Doctrines of the Gospel

Summary: When we study the scriptures, we can read them with the intent to see how to become a better follower of Christ by applying their principles in our life, or we can read them to help us gain a deeper understanding of the gospel. By this we don’t mean to uncover any of the hidden mysteries of God, where we discover some new and unheard-of doctrine. Instead, what it means is to examine the things we already know about the doctrines of salvation in order to gain a more profound insight into them. This article gives an example of the latter.   

When we study the scriptures, we can read them with the intent to see how to become a better follower of Christ by applying their principles in our life, or we can read them to help us gain a deeper understanding of the gospel. By this we don’t mean to uncover any of the hidden mysteries of God, where we discover some new and unheard-of doctrine. Instead, what it means is to examine the doctrines we already know in order to gain a more profound insight into them.

Take for example, D&C 49:5-7. In these three verses we read:  Thus saith the Lord; for I am God, and have sent mine Only Begotten Son into the world for the redemptions of the world, and have decreed that he that receiveth him shall be saved, and he that receiveth him not shall be damned— And they have done unto the Son of Man even as they listed; and he has taken his power on the right hand of his glory, and now reigneth in the heavens, and will reign till he descends on the earth to put all enemies under his feet, which time is nigh at hand— I, the Lord God, have spoken it.”

The first thing to take notice of is who’s speaking. In previous sections of the Doctrine and Covenants, it’s quite clear that Jesus is the one who is talking because he identifies himself as Alpha and Omega, the creator of the world, the Redeemer, the advocate with the Father, and he who died for our sins. Also, when it’s Jesus speaking, he does so in the first person, using the pronouns “I” and “me,” but in this section, Jesus is being referred to in the third person, and is identified as “he and “him.” In other words, this is not Jesus speaking. Instead, this is someone who is speaking about Jesus.

Sometimes angels will speak in the first person, as though they were God, when in fact, they’re merely delivering God’s message. When this happens it’s as though they’re reading God’s words as he wrote them. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case here. The context of this entire section seems to strongly suggest that this is indeed the Father speaking and not someone else who is reciting the words of Jesus.

With that understanding let’s look at verse five which starts off by saying, “Thus saith the Lord; for I am God.”  We refer to Jesus as our Lord, and we consider him to be God, so it’s natural to think this is Jesus speaking, but then he says, “and have sent mine Only Begotten Son into the world.” Jesus doesn’t have an only begotten son, and nor did he send himself into the world, so who was it that sent him?  Whoever it was claims that Jesus is his only Begotten Son, therefore, we are left with no other conclusion than this is God, the Father, himself who is speaking. That’s not only interesting, but significant that he’s the one who has chosen to give this revelation instead of having Jesus give it.

The Father then goes on to say that he sent his Son “into the world for the redemption of the world, and have decreed that he that receiveth him shall be saved, and he that receiveth him not shall be damned.”  It was the Father who made the decision that only those who receive Jesus should be saved, and it was the Father who decided that those who won’t receive his Son are to be damned. But why did God decide to save only those who “receive” Jesus? And what does it even mean to “receive” him? If God is our Father, and he loves all of his children, then why is he going to damn those children who don’t receive his son, Jesus?

To answer that question, we need to define a couple of words.

To believe in someone means to accept certain facts about them. For example, we accept as fact that Jesus is the Son of God, that he died on the cross for our sins, and that he gives us commandments we’re expected to obey. To believe can also mean that we can trust what he tells us, which leads us to have faith in him. On the other hand, when we receive someone, we accept or invite them to join with us. For example, when someone knocks on our front door and we invite them to come into our home, we’re receiving them. When the President of the United States receives an ambassador from another country, or perhaps the head of a foreign nation, he is inviting them to come meet with him personally and treats them as an honored guest.

But to receive Jesus is more than accepting him into our life. It means committing or binding ourselves to him. It means allowing ourselves to become one with him. But why is this necessary in order for us to be saved, while those who don’t receive Jesus into their life will be damned?

Some have interpreted this to mean that God is saying, “It’s either my way or the highway. You either do what I tell you, or I don’t ever want to have anything more to do with you.” However, this viewpoint comes about only because we misinterpret the words “saved,” and “damned.”.

When most Christians hear the word “saved” they understand that to mean living with God in heaven forever, and when they read the word “damned” they understand that as meaning God will curse them with eternal punishment. However, both interpretations are flawed.

When God uses the word saved, it has a very specific meaning. The scriptures tell us that Jesus came to give us eternal life, and eternal life, exaltation, becoming like Christ, and inheriting all that the Father has, all mean the same thing. We didn’t jump for joy to experience mortality just so we can live in the celestial kingdom with God. We already lived there before coming to earth.

Our express purpose for coming here was to someday become perfected exalted beings, just like our heavenly Father is, and this is not only our goal but his as well. As such, when God speaks about saving us, or giving us eternal life, he’s referring to us becoming exalted to the same degree that he is. To put it more directly, being saved means becoming a god ourselves. Anything less than this isn’t being fully saved as far as God is concerned.

To become a god means being able to do everything that our Father in heaven can do, and his most important work is to create spirit children and help them to become exalted (Moses 1:39). The scriptures refer to this as having seed forever, and the word seed is a nice way of saying being able to produce children. If someone can continue to produce children forever, then their ability to have increase becomes infinite, or has no end. (see D&C 132:19)

On the other hand, those who don’t become exalted can’t produce any children, because that ability is only given to the gods, therefore they can’t have any increase (D&C 131:4) but instead, they remain single and separately forever (D&C 132:17). As such, their progression has come to an end. When God uses the term damned, he’s not so much talking about cursing us but rather, he’s speaking about the kind of dam that holds back water. This kind of a dam is a wall or a barrier that prevents us from going any further.

In this sense we can say that those who don’t become exalted have hit a wall or reached a point in their progression where they can no longer advance in their journey towards becoming like God. Yet, in another sense, this can also be seen as a curse because such people are denied receiving the greatest gift God wants to bestow upon us.

However, this is not God’s desire for us. His whole work is about helping us gain eternal life, or the ability to produce life eternally. It is we who choose not to advance in our progression because we choose not to do those things that will allow us to become exalted.

When the Father says this is what he has decreed, he’s saying this is the plan he presented to us in the grand counsel of heaven before the earth was created, but in order for us to become like God there are certain things we have to do. For example, if we want to become a doctor, we have to attend a medical college, get a certified degree from them, and pass a state board exam. If we fail to do any one of those things, we can’t practice medicine as a doctor. In the same way, unless we do all the things necessary to become as perfect and holy as our Father in heaven then we cannot become an exalted being as he is.

A crucial element in that plan called for someone to atone for our sins, because without that happening, we would be shut out of the kingdom of God forever. And so, the Father sent his only begotten son “into the world for the redemption of the world.” In other words, Jesus was sent into the world for the specific purpose of redeeming us from our sins.

The word redeem means to compensate, or pay that which is owed, or to repay a debt. The way Jesus redeems us is, when we commit a sin, we are required by eternal laws to compensate or rectify whatever law we’ve violated. But because of his atoning sacrifice, Jesus has paid that price for us, and has redeemed us from the law, by compensating the law for what we’ve done wrong.

Then the Father explained that “he that recieveth Jesus shall be saved.” Notice the word “shall.” This means that if we receive Jesus, we are guaranteed to become exalted. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. It IS going to happen, period. This is an iron-clad promise that our Father makes to us.  And the reason why he gives us such a promise is because this is what our Father’s work is all about. He didn’t send his only begotten Son to redeem the world just so we can make it back to the celestial kingdom. He wants us to gain eternal life more than we do, and he’s going to do all in his power to help us attain that goal.

But how is God able to guarantee that we will be able to become like him?

In the church we talk about the atonement so much that we often have the impression that after Jesus died and was resurrected, he went back to heaven where he now sits on the right hand of God because he had finished his work. We tend to think of Jesus as saying, “I’ve done my part. Now it’s time for you to do your part.”  As important and crucial as the atonement is (because without it nothing else matters), Jesus still has a tremendous number of other things he’s responsible for doing.

In the beginning he was tasked with creating this earth and all that’s in it. As Jehovah, he continued his work of guiding mankind from Adam through Noah, to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and all the prophets. After his death on the cross, he continued to shape world events, including preparing everything needed to bring about the restoration of his gospel. Today, he is not only presiding over and guiding his church throughout the world, but he is also shaping human events in preparing the earth for his second coming. Then, once that happens, he will rule and reign over the earth for a thousand years, preparing it and its people to become celestialized, but that won’t happen until he has brought all enemies under his feet.

But the greatest work that the Father has given Jesus to accomplish is to ensure that everyone who receives him becomes exalted. Our critics like to claim that we think we can earn our way into heaven by keeping God’s commandments, but nothing could be farther from the truth. No matter how hard we may try, our best efforts wouldn’t be enough to make us as perfect and holy as God. Then how does that happen? That responsibility belongs to Christ. It’s his job, along with that of the Holy Ghost, to ensure that we become fully sanctified.

The scriptures tell us to “come unto Christ and be perfected in him and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.” (Moroni 10:32).

We don’t perfect ourselves. To become perfect, we must “come unto Christ” and the reason why is because he’s the only one who can perfect us. One of the roles of the Holy Ghost is to sanctify us, and to be sanctified means to be made holy, but he can only do that if we receive him. That’s why we are given the command to “Receive the Holy Ghost.” What we see then is that both Jesus and the Holy Ghost are working together to help exalt us.

But how do they do that and why must we keep the commandments in order to be saved?

To understand the answer to this question we can go back to our earlier example of becoming a medical doctor. No one makes themself a doctor. To become one, a person must first have a sincere and genuine desire to enter that profession. Then, they must apply to and be accepted by a qualified medical school that will teach them everything they need to know to practice medicine. When they’re through with their academic studies, they’ll spend a number of years as an intern, learning how to skillfully apply what they’ve learned. In addition to this, some medical schools will help prepare their students to successfully pass their state exams. But without all of this help, no matter how bright and accomplished someone might be, they would never be able to become a certified doctor on their own.

But at the same time, the student must be willing to listen to instruction, study and learn the material being taught, do their homework, and pass the teacher’s tests.  Without doing all of these things, no matter how good the teachers are, the student will fail to become a licensed doctor.

The stated purpose of the church is to “perfect the saints” (Ephesians 4:13) and the dean, headmaster, or president over this institution of divine higher learning is Jesus. Christ. He’s the one who sets the curriculum and is overseeing and making sure that everyone who attends his university is being properly taught and schooled in what it takes to be a god.

But, in order for us to graduate with a degree in exaltation, we must first be willing to receive his instructions, and we do this by loving “God with all [our] might, mind and strength.” It is not easy to become like God, and no one is making us take this course. Therefore, if we don’t love serving God with all of our heart, then when the courses of instruction become too difficult, we’ll quit. It’s only those who endure to the last final exam and pass it who are the ones who will become exalted.

We are not awarded exaltation simply because we tried to keep God’s commandments. The commandments are both our instructions and our homework. They are tools meant to teach us how to behave like God, and as we apply living them in our life, we become more skillful in behaving like our Father in heaven.

However, we are all at different levels of spirituality. Some are strong, faithful members of the church with great spiritual character and abilities, while others are struggling just to stay on the gospel path. Then how can Jesus guarantee that each and every person who receives him will absolutely become exalted?

Those who take college courses on campus spend most of their time attending classes and therefore can obtain their degree in four years. But there are others who aren’t able to go to college full-time, so they take their courses of instruction from home and complete their assignments as they have the time to do the work. In these cases, it may take someone quite a number of years before they’re awarded a degree. But it doesn’t matter how long it takes to get one. What matters is attaining it.

And this same principle applies to becoming exalted. As long as we are willing to receive instruction and correction from Jesus, he will continue working and helping us in our quest to become perfect for however long that process may take us. For some, that will be much quicker than others, but regardless, Jesus will persist in encouraging, motivating, counseling, prompting, and doing what he can to inspire us to keep moving forward toward perfection. With that kind of help, the only way we can fail to become exalted is for us to give up and stop trying.

But why must we come to Jesus for that to happen? There are two reasons. The first is, because God, our Father, has given Jesus the responsibility to make sure we do become perfect, therefore, there is no other name under heaven who is authorized to lead us into life eternal and guide us as we search in weakness for it.

The second is because there is no other good enough.  By strict obedience Jesus has marked the path for us to follow because he has walked that path himself, and is the only one who has ever successfully done so. If someone wants to learn to become a great doctor, they don’t go ask their local mechanic to teach them how to do that. If we want to become a doctor, then we go ask someone who is already a licensed medical physician to teach us. In the same way, if we want to know how to become perfect, then we need to ask someone who has already become perfect, and the only mortal person we know who has ever done that is Jesus Christ.

Although God, the Father, only used a few words of explanation in D&C 49:5-7 yet contained in them is much we can learn about the doctrines of the gospel.



Related articles can be found at The Nature of Parting Thoughts