Summary: We’ve often heard the scripture that says, “For we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” But this raises two questions – what exactly is grace and what effort must we expend that constitutes our “best efforts?” To understand the answer to these questions, we first have to gain a greater understanding of why we need the Holy Ghost. This article seeks to provide that greater understanding.
From the Come Follow Me lesson manual we read: “Gospel learning that leads to true conversion requires the influence of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost guides us to the truth and bears witness of that truth… He enlightens our minds, quickens our understandings, and touches our hearts with revelation from God, the source of all truth. The Holy Ghost purifies our hearts. He inspires in us a desire to live by truth. For these reasons, in our efforts to live, learn, and teach the gospel, we should first and foremost seek the companionship of the Spirit. This goal should govern our choices and guide our thoughts and actions. We should seek after whatever invites the influence of the Spirit.” (from the section entitled, Conversion is our goal.)
Yet, the scripture tells us, “For we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23). This raises an interesting question. If we’re saved by grace after all we can do, then why do we need the Holy Ghost?
Before we can answer that question, we need to find the answer to two other questions. The first is, what is grace?
The Bible dictionary defines grace as the “divine means of help or strength, given through the bounteous mercy and love of Jesus Christ. It is… receiving strength and assistance to do good works that [we] otherwise would not be able to maintain if left to [our] own means. This grace is an enabling power.” The dictionary goes on to say that grace is the power that allows us “to lay hold on eternal life and exaltation.” But this power can only help us achieve that goal “after [we] have expended [our] own best efforts.”
This then leads to the second question which is, what effort must we expend, and what constitutes our “best efforts?” And a corollary question is, what happens if we don’t expend our best efforts? To understand the answer to these two questions, we first have to gain a better understanding of who the Holy Ghost is, and why we need him.
When we lived in heaven with God, our Father, we shouted for joy when he told us of a plan that would help us someday become just like him and enjoy all the power and glory he possesses. That sounded like a wonderful and glorious idea to us, but a person doesn’t become a god simply because someone gives them that title. We have to learn how to become like God, but how do we do that?
To illustrate this, suppose an earthly father told their ten-year old child that someday they too would become a parent. That would sound like a wonderful idea to them, but to a ten-year old child, all they know about being a parent is that you’re able to do anything you want, and you get to tell others what you want them to do. At that young age, they have very little understanding of the great responsibilities that goes with being a parent.
In the same way, when we lived in heaven, as innocent spirit children, who had no idea what sin was, we had very little understanding of the degree of righteousness it takes to be a god, nor did we have the experience or wisdom to do the things our Father in heaven is capable of doing. Like a ten-year old child, who only knows that their father goes off to “work” every day, with no real concept of what he does, we never fully grasped the magnitude of all that our Father in heaven is responsible for, where his power comes from, or why he is so wise.
As young, immature and innocent children of God, we needed someone to teach us all we need to know to someday become worthy and capable of doing what God does. But who is going to teach us?
The Godhead is composed of three Beings – the Father, and his sons, Jesus and the Holy Ghost. The plan for our exaltation is the Father’s, and he is personally making sure that the plan is working as he has designed. The role of Jesus Christ is to atone for the sins of the world and to preside and watch over those who have joined his church. However, the Holy Ghost has been assigned multiple duties, such as testifying to people everywhere that Jesus is the Christ, God’s only begotten Son who has redeemed us from death. He also helps bring things to our remembrance, he is a guide and companion to those who have accepted Christ, he brings comfort to us during times of sorrow and pain, he ministers to those in need, he teaches us how to become like God and he purifies our hearts, or in other words, he sanctifies us
That makes the Holy Ghost an essential part of our salvation, but why?
To illustrate the answer, suppose you wanted to become a great artist, or learn how to be a great mechanic, or a great engineer, or a great physician, or a great physicist, or any other skilled profession. How would you make that happen? In the beginning you would know nothing about drawing, or engines, or the laws of medicine or physics, therefore you would need to have someone who is very knowledgeable in those subjects teach you.
The vast majority of people would not be able to learn any of these subjects on their own, and if they did, it would most likely be by reading what others had to say. Therefore, reading books to learn how to do something is not much different than someone personally teaching us, except it’s not as effective.
We may have grown up living in heaven with God, but that’s not the same as knowing how to be like God, any more than a ten-year old child living at home knows how to do what their father does. Since none of us have ever been a god, the only way we can someday hope to become one is if someone teaches us what we need to know and then helps us to take that knowledge and learn how to properly apply it. Since the Holy Ghost has been given the primary responsibility for teaching us, that is why it’s important we listen when he speaks.
As the Come Follow Me manual states, the role of the Holy Ghost is to “enlightens our mind, [and] quickens our understanding.” That is the goal of every good teacher. As they present their material, they seek to enlighten minds and provide understanding to those who come seeking knowledge. Since the role of the Holy Ghost is to teach us divine truths, if we want to become like our Father in heaven, then “we should first and foremost seek the companionship of the Holy Ghost.” Without his help, we would know nothing about what it takes to become like God. Therefore, “we should seek after whatever invites the influence of the Spirit.”
If a great teacher was giving a class on a subject we wanted to learn more about, then we would have to attend his class. If we’re somewhere else, no matter how important what we’re doing may be, we will miss out on the lessons the teacher is giving. There are many things in life that are important, but if gaining eternal life is what’s most important to us, then it’s crucial that we attend the classes the Holy Ghosts is teaching, and that would include being where he is, such as in church, in the temple, and in the scriptures.
However, the Holy Ghost is also a traveling teacher, in that he will come into our life and personally teach us no matter where we are, but he won’t do that unless we invite him to be with us. When we are given the gift of the Holy Ghost, we’re told that he will always be with us, but if we don’t invite him into our life, then he won’t be there to teach us.
We’ve all had the experience of being in a large group of people who all talking with one another. There are voices all around us, but the only voice we pay any attention to is from the person we’re talking with because we have the ability to mentally block out any voices we don’t want to hear. Or a student may be sitting in a classroom when the teacher is given a lesson but that doesn’t mean they’re listening to what the teacher is saying.
That same principle applies to how we hear the Holy Ghost. Amid all the things that clamor for our attention, the Holy Ghost is one of them, and we have the choice of whether to listen to his voice when he speaks to us or ignore it and focus our attention on what others are telling us.
If we didn’t want to become like our Father in heaven, we wouldn’t have agreed to come live in mortality. Since we are living here, the Spirit invites us to come listen to him because he wants to teach us the truths we came here to learn. But even though we’re in this divinely appointed classroom called earth life, it’s still our decision whether or not we want to learn what God is trying to teach us.
But the Holy Ghost does more than explain facts and principles, “He inspires in us a desire to live by truth.” A good teacher is also a good coach, and the job of a coach is to help inspire, motivate, encourage, persuade, arouse, and maybe even provoke people to become better than they are. And that is exactly what the Holy Ghost does with us.
It’s easy to get discourage, get lazy, or want to give up, especially when things become hard, but, like a good coach, the Holy Ghost is there to help us keep moving forward. He watches over our progress and our direction. When we get off the path that leads to eternal life, he does all he can to inspire us to get back onto what has been called the covenant path.
In short, the role of the Holy Ghost is to provide the “divine means of help or strength, given through the bounteous mercy and love of Jesus Christ. It is… receiving [the] strength and assistance to do good works that [we] otherwise would not be able to maintain if left to [our] own means.” This is the definition of grace, and it’s because of the power of the Holy Ghost that enables us to achieve eternal life. Without that help, it would be as impossible for us to become like God as it would be for a ten-year old to qualify to receive a Ph.D. in physics.
If the definition of grace is “receiving the strength and assistance to do good works that [we] otherwise would not be able to maintain if left to [our] own means,” and we see that this is the role the Holy Ghost plays in our life, then we learn that God’s grace come to us through the Holy Ghost. Therefore, we can restate 2 Nephi 25:23 as saying, “For we know that it is through the strength and assistance of the Holy Ghost that we are saved after all we can do.”
But the Bible dictionary also states that “this power can only help us achieve that goal after [we] have expended [our] own best efforts.” We now know what the role of the Holy Ghost is, and how it relates to grace, but what is our role, and what’s expected of us. More importantly, what happens if we don’t “expend our own best efforts?”
All along our journey toward godhood we are required to make covenants with God. We make a covenant at the time of our baptism then again when we’re asked to receive the Holy Ghost, and when we receive the priesthood, and when we go through the temple, and we renew those covenants each time we partake of the sacrament.
We can think of covenants as gates we need to pass through in order to continue our journey towards eternal life. It’s like traveling along a road and we come to a gate where the gatekeep asks, “Are you willing to obey such and such a law?” When we say yes, he opens the gate and lets us continue moving forward, but when we are not willing to agree to live by those laws, then the gate remains closed, and we have reached the end of our journey because we cannot proceed any further.
However, if we violate the promises we’ve made when agreeing to the terms of the covenant, then we have voluntarily chosen to get off the path leading to eternal life. But, as long as we abide by and strive to keep the covenants we’ve made, then we’ll continue moving forward toward our divine destination. That’s why it’s called the covenant path, and why we’re required to persist in staying on it.
But that’s not all that’s expected of us. To understand why we can look at a familiar situation.
An artist may be taught the principles of drawing, but it isn’t until they practice what they’ve been taught that they begin to develop the skills needed to paint great works of art. Reading all about how to build a house gives a person good knowledge, but it isn’t until they put that knowledge into practice, that they’re able to become a skilled carpenter, and this same principle applies to becoming like God.
Knowing what to do isn’t the same as being able to do what we know. It takes practice for that to happen, and as we go through life, we will face many challenges that provide plenty of opportunities to apply what we’ve been taught. Our responsibility is to do the homework, the practicing, and the exercising that these opportunities provide us to improve ourselves spiritually.
What helps us move toward that goal is when we’re striving to keep the covenants we’ve made with God. And the more effort we put forth in doing that, the faster we progress toward our eternal destiny. But when we no longer want to keep the covenants we’ve made is when we stop progressing forward and begin progressing in a different direction that will take us away from our divine destination
All of us will stumble and fall many times in our journey, and when we do, the Holy Ghost will be there to encourage us, to refresh us, to give us a helping hand, and he’ll even care for our scratches, cuts, and bruises, but we have to be willing to keep moving along the covenant path no matter what happens. That’s what it means to put forth our best effort and that’s what we’re expected to do.
Related articles can be found at The Nature of God