(Continued from last week…)
THE NATURE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS
The last two posts, part 1, and part 2, have demonstrated by scriptural and prophetic history, how all mankind, because of the fall, are considered unworthy before God. So if we are all unworthy before Him, if we are—each one of us—the little black sheep that goes astray, then what really is righteousness?
The scripture says: “…he who doeth the works of righteousness shall receive his reward, even peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come” (D&C 59: 23). But, I ask you, what are the works of righteousness? Some may answer: “The good things, the right things, keeping the commandments, and helping other people.” I think these are pretty good answers. But after much pondering, it appears to me that Lord has something more in mind.
Jesus, speaking of the Day of Judgment, said to the Jews: “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?” (Now, these sound like the works of righteousness: prophesying in the Lord’s name; casting out devils, relieving people of the suffering these demons cause; and doing many wonderful works in Jesus’ name.) But Jesus continues: “And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7: 22-23). Iniquity? I ask you: How can relieving people who are possessed by devils be iniquity? The Lord has commanded His messengers to cast Satan out of our midst; well, how much more so out of our bodies? How can the Savior call it iniquity here? It makes me think of the Apostle Paul when, speaking of charity, he said: “Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor…and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing” (1 Corinthians 13: 3). Giving up all of your earthly possessions to feed the poor? That sounds like the workings of charity, to me? It sounds like the works of righteousness! But again, the Lord wants something more. So, I ask, are you and I in danger of having our blessed Savior say to us in that day: “Depart from me.” I can hear us now. ‘But, Lord, Lord, wait a minute. Have we not gone home teaching in Your name? Have we not worked in the nursery, Lord? Have we not paid our tithing and gone to the temple, and cleaned the church building on Saturdays, and attended our meetings, and cooked food for the funerals, and given service at Welfare Square? Have we not done so many things in Your name, Lord?’ After all that, are we still in danger of hearing the Lord say to us: “Depart from me, ye that work iniquity”? Well, after some searching and contemplation, I feel like I’m beginning to understand some of these things. For starters, we see that the Prophet Joseph Smith rendered the translation of these verses in Matthew a little differently. Instead of Jesus saying: “And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you”, the Joseph Smith Translation has Jesus saying: “And then will I say, Ye never knew me” (JST Matthew 7: 33). Not “I, the Lord Jesus never knew you”—of course He knows us; Jesus knows everything about us—but “You never knew me.” So, let’s say you and I “go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded,” let’s say we do all of these things that appear to us to be the works of righteousness. However, if we don’t know Him, if we don’t do these works because we love Him, and trust Him, and want to honor Him, and show our love and appreciation for Him, as a memorial for Him, will they really be the works of righteousness that He seeks from us? If we do these things out of guilt, or out of fear, or because of pride—wanting to appear righteous in the eyes of others, or just because it’s something our leaders asked us to do, will they really be the works of righteousness that He longs for?
Jesus said: “If a man love me…my Father will love him” (John 14: 23). Now, this could sound like: If you love Jesus, only then will Heavenly Father love you. DON’T BE RIDICULOUS! God’s love for us is not going to waver back and forth because of how we feel toward Him or the Savior. His love will not fluctuate according to how we live our lives. God loved us first. He started love. He is love. The scripture says: “We love [God], because he first loved us” (1 John 4: 19). When the scriptures say that God will love us, they are saying that He will manifest that love to us in a very real way. Jesus said: “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and [my Father and I] will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” Now that is a manifestation of God’s and Christ’s love that I want with all my heart.
REAL INTENT TOWARD GOD
Again, I ask: Do we do these works because we love our Father and our Savior and we want to demonstrate that love to them with our lives? The Jews have an important concept in their praying that relates to this, known as “kavanah.” “Kavanah means to pray with intention and concentration on God’s presence, to ‘know before whom you stand.’ They would say that a prayer without kavanah is worse than not praying at all, because it insults God by not showing him the reverence he deserves.”
The Prophet Mormon spoke of a similar idea when he said: “…if [a man] offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing.
“For behold, it is not counted unto him for righteousness.” (There’s that word again.)
“For behold, if a man…giveth a gift, [and] he doeth it grudgingly…it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God.” (Notice he is counted evil not because of what he did, but because of his intent behind it.)
“And likewise also is it counted evil unto a man, if he shall pray and not with real intent of heart; yea, and it profiteth him nothing, for God receiveth none such” (Moroni 7: 6-9, emphasis added).
Therefore, according to these scriptures, God judges a man and what a man does according to the man’s intent. “They draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Joseph Smith–History 1: 19, emphasis added).
And so, in that great and last day, Jesus will say to many who have done many wonderful works in His name: “Depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”
(to be continued…)