Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants Lesson #19 The Plan of Salvation

Visual Aids:
A princess doll or a picture of a princess

Beautifully wrapped gift, with a picture of Christ inside


Write on the board, “And they lived happily ever after”


INTRODUCTION


Hand out the following story segments from the fairy tale “Cinderella” to class members.  Have them read in random order.

Once there was a lovely young girl named Cinderella.  She lived in a mansion with her father and mother, who loved her very, very much.

Sadly, Cinderella's mother died and her father remarried after which her father also died.  

Cinderella, her stepmother and stepsisters became poor and moved to a cottage.  

Although Cinderella's stepmother treated her unkindly and forced her to work all day like a slave, Cinderella maintained her kind and loving character.

One day the Prince held a ball in order to find a suitable wife.  

Cinderella's stepmother and stepsisters went to the ball without her.  Cinderella had no way to get there, and no dress to wear.

In the midst of her despair, Cinderella's Fairy Godmother appeared, turned mice into horses, and a pumpkin into a golden carriage so that she could get to ball.

Then she dressed Cinderella in a beautiful gown with jewels, and sent her to the palace.  

At the ball, Cinderella won the Prince's heart. 

Cinderella had to leave the ball without revealing her identity.

On the way out of the castle, she lost one of her glass slippers.

The Prince found the glass slipper and searched the kingdom, looking for its owner.  

Finally the Prince found Cinderella.  Although she was in servant's clothing, he knew she was the right girl because she fit the slipper.  

The Prince took Cinderella to his castle where they were married.  And they lived happily ever after. 

If you take one piece of the story out of context of the whole plot, it makes very little sense, doesn't it? Even if we put these segments in order, it wouldn’t make too much sense without the beginning and the end of the story. The beginning of the story is that Cinderella’s mother and father loved her dearly, but her mother died, and her father remarried. After he died the true nature of the mean and selfish stepmother was revealed in her treatment of Cinderella. And the end of the story is that Cinderella, having kept the kind and noble character her father blessed her with, met and married Prince Charming and lived with him in the castle, happily ever after.

Just like this story, or like a three-act play, our existence has three parts. We are in the middle part, right now, here on earth. As President Packer says, “The one in which you will be tested by temptation, by trials, and perhaps by tragedy.” And then he says, “Remember this! The line ‘And they all lived happily ever after’ is never written into the second act. That line belongs in the third act, when the mysteries are solved and everything is put right.” (The Play and the Plan Satellite Broadcast May 7, 1995. Quoted in manual p. 108)

So, let’s very briefly look at the whole play, all three acts of the story of our existence.

THE STAGE SETTINGS

(Draw the classic map of “the plan of salvation” with pre-existence, veil & birth, earth life, veil & death, spirit world, divided into paradise and prison, judgment, and the three kingdoms.) Now, we tend to label this little diagram, “The Plan of Salvation,” but this is not the plan of salvation. Let me say that one more time: this is not the plan of salvation. This is merely the chronology of our existence, the framework within which the plan of salvation works, or, we could say, the stage settings for the play. (Label the chart “Chronology of Existence.”

We could just as well draw the stage settings for the fairy tale of Cinderella. (Draw boxes labeled “mansion” under the preexistence, “cottage” under earth life, and “castle” under the three kingdoms.)

THE PLAN OF SALVATION

So if this is not the plan of salvation, what is? Moses 6:58-62 --

“Therefore I give unto you a commandment, to teach these things freely unto your children, saying:

That by reason of transgression cometh the fall, which fall bringeth death, and inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I have made, and so became of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory;

For by the water ye keep the commandment; by the Spirit ye are justified, and by the blood ye are sanctified;

Therefore it is given to abide in you; the record of heaven; the Comforter; the peaceable things of immortal glory; the truth of all things; that which quickeneth all things, which maketh alive all things; that which knoweth all things, and hath all power according to wisdom, mercy, truth, justice, and judgment.

And now, behold, I say unto you: This is the plan of salvation unto all men, through the blood of mine Only Begotten, who shall come in the meridian of time.”

So, what did it say? “This is the plan of salvation,” and the entire thing operates “through the blood of mine Only Begotten who shall come in the meridian of time.” Obviously, after reading that, we can see that this chart here on the board is not the plan of salvation because the whole thing operates through the blood of Christ and he isn’t even mentioned here. And the three essential elements to the plan, water, blood, and spirit, are also not noted on this chart. There is nothing wrong with this chart, unless we are going to label it the Plan of Salvation.

But it is the stage setting for the plot, which includes the Plan of Salvation.

The plot, very briefly, as noted in Moses 6 is this: In the pre-existence, we were all spirit children of our Father. He wanted us to be able to progress to be like him and to be with him, where we could be happy. (That’s why the plan is also called the Plan of Happiness.) This required our gaining knowledge and experience. It also required placing us in a perilous position from which we could not recover on our own, that of mortal existence with its failings and temptations. To remedy this problem, he planned that a Savior would pay the price to enable us to succeed. That solution is the Plan of Salvation. We could also call it the Gospel, as it is called in 3 Nephi 27.

“Behold I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you—that I came into the world to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me.

And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil—”

And for this cause have I been lifted up; therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works.  (3 Nephi 27:13-15)

Even if we have been members of the Church all our lives, we sometimes do not understand the gospel (the plan of salvation). There are some who think that there is no way that they will ever be good enough to get into the Celestial Kingdom. They have learned this chart on the board very well, but this chart is missing the essential element of the plan of salvation. If at the end of the lesson, any of you still think that there is no chance you will gain exaltation, I will have failed as a teacher. And I don’t want to fail, so listen up!

SALVATION IS A GIFT OF GRACE

Let’s take a look at someone who did not feel that way. Moroni (before he became an angel) was very certain that he would “make it” to heaven.

“And now I bid unto all, farewell. I soon go to rest in the paradise of God, until my spirit and body shall again reunite, and I am brought forth triumphant through the air, to meet you before the pleasing bar of the great Jehovah, the Eternal Judge of both quick and dead. Amen.”  (Moroni 10:34)

Moroni was a good guy, but he lived in a very wicked world and he even fought in wars that did not have just causes, and that troubled him; he wasn’t sure that he should. He had suffered many evils and he was not perfect because he was mortal like us, yet he was absolutely certain that he would be “brought forth triumphant through the air.” Why? Right before these last mortal words of his, he shared his reason. The key to it is found in a word we don’t use too often as Latter-day Saints, but we most certainly should. He uses this word 5 times in these two verses. See if you can identify it.

“Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.

And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot.

And now I bid unto all, farewell. I soon go to rest in the paradise of God, until my spirit and body shall again reunite, and I am brought forth triumphant through the air, to meet you before the pleasing bar of the great Jehovah, the Eternal Judge of both quick and dead. Amen.”  (Moroni 10:32-34)

What is the key word? Grace! All of this perfection is done, not by not making any mistakes, and not even by keeping all of the commandments, but by the grace of Christ. “By his grace ye may be perfect in Christ.” It is not possible to become perfect by yourself, we only become perfect through the grace of Christ.

Unfortunately, it is beyond us to comprehend grace. Grace, like the atonement it is linked with, defies definition. But maybe we can come fairly close if we say that grace is God’s mercy and love as shown in everything that exists, but especially as manifested in the atonement. Grace is a gift, freely given from Christ. Elder Todd Christofferson says,

“Given the magnitude of the gift of grace, we would never suppose, even with all the good we could possibly do in this life, that we had earned it. It is just too great.” (June 2001 Ensign, p. 22)

D&C 14:7 -- “And, if you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God.” We sometimes think that keeping the commandments and enduring to the end alone is what qualifies us for eternal life, and that’s why we are afraid we are not going to make the grade, but this scripture clearly tells us that eternal life is a gift, not an achievement. Romans 6:23 – “…the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” So why does D&C 14 tell us that we have to keep the commandments and endure to the end, if eternal life is given freely through the grace of Jesus Christ? This is what confuses our born-again friends.

RECEIVING THE GIFT

Suppose it was my birthday and my friend Janet who always gives delightful little gifts, brought a package and left it on my doorstep. But suppose that I was out of town, and didn’t see it there, and the neighbor who was watching over our house put it on the worktable in the garage with the mail and the newspapers, but our cat knocked it off and it was lost forever (which you would find very easy to believe if you had ever been in our garage).  Janet had freely given the gift, but I did not receive it, and therefore never opened it. The gift did me no good.

Christ gives us the gift of his grace freely, but we must accept it and open it. How do we open it? Through the first principles and ordinances of the gospel. We learn about Christ and exercise faith in him to repent of our sins. Then we are baptized and receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost, and at that point, we have opened the gift. (Open gift to show picture of Christ.) We are removed from our sinful state through the grace of Christ.

I remember so clearly the year that my dad figured out how to pick out an excellent Mother’s Day gift for my mother. When she opened it, I loved it too. It was an adorable little crystal basket, with a little handle—too small to be good for anything, but so cute. My mom was delighted and amazed. My dad confessed how he picked out a gift that she liked so well. He said that he simply went into the store and picked the item that looked the least useful. 
 
The gift of grace is not like that kind of gift, however. It is not meant to be opened and then set on a shelf. It is more like a bread mixer, or a scroll saw, or a vacuum cleaner—it is meant to be used every day. When we fall short because of our human nature and the faults of the world we live in, we can call upon Christ’s grace to save us. This is the part of the plan of salvation that is called “enduring to the end.” We simply continue to exercise those principles that we used to open the gift in the first place: We exercise enough faith in Christ to repent of our sins and be filled once again with the Holy Ghost, through renewing our covenants at sacrament meeting.

JUSTIFICATION AND SANCTIFICATION

Elder Christofferson tells us that the fruits of the Atonement’s infinite virtue (that is, grace) are justification and sanctification. It is important to understand the difference between these two concepts because it helps us understand what the atonement (grace) does for us. Those of us who worry that we will not “make it into the Celestial Kingdom” maybe understand the concept of justification, but not the concept of sanctification.

Just as in Moses 6:59 it said that the elements of water and blood and spirit are all present at our mortal birth, and so we became of mere dust, living souls, we also must be born again into the Kingdom of God, and that way we can become of mere mortals, exalted beings.  “For by the water ye keep the commandment; by the Spirit ye are justified, and by the blood ye are sanctified.” (Moses 6:60)

THE GIFT OF GRACE

I hope that I am not making light of the atonement by referring back to the fairy tale of Cinderella, but it occurred to me that Walt Disney, in his animated version of the story, illustrated beautifully the concepts of justification and sanctification. Cinderella longed to leave behind her position as a scullery maid and go to the ball at the palace, but it was absolutely impossible for her. There was no way for her to get there. It was just as impossible as it is for us to get to heaven. But then her fairy godmother appeared and provided for her the transportation by turning some mice and a pumpkin into a beautiful golden carriage. That is something like justification. We have all broken the laws of God and those sins keep us out of heaven. Justification is Christ providing transportation for us into the Celestial Kingdom because we don’t have the ability to get there on our own. It’s like he has paid our bail to get us out of jail. Our sins are forgiven, but their effects upon us remain.

If you recall the Disney movie, the next thing that happened was that Cinderella looked down at herself and realized that it didn’t matter whether she had a golden carriage or not; she was completely unfit for the ball. She was dirty and dressed in rags. She would be miserable in the palace, and would be much more comfortable staying home, sitting in the corner by the chimney than going in the state she was. When the fairy godmother noticed that, she not only changed Cinderella’s clothing to a beautiful gown, she changed Cinderella herself from a soot-covered slave dressed in rags to a beautiful princess, perfectly fit for the royal extravaganza. That is something like sanctification. Sanctification is Christ transforming us so that we belong in heaven with him—our rags are changed into bejeweled robes, our faces our washed clean, a crown is placed upon our heads, and even our lineage is changed to that of royalty as children of Christ.

Another place we can find a clarification between justification and sanctification is in the song “Away in a Manger.” There are several versions of the third verse of this song. When I was in Primary, the Primary song book had this version:

Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask thee to stay

Close by me forever, and love me, I pray.

Bless all the dear children in thy tender care,

And take us to heaven to live with thee there.

But now, as you look in the current hymnbook, there is a different version which says:

Bless all the dear children in thy tender care,

And fit us for heaven to live with thee there.

Both versions are doctrinally correct. The first version describes justification; the second describes sanctification. Maybe we should just add a repeat sign to that measure of the song and sing


And take us to heaven and fit us for heaven to live with thee there.

CONCLUSION

In review, the plan of salvation, or the gospel, is the plan for us to be saved and exalted with Heavenly Father and live “happily ever after.” This plan operates through the infinite virtue of the atonement of Christ, which virtue is also known as grace. Grace consists of two parts: Justification, or the removal of sins, and 
sanctification, or the purifying of the soul. And all of this is a gift, a wonderful gift that we open when we are baptized into the kingdom. Unlike Cinderella’s experience, though, the changing of the soul into royalty is a long-term project, once again accomplished through the grace of Christ, but bit by bit, as we continue along in life, trying to do our best, trying to keep our covenants. As the scriptures say, we must grow in grace. (D&C 50:40.)

Bruce R. McConkie, the pickiest and most perfectionist of all the apostles I remember, and the most well-versed in the doctrines of Christ, (for you younger people who don’t remember him, he was kind of like Dallin Oaks, only more so), and even as perfectionist as he was, he said,

“Everyone in the Church who is on the straight and narrow path, who is striving and struggling and desiring to do what is right, though far from perfect in this life; if he passes out of this life while he’s on the straight and narrow, he’s going to go on to eternal reward in his Father’s kingdom."  ("The Probationary Test of Mortality," address given at University of Utah, Jan. 1982, p. 2, also found in Joseph McConkie, The Bruce R. McConkie Story, p. 293.  See more of this talk on this blog and this website)

“And for this cause have I been lifted up; therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works.

And it shall come to pass, that whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name shall be filled; and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world.”  (3 Nephi 27:15-16)

Have you repented and been baptized? Have you been filled (with the Gift of the Holy Ghost)? Then all that remains for you to do is to endure to the end. And what does that mean? It simply means to continue. Continue to exercise faith in Christ unto repentance, so that you have the Spirit with you more and more to sanctify your souls, as we are promised in the sacramental prayers.

You may like to close with the beautiful and inspiring song “Amazing Grace,” which has my vote for the next hymnbook. It’s doctrinally correct, even including Celestial Glory and Eternal life – it just doesn’t mention the ordinances.  (But neither does “I Stand All Amazed”)  You can have a class member sing it, play a Mormon Tabernacle Choir version off YouTube, or play my favorite from a Logan East Stake native, Christina England Hale, available for free online with this link.  (Thanks, Christina!!!!  What a lovely resource!)
  
If you want to know more about every aspect of grace, go to Michaela Stephen's thorough blog post.
Additional resource:  Teachings from the D&C Video, “The Plan of Salvation,” 4:24 minutes.

9 comments:

Michaela Stephens said...

Great post!

Excellent job pointing out that the chronology of existence is not the Plan of Salvation.

Also, good words about grace. Grace is much misunderstood in our church, but fundamental.
Here's a post I did about grace, which you may like:

http://scriptoriumblogorium.blogspot.com/2011/03/secrets-of-gods-grace.html

Anonymous said...

Great lesson. Thank you. Elder Christofferson's article was June 2001.

Nancy W. Jensen said...

Thanks. Fixed it.

Reyna said...

It's about time I posted here. I read your lessons every week as I prepare my own, and I always find insight! Sometimes when I can't find a good starting point, or tie-in, you have just the right thing that helps me put it altogether. Your perspective is just different enough from mine, that you allow me to see things I wouldn't have otherwise. Thanks for taking the time to do this!

Candice said...

thank you so much for your blog! Several people cried in the class when I related your story of Cinderella. It touched many people.

Terry Smith said...

Thanks you so much for your fresh eyes--that insight about what is really the plan of salvation. It will make my class much more meaningful to a membership that is so familiar with how we usually approach this topic.

Rose Krueger said...

Although I totally enjoy your Blog on The Doctrine and Covenants Gospel Doctrine Lessons, I am so afraid to use them in actual class. I am pretty sure I would be reminded to USE the manual for my lessons as directed on page vi and vii in the front. I have taught GD several times now and it has always been the same Manual. I find your ideas so creative and for my own study gain so much insight. Thank you for posting your ideas. At least I can USE this for myself and FHE.

Nancy W. Jensen said...

Rose, I totally understand. Some wards are quite strict. That very reason almost stopped me from the beginning. But I felt such a push to write the blog and record my lessons and testimony for my own family if no one else, that I did so and included "for personal and family" use in the heading. From the comments I receive, however, I think it is usually used for actual class. I use only trustworthy sources, and make sure my ideas align with the scriptures and prophets. And now that the youth Sunday School (which I teach) has no lesson manual at all--you are just supposed to teach by the spirit, with a few suggested talks and scriptures, and encouragement to use your own learning activities--I would not be surprised if the adult curriculum soon followed.

Steve Finnell said...

UNLESS THE FATHER DRAWS HIM

John 6:44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.

What is the meaning of John 6:44?

1. Does it mean only a few, who have been selected by the Father, will be saved? No, it does not.
2. Does it mean that men only respond to the gospel because of irresistible grace? No, it does not.

WHO ARE THOSE THAT THE FATHER DRAWS?

John 6:45 It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught of God.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me.

The Father draws all who hear and learn. The Father does not force anyone to hear or learn. Men have free-will. God does not impute faith into a few so they will believe and be saved. Faith does not come by injection.

HOW DO MEN HEAR AND LEARN?

Romans 10:13-14 for "Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved." 14 How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?

Men need to hear the gospel before they can learn and believe. The Father draws men by the gospel.

Romans 10:17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.

Faith comes from hearing the gospel. Faith does not come because the Father selected a chosen few, before the world began, to be saved. All who accept Jesus as Lord and Savior are the chosen and that includes whoever accepts God's terms for pardon. Faith does not come because of irresistible grace.

God the Father draws men to Jesus with the gospel.

Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek,

IT IS THE GOSPEL THAT DRAWS MEN TO JESUS!

IRRESISTIBLE GRACE IS NOT THE METHOD THAT THE FATHER USES TO DRAW MEN TO JESUS.

Romans 10:21 But as for Israel He says, "All the day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and obstinate people."

Israel as a nation rejected the gospel. How could that be possible if irresistible grace were in play? Israel turned away from God.

Matthew 23:37 "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.

Jerusalem was unwilling to be drawn to Jesus by believing the gospel. They had a choice.

John 5:39-40 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; 40 and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.

The Jews had the opportunity to believe the gospel of Jesus Christ, but they were unwilling. There was no irresistible grace in play. The Father draws all who are willing to believe the gospel.

John 6:40 This is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day."

IF YOU ARE READING THIS BLOG YOU ARE ONE OF THE "EVERYONE" WHO HAS A CHANCE TO BE BELIEVE THE GOSPEL AND BE SAVED.

MEN REJECT GOD.

GOD DOES NOT REJECT MEN DUE TO NO FAULT OF THEIR OWN.

THE FATHER DRAWS MEN TO JESUS THROUGH THE PREACHING OF THE GOSPEL. MEN ARE NOT DRAWN TO JESUS BECAUSE THEY WERE PRESELECTED FOR SALVATION!

YOU ARE INVITED TO FOLLOW MY BLOG. http://steve-finnell.com