Friday, November 13

Righteousness (Pt. 3)

Baptism is considered the gateway ordinance to the Gospel path: "For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost" (2Nephi 31:17). It is an ordinance that God has designed to help His children start a new life as disciples of Jesus Christ. When a person is baptized, they are expressing their devotion to God and their desire to stand as His witness. When someone is baptized by a priesthood holder commissioned of Jesus Christ, they join the Church of Jesus Christ, receive a remission of their sins, and covenant to sustain His mission of both love and truth.

The purpose of baptism is beautifully explained in Mosiah 18:7-17. Here Alma teaches that when a person is baptized they covenant to "serve [the Lord] and keep his commandments". The Lord reciprocally covenants to "pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon [the person being baptized]". Before Alma baptizes Helam, he takes a moment to pray: "O Lord, pour out thy Spirit upon thy servant, that he may do this work with holiness of heart". When we are baptized we covenant to participate in God's work; God then mercifully offers us the gift of the Holy Ghost to help us fulfill that covenant.  To receive the Holy Ghost we must sincerely be willing to serve the Lord and keep His commandments. When we choose to receive the Holy Ghost we are endowed with a greater capacity to act as an instrument in the hands of God to love others and teach them truth.

Why was the Savior baptized?

When Jesus approached John the Baptist to be baptized, "John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness" (Matt. 3:13-15).

"To fulfill all righteousness." With these four words the Savior explained why even He, the Lamb of God, even Alpha and Omega, needed to be baptized. The Lord didn't need to be cleansed from sin (for He'd never sinned), but He did need to be righteous. He needed to be baptized so that the baptismal ordinance could be sanctified unto Him for righteousness (See Doctrinal Apophenia, Pt. 2).

Joseph Smith taught: "If, then, Abel was a righteous man he had to become so by keeping the commandments; if Enoch was righteous enough to come into the presence of God, and walk with him, he must have become so by keeping his commandments, and so of every righteous person, whether it was Noah, a preacher of righteousness; Abraham, the father of the faithful; Jacob, the prevailer with God; Moses, the man who wrote of Christ, and brought forth the law by commandment, as a schoolmaster to bring men to Christ, or whether it was Jesus Christ himself, who had no need of repentance, having no sin, according to his solemn declaration to John: - now let me be baptized: for no man can enter the kingdom without obeying this ordinance: for thus it becometh us to fulfill ALL RIGHTEOUSNESS. Surely, then, if it became John and Jesus Christ, the Savior, to fulfill all righteousness to be baptized - so surely, then, it will become every other person that seeks the kingdom of heaven to go and do likewise; for he is the door, and if any person climbs up any other way, the same is a thief and a robber!" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith)

When studying the doctrine of baptism, it is essential to carefully consider the words of 2Nephi chapter 31. Here Nephi plainly teaches the doctrine of Christ, specifically focusing on the purpose of baptism. He explains that part of the reason why Jesus was baptized was to set an example for all of us to follow. But he also reveals that the Savior had a personal need to be baptized, too: "And now, if the Lamb of God, he being holy, should have need to be baptized by water, to fulfill all righteousness, O then, how much  more need have we, being unholy, to be baptized, yea, even by water! And now, I would ask of you, my beloved brethren, wherein the Lamb of God did fulfill all righteousness in being baptized by water? Know ye not that he was holy? But notwithstanding he being holy, he showeth unto the children of men that, according to the flesh he humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient in keeping his commandments."

The baptismal covenant was the same then as it was when Alma performed baptisms in the waters of Mormon. When Jesus Christ was baptized, He also covenanted to serve God and keep His commandments. Most of these were the same commandments that you and I are asked to obey. But to Him alone was the commandment given to save the world from sin. When Jesus Christ was baptized, He covenanted with the Father to atone for our sins. 

The Savior's baptism was an act of love, a message of promise, and a beautiful symbol of His mission. Similarly, the sacrament serves as a merciful ordinance of renewal for all of us that fall short of Christ's perfect standard. Though the Son of God had a perfect understanding of the doctrine of baptism when He received that ordinance, you and I did not; nor do we now. And so, each sacrament Sunday, we have the opportunity to witness unto the Father that we will be obedient in keeping His commandments according to our developing understanding. We are each a work in progress.

When I take the sacrament this Sunday, I intend to consciously participate in the ordinance with the understanding that I'm renewing my covenant to serve God and keep His commandments. By so doing, the sacrament will help point my soul to Christ. By consciously obeying the Lord's commandment to partake of the sacrament, it will be sanctified unto me for righteousness. As I do this, Satan will have less power over my heart. By aligning my obedience with my faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, I believe that I'll be better equipped to be an instrument in the hands of God to participate in His work of love and truth.

Wednesday, November 4

Righteousness (Pt. 2)

A verse in the book of Jacob has been on my mind for the past several weeks. In Jacob 4:5 the prophet explains: "Behold, they (the prophets) believed in Christ and worshiped the Father in his name, and we (the Nephites) also worship the Father in his name. And for this intent we keep the law of Moses, it pointing our souls to him; and for this cause it is sanctified unto us for righteousness, even as it was accounted unto Abraham in the wilderness to be obedient unto the commands of God in offering up his son Isaac, which is a similitude of God and his Only Begotten Son." This verse is loaded with doctrine. By dissecting this single verse of scripture we learn a) how to worship God, b) the purpose of the law of Moses (as well as the purpose of all God's laws and commandments), c) the definition of righteousness, d) why Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac, and e) the symbolic significance of Abraham offering up Isaac.

Here Jacob plainly asserts that worshiping God requires faith in Jesus Christ. We are commanded to worship the Father in the name of Christ. The Bible Dictionary explains this concept in relation to prayer: "Christians are taught to pray in Christ's name. We pray in Christ's name when our mind is the mind of Christ, and our wishes the wishes of Christ - when His words abide in us" (Prayer). In order for His words to abide in us, we must know His words. In order for His will to be our will, we must know His will. Some of the most precious gifts we have for this purpose include the scriptures, the words of modern prophets, and (most importantly) the gift of the Holy Ghost.

It's remarkable how clearly the Christians of the Book of Mormon understood the purpose of the law of Moses in relation to the Savior's Atonement. Nephi taught: "And notwithstanding we believe in Christ, we keep the law of Moses, and look forward with steadfastness unto Christ, until the law shall be fulfilled. For, for this end was the law given; wherefore the law hath become dead unto us, and we are made alive in Christ because of our faith; yet we keep the law because of the commandments" (2Nephi 25:24-25). Abinidi taught: "I say unto you that it is expedient that ye should keep the law of Moses as yet; but I say unto you, that the time shall come when it shall no more be expedient to keep the law of Moses. And moreover, I say unto you, that salvation doth not come by the law alone; and were it not for the atonement, which God himself shall make for the sins and iniquities of his people, that they must unavoidably perish, notwithstanding the law of Moses. And now I say unto you that it was expedient that there should be a law given to the children of Israel, yea, even a very strict law; for they were a stiffnecked people, quick to do iniquity, and slow to remember the Lord their God; therefore there was a law given them, yea, a law of performances and of ordinances, a law which they were to observe strictly from day to day, to keep them in remembrance of God and their duty towards him. But behold, I say unto you, that all these things were types of things to come" (Mosiah 13:27-31).

The verses quoted above provide astounding examples of intelligent faith and obedience. These prophets knew the higher law while obeying the lesser law. Jacob's verse teaches the same concept with fewer words: "For this intent we keep the law of Moses, it pointing our souls to [Christ]; and for this cause it is sanctified unto us for righteousness". The same approach can be applied to any law or commandment. I believe in Christ and worship the Father in His name. For this intent I keep law of tithing, it pointing my soul to Christ; and for this cause it is sanctified unto me for righteousness. For this intent I partake of the sacrament, it pointing my soul to Christ; and for this cause it is sanctified unto me for righteousness.

To go through the motions and merely obey a commandment because someone said so would be to quench that commandment's sanctifying power. This doesn't mean I shouldn't obey a commandment of God if I don't fully understand it. But it does mean that I should be diligently trying to understand how that commandment points my soul to Christ. Intelligent obedience requires knowledge of the truth, at least to some extent. Blind or casual obedience is like sleeping on a train. Sure, you're moving along quite smoothly like all the other passengers, but you've just missed your stop.  There it goes. You're still moving, but who knows where you'll end up! Intelligent obedience is like driving a car. To drive, you must know how to operate the vehicle, remain alert, follow all traffic laws, and know your directions. You also need to make sure the car has enough fuel to reach your destination.

I don't believe there are very many saints that practice blind obedience in its purity. President Boyd K. Packer taught: "Latter-day Saints are not obedient because they are compelled to be obedient. They are obedient because they know certain spiritual truths and have decided, as an expression of their own individual agency, to obey the commandments of God. We are the sons and daughters of God, willing followers, disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, and under this head are we made free. We are not obedient because we are blind, we are obedient because we can see." (Agency and Control). I believe this is true. Righteous obedience begins when a person simply believes that the commandment they're keeping is from God. But I also believe that Heavenly Father wants us to actively seek further light and knowledge, for "if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come" (D&C 130:19). The Lord through Joseph Smith emphasized that "it is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance" (D&C 131:6).

This brings us to Abraham and Isaac. Jacob taught in Jacob 4:5 that Abraham's obedience in offering up Isaac was sanctified unto him for righteousness. Jacob here implies that Abraham believed that his obedience in this situation would help point his soul to Christ. This is reinforced in the explanation that this act was "a similitude of God and his Only Begotten Son". Paul taught that "by faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: accounting that God was able to raise him [Isaac] up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure" (Hebrews 11:17-19). President Spencer W. Kimball provided further clarification: "Knowing that God would make no capricious nor unnecessary demands, that the lad could be raised even from death if necessary, Abraham obeyed." (Oct. Conference, 1954). Abraham's obedience was motivated by something more than a basic belief that this commandment was from God; he knew about God's character, trusted Him, and even had faith in the doctrine of resurrection. The same can likely be said of Isaac's obedience.

Joseph Smith taught that "three things are necessary in order that any rational and intelligent being may exercise faith in God unto life and salvation. First, the idea that he actually exists. Secondly, a correct idea of of his character, perfections, and attributes. Thirdly, an actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing is according to his will. For without an acquaintance with these three important facts, the faith of every rational being must be imperfect and unproductive; but with this understanding it can become perfect and fruitful, abounding in righteousness, unto the praise and glory of God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ" (Lectures on Faith, 3:2-5).

Abraham believed in Christ and worshiped the Father in His name. For this cause he offered up Isaac, it pointing his soul to Christ; and for this cause it was sanctified unto him for righteousness. (See also: James 2:21-23).