Shortly after the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized the Lord told His saints, "I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine" (D&C 38:29).
The idea of the saints being one is a recurring theme throughout the scriptures and, in fact, most faiths teach that to be considered one with the Christian faith a person must believe in certain doctrines For example, they define a Christian as someone who believes that Jesus is the Son of God, that He was born of a virgin, that He died for our sins, and that salvation comes only through Him. Therefore, if someone believes in these things then they are considered to be "one" with the faithful followers of Christ.
Yet, many of these same denominations also preach that beyond these simple basic truths, there can be a diversity of beliefs and yet still be "one" with the Christian community. The way they phrase it is, there is unity in diversity. However, a closer look at what the scriptures teach shows that the idea of oneness is far more exacting that merely accepting certain basic doctrines.
The apostle Paul decried the contention over doctrine that existed among the saints in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:12) and he lectured the saints in the region of Galatia about the various doctrinal disputes that were occurring among them (Galatians 3:1). In fact, nearly all of Paul's letters were written to correct some form of false teaching that was being preached in the church. Even Peter and Jude complained about the false doctrines that were had among many of the saints, and Paul boldly declared that there is only " one Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Ephesians 4:5).
Nowhere in the scriptures do we find it acceptable for the saints to hold a multitude of different beliefs among the followers of Christ as long as they all agree on the basics. In fact, Paul specifically states that the reason why God has given us "some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers" was for the very purpose of bringing all believers into "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 4:12, emphasis added).
Even Jesus, just before He went to the garden of Gethsemane, prayed for all of those who would believe on His name pleading, "That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us… I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one" (John 17:21,23).
In both of these verses of scripture, the need for unity is linked to the process of becoming perfect. In fact, Paul says that it is through being united as one that we can measure up to the full stature of Christ. Since Christ is perfect in every way, then it is obvious that if we hope to become perfect as He is then we must strive to become one with Him. This is also how we fulfill Christ's commandment: "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48).
But it should be noted that this unity or oneness is not so much about everyone believing the same doctrines as it is about becoming one with God the Father and with Jesus Christ. Jesus declared "I and my father are one" (John 10:30), and we are commanded to become one with them in the same way that they are one with each other. But how do we do that?
Jesus said, "If you love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15), for "If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love" (John 15:10). As Christians we believe that Jesus lived a sinless life and by that we mean that He never violated even one of the commandments at any time. Thus, Jesus became perfect because He perfectly kept all the commandments. And because He kept the Father's commandments, He abides in the Father's love. In the same way, Jesus says that if we too keep His commandments then we too shall abide in His love.
At the time of our baptism, we make certain covenants or sacred promises to do certain things, and in the prayer given over the sacrament, it tells us what those promises are. That's why it is said that when we partake of the sacrament we are renewing our baptismal covenants. And among the things we have promised to do at the time of our baptism is to "keep his commandments which he has given us." It doesn't say that we promise to try and keep the commandments or that we will strive to keep them. It specifically states that we will keep all of His commandments. And it is by keeping the commandments that we show our love for Christ.
However, no one can possibly keep all the commandments all of the time - at least, not in this life. But our life doesn't end when we lay our physical bodies in the grave; it continues in the realm of spirits and there we will continue striving to perfect ourselves in keeping the commandments. And even then we will not become perfect until after the resurrection.
But if we persist we will eventually reach perfection, and it is in the persisting, for however long it may take, that we show Christ how much we love Him. It is when we give up trying that we give up on loving Christ. Therefore, it is our desire to want to keep the commandments that is the real sign of our love for Christ, and the greater our desire is, the more it shows how much we love Christ. And when we have finally perfected keeping all of the commandments is when we become one with God, the Father, and with Jesus Christ because that's when we will have truly become like them.
Being one with God means thinking and acting like He does. It means having the same attitudes and outlook on things as He has. It means loving what He loves and abhorring what He abhors. If there is any differences between what we desire and what God desires, even in the slightest way, then it cannot truly be said that we are one with God.
It was Christ's prayer shortly before his death, that all who believe on Him should become one with Him in the same way that He is one with the Father, and that happens when we learn to keep the commandments as Christ did. For those who have finally reached that point, then they shall inherit all that the Father has. In the LDS Church, we call this condition exaltation, where they "shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths" (D&C 132:19).
But there is even a greater significance to being one with Christ than this.
Jesus declared, "Verily I say unto you that in time ye shall have no king nor ruler, for I will be your king and watch over you. Wherefore, hear my voice and follow me, and you shall be a free people, and ye shall have no laws but my laws when I come, for I am your lawgiver" (D&C 38:21,22).
Christians talk about the second coming of Christ when He will reign as king over the whole earth for a thousand years. Even the Jews look forward to this time when their Messiah will come and establish them as the ruling class over all other people.
Isaiah prophesied of that day saying, "And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem" (Isaiah 2:3). This is the time when "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them" (Isaiah 11:6) and peace shall cover the earth as a blanket.
But a king is a dictator, meaning that he dictates what his people must do. He word is the law and whatever he decrees is what he expects his subjects to do. Jesus alluded to this when He said "I will be your king… hear my voice and follow me… for I am your lawgiver."
It is assumed by most Christians that when Christ rules as king over the earth that we will willingly and happily obey His every word, but if that is so, then why don't we obey His every word now? If we did we would live all the commandments with ease. The fact that we struggle to keep some of the commandments and make excuses, or don't even try to keep other commandments shows our unwillingness to obey God's every word. Therefore, when Christ rules as the undisputed king of the earth, there is no reason to think that we will suddenly have a change of heart and gladly do everything He decrees.
In many of His parables, Jesus likened Himself to the master of the house and to us as His servants. In many of the letters that Paul wrote, he refers to himself as "a servant of Jesus Christ." A master tells his servants what he wants done and the servant is expected to dutifully obey. The master doesn't give a command and then allows the servant to decide for themselves whether or not they want to obey the command. The servant has no other choice but to do exactly as they've been instructed. And the more diligent and faithful a servant is in doing his master's bidding, the more that servant will be honored by his master.
The same principle applies to a king. No matter how benevolent and kind a king may be, when he issues a decree, he has full expectations that the subjects of his kingdom will obey that decree to the letter. If we, as Christians, accept Christ as our king and master then He has every right to expect us to obey His every word. The reason why we don't is because we only accept Jesus as our master over certain things but want to be our own master over all other things.
As Latter-day Saints, we highly prize the principle of agency where God allows us the freedom to decide for ourselves what we want to do and we assume that means that God allows us the freedom to think for ourselves and do what we want, but that is not what agency is about. The choice that has been placed before us is that we "are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through [obedience to] the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil" (2 Nephi 2:27). Joshua put it more simply when he said, "And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve." (Joshua 24:15).
What God lets us freely decide is whether we will submit ourselves to His rule and voluntarily serve Him or whether it seems evil to us to subject our will to His in all things. The greatest commandment in the law is to love the Lord our God with all of our heart. The word "all" leaves no room for us to only love God with part of our heart. We could rephrase this commandment as saying, "Love the Lord thy God with one hundred percent of your heart."
If we don't serve God with one hundred percent of our heart then it means we are willing to exclude doing some things that He wants us to do. As stated before, the test of whether we love God is the degree to which we keep His commandments and if we love God with all of our heart then we will keep all of His commandments one hundred percent of the time.
When the disciples of Jesus asked Him to teach them to pray, "he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth" (Luke 11:2). Christians generally believe that in heaven the angels are totally obedient to God and only do those things that God tells them to do, but Jesus taught that we should pray that men on earth should also do the will of God to the same extent as it is done in heaven.
To serve God with all of our heart means to completely and totally surrender our will, our desires, and our interests to God's and wanting to do only those things that He wants done. It means being willing to give up doing whatever we want and saying to God, "I will only do what you want." In fact, there is a hymn that many Christians sing that clearly expresses this sentiment which says "I surrender all," and there is another hymn that says, "I'll go where you want me to go, dear Lord, I'll say what you what me say, I'll be what you want me to be" (hymn #270)
However, even as we sing those words, the most devoted believer in Christ nonetheless has trouble actually doing that. All of us have areas in our life where we want to do things our way and are hesitant to surrender one hundred percent of our will to Christ. Yet, if what we want to do is not what God wants us to do, then we cannot truly say we are one with God. And if we are not one with God, where our desire is to serve Him with one hundred percent of our heart, then we are not His.
To many people, this may seem like an extreme doctrine and one that is impossible to fully comply with, and might even seem to contradict the doctrine of God's grace and forgiveness, but Christians talk about our need to become Christ-like and there is a popular slogan they often quote to guide their actions that says, "What would Jesus do?" Therefore, if Christ is our example and it is our desire to walk in His footsteps, then it is important to look at His life and see what He did.
Jesus declared, "I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me" (John 5:30). On other occasions He said, "I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things" (John 8:28). "The word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father's which sent me" (John 14:24). And He made similar statements throughout His ministry.
His forty days of fasting in the wilderness was a time of intense communing with His Father in heaven and when he came forth from that experience, He knew what His mission was, what he was supposed to do, and what He was supposed to say because it had been revealed to him by His Father. Before Jesus called twelve men to be apostles, He spent all night in prayer seeking the Father's will (Luke 6:12-13).
On numerous other occasions Jesus spent many hours in prayer and at the greatest moment of His mission, He spent three hours in fervent prayer in the garden of Gethsemane saying, at one point, "Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done" (Luke 22:42). In our day the Lord has declared, "I am Jesus Christ; I came by the will of the Father, and I do his will" (D&C 19:24).
Jesus completely and totally surrendered His will to that of the Father's and this is evidenced by the fact that the Son did nothing except what His Father commanded Him to do. In many of the newer biblical translations, Jesus is identified as "the messenger of God" and John tells us that Jesus is "the word of God" meaning that He was the personification of God's word. If you wanted to know what the Father's will was then all you had to do was listen to what Jesus said and watched what He did. This is why, when Philip asked Jesus to show him the Father, "Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip This is the true meaning of being one.
As stated earlier, Paul explained that the purpose of the church is to help us become united until we can measure up to the full stature of Christ. If Jesus completely surrendered His will to that of the Father, and we want to be like Christ and be one with the Father as Jesus is, then we too must learn to completely and fully surrender our will to His. And when we are able to do that then we will have come "unto a perfect man" and be one with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ.
But why is that so important for us to do? Why can't we live in heaven with Christ forever without perfectly living all the commandments? Isn't the gospel all about allowing imperfect people to live with a perfect God? Isn't it impossible for us to truly be perfect like Christ? Some will say that God will make us perfect the moment we enter heaven with no effort on our part so why should we worry about striving to be perfect now?
The scriptures tell us that after Christ's resurrection, He ascended into heaven where He sits on the right hand of God (Mark 16:19). Jesus later revealed, "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne" (Revelation. 3:21).
The wording of this statement is rather interesting. Notice that Jesus sits on His Father's throne, but He didn't say that that those who overcome will likewise sit on the Father's throne but rather they will sit on Christ's throne, which would seem to indicate that there are two different thrones or glories.
Jesus kept all of the Father's commandments perfectly, therefore He has earned the right to inherit all that the Father has. On the other hand, since we have not kept all the commandments perfectly, we have not earned the same right as Jesus, therefore we are not entitled to even live in heaven, let alone inherit all that the Father has.
But because of Christ's atonement, He is able to extend mercy to us whereby He will graciously allow us to live with Him. He can do this because He has paid the price for our sins and thereby has bought us with His blood (1 Corinthians 7:23). Therefore, since we belong to Him, He has the right to decide who will enter into heaven and who won't, but His decision isn't made arbitrarily. It's based on our love for Him, because there is no point in letting someone live with Christ forever who doesn't love Him. And the way He knows of our love for Him is through our willingness to keep His commandments.
But since none of us keep the commandments perfectly, that means none of us truly love Christ with all of our heart, and until we overcome the tendency to resist fully obeying Him, as He fully obeyed the Father, then we cannot sit with Him on His throne. Therefore, it seems certain that after the resurrection, those who inherit the celestial kingdom will need to continue in their spiritual progression until they are able to measure up to the full stature of Christ which, when that happens, they will finally have become perfect, even as our Father in heaven is perfect.
When that time comes then they "shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths" and will be made "kings and priest unto God" and shall reign on the earth forever (see Revelation 1:6; 5:10). However, we need to pay particular attention to the wording of this scripture. Those who reach this condition, known as exaltation, don't become kings and priests unto themselves, meaning that they don't rule and reign as they choose, but rather they are made kings and priests " unto God "
Christ has earned the right to sit on a throne and rule according to His own will while we, on the other hand, are merely invited guests who are graciously allowed to share in Christ's glory. For that reason, even those who achieve exaltation will still forever be in subjection to the will of Christ. Thus, even though we may become kings and priests, we will still act in the capacity of servants to Christ, our eternal King, acting under His direction throughout all of eternity.
That is why it is absolutely essential for those who wish to live with Christ forever, to be willing to obey the law of Christ, to harken unto His counsel in all things, and keep His commandments with all of their heart. For someone to do otherwise, after all that Christ has done for them and for all that they have received from Him, would be the gravest of all insults, while to fully and completely surrender our will to Christ is the purest form of worship and is the greatest act of adoration someone can give.
Thus, to be one with God means more than just believing that Jesus is the Christ, or believing in the need for repenting, being baptized, and receiving the Holy Ghost. It means more than reading the scriptures, attending church, or accepting callings. It means more than just making sacred covenants in the Lord's holy temples and being sealed together as husband and wife. It means learning to voluntarily surrender our will totally and completely to God, not just in this life but throughout all eternity. If we are willing to diligently endure to the end in striving to achieve this goal, no matter how long that effort might take, we will reach the point where we have become perfect and will finally have become one with God.
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