Monday, April 28, 2014

Belief, Faith, And Knowledge Are Different

As Mormons, we tend to equate belief, faith, and knowledge as being largely the same.  Then when we read the scriptures, we see these words and then apply them to text with the same meanings as we ascribe to them from our church meetings.  I "know"  that....  Anymore, these words are like fingernails on a chalkboard.  These words need to be understood and used properly.

I believe a lot of things.  I believe that government is corrupt.  I believe that the justice system in this country is an oxymoron.  I believe that TWA Flight 800, September 11th, and the JFK assassination were NOT government conspiracies.  I believe many other things.  But belief is passive.  You can sit back and read about stuff and form an opinion, but until you do something it is just belief.  I daresay that even Satan believes that Jesus Christ lives.  But it doesn't matter because Satan does do anything constructive with that belief.

In the gospel of Jesus Christ, it is critical to move our belief to faith.  This requires action WITHOUT KNOWLEDGE.  Belief that Christ can forgive sins is useless unless you do something.  You move to faith when you act on your belief.  When you forsake your sins and repent in sackcloth and ashes, when you implore the Savior of the world to forgive you, you have moved to faith.  When you serve your fellow men, do good to the poor, when you heed the promptings of the Holy Spirit, you are acting in faith.

You move to knowledge when you experience the end results of faith.  When your sins are forgiven, then you know that Jesus Christ forgives sins.  You also know that it is possible for sins to be forgiven.  You know because you have experienced it.

For a testimony to mean anything, you must have attained to knowledge.  Otherwise you are speaking in vain.  When you testify that Jesus Christ lives and have not beheld Him, you are taking His name in vain.  When you say that you know God answers prayers, you need to testify why that is.  Otherwise your testimony is meaningless.

It is important to have faith and knowledge in things that are worthwhile.  I have knowledge that Mythbusters is a great TV show.  I knowledge that Boston cream pie is the most delicious substance known to mankind.  This knowledge is not saving (except maybe my appetite).  Likewise, knowledge that "Thomas S. Monson is a prophet of God" or "this church is true" will not save you either.  I submit that such knowledge is vain.  The church cannot save your soul.  Thomas Monson cannot save your soul.  I think it is a waste of time to bear testimony of these things.

Finally, I encourage you to pay attention to the testimonies of those to whom you look for salvation.  Do the apostles and prophets of the church bear testimony of Jesus Christ?  Is their witness one of true knowledge or true faith?  Or is it just belief?  You will have to decide.  When your bishop bears testimony that the church is true and Jesus is the Christ, is this a true testimony based on experience?  You will have to decide.

What you might find is that the only thing testimonies are good for is pointing to Christ and giving you hope that you can obtain something.  No work of any man can save your soul.  I encourage you to gain your own testimony, one that is based on KNOWLEDGE.  It is knowledge that saves.  And what knowledge saves more than the knowledge that you are saved?  Go out and ask God to give you that knowledge.  You will know it when you obtain it.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Oh How He Loves Us!

The man was in his mid 40s.  He had obviously lived a hard life.  His clothes were dirty, he had a wild beard, and looked like a relative of Charles Manson.  He had few teeth, and his skin was badly sunburned.

He sat dejectedly on the side of the road in Green River, Utah, on his way home to Barstow, California.  He had been visiting his sister, who was dying of cancer in Missouri.  He had been gone over a month, and he needed to get back to try and get work again.  He had no car, no real home, and no money for travel.  So, just the way he had gone to Missouri, he began hitchhiking and walking home, over 1000 miles.  It took him six days to get to Grand Junction, Colorado.  Once there, he waited in the sun for four days before finally getting a ride, and it only got him to Green River, 90 miles away. 

He emerged at Green River, tired, sick, and hungry.  Some generous people gave him a meal and a few dollars.  It was early in the morning.  He had barely slept, and kept company with the animals as he camped along the way.  The man prayed that the weather would be good.  His tarp had ripped back in a blizzard in Nebraska, and he had no covering for his sleeping bag. 

It was a hot day.  The man had been in the sun for four days, and he hurt.  He was so tired.  He prayed to God that he could get home. 

Another man heard about a lecture that he wanted to hear in Grand Junction.  After finding out that there were only a few seats available, he decided not to go.  The lecture would be recorded and he could get a copy of the CD with the words from the lecture, and he wouldn't have to pay all the travel costs.

A few days later, he saw a request from a friend on an internet chat group.  The friend was looking for a ride to the Grand Junction lecture.  God spoke quietly to the man, and told him that he ought to take his friend to the lecture.  The man didn't want to go, but after praying to know if he had understood correctly, the Lord told the man that he should go, and that if he wanted to know for sure if the prompting had come from God, he needed to act on it.

So the man decided to take his friend.  Not long after telling the friend he would take him, another friend asked to join.  So the man agreed to take both of his friends and drive a larger vehicle so they could all fit comfortably.

The tired man in Green River sat in the sun, praying.  He was hot and his sunburn hurt, so he walked to the nearby gas station to get some shade.  A maintenance worker at the gas station told him to leave.  Too tired to argue, the man retreated back to his spot on the ground, in the middle of the sun.  He held up a sign for a while, but no one stopped.  He wondered if he would be able to go on.  He prayed again for the Lord to help him.  All day he waited for a ride, or even a glimmer of hope. 

The three friends started out on their journey to the Grand Junction lecture.  The subject was Zion.  The three friends shared a common goal of coming into the presence of the Lord.  Becoming a Zion individual was part of that process of entering the presence of the Lord.  They talked of their experiences and goals.  They had been admonished before that the poor need to be taken care of.  They had brought a little bit of extra money.  None of the friends was particularly wealthy, but each did okay for themselves and had some to spare. 

The three men decided to stop in Green River for dinner.  As they pulled off the freeway, they headed for a restaurant, and just as they pulled in the parking lot, one of them noticed a man sitting on the side of the road.  Having just gotten done discussing the poor and the concept of Zion and serving the Lord, they felt compelled to see if the man needed anything.

They drove up and walked over to the man and talked with him.  They found out that he had been sitting there all day long, and had been on a long journey home from his sister's home in Missouri.  He was beat down, tired, and sick.  The three men gave him money and asked him what else they could do for him.  The traveler, in all his humility, asked only for a tarp, because his had been ruined in Nebraska.  The weather was forecast for rain the following day.

However, the three men found that Green River was just too small to find a place that sold a tarp.  They gave the man some money for a tarp.  Then, just as they were about to leave, the three men each felt compelled to ask the man if they could put him up in a motel for the night.

The traveler's eyes teared up.  He was so tired.  His stuff was dirty.  He needed to shave, to wash himself, to sleep, and wash his clothes.  He silently thanked God, and agreed to let these men put him in a motel.

The man climbed into the van with the three friends, and they drove to an inexpensive motel on the other side of town.  They went in with the man and checked him in.  Then the four went back out to the van and prayed.  And in that prayer, they asked blessings on the traveler, and thanked God for the opportunity to provide aid to a fellow brother.  The traveler wiped his eyes and told the three that they had answered his prayers.  The three told him of their prompting to come to the lecture.  Then the three friends left, each holding back tears, rejoicing in the good they had been able to do that day.

Our Father loves us!  His Son loves us!  He hears the prayers of the rich, the poor, the worker, the unemployed, the dignified, and the humiliated.  That day, there was no doubt in the minds of those three friends that God answers prayers.  He set in motion a complex series of events, caused much money to be spent, and much time to be spent, all so He could answer the humble prayers of a bum in the middle of nowhere.  If He loves that man enough to grant him such a blessing, imagine how much He loves you and will grant YOU the blessing you seek from Him.

I testify in the name of Jesus Christ that God hears and answers prayers.  I testify in the name of Jesus Christ that promptings from the Spirit ought to be heeded, and that great and wonderful things will come as a result of small things.  I praise the name of Jesus Christ and thank Him for His love, His generosity, His kindness, His mercy.  He lives!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Evangelicals Are Right - We Are Saved By Grace Alone

In theory, our church teaches that it is by faith alone in the grace of Christ that justifies a man (See Epheisians 2:8 and 2nd Nephi 25:23).  We particularly teach that it is by grace we are saved after all we can do (2nd Nephi 25:23 again).  I think there is much confusion over the meaning of this and the practical application of grace.

I always had a nebulous idea of grace, faith, works, and being saved, and their interrelationship with one another.  This lack of understanding is due mostly to my own lack of diligence in pursuing the things of God, but our church does not do a good job of teaching just what it means to be saved.  There is this idea that the term “saved” is for wacky Evangelicals who don’t think they have to do anything to have the grace of Jesus but confess Him with their lips. 

I think LDS church members misunderstand Evangelicals because they don’t take the time to look critically at their own faith and theology, nor do they take the time and effort to understand the perspective of Evangelicals.  I have to be clear here and state that I do not have a firm grasp of any particular Christian sect.  This post is confined strictly to my understanding of what it means to be saved.  My personal understanding may be different than that advocated by particular Christian sects or individuals.

With the disclaimers out of the way, let’s take a look at what it means to be saved.  I am going to start out by saying that I LOVE how Evangelicals love their Savior.  They praise Him in song, prayer, and speech.  They rejoice in their redeemer.  Perhaps this is something that we as LDS ought to do.  Our church meetings are pretty much devoid of joy and exultation.  They have succumbed to a Catholic-like tradition, with the powers that be in each meeting house dictating every aspect, leaving little room for the workings of the Spirit to be manifest.  I have attended services at some non-denominational Christian churches.  Those services were JOYFUL!!  Sorry Mormons, but you do NOT have a monopoly on the Spirit of the Lord.

Let us pull out our trusty Book of Mormon.  A man can get closer to God by following its precepts above any other book, after all.  Turn to Alma, chapter 11.  (Yes, I did do a post on this great, meaty chapter while ago.)

Alma 11
37 And I say unto you again that he cannot save them in their sins; for I cannot deny his word, and he hath said that no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore, how can ye be saved, except ye inherit the kingdom of heaven? Therefore, ye cannot be saved in your sins.

40 And he shall come into the world to redeem his people; and he shall take upon him the transgressions of those who believe on his name; and these are they that shall have eternal life, and salvation cometh to none else.

We learn from verse 37 that we cannot be saved in our sins, and that those who are saved inherit the kingdom of heaven.  Further, in verse 40, we learn that those whose transgressions are borne by the Lord (i.e. those who are saved) shall inherit eternal life, and this is salvation.

To be saved is to have salvation.  To be saved is to be forgiven of all of our sins.  To be saved is to have eternal life.  So for you Mormons, when your Evangelical friend says that he is saved, then he is in effect stating that he has been forgiven of all of his sins and will inherit eternal life. 

Maybe I can offer up my services as a Mormon/Evangelical translator??  Just kidding.

Now that we have established the vocabulary, let’s take a look at some Book of Mormon examples of those who have been saved. 

First, we have Enos.  I won’t cite the reference, I figure that you as a reader of this blog are smart enough to find it for yourself.  Enos went into the forest, spent all day, all night, and the whole next day crying to the Lord for a remission of his sins.  After his mighty prayer, his request is granted.  He is saved!  Logically, if he has been granted a remission of his sins, and such a condition merits eternal life (see Alma 11 again), then Enos has been saved. 

Did you see any works here?  Did Enos go to the temple and “take out his endowments”?  Did he get sealed to his wife?  Did he have to have a ritual washing and anointing first?  If such things were so important, I expect that Enos would have made mention of them.  Instead, he makes mention of going out to be alone, acting without hypocrisy before God, acknowledging his fallen nature, and asking a forgiving and loving God to have mercy on him.  And he did!  Because Enos had faith and because Christ has grace to spare.

Now let us look at Alma the Younger (Mosiah 27).  Alma was a wicked man, trying to lead people out of the church and rebelling against his father.  An angel appears to him after his father (Alma Sr.) asks God in faith to bring his son to the truth.  Alma Jr. is struck dumb and has a vision, in which he is acutely aware of all of his sins.  In desperation, he cries out to Jesus to save him, and He does!  No works, no one year of bishop’s probation, no refraining from praying in church or not taking the sacrament.  No excommunication.  No bishops chats.  Just Alma and Christ, and the Lord forgave him, with no works to his credit. 

Then we have Lamoni (Alma 17-19).  Lamoni is an oppressive king, who unjustly executes his servants if they don’t keep watch over his sheep.  He doesn’t know who Christ is.  He thinks everything he does is okay.  Then Ammon comes along and teaches him, and suddenly Lamoni zones out, and has a vision where he sees Christ and talks with Him.  Lamoni is forgiven by Christ.  Again, no works, no 5 Rs of repentance, no disciplinary action.  A similar story happens with Lamoni’s father (Alma 22).  He sinks down into a vision after discussing Christ with Aaron.  He sees Christ and receives forgiveness, then has a second vision with his wife (this merits its own post at a later time).

There are other examples.  The point is, Jesus Christ does not require works before He will forgive you.  He only asks for your heart to be turned toward Him, and for you to ask in faith.  Let me say this again – WORKS ARE NOT REQUIRED FOR REPENTANCE!!! 

Once you have repented truly and been forgiven by the grace of Christ, you will have no more disposition to do evil.  You will want to do good and abhor sin.  Works will come naturally, but they merit you nothing.  All your works render you an unprofitable servant (Mosiah 2:21).

Let me add one final thing.  When you are saved, you KNOW it.  When you truly repent and obtain a remission of your sins, the Lord will manifest it to you in a way that is not mistakable.  You will have no doubt about where you stand with God.  If you do not know right now where you stand before God, if He has not made in manifest to you by the Holy Spirit, then you have work to do.  That work is not to earn grace.  It is to seek it, and give to the Lord a heart that is determined to serve Him and do whatever He asks of you.  I promise you that you can obtain a knowledge that you are saved.  I testify of it because I have experienced such a miracle in my own life.  Godspeed to you in your quest to know our Lord and Savior.