salvation―just before He suffered in Gethsemane and on Calvary: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” John 17:3. God has promised eternal life to the faithful. That is, He has promised to reveal them His nature, His attributes, His character, His face, and even Himself. If we don’t know who He is, we will never live forever in His presence. And ultimately, we will never know him until He parts the veil that separates Him from us, shows us His face, and speaks with us as one friend speaks to another.

And God, to a modern prophet, revealed how we can know Him: “This is eternal lives—to know the only wise and true God, and Jesus Christ, whom he hath sent. I am he. Receive ye, therefore, my law.” D&C 132:24. So by receiving God’s law, we will know Him.

How will we know Him? You’ve heard the saying, or something similar, “If you want to know a man, walk a mile in his shoes.” By keeping the Law, we walk in God’s footsteps, we walk in His shoes. That’s because each commandment is an expression of Divine Nature:

And now, my son, all men that are in a state of nature [those who disobey the Law], or I would say, in a carnal state, are in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; they are without God in the world, and they have gone contrary to the nature of God; . . .

Alma 41:10-11. Therefore, those who live contrary to the Law live contrary to God’s nature. So God’s nature is the Law. Thus, God doesn’t worship idols. He doesn’t use profanity. He honors the Sabbath day. God does not murder. Nor does He violate the laws of chastity. He doesn’t steal. He doesn’t lie. And He doesn’t covet. He obeys the law of sacrifice. He loves all His children. He is just. And He is merciful. He is Perfect.

And Jesus Christ demonstrated that it is God’s nature to obey the Law. Although He was tempted in all things, Jesus never violated the Law. Hebrews 4:15. He even kept the commandments that would not serve Him. The perfect example of this is Jesus’ decision to be baptized. Baptism is for the remission of sins, and those who are “whole need no physician.” Moroni 8:8. Yet even though He had no sins, the Whole submitted His will to the will of the Father to “fulfill all righteousness.” Matt. 3:15; 2 Ne. 31:5-6. Jesus was baptized because God had commanded that every accountable person must be baptized. That was enough for Him. He didn’t ask, “Why?” He didn’t say, “I don’t need baptism. I’m perfect.” Rather, He said, “Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.” Matt. 3:15.

And Jesus’ righteousness both pleased God and revealed God’s nature to us. In all that He did, Jesus showed us the Father. John 14:9-12. If God the Father had been in Jerusalem and Galilee instead of Jesus Christ, nothing would have changed. He would have healed the sick, raised the dead, caused the lame to walk, given sight to the blind, rebuked sin, forgiven sinners, blessed the children, suffered for our sins, died, and been resurrected. He would have fulfilled all righteousness by observing and obeying the Law.

So if we want to know God―want to have eternal life―we need to obey the Law. All of it! Even the commandments that we don’t like and those we think will not serve us. It’s the only way to know Him.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Prerequisite Three: God Has Established Laws as Part of His Plan (Part Two)

God’s Law and God’s Love

Love is the perfect motivator. Not only does it dictate our ends, it also tempers our means. This was never more evident than it was with our Savior. His constant call was, "Come, follow me. I know the way to joy and peace. Do what I'm doing, and you'll get there." During life's battles, He was always on the front lines. And He never asked anyone to do anything He wasn't willing to do Himself.

And it was love that motivated Jesus' atoning sacrifice. Never had man or woman suffered, nor will man or woman ever suffer pain to the degree that Jesus suffered in Gethsamane and on Golgotha's cross. In an incomprehensible way, Jesus shrunk beneath the aggregate of mankind's sins, but glory be to the Father, Jesus partook of the bitter cup because He so loved the world and His Father, our Father, so loved the world.

How stunning to think that as the Roman soldiers scourged Jesus, spat on Jesus, mocked Jesus, and drove nails through Jesus' hands and feet, He suffered it "because of his loving kindness and his long suffering towards the children of men." 1 Nephi 19:9.

The Atonement of Jesus Christ is the greatest manifestation of God's love for us and the greatest gift of all the gifts we have received from God. We have received more gifts than we can number from God, and all of them are to bring to pass our immortality and eternal life. Moses 1:39.

As hard as we may try, there is no way we will ever be able to repay our Father and Savior for their gifts to us. But what do they ask of us to say thank you? They ask us to keep the commandments. Mosiah 2:22.

"If ye love me, keep my commandments," Jesus pleaded. John 14:15. Additionally, Jesus summed all the commandments into the two Great Commandments: Love God and Love Your Neighbor. Matthew 22:37-40. Thus, to love is a commandment.

Like it or not, love and the commandments are inseparable.

And it is precisely because God loves us that He has given us commandments, some of which may seem excessively restrictive. But consider this: If there were no commandments, there would be no sin, and if there were no sin, there would be no condemnation. Without condemnation, there would be no need for a Savior.

Jesus didn't have to go through the agony of Gethsemane or the horrors of Golgotha. The easy way, the painless way, would've been to withhold the law, commandments which God knew we would break anyway.

As evidenced by God's willingness to give us commandments that we would not always follow and His willingness to send His Son to satisfy the demands of the broken commandments, there is more to the commandments that the restriction of our "freedom."

Commandments are an invitation to become like Christ and our Heavenly Father. They possess a fullness of joy. They know true happiness. And obedience to each commandment tempers our characters and natures until we become like Them, "purified as [they] are pure." Moroni 7:48; 1 John 3:3.

What we do not recognize when we sin is that by so doing, we are acting in a manner contrary to the nature of God and contrary to the nature of happiness. Alma 41:11.
With each commandment, God is pleading with us to be happy!

Additionally illustrative of God's love is His treatment of the sinner. Regardless of our religious denomination, we often receive the counsel to hate the sin but love the sinner. And Jesus showed us how in John 8:1-11:

While at the temple, the Pharisees brought before Him a woman caught in adultery, only murder and denying the Holy Ghost are worse sins. See Alma 39:5. "The law says," they quoted, "such shall be stoned. What sayest thou?"

Jesus, paying little attention to them said, "Let he among you his without sin cast the first stone at her."

Convicted by their consciences, the mob dispersed, and Jesus was alone with the sinner.

"Has no man condemned thee?" Jesus asked.

"No man, Lord."

"Neither do I condemn thee; Go and sin no more."

The time for final judgement was not yet, and there was still hope for this woman, a daughter of God, caught in sin's snare. But her hope and future happiness hinged on sinning no more, for if she continued in sin, Jesus would have no choice but to condemn her on the day of judgment.
But I suspect Christ's love for her in not condemning her while unequivocally condemning her sin wrought so powerfully upon her that she went and sinned no more. And she began living in accord with the nature of happiness.

In the Americas, after Jesus' ascension and resurrection, He commanded the leaders of His Church to forbid the unworthy from participating in the ordinances of the Gospel, but instructed them, "ye shall not cast [the unworthy] out from among you, but ye shall minister unto [them] and shall pray for [them] unto the Father, in my name; and if it so be that [they] repent[] and [are] baptized in my name, then shall ye receive [them], and shall minister unto [them the ordinances of my Gospel]." 3 Nephi 18:30.

When we recognize that the commandments are a manifestation of God's love for us and are calculated to bring us joy, it becomes much easier to obey. And it becomes easier for us to follow the example of Jesus as we deal with those who are caught in sin.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Prerequisite Three: God Has Established Laws as Part of His Plan (Part One)

We cannot escape laws. Laws touch every aspect of our lives, from the stars in the heavens to the smallest subatomic particles. The stars obey laws of fusion to shine and produce energy. They obey the law of gravity and exert their influence through it. The planets obey the same law as they orbit the stars. Our own Earth obeys the laws of meteorology, geology, chemistry, physics, biology, and plate tectonics, among others. The electrons, neutrons, and protons forming atoms obey the laws of electromagnetism and the laws governing the strong and weak forces. Traffic laws govern our behavior in our cars. Tax laws dictate how much money we have to pay to the government. Water laws direct the distribution of rain water and spring runoff. And this list can hardly be called a beginning! There are laws upon laws that govern our lives.
I’ve tried to think of any aspect of my life that isn’t affected by some law, and so far I can’t. For example, my decision of what to eat for breakfast implicates laws of nutrition that govern my physical health: If I constantly eat food that is high in calories, I’ll get fat; if I eat food high in cholesterol, I run the risk of stroke or heart attack; if I eat rancid meat, I’ll grow ill and vomit; if I don’t drink enough water, I’ll become dehydrated; if I eat poison, I’ll die. Even what I choose to wear involves law: If I choose to wear shorts, a t-shirt, and sandals without a coat in the middle of a snow storm, I’m ignoring the laws of thermodynamics and will inevitably freeze; if I wear revealing clothing, I’m ignoring the laws of modesty and chastity. The choice to brush our teeth is how we obey dental law. Taking a shower complies with laws that keep us clean and healthy. What time we go to bed is a choice whether or not to obey the laws that govern how our body recuperates and recovers from our daily activities. So laws affect everything we do, whether we like it or not.
Truly, where there is a kingdom, there is a law.
So often, we chafe when someone mentions commandments, laws, or rules. We think they rob us of our freedom. After all, the fastest way for someone to spoil a good time is to tell you that what you’re doing is wrong. Inevitably, we bristle and lash out, “How dare you tell me what I can and can’t do! I’m no robot!”
But if that’s our attitude when we’re reminded of the commandments, laws, and rules―what I’ll call “the Law” from now on―we’ve got a lot to learn. The Law, at least Eternal Law, does not exist to spoil our fun. Belief in God mandates a belief in Divine Purpose. And unless we believe that God exists only to keep us from having a good time, there must be something more to the Law. That is, the Law must form part of God’s Divine Purpose for us, His children.
The Law is perfect, and God expects us to live it perfectly. Thus, we need to study the Law, understand its role in God’s plan, and strive to obey it.
If we don’t, we will never reach our potential. And we will never understand the greatest gift any of us have received or will ever receive: the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Jesus came, after all, to satisfy the demands of the Law. He is the only One who obeyed the Law perfectly. And in His success comes our salvation.
So what is the purpose of the Law? I suppose that an entire book could be written about why God has given us His Law. But I won’t try to do that. Instead, we’ll talk about the Law as it relates to our eventual salvation (being brought back into God’s presence because of the merits, mercy, and grace of Jesus Christ) and sanctification (being made holy through the merits, mercy, and grace of Jesus Christ) or damnation (being cut off from the presence of God because of our sins).
For the next few weeks, we'll discuss how the Law will lead to salvation and sanctification or to damnation.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Prerequisite Two: God Has a Plan for Us (Part Five)

The Resurrection and Final Judgement

Eventually, every spirit that is in the Spirit World, whether righteous or wicked, will be reunited with its physical body, never more to be separated by death. The resurrection is a free gift made possible through Jesus Christ, and even the most wicked people who ever lived will be resurrected. We’ll talk about why everyone will be resurrected a little later on, but what we need to remember today is that the resurrection is a manifestation of God’s love for us and His desire to bless all of His children.

But even though all will be resurrected, not everyone will receive the same reward. After we are resurrected, we will all stand before the throne of God to be judged (2 Nephi 2:15–22; Helaman 14:17–18). As is common among many religions, there are many Latter-day Saints who feel that God is looking for any excuse to thrust them to Hell. But the opposite is true. Our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ want to give us everything They possibly can for our final rewards. J. Reuben Clark, an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ and member of the First Presidency said:

I believe that [God’s] juridical concept of his dealings with his children could be expressed in this way: I believe that in his justice and mercy, he will give us the maximum reward for our acts, give us all that he can give, and in the reverse, I believe that he will impose upon us the minimum penalty which it is possible for him to impose.

(Quoted by Thomas S. Monson, "Mercy—The Divine Gift," Ensign, May 1995).

Christ will judge us according to what we did with the light and knowledge that we have received and according to the desires of our hearts. Ultimately, He will either reward us with an inheritance in one of three degrees of glory or damn us to an eternity in Outer Darkness (Hell).

The Degrees of Glory and Outer Darkness

The three degrees of glory are The Celestial Kingdom, the Terrestrial Kingdom, or the Telestial Kingdom. (Consider 1 Corinthians 15:40–41; 2 Corinthians 2:12). And all of them are Heaven, the glory and beauty of each excelling that of the Earth. Outer Darkness is not a degree of glory and is reserved only for the most wicked.

The knowledge of these kingdoms was restored in our day to the prophet Joseph Smith. In 1832, while studying and clarifying certain passages of the Bible, Joseph and his companions read John 5:29. The power of the Holy Ghost descended upon them, and a vision opened before Joseph and his scribe, Sidney Rigdon. The other men in the room did not see the vision but felt the power of God filling the room. Occasionally, Joseph would say, "What do I see?" and then he would describe what he was seeing. Sidney would then reply, "I see it, too." Occasionally, Sidney would say, "What do I see?" and then he would describe what he was seeing. Joseph would then reply, "I see it, too."

After the vision closed, Joseph and Sidney wrote down the vision as best they could, and we have it today as section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants.

The Celestial Kingdom (D&C 76:50–70).

The Celestial Kingdom is the highest degree of glory and the habitation of God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. All those who attain this kingdom receive all that Heavenly Father promised He would give us. If we are worthy of the Celestial Kingdom, we will become like our Heavenly Father: perfect, possessing a fullness of joy. And by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, our families during our lives on Earth will be with us eternally; husbands, wives, and children will be united forever!

Those who attain this Kingdom will also experience eternal progression. That is, they will have no end as they participate in the salvation of souls for all eternity.

To attain this Kingdom, we must accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, have faith in Him, repent of
our sins, be baptized by one having the proper authority of the Priesthood, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and keep the commandments so that Jesus Christ can save us from our sins (see Alma 42:13; Helaman 5:11). Mercifully, those who did not receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ while living on the Earth but who would have received it with all their hearts had they had the opportunity will also be saved in the Celestial Kingdom. For this purpose, Latter-day Saints build temples and perform ordinances for those who have passed away who did not receive the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

And all those who were not accountable for their actions—children who died before they reached the age of accountability and those who are like children—will also receive a place in the Celestial Kingdom (Mosiah 3:16). But because they were never accountable for their sins, they do not need to receive the ordinance of baptism (Moroni 8:10–12).

Terrestrial Kingdom (D&C 76:71–80)

The Terrestrial Kingdom is the second highest Kingdom of Heaven. Those who attain this Kingdom will not live in the presence of Heavenly Father, but Jesus Christ and other who attain the Celestial Kingdom will administer to them throughout eternity. This glory of this Kingdom differs from the glory of the Celestial Kingdom as the glory of the moon differs from the glory of the sun.

Those who attain this Kingdom are the just men and women of the Earth who would not receive the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Because all religions contain Truth, all those who lived according to the Truth they received will not be thrust down to Hell. Thus, men and women who are not members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will not suffer eternal damnation. Rather, they will rejoice with their Savior through all eternity if they live according to their religions while upon the Earth.

The Telestial Kingdom (D&C 76:81–86)

The lowest Kingdom of Heaven is the Telestial Kingdom. Those who attain this Kingdom will be blessed with the visitation of the Holy Ghost. The glory of this Kingdom differs from the glory of the Terrestrial Kingdom as glory of the stars differs from the glory of the moon. This Kingdom’s beauty, although the lowest Kingdom of Heaven, far exceeds the beauty of the Earth. It is a place of rest and peace.

This Kingdom, unlike the Celestial and Terrestrial Kingdoms, is reserved for those who must pay for their own sins because they would not let Jesus pay for them. These are robbers, murderers, thieves, rapists, kidnappers, and all the wicked men and women who lived upon the face of the Earth. Because of their wickedness, they are thrust to Hell (Outer Darkness) prior to being resurrected. While in Hell, they must suffer even as Jesus suffered (D&C 19:4–20). But after their debt is paid, they will be resurrected and will inherit salvation in the Telestial Kingdom.

Outer Darkness/Hell (D&C 76:30–49)

Outer Darkness is the Mormon term for Hell. The torment of those in Hell is "as a lake of fire and brimstone whose flames are unquenchable, and whose smoke ascendeth up forever and ever. . . ." (Mosiah 3:27). These are they who are cut off from the presence of God. But not all those who go to Hell will remain there forever. Once their debt is paid, they will be released.
But there are those whose debt can never be repaid. These are the devil and his angels and the sons of perdition. To become a son of perdition, a man must first be exceptionally good then turn against Christ "[h]aving denied the Holy Spirit after having received it, and having denied the Only Begotten Son of the Father, having crucified him unto themselves and put him to an open shame" (D&C 76:35). Although there may be more, the scriptures identify only two sons of perdition: Cain and Judas Iscariot.

But even though their debt cannot be repaid, even the sons of perdition will be resurrected. Thus, is the mercy of our Heavenly Father and our Savior Jesus Christ.