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.

 

 

 

How Does One Get On the Strait and Narrow Path?

Just a few chapters into the Book of Mormon we read the account of Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life. A couple of chapters later, we receive Nephi’s witness of the same vision with an added interpretation. This vision becomes the doctrinal theme of the entire work of scripture, with its imagery, allegory, and doctrine spread throughout. In chapters 31 and 32 of 2 Nephi we are given the doctrine of the vision. This is known as the doctrine of Christ.

The doctrine of Christ that is taught and testified of in the Book of Mormon is also the doctrine of the seed of faith found in Alma 32. Alma’s teaching on the seed is a restatement of Nephi and Lehi’s dream. When put together, the vision of the Tree of Life, the doctrine of Christ taught in 2 Nephi 30-33, and Alma’s teachings, particularly his sermon on the seed, of faith unlocks a rich and complex doctrinal framework. If we overlay the three accounts we find that they each offer a unique key to understanding this doctrinal framework that is at the heart of the purpose of the Book of Mormon. These essays use these three accounts of the doctrine of Christ to address critical gospel questions.

How Does One Get On the Strait and Narrow Path?

One of the first thing Lehi witnesses in his dream was “numberless concourses of people, many of whom were pressing forward, that they might obtain the path which led unto the tree by which I stood” (1 Nephi 8: 21). I find it fascinating that he didn’t observe endless people trying to get to the tree, but to the path that leads to the tree. I think this is significant because it invites us to ask the question, what exactly is the narrow gate that leads to the path? What were people seeking?

We know that the physical ordinance of baptism is part of this gate, but we must understand all of the components of baptism to know if we are through the gate. As Christ first appeared to the Nephites he immediately taught them the doctrine of baptism. Here is what the Savior taught:

And it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words unto Nephi, and to those who had been called, (now the number of them who had been called, and received power and authority to baptize, was twelve) and behold, he stretched forth his hand unto the multitude, and cried unto them, saying: Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of these twelve whom I have chosen from among you to minister unto you, and to be your servants; and unto them I have given power that they may baptize you with water; and after that ye are baptized with water, behold, I will baptize you with fire and with the Holy Ghost; therefore blessed are ye if ye shall believe in me and be baptized, after that ye have seen me and know that I am.

And again, more blessed are they who shall believe in your words because that ye shall testify that ye have seen me, and that ye know that I am. Yea, blessed are they who shall believe in your words, and come down into the depths of humility and be baptized, for they shall be visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and shall receive a remission of their sins” (3 Nephi 12: 1-2).

We must be born of both water and spirit (John 3: 4-5). This is perhaps why Christ refers to the gate as being narrow and that few people find it. Many people can find the channel of receiving a physical baptism. Few repent sufficiently to be baptized by fire and the Holy Ghost. This baptism comes as an endowment from the Savior himself.

Lehi saw that his dream was that of the strait and narrow path (1 Nephi 8: 20-23). This may seem like a simple connection, but it is so important to remember that the events that Nephi and Lehi witness in their dream should be mapped against the doctrine outlined in the last chapters of 2 Nephi. Why is this important? Because it helps us understand where we exactly are on our own path. It helps us understand the ordinances, covenants, and experiences that we should have depending on where we are on the path.

First, in order to enter on the path, which is also the holding to the rod, Nephi explains very clearly that it is through the narrow channel of water baptism and the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost. It seems to be a commonly held assumption that we can refer to all those who have entered into the waters of baptism, have been confirmed a member of the church, and have received the laying on of hands for the Gift of the Holy Ghost are automatically on the path. This is not the case, and Nephi makes it clear that it is more than just physical ordinances needed to enter the path. You need to have the actual spiritual endowment of a baptism of fire experience.

“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I know that if ye shall follow the Son, with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ, by baptism—yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, according to his word, behold, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel” (2 Nephi 31: 13)

And then he teaches:

Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter. For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.

AND THEN are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son, unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made, that if ye entered in by the way ye should receive” (2 Nephi 31: 17-18).

Christ teaches this powerful doctrine and promise to the Nephites when they heard his voice in the darkness after experiencing devastating calamity.

“And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost,…” (3 Nephi 9:20)

Being baptized with fire and the Holy Ghost means you have a born again experience. It is something that happens to you. It is more than just a physical ordinance; if you haven’t had a born again experience, the mighty change of heart, and all of the accompanying fruits of that mighty change, they you have yet to enter into the channel of baptism. Consider the doctrine of born again and baptism being one single ordinance as taught in Alma:

“Now I say unto you that ye must repent, and be born again; for the Spirit saith if ye are not born again ye cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye may be washed from your sins, that ye may have faith on the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, who is mighty to save and to cleanse from all unrighteousness” (Alma 7: 14).

Being baptized (in the true and full sense of the ordinance) means you are born again. It requires a mighty change from the Lord himself. To be fully baptized we must be both physically immersed in water and receive the mighty change of heart. This is perhaps why we’ve been invited to not marvel at this miraculous invitation. It is so much more than just making a promise to keep the commandments. Baptism means sufficiently repenting and putting to death the natural man that we are formed in to a new creature in Christ. This is the event of baptism, and if you have not received the baptism of fire your baptism is not yet complete.

Joseph Smith clarified:

You might as well baptize a bag of sand as a man, if not done in view of the remission of sins and getting of the Holy Ghost. Baptism by water is but half a baptism, and is good for nothing without the other half—that is, the baptism of the Holy Ghost. The Savior says, ‘Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.’ [John 3:5.]”

He also went on to teach:

“Being born again, comes by the Spirit of God through ordinances.”

“Baptism is a holy ordinance preparatory to the reception of the Holy Ghost; it is the channel and key by which the Holy Ghost will be administered. The Gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, cannot be received through the medium of any other principle than the principle of righteousness.”

The principle of righteousness is the key. We can receive the physical ordinances, but that is not sufficient. We must also be born again. It comes by the Spirit of God. The reception of the Holy Ghost is the baptism of fire.

As Alma preached repentance he framed becoming born again with repentance.

“And now I say unto you that this is the order after which I am called, yea, to preach unto my beloved brethren, yea, and every one that dwelleth in the land; yea, to preach unto all, both old and young, both bond and free; yea, I say unto you the aged, and also the middle aged, and the rising generation; yea, to cry unto them that they must repent and be born again” (Alma 5: 49).

Mosiah taught so powerfully the following.

“And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of Godchanged from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters;

And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God” (Mosiah 27: 25-26).

This is the requirement of baptism and this is the narrow gate through which we all must pass in order to enter into the strait and narrow path. It is not enough to be baptized by water. We must also go through a mighty change of heart in order to enter into the gate.

If we are baptized but not in a born again state, Alma records a powerful sermon in the 5th chapter of his record that emphasizes to the covenant members of the church that they must repent and regain the spiritual state of being born again.

“And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?…

Have ye walked, keeping yourselves blameless before God? Could ye say, if ye were called to die at this time, within yourselves, that ye have been sufficiently humble? That your garments have been cleansed and made white through the blood of Christ, who will come to redeem his people from their sins?

Behold, are ye stripped of pride? I say unto you, if ye are not ye are not prepared to meet God. Behold ye must prepare quickly; for the kingdom of heaven is soon at hand, and such an one hath not eternal life” (Alma 5: 14-28).

Just as Christ told the Nephites that HE would baptize them with fire by sending the Holy Ghost, King Benjamin’s people testified of this event:

And they all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually…

And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters” (Mosiah 5: 5-7).

The injunction is to become born of God and repent today. It’s not a process that takes a lifetime, even though we need to retain it for a lifetime. It’s not through a slow and imperceptible process. In order to pass through the narrow gate on to the strait and narrow path we must become born again, baptized by fire, and receive the mighty change of heart. We must first become a new creature in Christ.

The great hope of the doctrine of Christ is that we can receive this mighty change as quickly as we are willing to give up all our sins and that which we possess to know God. We receive it as quickly as we desire to give our whole lives to God without reservation and conditions. Just as King Lamoni’s father experienced, we are endowed with a mighty change of heart when we choose Christ above all other things in our life.

And it came to pass that after Aaron had expounded these things unto him, the king said: What shall I do that I may have this eternal life of which thou hast spoken? Yea, what shall I do that I may be born of God, having this wicked spirit rooted out of my breast, and receive his Spirit, that I may be filled with joy, that I may not be cast off at the last day? Behold, said he, I will give up all that I possess, yea, I will forsake my kingdom, that I may receive this great joy” (Alma 22:15).

Alma chapters 32 through 34 is an account of Alma and Amulek teaching the doctrine of Christ to the Zoramites, who were a people that had once had the gospel, presumably made the covenants, but had fallen into pride and iniquity. Alma mentions to them baptism, but his and Amulek’s message to them wasn’t focused on the ordinance of baptism, presumably because they had already entered into the ordinances. They were reclaiming these people to the strait and narrow path.

Amulek declares to them the conditions and desperate need for repentance. He declares to them that this is the day of their repentance and that is the work of their life – their labors- is to repent with all of their heart. He said, “as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end” (Alma 34: 33).

And Amulek taught that if they repent, they would immediately partake of the plan of redemption, which is to become born again on the strait and narrow path.

“Yea, I would that ye would come forth and harden not your hearts any longer; for behold, now is the time and the day of your salvation; and therefore, if ye will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you” (Alma 34: 31).

The great hope and promise of the doctrine of Christ is that we can and must become born again to commence on the strait and narrow path. It is a blessing at which we should not marvel. It is the miracle of spiritual rebirth.

So, who is on the strait and narrow path? It is they that are born again. It is being in a state of a mighty change of heart. Being on the path is being in that place of mighty change. This is why it is strait. This is why it is narrow. It is a state of being that takes incredible diligence and daily attention. Perhaps this is why few find the gate and few retain it.

 

Resonating Obedience

Image result for sympathetic resonance

 

There is a fascinating physical phenomenon called sympathetic resonance. If you take two tuning forks of the same frequency and hit one of them, the other one will also begin to resonate.

This is a great metaphor for sanctification.  I know that one meaning of sanctification means to become pure of sin, but what if a better way of thinking about it is more like resonance?

All laws are light and all light has a frequency, or a resonance. Sanctification means that you, your body, your flesh, your will, your desires – your entire being – begins to resonate at the same frequency as the light of a law. You begin to resonate at the level of the light. So, to keep a law means to resonate at the same frequency of that law. Your whole being participates in sanctified obedience.

There is a sense that being obedient means that we learn to discipline ourselves to act at a different level that may be natural to us. To do something, or to act in a certain way, is only one component of obedience. The key to being obedient is to have our whole beings resonate at the level of the light of whatever law we are keeping.

Keeping a law means to resonate at the same level of that law. This is also a definition of sanctification.

When we are sanctified our whole body resonates at the same frequency of the law. Our mind, desires, flesh, will – it all is of the same frequency.

To be reconciled to Christ is to have our will and the light of our being share in his. It resonates at his level. It is to be in a sympathetic resonance with Christ.

So, how do we elevate to these higher levels of sanctified resonance? This is a process of not only acting in faith when moved upon by the light of Christ, but we can do so through the process of prayer.

Prayer, in its fundamental form, is the process of first yielding to the spirit sufficient that it elevates our frequency into a higher light of law. We become sanctified in deep, yielding prayer. We can ask the Lord to bring us into a law, and as we yield our minds, will, flesh, and desires to the workings of the spirit, we can be brought to a higher frequency through the grace of Christ. It is the spirit that does this work. We, by taking thought, cannot raise our own frequency. It is always a gift or endowment. But what we can do is put ourselves in a place to have the Holy Ghost bring us into higher levels of Godly resonance.

The scriptures describe this resonance as being “quickened”. As we explore scripture such as D&C 88 and 93 we can learn much about the quickening process. For example, a revelation from Joseph Smith revealed the following:

The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not; nevertheless, the day shall come when you shall comprehend even God, being quickened in him and by him” (D&C 88: 49).

When we want to ascend to in higher levels of sanctification we go through a process of becoming quickened. To move into higher states of being quickened we will almost always be prompted to make a sacrifice, and at a minimum that sacrifice usually takes the form of a broken heart and a contrite spirit. It is in this broken and contrite condition that we relax our will in such a way that the Lord is able to elevate us.

We will receive promptings to do things that may not make sense to us. Often these promptings will be different sacrifices – that if we yield to in faith – endows us with a sanctifying measure of the Holy Ghost.

Keeping the commandments does not have to be a never-ending war with the flesh. We simply must learn the process of having our will  be elevated into the resonance of the laws we need to keep. When we resonate at the level of a law, we don’t have to suffer and practice supreme discipline in order to “keep” the law. We become quickened by the law itself. It becomes part of our nature. It becomes natural to us to be in a state of obedience.

Retaining a sanctified state requires discipline in those things that keep us resonating at a higher level.  Consider Moroni 8:26:

And the remission of sins bringeth meekness, and lowliness of heart; and because of meekness and lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost, which Comforter filleth with hope and perfect love, which love endureth by diligence unto prayer, until the end shall come, when all the saints shall dwell with God.

First, notice that it is the Comforter that fills with hope and perfect love. In other words, it is the Holy Ghost that brings us to a resonance of hope and love. Those are states of resonance in Christ. We experience them with our entire being.

And in order to maintain it, we have to be diligent in prayer. Prayer is the place that we maintain or reclaim the sanctified state. We subject our spirits to the light of Christ and ascend into higher states of sanctification.

This is the process described in Helaman.

“Nevertheless they did fast and pray oft, and did wax stronger and stronger in their humility, and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ, unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God” (Helaman 3: 35).

For example, someone who struggles with sexual addiction may spend their whole life fighting the physical urge or psychological need for sexual experience. They may have been led to believe that they need to “keep a law” by forcing themselves to act and think a different way before they can repent and be accepted by Christ.

Instead of pursuing the exhausting and despairing path of self-perfection, what if a person learned to resonate at the same level of light that is sexual purity? If their body and mind and heart resonated at the level of law that brings sexual purity, then they wouldn’t need to hang their salvation on their ability to ultimately discipline their behavior against their fundamental nature. Their nature would change, and it would produce the type of outward obedience and attention to law that is desired.

This is why the Lord’s burden is easy. We don’t have to learn supreme discipline to force ourselves into a state of obedience – we have to learn the disciplines that subject our fallen natures to the power of the Holy Ghost so that our natures are increasingly like Christ’s nature. These disciplines include primarily fasting and prayer. Also, music, the sacrament, and the willingness to do exactly what the spirit prompts brings us into this resonance. All of these disciplines quicken us.

When we move into that sanctified structure we are free in Christ – free from a nature that is in opposition God and his laws. We freely and easily keep his laws. Obedience become the impulse of our very nature

Keeping the law of Christ is to have our being resonate in the light, frequency and power of Christ. It is what it means to become a Son or Daughter of Christ. We are to pray with all the energy of our hearts so “that (we) may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen” (Moroni 7: 48).

Being pure is to resonate in the law in perfect sync. We can become perfect in Christ just as quickly as we will yield our entire beings to Christ so we can live the law he does – his light and law become the life within us. We can become sanctified in the light of Christ if we learn the principles that bring us to that place. And it happens as quickly as we are transformed into resonating obedience.