When speaking of Christ, the words to one of the hymns sung by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints says, "There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin. He only could unlock the gate of heaven and let us in" (There Is a Green Hill Far Away, hymn #194).
The gospel of Jesus Christ centers around Christ's atonement for our sins. Without taking upon Himself our sins, then offering Himself up as sacrifice upon the cross and being resurrected from the grave, not one person who is now living, or who has ever lived or will yet live on this earth in a mortal state would ever get to live eternally in heaven with God. The reason why it is called the gospel of Jesus Christ is because there was and never will be anyone good enough who could pay the price of our sins, thereby freeing us from its consequence of both temporal and spiritual death. Without that atoning sacrifice, all of us would be forever denied the possibility of immortality. Instead, we would become like the devils, who are consigned to spend all eternity outside even the remotest part of God's kingdom (2 Nephi 9:9).
The fundamental basis upon which the Christian faith is built is on a belief that to be saved from our sins and from spiritual death requires faith in Christ as our Savior. However, having said that, it is obvious that, in our current sinful state, we are not yet ready to spend eternity with a being who is sinless, therefore, it is just as obvious that in some way God has to prepare us to be worthy of someday inheriting His kingdom.
All Christians talk about how God intends to transform us into the image of His Son and the process by which this conversion takes place is known as sanctification, which is the process by which we become holy. According to this doctrine, we are transformed from our sinful state to one where we no longer desire to sin.
However, most Christians believe that once we accept Christ as our Savior and commit our life to Him, He then sets about transforming us into a Christ-like person with very little effort on our part. They say that the reason why He must do this for us is because our sinful nature renders us incapable of changing ourselves.
Although the LDS Church teaches that man cannot become a heavenly being solely by himself, they also believe that without man's efforts in his own behalf, he cannot inherit the kingdom of God. The reason for this belief is that God will not force anyone into heaven. There has to be a willing and completely voluntary decision on our part that this is where we want to go.
Without Christ's atonement, no matter how much we might want to enter into God's kingdom, the gates of heaven would be sealed shut forever. However, as important as the atonement is, it only unlocks the gates of heaven but doesn't get us inside. The reason for this is simple. There is nothing compulsory about the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are invited to accept Him as our Savior but we are never forced to believe in Him. Christ calls to us, He beckons, and desires that all should enter into His presence but we must decide for ourselves if we actually want to accept His invitation. When a person enters the waters of baptism, they have made a voluntary, personal commitment to follow Christ but, even after baptism, the choice of whether to continue keeping that commitment is one that each person alone must make.
God leaves it up to us to choose our life and what we want it to be. As such, the decision to live eternally with God has to be something we desire and are willing to sacrifice whatever is necessary to obtain it. The reason why God requires this of us is because to live in heaven requires us to be the kind of person who is fit to live there. If that is not something we desire with our whole heart then we would enter heaven unprepared to live among those who find joy in living that kind of life. Therefore, in order to be comfortable living with God for all eternity we must become like Him. That means, our desires must be those that God has, our thoughts must be the same as God, and our behavior must be compatible with the way God behaves. If this was not so then we would not find heaven to be a very pleasant place to live.
For this reason, to live with God eternally is something we must strive for and it is through the process of striving that the transformation to becoming sanctified is able to take place. But how does that process work?
The role of the Holy Ghost is to lead, persuade, encourage, and strengthen us in our efforts to become Christ-like but that alone is not enough. We must also do our part. Since we know that God will fulfill His part in helping us to become sanctified, it's important that we understand what is required of us.
But before we can properly appreciate the process of sanctification we must first understand what it is that we're striving to become because if all we understand is the mechanics of the process then it becomes easy to miss the point of going through it.
The scriptures tell us that God is love (1 John 4:8). God loved us so much that He sent His only begotten Son into the world to die so that those who believe on his name might have eternal life (John 3:16). There is no greater act of love than for one man to lay down his life for another (see John 15:13) and God not only gave up the life of His Son for us but Jesus willingly laid down His life, not for fame or glory or power but because of His great love for us.
At the very heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ is the principle of love. When asked what is the greatest commandment in the law, Jesus answered saying, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" (Matthew 22:37-40). All the commandments God has given us can be summed up in one word - Love, - love for God and love of our fellow beings. That is why Paul explained, "love is the fulfilling of the law" (Romans 13:10).
To be the kind of person who will find joy living in heaven, we must become beings of love. We must find joy in giving of ourselves in the service others. Jesus explained who will make it into heaven when he said "When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him…then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me" (Matthew 25:31,33-36). James taught, "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this: To visit the fatherless and the widows in their afflictions and to keep himself unspotted from the world" (James 1:27).
Caring for others is what the gospel is all about and this is what God's work is about as well. It is His love for us, even while we are sinners, that motivates Him to save us (see Romans 5:8). When we love God with all of our heart and mind we desire to join with Him in caring for His children. That is why Jesus said, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren ye have done it unto me" (Matthew 25:40).
If this is true, then the process of sanctification has to include helping us to become the kind of person who loves others the same way that God does. In other words, in some way God has to transform us from being a selfish individual who thinks mostly of ourselves to being a selfless person who is more interested in taking care of the needs of others.
Since our natural inclination is to care about ourselves first there has to be something that helps us to overcome that tendency and learn how to put the needs of others ahead of our own. As Paul put it, we have to learn to "be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another" (Romans 12:10), or, as the International Version translates it, "Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves."
There are three ways this transformation takes place. The first is by learning the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In order to become like God we first have to know what kind of being He is. If we don't know what His character is like, how He behaves, what He loves, and what He hates, it's impossible for us to become like Him. And the way we gain that knowledge is through studying and learning from God's words, both written and spoken.
Part of our responsibility in preparing ourselves to spend eternity with God is not just to read the scriptures but to study them with the intent of discovering the attributes of godliness, and the more we study the scriptures the more we learn what kind of being God is. But knowledge alone is not sufficient to transform us because it has no power unless it is put into action. Therefore, once we gain knowledge about God we must then commit ourselves to doing all we can to emulate Him.
That's where the second part of the process comes in. With our sinful nature always pulling us to do wrong, it is a continual struggle for us to do what is right, no matter how well intentioned our desires may be. Therefore, to be successful in our efforts to become more like God we need strength beyond our own normal abilities and that extra strength comes from the Holy Ghost. Part of his responsibility is to help us in our struggle to become more god-like and there are numerous ways He does that. He's a revelator or instructor who opens our eyes so we can see more clearly the things of God. He's a coach who prods us and teaches us how to put into practice the things we learn. He's a companion who walks with us and helps us along the way and He's a guide who shows us the way we should go.
However, as essential as the Holy Ghost is to our transformation from sinner to saint, He will not do our job for us. He is there to assist us in our efforts but if we don't put forth much effort then there is little for him to do. We can think of Him like a teacher who will take all the time necessary to help us learn what we need to know but unless we put forth the effort to listen and do the homework we're assigned, we're not going to learn what He's trying to teach us.
Therefore, there is one more part of this process that is the most critical. Although it is important to understand the theory and principle behind whatever it is we're trying to do, a person cannot become skilled or proficient at anything without practice. For example, no matter how knowledgeable someone may be about how a car works or how well they understand all the rules of the road, unless they get behind the wheel of a car and drive it, they will never become a skillful driver.
To learn how to play any musical instrument takes constant, daily practice and even accomplished musicians still practice every day to keep their skills honed. Even with skills that cannot be practiced every day, such as performing surgery, the same principle applies. The more surgeries a doctor performs the better skilled he becomes at his profession.
In the same way, no matter how much we study the scriptures and learn about God, we will never become like Him unless we put into practice what we've learned. Therefore, if God is going to transform us into the kind of a person who is prepared to live with Him forever then it is essential that He provide us with opportunities to learn how to love others as He does.
Husbands and wives, parents and children have opportunities every day to learn how to show love to one another but it's easy to love those who love us (Matthew 5:46). The true test of love is to do good unto those who hate us and compassionately pray for those who despitefully use us (see Matthew 5:44).
We can show love to our neighbors and those we come in contact with in the course of our daily lives but usually such opportunities are often infrequent and limited. To learn how to become the kind of a person who has great love for everyone takes constant practice and the more opportunities we have to practice loving others the more skilled we become at doing it.
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, one of the tenants of their beliefs is that every active member should be extended the opportunity to voluntarily serve in at least one position in the church. This is referred to as a calling. In most cases, each member is called to serve in at least two positions. All active male members over the age of twelve are called to serve as Home Teachers and all active females over the age of eighteen are called to serve as Visiting Teachers. In addition to this, each person holds a position within one of the several church auxiliary organizations or serves to assist in helping the ward function through such callings as that of a bishop, membership clerk, physical facility coordinator, activity committee, etc.
A person will serve in their calling for a certain length of time and then be released, only to be called to a different position. In this way everyone gets to serve in a variety of ways. While each position has certain tasks that need to be accomplished, the real purpose of a calling is to provide opportunities for all members to learn how to love others through service.
In the Young Men/Young Women programs leaders have the opportunity to watch over and spiritually strengthen the youth of their ward. Those who serve in the Primary program have the opportunity to watch over and help young children to grow spiritually. In Sunday School teachers have the opportunity to help others understand the important doctrines of the Church, to strengthen their testimonies and help them apply the scriptures in their life. The Relief Society watches over and cares for the women of the Church while the Elder's and High Priest Quorums watch over and care for the men of the Church. Even those who serve as secretaries in these organizations have the opportunity to be of service to others through their callings.
The purpose of every calling in the LDS Church is to serve others in one way or another but, like many other things, it is easy to lose sight of that goal and become focused on performing a duty or accomplishing a task rather than seeing the calling as a means to help improve our skill to love others.
This was the same problem the Pharisees had in the days of Jesus. They diligently sought to follow God's word but they became so obsessed with keeping the letter of each commandment that they lost sight of why they were doing it. Paul taught the Jews of his time that "the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ" (Galatians 3:24) but, while they faithfully went through the motions of performing the mechanics of each ritual in the law they missed what the law was trying to teach them. In the same way, every calling in the LDS Church is a tool meant to help its members to improve themselves by giving each person an opportunity to serve and help others.
One of the songs that LDS members sing is "I cannot see another's lack and I not care" ("Because I Have Been Given Much," hymn 219). Every person, in one way or another, is lacking something that keeps them from being as worthy of living eternally in heaven as they could. Every person, in one way or another, has both physical and spiritual needs, even among the spiritually strong. The purpose of every calling, in one way or another, is to provide each member of Christ's Church an opportunity to render loving, caring service to those who are in need.
But, when the calling becomes an end in itself, when performing the technical duties of the calling becomes more important that the people it's designed to serve, then it loses its intended value. A tool is only valuable when it's used for the purpose for which it was created. In the same way, each calling in the Church is a tool that is designed to provide us with opportunities to go from being selfish creatures of the world into heavenly beings of love.
In the scriptures we learn that the letter of the law killeth but it is the spirit of the law that giveth life (see 2 Corinthians 3:6). If we want to have eternal life with God, it is through following the spirit of the callings we receive from Him that will help us become fully prepared to spend eternity in the presence of the Lord.
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