Lusting for Spiritual Experiences

Thinking about the connection between repentance and gaining spiritual knowledge. If we want to gain knowledge we need to seek the requisite repentance for that knowledge. The reason is that the whatever portion of the natural man that is not under the influence of the Holy Ghost – that isn’t sanctified – will be leveraged against us if we are seeking revelation.

For example, if we carry a lust for power or esteem then we can receive false revelations that feeds the desire for esteem or power. We may easily mistake this as being from the Lord if that part of us isn’t sanctified. If we lust for sex, then we may receive false revelations that could satisfy those lusts. Consider that it is possible to lust for spiritual experience, or revelation, or for spiritual blessings. The natural man can desire things that may seem paradoxical – that we can even desire things like our calling and election made sure can be driven by a natural man lust for an experience for an impure reason.

Spiritual lust can be very hard to detect. I sometimes think that blessings are withheld in part because we want them for the wrong reason. Becoming born again, receiving revelation, seeking our calling and election made sure – all have to be sought with an eye single to the glory of God. If not, they are withheld in mercy.

If we continue to seek higher manifestations without purifying ourselves in repentance then we become vulnerable to the Adversary to give us the counterfeit experiences of these revelations. Yes, it is possible to have a counterfeit born again experience, revelation, and especially a counterfeit calling and election made sure experience. Because our lusts can be sophisticated, and the natural man can be sophisticated, the false revelations of knowledge can also be very sophisticated. So how do we protect ourselves against false revelations? We repent completely of the natural man. We must become born again and have all of the impurities burned out of us.

How do we know we have sufficiently repented? The Alma 5 questions are a good guide. Are you full of love? Do you have a disposition to do evil? Are you stripped of pride? Do you have any envy? Do you seek to consume any lusts? Money? Sex? Recognition? Are you willing to sacrifice anything for the Lord? Do you seek to be the least and servant of all? Do you have hope and faith to receive a greater portion?

If we are in a state of being sanctified by the Holy Ghost then we can receive the revelations that are at the level of our state of sanctification. It is only then that the Lord can distill greater and greater knowledge, mysteries, and revelations. We must repent with all of our hearts to be prepared to receive the word of the Lord in its fulness.

Is the Path Strait, or is it Straight?

Is the path strait, or is it straight?

It is both. But what does that mean?

It’s not uncommon for members of the covenant to point out that the use the form of the word “strait” is a winding channel between two bodies of water, or as a mountain pass. This is pointed out to suggest that the course could wind and not be in a straight line. But this would be a misuse of the definition of “strait”. When people reference strait in the sense of a channel between mountains or connecting bodies of water, they are referencing the noun form of the word.

The scriptures use the adjective form of the word. This form of the word simply means: narrow or close; not broad.

When the Lord refers to the strait and narrow path he is emphasizing how narrow the gate is, and how narrow the path remains. We should be careful not to infer that the path is winding, or meanders. The Adversary is working hard to dilute, confuse, counterfeit and teach the philosophies of men regarding the path. These philosophies carry the risk that would lead us off of the strait and narrow path and on to strange paths. We must be vigilant in our rejection of anything that does not comply to the pure doctrine of Christ.

Christ says of his own path:

For God doth not walk in crooked paths, neither doth he turn to the right hand nor to the left, neither doth he vary from that which he hath said, therefore his paths are straight, and his course is one eternal round (D&C 3:2)

When the Lord refers to his paths as being straight. We are commanded to keep them this way. It is upon us to Prepare “the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” (D&C 65: 1).

It is a commandment to keep his path straight. We keep it straight by walking on the straight path and by also keeping his doctrine pure.

Nephi uses the term strait and straight interchangeably. This should drive clarity about the path.

Remember that his paths are righteous. Behold, the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him, and the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name (2 Nephi 9: 41).

Overcoming the world is the process of keeping our paths straight. Nephi again teaches us through the record of his own experiences:

O Lord, wilt thou make a way for mine escape before mine enemies! Wilt thou make my path straight before me! Wilt thou not place a stumbling block in my way—but that thou wouldst clear my way before me, and hedge not up my way, but the ways of mine enemy (2 Nephi 4: 33).

Those that declare the pure gospel of Christ will all echo the same message as Alma who taught the way of the path with precision and purity. And he also reminds us that the path we walk in is the Lord’s path. They both must be straight. This is when we are righteous and in “the way”: It is when we make the Lord’s path our own.

But behold, the Spirit hath said this much unto me, saying: Cry unto this people, saying—Repent ye, and prepare the way of the Lord, and walk in his paths, which are straight; for behold, the kingdom of heaven is at hand, and the Son of God cometh upon the face of the earth (Alma 7: 9).

It is us that meander. It is us that wander. We may cross over the strait and narrow path a thousand times in our life – but that does not make the path crooked. We are to come into possession of the path and then learn how to keep the path – we must learn to endure on it.

Truth and Comfort

Telestial comfort is the enemy to truth. If we seek comfort in any form more than we seek truth, we will ultimately end up with neither. Seeking telestial self-comfort as a priority is the great temptation of mortality.

If I am not willing to give up all of my comforts for the pursuit of truth, I will not be capable of receiving the truth. The reason for this is because I will mistaken the receipt of telestial comfort as a form of truth – and will enter into a self-deceived state.

Mistaking telestial comfort for truth keeps us in a state of darkness. We may believe we have comfort, but we deep down know that it is unstable and temporary.

Truth, in its purity, is the great source of true comfort in this life. We have to pass through the ordeals of sacrifice to get there. This is done by sacrifice. One way to look at sacrifice is that we have to be willing to sacrifice all telestial comforts before we can receive of the Lord’s comforter – the Holy Ghost.

When we are filled with the truth of God we come into an eternally comforted state. This is why the New and Everlasting Covenant is the reception of a series of comforters. These comforters are bring us into higher states of rest and comfort. But we must willingly sacrifice all things in order to be capacitated to ascend into the holy comforters.

There are levels of telestial comfort that are helpful to identify. Introspection of this type, when led by the Holy Ghost, can provide insight into what needs to be sacrificed in order to fully receive the Comforters offered by Christ.

  1. Food, sex, stimulants
  2. Material wealth / possessions
  3. Reputation among others who we respect and desire approval
  4. Social status
  5. Political and social views
  6. The love of our loved-ones
  7. Our belief system (even when we think we are possessors of truth – this can be a sophisticated way of keeping us in a self-comforted state. This is very common amongst the church)
  8. Our belief that we are saved by virtue of having made an outward covenant. The form with out the power.

What is hard, almost impossible, is to identify the depth of self-deception to which we all are subject. Being a member of the church, believing that we are in a safe state of redemption by virtue of membership and activity, can produce the type of self-comfort that keeps someone from fully coming into truth. No matter where we are in our spiritual progression, we must constantly offer up what we think we know for the greater height the Lord wants to bring us to.

One question that is very helpful to ask and be strictly honest about is, what am I willing to sacrifice for the truth? What would I not let go of?

Your family? Your wealth? Your health? Your reputation?

Are you willing to have your understanding of truth reorganized? Are there any sacred cows that you are not willing to put on the alter?

These question can be so helpful to take to the Lord to show us our weakness so that we can come to him in a more direct coarse.

The comfort of the Lord expands us into a peace that is beyond any peace that can be found in this mortal state. But we all have to wrestle with the question: Am I willing to sacrifice my comforts in all of their forms today in order to receive of the fullness the Father has to offer?

In his mercy he usually does not require us to make this move all at once. But sometimes he does. We shouldn’t hedge. We should come to him with all of our hearts every day of our lives. If we sacrifice every telestial comfort with all of our hearts everyday, when the winds blow and this world descends into chaos we will not be shaken nor will we fear. We will already be of a different world.

Rending the Veil of Flesh

Our flesh is a veil, and to rend the veil in this life means, in a way, that we must rend the veil of our flesh. And we do this through the power of the spirit through the process of having a broken heart and contrite spirit. The Sacrament as an ordinance brings us through this process regularly. It’s through the rending of the flesh that we stay on the strait and narrow path.

Taking the sacrament is rending a veil. It represents the veil of the Savior’s body – and as his flesh was torn for us we can pass upwards through the veil back into the Lord’s presence.

We partake of the power of the Lord’s torn flesh insofar as we come prepared having torn our own flesh – meaning we come with a fully broken heart and in a state of our spirits contrite.

What is a broken heart? It is a hear completely divested of desires of a telestial things – and of a complete desire for higher things. It is a heart completely and perfectly softened. A heart willing to sacrifice anything for the Father. It is through this process of receiving a broken heart that we are prepared to pass through the veil.

A contrite spirit is a mind that is completely open to the things of God. It is a mind that is not encumbered with false traditions. It is a mind firm in every form of godliness.

We can rend the veil as we rend our own flesh. This is why we fast before we take the sacrament. Fasting and prayer brings us into this powerful state.

 

Are You on the Covenant Path?

What is the covenant path? It is a new term – and one that seems potentially useful. But what is it?

It seems that the covenant path is the same thing as the strait and narrow path. If you have a different understanding, I’d like to know your thoughts.

Assuming that it is the strait and narrow path, how do we know we are on the covenant path?

First, without question, understanding that the strait and narrow path is a succession of covenants is helpful, but we must be clear about what that means (and I’m not sure that we always are).

Covenants are agreements that produce a spiritual transformation. If there is no revelatory or transformational event, there is no covenant. For example, how does one enter the strait and narrow path? By being baptized by water AND becoming fully born again. You aren’t in the covenant until you experience the spiritual transformation of the mighty change of heart. It is only then you are on the strait and narrow path (and presumably the covenant path).

The strait and narrow path includes every covenant, ordinance, and oath needed for exaltation. The chronology of the path goes something like this:

Exercise faith, repent and receive a remission of sins and then get baptized and have a born again transformation and you are on the strait and narrow path.

Stay on the strait and narrow path through retaining your baptism of fire and born again condition. If you are not born again, you fall off the path. To regain the path, we must repent sufficiently to become born again, again.

This is why it is considered a “strait” and “narrow” path. It is a very narrow channel of being that we retain a born again condition. It requires constant attention and it is very easy to come out of this condition in a moment. This is why I think there is power in calling it “strait” and “narrow”. It is critical to always remember that the path has a strict requirement associated with it: we mush continue in our born again state and learn how to retain it.

While on the path we receive the covenant of the Aaronic Priesthood which is being prepared for the spiritual experiences of the Melchizedek priesthood. When we truly receive the Melchizedek priesthood we have preparatory spiritual manifestations preparatory to being receiving our Second Comforter; which received at the end of the path.

The temple endowment is the sequence of covenants and ordinances in physical form that teach us the manifestations required to be exalted. We have not been fully endowed until our calling and election has been made sure. The endowment is the physical representation of the process of making our calling and election made sure.

After we have made our calling and election made sure we then prove faithful to have our marriage sealed – which is the same thing as having your calling and election made sure for your marriage.

You then receive the fullness of the priesthood, sealing power, and power to seal your posterity to you in the capstone ordinance of the second anointing.

Partaking of the Tree of Life at the end of the strait and narrow path is to receive the sealing blessings of your calling and election made sure, have your marriage sealed, and have the priesthood sealed upon you.

So, this is the covenant path. Are you on it? In other words, are you in that strait and narrow channel of being in a born again condition? And if so, are you pressing forward to make your calling and election made sure? This, I believe, is what they mean by covenant path. It is strait and narrow. “And few be there that find it” (3 Nephi 27: 33).

 

 

Look Where You Want to Go

While in college my Dad took me and my two brothers on a cross-country motorcycle trip. We started in Portland Oregon, rode to Boston, Massachusetts, and then rode the entire way back. A trip like this has a lot of inherent risk, but what amplified the danger was that none of us had ever before ridden a motorcycle.

One of the first lessons I had to learn was to look where I wanted to go. This is actually much harder than it sounds. It’s not natural. For example, when you are riding by an obstacle, and you’re afraid you may hit it, and you stare at it because you don’t want to hit it, the likelihood you will smack into the thing you are staring at increases a lot more than you may think. Likewise, if you concentrate on where you want to go when driving by something potentially dangerous – chances are you will go to the place you are looking instead of hitting the obstacle.

When we were riding through Kansas we decided to take an off-ramp to get some food. When slowing down on the highway to take the exit, there was some construction with a lip on the road that ran parallel to the direction I was riding. I was really nervous about crossing this lip in the road, and because of it I was staring at it intently when I crossed. Sure enough, I hit it wrong and crashed my motorcycle. I did exactly what I didn’t want to do because it was the thing that filled my mind. I am also pretty sure that if I had looked at where I wanted to go instead of the 3-inch lip I would have been fine and crossed it without a problem. A very small obstacle almost killed me because I had given it so much attention.

This principle works when skiing, biking, skateboarding,… pretty much whenever you are in forward motion. And what is life, if not the collective experience of forward motion?

This is a particularly powerful principle when it comes to overcoming sin, weakness, addiction, and destructive behavior. If we focus and fret and are concerned with the thing we want to avoid, chances are, we will fall right into it.

Like a rocket trying to leave the pull of the Earth’s gravity, escaping the natural man can seem similarly impossible. Herculean strength, world-class discipline, and even supreme will power will not ultimately overcome the tendencies of fallen flesh in the long-run.

When overcoming a sin, an addiction, a weakness there is an instinctual tendency to want to fight the thing we are trying to overcome. By fighting, we may believe that it is by the exertion of our own will that we can overcome our weaknesses – that we can pull away from the Earth’s gravity. Even after expending our best efforts, it is not uncommon to continually fall back into natural habits, fundamental weaknesses, spirit-crushing addictions, and, like Nephi,  to feel “encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me” (2 Nephi 4: 18).

It is also a mistaken, but common, belief to assume that Christ really helps, or forgives, or accepts after we conquer our own weaknesses. This may be a result of a commonly taught philosophy of man that reasons Christ helps us only after we expend our best efforts to help ourself. The working assumption being that Christ does not love us unconditionally in our fallen state, but only after we extract ourselves from our fallen tendencies do we earn the right to call upon Christ for his forgiveness and healing.

Precisely because we give our weaknesses attention, thought, and because of our fear of them, they tend to consume us. Lot and his wife fleeing Sodom is almost a perfect metaphor of this problem. As they both left we all know that Lot’s wife turned back to look at Sodom. She was reduced to salt (whatever that means). It is in looking at the thing we are avoiding that we are taken in and consumed by it.

Does overcoming the natural self have to be the war we make it out to be?

First, we know that it is Christ that delivers us and transforms us from our natural and fallen disposition. It is the power of Christ that heals us, and can remake us from the natural self to a child of Christ. It is only through the deliverance of the mighty change of heart, spiritual rebirth, and the baptism of the Holy Ghost are we redeemed from our fallen and carnal state. What King Benjamin taught is worth constantly revisiting:

“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, and becometh as a childsubmissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father” (Mosiah 3: 19).

So, how do we engage Christ in a way so that we can learn to live in a state of  being born again, and maintain the disposition to no more desire evil?

Christ is where we want to go. Instead of squaring off with our weaknesses, obsessing over them, planning our lives around them, and fighting every day “to do a little better than the day before” what would happen if we just abandoned ourself to doing and focusing on the truth which is in Christ?

In other words, instead of fighting our weaknesses, we just ask questions like the following:

  1. What is the Holy Ghost prompting me to do this very moment?
  2. What does the Lord want me to do in the next hour?
  3. How can I seek to be completely full of light today?

Darkness cannot be overcome by force, or attention, or by squaring off and fighting it. It is overcome by casting all of our attention on light and truth. If we wrestle with weakness, weakness will always eventually win. If we are filled with light we win immediately.

This principle is taught very clearly in the scriptures. When the children of Israel were bitten by serpents an easy way was prepared for their deliverance.

And he did straiten them in the wilderness with his rod; for they hardened their hearts, even as ye have; and the Lord straitened them because of their iniquity. He sent fiery flying serpents among them; and after they were bitten he prepared a way that they might be healed; and the labor which they had to perform was to look; and because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished” (1 Nephi 17: 41).

What if our sins and weaknesses are our fiery flying serpents that he sends to us to discover the easiness of being healed by Christ if learn how to focus our attention?

Just like riding my motorcycle and being afraid of hitting an obstacle, it may require us fighting every instinct we have to not pay attention to what we are afraid of, but if we can act against the instinct we discover a certain easiness of giving ALL of our attention to Christ.

And when we fully commit to Christ, which includes being obedient to every prompting we receive in every moment, we find ourselves delivered. If we take action to fill our minds with truth, and will our awareness with light and gratitude, we find ourselves very naturally letting go of the natural man. It becomes a paper tiger.

What we give our attention to gives us strength. If our attention is on darkness our strength will be darkened. If we give our attention to light, and only light, our strength becomes light.

The counsel is simple and perfect:

Look unto me in every thoughtdoubt not, fear not! (D&C 6: 36)

 

 

 

Lehi’s Prophecy of Perdition: Who Would Partake of the Tree of Life and then Leave?

Have you ever asked the question about Lehi’s dream regarding those that partake of the fruit of the Tree of Life and then become ashamed and then leave? Partaking of the Tree of Life is the assurance of eternal life – yet it doesn’t make sense that there would be a group that would have this assurance and then fall away. This essay explores this question and suggest that those that partake and then fall way are perdition – and it happens enough to include it in a powerful prophesy.

Nephi and Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life serves as a doctrinal framework for the entire Book of Mormon. It is the revelation of the plain and precious truths of the doctrine of Christ that restores us to a knowledge of how to obtain the presence of the Lord.

If we wrest this revelation by misappropriating the doctrine and assuming that we are experiencing the path in ways that we aren’t, or misinterpreting the doctrine to fit our own experience, we run the risk of once again losing the plain and precious truths of the gospel. There is great power in understanding both the vision and the doctrine of the revelation (found in 2 Nephi 31-32) because we can then know exactly where we are in our journey to Christ, and we can know what to do next.

If we fail to understand where we are personally in this doctrinal structure, then we will fail to make the progress needed to move forward. We will at a minimum be stagnant in our progression; but the greater risk is that we will fail to fulfill the spiritual requirements for real spiritual progress. We must get this right and not wrest the scriptures to our own destruction” (Alma 13: 20).

In order to clearly understand the Lehi and Nephi’s vision, and the doctrine of Christ, we must be really clear about the meaning of the Tree of Life – what it means and who partakes of its fruit. Thankfully, the scriptures are really clear about this point of doctrine.

What is the Tree of Life?

We first encounter the tree in the multiple accounts of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. We should note that they were forbidden to partake of the fruit after they partook of the fruit of tree of knowledge of good and evil. Why would this be? Why would the plan of God be thwarted and they would live forever in their sins?

Alma’s Teaching

Of course these questions have depths and layers impossible to explore quickly in a single essay. But at a minimum we should understand that the consequence of eating from the Tree of Life would cause them to “live forever” (Moses 4:28). The Lord protects the tree by placing cherubim and a flaming sword so that those who do not qualify cannot partake and live forever in their sins.

This is the first indication that the Tree of Life is to partake of eternal life. As Alma teaches this doctrine he also makes clarifies the following:

“But behold, it was appointed unto man to die—therefore, as they were cut off from the tree of life they should be cut off from the face of the earth—and man became lost forever, yea, they became fallen man.

And now, ye see by this that our first parents were cut off both temporally and spiritually from the presence of the Lord; and thus we see they became subjects to follow after their own will…

and the fall had brought upon all mankind a spiritual death as well as a temporal, that is, they were cut off from the presence of the Lord,…

And now remember, my son, if it were not for the plan of redemption, (laying it aside) as soon as they were dead their souls were miserable, being cut off from the presence of the Lord.” (Alma 42: 6-23).

Alma makes it clear that the tree of Life is the presence of the Lord. In the 12th chapter of his record he teaches that those who prepare themselves for the Tree of Life enter into the rest of the Lord.

And now behold, if it were possible that our first parents could have gone forth and partaken of the tree of life they would have been forever miserable, having no preparatory state; and thus the plan of redemption would have been frustrated, and the word of God would have been void, taking none effect…

But God did call on men, in the name of his Son, (this being the plan of redemption which was laid) saying: If ye will repent, and harden not your hearts, then will I have mercy upon you, through mine Only Begotten Son;

Therefore, whosoever repenteth, and hardeneth not his heart, he shall have claim on mercy through mine Only Begotten Son, unto a remission of his sins; and these shall enter into my rest.

And whosoever will harden his heart and will do iniquity, behold, I swear in my wrath that he shall not enter into my rest.

And now, my brethren, behold I say unto you, that if ye will harden your hearts ye shall not enter into the rest of the Lord; therefore your iniquity provoketh him that he sendeth down his wrath upon you as in the first provocation, yea, according to his word in the last provocation as well as the first, to the everlasting destruction of your souls; therefore, according to his word, unto the last death, as well as the first.

And now, my brethren, seeing we know these things, and they are true, let us repent, and harden not our hearts, that we provoke not the Lord our God to pull down his wrath upon us in these his second commandments which he has given unto us; but let us enter into the rest of God, which is prepared according to his word” (Alma 12: 26-37).

Why is this sermon from Alma so significant? It is because he includes language and doctrine that we learn from Joseph Smith in his revelation on the Priesthood in D&C 84 that “the rest of the Lord” means something very specific. Joseph revealed about Moses exactly the same thing Alma was referencing – and that is to enter into the rest of the Lord is to enter into his rest. Those that are extended the invitation in this life (by receiving the oath and covenant of the Melchizedek Priesthood) is to enter into his rest in the flesh. Denying this invitation brings the provocation of the Lord, which is both Alma and Joseph’s revelatory warning.

But they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory” (D&C 84: 24).

Again, why is this important? Because if we understand the unifying revelation of Moses, Alma, and Joseph Smith, we learn that partaking of the Tree of Life is to enter into the rest of the Lord – which is to enter into his glory while in the flesh. This is the great doctrine of the higher priesthood and the fulness of the priesthood.

In his sermon to the Zoramites in chapter 32 and 33, Alma teaches that partaking of the seed will bring you to a place that the Tree of Life springs up within you, and you partake of the fruit of the tree which is “most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure; and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst” (Alma 32: 42). This is the state of those that have regained the presence of the Lord. It is the state of receiving a perfect knowledge of his goodness and reality.

Nephi’s Teaching

Nephi teaches that partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Life is the greatest of the gifts of God.

Wherefore, the wicked are rejected from the righteous, and also from that tree of life, whose fruit is most precious and most desirable above all other fruits; yea, and it is the greatest of all the gifts of God”  (1 Nephi 15: 36).

From the D&C we know that the greatest of God’s gifts is eternal life.

“And, if you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God” (D&C 14: 7; 6:13).

When he was given an interpretation of the Tree of Life he was taught that it was the love of God.

And it came to pass that I beheld that the rod of iron, which my father had seen, was the word of God, which led to the fountain of living waters, or to the tree of lifewhich waters are a representation of the love of God; and I also beheld that the tree of life was a representation of the love of God” (1 Nephi 11: 25).

This is an extremely important scripture to both consider and also to resist the mistake of concluding that the love of God means feeling his love through the spirit in measure. It is equating eternal life to the love of God.

When Nephi describes something as the love of God, he is describing the gift of eternal life. It is easy to confuse this notion of tasting of the love of God through the spirit as partaking of the Tree of Life. It isn’t. The Tree of Life is eternal life, and partaking of the fullness of the fruit is to partake of the promises, blessings, and endowments of the promise of eternal life.

Why is it so important to carefully draw this out? Because it is easy to mistakenly believe that since we experience the love of God that we are partaking of the Tree of Life. It is a very different thing. We can begin to partake of the fruit through a process of consumption (as outlined in Alma 32), but we must not mistake the reception of the Holy Ghost or experiencing the love of God as partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Life. We are at risk of wresting the scriptures if we do not grasp what Nephi is really teaching when he describes the fruit as the “love of God”. When Nephi refers to the love of God when partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Life is referring to the blessings of the promise of eternal life. It is the calling and election made sure and the Second Comforter blessings.

When we enter the path we receive of the first comforter through the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost – becoming born again. When we endure to the end we receive of the Second Comforter – which is the rest of the Lord and promise of eternal life. It is in this summary of the doctrine of Christ that Nephi teaches the calling and election made sure is the reward of the strait and narrow path:

Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life. (2 Nephi 31: 20).

The promise of obtaining the Tree of Life is the promise of eternal life.

Nephi couldn’t be clearer: the strait and narrow path leads strait and narrow path leads to eternal life (2 Nephi 31: 18). And promise of obtaining the Tree of Life is the promise of eternal life.

Why is it so important to emphasize this through the cataloguing of this doctrine with so many scriptural witnesses? It is because it is so common to refer to covenant members of the church as those who are partaking of the fruit of the tree of life. It is even common to describe members of the church as those who are standing at the Tree of Life and partaking.

Yes, we begin to taste of the fruit in degrees when we are born again and are on the strait and narrow path. But it is critical to make a distinction between this and partaking of eternal life at the tree. The Tree of Life represents the Second Comforter blessings of the gospel. To judge it differently is to wrest the scriptures in a potentially very dangerous way.

Perhaps the reason why we often don’t associate partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Life with the calling and election made sure is because of something very peculiar that Lehi witnesses.

Who Partakes of the Tree of Life then Leaves?

If the Tree of Life is the promise of eternal life, why does Lehi witness those that partake of it and then are ashamed and leave?

“And it came to pass that I beheld others pressing forward, and they came forth and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press forward through the mist of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron, even until they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree.

And after they had partaken of the fruit of the tree they did cast their eyes about as if they were ashamed” (1 Nephi 8: 24-25).

The question is simple: why would someone who partakes of the greatest of all the gifts of God, receives a fullness of his love, partakes of the most desirable of all things – even the promise of eternal life, and then gets ashamed? And then leaves?

Because it seems absurd that someone would have these blessings and then become ashamed, it is very common for readers to then assume the fruit of the Tree of Life is not eternal life. It just doesn’t add up that this group of people would exist. The assumption then becomes that the Tree of Life is something other than eternal life.

We should be very careful about making this judgment. If we read and study carefully, we can understand who Lehi is witnessing and learn exactly what is happening.

The first thing to recognize is that Lehi is seeing more than just his family in his vision. He is also seeing his posterity.

“And behold, because of the thing which I have seen, I have reason to rejoice in the Lord because of Nephi and also of Sam; for I have reason to suppose that they, and also many of their seed, will be saved” ( 1 Nephi 8: 3).

Considering that that Lehi is seeing a vision of his posterity on the path and at the tree, we can then explore who in the Book of Mormon record Lehi may be witnessing. One group happens to be the Nephites that existed in a Zion society for 200 years after the coming of Christ. This is a portion of Lehi and Nephi’s seed about which we don’t have a lot of information (presumably it is contained in the greater portion of the Book of Mormon).

This group of Nephites that once lived in a Zion society were all partakers of the “heavenly gift“.

And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift” (4th Nephi 1: 3). 

What is the heavenly gift? Ether chapter 12 and Hebrews chapter 6 gives insight into this curious and rare term.

Ether 12 is a phenomenal account of individuals that exercised faith in order to receive the greatest blessings, manifestations, and promises of the Lord – and most important of these is the assurance of eternal life. In reference to the heavenly gift, the record reveals the following:

For it was by faith that Christ showed himself unto our fathers, after he had risen from the dead; and he showed not himself unto them until after they had faith in him; wherefore, it must needs be that some had faith in him, for he showed himself not unto the world.

But because of the faith of men he has shown himself unto the world, and glorified the name of the Father, and prepared a way that thereby others might be partakers of the heavenly gift, that they might hope for those things which they have not seen” (Ether 12: 8-9).

The context reveals that the heavenly gift in Ether is receiving the presence of the Lord. Hebrews also contextually affirms this meaning in the following verses:

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,

And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,

If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame” (Hebrews 6: 4-6).

Paul teaches that if someone partakes of the heavenly gift that it is impossible for them to repent. They fall into a state of perdition “seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.”

This is a description of the spiritual state of perdition. It is also a warning to those that have been received the heavenly gift  that they can fall away and be permanently severed from presence of the Lord.

What is fascinating is that we have a warning from Paul of the possibility of exactly what happens to the Nephites of 4th Nephi. We have a people that are partaking of the heavenly gift, they are partaking fully of the tree of life, and they fall into apostasy and are cut off from the tree. We are all familiar with the tragic demise of the Nephites who enter into this collective perdition state.

Consider also that at the end of the 1000 year millennial reign of Zion upon the earth, that there will be a final confrontation with the Adversary because the righteousness of the hearts of the people will no longer bind him from their presence. This is another example of the possibility of a people partaking of the heavenly gift and then choosing to be cut off from the Tree of Life.

Perhaps those that qualify for perdition are far more numerous than thought. Those of 4th Nephi, and those at the end of the Millennium, and perhaps groups in the times of Melchizedek and Noah also produced this class of people.

In other words, the reason it is difficult to imagine that there would be a significant group of people that would receive the promises of eternal life and then fall away is because we are unfamiliar with a Zion structure. It isn’t in our awareness or experience of what it would be like to live in a society of saints that have the heavenly gift; and we haven’t experienced the spiritual temptations and nature of this type of situation.

Lehi’s dream is so instructive on a level that exceeds our experience in this generation of the church. Even though it is not in our experience to live in a Zion state, we all too often yield to the temptation to associate all of the experiences of the Tree of Life with our own spiritual experiences – assuming in an odd way that we, as a people, know what it is like to live in a covenant body that lives and experiences the fullness of the gospel. We wrest the scriptures to believe that if we are active members of the church than we must be partakers of the Tree of Life – even though our experiences have no resemblance to those societies in the scriptural accounts of those that received collectively the heavenly gift.

It therefore becomes confusing to us that there would be people who would partake of the Tree of Life and then fall away if the Tree was the assurance of exaltation. Because we don’t experience that redemptive experience broadly it is hard for us to understand how it could be possible that it would happen enough to even make mention.

But it does happen, and it happened to Lehi’s posterity. And this is why he witnessed it. And his dream served as a prophetic warning to his future generations that this would happen.  It also serves as a warning of how to avoid the temptation once they find themselves partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Life.

As we understand the truth of the components of the Tree of Life, we are able to receive the detailed insight as to our own spiritual situation, and how to more clearly come to Christ. We receive the invitation to come into his presence in the flesh. And we are warned of the great power of the temptation to yield to those in the Great and Spacious Building.

May we resist the temptation to wrest the scriptures and take the warning of Alma seriously that if we do so, we do it unto our destruction.  We need to stop casually referring to ourselves as a people that partakes of the fruit of the Tree of Life. This is reserved for a people that have actually entered into a Zion structure and have collectively received the heavenly gift.

And may we also be full of gratitude for the record of the Book of Mormon that both invites us into the presence of the Lord while we are in mortality, and also warns us of the complexity and power of temptations and darkness that will seek our overthrow.