96904_000_007One of the significant contributions of the Book of Mormon is that it so plainly marks the path to salvation and exaltation.
We often hear some Christians and Christian groups proclaim the need for people to receive Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and to come unto Him to receive salvation. What they usually do not define or describe is the way a person actually comes unto Christ. How is it done?
Fortunately, we have access to divine direction in modern scripture. One of the significant contributions of the Book of Mormon is its clear and unmistakable explanation of the process by which a person may come unto Christ. From the prophetic writers of the book, we learn that there is a path leading to Christ and of the ultimate gift of eternal life made possible by Him.
In the Book of Mormon, Nephi is the primary user of the word path. In its singular form, the word appears in only thirteen verses, and eleven of those were written by Nephi. In one important instance, he refers to the Savior and the path in the same sentence. In comments meant for people of the latter days, he says, “But behold, for none … can I hope except they shall be reconciled unto Christ, and enter into the narrow gate, and walk in the strait path which leads to life, and continue in the path until the end of the day of probation” (2 Ne. 33:9).
It is evident that any hope we might have for a better world here and for eternal life with our families in the presence of God hereafter is dependent upon our entering and steadfastly remaining in the path that leads to Christ. A verbal declaration of discipleship without accompanying action is simply an insufficient and unacceptable offering. The redemption that was so dearly bought with His blood is not for those who merely give lip service to Him.
In the pages of the Book of Mormon, we learn of the Savior’s saving mission—His gospel—and read his repeated invitations to come unto Him as well as His instructions on how to do that, which constitute His word and His doctrine. In Nephi’s closing sermon, he describes the path as a symbolic representation of applying or living the doctrine of Christ (see 2 Ne. 31–33). After teaching that we should enter through the gate of repentance and baptism, he says, “And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life. …
“… After ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.
“Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, … Ye shall have eternal life.
“… And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ” (2 Ne. 31:18–21; emphasis added).
A study of the Book of Mormon reveals that there are two vital parts or dimensions of the journey along the path leading to Christ. We must be aware of both what we must do and what we must be.
What We Must Do
Nephi emphasized the need to “feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do” (2 Ne. 32:3; emphasis added).
We might all wonder if we really do feast upon the word. Many years ago I observed as some of the judges at a state fair evaluated food products that had been entered into competition. The judges tasted the various foods to determine their quality and appeal. I noticed that they never consumed an item, and rarely did they taste anything more than once.
I have thought since that maybe our experience is like that of those judges. Do we consume and feast upon, or do we only occasionally taste, the word of the Lord as delivered to us by the prophets? Perhaps it appears so rarely on our personal and family menus that we are not “nourished by the good word of God” (Moro. 6:4). If we are not being strengthened regularly by the Lord’s doctrine, what influence is affecting our thinking and feelings and determining our behavior? There is hardly a famine of worldly things of which we can partake, nor is there a scarcity of satanic inspiration to permeate our minds. From what sources do we and our families receive our nourishment?
Alma teaches us an important lesson in priorities on this subject. He resigned his prestigious post as chief judge, letting go of something he didn’t need to do, “that he himself might go forth among his people [including his family], or among the people of Nephi, that he might preach the word of God unto them, to stir them up in remembrance of their duty, and that he might pull down, by the word of God, all the pride and craftiness and all the contentions which were among his people, seeing no way that he might reclaim them save it were in bearing down in pure testimony against them” (Alma 4:19).
The ultimate motivating reason for feasting upon the word of the Lord is provided by Mormon from his historical vantage point:
“Yea, we see that whosoever will may lay hold upon the word of God, which is quick and powerful, which shall divide asunder all the cunning and the snares and the wiles of the devil, and lead the man of Christ in a strait and narrow course [path] across that everlasting gulf of misery which is prepared to engulf the wicked—
“And land their souls, yea, their immortal souls, at the right hand of God in the kingdom of heaven” (Hel. 3:29–30).
This is what our Savior intended when He took on His unimaginable burden and “finished [His] preparations unto the children of men” (D&C 19:19; see D&C 19:13–19). We are not deceived by satanic suggestions when the Lord’s word is used as the standard by which decisions are made and behavior is determined.
Covenants through the Priesthood
After affirming many eternal principles and practices for the seekers of eternal life, the Savior declared, “This is my gospel; and ye know the things that ye must do in my church” (3 Ne. 27:21; emphasis added). Some things that must be done can only be done in the Church. For instance, those who intend to travel the path to Christ must enter into covenants. The door to the kingdom of God is open only to those who covenant or promise to live according to the will of the Lord. Then the Lord opens that door to His eternal environments and invites the covenant traveler to come home to Him.
The promises made by men and women and the blessings offered by the Lord in return constitute the covenant. The first covenant offered to us in our journey through life is established by the ordinance of baptism (see Mosiah 18:8–10; 2 Ne. 31:10–18).
Covenants between God and His children can be established only through ordinances performed by authorized representatives of the Lord. When Alma baptized Helam, he declared, “Helam, I baptize thee, having authority from the Almighty God, as a testimony that ye have entered into a covenant to serve him until you are dead as to the mortal body; and may the Spirit of the Lord be poured out upon you; and may he grant unto you eternal life, through the redemption of Christ” (Mosiah 18:13).
The authority to bind man to God in a covenant relationship is called priesthood. It is used to perform ordinances unto salvation. These ordinances and the right to perform them are found only in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the kingdom of God on earth. Thus, the Church is the vital link between mortal beings and their Eternal Father. Only in the Church can a person enter and continue on the path to Christ.
Spiritual Sons and Daughters
The Savior invites, He requests, He commands us to be baptized, to enter into covenants, and to become heirs of salvation with Him. We can do this because of the Atonement. We become the spiritual sons and daughters of Christ through the rebirth process of making covenants (see Mosiah 5:7–8). As children receive their father’s name at the time of their mortal birth, so also do they receive the name of the father of the rebirth process at the time of baptism, even the name of Christ. All that we do is to be done in that holy name (see Moses 5:8). We honor Him when we act as His witnesses “at all times and in all things, and in all places” (Mosiah 18:9). The Lord’s will that we enter the path leading to Him becomes our opportunity and responsibility.
I remember an experience that took place on a small Micronesian island. Two missionaries were invited into a very small shack. The door and window openings were covered, making it dark and hot inside. When their eyes grew accustomed to the dim light, they saw an older man lying on the floor. They learned later that he was nearly sixty-five years old and had had surgery for cancer. The surgery had been unsuccessful; the doctors had sent him home to die. Light and cool air increased his discomfort and pain, so the room was dark and hot.
The man was receptive to the message of the elders and continued to invite them back until he and his wife had been sufficiently instructed to make decisions concerning baptism. Meanwhile, he had been helped to attend Church services and expressed his desire to be baptized.
A date was set. The elders arrived early that morning and found him dressed in white clothing. They helped him and his wife into a waiting vehicle to travel to the church, where a short service was held.
When it was time for this good man to enter the baptismal font, he did so, unassisted. He had previously needed help to move around, but not for this one moment. The water would be a shock to his body and would create intense pain when it touched scar tissue and sensitive areas. But there was no outward evidence of his suffering. The baptism was performed as he had requested. Afterwards, a friend asked him why he would endure such discomfort and pain. He answered, “I had to be baptized.” The friend persisted: “But why?” That newly reborn son of the Savior responded, “Because the Lord wanted me to.”
Because We Want To
This obedient brother’s faith suggests a good way to evaluate our own faith. We might say that we have faith in Christ when we do what He wants us to do and we do it because we want to. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ must be the first principle in the lives of each of us. Nothing else is sufficient motivation for us to adopt the Lord’s will as our own.
A few examples come to mind. Were it not for Nephi’s faith in Christ, he would never have set out on his journey to obtain Laban’s plates of brass, nor would he have begun to build a ship (see 1 Ne. 3:7; 1 Ne. 4:6; 1 Ne. 17:15, 17–18, 50–51). Alma, enduring great affliction, prayed, “O Lord, give us strength according to our faith which is in Christ” (Alma 14:26); he was ready to accept whatever the Lord willed. The faith of the two thousand stripling sons of Helaman provided them comfort in conflict. They said, “Our God is with us, and he will not suffer that we should fall,” for “they had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them” (Alma 56:46–47).
A few years before the birth of the Savior, another Nephi was told the Lord would bless him because “thou hast with unwearyingness declared the word, which I have given unto thee, unto this people. And thou hast not feared them, and hast not sought thine own life, but hast sought my will, and to keep my commandments.” He was told of great blessings and powers the Lord would bestow upon him. “All things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will” (Hel. 10:4–5; emphasis added).
Whether the conflict is with mortal enemies or the forces of evil, the principle is the same. Faith in Christ and His atonement provides comfort and deliverance. This faith prompts people to seek to know and do His will.
What We Must Be
The Savior asked His disciples, “Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am” (3 Ne. 27:27).
We can be like the Savior in many ways, but one stands out in importance above all the rest. Jesus had no sin. His faith and obedience permitted Him to be above it. He was “a lamb without blemish and without spot” and thus the only one of our Father’s children qualified to be the Redeemer (1 Pet. 1:19). He set the example and asks us to follow Him.
But what if we lose our faith, or it is weak and we fail to do the Lord’s will by avoiding sin? We are blemished and spotted and without hope of obtaining heavenly blessings promised to the faithful. How then can we be as Jesus? We must remember this absolute truth: There is only one way to find peace and obtain or recover hope for a better world. Our hope must be based on the atonement of the Savior. We can know the truth of this concept as we appeal to our Father in prayer and receive divine confirmation through His Holy Spirit. Once we know, we then must exercise our renewed or increased faith in Christ and seek to feel the redeeming power of the Savior’s atonement. Amulek emphasized that our faith must be unto repentance (see Alma 34:14–17).
Repentance can be a difficult and unpleasant experience. Yet it is a wonderful opportunity for positive change—a cleansing process that helps us become more like our Savior, “without blemish and without spot.” While I was serving as a mission president, an elder talked to me about some sinful activity in which he had participated before his mission. He had not disclosed the matter to his local priesthood leaders as he should have, and I asked why. He told me that they were relatives or close friends and it was just too hard to tell them. He had not understood that the Savior would grant him strength to do it if he would follow divine direction, trusting in the Lord and exercising faith unto repentance. The young missionary accepted scriptural counsel and sought the comfort of forgiveness. His efforts were not in vain; he again found his place on the path to becoming more like Christ.
On another occasion, I interviewed an adult sister who had been involved in immorality soon after she was married, some twenty years earlier. She had never revealed her secret sin to anyone, though she had agonized over it every single day. I asked why she had carried such a heavy burden for so long. She explained that her husband would be deeply hurt if he knew. She also said that her bishop praised her often in her Church work and would be disappointed if he knew she had let him down. I reminded her that her actions had hurt the Savior and He already knew. It was the Son of God, her Redeemer, whom she really had let down. But I assured her that He would heal her spiritual wounds and help others who needed to understand if she would exercise her faith unto repentance. There was hope for her, and she obtained it.
This dear sister, the missionary elder, and all of us should follow the example of Enos, who went before his Maker “in mighty prayer and supplication” for relief from sin (Enos 1:4). When forgiveness came, Enos asked how the miracle of change was done. He was told, “Because of thy faith in Christ. … Thy faith hath made thee whole” (Enos 1:8).
Am I Forgiven?
The question is frequently asked, “How can I know when I am forgiven? How will I feel?” Many scriptural examples provide understanding. Enos found that his “guilt was swept away” (Enos 1:6). He no longer approached God or man feeling guilt-ridden. King Benjamin’s people were “filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ” (Mosiah 4:3; emphasis added).
These people testified that “the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, … has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually. … And we are willing to enter into a covenant with our God to do His will” (Mosiah 5:2, 5; emphasis added).
The nature of repentant people changes. They not only want to do good; they want to be good. President Ezra Taft Benson taught: “Repentance is a deep, heartfelt sorrow for sin that produces a reformation of life. It is not just a confession of guilt. Sometimes we regard all too lightly the principle of repentance, thinking that it only means confession, that it only means feeling sorry for ourselves. But it is more than that. It is a deep, burning, and heartfelt sorrow for sin that will drive us to our knees in humility and tears—a deep, heartfelt sorrow for sin that produces a reformation of life” (God, Family, Country: Our Three Great Loyalties, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1975, p. 196).
Alma recalled that he suffered much pain while seeking relief through repentance. But when he called upon the Savior, pleading for mercy, he declared, “I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more” (Alma 36:19; emphasis added). Of course, he did not forget that he had experienced great pain, but he did not feel the pain again. That suffering was over.
Though the repentance process is not pleasant, obtaining forgiveness and remission of sin is uplifting and refreshing. There is a newness of life (see Rom. 6:4); we become new creatures (see 2 Cor. 5:17–18). Indeed, in order for us to be like our Savior, we must be humble and repentant, forgiven and pure. Moroni gave this inspired instruction on how we become free from sin:
“Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him. … 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” (Moro. 10:32–33). People on the path to Christ are becoming like Him. They are paying the price of peace.
King Benjamin taught his people that they not only needed to obtain a remission of sins, but that they must also retain their sinless state (see Mosiah 4:10–12). Forgiveness is a conditional gift that requires continued compliance with divine directives.
We are reminded by Nephi that staying on the path to Christ is dependent upon our faithfulness. “Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men [charity]. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life” (2 Ne. 31:20; emphasis added). Readers of this scripture will notice that footnotes to this text include the words “Commitment,” “Dedication,” “Perseverance,” and “Walking with God.”
No one who will walk the path that leads to Christ is denied access to Him. Alma reminded his erring son that “the way is prepared that whosoever will may walk therein and be saved” (Alma 41:8). President David O. McKay declared prophetically, “Men may yearn for peace, cry for peace, and work for peace, but there will be no peace until they follow the path pointed out by the Living Christ” (“For a Better World,” Improvement Era, Oct. 1960, p. 703).
We are reminded of the text of one of our hymns:
(Hymns, 1985, no. 81)
It is not too simplistic to offer the following conclusion: For us to receive Christ and walk the path that leads to Him, we must have sufficient faith in the words of Christ to receive His ordinances and covenants and remain worthy of them. We must be free from the consequences of sin and be Christlike in nature. This we can do, and this we can be.
To this end, Jesus emphatically declared to the Nephites: “Whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name shall be filled [with the Spirit]; 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. …
“And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end.
“Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.
May each of us know that the Savior’s gospel is true and live according to what we know, remembering that “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Ps. 119:105). In doing this, we will be moving steadfastly forward on the only path to Christ. We will become what we must to dwell with Him in eternity.