(Continued from last week…)
Practice makes progress; Jesus makes perfect.
Last week, we looked at the error in thinking that any of us, while in mortality, could earn, merit, or deserve an inheritance in God’s heavenly kingdom. This week I’d like to go a step further and show how we mortals cannot really earn any of God’s blessings down here.
First, we must understand the true nature of blessings. In this telestial realm, societies are structured in such a way so that individuals can work and earn. We give a certain effort, and that effort equals the pay we get in return for it. But not when it comes to God. God doesn’t call what He gives us earnings. It’s almost always called gifts, partly because the value of what He gives us is always much greater than the work He requires for us to receive it.
A gift is not something one earns. When is the last time you earned your birthday or Christmas presents? And who can earn the gifts of God?
Think of the wide variety of God’s gifts to us. I will touch on a few.
Who can earn birth? Who can earn the sunrise? What farmer can earn photosynthesis? What mother can earn the right to choose the gender and personality of her baby? Our bodies, our talents, our individual traits in which we naturally excel are all gifts from God, not payments due. And God is a very generous giver.
Who can earn the gift of the Holy Ghost? Can an eight year old—or an eighty year old for that matter—come to live life so completely sin free and in such perfect harmony with the will of heaven, so as to earn the continual companionship of one of the Godhead?
Who can earn the priesthood? No amount of works done by someone could make God owe him the priesthood. In the days of the early apostles, after the resurrection of Christ, a man named Simon observed Peter and John using the priesthood to give the gift of the Holy Ghost.
“And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost. But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money” (Acts 8: 14-20).
Money can’t buy it. What we do cannot earn it. It’s called a gift. Prayer is a gift—to communicate by voice or silent thought with a Being whose dwelling place is galaxies away. And on top of that, who can force God to hear and favorably answer any prayer? His communing with us is a gift.
Who can earn the gift of healing—to repair an unseen disease or deformity with a word or a touch? Who among mortals can develop the ability to heal on their own? Even if a wonderfully skilled physician (and this world has many for which we are so deeply grateful) were to perform a lifesaving surgery, that would still not complete the job. It is by the power of one of God’s gifts, that the body then uses the mechanisms He has placed within it, to go on and fuse the tissues, close the wound, and form the scar tissue to seal what was severed. Physicians study and work for many years to be healers, but they can never, by their own power, make a body regenerate. They can never put life into that which is not alive. What doctor would claim this power? None would dare. Our bodies are gifts. Life is a gift. The scriptures are a gift. Living prophets and a living Church are all gifts. No man can justly earn any of it. Nothing we receive from God will ever be a rightful exchange of our good works or time or money for that which He graciously hands over to us in return. Everything God gives to us is worth so much more than that which we have been asked to do to receive it. He always outdoes us on His end of things.
The Atonement of Christ is a gift. The resurrection is a gift. Salvation is a gift. We are saved by His merits, not ours. “Relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save” (2 Nephi 31: 19). Being extremely good can’t remove the bad we have already done. Stopping at all red lights from now on doesn’t erase the one we ran. Forgiveness of sin is a gift. Oh, we might even keep quite a number of commandments in our lifetime, but that doesn’t earn us eternal life.
We say that by the grace of God we all receive immortality, that the resurrection is a free gift for every one of us. But we insinuate that we get eternal life without grace, and that it’s not free, as we focus on our obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel. But is it not also by the grace of God that we receive eternal life? Who could possibly earn it—the blessing to receive all that the Father has? It too, is a gift. In fact, the Lord calls it “the greatest of all the gifts of God” (D&C 14: 7).
God is the best gift giver. He knows what we need to become like Him, and He is so very willing, so powerfully desirous to give us all of those gifts which will put us in the path to eventually receiving His greatest gift of all.
(to be continued…)