In the Book of Mormon the prophet Jacob read to his people the prophecy Zenos made concerning the allegory of the tame and wild olive trees and then explained how this allegory related to them. In doing so he made the comment that "as many as will not harden their hearts shall be saved in the kingdom of God" (Jacob 6:4).
If what he says is true then this is a remarkable statement because it says that all we have to do to be saved is just have a heart that is not hard. However, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that in order to be saved a person must believe in Christ, repent of their sins, be baptized, receive the Holy Ghost, and be faithful in keeping the commandment of God throughout their life.
If what Jacob says is true then his way of becoming saved is much easier because all we have to do is one thing - developing a soft heart - rather than keeping a long list of commandments. But, the question is: Is what Jacob said true? Is salvation really that simple? The answer is: Yes. But, to understand why, we need to understand what it means to have a hard heart and how we can soften it.
Another term for a "hard" heart is a "stubborn" or "obstinate" heart. It refers to someone whose attitude is immoveable, unbending and unyielding to pressure. By contrast, a "soft" heart is one that is pliable, bendable, moldable, or moveable. A hard heart is like a stone wall that stops anyone or anything from getting past while a soft heart is like a gate that allows someone or something to pass through.
When we speak of a hard heart in a spiritual sense, it means someone who will not listen to what God is telling them. In other words, His words don't penetrate into their mind or heart where they become part of their thinking or it affects their behavior. On the other hand, someone with a soft heart not only listens to what God has to say but accepts His message and makes it part of their way of life.
A hard heart is one that pits our will against that of God's. It is an attitude of "My will be done," instead of "Thy will be done." It's the kind of heart where a person evaluates God's decrees first to see whether or not they are in agreement with their own values before deciding whether or not to accept them. But a soft heart is one that accepts the premise that whatever God asks of us is always right and best for us, even if we don't understand why.
God had given each of us the freedom to choose whether to obey Him or not and we tend to think that those who have a hard heart are those who choose not to obey God. Generally speaking this is true but there are two ways we can choose to obey God - either willingly or unwillingly. Put another way, we can choose to obey God either because we want to or because we have to. The difference between these two ways is the difference between a soft heart and a hard heart.
There are many times when people choose to obey God, not because they want to but because they feel they must. This attitude is a form of voluntary forced obedience. It's an attitude where a person feels almost compelled to do as they are told in order to get the reward they want or avoid the punishment for doing something God doesn't want done. But if they could find another way to get the same reward without having to do as they are told, they would.
In a strict sense, such an attitude would be having neither a hard nor a soft heart, but in reality, it is still exhibiting a hard heart because it is an attitude that is essentially in opposition to God's will. Even though a person may be technically obeying what God wants them to do, they are doing it by constraint rather than out of conviction.
A truly soft heart is one that wants to do what God commands because that is what they also desire to do. In other words, a soft heart is one in which our desire is the same as God's. It's a condition where our heart is one, or is in full agreement with God's heart.
To illustrate this principle, a child may dislike eating their vegetables but they do so because their parents make them eat it in order to get the desert afterwards. But a child doesn't have to be cajoled, bribed or threatened to eat their ice cream because they want to eat it. Therefore, when their parents tell them to eat their ice cream they not only willingly do it but eagerly do so.
When what we want to do is the same as what God wants us to do, then it will take no effort on our part to believe in Christ, to repent of our sins, be baptized and keep all the commandments. Those things will happen automatically in our life. The reason why it is hard for us to do any of those things is because there is at least some part of our heart that is hardened and resists doing what God wants us to do.
Therefore we struggle to keep the commandment of God precisely because we really don't want to keep them. When we desire to do what God asks of us the same way that a child desires to eat ice cream then we will have no problem doing whatever God tells us to do. The reason why we have a hard time doing that is because what we want is not the same as what God wants.
Then how do we develop a soft heart? The answer is to read the scriptures and pray.
The reason why children don't have to be forced to eat ice cream is because they've tried it before and they like the way it tastes. In the same way, when we try the Spirit and experience the peace, joy, and sweetness it brings into our life, we want more of it. But, to make sweet, creamy ice cream there is a formula that has to be followed, and work that has to be done. If we aren't willing to follow the formula and do the work, then we will never get to taste the goodness of our own ice cream.
In the same way, if we aren't willing to follow the recipe and do the work necessary to bring the Spirit into our life, we will never taste the sweetness and goodness that comes from having the Holy Ghost in our life. But once we do, then we want more of it which then requires more preparation and work.
The way we find the formula to have the Spirit in our life is by reading the scriptures. It wouldn't be a stretch to call the scriptures the cookbook for better living. But, just like any cookbook, a person has to do more than just read it. They have to do what the cookbook instructs and oftenit takes several times trying out the recipe before they get everything right.
The reason why a person would spend time and effort learning and then trying to make homemade ice cream is because of their desire to be successful in producing a good-tasting finished product. In this example, it is possible for people who want ice cream to purchase what someone else has made but, unfortunately, in spiritual matters, no one can taste the fruit of the Spirit because of someone else's efforts. The Spirit only comes to those who have followed and put forth the time and effort in doing the formula.
Since the formula for being able to taste the sweet fruits of the Spirit is found in the scriptures, then it is important that we learn how to read them effectively. Unlike a cookbook, where the formula is laid out in simple to read instructions, the formula for achieving the fruits of the Spirit is found dispersed throughout the pages of the scriptures. As we read them, we discover each ingredient and their correct proportion one at a time, sometimes almost hidden between the lines. That is why it is important to ponder the scriptures rather than merely reading them.
In a way, the formula is like a puzzle where the pieces are scattered about and we have to find them and then put them together in their proper sequence. However, this isn't a very complex puzzle and the pieces often fit together very easily. Yet, even so, it does take time to search out the pieces and assemble them. And then, once that happens, we have to learn how to follow the instructions well enough so that the end result of our labors produces the desired effect.
In this case, the formula we are looking to find is how to turn our hard heart into a soft one. Although finding the formula is not that difficult, being able to follow it is often the hard part. Sometimes, even our best efforts are not enough but imagine how much easier it would be to learn how to make homemade ice cream that turned out perfect each time if we had someone to help teach us? Since God wants us to be saved and the easiest way to do that is to have a soft heart, then God always stands ready to help us in that process. But to get that help we have to ask for it and that's where prayer comes in.
Prayer is nothing more than communicating with our Father in heaven. As we struggle to overcome our tendency to resist doing God's will, the very effort we make in asking for His help acts as a catalyst to soften our heart. It's like the effect yeast has in making bread. Without yeast the flour will not rise and if it doesn't rise then there will be no bread. In the same way, without prayer, our efforts to have a soft heart fall flat but by sincerely asking for help to become more pliable to His commandments it has the effect of softening our heart because such prayers requires humility, which is the catalyst for melting a hard heart.
But what happens too often is that people think that just because they have accepted Christ that His atonement alone makes up for any fault they might have. This attitude then leads them to conclude that God will forgive them for not living as fully as He commands. Therefore, they feel comfortable having a hard heart while telling themselves that their heart is soft because they have accepted His invitation to come unto Him.
However, in his sermon to his people, Jacob also told them that "justice cannot be denied" (Jacob 6:10). Too many people are of the opinion that the death of Jesus on the cross and our belief on Him as our Savior is all that is needed to justify us before God. Therefore, they believe that the atonement did away with justice and replaced it with mercy and grace. Because of this concept of justice, they believe that if a person has accepted Christ and strives to live a fairly decent life that they will not be punished for their sins because Christ will show them mercy and save them through His grace.
Those who hold this view do not understand that justice can never be denied and that it will always be carried out on each of us regardless of Christ's atoning sacrifice. The prophet Alma taught this principle to his son, Corianton when he said, "What, do ye suppose that mercy can rob justice? I say unto you, Nay; not one whit. If so, God would cease to be God" (Alma 42:25).
The atonement of Christ did not do away with justice and full justice will still be required of us even though mercy is shown. This is why Jacob told his people, "as many as will not harden their hearts shall be saved in the kingdom of God." Those who harden their hearts cannot enter into the place where God lives because justice will not allow it.
To understand why, we have to understand that even God cannot prevent full justice from being carried out. That's because, He didn't invent the concept of justice. It is an eternal principle and God is who He is precisely because He obeys the law of justice. Should he cease to do that He would cease to be God.
The prophet Alma refers to this as the law of restoration and explains that all things must be restored to their proper order. The reason why is because "it is requisite (e.g., necessary, mandatory, obligatory, essential) with the justice of God" (Alma 41:3,4).
We often picture justice as a woman who is blindfolded and holding a scale in her right hand. She is blindfolded because she doesn't see who is being judge. In that way she is able to treat all people by the same standard regardless of who they are. The two trays on her scale are always level with each other, signifying that when one tray gets out of balance with the other then something is required to be put into the other tray that will bring the two trays back into balance. Thus, justice can be defined as that which is needed to restore, or bring back into balance all things and that everyone is subject to the same standard.
When we obey the laws of eternity, there is harmony or balance in our relationship with heaven but when we sin we violate eternal laws and when that happens, something must be done to correct that violation. When we break a physical object that belongs to someone else, justice demands that we replace it as though it had never been broken. But justice only requires a full payment and not an iota more.
The same principle applies to when we break any of the laws of eternity. Justice requires that the broken law must be repaired to the point where it is as though it was never broken in the first place. When that happens then everything is restored to its proper order.
However, there are some things that can't be repaired or restored. Even so, when that is the case, justice still requires that an appropriate price be paid. For example, if someone breaks an object that cannot be replaced, the person who broke the object is required to sacrifice something of equal value to make up for the loss. That could be the payment of a certain sum of money, servitude, time in prison, or the forfeiter of the violator's life.
Justice has nothing in common with mercy. It will neither recognize it nor accept it as payment. Justice demands that every violation be restored in full and it will demand no less. Therefore, showing mercy will not satisfy the demands of justice nor does it have the ability to rob justice of what it rightfully requires.
It is said that the atonement of Christ satisfied the demands of justice by making a payment in full for our sins, therefore justice has been fully satisfied. However, if that were true then we could sin as much as we want and never have to pay a penalty for doing so. In other words, if the atonement of Christ actually paid the full price of all our sins then it would be unjust to require us to make restitution for any sin we commit because that would amount to a double payment on the same sin. In that case, the scales of justice would be overbalanced, which would therefore demand that we be reimbursed for our overpayment.
The atonement of Christ doesn't do away with justice. Justice is an eternal principle and, as such, it is still very much operable despite Christ's atonement. Every time we sin, justice demands payment in full for each violation. That is why God gives us commandments. They are the rules we must follow to avoid sinning and the more we follow them the less we sin and the less penalty we are required to pay in order to satisfy the always-present, unrelenting demands of justice.
If that is true, then what is the purpose of the atonement?
Jesus said, "For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;" (D&C 19:16). There are two things we learn from this scripture. The first is that Christ suffered all things, not to fulfill the complete demands of justice but to allow us the opportunity to repent. Before the atonement had taken place, repentance was something that had no effect upon the penalty of our sins. But after Christ's atonement, repentance on our part can be accepted as partial payment towards what justice requires in order to have all things restored to their proper order.
The second thing we learn is that the atonement is conditional. We can avoid suffering for our sins as required by justice because Christ is willing to apply His suffering as part of the penalty required of us but He will only do so if we repent. "But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I" (D&C 19:17). From this we learn that the atonement of Christ does not automatically nor fully pay for the penalty of our sins. Therefore it is clear that there is something we must do to make the atonement operable in our life.
To understand why this must be, we need to have a clear understanding of what the atonement does and what it is not meant to do.
Jesus, as the one, true High Priest of God, offered Himself as a living sacrifice for our sins (Hebrews 5:1) whereby He, "the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; (Alma 7:13). Because He was sinless, Jesus willingly took upon Him our sins and paid the price for each and every sin of each and every person. Therefore, it would appear that He had paid the full penalty required of those sins.
However, as was mentioned earlier, if that were true then it wouldn't be fair or right to punish us for anything we do since Christ has already taken the punishment we deserve. But, since we can still be punished for our sins, then it is clear that the atonement only partially pays for our sins.
The process by which our sins are washed away is baptism and by being baptized we are making a public declaration that we not only accept Christ as our divine Savior but, at the same time, we are making a solemn promise to obey His commandments. But, being human, we don't always live up to that promise, therefore, when we sin we are told that we must repent, and repentance includes making restitution for the things we have done wrong. That act of restoring is part of what justice requires so it is evident that justice still requires at least some sort of payment from us in order to restore balance to the wrongs we have committed.
Then, if Jesus has paid the penalty for our sins, why are we still required to make restitution? The answer is that justice requires it at our hand. To illustrate this point, suppose that person "A" owes a hundred dollars to person "B". Justice requires that person "B" must be given exactly one hundred dollars, no more or no less. But suppose that person "C" then pays person "B" a hundred dollars. Although person "B" has received the money that was due them, person "C" has given away money and gotten nothing in return for it. That is not fair or right, therefore, justice requires that person "C" have their money restored to them.
If person "A" got something of value but didn't pay for it, that's not fair or right, therefore, in this example, person "A" and person "C" are both out of balance. For justice to be fully satisfied person "A" must still pay the fair value of what they received and person "C" must still get something for the money they gave away. But that doesn't mean that money must change hands.
When we go to the store to buy something, we give someone our money and, in exchange, they give us a physical object or provide a service. However, we can also exchange one kind of physical object or service for what we get. This is called the bartering system.
This is the way the atonement works. When we sin there is a price we must pay. Even though Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, justice cannot be satisfied until we have paid Jesus what He did for us. However, Jesus can take our payment in the form of a service that we perform for Him. Thus, since Jesus suffered for our sins He is willing to barter with us by accepting our obedience to Him as a fair and just settlement of our debt to Him. But when we are not willing to obey Him, then justice requires us to endure the suffering He endured for us as a fair and equal compensation. In that way, all things are restored to their proper order.
When we have a hard heart, we are refusing to restore to God, what He has paid for in our behalf but when we have a soft heart, we become willing to do all that He asks, knowing that His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11:30). Since every commandment God gives is meant to keep us from sinning and thereby violating some eternal law, the more we keep the commandments the less we have to repent of because we have broken fewer laws of eternity. Therefore, the less need there is for things to be restore to their proper order. And the better we learn how to do that the more we are becoming like God who is able to keep all things in balance at all times. Therefore, the more we become like God, the more justice demands that we receive what God has. God possess all things precisely because He obeys all laws.
Since God is a God of justice, it is not fair or right that He should reward each person equally for unequal faithfulness to Him. Thus, those who fully obey God or at least make a sincere effort to do so, He gives them a greater reward than someone who has not served as diligently, and He gives even less of a reward to those who choose not to serve Him at all.
It is for this reason that God cannot give to the hard of heart the same blessings as those whose hearts are soft because that would not be fair or just. The greatest blessing of all is eternal life, also known as exaltation, and that blessing is reserved to those who have shown their willingness and faithfulness in obeying the law of justice in the same manner as God does. And that can only happen when people willing choose not to harden their hearts.
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