A Surety of Truth- Matthew 16:16-17

And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.
And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.

COMMENTARY

And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God
Yesterday we discussed the difference between having faith (believing in something), and having a testimony (knowing of something). Each of us begins with faith first, and it is essential for our growth in discipleship. But each of us also seeks to evolve our faith into a more perfect knowledge.
But what is it that takes us from faith to knowledge? How do we come to really know that something is true, and not merely a personal opinion? How do we gain the sort of conviction that Peter shows in this verse, when he testifies of the divine identity of Jesus?

Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven
The answer is given in Jesus’s response to Peter. Jesus made clear that Peter’s source of truth was not only based on “flesh and blood,” but rather something more.
Now flesh and blood can reveal things to us. Family and friends, even our own minds, might present ideas and teach doctrine, and from their witness we might gain faith and begin following that which we believe to be true. And this is good. But their is a tier above witnesses of flesh and blood, and the surety that comes from it is far greater.
We desire a knowledge that comes neither from us nor any man. A witness directly from God, such as Peter had received.
I have had moments where God spoke a witness to me directly, and in that moment I was more convinced of the truth then than at any other time. I was more convinced by Him than I had been by any family member or friend. Even I was more convinced by Him than I had been by my own self. In that moment I did not believe these things to be true, I knew it.

A Surety of Truth- Alma 32:28-30, 34

Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.
Now behold, would not this increase your faith? I say unto you, Yea; nevertheless it hath not grown up to a perfect knowledge.
But behold, as the seed swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, then you must needs say that the seed is good; for behold it swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow. And now, behold, will not this strengthen your faith? Yea, it will strengthen your faith: for ye will say I know that this is a good seed; for behold it sprouteth and beginneth to grow.
And now, behold, is your knowledge perfect? Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, and your faith is dormant; and this because you know, for ye know that the word hath swelled your souls, and ye also know that it hath sprouted up, that your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand.

COMMENTARY

Would not this increase your faith? Nevertheless it hath not grown up to a perfect knowledge
Yesterday I spoke of how we ought to follow our best understanding, even if it might only be partially correct. Even if there are flaws in our beliefs, we should trust that our intuition is generally in the right direction, and therefore worthy of being pursued.
As this verse suggests, it is not unusual for us to have a faith in what we are following…yet not a perfect knowledge. We are able to say “I believe that this is the truth, and so I will follow it. I might have some parts wrong, or a little off the mark, but I believe that I’m doing what is right.” We have faith, but not yet a testimony.

But behold, as the seed swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, then is your knowledge perfect, and your faith is dormant; and this because you know
Faith does eventually give way to something greater, though. Where at first we only believed, and followed with trust, eventually we can become confident and sure. This we call testimony. And when we have a testimony we testify, not of what we believe, but of what we know. Tomorrow we will consider what it is that takes us from the belief of faith to the knowledge of testimony.

The Doing Muscle- Question

For this study I wanted to take a broader topic, one that I expect will take me to a plethora of different scriptures and examples. The motivation for this particular topic stems from a conversation I had recently, where I spoke about how scripture study agitates my conscience into wanting to be better, and how I still struggle to meet that desire.

With this study, then, I want to examine how one develops the power of actually doing. How does one take the knowledge in their mind, the desire in their heart, and turn these into the actions that they actually do? For it is abundantly clear to me that having knowledge is the first step to changing oneself, yet one can have a sound understanding of right behavior but not live a single piece of it.

I would be curious in the meantime to hear how you have faced this challenge in your own life. What do you do when you know what is right, but you just feel no motivation to do it? Have you ever attained your goals of self-development, but then struggled to extend yourself to new ones? Are there any core principles that you cultivated in your heart first, and from that found other practices naturally falling into line?

The Way That Things Are- Summary

Whenever I see people expressing opinions that I feel are wrong, I immediately feel a rush of indignation and wish to correct them with my own opinions…which are sure to be just as wrong as theirs. Far better if I can realize that yes, those around me are flawed, but in just the same way I am flawed as well.
Indeed, if I could mold the world in my image it would be a sorry place indeed. I would not wish such a reality upon anyone. I simply do not understand enough to create a world of perfect harmony and balance. The only time I ever feel confident that I speak the truth, is when I am speaking God’s truth, and not my own.
This study was a good opportunity to remind myself of these things. It helps me to dismiss the biases in the world, but also the biases in myself as well. Self-interest, jealousy, and pride dissipate as soon as I feel the truth of these messages in my heart.

Truth Is Things As They Are

There is only one requirement for there to be a truth, and that is for things to exist in a state. So long as things exist in a certain way, then truth is any accurate statement of what that way is. Humanity is itself a state of being, the state of immortal spirits enfolded with a temporal body. This creates a system, and necessarily there will be facts about that system and its various states. And given that there are facts and states within our system, there will always be particular patterns of behavior that will be in harmony with our own well-being. These patterns we call morality.
In order for morality to change, our very condition of humanity (that of eternal spirits bonded with temporal bodies) would first have to change. A change of personal opinion or societal trend would not be enough, for those are not changes of the basic human condition. And so the principles of morality remain consistent through the years, whether we want them to or not,
But how are we to know these principles? How can we divide opinion from fact? It is very difficult for a system to know itself. In fact, as proven by Kurt Gödel, it is impossible. Thus the only way for us to know all of the behaviors for our well-being is to be shown it by another. And not just any other, but it must be one that is above our state, one that exists on a higher order, one that can see us the way that we really are. This the one that can truly reveal our own hearts to us.
1 Corinthians 14:25- And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.
Doctrine and Covenants 93:24- And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come.

Our Flourishing Depends on Following Truth

We live in a world that tries to regulate moral decisions by popular opinion. This pattern of democracy is necessary if there is to be liberty, and most often the masses will elect to follow that which is good.
But this pattern of governing the masses only works so long as individuals allow themselves on a private level to be governed by the conscience given of God. If instead individuals vote according to the passions of the flesh, then society will deteriorate just as surely as if it were ruled by a tyranny. It might take longer to get there, but the simple truth is that no structure of man will ever be able to safeguard us when eternal truths are ignored.
Any system based upon imperfection will eventually deteriorate. We have not yet built the thing that will not break. Entropy is undeniable. Any system conceived of by man will be necessarily flawed, even when made with the best of intentions. Our perceptions are limited and our reasoning is biased, so how could we ever hope to see things as they really are? How could we ever hope to adhere to the truth purely by our own devices? How could we hope to ever maintain ourselves, let alone flourish, without God in our lives?
1 Corinthians 1:25- Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
1 Corinthians 13:10- But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

The Evidence of God is in Living the Truth

If God truly did exist, and if He existed as described within the gospel of Jesus Christ: omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent, then there could be no logical argument against following him. It would be nonsensical to not adhere to the teachings of one who knows all things and only wishes for your own good. If we knew, really knew, of the existence of such a God and still chose to live in defiance of that being, then we would be knowingly acting in a manner of self-harm.
But, of course, the conundrum is that we cannot really know this God, we cannot understand Him in the way that we understand the things of this world. For Him to be all-knowing and all-good, he must necessarily exist in a higher order that we cannot perceive.
Yet we are not without hope. For even if we cannot know God perfectly, we can still know Him imperfectly. Even though we cannot see His face we can see His shadow. Even though we cannot understand how all of His principles will complete us, we can still follow them and feel them complete us all the same. By acting in faith, and tasting the fruit that follows it, we can come to know, even when we cannot understand.
1 Corinthians 2:7- But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory.
1 Corinthians 13:12- For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

Seeking Spiritual Witnesses- Isaiah 19:21 (ESV), John 10:4, 27

And the Lord will make himself known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians will know the Lord in that day and worship with sacrifice and offering, and they will make vows to the Lord and perform them.

And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice.
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.

COMMENTARY

And the Lord will make himself known
Ancient Egypt was not a place known for its strong connection to Yahweh. Yet Isaiah prophesied that its people would come to know their true Creator, and that they would do so because of God’s efforts to make Himself known to them.
As a child, one of my great fears was that God might already be speaking to me, and I just didn’t know it. What if He was trying to tell me very important things, but I wasn’t cluing in? What if I missed out on something forever because I didn’t know his voice?
But now when I read this verse about ‘the Lord making himself known,’ I find a reassuring message that He takes the responsibility for speaking to us in a way that we can understand. We still have our responsibility: to seek, but it is up to God to ensure that we actually find. So I don’t need worry whether I am listening correctly, all I have to do is accomplish my part, and then trust that He will do His.

The sheep follow him: for they know his voice
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them
And I have found that God absolutely does know how to speak to me in ways that I understand. My heart is an instrument, and He is a master at playing its strings. He does answer me, and there is no mistaking His voice when it comes.
As Jesus attests, God knows His sheep. He knows them individually. We do not need to worry about whether we will recognize Him when he speaks, we just will.

What Sort of Disciple Are You?- Matthew 26:33-34, 16:18

Peter answered and said unto him, Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended.
Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice.

And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

COMMENTARY

Jesus said unto him, This night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice
Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it
Previously I shared how Peter thought he was ready to die for Jesus, but when his moment to prove it came, he was found lacking. Clearly he had misjudged himself. Today I reflected back on that story, and I realized that there was another lesson to be found within it.
Yes, Peter misjudged himself in that moment, but Jesus saw him rightly. After his failure, Peter became understandably discouraged, and following Jesus’s burial he returned to his old lifestyle as a fisherman. Perhaps that was all he felt he was cut out for anymore. But if so, then once again he was misjudging himself. For even before Jesus had rightly predicted Peter’s failure, he had also rightly predicted his eventual triumph. In fact, it was Jesus who gave him the name Peter, which means “rock,” and testified that this disciple would become the foundation of strength for the gospel moving forward. And Jesus was right.
I suspect that many of us, like Peter, are both weaker and stronger than we think. Our Heavenly Father and our Elder Brother truly know us better than we know ourselves. Jesus revealed Peter’s true nature to him, and he is ready to also reveal yourself to you. You only have to be ready to receive it.

What Sort of Disciple Are You?- John 19:35 (NIV), John 3:11

The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe.

Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.

COMMENTARY

The man who saw it has given testimony, and he knows that he tells the truth
We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen
How did John know that his record of Jesus’s crucifixion was accurate? He saw it, and testified of that which he witnessed directly. Why was Jesus so bold in teaching new doctrine to Nicodemus? Because he was speaking that which he knew, testifying of things he had seen.
When one grows up in a faith-based community, it is easy to feel pressured to already know the realities of God and his gospel. We hear other people say that they know, and feel that something is wrong with us if we do not as well. We assume that because we have been taught about the gospel, we have a testimony of it. But to have been told something is not to know it.
I was told of God’s grace many times, and I believed in it. But that belief was nothing like the knowledge I obtained after I personally witnessed the power of Christ being used to forgive my sins and change my nature. So now I do not only believe, I even testify of its truth. At the same time, I honestly have not yet had any great spiritual awakening from fasting. I hear others say that it is a spiritually right thing to do, and so I have faith in it…but I cannot claim a testimony of it at this time.
Accepting that there are some aspects in which we lack a testimony is alright. We are, by our natures, born with the capacity for faith, but not with testimony. Testimony comes only by experience, and some things we just haven’t experienced yet. It is to be expected that we are still developing our direct knowledge, all that is required is that we foster the opportunities for it.

The Differences Between Knowing, Doing, and Becoming- Summary

I really enjoyed doing this study. It really felt like delving into the heart of the gospel, and coming to really understand God’s purposes for me. Not only that, but I also came to better understand my own obstacles to achieving those purposes. I don’t blame myself for having obstacles, the ones I have are common to all mankind: pride, a desire for control, a lack of faith. But now that I know what they are I know what to work on. Let’s take a look at some of the things we’ve observed.

having a testimony and Doing Good Works are Important

The last thing I would want anyone to assume from this study is that I am saying learning the gospel and keeping the commandments are somehow unnecessary. Conversion is the culmination of these two, and doesn’t happen without them. We need to increase our testimony and we need to do good deeds. We need to do these even when they don’t come naturally to us, and Jesus has called “blessed” those that do.
Matthew 16:17- And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.
Matthew 19:17- If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.

We Increase Our testimony and Do Good So That We Might Be Changed

While still valuing our testimony and righteousness for their own sake, we can still ask for a conversion to be added to them. As I mentioned above, sometimes exercising faith and keeping the commandments may come unnaturally to us. That’s alright, but the hope is that one day we’ll be changed so that they become much more a part of us.
God wants children who do good because they love the good, not because they are afraid of being punished otherwise. As anyone who has tried to follow God’s plan can attest to, it is in the doing that the love enters the heart.
Ezekiel 11:19- And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh.
Psalm 51:10- Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.

the change that comes is a miracle

All of us want to feel that we are in control of our own growth. We want to be assigned specific homework that we know if we complete will garner us a specific grade. Peter was looking for this when he asked the Lord how many times exactly he had to forgive another.
The fact is for our hearts to be changed is outside of our power. It’s going to literally take an act of God for anyone to truly transform into someone else. That means handing our hearts over to God and trusting that He will work a miracle to change it for us.
Matthew 6:27- Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
Jeremiah 24:7- And I will give them an heart to know me, that I am the Lord: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me with their whole heart.

change follows A TRIAL

The Savior taught us that new wine cannot be put into old bottles. Often we try to ask God for that new of heart, while still trying to hold onto our old one. It’s understandable to be afraid and to want to stay where we feel familiar and safe…but we simply can’t have it both ways.
What holds us back is fear, and that fear is not of God. As he did to Jesus and Peter, Satan comes to us all and says “no, you are your old and sinful self, you cannot be anything different.” He casts doubt on God’s ability to change us, tries to convince us we will never be anything more than our basest selves.
I held myself back from God for a long while because I was afraid He would take from me all the parts I loved best. It took a lot of love and care from Him before I started to see that I could trust Him. Bit by bit He convinced me that He would be careful with my heart. I’m so very glad that He did.
Matthew 19:21-22- Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.
Luke 22:32- But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.

The Differences Between Knowing, Doing, and Becoming- Jeremiah 24:7, Ezekiel 11:19, Psalm 51:10


And I will give them an heart to know me, that I am the Lord: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me with their whole heart.

And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh:

Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.

COMMENTARY

Thus far we’ve studied examples that illustrate how God wants us to become a good person, more than He wants us to merely know or do good things. As we recognize and accept that divine identity within us, goodness naturally flows from us without coercion.
But the idea that God wants us to become something presents a difficult quandary and it invites all manner of anxious questions. How exactly do I change myself into something new? What if I can’t make myself better? What if I haven’t figured out how to change my heart with the flip of a switch?
Well, I won’t leave you in suspense, you can’t and you won’t. You need to be changed at your core, and that frankly is not within your power.

And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you
It is God who changes the heart and God alone. If ever we are to experience a real transformation it is purely by an act of grace from Him.
Certainly it is within our power to do good works which invite God to change us, but make no mistake that it is still God who does the actual changing. We get ourselves to the right place, then He does the miracle.

But that might bring up other anxious questions. What if God just doesn’t show up for me? What if I do my part and then He never makes that change in my heart?
It really goes against our grain to depend on someone else like that. Our human natures balk at the idea of giving up direct control to trust in someone else. We would much rather that God just give us a to-do list and send us on our way.
If I knew that I needed to utter so many hours of prayer, attend church for so many weeks, and read so many verse of scripture, then that would mean it was entirely up to me whether I made it into heaven or not. That is how I would prefer it.
But that is not how it works, is it? You simply cannot earn your way into heaven. God knows that this is uncomfortable for us, and frankly He designed it to be so. God requires us to be humble, to rely on faith, and to depend on Him. You’re right that if He didn’t show up for you it would be very bad, but He promises that He will.
As you submit to that you’ll probably feel something hard and heavy breaking and falling away from you in the process. That would be your pride.

The Differences Between Knowing, Doing, and Becoming- Matthew 4:6, 27:40, 3:17

And when the tempter came to him, he said…If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.

If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.

And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

COMMENTARY

Previously we discussed that’s Peter test was to be challenged in his commitment to his identity. He called himself a disciple of Jesus, but when pressed by fear he then denied that. It is tragic, but also very relatable. For many of us our crisis of faith involves us similarly questioning who we really are.
Maybe we feel we don’t know as much as we should and maybe we feel we don’t do as much as we should, but where the guilt of these failings comes to their full agony is when they make us feel that maybe then we aren’t the person we should be. At one point or another we have all asked: Am I really a child of God?

And when the tempter came to him, he said…If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down…
If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.

In these crises of identity it may be helpful to recall that Jesus was tempted in the exact same fashion. Very early in his ministry Satan came to tempt him, and Satan’s attack was immediately to cast doubt on Jesus’s identity. If thou be the Son of God.
But the accusations did not end after that initial temptation. In fact, in the Savior’s final moments on the cross the exact same doubt was cast by the people at his feet. If thou be the Son of God.
The similarity between these moments are astounding. In fact each calls for the same action: come down. It is the same demand made of each of us. Stop thinking you can be a worthy son or daughter of God, come down.

This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
Fortunately there is another voice as well, and one that repudiates the tempter. God knows our identities are challenged, and He speaks to reaffirm our worthiness. This is my beloved Son. He establishes identity, being, and character.
I am convinced that of all the truths God wants me to have faith in, this is the one He wants most of all: You are my son. If I allow myself to be His son, then the knowing and the doing will just naturally flow from that.