(Continued from last week…)
Practice makes progress; Jesus makes perfect.
We believe that through the grace of Jesus Christ, all mankind will be raised from the dead and enjoy the gift of complete immortality. We also believe that through the grace of Jesus Christ, all of us who will repent and exercise faith in Him will be saved from the punishment we deserve because of our sins. What mortal mind can fathom the exquisite benefits of these grace offerings?
As well, last week we talked about grace as being an “enabling power” generously offered to us because of Christ’s atonement. By our Savior’s grace, we are enabled, or given “strength and assistance to do good works” and “maintain” them, which would otherwise not be humanly possible if we were left to our own means! Do we understand what a gift this is? If we did, this blessing alone from the Lord Jesus would be sufficient reason for every one of us to sincerely rejoice and shout praises to His name for the rest of our lives! But there is more…for, these specific functions of grace are not the entire story.
While grace is an enabling power, it is also an ennobling power.
My friends, Susan Black (in Finding Christ Through the Book of Mormon, pp. 49-50), and Brad Wilcox (in The Continuous Atonement, pp. 112-113), both wrote about the song, “I Am a Child of God” and how the chorus was initially written to sing, “Teach me all that I must know to live with Him someday.” Then President Spencer W. Kimball suggested that the lyric be changed to “Teach me all that I must do…” since to merely know the Lord’s will is not enough to bring us back into His presence. Finally, both Susan and Brad fancied the possibility of an even more complete lyric: “Teach me all that I must be…”
Now, in the context of grace and all of the divinely appointed helps Jesus has made available to us, it makes sense that we can be taught to “know” what is required of each of us to live with God again. But to only be taught to “do” is surely not enough, as we have clearly stated. We must be strengthened and assisted to “do.” Likewise, to only be taught to “be” will never suffice for our exaltation. In order to “be” we must be changed into His likeness. If we need the Lord’s grace just to “do and maintain” good works, how much more of His grace do we require in order to “become” good?
So for me, these are the concepts of the power of our Savior’s grace in our mortal lives:
Teach me all that I must know – Enlighten/Inspire me.
Strengthen me in all that I must do – Enable me.
Change me into all that I must be – Ennoble me.
Christ, through His grace to us, strengthens us—enables us—to make changes to our behavior. But that does not change our nature, our character. Christ must also do that for us through endowments of His grace. With the Lord’s help, an alcoholic can avoid going to bars, liquor stores, parties, and functions where alcohol will be offered, and thereby alter and reduce the climate of temptation in his life. But that does not take the longing for drink out of his being. So it is with every addiction, habit, weakness, tendency, and temptation with which we are faced. We can avoid places, people, and things that might compromise our determination to remain “clean” but that does not uproot the addiction, or natural tendency from our person. That calls for a change of nature, a change in our actual make up. This is something Christ must do for us. In fact, Christ has done it for some. I have been told of several missionary experiences where a truth-seeker was being taught the restored gospel, and desired baptism, but struggled to quit drinking or smoking…until, after mighty prayer and fasting, they woke up one morning with the desire to drink or smoke completely gone from them. Christ gives us strength to change our behavior, but He alone changes our nature.
I rely completely upon my Savior for this kind of change. I cannot do it, and so He must!
Even as I write this, I suppose that there are still those in the Church who would feel the need to set me straight in my thinking—those who are anxious to correct me, and who would thoughtlessly rob from me my only hope for eternal life through a merciful Lord. These would tell me that unless I change myself, unless I figure out a way by my sheer will and determination, and self-mastery, to improve my character, I shall never reach the perfection I desire. They feel I lean too heavily upon grace—and the Lord’s giving nature—and don’t focus enough on doing my part in working out my own salvation with fear and trembling. But these do not know my heart; they do not know with what effort and for how many years I have tried to perfect myself while only continuing to fail miserably. I say to them (and I say to all), changing what we do is not the same as changing how we are.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks declared: “The Apostle Paul taught that the Lord’s teachings and teachers were given that we may all attain ‘the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ’ (Ephesians 4: 13). This process requires far more than acquiring knowledge. It is not even enough for us to be convinced of the gospel; we must act and think so that we are converted by it. In contrast to the institutions of the world, which teach us to know something, the gospel of Jesus Christ challenges us to become something.…the Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts—what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts—what we have become. It is not enough for anyone just to go through the motions. The commandments, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel are not a list of deposits required to be made in some heavenly account. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a plan that shows us how to become what our Heavenly Father desires us to become” (“The Challenge to Become,” Ensign, November 2000, p. 32).
It is my conviction that endowments of grace from the Lord Jesus, along with our accepting and implementing that grace, are the building blocks of a perfected life.
I know for certain that I wasn’t called ten years ago to be a bishop because I was a good man. I was called as a sinner. In saying that, I don’t deny that there is some good in me. But that goodness is there because of Christ, His grace and influence. Whether in this life, or before, I have seen in His perfection of character the kind of man I wanted to be, and both then and now He has given me the grace to make some little steps in that direction. It is the wish of my heart to eventually be made into the fulness of His goodness. And if I do not let go of Him, He will make it so.
(to be continued…)