The Captive Heart- Romans 5:12, 15; Revelation 21:4

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:
But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

COMMENTARY

By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men
Previously we discussed how each of us have come to recognize that our world is harsh and unfair. The way of this earth is that we come to misfortune, even when it is not our fault, even when it is no one’s fault. We don’t have to succumb to sin or be abused by others to already know sorrow. It comes and finds us where we are, and no amount of doing good will prevent it.

For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain
Yet in all this there yet remains grace. For though we suffer undeserved sorrows, through Jesus we also receive undeserved joy. Today we are given rewards that we do not have the merit for, and in the next life all the agonies of this life, even the ones we did deserve, will be purged away by God, Himself. And then dismay will be counterbalanced with joy until the scales have been made right and order restored. But even then the blessings will still continue, tipping forever further into the good.

All or Nothing- Summary

Half-hearted discipleship is a terrible limit on one’s soul, our own tepidness would forever hold us back from becoming the people we were meant to be. And I know this, because I have spent a great deal of time in this state! This study was absolutely meant for myself, a reminder for why I need to recommit myself body, mind, and soul every day. I’ve lately started a morning ritual where I reflect on the upcoming day, the temptations I am likely to face, and then make resolutions for how I will stand a little taller.

So much of it comes down to just living intentionally, not allowing myself to slip into autopilot mode. But to do that requires constant engagement, and I find that I cannot maintain it unless I am diving all in.

Anything that compromises me in one area, will tear down my defenses in all areas. I cannot try to be mostly good, I have to try to be all good. And though I will fail to be all good, just because I sincerely tried, the grace of Christ will come in to make up the rest.

Partial Commitment is No Commitment

God loves us and fights for us whether we are entirely devoted to Him, partially devoted, or even if we are not devoted at all. When He calls on us to be fully invested in His gospel, it isn’t because of His ego. It is for our own sakes. He knows that “all in” is the only way that discipleship can work for us. I spent years trying to live a double life, frantically filling my coffers with good deeds, to try and make up for the indulgent vices I was also doing on the side. It didn’t work, the vice robbed the coffers, and every good thing I tried to do felt hollow and insincere.
We know that Satan entices us to be full-blown sinners, but he is also perfectly content with part-time Christians. Both groups are left within his power. If we think that we are serving God and the world, in reality we only serve the world.
Lest it sound like I am demanding perfection, I wish to stress that our actions will inevitably be flawed, forever falling short of the ideal. But even if we never measure up to perfection in action, we can be perfect in picking ourselves back up again after each slip. Our commitment can still be complete, we can be invested in always trying once more. That is enough. That much God is able to work with.
Matthew 6:24- No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
Luke 9:62- And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.

The Gospel is as Valuable as You Make it

But what does it take to have a full commitment? Nothing less than the promise of all things. Only the assurance of every eternal happiness will compel a man to sacrifice all that he has. The question arises, then, do you believe that every happiness is offered within the gospel? Perhaps you don’t. Perhaps you only see it as able to offer some insights and some pleasantries, but not necessarily as the end-all-be-all ideology. If that is the case, then you will not be able to follow it wholeheartedly.
That doesn’t have to be the end of the story, though. One can work from this point forward. First and foremost is to accept that all things are promised by the gospel. Whether or not you think they can be delivered is another matter, but let there be no doubt that the gospel claims to be able to provide you with every eternal blessing.
Then the question is whether those promises of the gospel can be trusted or not. And to determine that, one only needs to test its various parts. Really lean into prayer and see whether you feel the presence of something eternal or not. Really dive into the scriptures and see if they are alive with an unseen Spirit. Really adhere to the commandments that you can and see whether you experience the promised change of heart. Test the gospel in enough areas, see it bear the fruit that is promised in each, and soon enough you’ll have faith in it all. But do your testing sincerely. Be all in each step that you take.
Luke 15:17-18- And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him: make me as one of thy hired servants.

Without the Gospel You Have Nothing

Who is willing to make such an experiment, to sincerely commit to something so demanding, and all on only a sliver of hope? Well, usually none of us until we are first broken and desperate. Most of us have to try and live without the gospel first, find ourselves in dire straits because of it, and only then become willing to try the things we had previously scorned.
But let’s back up a bit. At the outset, the world offers many things, and the pleasures it promises make it very easy for us to dismiss the gospel. Entertainment, recognition, diversion, stimulation…these are all pleasant things, and the first tastes of them are so intoxicating that we believe they will forever be enough. When you have enjoyment like this, what need is there for things like resurrection, grace, eternal life, and forgiveness? We are content without them.
In time, though, all the getting still leaves us wanting, the pleasures grow stale, some of them are even taken from us on a whim. Eventually we realize that the everything of the world means nothing to us anymore. And the spiritual things we considered to be nothing now mean everything. The soul grows desperate for the eternal, and one becomes willing to sacrifice everything of the world, just to obtain any of the grace that God is willing to measure out to them. And God, of course, is willing to measure out all of it.
John 6:68- Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.
Matthew 13:45-46- Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.

What Kind of Disciple Are You?- Summary

A wonderful, if difficult, aspect of writing this blog has been examining my own spiritual nature. I have written about principles that I feel strongly about, only to realize that I am not living them as fully as I could. There are many things I know well enough in my head, but that I am still awkwardly trying to follow with my feet.

Many of these disconnects I was happily ignorant of before starting this blog, but that is the nature of spiritual study: it illuminates your areas for improvement. As has been said many times before, the gospel comforts the afflicted, but afflicts the comfortable!

As awkward and frustrating as this self-realization has been, I do not regret it in the least. If you will allow me a moment of personal pride, I believe that I am a better person now than when I started this blog, and a good portion of the credit goes to this self-awakening. Throughout this study I have expressed some of the self-delusions I was suffering from, and hopefully you have felt encouraged to honestly examine your own soul as well.

You Are a Mystery to Yourself

It is commonly accepted that those we are closest to can surprise us with who they really are. We think that we know a person for years, and then one day they defy every assumption we had made for them.
What is more of a surprise, though, is that this person whom we have known for years and still surprises us, might be our very own selves. We are immortal beings, with traits and tendencies that we do not fully comprehend. We have weaknesses we did not know were there until tested. We have strengths we did not know were there until tested, too.
Beyond these hidden traits, there is also the self-delusion that so many of us employ. As part of our instinct, we observe the behaviors of those around us, and identify ourselves as having the same distinctions. But imitation does not reveal identity. Because this imitation is so natural to us, we play it very effectively, so much so that even we are fooled…at least until we take a closer look.
Matthew 26:33, 74: Peter answered and said unto him, Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended.
Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew.

It is Okay Not to Know Some Things

When one realizes that they have been wearing a spiritual mask, they may start to recognize that many around them are doing the same. However one should not make the mistake of assuming that all people are being insincere. There truly are spiritual giants in the world today. Individuals whose conviction is not pretend, ones who have truly witnessed the things that they bear testimony of. I have met some of them, and in their eyes the Savior is reflected.
This is not all, I have heard spiritual giants testify that once they were as second-guessing and weak as me! Never forget that Peter was not always Peter, once he was only Simon. And Paul was not always Paul, once he was only Saul. These men were weak once, and then afterwards they were strong. If we are still weak, then it is alright. All of us are born weak, and there is no shame in having to be refined. What matters is that we are seeking that refinement!
Also, there is no shame in feeling that the refinement is hard. It simply is, and is so for everyone. Never forget that even Jesus, the Son of God, had to grow into the role he was meant to fill.
Luke 2:52- And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.
Isaiah 28:10- For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little.

There is No Progress Until You Are Honest

So long as you maintain that you have no growing to do, well…you will have no growing to do! I know this firsthand. For a long while I was unteachable because I already knew everything. Then I experienced a miserable failure, and finally admitted that there was still a thing or two I needed to learn.
When Peter affirmed that he would follow Jesus to the death, Jesus prophesied that this was not actually true. Peter stressed that no, he really was totally committed to the cause. Like me, Peter had to fail miserably to see things honestly.
There is a term for these sorts of miserable failures: they are humbling. Or at least, they are if we allow them to make us be humble. And then, if we are humble, we are teachable. And then, if we are teachable, we are growable. Will those closest to us be disappointed to learn that we aren’t so magnificent as we pretended? Honestly, yeah, they might be. But now you are finally on track to authentic magnificence.
Luke 22:61-62- And the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And Peter went out, and wept bitterly.

Ether 12:27- And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.

Service to Others- Matthew 5:38-41

Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.
And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.

COMMENTARY

An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth
Our carnal tendency is to give as we have received. Not to give as we would like to receive, such as the golden rule recommends, but only to give as we have already received. As such, we have no mortal motivation to show a kindness to another unless they have already shown a kindness to us first. The problem with this approach is that then no kind act can ever be performed, as it requires an initiating factor. The whole pattern must be begun by one who does a kindness without reason, having received no kindness of their own. To the carnal mind, this is inconceivable.
What is conceivable, though, is an initiating unkindness, a moment where someone takes advantage of another for their own benefit. This would then start a toxic chain of retaliation unkindness through all humanity, and there could never be an end to the series because it requires a terminating factor. The whole pattern could only be closed by one who receives an unkindness and then, without reason, chooses not to retaliate. To the carnal mind, this is inconceivable.

Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also
So would acting charitably mean giving unfairly and forgiving where it isn’t deserved? Quite frankly, yes. And that is the ultimate ambition. It is just that sort of charity that brought our Savior to lay down his life for us, even though we did not deserve any such kindness. And so charity is a principle in direct contrast to that of an eye for an eye. It is an uncomfortable principle, one that goes against our natural sense of indignation. But it is the only way to ever end a dance of abuse and counterattack, and the only way to ever start a dance of benevolence and generosity.

Sow and Then Reap- Summary

This was a smaller study, and kind of an offshoot from my previous one. That is the beauty of pursuing answers, one tends to find even more questions along the way. There is no shortage of truths to discover, and it is beautiful to see how they all combine into one whole and support and expand upon one another.
Also these truths can be found anywhere, and they can especially be found in nature, as in the case of this study. God has designed the basic pattern of our human survival so that it clearly teaches lessons of patience, faith, and reward.

Reaping What You Sow Can Be Either a Blessing or a Curse

There is a common pattern noted in many different cultures and spiritual teachings. Karma, what goes around comes around, get what you deserve, etc. Though in the moment life may indeed be unfair, over time things do tend to balance out.
This truth is a great condemnation to the wicked and a great liberator to the innocent. While some are crushed by its momentum, others are wise enough to use it to their advantage. Be patient and persevering in doing good, and soon enough nature itself will work for your triumph!
Galatians 6:7- Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.
Matthew 7:2- For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged.

Cultivating a Soul Takes a Season

Nothing good comes easy. In other words, the measure of a thing’s value can often be found in the difficulty by which it was obtained. By that standard the purification of the soul must be the most precious treasure of them all!
Achieving this position is so difficult, in fact, that only God can do it for us. Not a single one of us can purify our own selves, we simply do not have the power to do it. What we do have the power to do, though, is stop God from cleansing us. He loves us too much to force any blessings on us that we don’t want. The more I interact with God the more I realize that all He needs from me is to stop shutting Him out and then He’ll take care of the rest.
Simple as that may sound, it takes everything I have to manage it. It takes constant effort. Every day I have to diligently water my “love of self,” I have to weed out any “feeling unworthy of forgiveness,” and I must carefully prune any “harmful exercises of free will.” I have to be diligent, and I have to do it for as long as this mortal field is mine. If I am faithful, though, God will make my garden grow.
2 Nephi 25:23- For we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.

We Are All Workers in the Field

As difficult as it may be to just work our own field, if that is all we do then we have not met our calling. We are meant to work in the fields of others as well. In fact, our own cultivation of the soul cannot ever be completed without the cultivation of other’s.
We are kindred spirits, and our fates are entwined. The Savior gave a clear warning that we were not to “hide our light under a bushel,” nor were we to “bury our talent.” Our injunction is to “Let [our] light so shine before men,” (Matthew 5:16). To be born of Christ is to be called to the work.
We are nearing the final harvest and there is still a great deal of reaping to be done. There is sufficient rest for all of us at the end of the season, for now we must lean into this work with all that we have.
Matthew 9:37-38- Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few;
Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.

Sow and Then Reap- James 2:17-18, Ephesians 2:8, 2 Nephi 25:23

Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:

For we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.

COMMENTARY

Faith, if it hath not works, is dead
By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God
There is a famous debate in the Christian world, whether our works are necessary for us to be saved or not. Surely none of us believe that we “earn” our way into heaven, but doesn’t God expect something from us? James tells us that “faith without works is dead,” which suggests that works are necessary for the cultivation of faith, if nothing else. Meanwhile Paul told the Ephesians that they were saved by grace through faith (which remember James says exists by our works), though he stressed that that only came as a “gift from God.”

It is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do
But rather than debate about which of these scriptures is wrong, why not accept that both of them can be true? Going back to our farmer analogy, the sower needs to do his part to plow the soil, plant the seed, and fend off the weeds, but still he depends on God to bring the rain, prevent the early frost, and divert the insects and diseases. More than anything he depends on God to even put the miracle of growth into the seed to begin with.
We do need to do our part. We need that sense of having put in our all. We need to try and fail and try again and feel ourselves becoming better. We need to overcome, surmount, and triumph.
And then, after all that, we need to be in awe of the fact that none of it is enough without grace. Our obedience is simply how we open the door to allow for God’s grace to bring us to heaven. And who appreciates the grace of God more than those who run out all their strength, falls short, and then feel God carry them the rest of the way? That is faith and grace.

Sow and Then Reap- Question

My last study brought up the example of a farmer trying to grow a crop. I addressed this subject as it related to the topic of being patient while awaiting rewards for good works, but I feel this allegory has even more applications to our discipleship.

The image of farmers tirelessly working their fields day-after-day is one that each of us can relate to. Whether we are literally working for the food on our tables, or toiling through a time of affliction, or hoping to reap an elusive forgiveness, so many times we patiently exercise our faith for a long season before the harvest.

The way of the farmer teaches us both patience and faith. It inspires us to believe that our works really matter, and also humbles us to know that even so we still depend on grace. And hopefully by the end of this study these two truths won’t seem so contradictory as they might at first.

Before we get started with our study tomorrow, I’d love to hear what thoughts come up when you look at your life through the lens of the sower. In what ways have you had to do your own part? In what ways have you had to simply count on rain to come down from above? Did the yield meet your expectations? Or exceed them? Or fall short? Did you perhaps discover that the crop you ended up reaping was not the one you thought you were growing at all?

The Resurrecting and Enabling Power of Jesus- Question

One of the key elements of Jesus Christ’s mission was to obtain the power of resurrection. By allowing himself to die and then rise on the third day he was able to give the promise of new life to all of mankind.

But of course the resurrection of the dead is only one type of rejuvenation that Christ provides. His mission is to revitalize every aspect of us: our bodies, our minds, and our souls. We all get broken in one way or another throughout life, and we are all dependent upon the resurrecting power of Jesus to ever be whole again.

Beyond that, though, we also have a need to grow and develop. Even when we aren’t broken we still must improve and advance ourselves. Here again the enabling power of Jesus comes into play, lifting us to become our very best selves.

I’d like to take a closer look at how that process works. In what ways does Jesus resurrect and empower us? What is our part in accessing these blessings? I’ll start my research tomorrow by focusing on the ways Jesus healed the sick and raised the dead.

In the meantime, what are ways that you have felt yourself refreshed and invigorated by Jesus? What was your part in obtaining that grace?