Friday, January 27, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson #6 "Free to Choose Liberty and Eternal Life"

2 Nephi 1-2

THE IMPORTANCE OF TEACHING OF CHRIST

In chapter 2 of 2 Nephi we learn something remarkable about Nephi's younger brother Jacob:  He had seen Jesus Christ personally in a vision--when he was very young!

"Nevertheless, Jacob, my firstborn in the wilderness, thou knowest the greatness of God...Wherefore, I know that thou art redeemed, because of the righteousness of thy Redeemer; for thou hast beheld that in the fulness of time he cometh to bring salvation unto men.  And thou hast beheld in thy youth his glory; wherefore thou art blessed even as they unto whom he shall minister in the flesh."  (2 Ne. 2:2-4)

It's interesting that even though Jacob had seen the Lord himself, his father Lehi still wanted to teach him about Jesus Christ.

"Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth.  Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered."  (2 Ne. 2:6-7)

And here we find the reason why Lehi taught someone who already knew--to make sure that that someone understood how important it was to teach others:

"Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise.

"Wherefore, he is the firstfruits unto God, inasmuch as he shall make intercession for all the children of men; and they that believe in him shall be saved."  (2 Ne. 2:8-9)

Jacob took the lesson to heart, and later wrote,

"For this intent have we written these things, that [our beloved brethren and our children] may know that we knew of Christ, and we had a hope of his glory many hundred years before his coming; and not only we ourselves had a hope of his glory, but also all the holy prophets which were before us."  (Jacob 4:4)

RESURRECTED TO PERFECTION

As we pass through this mortal life, we receive wounds, we become ill, our bodies age, we get gray hair and stiff joints.  We slowly deteriorate from the day of our birth until the day we die.  But dying is not the end but the beginning, because Christ provided the way for us to be resurrected to perfection.

Alma taught,

“The death of Christ shall loose the bands of this temporal death, that all shall be raised from this temporal death.  The spirit and the body shall be reunited again in its perfect form; both limb and joint shall be restored to its proper frame, even as we now are at this time; …

“Now, this restoration shall come to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, both the wicked and the righteous; and even there shall not so much as a hair of their heads be lost; but every thing shall be restored to its perfect frame” (Alma 11:42–44).

So after the resurrection, all our diseases will be gone, all our wrinkles will be smooth, amputated limbs will be restored, minds will be young, and scars will just disappear.  Whether celestial, terrestrial, or telestial, all the inhabitants of heaven will have perfect bodies.

All, that is, except for one.  There is one resurrected person whose scars remain. 

As Jesus Christ hung on the cross he was taunted, "He saved others; himself he cannot save."  (Matt. 27:42)  What the mockers did not understand was that Christ did not come to save himself; he came to save us.  In order to save us, he had to die.  In order to remove our scars, he had to be scarred.  And he chose not to remove those scars when he was resurrected.  Why?  So that we would know that he always remembers us.

"I [will] not forget thee, O house of Israel.  Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands."  (1 Ne. 21:15-16)

As Jesus also retains a scar in his side near his heart, we know that our hearts can be mended.  We all receive damage to our hearts here in this mortal existence, but another beauty of the atonement is that while our bodies are deteriorating, our spirits can become more perfect even before the resurrection.  The sins we commit, the wounds inflicted on us by others, the mistakes we make, even the knife wounds in our hearts as great loss comes to us, can all be healed as we travel through life by the power of the Atonement.  If we continually come to Christ, our spirits will become purer, younger, freer while our bodies become more scarred, aged and immobile.  The key is to choose daily to come to Christ.

THE IMPORTANCE OF AGENCY

Lehi explained in beautiful simplicity the importance of agency to our Heavenly Father's great plan for us.  (See 2 Ne. 2:11-30.)  Jacob had experienced a lot of opposition in his life, but his father explained that opposition is necessary; otherwise there would be nothing to choose.  Indeed this entire earthly existence was begun because of a choice.  It had to be so.

Why God would command Adam and Eve not to partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil when clearly He wanted them to, so that His children could be brought to the earth and experience their mortal probation.  Why didn't He just tell them to take it?  They would have done it!  They were really obedient people!  But to command Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit and fall from His presence would go against His very nature.

"Behold, doth he cry unto any, saying, Depart from me? Behold, I say unto you, Nay.  But he saith, come unto me all ye ends of the earth..."  (2 Ne. 26:25)

"If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love."  (John 15:10)

"And if you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life." (D&C 14:7)

So, you see, God could not issue a commandment that would push Adam and Eve away from Him.  Keeping his commandments always brings his children closer to Him, eventually leading to eternal life, not to a temporary and fragile existence in a fallen state far from His presence.  So a commandment had to be issued to Adam and Eve to avoid the tree of knowledge.  They had to choose for themselves to take the step away from God and into mortal life.

Remember that in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve knew no opposition.  It wasn't until after their encounter with the devil that the Father put enmity between mortal man and Satan.  (See Gen. 3:15.)  So they did not know that someone could be evil and that someone could lie to them until after they took the fruit.  Fortunately, they were not the only ones lacking knowledge:  The devil did not know that he was actually pushing Adam and Eve in the direction that the Lord wanted them to go but could not command them to go, when he tempted them with the fruit. 

And so, once opposition and knowledge entered into the scene with agency, the plan of the Lord could progress.

AGENCY

"In years past we generally used the term free agency. That is not incorrect. More recently we have taken note that free agency does not appear in the scriptures. They talk of our being 'free to choose' and 'free to act' for ourselves and of our obligation to do many things of our own 'free will'. But the word agency appears either by itself or with the modifier moral: 'That every man may act in doctrine and principle … according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment' (D&C 101:78). When we use the term moral agency, we are appropriately emphasizing the accountability that is an essential part of the divine gift of agency. We are moral beings and agents unto ourselves, free to choose but also responsible for our choices..."  (D. Todd Christofferson, "Moral Agency," Ensign, June 2009)

Satan thought that knowledge would be Adam and Eve's undoing.  But knowledge is of God.

"The beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that it pours knowledge into our souls and shows things in their true light. With that enhanced perspective, we can discern more clearly the choices before us and their consequences. We can, therefore, make more intelligent use of our agency..."  (ibid.)

We have to remember always, though, that when you choose one end of the stick (choice) you also choose the other (consequence).

"Freedom of choice is the freedom to obey or disobey existing laws—not the freedom to alter their consequences. Law, as mentioned earlier, exists as a foundational element of moral agency with fixed outcomes that do not vary according to our opinions or preferences." (ibid.)

Because we have opposition (things to choose between), law to link choices with consequences, and the power to choose, we can exercise agency and participate in God's great plan for our progression.

"It was necessary in God’s plan for our future happiness and glory that we become morally free and responsible. For that to happen, we needed an experience apart from Him where our choices would determine our destiny. The Fall of Adam provided the spiritual death needed to separate us from God and place us in this mortal condition, as well as the physical death needed to provide an end to the mortal experience...

"[But] if our separation from God and our physical death were permanent, moral agency would mean nothing. Yes, we would be free to make choices, but what would be the point? The end result would always be the same no matter what our actions: death with no hope of resurrection and no hope of heaven." (ibid.)

And so it was necessary that we have a Savior.

OUR SPIRITUAL BANK ACCOUNT

When I'm running my bank card at a checkout counter in a store, I wait for the card to process, and then I see a message flash on the screen:  "Approved."  I like being approved.  This experience often makes me think of the "pearly gates."  I imagine myself at the door of heaven, swiping a spiritual "bank card" and seeing that happy message:  "Approved."  But last night at the temple, I realized I had it wrong.  I am going to get to the entrance of heaven, the veil, and I am going to discover that I have "insufficient funds" in my spiritual bank account.  This is going to happen to you, too.  We are going to be asked to show identification--our glory and power--and we will have to answer that we do not have any.

Yet.

And here is the beauty of the atonement: When we come unto Christ and admit that we do not have what is needed to enter that glorified existence, all we will have to do is ask, and it will be given to us through the power symbolized by those scars on Christ's hands and wrists--the atonement!  If we repent continually, if we keep our covenants faithfully, and if we come to Christ and ask, the deficit will disappear, the glory will be bestowed upon us, and the veil into the Celestial Kingdom will part.

"...And thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord shall name.  Thou shalt also be a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of thy God."  (Isaiah 62:2)

Returning to our opening scripture, we can see that even the great prophet Jacob, despite his righteousness, despite personally seeing Jesus Christ in vision, despite later enduring to the end, fell short and could only be saved the same way we will:  through the atonement.

"Nevertheless, Jacob, my firstborn in the wilderness, thou knowest the greatness of God...Wherefore, I know that thou art redeemed, because of the righteousness of thy Redeemer."

As Christ, then, retained his scars so we could see proof that He remembers us always, we would be wise to remember those scars as well and daily and hourly make choices of obedience and repentance that will bring us greater spiritual progression, until that final day when Christ reaches out His hand and we feel those scars for ourselves.

As Lehi counseled,

"And now, my sons, I would that ye should look to the great Mediator, and hearken unto his great commandments; and be faithful unto his words, and choose eternal life, according to the will of his Holy Spirit."  (2 Ne. 2:28).

If we do so, at the end of our lives we can say, as did Lehi,

"I have chosen the good part." (2 Ne. 2:30)


(For more on agency, see my Young Women's lesson, "Forks in the Road," available at this link.)

(For the wonderful talk by Brad Wilcox mentioned in the reader's comment below, "His Grace is Sufficient," follow this link.)

2 comments:

TJ said...

Reading your heading Our Spiritual Bank Account made me think of my favorite BYU devotional talk by Brad Wilcox, His Grace is Sufficient. For me, his was the best explanation of the Atonement I have ever heard.

TJ said...

In my last comment I forgot to say thanks for all your hard work. I love reading your lessons! They make me think more deeply and earnestly about the scriptures and how the apply to my life.