Summary: In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints there is a strong emphasis on becoming like Christ, and this is usually interpreted to mean we are required to work on becoming as perfect as our Father in heaven. Because of this understanding, there are some who feel like failures because they are very aware of their many weaknesses, and despite their best efforts, their fear is they will never measure up to what they think God expects of them. This article examines this attitude and seeks to help us understand the value in having weaknesses.
We think of Nephi, the son of Lehi, as being a great, spiritually strong man of God who was a pillar of righteousness, and yet he wrote, “Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities” ( 2 Nephi 2:17).
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints there is a strong emphasis on becoming like Christ, and this is usually interpreted to mean we are required to work on becoming as perfect as our Father in heaven. Because of this understanding, there are some who feel like failures because they are very aware of their many weaknesses, and how far they are from being perfect.
Their fear is that no matter how hard they try, they will never measure up to what they think God expects of them. They tell themselves they are not celestial material and feel that despite the covenants they’ve made, they will fall short of inheriting eternal life.
However, even such great men as Mormon and Nephi had these same feelings. The fact is that no one, except Jesus Christ, has ever lived a perfect life and no one ever will. All of us have spiritual weaknesses, faults, shortcomings, inadequacies, and flaws, and the reason why is because we’re supposed to. This is what we came here to earth to experience.
When we lived in heaven, everything there was perfect, and because of that, we lived in a constant state of innocence. When God placed Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, they too lived in a state of innocence, and had they stayed that way, their spiritual growth would have been limited. That’s why their fall was absolutely necessary.
It was after Adam and Eve had eaten the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that God declared “Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil” (Genesis 3:22).
To become more like God, it was critically important for us to know what evil is, and since evil cannot exist in heaven, therefore, our eternal Father had to send us to a place where we could experience it firsthand, and that’s one of the things this earth-life was designed to do.
Since the best way we learn is from hands-on experience, our time in mortality was deliberately meant to give us the kind of experiences needed to more fully grow spiritually. But to truly learn about evil, we couldn’t simply observe it from a distance. We had to come in direct contact and become fully engaged with it, because it’s when we feel its full power that we learn the negative consequences that comes from yielding to its influence. It’s in this way that we truly learn why it’s better to choose good over evil.
What this tells us is that long before God sent us to live on earth, he fully expected each and every one of us to give into evil at some point. More than this, he fully expected that most of us would struggle in our efforts to resist evil. In fact, he was so sure of this that before the earth was ever created, he provided a Savior for the specific purpose of saving each and every one of us from our sins, no matter how bad they were or how often we failed to do what was right.
But there was more to it than this.
After the fall of Adam and Eve, our mortal bodies became infused with a tendency to sin. What this means is that while we live in our mortal bodies, it’s easy for us to sin because that’s the way our bodies are programmed. It’s the most natural thing for us to lie, steal, cheat and place our own needs above that of others. No one has to teach us how to do that because these things come naturally to us.
What is hard is not to lie, steal, cheat or put the needs of others ahead of our own. And even when we’re taught the right way to behave, it’s still a struggle to do what we know we should. And if we slack off in our efforts just a little, we automatically fall back to behaving according to the desires of the natural man.
Then, to add insult to injury, God provided a devil to tempt us, whose sole existence in life is to persuade us to do wrong. However, all of this was done on purpose, but why? Why would God want us to sin, and make it easy for us to do so?
When the prophet Mormon was making his abridged record of the Nephite’s history, he expressed his fears to God that the Gentiles would mock him because of his lack of language skill when they read his book. However, the Lord told him that if “men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me” (Ether 12:27).
When we come to Christ, he shows us our weaknesses. It may seem that God doesn’t need to do that because we’re all too familiar with them, but the only people who are truly aware of their faults are those who are trying to live according to God’s commandments. It’s those who don’t want to follow those commandments, who see nothing wrong in whatever they do.
Those who give in to their weaknesses make excuses for lying, stealing, cheating and being selfish in an effort to justify their behavior, but it’s when we come to God and learn how he wants us to live that we begin to realize the things we’re doing are wrong. And the more we try to do what’s right, the more we come to realize how difficult that can be. But it’s in the struggle against our weaknesses that is the source of our growth. It’s those who don’t try to overcome their weaknesses who don’t improve.
God told Mormon, “I give unto men weakness that they be humble; and [learn that] my grace is sufficient for all men [who] humble themselves before me.”
Humility is the secret ingredient to learning because the proud and arrogant think they know everything. Such people, when they have a little knowledge, think they are wise and therefore resist learning anything new.
But someone who is humble is not only willing to learn but wants to learn. As most seekers of knowledge discover, the more we learn, the more we realize how much we don’t know because the further we go in pursuit of knowledge, the more vistas of knowledge we see ahead of us waiting to be discovered.
However, there is another aspect to being humble. As stated earlier, when we come to Christ with a humble heart, he opens our eyes and shows us our weaknesses, which in turn helps us gain a better appreciation for God’s grace, mercy, patience, and kindness towards us. But, if we think there’s nothing wrong with what we do, then God’s grace means nothing to us.
To illustrate this principle, people appreciate doctors when they’re sick more than when they’re healthy. That’s because most people don’t like going to doctors when they’re feeling well. However, when they’re feeling miserable, they desperately want a doctor’s help in restoring them to back to health.
In the same way, when we’re spiritually sick but don’t know it, the grace of God has no meaning to us, but when we realize how spiritually weak we really are, and how much God still loves us and cares about us, the more grateful we are to him for being forgiving, merciful, and kind to us.
Jacob, the son of Lehi and brother of Nephi expressed it this way: “Nevertheless, the Lord God showeth us our weakness that we may know that it is by his grace, and his great condescensions unto the children of men, that we have power to do these things” (Jacob 4:7).
But there’s another reason for why God gives us weaknesses. The apostle Paul explained, “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure” (2 Corinthians 12:7).
Paul had a weakness he described as “a thorn in the flesh.” We don’t know exactly what that was, but he pleaded with God three times to take it away. However, God told him this weakness was for his good because, since Paul had had so many marvelous revelations, it would have been easy for him to have an exalted opinion of himself. However, the reason why God didn’t take away this “thorn in the flesh” was because it was meant to help Paul remain humble.
But Paul isn’t unique in this. All of us on earth earned the right to come live in mortality because of being valiant in fighting for God’s plan and accepting Jehovah to be our Savior. Back then, many of us were spiritually strong and no doubt had the attitude that we were going to make it through the tests of mortality with ease. If that had been the case, we would have boasted about our own abilities. Therefore, God placed us in an environment that saddled us with weaknesses that would keep us humble and help teach us to rely on God’s power instead of relying on our own power.
And there is yet another reason why God gives us weaknesses.
Imagine a runner practicing over and over again in an effort to improve their speed. Yet, no matter how much they practice, the improvement happens agonizingly slow. Then imagine their coach attaches a heavy weight to each leg of the runner. Now, when the runner goes to practice, their feet will be pulling against the weights around their legs and as a result, this would slow their speed tremendously.
In this situation, the runner would feel that the weights were making it more difficult for them to run fast and would question the wisdom of their coach. In this condition, no matter how much the runner practices, their speed will remain far below what they once could once do.
But by running like this, what the weights are doing is helping increase the strength in the runner’s leg muscles. Then, when the weights are removed, the runner will have greater leg strength, which will help them to run faster than they did before.
We may complain about our spiritual weaknesses and feel that we could progress much faster without them, but the truth is that our weaknesses are helping to strengthen us spiritually as we struggle against them. When we die, those weaknesses of the flesh will disappear, and we will find ourselves spiritually stronger and better able to progress much faster than we did before coming to earth. This is what God meant when he said “I make weak things become strong unto them. above measure.”
Does that mean the more we sin the stronger we become spiritually? The apostle Paul answered that question when he said, “What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid” (Romans 6:15). It’s not our weaknesses that make us strong but the struggle against that that brings about the desired effect.
But just the opposite is also true. Those who give into their weaknesses are like the runner who stands still rather than running with weights because it takes too much effort. Instead of their leg muscles becoming stronger, they’ll begin to atrophy from lack of use. What we see is that the weaknesses we have can be a curse to those who give into them, or they can become a blessing to those who struggle against them.
Rather than complain about how imperfect we are because of our weaknesses, we should rejoice in knowing that as long as we continue to struggle in overcoming whatever faults we may have, we’re actually becoming spiritually stronger.
And instead of thinking that we will never become like our Father in heaven because of our many imperfections, we need to remember that it’s because of his atonement that, the grace of Christ is sufficient to save all men. That knowledge should give us a greater appreciation for Christ’s mercy which is what allows him to save us in spite of our weaknesses.
Related articles can be found at The Nature of Spiritual Growth