NT 19: Atonement and Harmony with God

Paul’s letter to the Romans may very well contain the highest concentration of my favorite scriptures. I love Paul’s imagery and his powerful testimony of the divinity of Jesus Christ. Romans 5 offers a beautiful explanation of Christ’s role in the salvation of the human race. As always, my reading of these scriptures is grounded in revealed, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doctrine.

Paul’s teachings about Christ’s role in salvation rely on the foundational doctrine of the Fall which explains the necessity of a redeemer. The Fall describes Adam and Eve’s decision to partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Their choice to disobey the commandment not to eat that fruit resulted in not just their dismissal from Eden but it brought upon mankind the conditions of physical death and spiritual death (separation from God through sin) (see v. 12). Paul describes sin as an ubiquitous condition of mortality: it is taken as granted that humans will sin (v. 19). A divinely ordained law establishes the shape of sin and, by so doing, necessitates consequences.

The consequences, however, are not insurmountable nor are they eternally damning if we follow Jesus Christ. His law requires the performance of specific ordinances and daily behavior in order to qualify for salvation. He will help us keep the law while providing forgiveness if we fall short of the law’s requirements. He justifies us according to our faith (v. 2) and repentance. One of Paul’s beautiful images relates to his conception of salvation as returning to harmony with God. Where mortality and sin put us into conflict and discord with God, Christ brings us back into harmony with God the Father by providing forgiveness of sins as well as resurrection (v. 1, 10). This is the crux of Christ’s Atonement, that He provides redemption from sin and death, the blessings of salvation which “abound unto many” “through our Lord by whom we have now received the atonement” (v. 15, 11). Christ puts as at-one with God.

Where sin is a given condition of mortality, pervasive, and sure to lead to spiritual death, we can find relief in Christ’s grace which does “much more abound” (v. 20). His grace is more ubiquitous than sin. Personal righteousness (i.e. performance of ordinances, keeping commandments, repentance) will insure that grace reigns “unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord” (v. 21).

NT 18: Building a Temple

Sorry to have been MIA for the last several months! I’m drafting posts of insights I’ve had over that time and will publish them shortly. But in the meantime, let me share something current…from the last 12 hours.

Last night as I read 1 Corinthians 3, I noticed a progression in Paul’s ideas that I hadn’t noticed before. I usually focus on verse 16 and quote it as a stand-alone idea: “Know he not that ye are the temple of God?” as if we (my usual interpretation of “ye” is my physical body) are already temples and merely need to maintain them. Reading verse 16 in context with the previous verses added a new dimension to my understanding.

I began to see in chapter 3 a larger vision of earthly growth and development. Paul establishes the starting point of human existence in verse 3, an initial stage of carnality from which we are meant to pursue the spiritual existence Paul preaches in Romans and Corinthians. Building a Christian character, worthy to inherit eternal life requires a foundation. Paul identifies how he and fellow missionaries helped the members lay a foundation for their lives through baptism. This foundation is Jesus Christ (v. 11). Paul then counsels them to build on that sure foundation.

But how and what the members (us) build on this foundation is critical (v. 10). As I approached verse 16, I began to see that Paul is describing a lifelong process of personal refinement through righteous living (“every man’s work” v. 13-15): honesty, fidelity, integrity, Christian service—much what he also counseled to the Roman church members. The end result of our efforts, Paul suggests, is more than just a spiritual existence (in contrast to the carnal). We become temples. Think about the adjectives you would use to describe a temple: Holy, sacred, consecrated, dedicated, clean, pure, sanctified. What amazing qualities to identify the sum of our lives, character, and bodies––and what an amazing reward (v. 13)!

I wanted to share Paul’s metaphor with my children in a way that they could understand and see the beauty in Paul’s teaching. This morning we sat on the floor together and brought Paul’s metaphor to life with blocks and pom poms.

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We first built our foundation while one child read verse 11: Jesus Christ is the foundation. We discussed how baptism and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost are essential ordinances for building this foundation. I reminded the kids of the good choices Paul encouraged the Romans to make which we had discussed for Family Home Evening on Sunday. As we identified righteous choices (including deeds and behavior) we added blocks.

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As Paul reminded the Roman saints, we “all come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The kids and I talked about bad choices that we all sometimes make (e.g. telling a lie, fighting with each other, judging others) and added pom poms to our structure. We then added more blocks for good choices, watching as our structure fell apart and resisted completion. This was a great opportunity to talk about repentance: asking for God’s forgiveness, stopping the wrong behavior, and making more good choices.

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As we continued building I had one of the kids read, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” We discussed the importance of keeping our bodies and spirits clean and pure through righteous choices and behavior. We eventually built a beautiful structure, firm on its foundation.

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NT 8: Marriage Feast at Cana Object Lesson

Through Jesus Christ we can be transformed.

Change and transformation are two of my favorite Gospel topics. I find it so compelling that a person can identify character traits, desires, behaviors and more that they want to refine or change and become a new, better person. The source of the power that effects those changes? Jesus Christ.

This morning I retold the story of the marriage feast at Cana (John 2:1-11, NT). My kids could understand how special the occasion was and that running out of wine was a big problem. Thinking ahead, I had poured a glass of apple cider and hidden it on my counter. As I told my kids how Jesus’ mother instructed the servant to “do whatever he tells you,” I pulled a matching glass out of my cupboard and filled it with water to illustrate Jesus’ instructions. I turned my back to the kids while describing the instructions to fill a cup and take it to the governor of the feast. I poured some of the water into my pre-filled glass of cider. Swapping the glasses, I handed the apple cider to one of my kids and asked her what her drink tasted like. Apple cider!

We talked about Jesus’ divinity and how he could transform water into the best wine. The kids had good thoughts to share about Jesus’ power to create, change things, and transform them. I testified of His power to transform us if we will identify those parts of our lives we want to change and seek His help.

Day 76: This life is the time

3 Nephi 27:19-26, 33

One of the last messages Jesus shares with his disciples pertains to our post-mortal existence. Life continues after life on earth but its quality will be determined by the choices we make on earth. Every person who has ever lived on earth will stand before God and asked to make an accounting of his/her life on earth. Jesus taught and exemplified the choices that cleanse us and qualify us to “stand spotless before” Him at the judgment and receive the blessings of eternal life.

And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end.

Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day. (3 Nephi 27:19-20)

Jesus reminded his disciples that “this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God” (Alma 34:32) and that the necessary steps to eternal life constitute a “strait gate” and “narrow way” (3 Nephi 27:33).

I love how direct The Book of Mormon is and the many truths it recovers in simple, straightforward terms. Media and pop culture can make fun of Judgment Day all they want. I believe that it will really happen and I want to be sure I am following Christ’s path so as to be ready to make a joyful accounting of my life.

Day 74: The Sacrament

3 Nephi 18; 20; 26:13

The Sacrament is a sacred ordinance performed weekly in Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints congregations. The Sacrament is a symbolic “lord’s supper” in which anointed priests (usually young men between the ages of 12-18) bless and pass the bread and water. Baptized members of the Church take the Sacrament each week to renew previously made covenants with God as well as to formalize personal repentance.

I wrote previously about saving ordinances and their necessity for receiving eternal life. The Sacrament is an ordinance that points us to Jesus christ and helps us remember Him. It also helps individuals become washed clean from sin (much like what happens at baptism) and find spiritual renewal. In many ways, the Sacrament facilitates the keeping of covenants, provides a marker for spiritual growth, and keeps us oriented toward Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ established the Sacrament among His apostles at Jerusalem and it is one of the first ordinances He introduced in the Americas. He repeated the ordinance of the Sacrament many times during His ministry among the Nephites and Lamanites, including miraculously providing the bread and wine in 3 Nephi 20:3-9 (see also 3 Nephi 26:13). Third Nephi 18 records the first sacrament in the Americas. Jesus prepared and blessed that first sacrament while instructing His Nephite and Lamanite apostles on the proper method and ceremony:

Behold there shall one be ordained among you, and to him will I give power that he shall break bread and bless it and give it unto the people of my church, unto all those who shall believe and be baptized in my name.

And this shall ye always observe to do, even as I have done, even as I have broken bread and blessed it and given it unto you.

And this shall ye do in remembrance of my body, which I have shown unto you. And it shall be a testimony unto the Father that ye do always remember me. And if ye do always remember me ye shall have my Spirit to be with you. (3 Nephi 18:5-7)

A few things to point out:

  1. “One ordained among you”: The Sacrament can only be prepared, blessed, and passed by Priesthood holders.
  2. The Sacrament should be a regular part of worship in Christ’s church.
  3. The Sacrament is for people who believe in Jesus Christ and have been baptized by the authority and power of God in Christ’s church.
  4. We follow Christ’s example when we participate in the ordinance of the Sacrament.
  5. The Sacrament is a symbolic ritual in which the bread reminds us of Christ’s body, His physical sacrifice and mortal death.
  6. We signify to God that we remember Christ when we eat the bread.
  7. Christ promises us that we will have His Spirit with us if we remember Him.

The second half of the Sacrament is the blessing and passing of the water (they used wine in Jerusalem, the Americas, and the early days of the Restored Church).

…[H]e commanded his disciples that they should take of the wine of the cup and drink of it, and that they should also give unto the multitude that they might drink of it….

And when the disciples had done this, Jesus said unto them: Blessed are ye for this thing which ye have done, for this is fulfilling my commandments, and this doth witness unto the Father that ye are willing to do that which I have commanded you.

And…ye shall do it in remembrance of my blood, which I have shed for you, that ye may witness unto the Father that ye do always remember me. And if ye do always remember me ye shall have my Spirit to be with you. (3 Nephi 18:8, 10-11)

The slight variations between the blessing of the bread and wine (water today) are so instructive. The water, as the second half of the ordinance, rounds out and completes the ordinance. When we have drunk the water we have completed the full ordinance; we demonstrate to God that we have been obedient to this commandment and we signify that we will keep all of God’s commandments. The water represents Christ’s blood, both the blood that dripped from every pore in the Garden of Gethsemane and the blood shed on Calvary during the Crucifixion when the soldier pierced Christ’s side. The promised gift of Christ’s Spirit to be with us is reiterated as we complete the ordinance.

The Sacrament points us to Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice, the ultimate act of charity that makes eternal life possible. Because Jesus Christ suffered, died, and resurrected, He can redeem us from sin, bring us back into God’s presence, and gift us eternal life.

Day 68: The Arm of Mercy

3 Nephi 9:3-14

While the death and destruction of 3 Nephi 9 are pretty devastating, I was struck by the Savior’s words as he speaks from heaven to the Nephites and Lamanites. In verses 3-11, Christ names specific cities, describes their destruction and the reasons for it. The Savior was intimately aware of even the minute details of people’s lives, behavior, actions, geographic location, and more. And despite all of the wickedness, despite the ways in which the people rejected Christ and His prophets, He invites them “we ye not now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you? … Behold, mine arm of mercy is extended towards you” (3 Nephi 9:13-14).

Have you ever carried an emotional, spiritual, or other weight around with you for a while, long enough that you have forgotten what it’s like to live without that weight on your shoulders? I have. I also know the relief and freedom of finally having that burden lifted, realizing what I have lost while carrying it around, and rejoicing in my new freedom. This is what it’s like when the Savior heals you. Sins weigh us down, whether or not we recognize it in the moment. When we repent and seek forgiveness through Jesus Christ, those spiritual burdens will be removed; the difference will be stark.

No matter what you’ve done, the Savior is eager to help you repent and heal you. He has satisfied the demands of justice and, if you turn to Him for help, He can apply mercy. And He will heal you.

Day 66: Gadianton Robbers

3 Nephi 2:11

The Gadianton robbers make a sudden and noteworthy reappearance in 3 Nephi 2. They had disappeared from The Book of Mormon narrative after “entrenching themselves in the land” (Helaman 11:26-33) but then didn’t reappear until 3 Nephi 2. It startled me today while reading to have the Gadianton robbers suddenly pop up as a powerful force that threatens to destroy both the Nephite and Lamanite societies.

[T]he Gadianton robbers had become so numerous, and did slay so many of the people, and did lay waste so many cities, and did spread so much death and carnage throughout the land, that it became expedient that all the people, both the Nephites and the Lamanites, should take up arms against them. (3 Nephi 2:11)

Do I have Gadianton robbers in my own life, I wondered? What things (e.g. influences, past misdeeds) lie dormant in my life that could gather strength and then surface when I reach a weak point in my obedience, spirituality, or mental/emotional/physical health? What evil influences have I allowed to infiltrate my life, however subtilely, that could undermine my peace of mind, my standing before God, my parenting and influence with my children, my ability to serve in the Church, my connection to God?

If I don’t tackle those “Gadianton robbers” now, they could become so entrenched in my life that I’ll have to work overtime to eradicate them. But just as The Book of Mormon teaches repeatedly, I don’t have to fight them relying on my strength alone. If I turn to the Lord, He will help me fight these battles, heal through repentance, and restore my personal equilibrium.