29 September 2008

Pride, Part 1

The Book of Mormon was written for our day. It carries a message confirming that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. One of the major themes of the Book of Mormon, other than the saving and exalting power of the Savior Jesus Christ, is pride. The Lord told the early saints of the restored church: "Beware of pride, lest ye become as the Nephites of old" (D&C 38:39). We are to learn from the mistakes of the Nephites and not become prideful as they became. One doesn't have to look hard to find numerous scriptures about pride. Because the Book of Mormon was written for us, this major theme is telling about the sins of our day. The apostle Paul also taught about the last days: "In the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, [and] proud" (2 Tim. 3:1-2). Paul goes on to list more sins of those who live in the last days but he starts out with pride.

The more I read the Book of Mormon, the more convinced I am that pride is at the root of all, or almost all, sins. While pride itself is not the most grievous sin (see Jacob 2:22), it leads to a multitude of other sins. Mormon noted this about the Nephites' pride: "they did wax stronger and stronger in their pride, and in their wickedness" (Hel. 11:37). Note that in this verse, as with the words of Paul, pride came first. This is also noted in the book of Helaman. There was a time of peace and prosperity. The Nephites expanded their lands and spread the gospel - many thousands were baptized. All seemed well in Zion. In fact, it was noted that there "was no contention among the people of Nephi save a little pride which was in the church (Hel. 3:1; emphasis added). As the chapter progresses the people become more and more prideful, which leads those who are prideful to persecute the humble followers of Christ. After a few years there was great wickedness throughout the members of the church: "And it came to pass that the fifty and second year ended in peace also, save it were the exceedingly great pride which had gotten into the hearts of the people; and it was because of their exceedingly great riches and their prosperity in the land; and it did grow upon them from day to day" (Hel. 3:36).

25 September 2008

Justification and Sanctification, Part 3

Here is the conclusion (for now) of my justification and sanctification essay.

The precious blood of the Savior was shed for each of us. He suffered so that we need not suffer if we repent. His blood purifies us; it sanctifies us and allows us to return to dwell with God. Sanctification makes us holy, or consecrated. Just as the temple is holy, a place of holiness to the Lord, a sanctuary from the world, when we are sanctified, we become holy and protected from the world. Through temple service and worship we can become sanctified.

The Lord described those who are sanctified with these words: "But first let my army become very great, and let it be sanctified before me, that it may become fair as the sun, and clear as the moon, and that her banners may be terrible unto all nations" (D&C 105:31). In preparation for the Second Coming the Lord's people were commanded, "Wherefore, prepare ye, prepare ye, O my people; sanctify yourselves.... Go ye out from Babylon. Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord." (D&C 133:4-5).

Sanctification is the process and the state of exaltation. Those who are sanctified become one with the Savior: "Ye shall be even as I am, and I am even as the Father; and the Father and I are one." (3 Ne. 28:10). Those who are "sanctified in holiness before the Lord [will] dwell in his presence day and night, forever and ever." (D&C 133:35). The sanctifying presence of the Lord is "as the melting fire that burneth, and as the fire which causeth the waters to boil." (D&C 133:41). This fire cleanses and purifies. It allows us to become more like the Savior and allows us to return to live with Him.

23 September 2008

Justification and Sanctification, Part 2

Here continues part 2 of my justification and sanctification essay.

Sanctification goes beyond becoming blameless or re-aligned with God. It means being purified, becoming spotless before the Lord. "Now they, after being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, having their garments made white, being pure and spotless before God, could not look upon sin save it were with abhorrence; and there were many, exceedingly great many, who were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord their God." (Alma 13:12). Those who are sanctified cannot stand even the appearance of sin, and like Nephi prayed, "shake at the appearance of sin" (2 Ne. 4:31). The sanctified are not just cleansed from sin - they have no desire to sin. The sanctified do not just do no wrong; they are not just free from wrong, they, like the Savior, "[go] about doing good" (Acts 10:38). The sanctified receive the attributes of the Savior upon themselves; they become like Him.

Sanctification comes through the blood of Christ: "But, behold, the righteous, the saints of the Holy One of Israel, they who have believed in the Holy One of Israel, they who have endured the crosses of the world, and despised the shame of it, they shall inherit the kingdom of God, which was prepared for them from the foundation of the world, and their joy shall be full forever.... And [the Lord] cometh into the world that he may save all men if they will hearken unto his voice; for behold, he suffereth the pains of all men, yea, the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children, who belong to the family of Adam.... And he commandeth all men that they must repent, and be baptized in his name, having perfect faith in the Holy One of Israel, or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God." (2 Ne. 9:18,21,23). The suffering of Christ was great, "For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I; Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit - and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink." (D&C 19:16-18).

21 September 2008

Justification and Sanctification, Part 1

This is the first of a few posts about justification and sanctification. I decided to break my essays up into multiple posts in order to make them more digestible in one sitting.

"For by the water ye keep the commandment; by the Spirit ye are justified, and by the blood ye are sanctified" (Moses 6:60). The process of sanctification is long but straightforward. First, we must exercise faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and repent. In order to keep all the commandments we must receive the ordinance of baptism. After baptism we receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, which justifies, or makes us guiltless. Once we have entered into the way we must continue in it: "For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified" (Romans 2:13). Lastly, through the blood of Christ, through the grace of God, the Atonement, we are sanctified.

What does sanctification mean? In order to understand sanctification, I think we need to understand justification first. Justification is becoming guiltless, or blameless before God. We use the word justify often. Sometimes when we feel attacked or defensive, we try to justify our actions or words. When we are asked to justify an answer on a test, for example, we back the answer up with supporting material or in math, we show all the steps to solving the problem. We justify things when we are building; we bring materials into alignment. In typesetting, text can be justified (or, aligned) in different ways. That's the essence of what justification is - bringing things into alignment. When we are justified by the Spirit, we are brought back into alignment with God. The presence of the Spirit makes us right with the Lord, it helps us remain aligned and focused on the path that leads to eternal life. The Spirit allows the needle of our spiritual compasses to point back north. It allows our Liahonas to work and point the way to the Promised Land.

18 September 2008

The Power of Prayer

We left the premortal realm to come to this earth. We do not remember that time but our Heavenly Father has given us ways to remain in contact with him as we traverse the sometimes convoluted and difficult paths of mortal life. All people at times feel the influence of the Holy Ghost even if they do not recognize what they are feeling. Those who are baptized and confirmed members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are given the gift of the Holy Ghost to be with them at all times as they remember and keep their baptismal covenants. Our Father in Heaven has given us another way to remain in contact with Him - prayer. Through prayer we are able to thank our Heavenly Father as well as ask for blessings for ourselves or for others. Those blessings might be strength, comfort, knowledge of what choice to make, knowledge of doctrine, confirmation of truth, or any number of other things. The Lord told Oliver Cowdery: "Blessed art thou for what thou hast done; for thou hast inquired of me, and behold, as often as thou hast inquired thou hast received instruction of my Spirit" (D&C 6:14). Every time Oliver prayed, the Lord answered, even if he didn't recognize the answer. The Lord also said that Oliver was blessed because he had prayed.

Prayer seems like such a simple task. Some may wonder how something so simple can be useful. The Lord has spoken much about simple things: "[The Lord] sent fiery flying serpents among [the Israelites]; and after they were bitten he prepared a way that they might be healed; and the labor which they had to perform was to look; and because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished" (1 Ne. 17:41). All the poisoned Israelites had to do was look at a staff that the prophet Moses held but many thought it was too easy or wouldn't work. The Lord does much of his work through simple things: "Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise" (Alma 37:6). We shouldn't judge what the Lord asks us to do - we just need to do it. Prayer, which may seem like a small and simple thing, is vital for us to do. When asked what they can do to be a better person, many church members give what they jokingly call the Sunday School or Seminary answers: "Pray, read the scriptures, and go to church." We sometimes joke about them because they seem so obvious, so trivial. They may be obvious to many of us but they are not trivial.

Most revelation comes in response to prayer. Many blessings are received because of prayer. Through prayer we are able to secure the blessings of heaven. Amulek, missionary companion of the prophet Alma, taught much about prayer. He taught about both the blessings we receive through prayer as well as about what we should pray for. We can pray for mercy, our careers, our homes and families, our enemies, power against the devil, and our friends and neighbors (see Alma 34: 17-25). He taught that we should pray at all times and in all places - in our closets, our fields (workplaces), and our homes. Our hearts should be drawn out to the Lord at all times. Through our prayers Amulek taught that we will receive mercy and forgiveness (see Alma 34: 17).

Prayer also provides us with strength to resist temptation. In the Book of Mormon the Zoramites had become wicked and left the church. Alma and other companions went among them to try to bring them back to the truth. Among other problems Alma saw that they did not "continue in prayer and supplication to God daily, that they might not enter into temptation" (Alma 31:10). They had stopped doing the simple things and had fallen away. They hadn't just briefly let go of the iron rod, they were buying apartments in the great and spacious building and settling in. Constant and sincere prayer can keep us from temptation and sin. We should be in the habit of praying.

From psychological research we've learned that as we first practice something it might be difficult but over time it becomes easier and automatic. Think of riding a bike; it is hard to balance at first but soon you no longer have to think about what you are doing. Learning to drive a car is the same. After practice you don't have to think about what you are doing. Psychologists call these automatic processes. They require little thought or effort. They are also difficult to modify once learned. This is why when you practice something it is important to practice it correctly from the beginning. "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it" (Prov. 22:6). Once you get into habit of praying it becomes harder to stop or modify the behavior.

The Savior taught much about prayer. He taught both with words and by example. Just as he prayed to his Father, so should we. The Savior however, was very critical of hypocritical prayer - of people who prayed to be praised by men: "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation" (Matt. 23:14). Jesus taught the Jews on the mount and the Nephites at the temple about prayer: "And when thou prayest thou shalt not do as the hypocrites, for they love to pray, standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father who is in secret; and thy Father, who seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly" (3 Ne. 13:5-6). Prayers don't need to be long (although they can be) but they should be sincere and honest: "When ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen, for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking" (3 Ne. 13:7). Even though our Heavenly Father may know what we will ask before we ask (and He certainly knows what we need, even when we don't), it is important for us to ask. Also, because our Father knows what we need, we do not need to "use vain repetitions": "Be not ye therefore like unto them [the heathen, who use vain repetitions], for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of before ye ask him" (3 Ne. 13:8).

The Savior went on to teach those on the mount or at the temple how to pray (see 3 Ne. 13:9-13). What is called The Lord's Prayer is not meant to be a prayer to recited verbatim (although it is not wrong to do so) but rather, serve as a model of prayer.

It was because of the simple faith and words of a 14 year old boy that the heavens were opened and the gospel restored to the earth. Joseph Smith read the words of James: "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed" (James 1:5-6). He not only read them but he thought about them; he believed them. He entered a wooded area by his home one spring day and knelt down to pray out loud - something he said he had never done before. As soon as Joseph Smith started praying, Satan came and sought to overpower him. I think there have been few times since the days of Adam when Satan had fought so hard with such great power to stop something. Joseph was ready to give in to the power of the devil when the Father and the Son appeared, rescuing Joseph from the Adversary. They came in response to Joseph's prayer and because of who Joseph was and would become. Few prayers are answered in such a manner as to Joseph's but all sincere prayers are answered. Joseph set an example of prayer.

In the Book of Mormon we find many examples of prayer. Among them is the prayer of Enos. Enos sought forgiveness for sins. He sought to understand what his fathers knew. He had reached a point in his life where he needed to put everything on the line, so to speak, and find out if the gospel was true, if the faith of his fathers was true. Enos prayed all day and night for forgiveness of his sins. When he had received that supernal gift, he prayed for his family and friends. Then Enos prayed for his enemies. Lastly, Enos prayed that the records he helped keep - the scriptures that would become the Book of Mormon - would be preserved. The prayer of Enos was sincere; he said he "pour[ed] out [his] whole soul unto God" (Enos 1:9). Enos arose a changed man. He immediately went back home and started preaching and prophesying.

Prayer becomes more powerful when coupled with fasting. The two activities are often spoken of together by prophets and in the scriptures. You can't have true fasting without prayer. The Lord has commanded us to fast and pray: "Also, I give unto you a commandment that ye shall continue in prayer and fasting from this time forth" (D&C 88:76). Fasting is also equated with joy: "Verily, this is fasting and prayer, or in other words, rejoicing and prayer" (D&C 59:14). Through prayer and fasting we can gain much strength. The sons of Mosiah experienced a mighty change in their hearts. They repented of their sins and became great missionaries. It is said of them: "They had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God" (Alma 17:3). They were blessed and blessed others because of their fasting and prayer.


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