Synopsis: Paul told the Ephesians that the purpose of the church is to help us come to a unity of the faith until we can measure up to the full stature of Christ. However, with so many different Christian denominations teaching different doctrines how can we come to the correct knowledge of the Son of God? This article seeks to answer that question.
Paul told the Ephesians that the purpose of the church was to help us “all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). According to him the main function of the church is to bring us to a unity of the faith by bringing us to a correct knowledge of the Son of God, whereby we can learn to become “a perfect man” and thereby measure up to the full stature of Christ. In other words, the purpose of the church is to help us become perfect just like Christ is and it does this by giving us the correct knowledge of Christ.
Most Christian churches refer to this as us becoming Christ-like, however they are not united in teaching how we get to that state. The apostle John put it this way: “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. “(1 John 3:2). Therefore, there are those who teach that in our present mortal state we can’t become like Christ but when Christ comes again or when we get to heaven we will be changed or transformed in the twinkling of an eye and suddenly “we shall be like him.”
There is a more common belief that as sinful creatures we are incapable of becoming like Christ on our own and that it is Christ, working through us, who changes us over time, whereby he puts in us a new heart that has no more desire to sin and makes us a new creature in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). They have a saying that goes “Let go and let God,” meaning that we need to let go of our old nature and simply let God go about changing us without fighting him. Under this idea of how to become Christ-like God does all the work of transforming our character while we passively allow him to change us.
This was the philosophy of C.S. Lewis. In his book, “Mere Christianity” he explains that when we turn ourselves over to God we think he’s going to make a few minor changes here and there and transform our lives into a nice, comfortable little cottage, but instead God is going to do a major renovation on our life and turn us into a magnificent temple. C.S. Lewis points out that once we give ourselves over to Christ, this is what he intends to do and he will see it done to its completion.
Then there is the other major belief that God gives us commandments and expects us to obey them. It was Jesus who said, “if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17). “If ye keep my commandments, [then] ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love” (John 15:10). This clearly indicates that if we don’t keep his commandments then his love will not abide with us.
And there are many other verses of scripture that make the same statement and there are others that tell us that we must endure to the end. In all of these scriptures there is no indication that it is Christ keeping his commandments through us. Rather, they clearly imply that he expects us to do all the work.
Paul likens us to being in a race and we are expected to run as hard as we can to “win the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24). The picture that this conjures in our mind is that God is sitting at the finish line of life, waiting to see if we will run hard enough to make it all the way to him by keeping all of his commandments. Under this teaching, God merely tells us what he wants us to do and then expects us to make ourselves into a Christ-like person through hard work and diligence.
Then there are others who teach that God and man work together to accomplish our transformation into a Christ-like being, but there are differing beliefs about what our role is in this partnership and what Christ’s role is. With so many differing teachings about the knowledge of the Son of God, how do we come to a correct understanding, because without it we don’t really know how to become a perfect man in Christ.
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints there is a doctrine called eternal progression, which can be understood in several ways but basically it means that we are progressing from where we currently are to where God is. In other words, we are on a journey, going from point A to point B. This generally paints a picture of us traveling along a road, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, following the yellow brick road to the Emerald City where, at the end, the great and powerful and all-knowing Wizard lives.
Jesus himself painted this very kind of image when he said “strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. (Matthew 7:14). The image this creates is that the way to heaven is by following a very narrow and straight path and that if we deviate from it we will not reach our destination.
The LDS Church teaches that we progress along this path to becoming like Christ by improving our character little by little, and it is in this way that we advance closer and closer to our goal of being perfect, just as our Father in heaven is perfect. It is when we have completed that journey that we will finally possess all the attributes of Christ and will be just like him.
But the question is: How do we make this journey? Do we make it by ourselves, does Christ carry us along, or do we make this journey together with him?
There is a famous poem called “Footsteps in the Sand” by Mary Stevenson that tells the story of a man walking along the beach with the Lord as they review his life. In this poem, the man notices that as he walked through life there were always two sets of footprints and he asked the Lord who was the other person walking with him. The Lord replies that those extra footprints were his. But then the man notices that during difficult times in his life there were only one set of footprints and he asks why the Lord had abandoned him when he needed him the most? The Lord replies, “The times when you have seen only one set of footprints is when I carried you.”
Christ didn’t die on the cross just to pay the penalty for our sins, and his love for us didn’t end when he rose from the grave. Jesus wants us to be with him forever and is therefore doing everything in his power to help us to complete our journey. As such, we are not making the journey to eternal life by ourselves. He is with us every step of the way. We may abandon him but he will never abandon us.
But that still doesn’t answer the question of how do we complete our journey to God? How much does God do for us and how much does he expect us to do?
We can answer that question by painting a different kind of a journey other than that of traveling down a road because there are other paths we take that don’t involve traveling along a literal street. A path is just a direction we take and we follow all sorts of paths in our life. We speak of our careers as a path as we advance in our chosen profession from one level to another, and there is the path we all follow in our educational development. We call that path “school” as we advance from one grade to another. In a very real sense, our eternal progression is much more like advancing from first grade all the way to twelfth grade.
In the first grade we learn how to recognize the letters of the alphabet and we learn how to count numbers. During class time the teacher has their students recite the alphabet and numbers over and over again, finding numerous ways to make the lesson fun and interesting. Over many months the children learn these simple, basic rudiments of education until, at the end of the school year the children have a firm grasp on these simple but important concepts. When that happens, the students then graduate to second grade where the lessons become more complicated as the children learn to put letters together as recognizable words and they learn how to add and subtract numbers.
Throughout the school year the teachers drill their students over and over again through prepared lessons, working to get them to learn and understand the material they are presenting. Part of this process is to give the children school and homework assignments that further reinforces the lessons through constant repetition and practice. And then there are tests that the teacher administers for the purpose of evaluating where their students are in their learning process.
The goal of the teacher is, by the end of the school year, to have all of their students be sufficiently learned in all the subjects taught that year so that the students can successfully move up to the next grade level, where the lessons taught there build on what the students have learned in the lower grades.
For twelve years a child progresses from one grade to another, gaining more and more knowledge until, at the end of this journey, they graduate from public school. But the child who graduates from high school is a much different child than the one who started in first grade because they have become so much smarter and more knowledgeable in a vast number of subjects, and more skillful in the things they can do.
But how did this transformation occur?
These children weren’t merely given a textbook and told to teach themselves. It was all the hard work, patience, skill, caring, and often times the ingenuity of their teachers that gave them the knowledge and skills that brought about the changes that have occurred in their students. If it wasn’t for the teachers, most students would barely know how to read and write at the age of eighteen, let alone understand higher math, physics, chemistry, biology, philosophy, marketing, art, music, and a host of other subjects, including sports. Often times it has been because of a teacher that a student has turned their academic life around from one of failing to one of being successful.
But if that is true, then why do some students graduate as valedictorians while others graduate with the lowest of grades? The answer is because of the effort that the student puts forth during their school year.
There are some students who sit in class and pay close attention to what the teacher is saying, asking questions to gain a better understanding of the material, who diligently do their school work, and study hard for their tests, while there are other students who day-dream during class, who do their school work only when forced to, and who would rather play than study. Thus the difference between a good student and bad one isn’t always a reflection on the teacher. In fact, most of the time it is a reflection of the student.
In this academic journey from having little knowledge to gaining great knowledge both the teacher and the student must put forth a great amount of effort, with each of them having their own responsibilities to perform. No matter how gifted a teacher may be, if the student is unwilling to learn what is being taught, the teacher is going to have trouble helping that student to progress academically. Yet, without a teacher, even a gifted student would struggle to gain knowledge on their own.
This same principle applies to our spiritual progress from being mere children of God to becoming as perfect and righteous as Christ. It is Christ’s desire to see each of us advance in our spirituality to the point where we possess all the character traits, attributes, desires of the heart, strength, wisdom, and knowledge that he has. This was the whole purpose of his atonement.
Before his death Jesus told his disciples that he was going away but that he would send the Comforter to be with them (John 15:26). “The Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26).
he Holy Ghost does everything a school teacher does. He teaches us the lessons of godliness through constant repetition, then he gives us assignments meant to reinforce his teachings, and then tests us to see if we have learned our lessons. If he feels we need further instruction in a certain principle because we haven’t learned it well enough, then he repeats his instruction until we have sufficiently learned his lesson. It is at that point that he then moves on to teaching us the next principle that builds upon all the previous lessons.
Our graduation comes when we have reached the point where we have finally measured up to the full stature of Christ. Without this instruction from the Holy Ghost, no one would ever reach that goal through their own efforts. But, at the same time, we are not passive participants in this journey. We too have a work to do that requires a strenuous effort on our part. We must be willing to listen to the Holy Ghost when he speaks and then obey his directions. We have to make the effort to have the lessons we’ve been taught become a part of our life.
But unlike public school, where advancement is based more on age and a yearly calendar, we determine our own rate of progression. The more effort we put forth in being obedient to the teachings of the Holy Ghost, the faster we progress in our spiritual growth. Thus this process is a personal journey for each one of us and it takes hard work on both the part of the Teacher and the student. We know that the Holy Ghost will be tireless in doing everything he can to help us achieve our goal of obtaining eternal life. The unknown factor is how much effort we are willing to put forth in becoming like Christ?
Related articles can be found under The Nature of Spiritual Growth