In the 131st section of the Doctrine and Covenants we read: "It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance" (verse 6).
The Lord made this statement in the context of explaining to Joseph Smith what the celestial kingdom was like and who inherits the highest degree of that kingdom. If a person is ignorant of the fact that they must be sealed to a spouse by someone having the proper authority then "he may enter into the other [degrees of the celestial kingdom] but that is the end of his kingdom; he cannot have an increase" (verse 4). The point that God is making is that in order for a person to inherit all that God has, he must know what it is required of him. If, in his ignorance, he doesn't learn what he must do then he cannot be fully saved. However, this same principle applies to many other areas of life. For example, if a person is ignorant of how to bake a cake then doing a chore as simple as that becomes almost impossible. Without a knowledge of what ingredients go into making a cake, their proportions, and at what temperature and how long it needs to bake, a person's attempt to bake a cake will result in a lot of failures.
In the same vein, eternal salvation is more than just knowing the basics such as repentance, baptism, receiving the Holy Ghost, keeping the commandments, and making sacred covenants. There are many areas where Satan lurks in hiding, seeking to lure people from the path that leads to salvation and his greatest tool in doing this is ignorance.
To counter Satan's efforts it is first necessary to understand what "ignorance" means because some people confuse that with the word "stupid." A "stupid" person is one who in unable to process information. Another word that perhaps is more accurate is "slow witted" where a person is slow to comprehend or understand even simple concepts. We measure this kind of brain function by using an Intelligence Quotient commonly referred to as IQ. The higher the IQ number of a person the quicker and easier it is for them to grasp knowledge. Conversely, the lower a person's IQ number is, the slower and more difficult it is for them to learn.
On the other hand, "ignorance" means "a lack of knowledge." It's not that a person cannot understand something, it's that the knowledge they need to understand something is either missing or not available to them. But when they have access to that knowledge then they are able to become knowledgeable and are no longer "ignorant." For example, as late as 1600 some of the brightest minds were totally convinced that the earth was flat and sat stationary in the center of the universe while everything in the heavens revolved around it.
Because this concept had been the prevailing teaching for thousands of years, when Galileo advanced his theory that it was the earth which rotated around the sun, even the brightest minds of the Catholic Church denounced his findings as heretical and accused him of violating the teachings of the Bible. None of these men were stupid. In fact, the vast majority of them had brilliant intellect but they lacked the knowledge needed to come to the correct conclusion.
For centuries people had gazed up into the sky, both in daylight and at night, and saw the sun and stars moving from one horizon to another and, from all of their senses and reasoning, it seemed certain that the ground they were standing on remained perfectly still. Therefore, the most logical conclusion was that the earth stood still and everything rotated around it. And no matter which way they looked they had the same experience which led them to further conclude that the earth stood in the center of the universe. Yet, with all the knowledge they had, it was still woefully incomplete and, because of that, they were led to incorrect ideas.
Today even children in middle school understand the basics of the human body. They know what the brain is and what it is used for, they know what the heart is and how it pumps blood to every part of the body, they know what the lungs are and how it puts oxygen into the blood and they know how that every cell in our body needs oxygen in order to function. Yet, two thousand years ago the best physicians believed that the heart was where our emotions and even our thinking came from. That's why, even today, we refer to a person who is kind and considerate of others has having a big heart.
In the scriptures it talks about the heart being the place where our joy comes from, where both good evil thoughts come from, where our desires come from, where our determination and resolve comes from, and where our understanding comes from. To say that a person had a "hard heart" meant that such a person was stubborn, while saying that a person had a "soft heart" meant that they had a humble attitude. Back then, these were not metaphors because back then people actually believed that all of these feelings literally came from the heart. On the other hand, they thought the brain was a useless organ. Although they knew the purpose of the lungs, they had no concept of how our body is made up of millions of cells that extract oxygen from the blood in order to carry out their functions.
The people who held these erroneous beliefs were not stupid; they were merely ignorant. They lacked the knowledge needed to come to a correct conclusion. And the same is just as true today. When we lack knowledge we often make incorrect judgments.
In 1830 there were many very brilliant men who were absolutely convinced that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost were one God. Although they could not fully explain how this could be, they nonetheless accepted it as being indisputably true because that's what they said the Bible taught and, since the Bible is the word of God and God doesn't lie, then, to them, the concept of the Trinity had to be true.
In 1830 nearly every preacher taught that we were saved by grace alone and that "works" were useless when it came to salvation. This idea is said to have originated with Martin Luther who was a very intelligent Catholic biblical scholar, yet, his ideas of what the Bible taught were at odds with those of other highly intelligent Catholic biblical scholars such as St. Augustine, Jerome, St. Francis of Assisi, and Thomas Aquinas.
Yet, in 1830 a young fourteen year old boy named Joseph Smith, who had very little formal schooling, received knowledge that none of these other great men had access to and, because of that knowledge, he knew more about God and salvation than all the smartest men before him. That wasn't because Joseph was more intelligent than they were but because he had knowledge they didn't have, in the same way that a fourteen year old boy today has more knowledge about the human heart, brain, and lungs than the smartest physician had two thousand years ago.
But that knowledge has to be true. The brightest minds of the middle ages had knowledge but some of it was not correct. They had great knowledge of all the stars in the heavens. They had great knowledge of mathematics and could make very complicated calculations. They had great knowledge of the human body and had cataloged all of its different parts but some of the knowledge they had was wrong. Therefore, knowledge alone is insufficient to keep us from making errors. The knowledge to make correct decisions must be based on truth because once a person accepts a lie as being true then all the rest of their conclusions will likewise be false.
In the days of Joseph Smith there were many knowledgeable men who had a sincere desire to serve God and who sincerely wanted to be with God forever but, because they lacked the correct knowledge about God and His ways, Satan was able to deceive them. Worse yet, some of these people did devilish things while being convinced that they were pleasing God or, at least, that God didn't care and wouldn't punish them.
This is no different than what happened to a young Pharisee named Saul who was convinced that those who were followers of a man named Jesus were blaspheming God. As a result, he went about rounding up Christians and having them thrown in prison and being tortured for their beliefs. Saul was absolutely convinced that his actions were highly pleasing to God until one day he received some knowledge as he traveled to Damascus that changed his entire outlook. Before this incident Saul had great knowledge of the scriptures and had studied them all of his life but the knowledge he had was based on some erroneous information. As a result, he developed some erroneous ideas.
Although much of what he knew was true, the parts that weren't caused him to make some decisions that could have damned his soul forever. It wasn't until he gained a knowledge of the truth that he was able to set himself on a course that led him to true salvation.
This is what Jesus meant when He said that "the truth shall set you free" (John 8:32). When we gain a knowledge of the truth then we are saved from making bad decisions and wrong choices. For example, some berries are edible and some are poisonous. If we are walking outdoors and, in our ignorance, we choose to eat the wrong kind of berry we could become gravely ill. Yet, if we know which plants to avoid, we can not only save ourselves from physical harm but we can also enjoy eating berries that are delicious and good for us. In the same way, when we know the truth, we can not only save ourselves from spiritual harm but we can make wiser choices that will allow us to enjoy the fruits of the Spirit.
Perhaps we can understand this principle better by looking at another familiar situation. During a political election there are two people who are vying for our votes. As a result, they each go to great lengths to convince us to vote for them instead of their opponent. Each candidate tells us what their position is on certain issues and they present their case in the most convincing way they can. Often, those who are not familiar with the issues are swayed back and forth in their opinion as they listen to what each candidate says. Because both arguments seem so good, these kinds of voters have a hard time knowing which candidate has the better position.
During a political campaign both candidates will criticize their opponent, making claims that are designed to persuade people not to vote for the other person. They will attack their opponent's record, their character, or their actions and claim that what their opponent stands for will make things worse. Those who are not familiar with the candidates will waver back and forth trying to decide what is true, what is a distortion of the truth, and what is just political mug slinging.
Yet, those who are not only familiar with the issues but have come to a firm conclusion of what they believe don't waver. When they listen to someone who agrees with their political philosophy, they cheer and when they hear someone who doesn't agree with their philosophy, they boo. And the same is true concerning the candidates themselves. Those who know the character of the candidates and their voting record either like them or dislike them and are not swayed by the negative ads they see and hear. It is only those who don't know either the issues or the candidates who have trouble making up their mind who to vote for.
And Satan's campaign for our votes operates much the same way. Through those who support his philosophy we hear claims that if we will only follow their ways we will find peace, happiness, and prosperity. We are told that life is meant to be lived to the fullest and that we should therefore take full advantage of all that the world has to offer. Satan puts on a glitzy campaign of beautiful people in stylish clothing, smiling broadly as they appear to be living a life full of fun and happiness to subtly convey the message that if we will follow his ways we too can have fame, wealth, power, and every other desire our heart.
Much of what candidate Satan tells us is true and much of what we see in the world around us appears to support his claims, similar to the way the mind and eyes of early scientists convinced themselves that the earth was flat. It made sense to them because their conclusion in every aspect appeared to be true even though it wasn't. They had convinced themselves to believe a lie because they lacked sufficient knowledge of the truth. And that is the same technique Satan uses to convince people to follow him.
At the same time Satan does his own version of negative ads, as he seeks to convince us that the godly life is dull and boring. He demeans righteousness as being old fashion and as being behind the times. He tells us that there is no god and that those who believe in such a thing are either delusional, superstitious, or uneducated simpletons. And when that technique doesn't work he uses fear to scare people away from God. More and more we see Christians being physically and emotionally attacked by the press, the government, and various anti-Christian organizations.
What also works to Satan's advantage is that ignorance produces ignorance. When someone is lacking knowledge they often don't know they are lacking knowledge. Instead, they think that what they know is all there is to know. We see this very frequently with teenagers. As they gain more knowledge, they quickly begin to think that they know everything and, for this reason, they many times rebel against their parent's guiding influence. The reason why is because they have convinced themselves that they have all the knowledge necessary to chart their own course in life without anyone's help. It's only when they get older and become wiser that they begin to realize how little they actually know.
Satan is well aware of this human tendency and he takes full advantage of it. As he tells his lies and half truths he seeks to convince us that there is no more to know than what he is telling us. His goal is to get people to believe one side of the argument by preventing people from hearing the other side.
Imagine in a court of law if a jury was only allowed to hear one side of a case. Without hearing the arguments of both the prosecution and the defense, a jury could not render a wise and fair verdict. Although, even under the best conditions, the jury still lacks enough knowledge to know with absolute certainty whether a person is innocent or guilty of the charges against them yet, if they were to hear only one side of the argument they would have even less knowledge on which to base their decision.
Therefore, the question we need to determine is: How do know the truth?
The answer is found in the full quote of what Jesus said about the truth setting us free. "Jesus said to the Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word then are ye my disciples indeed and ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free" (John 8:31,32).
Truth describes the way things actually are, not as they may seem or as they appear or as we want them to be. During times of war each side in a battle seeks to gain knowledge of what their opponent's tactics are, where their soldiers are located, and where those soldiers are going. In gathering this intelligence information, military commanders first and foremost want factual information. Only in the absence of hard facts, will they accept suppositions, conjectures, and theories. When an enemy combatant is captured with confidential military documents on his person or if one army is able to invade the headquarters of the opposing army and finds battle plans, they then have gained factual information that will greatly assist them in defeating their enemy.
The words of God are found in the scriptures and they not only contain the battle plan of God to defeat His enemy but they likewise detail Satan's battle plan against us. The reason why the scriptures do this is that a large part of God's plan to save His children is to arm them with sufficient knowledge so they can avoid the various traps and lies that Satan uses to ensnare us. It must be clearly kept in mind that Satan is not just God's enemy, he is our enemy as well. His goal is to enslave us and make us subservient to him and as miserable as he is.
Like a dictator who comes to power through the vote of the people, Satan makes false promises of how wonderful life will be under his rule but once people pledge their allegiance to him, those glorious promises often don't materialize and, even if they do, they are short lived and, in the end, people are left with nothing but sorrow and misery.
For this reason, God arms us with a knowledge of the truth, both of His ways and those of Satan, so we can more easily recognize when we are being lied to and more easily see through the half-truths that Satan tells. However, Satan is very crafty and very subtle in his campaign against us and his lies can appear to be very convincing and very enticing. Even when people know the truth, they can be swayed by their own emotions to go with a lie because they want that lie to be true.
Many times people see glamorous celebrities on television who appear to be living a life of fun and happiness because of their wealth and fame, which many ordinary people can only dream of having, especially if they are unhappy with their own existence. Yet, what they don't often see is the unhappiness in their personal lives of many celebrities. We occasionally read of the drug habits, failed marriages, money problems, and depression that many of these stars go through but most average people ignore these accounts and, instead, continue to dream of how wonderful life would be if they could be like their favorite celebrity.
What God offers us is a life of quiet but genuine happiness that doesn't depend on wealth or fame or exceptional abilities or special connections. The happiness that God offers is one that can be experienced by anyone, even during extremely difficult times. What God offers us is the truth so we can be set free from the misery of confusion, doubt, uncertainly, and misunderstanding. What God offers us is the peace of mind that comes from knowing what is truly right and good and what is false and dangerous.
While it is not possible to know everything, when we become disciples of Jesus and continue in His word, He promises to guide us in the way of truth and right. And the more we study His word, the more knowledge of truth we gain and the more knowledge of truth we have the freer we become. This promise doesn't just pertain to our spiritual life but it extends to our family life, our financial life, and in our employment, political, and temporal life.
But our life here on earth is extremely short and there is much more for us to experience after death. Without a knowledge of who we are, why we are here, and where we are going, we will end up arriving at a place we didn't want to go to. God's plan for us is much more than earthly happiness. It is even more than just eternal happiness. What God wants for us is a fullness of happiness forever but the only way we can have that is to come to a knowledge of the truth, and that's what God offers us.
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