Elder Christofferson: Learning, Doing, and Being What We Should Develops Christlike Character

Contributed By Marianne Holman Prescott, Church News staff writer

  • 4 November 2015

Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles encouraged BYU–Hawaii graduates to keep learning, doing, and being what they should during the Brigham Young University–Hawaii commencement exercises on November 2.  Photo by Monique Saenz, University Communications.

Article Highlights

  • Expanded understanding comes through study, prayer, and experience.
  • Keeping the commandments is the key to success in this life and to freedom and happiness hereafter.
  • Following Christ's example helps us become more like Him.

“Remember that the most important thing is and will always be what you are, not what you have.” —Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve

“Develop in yourself the character of Christ,” Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles told graduates of Brigham Young University–Hawaii during commencement exercises on November 2.

“Remember that the most important thing is and will always be what you are, not what you have,” the Apostle taught.

Drawing from President Thomas S. Monson’s October 2008 general conference talk, Elder Christofferson spoke to graduates about “three imperatives.”

“First, learn what we should learn,” he said. “Second, do what we should do. And third, be what we should be.”

“Learn what we should learn”

“What should we learn?” he asked. Expanded understanding comes through study, prayer, and experience.

“We rightly rejoice in and express gratitude for all that God has revealed as He rewards both spiritual and scientific inquiry, but at the same time we must acknowledge how much more has not been revealed,” Elder Christofferson said.

It is important to be aware of one’s divine heritage and destiny, while still remembering earthly limitations. Looking at the Lord’s definition of truth—“knowledge of things as they are, and as they were and as they are to come”—it is important to remember the role of the Holy Ghost in understanding truth. Personal revelation is critical to learning “what we should learn.”

Elder D. Todd Christofferson speaks during BYU–Hawaii's commencement exercises on November 2, 2015. Photo by Monique Saenz, University Communications.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson shakes the hand of a graduate during commencement exercises on November 2, 2015. Photo by Monique Saenz, University Communications.

“Do what we should do”

In an increasingly dominant secular humanist worldview, man and human intelligence are supreme and truth becomes relative, the Apostle taught. But those who have a witness of the existence of God know that the humanist view is fundamentally flawed and unsustainable.

“With the truth that underlies the gospel worldview, we recognize our obligation—actually our right and privilege—to learn and fulfill the will of God,” he said. “Humanism sees man as a chance creation, simply a creature of his biology and environment. We know that ‘there is spirit in man’ created by God and endowed with agency. …

“The unchanging truths that come by revelation teach us that the key to success in this life and to freedom and happiness hereafter is to keep God’s commandments. As we do, we grow in faith and the knowledge of the Son of God; we approach ‘the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.’”

“Be what we should be”

“We are to learn truth and live by that truth,” he said. “We are to seek the will of God and keep His commandments. What then are we to be?”

Individuals follow the Savior’s counsel to be “as He is” by following His example. Through repentance and obedience individuals develop a Christlike character full of virtue, love, patience, knowledge, justice, mercy, humility, sacrifice, and service.

“As we develop such attributes, we make better decisions; we become more productive in worthwhile endeavors; we can distinguish priorities—long-term and day-to-day—more clearly; our capacity to dismiss temptations grows; we see others’ needs and act in ways to help that are, in fact, helpful; charity, the pure love of Christ motivates and sustains us; and we grow in light and truth.”

Possessing the character of Christ does not mean that individuals avoid all failures or have no challenges or disappointments, he said. People will still experience hard things and even tragedies.

“These are the stuff of mortality,” Elder Christofferson said. “But acting and reacting with the character of Christ will keep us bound to the source of aid, consolation, and recovery. Then, our mortal trials and tragedies will not outlast mortality.”

Elder Christofferson encouraged graduates to continue learning through searching for truth and understanding, to discern the will of God and keep His commandments, and to develop the character of Christ.

The event, held in the Cannon Activities Center on the Laie campus, honored the 223 graduates from 22 countries around the globe. Some members of the Church’s educational board joined the Apostle on the stand, and speakers included Elder Kim B. Clark, General Authority Seventy and Commissioner of Education, as well as BYU–Hawaii’s new president, John S. Tanner.

Elder Kim B. Clark shared two principles for graduates to consider.

First, individuals must keep the world out of their heart and the Holy Ghost in it.

Elder Kim B. Clark of the Seventy and Commissioner of Education for the Church, speaks during BYU–Hawaii commencement exercises on November 2, 2015. Photo by Monique Saenz, University Communications.

“It is very easy for the world to get into your heart,” he said, “for all the honors, pleasures, and wealth of the world to get into our hearts. When that happens we end up loving the world more than the things of God.

“I believe that the best way to keep the world out of your heart is to keep the Holy Ghost in it. If you will live the plain and simple truths of the gospel, the Holy Ghost will guide you, protect you, warn you, and bless you. So, brothers and sisters, please don’t do things or go places that would drive the Spirit away. And please do the things that bring the Spirit into your heart—keep your covenants, pray with faith in Christ, read and study the scriptures, prayerfully partake of the sacrament, and serve the Lord.”

Graduates of Brigham Young University–Hawaii pose for a picture after commencement exercises on November 2, 2015. Photo by Monique Saenz, University Communications.

Second, Elder Clark said, individuals must be the answer to someone’s prayer for help.

“If you live principle number 1, the Lord will trust you and He will send you on His errands to lift and strengthen His children. You will be the answer to the prayer of a bishop, or a mother, or even someone in your home. Maybe it will be someone you visit teach or home teach, or one of your own children.”

In his first commencement exercise as president of the university, President Tanner shared three questions with graduates.

BYU–Hawaii President John S. Tanner conducts and speaks at commencement exercises on November 2, 2015. Photo by Monique Saenz, University Communications.

1. Where art thou?

First, he asked graduates to consider the question the Lord asked the newly fallen Adam, “Adam, where art thou?” The question required Adam to give an account of his actions, and likewise, it invites all to be accountable before God.

2. Where goest thou?

Then President Tanner asked, “Where goest thou?”

“As soon as we turn to Him, we are moving in the right direction,” he said. “We may be on the same spot on the road, but if we answer, ‘Yes, Lord,’ it now becomes not a road to Damascus but a road to Jerusalem. It becomes the road of discipleship.”

3. Where is thy brother?

The third question comes from when the Lord asked Cain, “Where is thy brother?”

“The Lord puts this same question to all of us,” President Tanner said. “He holds us accountable not simply for our own lives before God; He holds us accountable for how we treat His children, who are our brothers and sisters.”

Graduates of Brigham Young University–Hawaii pose for a picture after commencement exercises on November 2, 2015. Photo by Monique Saenz, University Communications.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson leads the procession prior to BYU–Hawaii's commencement exercises on November 2, 2015. The Apostle is followed by BYU–Hawaii President John Tanner and Elder Kim B. Clark of the Seventy and Commissioner of Education for the Church. Photo by Monique Saenz, University Communications.