A popular phrase among modern-day Christians is that we are to accept Jesus as our personal Savior. Although, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we don't use that particular phrase, we nonetheless agree with its message. When we take upon ourselves the name of Christ we are, in effect, accepting Jesus into our lives in a very personal way. However, the problem with phrases and slogans is that they are only a summary of a deeper and more complex principle. Then what exactly does it mean to take upon ourselves the name of Christ and accept Him as our personal Savior?
When we say we accept Jesus Christ that also infers that He accepts us as well. As such, that implies a close, personal relationship with one another. It's not something where He is over there and we are over here. It suggests that we are together in an intimate association with one another. Perhaps the best illustration of this kind of a relationship is that of marriage between a man and a woman. It is close, it is personal, and it is intimate. In fact, in many of the parables of Jesus, He likens the kingdom of God to a wedding, where He is the groom and we, His believers, are the bride.
For the most part, an unmarried woman is more interested in pleasing herself while the married woman cares more about pleasing her husband. In the same way, when we are not married to Christ, we are more concerned about taking care of our own self-interests, while the person who is wed to Christ becomes more concerned with those things that are of interest to God. Thus, when we accept Christ as our personal Savior, we are taking a vow of commitment to Him. As the apostle Paul explained, wives should submit themselves to their own husband, for the husband is the head of the wife. In the same way, Christ is the head of the church and its members need to submit themselves to him as a wife submits herself to her husband (Eph. 4:21-24). In the past, wedding ceremonies required the woman to take a vow "to love, honor, cherish, and obey" their husbands. However, in today's modern culture, more and more we see women taking a slightly different kind of vow. They promise only to "love and cherish" their husbands, opting to omit the idea of honoring him with their obedience.
Since marriage is not what it was in the past, perhaps it might be better if we used a different analogy to illustrate this principle. When someone applies for a job, if they are accepted by the company, the two parties enter into a personal relationship with one another, and that relationship necessarily involves a commitment on the part of both the employee and the employer. The employee agrees to work conscientiously for the company, promising to obey all of its rules, while the company promises to reimburse the worker for their time and effort in the form of a paycheck. As an added bonus, many companies also provide the employee with health and life insurance, sick leave, paid vacations and perhaps other company benefits.
Accepting Christ as our personal Savior is no different. It's as though He has put an ad in the paper seeking for people to come work for Him. When we respond to His request, we are accepting His offer in a personal way. And that acceptance implies a commitment to serve Him with the intent of helping Him build His kingdom here on earth. Thus, when we accept Jesus and He accepts us, we have entered into a relationship with each other. And implied in that relationship is that we, as the employee, will obey and do what He, as the employer, asks of us. After all, we are assisting Him, not the other way around. In exchange for our commitment to Him, He makes a commitment that we shall inherit all that He has. As added benefits He also provides us with many temporal blessings as well.
But a personal relationship with Christ is much more than this. He is not just an impersonal "boss" who sits behind a desk in a glorious palace, dictating orders that we are expected to follow. Having a personal relationship with Christ means that we are working in concert with Him, shoulder to shoulder as it were. We - that is, Him and us - are a team, participating together in a joint effort.
If Christ is the employer, then what does He expect of us as the employee? The answer can be found in Mark 8:34 which reads, "Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me"
There are three things this verse tells us. The first is that we are to deny ourselves.
From the time we are born, we are given choices to make, and the older we get the more choices there are to make. As children we are often asked "What do you want to become when you grow up?" During our younger years, our parents, teachers, and other adults teach us to set goals, think positive, and be confident in ourselves, then work hard to get what we desire out of life. It is left to us to determine what kind of career we want to pursue, what kind of a home we want to buy, how many children we want to have, and so forth.
In the Church, we are continually reminded that each of us have been given our "free agency" which is interpreted to mean that it is our God-given right to decide what we want to do in life. And this impression has been further reinforced when we hear that "free agency" is so sacred that not even God will violate it. Nearly everything in our society promotes and encourages an attitude of self-determination. William Ernest Henley has eloquently captured this concept in his poem Invictus. In its last line he writes, "I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul." So compelling and inspiring are these words that they have become the guiding standard for many successful people.
But the truth is that we are not the master of our fate, nor are we the real captain of our soul - God is, or at least, He should be. It was God who gave us life in the first place, therefore, our life doesn't really belong to us, it belongs to Him. Therefore, if we are wise, we should seek to find out what He wants us to do with the life that He has given us. To deny ourselves means to make our dreams, our goals, and our desires become what He wants them to be. It means taking our life and voluntarily surrendering it back to Him. It means saying to God, "Here is my life. I give it to you. What do you want me to do with it?"
We find this truth expressed in the words of our hymn "It May Not be On a Mountain Top" when we sing "I'll go where you want me to God, dear Lordů I'll say what you want me to say, dear Lordů I'll be what you want me to be, dear Lord."
There are those who feel that this kind of self denial only applies to spiritual things but doesn't extend to the personal side of our life. To them, if God has given us free agency that means we have the right to decide such personal things as what kind of career we want to pursue, what kind of car we want to drive, where to go on vacation, etc. While that may be true, we also need to realize that if we reserve the right to exclude God from certain portions of our life, we are also denying God the right to have full control over us. But when we do that we are choosing to remain separate from Him in certain areas of our life. Instead of giving God all that we have, we are only partially submitting ourselves to Him and allowing Him to have only limited influence on us.
When we accept Christ in a personal way, He expects to receive all that we have. He illustrated this principle when He said, "The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had, and bought it" (Matt 13:44-46). God desires to give us the riches of heaven but we have to be willing to give him all that we have in exchange for it.
When Jesus came walking along the seashore and passed by James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were fishing partners with Simon Peter, He called to them and said, "Come, follow me." Immediately, they forsook all they had and followed Him (Luke 5:10-11). Peter reaffirmed this when he said to Jesus, "Lo, we have left all and have followed thee" (Mark 10:28). God wants all of us, not just part of us. He doesn't want part-time disciples, He needs full-time workers.
However, sometimes we behave as though God just drop us here on earth and left us alone to do whatever we want. The world would have us believe that the only meaning to life is that which we give it. But we are here for a reason. There is a purpose to our existence, and God has a plan for our life. The question we need to ask ourselves is, are we fulfilling that purpose?
The Lord revealed, "Wherefore, verily I say unto you that all things unto me are spiritual, and not at any time have I given unto you a law which was temporal; neither any man, nor the children of men; neither Adam, your father, whom I created" (D&C 29:34). Our life on earth is only temporary and is meant to help prepare us for the rest of eternity. What may on the surface seem like ordinary, temporal activities are really spiritual in nature. Whatever we do now will have spiritual consequences later. Therefore, everything we do in this life should be oriented towards achieving the spiritual objectives for which God sent us here to accomplish.
Too often people think this means God expects us to deny ourselves the good things of life in exchange for doing something that's dull and boring. But just the opposite is true. Jesus taught, "I am come that they might have life and that they might have it more abundantly" (John 10:10). God wants us to have a happy, abundant life. In fact, happiness is the whole object and design of our existence. But so often what appears to us as glamorous and exciting doesn't bring real happiness, true joy, or lasting contentment.
The scriptures tell us, "Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore" (Psalms 16:11). In the eternal scheme of things, what brings a fulness of joy is to be in the presence of God, which is the definition of inheriting eternal life. Anything less than that provides only partial joy. But to experience that fullness, there is a path we must follow that leads to it. God knows that path and He is willing to show us the way and keep us in it. Then, why would we want to do something that would take us away from having the happiness that God wants us to experience? It only makes sense to do things His way as a means of insuring that we are continually on the path that leads to a fullness of joy. That is why Jesus said, "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's shall save it" (Mark 8:35).
The second thing God expects of us it to take up our cross. Jesus sacrificed all that He had on the cross to redeem us from our sins. In return, He asks that we sacrifice all that we have to Him. The first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, with all of our soul, and with all of our mind (Matt. 22:36.37). That means God expects us to serve Him with all that we have, which also includes giving Him our time, our talents, or anything else that we might possess.
The story is told in the gospel of Mark of a rich man who came to Jesus saying, "Good Master, what shall I do that I might gain eternal life?" Jesus answered him saying that he should keep the commandments and the man replied that he had done that since his youth. Then Jesus "said unto him, One thing thou lackest; go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast and give to the poor and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come and take up thy cross and follow me. And he was sad at that saying and went away grieved: for he had great possessions" (Mark 10:17-21).
This person wanted to know what it would take to gain eternal life, and Jesus said that the cross he had to bear in order to gain eternal life was to sacrifice all that he owned by giving it to the poor. Had this man been willing to do that, he would have had countless times more treasure waiting for him in heaven. Jesus said that, "everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life" (Matthew 19:29). But this man wasn't willing to sacrifice that much. Instead, what he decided to sacrifice was the very thing he was seeking - eternal life.
To take up one's cross means to give one's self completely to Christ. It is a total commitment, rather than a half-hearted pledge. It's being a full-time employee in God's kingdom rather than a part-time, seasonal worker. Jesus affirmed this principle when He said, "No one can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one and love the other or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon" (Matt. 6:24). We're either working to accomplish God purposes or we're working for our own self-interest. Jesus said that we should do "all things with an eye single to the glory of God" (D&C 82:19). As far as God is concerned, there is no middle ground. Jesus explained, "No man, having put his hand to the plough and looking back is fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62).
Membership in Christ's church doesn't mean just showing up on Sunday and putting in "time." It means actively working to assist God in building up His kingdom. Jesus said, "For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?" (Luke 14:28). There is a cost to having a personal relationship with Jesus. When we accept Jesus, we need to understand the cost of what that means and be willing to pay it. The cost of having a personal relationship with Christ requires that we take up our cross and sacrifice all that we have to God. Jesus explained it this way: "He that taketh not his cross and follow me is not worthy of me" (Matt. 10:38).
The third thing God expects of us is to follow Jesus. To follow Jesus means to do the things that He did (2 Ne. 31:12). And what did Jesus do? He raised the dead, healed the sick, discerned the hearts of people, walked on water, calmed the roaring sea, and lived a perfect sinless life. For many of us, these are not the kind of deeds we can easily accomplish. But there is something Christ did that we can do.
The scriptures tell us, "Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him" (Hebrews 5:8-9). "And being found in human form, he humbled himself, and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:7-8). "Wherefore, my beloved brethren, can we follow Jesus save we shall be willing to keep the commandments of the Father?" (2 Ne. 31:10).
To follow Jesus means to obey Him and keep His commandments. Obedience means doing what God asks of us. It means following the rules. It means putting into action what we say we believe.
In today's society, many people have trouble with the word "obedience." They don't like being told what to do. Even among many Christians, it is often hard to obey the commandments because it usually requires us to take time out of our busy life to do the things that God would have us do. It takes effort to change our way of life in order to conform it to His way, and it requires constant vigilance to keep ourselves on the strait and narrow path. Therefore, keeping the commandments is many times viewed as a necessary evil. It's something we are forced to do rather than something we willing want to do.
The Lord explained, "And again, verily I say unto you, that which is governed by law is also preserved by law and perfected and sanctified by the same. That which breaketh a law, and abideth not by law, but seeketh to become a law unto itself, and willeth to abide in sin, and altogether abideth in sin, cannot be sanctified by law, neither by mercy, justice, nor judgment. Therefore, they must remain filthy still" (D&C 88:34,35).
We are sanctified and perfected by law and it is through the law that we obtain mercy and justice. When we fail to follow God's authority, we become a law unto ourselves thereby freeing ourselves from the benefits of mercy, justice, sanctification and perfection.
In order for us to inherit all that God has we must first become like God is and the commands He gives us are specifically designed to help us grow into God's image and perfection. Therefore, when we are disobedient to God's commandments we are actually robbing ourselves of spiritual growth. And unless we can spiritually grow to become perfect even as God is perfect, then we are also denying ourselves that perfection which brings a fullness of joy. Obedience is the key that unlocks the powers of heaven and allows us to partake of its blessings.
But the key to obedience is love for God. When Jesus said, "If ye love me, keep my commandments" (John14:15), He was stating a profound truth that many people tend to over look. There are two reasons why we keep the commandments - either because we have to or because we want to. If our love for the Lord isn't with our whole heart, mind, and soul, we tend to keep the commandments because we feel we're being forced to, or stated in reverse, if we feel that keeping the commandments is a chore, then we don't have a true, sincere, and genuine love of the Lord.
"Love" is the operative word. If I love ice cream, no one has to make me eat it. In fact, just the opposite is true. I'll want to eat it even if I know that it will ruin my diet. In that case, I'll have to force myself not to eat it. If I dislike eating squash, then I will eat it only if I have no other choice, but I will not be happy about it.
When we "love" God with our whole heart, mind, and soul, that means we want to be with Him, we want to be like Him, and we want to please Him. If we truly loved God and He said, "I would be very happy if you could stand on your head for twenty-four hours," we would gladly stand on our head for twenty-five hours. But if our love of God is something that only comes from our lips, God could ask us to rest for twenty-four hours and we'd complain that He was asking too much. That's what Jesus meant when he said "He that hath my commandments and keepth them, he it is that loveth me" (John 14:21). When we truly love God, that means we love everything about Him and we wish to emulate and become the kind of person He is. Even if that's not feasible, we would still try to come as close to doing that as is humanly possible.
But God's plan for us is precisely meant to help us become like Him. However, we can't fulfill that plan if we don't know what kind of being God is. It isn't enough just to know about God. We have to know Him personally, and the only way to do that is to have a close, one-on-one relationship with Him. We have to come to know Him intimately and thoroughly so that we get to know His likes and dislikes, His goals and dreams, His work and responsibilities, His character and personality in a way that helps us learn what it takes to become the kind of Person He is. Then, armed with that knowledge, we set about to imitate those qualities by making our goals, ambitions, and behavior the same as His.
Our Father in heaven wants to teach us all that He knows. However, that infers that there are lessons we must learn. It is through listening to His instruction, following His guidance, and relying upon His wisdom that we can hope to measure up to the stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:13). But, just like there is a tuition fee for going to college, there is a price to pay for learning how to become like God. But, instead of paying cash, the price to become Christ-like is to deny our own self-interests and make God's ways our ways. The price for inheriting the kingdom of God involves sacrificing all that we have to gain all that He has. The price for becoming perfect even as God is perfect is to love Him so much that we willingly and eagerly obey Him. That's the kind of attitude we have when Jesus truly becomes our personal Savior.