We all have our free agency and God holds us accountable for the way we use it in thought and deed. "Kindness, compassion, and love are powerful instruments in strengthening us to carry heavy burdens imposed without any fault of our own and to do what we know to be right." Elder Dallin H. Oaks
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“Because they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever”. 2 Nephi 2:26
Without the Atonement, there could be no freedom: “We proclaim the atonement wrought by Jesus Christ . . . is to all people; it is the message of deliverance from sin and its sorrow, the decree of liberty, the charter of freedom.” James E. Talmage
As with each of the other blessings of the Atonement, this one does not stand alone. It complements, supplements, and overlaps others.
In truth, the freest of all beings is God himself. “God could not make men like himself without making them free,” said David O. McKay.
It is a greater manifestation of divine power to make beings that can make themselves than to make beings that cannot, for the former are men and the latter are puppets, and puppets after all are only things.” Dr. Iverach, a Scottish philosopher.
GOD MAKES MEN FREE
Freedom is described as the power or agency to act for oneself. “The Lord god gave unto man that he should act for himself” (2 Nephi 2:16) (D&C 29:35) (Moses 4:3)
Man could never enjoy the full powers of agency without the intervention of God. Samuel told the people of Zarahemla, “Ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves,” and then he added, “He [God] hath made your free” (Helaman 14:30). Under Christ ye are made free. “And there is no other head whereby ye can be made free” (Mosiah 5:8) The Savior taught that true freedom comes “if the Son . . . shall make your free” (John 8:36). Paul urged the saints of Galatia to retain their “liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free” (Galatians 5:1).
THE FOUR COMPONENTS OF FREEDOM
How does God endow us with agency, and what part does the Atonement play in making us free? This is best understood by dissecting freedom into its four principal components, namely the need for an intelligent being, a knowledge of good and evil, the availability of choices, and the power to execute or carry out such choices.
The need for an intelligent being. Simply stated, there can be no freedom without a decision maker, an intelligent being. Man is a conscious, thinking entity, thus fulfilling the first requirement for freedom.
The need for a knowledge of good and evil. Man’s initial knowledge of good and evil was triggered at the time of the Fall. The Lord said, “Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil” (Genesis 3:22) Eve said, “Were it not for our transgression we … never should have known good and evil” (Moses 5:11) Absent that grant of knowledge, Adam and Eve would have been confined to a state of innocence. It was a vital link, but it was the beginning – the gateway to knowledge. The scriptures reveal that “the eyes of them both were opened” (Genesis 3:7). This was essential, but it was only the commencement, not the end of the road. With increased knowledge comes the opportunity for increased freedom. The Savior’s testimony to the scribes and Pharisees: “Know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). They retorted, “We . . . were never in bondage to any man” (John 8:33). How wrong they were. They had secular knowledge, but not the spiritual truth that makes man free. The essence of freedom is to know the Savior and obey his truths. As we do so, we become free from prejudice, falsehood, sin, contention, and every other injurious practice or evil nature known to man. The Fall opened the gate to the road of knowledge, but it was the Atonement that provided the vehicle to proceed through the Atonement where we are cleansed in the waters of baptism, making us eligible for the gift of the Holy Ghost. It is such a gift that “will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). As we come to know the Savior and his truths we enlarge our capacity for freedom. This is so because knowledge is power; and power, in its consummate expression is godhood; and godhood is the quintessence of freedom.
The third element of freedom is the availability of choices. Only to the human being did the Creator say, “…thou mayest choose for thyself, for it is given unto thee . . .(Moses 3:17) Were it not for the Atonement, there would have been no choice between eternal life and eternal damnation. The Fall would have opened the gate to one road and one road only. The Atonement is the means of deliverance, the means of freeing our bodies from the grave and our spirits from hell, of offering another road, another choice, another option. The message is clear. We can accept the Atonement, a choice that leads to eternal life (the ultimate in freedom); or we can choose the way of the Evil One, a choice that leads to destruction, chains, and captivity (the ultimate in bondage). As we choose the Lord, he gives us more rope; as we choose Satan, he tightens the noose until we are in his grasp. “Ye are free to act for yourselves – - to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life” (2 Nephi 10:23). That freedom of choice comes through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
The one element yet lacking for a fullness of freedom is the power to execute or carry out the choices before us. We may have knowledge of good and evil; we may even have choices placed before us; but unless we have power to execute, the power to fulfill, then our freedom is but a façade. The issue is not choice. The issue is simply power – the power to see and hear and do without restraint. While God is certainly a proponent of earthly knowledge, he also wants us to know that powers of a higher source flow from the acquisition of spiritual truths. It is this spiritual power that parted the Red Sea. That caused the sun to “stand still,” rivers to change their course, and mountains to flee (Exodus 14:21-29; Joshua 10:12-14; Moses 7:13) This power is of such magnitude that it has penetrated and softened even the hearts of those who were known to be “a wild and a hardened and a ferocious people” (Alma 17:14) Both earthly and spiritual power (which ultimately are but one power) constitute the power of godhood, for gods “have all power” (D&C 132:20) With each new power acquired, we develop greater control not only of the elements but of our destiny. In this way, we become the driver, not the driven – - the cause rather than the effect. We act for ourselves rather than being “acted upon” (2 Nephi 2:26) ; and in this manner we become free. While knowledge is essential to the acquisition of power, there is yet another ingredient, often ignored, and sometimes even ridiculed, that is a prerequisite to receiving the “higher” powers – - those powers necessary to enjoy a fullness of freedom. It is obedience.
OBEDIENCE – A KEY TO FREEDOM
Some might contend that freedom comes when there are no laws or restraints. They contend that freedom in its purest form is the right to do anything, anytime, anywhere, without consequence. About twenty-five hundred years ago it was prophesied of those misguided souls who would teach, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die; and it shall be well with us” (2 Nephi 28:7) Does it not seem ironic that such a philosophy is authored by the master slave himself? It was he who was cast out of heaven, who was deprived of a body, who will be bound a thousand years, and who will ultimately be banished to outer darkness. The freedom he promises is illusory; it is a mirage on the desert; it is the very condition that has always eluded his grasp. It was the same lie promulgated by Cain after he slew his brother Abel: “I am free” he said (Moses 5:33) In truth, he was never in more bondage. He was the servant, even the slave of sin.
How then does the Lord propose to make us free? The answer is obedience. Contrary to the belief of many, obedience is not the antithesis of freedom, but the foundation of it. There are two freedoms; the false where one is free to do what he likes, and the true where he is free to do what he ought. Commandments are no more restrictive to the spiritual man than street signs are to the motorist. Neither prohibits our progress; to the contrary, they enhance it by serving as guideposts or directional signs to help us find and reach our destination. “We are too inclined to think of law as something merely restrictive; the opposite of liberty. But that is a false conception. God does not contradict himself. He did not create man and then, as an afterthought, impose upon him a set of arbitrary, irritation, restrictive rules. He made man free – and then gave him the commandments to keep him free. We cannot break the Ten Commandments. We can only break ourselves against them – or else, by keeping them, rise through them to the fullness of freedom under God.” Cecil B. De Mille.
Freedom requires a knowledge of good and evil, the availability of choices, and the power to execute or carry them out. Each of these is enhanced by obedience to God’s will. As we obey God’s laws we receive increased knowledge of God’s plan, and with increased knowledge comes increased capacity for freedom. Obedience broadens the lost of our choices. It generates power; power comes by obedience. We gain power over the elements as we obey the laws of God. Obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel brings increased knowledge, a multiplicity of choices and an enhanced power to execute, all of which results in added freedom.
The difference between the righteous and the sinner, eternal life or death, happiness or misery, is to those who are exalted where there are no bounds or limits to their privileges.
“It hasn’t always been easy to stay morally clean but it has been far easier than the alternative. I have never spent one second worrying about an unwanted pregnancy or disease. I have never had a moment’s anguish because a man used and then discarded me. When I do marry, I will do so without regret. I have yet to meet the man or woman who is happier because he or she was dishonest or because they were addicted to something or because they were immoral.” – Sheri Dew
To commit sin is to willfully disobey God’s commandments or to fail to act righteously despite a knowledge of the truth (James 4: 17).
The Lord has said that He “cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance” (D&C 1: 31). Sin results in the withdrawal of the Holy Ghost. It makes the one who sins unable to dwell in the presence of Heavenly Father, for “no unclean thing can dwell with God” (1 Ne. 10: 21).
Other than Jesus Christ, each person who has ever lived on earth has broken commandments or failed to act according to knowledge of the truth. The Apostle John taught: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, [Jesus Christ] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John. 1: 8-9). Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, each person can repent and be forgiven of these sins.
Thus, the journey of mortality is to progress from bad to good to better and to experience the mighty change of heart—to have our fallen natures changed. Mosiah 5: 2
The enabling power of the Atonement strengthens us to do and be good and to serve beyond our own individual desire and natural capacity.
The grand objective of the Savior’s gospel was summarized succinctly by President David O. McKay (1873–1970): “The purpose of the gospel is … to make bad men good and good men better, and to change human nature.”1 Thus, the journey of mortality is to progress from bad to good to better and to experience the mighty change of heart—to have our fallen natures changed (see Mosiah 5:2).
The Book of Mormon is our handbook of instructions as we travel the pathway from bad to good to better and strive to have our hearts changed. King Benjamin teaches about the journey of mortality and the role of the Atonement in navigating successfully that journey: “For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord” (Mosiah 3:19; emphasis added).
I draw your attention to two specific phrases. First—“putteth off the natural man.” The journey from bad to good is the process of putting off the natural man or the natural woman in each of us. In mortality we all are tempted by the flesh. The very elements out of which our bodies were created are by nature fallen and ever subject to the pull of sin, corruption, and death. But we can increase our capacity to overcome the desires of the flesh and temptations “through the atonement of Christ.” When we make mistakes, as we transgress and sin, we can repent and become clean through the redeeming power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
Second—“becometh a saint.” This phrase describes the continuation and second phase of life’s journey to make “good men better” or, in other words, to become more like a saint. This second part of the journey, this process of going from good to better, is a topic about which we do not study or teach frequently enough nor understand adequately.
I suspect that many Church members are much more familiar with the nature of the redeeming and cleansing power of the Atonement than they are with the strengthening and enabling power. It is one thing to know that Jesus Christ came to earth to die for us—that is fundamental and foundational to the doctrine of Christ. But we also need to appreciate that the Lord desires, through His Atonement and by the power of the Holy Ghost, to live in us—not only to direct us but also to empower us.
Most of us know that when we do wrong things, we need help to overcome the effects of sin in our lives. The Savior has paid the price and made it possible for us to become clean through His redeeming power. Most of us clearly understand that the Atonement is for sinners. I am not so sure, however, that we know and understand that the Atonement is also for saints—for good men and women who are obedient, worthy, and conscientious and who are striving to become better and serve more faithfully. We may mistakenly believe we must make the journey from good to better and become a saint all by ourselves, through sheer grit, willpower, and discipline, and with our obviously limited capacities.
The gospel of the Savior is not simply about avoiding bad in our lives; it also is essentially about doing and becoming good.And the Atonement provides help for us to overcome and avoid bad and to do and become good. Help from the Savior is available for the entire journey of mortality—from bad to good to better and to change our very nature.
I am not suggesting that the redeeming and enabling powers of the Atonement are separate and discrete. Rather, these two dimensions of the Atonement are connected and complementary; they both need to be operational during all phases of the journey of life. And it is eternally important for all of us to recognize that both of these essential elements of the journey of mortality—both putting off the natural man and becoming a saint, both overcoming bad and becoming good—are accomplished through the power of the Atonement. Individual willpower, personal determination and motivation, effective planning and goal setting are necessary but ultimately insufficient for us to triumphantly complete this mortal journey. Truly, we must come to rely upon “the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah” (2 Nephi 2:8).
Grace and the Enabling Power of the Atonement
In the Bible Dictionary we learn that the word grace frequently is used in the scriptures to connote enabling power:
“[Grace is] a word that occurs frequently in the New Testament, especially in the writings of Paul. The main idea of the word is divine means of help or strength, given through the bounteous mercy and love of Jesus Christ.
“It is through the grace of the Lord Jesus, made possible by his atoning sacrifice, that mankind will be raised in immortality, every person receiving his body from the grave in a condition of everlasting life. It is likewise through the grace of the Lord that individuals, through faith in the atonement of Jesus Christ and repentance of their sins, receive strength and assistance to do good works that they otherwise would not be able to maintain if left to their own means. This grace is an enabling power that allows men and women to lay hold on eternal life and exaltation after they have expended their own best efforts.”2
Grace is the divine assistance or heavenly help each of us desperately needs to qualify for the celestial kingdom. Thus, the enabling power of the Atonement strengthens us to do and be good and to serve beyond our own individual desire and natural capacity.
In my personal scripture study, I often insert the term “enabling power” whenever I encounter the word grace. Consider, for example, this verse with which we are all familiar: “We know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23). I believe we can learn much about this vital aspect of the Atonement if we will insert “enabling and strengthening power” each time we find the word grace in the scriptures.
Illustrations and Implications
The journey of mortality is to go from bad to good to better and to have our very natures changed. The Book of Mormon is replete with examples of disciples and prophets who knew, understood, and were transformed by the enabling power of the Atonement in making that journey. As we come to better understand this sacred power, our gospel perspective will be greatly enlarged and enriched. Such a perspective will change us in remarkable ways.
Nephi is an example of one who knew, understood, and relied upon the enabling power of the Savior. Recall that the sons of Lehi had returned to Jerusalem to enlist Ishmael and his household in their cause. Laman and others in the party traveling with Nephi from Jerusalem back to the wilderness rebelled, and Nephi exhorted his brethren to have faith in the Lord. It was at this point in their journey that Nephi’s brothers bound him with cords and planned his destruction. Please note Nephi’s prayer: “O Lord, according to my faith which is in thee, wilt thou deliver me from the hands of my brethren; yea, even give me strength that I may burst these bands with which I am bound” (1 Nephi 7:17; emphasis added).
Do you know what I likely would have prayed for if I had been tied up by my brothers? “Please get me out of this mess NOW!” It is especially interesting to me that Nephi did not pray to have his circumstances changed. Rather, he prayed for the strength to change his circumstances. And I believe he prayed in this manner precisely because he knew, understood, and had experienced the enabling power of the Atonement.
I do not think the bands with which Nephi was bound just magically fell from his hands and wrists. Rather, I suspect he was blessed with both persistence and personal strength beyond his natural capacity, that he then “in the strength of the Lord” (Mosiah 9:17) worked and twisted and tugged on the cords, and ultimately and literally was enabled to break the bands.
The implication of this episode for each of us is straightforward. As you and I come to understand and employ the enabling power of the Atonement in our personal lives, we will pray and seek for strength to change our circumstances rather than praying for our circumstances to be changed. We will become agents who act rather than objects that are acted upon (see 2 Nephi 2:14).
Consider the example in the Book of Mormon as Alma and his people are persecuted by Amulon. The voice of the Lord came to these good people in their affliction and indicated:
“I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs. …
“And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord” (Mosiah 24:14–15; emphasis added).
What was changed in this episode? It was not the burden that changed; the challenges and difficulties of persecution were not immediately removed from the people. But Alma and his followers were strengthened, and their increased capacity and strength made the burdens they bore lighter. These good people were empowered through the Atonement toact as agents and impact their circumstances. And “in the strength of the Lord” Alma and his people were then directed to safety in the land of Zarahemla.
You legitimately may be wondering, “What makes the episode with Alma and his people an example of the enabling power of the Atonement?” The answer is found in a comparison of Mosiah 3:19 and Mosiah 24:15.
“And putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lordseeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father” (Mosiah 3:19; emphasis added).
As we progress in the journey of mortality from bad to good to better, as we put off the natural man or woman in each of us, and as we strive to become saints and have our very natures changed, then the attributes detailed in this verse increasingly should describe the type of person you and I are becoming. We will become more childlike, more submissive, more patient, and more willing to submit.
Now compare these characteristics in Mosiah 3:19 with those used to describe Alma and his people: “And they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord” (Mosiah 24:15; emphasis added).
I find the parallels between the attributes described in these verses striking and an indication that Alma’s good people were becoming a better people through the enabling power of the Atonement of Christ the Lord.
Recall the story of Alma and Amulek contained in Alma 14. In this incident many faithful Saints had been put to death by fire, and these two servants of the Lord had been imprisoned and beaten. Consider this petition offered by Alma as he prayed in prison: “O Lord, give us strength according to our faith which is in Christ, even unto deliverance” (Alma 14:26; emphasis added).
Here again we see Alma’s understanding of and confidence in the enabling power of the Atonement reflected in his request. And note the result of this prayer:
“And they [Alma and Amulek] broke the cords with which they were bound; and when the people saw this, they began to flee, for the fear of destruction had come upon them. …
“And Alma and Amulek came forth out of the prison, and they were not hurt; for the Lord had granted unto them power, according to their faith which was in Christ” (Alma 14:26, 28; emphasis added).
Once again the enabling power is evident as good people struggle against evil and strive to become even better and serve more effectively“in the strength of the Lord.”
Another example from the Book of Mormon is instructive. In Alma 31, Alma is directing a mission to reclaim the apostate Zoramites, who, after building their Rameumptom, offer a prescribed and prideful prayer.
Notice the plea for strength in Alma’s personal prayer: “O Lord, wilt thou grant unto me that I may have strength, that I may suffer with patience these afflictions which shall come upon me, because of the iniquity of this people” (Alma 31:31; emphasis added).
Alma also prays that his missionary companions will receive a similar blessing: “Wilt thou grant unto them that they may have strength, that they may bear their afflictions which shall come upon them because of the iniquities of this people” (Alma 31:33; emphasis added).
Alma did not pray to have his afflictions removed. He knew he was an agent of the Lord, and he prayed for the power to act and affect his situation.
The key point of this example is contained in the final verse of Alma 31: “[The Lord] gave them strength, that they should suffer no manner of afflictions, save it were swallowed up in the joy of Christ. Now this was according to the prayer of Alma; and this because he prayed in faith” (verse 38; emphasis added).
The afflictions were not removed. But Alma and his companions were strengthened and blessed through the enabling power of the Atonement to “suffer no manner of afflictions, save it were swallowed up in the joy of Christ.” What a marvelous blessing. And what a lesson each of us should learn.
Examples of the enabling power are not found only in the scriptures. Daniel W. Jones was born in 1830 in Missouri, and he joined the Church in California in 1851. In 1856 he participated in the rescue of handcart companies that were stranded in Wyoming by severe snowstorms. After the rescue party had found the suffering Saints, provided what immediate comfort they could, and made arrangements for the sick and the feeble to be transported to Salt Lake City, Daniel and several other young men volunteered to remain with and safeguard the company’s possessions. The food and supplies left with Daniel and his colleagues were meager and rapidly expended. The following quote from Daniel Jones’s personal journal describes the events that followed.
“Game soon became so scarce that we could kill nothing. We ate all the poor meat; one would get hungry eating it. Finally that was all gone, nothing now but hides were left. We made a trial of them. A lot was cooked and eaten without any seasoning and it made the whole company sick. …
“Things looked dark, for nothing remained but the poor raw hides taken from starved cattle. We asked the Lord to direct us what to do. The brethren did not murmur, but felt to trust in God. … Finally I was impressed how to fix the stuff and gave the company advice, telling them how to cook it; for them to scorch and scrape the hair off; this had a tendency to kill and purify the bad taste that scalding gave it. After scraping, boil one hour in plenty of water, throwing the water away which had extracted all the glue, then wash and scrape the hide thoroughly, washing in cold water, then boil to a jelly and let it get cold, and then eat with a little sugar sprinkled on it. This was considerable trouble, but we had little else to do and it was better than starving.
“We asked the Lord to bless our stomachs and adapt them to this food. … On eating now all seemed to relish the feast. We were three days without eating before this second attempt was made. We enjoyed this sumptuous fare for about six weeks.”3
In those circumstances I probably would have prayed for something else to eat: “Heavenly Father, please send me a quail or a buffalo.” It likely would not have occurred to me to pray that my stomach would be strengthened and adapted to the food we had. What did Daniel W. Jones know? He knew about the enabling power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.He did not pray that his circumstances would be changed. He prayed that he would be strengthened to deal with his circumstances. Just as Alma and his people, Amulek, and Nephi were strengthened, Daniel W. Jones had the spiritual insight to know what to ask for in that prayer.
The enabling power of the Atonement of Christ strengthens us to do things we could never do on our own. Sometimes I wonder if in our latter-day world of ease—in our world of microwave ovens and cell phones and air-conditioned cars and comfortable homes—we ever learn to acknowledge our daily dependence upon the enabling power of the Atonement.
Sister Bednar is a remarkably faithful and competent woman, and I have learned important lessons about the strengthening power from her quiet example. I watched her persevere through intense and continuous morning sickness—literally sick all day every day for eight months—during each of her three pregnancies. Together we prayed that she would be blessed, but that challenge was never removed. Instead, she was enabled to do physically what she could not do in her own power. Over the years I have also watched how she has been magnified to handle the mocking and scorn that come from a secular society when a Latter-day Saint woman heeds prophetic counsel and makes the family and the nurturing of children her highest priorities. I thank and pay tribute to Susan for helping me to learn such invaluable lessons.
The Savior Knows and Understands
In Alma chapter 7 we learn how and why the Savior is able to provide the enabling power:
“He shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
“And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:11–12; emphasis added).
The Savior has suffered not just for our iniquities but also for the inequality, the unfairness, the pain, the anguish, and the emotional distresses that so frequently beset us. There is no physical pain, no anguish of soul, no suffering of spirit, no infirmity or weakness that you or I ever experience during our mortal journey that the Savior did not experience first. You and I in a moment of weakness may cry out, “No one understands. No one knows.” No human being, perhaps, knows. But the Son of God perfectly knows and understands, for He felt and bore our burdens before we ever did. And because He paid the ultimate price and bore that burden, He has perfect empathy and can extend to us His arm of mercy in so many phases of our life. He can reach out, touch, succor—literally run to us—and strengthen us to be more than we could ever be and help us to do that which we could never do through relying upon only our own power.
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
I declare my witness of and appreciation for the infinite and eternal sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. I know the Savior lives. I have experienced both His redeeming power and His enabling power, and I testify that these powers are real and available to each of us. Indeed, “in the strength of the Lord” we can do and overcome all things as we press forward on our journey of mortality.
Heavenly Father desires that we find true, lasting happiness. Our happiness is the design of all the blessings He gives us—gospel teachings, commandments, priesthood ordinances, family relationships, prophets, temples, the beauties of creation, and even the opportunity to experience adversity. His plan for our salvation is often called “the great plan of happiness” (Alma 42: 8). He sent His Beloved Son to carry out the Atonement so we can be happy in this life and receive a fulness of joy in the eternities.
Testifying of God’s “eternal purposes,” the prophet Lehi taught, “Men are, that they might have joy” (2 Ne. 2: 15, 25). Many people try to find happiness and fulfillment in activities that are contrary to the Lord’s commandments. Ignoring God’s plan for them, they reject the only source of real happiness. They give in to the devil, who “seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself” (2 Ne. 2: 27). Eventually they learn the truth of Alma’s warning to his son Corianton: “Wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41: 10).
Others seek only to have fun in life. With this as their main goal, they allow temporary pleasure to distract them from lasting happiness. They rob themselves of the enduring joys of spiritual growth, service, and hard work.
As we seek to be happy, we should remember that the only way to real happiness is to live the gospel. We will find peaceful, eternal happiness as we strive to keep the commandments, pray for strength, repent of our sins, participate in wholesome activities, and give meaningful service.
Love is a feeling of deep devotion,
concern, and affection.
The greatest example of God’s love for His
children is found in the infinite Atonement of
Love for God and fellow men is a characteristic of disciples of Jesus Christ.
We manifest our love for Heavenly Father
by keeping His commandments and serving
Our expressions of love for others may include
being kind to them, listening to them, mourning with them, comforting them, serving them, praying for them, sharing the gospel with them, and
being their friend.
Our love for those around us increases when we remember that we are all children of God—that we are spirit brothers and sisters. The love that results from this realization has the power to transcend all boundaries of nation, creed, and color.
Have you ever asked, “Why Me?” Then, Please Watch This:
The very experience of enduring chastening can refine us and prepare us for greater spiritual privileges.
One of our Apostles, D. Todd Christofferson, explains that our Heavenly Father is a God of high expectations.
His expectations for us are expressed by His Son, Jesus Christ, in these words: “I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect” (3 Nephi 12:48). He proposes to make us holy so that we may “abide a celestial glory” (D&C 88:22) and “dwell in his presence” (Moses 6:57). He knows what is required, and so, to make our transformation possible, He provides His commandments and covenants, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and most important, the Atonement and Resurrection of His Beloved Son.
In all of this, God’s purpose is that we, His children, may be able to experience ultimate joy, to be with Him eternally, and to become even as He is. Some years ago Elder Dallin H. Oaks explained: “The Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts—what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts—what we have become. It is not enough for anyone just to go through the motions. The commandments, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel are not a list of deposits required to be made in some heavenly account. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a plan that shows us how to become what our Heavenly Father desires us to become.”1
Sadly, much of modern Christianity does not acknowledge that God makes any real demands on those who believe in Him, seeing Him rather as a butler “who meets their needs when summoned” or a therapist whose role is to help people “feel good about themselves.”2It is a religious outlook that “makes no pretense at changing lives.”3“By contrast,” as one author declares, “the God portrayed in both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures asks, not just for commitment, but for our very lives. The God of the Bible traffics in life and death, not niceness, and calls for sacrificial love, not benign whatever-ism.”4
I would like to speak of one particular attitude and practice we need to adopt if we are to meet our Heavenly Father’s high expectations. It is this: willingly to accept and even seek correction. Correction is vital if we would conform our lives “unto a perfect man, [that is,] unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). Paul said of divine correction or chastening, “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth” (Hebrews 12:6). Though it is often difficult to endure, truly we ought to rejoice that God considers us worth the time and trouble to correct.
Divine chastening has at least three purposes: (1) to persuade us to repent, (2) to refine and sanctify us, and (3) at times to redirect our course in life to what God knows is a better path.
Consider first of all repentance, the necessary condition for forgiveness and cleansing. The Lord declared, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent” (Revelation 3:19). Again He said, “And my people must needs be chastened until they learn obedience, if it must needs be, by the things which they suffer” (D&C 105:6; see also D&C 1:27). In a latter-day revelation, the Lord commanded four senior Church leaders to repent (as He might command many of us) for not adequately teaching their children “according to the commandments” and for not being “more diligent and concerned at home” (see D&C 93:41–50). The brother of Jared in the Book of Mormonrepented when the Lord stood in a cloud and talked with him “for the space of three hours … and chastened him because he remembered not to call upon the name of the Lord” (Ether 2:14). Because he so willingly responded to this severe rebuke, the brother of Jared was later given the privilege of seeing and being instructed by the premortal Redeemer (seeEther 3:6–20). The fruit of God’s chastisement is repentance leading to righteousness (see Hebrews 12:11).
In addition to stimulating our repentance, the very experience of enduring chastening can refine us and prepare us for greater spiritual privileges. Said the Lord, “My people must be tried in all things, that they may be prepared to receive the glory that I have for them, even the glory of Zion; and he that will not bear chastisement is not worthy of my kingdom” (D&C 136:31). In another place He said, “For all those who will not endure chastening, but deny me, cannot be sanctified” (D&C 101:5; see also Hebrews 12:10). As Elder Paul V. Johnson said this morning, we should take care not to resent the very things that help us put on the divine nature.
The followers of Alma established a Zion community in Helam but then were brought into bondage. They did not deserve their suffering—quite the contrary—but the record says:
“Nevertheless the Lord seeth fit to chasten his people; yea, he trieth their patience and their faith.
“Nevertheless—whosoever putteth his trust in him the same shall be lifted up at the last day. Yea, and thus it was with this people” (Mosiah 23:21–22).
The Lord strengthened them and lightened their burdens to the point they could hardly feel them upon their backs and then in due course delivered them (see Mosiah 24:8–22). Their faith was immeasurably strengthened by their experience, and ever after they enjoyed a special bond with the Lord.
God uses another form of chastening or correction to guide us to a future we do not or cannot now envision but which He knows is the better way for us. President Hugh B. Brown, formerly a member of the Twelve and a counselor in the First Presidency, provided a personal experience. He told of purchasing a rundown farm in Canada many years ago. As he went about cleaning up and repairing his property, he came across a currant bush that had grown over six feet (1.8 m) high and was yielding no berries, so he pruned it back drastically, leaving only small stumps. Then he saw a drop like a tear on the top of each of these little stumps, as if the currant bush were crying, and thought he heard it say:
“How could you do this to me? I was making such wonderful growth. … And now you have cut me down. Every plant in the garden will look down on me. … How could you do this to me? I thought you were the gardener here.”
President Brown replied, “Look, little currant bush, I am the gardener here, and I know what I want you to be. I didn’t intend you to be a fruit tree or a shade tree. I want you to be a currant bush, and someday, little currant bush, when you are laden with fruit, you are going to say, ‘Thank you, Mr. Gardener, for loving me enough to cut me down.’”
Years later, President Brown was a field officer in the Canadian Army serving in England. When a superior officer became a battle casualty, President Brown was in line to be promoted to general, and he was summoned to London. But even though he was fully qualified for the promotion, it was denied him because he was a Mormon. The commanding general said in essence, “You deserve the appointment, but I cannot give it to you.” What President Brown had spent 10 years hoping, praying, and preparing for slipped through his fingers in that moment because of blatant discrimination. Continuing his story, President Brown remembered:
“I got on the train and started back … with a broken heart, with bitterness in my soul. … When I got to my tent, … I threw my cap on the cot. I clenched my fists, and I shook them at heaven. I said, ‘How could you do this to me, God? I have done everything I could do to measure up. There is nothing that I could have done—that I should have done—that I haven’t done. How could you do this to me?’ I was as bitter as gall.
“And then I heard a voice, and I recognized the tone of this voice. It was my own voice, and the voice said, ‘I am the gardener here. I know what I want you to do.’ The bitterness went out of my soul, and I fell on my knees by the cot to ask forgiveness for my ungratefulness. …
“… And now, almost 50 years later, I look up to [God] and say, ‘Thank you, Mr. Gardener, for cutting me down, for loving me enough to hurt me.’”5
God knew what Hugh B. Brown was to become and what was needed for that to happen, and He redirected his course to prepare him for the holy apostleship.
If we sincerely desire and strive to measure up to the high expectations of our Heavenly Father, He will ensure that we receive all the help we need, whether it be comforting, strengthening, or chastening. If we are open to it, needed correction will come in many forms and from many sources. It may come in the course of our prayers as God speaks to our mind and heart through the Holy Ghost (see D&C 8:2). It may come in the form of prayers that are answered no or differently than we had expected. Chastening may come as we study the scriptures and are reminded of deficiencies, disobedience, or simply matters neglected.
Correction can come through others, especially those who are God-inspired to promote our happiness. Apostles, prophets, patriarchs, bishops, and others have been put into the Church today, just as anciently, “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12). Perhaps some of the things said in this conference have come to you as a call to repentance or change, which if heeded will lift you to a higher place. We can help one another as fellow Church members; it is one of the primary reasons that the Savior established a church. Even when we encounter mean-spirited criticism from persons who have little regard or love for us, it can be helpful to exercise enough meekness to weigh it and sift out anything that might benefit us.
Correction, hopefully gentle, can come from one’s spouse. Elder Richard G. Scott, who just addressed us, remembers a time early in his marriage when his wife, Jeanene, counseled him to look directly at people when he spoke to them. “You look at the floor, the ceiling, the window, anywhere but in their eyes,” she said. He took that gentle rebuke to heart, and it made him much more effective in counseling and working with people. As one who served as a full-time missionary under then-President Scott’s direction, I can attest that he does look one squarely in the eye in his conversations. I can also add that when one needs correction, that look can be very penetrating.
Parents can and must correct, even chasten, if their children are not to be cast adrift at the mercy of a merciless adversary and his supporters. President Boyd K. Packer has observed that when a person in a position to correct another fails to do so, he is thinking of himself. Remember that reproof should be timely, with sharpness or clarity, “when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy” (D&C 121:43).
Remember that if we resist correction, others may discontinue offering it altogether, despite their love for us. If we repeatedly fail to act on the chastening of a loving God, then He too will desist. He has said, “My Spirit will not always strive with man” (Ether 2:15). Eventually, much of our chastening should come from within—we should become self-correcting. One of the ways that our late beloved colleague Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin became the pure and humble disciple that he was, was by analyzing his performance in every assignment and task. In his desire to please God, he resolved to determine what he could have done better, and then he diligently applied each lesson learned.
All of us can meet God’s high expectations, however great or small our capacity and talent may be. Moroni affirms, “If ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is [God’s] grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ” (Moroni 10:32). It is a diligent, devoted effort on our part that calls forth this empowering and enabling grace, an effort that certainly includes submission to God’s chastening hand and sincere, unqualified repentance. Let us pray for His love-inspired correction.
May God sustain you in your striving to meet His high expectations and grant you a full measure of the happiness and peace that naturally follow. I know that you and I can become one with God and Christ. Of our Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son and the joyous potential we have because of Them, I humbly and confidently bear witness in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
“And 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; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”Ether 12: 27
Atonement means reconciliation of man with God. Atoning means suffering the punishment for sin, thus removing the effects of the transgression of the repentant sinner and allowing him or her to be reconciled with God. Jesus Christ was the only one capable of making a perfect atonement for all humankind. He was able to do this because He was chosen and foreordained in the great council held before this world was created, because He was the literal Son of God in the flesh, and because He was completely obedient to the Father’s will. His Atonement includes the suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane for the sins of humankind, the shedding of His blood, and His death and subsequent Resurrection. Because of the Atonement, all will arise from the grave with an immortal body. The Atonement also provides the means by which our sins may be forgiven and we may live forever with God. However, this reconciliation is possible only if we have faith in Jesus Christ, repent of our sins, receive the ordinances of salvation, and keep the commandments of God.
Because of His love for us, our Heavenly Father sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to this earth to show us the way and help us return to His presence: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
Because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and His Resurrection, we will all be resurrected. Jesus Christ is our Savior, for He saves us from physical death:
“For as death hath passed upon all men, to fulfill the merciful plan of the great Creator, there must needs be a power of resurrection, and the resurrection must needs come unto man by reason of the fall; and the fall came by reason of transgression; and because man became fallen they were cut off from the presence of the Lord. …
“O the wisdom of God, his mercy and grace! For behold, if the flesh should rise no more our spirits must become subject to that angel who fell from before the presence of the Eternal God, and became the devil, to rise no more.
“And our spirits must have become like unto him, … shut out from the presence of our God. …
“O how great the goodness of our God, who prepareth a way for our escape from the grasp of this awful monster; yea, that monster, death and hell, which I call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit” (2 Ne. 9:6, 8–10).
Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ we may be freed from spiritual death as well as physical death. If we repent of our sins, He takes from us the suffering we must otherwise endure because of our individual transgressions. “For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all,” said the Savior, “that they might not suffer if they would repent; But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I” (D&C 19:16–17).
This redemption is conditioned on our having faith in His Atonement, our repenting from our sins, our keeping the covenants we make with the Lord, our obeying all His commandments, and our enduring to the end. Obeying the sacred covenants and all the commandments qualifies us to receive the remission of our sins, allowing us to live clean and pure lives in the presence of God as resurrected and exalted beings:
“O how great the plan of our God! … The spirit and the body is restored to itself again, and all men become incorruptible, and immortal, and they are living souls. …
“… And the righteous shall have a perfect knowledge of their enjoyment, and their righteousness, being clothed with purity, yea, even with the robe of righteousness” (2 Ne. 9:13–14).
We hope you had a Happy Easter. May we remember the true reason for this season! Our Savior Jesus Christ Lives! I bear My Testimony to the world … that I know … that Jesus Christ is truly our beloved Savior and Redeemer … sent to us from our Heavenly Father.
The prophets have declared that “this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God” (Alma 34:32).
We should repent now, every day. When we get up in the morning, we should examine ourselves to see whether the Spirit of God is with us. At night before we go to sleep, we should review our acts and words of the day and ask the Lord to help us recognize the things for which we need to repent.
By repenting every day and having the Lord forgive our sins, we will experience the daily process of becoming perfect. As with Alma, our happiness and joy can be sweet and exquisite.
Repentance is one of the first principles of the gospel and is essential to our temporal and eternal happiness. It is much more than just acknowledging wrongdoings. It is a change of mind and heart that gives us a fresh view about God, about ourselves, and about the world. It includes turning away from sin and turning to God for forgiveness. It is motivated by love for God and the sincere desire to obey His commandments.
Our sins make us unclean—unworthy to return and dwell in the presence of our Heavenly Father. They also bring anguish to our soul in this life.
Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, our Father in Heaven has provided the only way for us to be forgiven of our sins (see Forgiveness). Jesus Christ suffered the penalty for our sins so we can be forgiven if we sincerely repent. As we repent and rely on His saving grace, we will be cleansed from sin.
“And I say unto you again that he cannot save them in their sins; for I cannot deny his word, and he hath said that no unclean thing can inherit thekingdom of heaven; therefore, how can ye be saved, except ye inherit the kingdom of heaven? Therefore, ye cannot be saved in your sins.” Alma 11: 37
Many people think of peace as the absence of war. But we can feel peace even in times of war, and we can lack peace even when no war is raging. The mere absence of conflict is not enough to bring peace to our hearts. Peace comes through the gospel—through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, the ministration of the Holy Ghost, and our own righteousness, sincere repentance, and diligent service.
Yes, even when the world is in turmoil all around us, we can receive the blessing of inner peace. Our world may seem to be upside down with debt, pollution, drugs, pornography the breakdown of marriage and the family with all matters of killing, war, abortions and lying sins of wickedness. Yet, we can be calm with peace in our hearts knowing that The Lord is in charge of this world if we but follow Him. He created it and will come back to reclaim it. We know how this world is going to end. It’s almost like a sporting game! The important thing to remember though is that when the game is over, you better be wearing the right color jersey of the winning team!
Our staff at TheFamily.com tries to publish peace, 1 Ne. 13: 37 , and ‘The Way’ to help strengthen families. We do so with information that helps physically, mentally, socially, spiritually, with ways to be in the world but NOT of it. We welcome all people and religions that are positive and have the desire to become better with learning and high values and that look towards everlasting life with Jesus Christ who is ‘The Way’.
We now are living with better health and new technology that lets us live life longer and in being well. We have great communication and sharing of information on the internet and media that facilitates higher learning and better communication. We have the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ and can make our lives worthy of eternal life in the kingdoms of heaven. Yes, there are opposites in all things so we need to choose ‘The Way’ of eternal life and not of everlasting darkness and stay the course until we are resurrected. 2 Ne. 10: 23
So let’s just hang in there and ‘Endure To The End’, have faith and hope in our hearts with pure desires and a contrite spirit knowing that Jesus is coming back and is in charge of this world. In the end, this blessing of peace will continue with us as we stay true to our testimony of the gospel and as we remember that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ love us and watch over us.
In addition to feeling peace ourselves, we can be an influence for peace in our families, our community, and the world. We work for peace when we keep the commandments, give service, care for the family members and neighbors, and share the gospel. We work for peace whenever we help relieve the suffering of another.
The following words of the Savior teach us how we can experience the peace that the gospel brings:
“The Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.
”Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” John 14:26-27.
In the scriptures, the word “heaven” is used in two basic ways.
First, it refers to the place where God lives, which is the ultimate home of the faithful (see Mosiah 2:41).
Second, it refers to the expanse around the earth (see Genesis 1:1).
In the premortal existence, Heavenly Father prepared a plan to enable us to become like Him and receive a fulness of joy. The scriptures refer to this plan as “the plan of salvation” (Alma 24:14; Moses 6:62), “the great plan of happiness” (Alma 42:8), “the plan of redemption” (Jacob 6:8;Alma 12:30), and “the plan of mercy” (Alma 42:15). The plan of salvation is the fulness of the gospel. It includes the Creation, the Fall, the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and all the laws, ordinances, and doctrines of the gospel. Moral agency, the ability to choose and act for ourselves, is also essential in Heavenly Father’s plan. Because of this plan, we can be perfected through the Atonement, receive a fulness of joy, and live forever in the presence of God. Our family relationships can last throughout the eternities.
We are participants in Heavenly Father’s plan, and our eternal experience can be divided into three main parts: premortal life, mortal life, and life after death. As we come to understand the plan, we find answers to questions asked by so many: Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where do we go after this life?
Before we were born on the earth, we lived in the presence of our Heavenly Father as one of His spirit children. In this premortal existence, we attended a council with Heavenly Father’s other spirit children. At that council, Heavenly Father presented His great plan of happiness (see Abraham 3:22-26).
In harmony with the plan of happiness, the premortal Jesus Christ, the Firstborn Son of the Father in the spirit, covenanted to be the Savior (see Moses 4:2; Abraham 3:27). Those who followed Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ were permitted to come to the earth to experience mortality and progress toward eternal life. Lucifer, another spirit son of God, rebelled against the plan and “sought to destroy the agency of man” (Moses 4:3). He became Satan, and he and his followers were cast out of heaven and denied the privileges of receiving a physical body and experiencing mortality (see Moses 4:4; Abraham 3:27-28).
“In my Father’s house are manymansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” John 14: 2
“Therefore, cheer up your hearts, and remember that ye are free to act for yourselves—to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life.” 2 Ne. 10: 23