(Continued from last week…)
Practice makes progress; Jesus makes perfect.
I have heard it said by some in this Church that Christ will “help us turn our weaknesses into strengths.” But, when we read the scriptures, we see that Christ does not phrase it that way. He declares that He will turn our weaknesses into strengths, not help us to do it. He claims the credit for it. “…if men come unto me…if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12: 27). If Jesus, who cannot lie, considers Himself responsible for our advancement from weakness to strength, then perhaps we should cease taking any credit unto ourselves.
Nephi told us that he had been “highly favored of the Lord” (1 Nephi 1: 1). How many of us have had the spiritual favors granted to us from the Lord that Nephi had? Mighty visions, miracles, seeing the Savior, visits from angels, etc.! And yet, nowhere do we see Nephi boasting of his spiritual goodness. Instead we hear him boasting of “the great goodness of the Lord.” When it comes to his own goodness, Nephi exclaims: “O wretched man that I am!” (2 Nephi 4: 17-19).
Ammon speaking of himself and his fellow missionaries to the Lamanites said: “there never were men that had so great reason to rejoice as we, since the world began” (Alma 26: 35). How many of us have seen the magnificent results Ammon saw? Thousands and thousands of faithful, unshakable converts! And yet, Ammon isn’t boasting of himself. “I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak” (Alma 26: 12). Instead he remembers the Lord saving him from hell: “Who could have supposed that our God would have been so merciful as to have snatched us from our awful, sinful, and polluted state?” (Alma 26: 17).
Or what of the brother of Jared, who lamented his evil nature and unworthiness before the Lord (see Ether 3: 2)? He’s not boasting of himself and his righteousness. We see all through the scriptures that the Lord knows how to teach humility to those who will listen, just like He taught Moses “that man is nothing, which thing [Moses] never had supposed” (Moses 1: 10).
So, according to the scriptures, if there is anyone who does good among us, he or she does it by the power and gifts of God (Moroni 10: 24-25). And, if the power and gifts of God are done away with, there shall be no one who does good. All good comes because of Christ (Moroni 7: 24). If we believe the scriptures, then how can we think that any good comes because of us?
The apostle John, speaking of Christ, said: “We love him, because he first loved us” (1 John 4: 19). Well, can’t the same be said about goodness? If we are good in any way, is it not because Christ was good first?
Thomas S. Monson and all other prophets back to Adam know that they owe their goodness to Christ, just as Christ owes His goodness to the Father.
I think of President Gordon B. Hinckley, whose mortal life has been memorialized as a good, well-lived life. According to the scriptures, Gordon B. Hinckley was good because of Christ and His grace that came upon him. We can even see it. Remember when young Elder Hinckley was serving his mission in England, he became a bit discouraged due to the lack of success. He wrote a letter to his father, saying, “I am wasting my time and your money. I don’t see any point in my staying here.” He was considering cutting his mission short and going home. But after some time, he received a short letter back from his father that said: “Dear Gordon. I have your letter….I have only one suggestion. Forget yourself and go to work. With love, Your Father.” President Hinckley said of that moment: “I pondered that, and the next morning in our scripture class we read that great statement of the Lord: ‘For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it’ (Mark 8: 35). It touched me. That statement, that promise, in conjunction with my father’s letter, prompted me to go upstairs,…get on my knees, and make a covenant with the Lord that I would try to forget myself and go to work. I count that as the day of decision in my life. Everything good that has happened to me since then I can trace back to the decision I made at that time” (Our Heritage, p. 140, emphasis added).
The letter from his father which was inspired by the goodness of the Lord, along with the grace of God to see the message of that letter with spiritual eyes put Elder Hinckley in a position to receive more good from the Source of good. It is the Lord’s grace that moves us to prayerfully ask, that humbles us to listen, and that strengthens us to act.
Nephi tells us that when he was young, he did not rebel against his father, Lehi, like his brothers had, because God visited him with His Spirit and softened his heart (1 Nephi 2: 16). Notice, Nephi did not say: I was a good person, a better person than my brothers, so I did not rebel. He gives the Lord the credit.
I have no doubt that Gordon B. Hinckley, Nephi, Ammon, and a host of others are now in heaven, and will be given all that the Father has to give. But they are not in heaven because they were good…and I believe they were good! They are in heaven because of Jesus. In fact, they were good because of Jesus. If it had not been for Jesus, “there could no good thing come unto them” (Moroni 7: 24).
Please, make no mistake about it, it is not our repentance that gives us a remission of sins. It is Christ’s redemption! It is not our baptism that washes us clean. It is Jesus’ blood. He requires our repentance and our baptism, but He is the doer of the atonement’s redemptive work. And He is the source of all good that flows to us!
Let’s give credit where credit is due.
(to be continued…)