A Personal Gospel Study Revolution! (or How the Spirit Answered My Prayers)
I have been struggling for months with what feels like an overwhelming feeling of falling short in my studies. I’ve been praying for some guidance on how to balance the ‘Come Follow Me’ curriculum (I’m a Sunday School teacher so I feel the need for careful, extended consideration of ‘Come Follow Me’) and the Prophet’s call for a daily dose of the Book of Mormon. The promises and blessings that go with obedience to the home-centered/church-supported focus are wonderful! I need ALL the blessings I can get!
“The aim of all gospel learning and teaching is to deepen our conversion and help us become more like Jesus Christ. For this reason, when we study the gospel, we’re not just looking for new information; we want to become a “new creature” (see 2 Corinthians 5:17). This means relying on Christ to change our hearts, our views, our actions, and our very natures.” (Amen! This is an amazing blessing of obedience.) “But the kind of gospel learning that strengthens our faith and leads to the miraculous change of conversion doesn’t happen all at once. It extends beyond a classroom into an individual’s heart and home. It requires consistent, daily efforts to understand and live the gospel. True conversion requires the influence of the Holy Ghost.” (Introduction to Come Follow Me 2019)
About the Book of Mormon, President Russell M. Nelson has said, “My dear brothers and sisters, I promise that as you prayerfully study the Book of Mormon every day, you will make better decisions—every day. I promise that as you ponder what you study, the windows of heaven will open, and you will receive answers to your own questions and direction for your own life. I promise that as you daily immerse yourself in the Book of Mormon, you can be immunized against the evils of the day, even the gripping plague of pornography and other mind-numbing addictions.” “Whenever I hear anyone, including myself, say, “I know the Book of Mormon is true,” I want to exclaim, “That’s nice, but it is not enough!” We need to feel, deep in “the inmost part” of our hearts, that the Book of Mormon is unequivocally the word of God. We must feel it so deeply that we would never want to live even one day without it. I might paraphrase President Brigham Young in saying, “I wish I had the voice of seven thunders to wake up the people” to the truth and power of the Book of Mormon.” President Russell M. Nelson, Oct 2017
These two courses of study are supremely significant to the very essence of an obedient, trying-to-be-sanctified, covenant-keeping life. The answer to my pleading for guidance finally came. I want to share this, not because your journey is exactly the same as mine, but more to give hope that the Spirit CAN and does guide us. He’s available to help us maximize all the blessings that Heavenly Father and the Savior have in store for us. Here’s my plan. Fortunately, I think Paul is great fun to read. Sometimes it takes real digging to understand the doctrines he writes about. They are worth understanding because Paul teaches us how to live continually committed and converted to Jesus Christ. The doctrines he addresses are relevant to each of us. The Book of Mormon sheds light on what we study in the New Testament (and in any other testament, for that matter!).
In my pursuit of balance and obedience I feel inspired to do the following: 1) Listen to and study the Come Follow Me assignments looking for the doctrines. Dig deep. In this stage, I may listen to CWIC Media or go to Book of Mormon Central NT Commentary or to other resources. Here’s an example of something I pulled out this week. Paul: 1 Timothy 1:5 Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned: 2 Timothy 2:22 Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Titus 2:11 For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, 12 Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; 13 Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; 14 Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good work. 2) Identify the doctrine and write it out: For the above scriptures I wrote, ‘the pure in heart are sanctified (clean hands) by righteous acts of faith, charity, obedience, and humility. They are prepared to meet the eternal God. Godliness. Righteousness’. 3) The Book of Mormon: Go to the Book of Mormon for further light. Experience has already taught me that the Book of Mormon always clarifies the doctrine of Jesus Christ. Here’s some of what I found. The following verses, teach me what sanctification and purity look like in a life! The pure in heart receive a mighty change in their hearts by exercising faith and looking forward with faith; with sufficient humility and being stripped of pride the image of God is engraved on their countenances. Alma 5:14 “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? 15 Do ye exercise faith in the redemption of him who created you? Do you look forward with an eye of faith, and view this mortal body raised in immortality, and this corruption braised in incorruption, to stand before God to be judged according to the deeds which have been done in the mortal body? 19 I say unto you, can ye look up to God at that day with a pure heart and clean hands? I say unto you, can you look up, having the image of God engraven upon your countenances? 26 And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now? 27 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? 28 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.” The next verses teach that when pride enters into our hearts and when we prosper in a way that includes this pride, we become devastators and destroyers. This kind of attitude leads to persecution, anger, and violence. The path of the faithful is clear, even when facing affliction.
Helaman 3: 33 And in the fifty and first year of the reign of the judges there was peace also, save it were the pride which began to enter into the church—not into the church of God, but into the hearts of the people who professed to belong to the church of God— 34 And they were lifted up in pride, even to the persecution of many of their brethren. Now this was a great evil, which did cause the more humble part of the people to suffer great persecutions, and to wade through much affliction. 35 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. (This is such great clarification into how this purifying occurs, what it feels like, and how we can encourage it. Joy? Consolation? As results? Wow!)
Finally (for the purpose of this example (there are many more clarifying scriptures in the Book of Mormon), the Nephites show us how to live in Christ in the midst of the challenges and afflictions of mortality!
3 Nephi 4:29 May the Lord preserve his people in righteousness and in holiness of heart, that they may cause to be felled to the earth all who shall seek to slay them because of power and secret combinations, even as this man hath been felled to the earth. 30 And they did rejoice and cry again with one voice, saying: May the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, protect this people in righteousness, so long as they shall call on the name of their God for protection. 31 And it came to pass that they did break forth, all as one, in singing, and praising their God for the great thing which he had done for them, in preserving them from falling into the hands of their enemies. 32 Yea, they did cry: Hosanna to the Most High God. And they did cry: Blessed be the name of the Lord God Almighty, the Most High God. 33 And their hearts were swollen with joy, unto the gushing out of many tears, because of the great goodness of God in delivering them out of the hands of their enemies; and they knew it was because of their repentance and their humility that they had been delivered from an everlasting destruction.
(Prayer, Praise, Trust, Faith, Singing, Gratitude, Repentance, Humility) Example 2
Paul often warned the Saints to guard against the false teachers and prophets that had and would infiltrate the Church, leading the Saints into Apostasy. Latter-day prophets continue to caution us.
M. Russell Ballard sounded the warning 20 years ago: “As Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ, it is our duty to be watchmen on the tower, warning Church members to beware of false prophets and false teachers who lie in wait to ensnare and destroy faith and testimony. Today we warn you that there are false prophets and false teachers arising (and in the twenty years since this address in General Conference, the ability to reach millions upon millions with these false doctrines has increased exponentially. The danger is real!); and if we are not careful, even those who are among the faithful members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will fall victim to their deception…. Therefore, let us beware of false prophets and false teachers, both men and women, who are self-appointed declarers of the doctrines of the Church and who seek to spread their false gospel and attract followers by sponsoring symposia, books, and journals whose contents challenge fundamental doctrines of the Church (so prophetic!). Beware of those who speak and publish in opposition to God’s true prophets and who actively proselyte others with reckless disregard for the eternal well-being of those whom they seduce. Like Nehor and Korihor in the Book of Mormon, they rely on sophistry to deceive and entice others to their views. They ‘set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion’...However, in the Lord’s Church there is no such thing as a “loyal opposition.” One is either for the kingdom of God and stands in defense of God’s prophets and apostles, or one stands opposed. 2 Ne. 26:29 ‘He commandeth that there shall be no priestcrafts; for, behold, priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion’.”
Let me add an important thought to this. Doubt, questions, and inner struggle are not opposition. We all go through ‘the dark night of the soul’ in our lives. The difference between opposition and doubt? The intent of the heart. The aim of the opposer frequently seems to be to take others along the same path with them into the darkness. The doubter often desires to find a way back, and even if they are unable to find that path, they aren’t interested in crushing the faith of the people around them.
Here’s what Paul has to say in this week’s assignment.
Paul: 1 Timothy 1:4 Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do. 6 From which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling; 7 Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm.
2 Timothy 4:3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; 4 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.
Titus 1:14 Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth. 15 Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled. 16 They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.
Titus 3:9 But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain. 10 A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject; 11 Knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.
The Doctrine: Don’t Be Deceived, Learn Wisdom, Discernment, Macro and Micro Apostasy, Pride
The Book of Mormon informs our understanding of what these deceivers, destroyers, and societies look like in great detail. The following verses describe our times perfectly!
2 Nephi 28:8 And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God. 9 Yea, and there shall be many which shall teach after this manner, false and vain and foolish doctrines, and shall be puffed up in their hearts, and shall seek deep to hide their counsels from the Lord; and their works shall be in the dark. 10 And the blood of the saints shall cry from the ground against them. 11 Yea, they have all gone out of the way; they have become corrupted.
12 Because of pride, and because of false teachers, and false doctrine, their churches have become corrupted, and their churches are lifted up; because of pride they are puffed up. 13 They rob the poor because of their fine sanctuaries; they rob the poor because of their fine clothing; and they persecute the meek and the poor in heart, because in their pride they are puffed up. 14 They wear stiff necks and high heads; yea, and because of pride, and wickedness, and abominations, and whoredoms, they have all gone astray save it be a few, who are the humble followers of Christ; nevertheless, they are led, that in many instances they do err because they are taught by the precepts of men. 15 O the wise, and the learned, and the rich, that are puffed up in the pride of their hearts, and all those who preach false doctrines, and all those who commit whoredoms, and pervert the right way of the Lord, wo, wo, wo be unto them, saith the Lord God Almighty, for they shall be thrust down to hell! 16 Wo unto them that turn aside the just for a thing of naught and revile against that which is good, and say that it is of no worth! For the day shall come that the Lord God will speedily visit the inhabitants of the earth; and in that day that they are fully ripe in iniquity they shall perish. 17 But behold, if the inhabitants of the earth shall repent of their wickedness and abominations they shall not be destroyed, saith the Lord of Hosts.
The Book of Mormon not only describes false prophets and their effect on society, but then provides wise counsel to the believer on how to avoid the trap.
3 Nephi 14:15 Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. 16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? 17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 20 Wherefore, by their fruits ye shall know them.
Moroni 7:15 For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night. 16 For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God. 17 But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him. 18 And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged.
What arises (and I use that word literally!) in my heart and mind as I bring the Book of Mormon into my studies as an essential component, is more understanding of the Doctrine of Christ as Paul taught it along with an increasing reverence and respect for the power and beauty of the Book of Mormon! And from that, my regard of Joseph Smith as prophet grows. And so it goes.