I Have a Question


Questions of general gospel interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy.

When the rich young ruler came to Jesus and asked, “Good Master, what shall I do that I may attain eternal life?” Jesus reminded him of certain commandments and then gave him a specific requirement befitting his need. (See Mark 10:17–22.) How might we most appropriately answer this same question today as was posed to Jesus by the young ruler, “What shall I do that I may attain eternal life?” What are the core teachings of Jesus on gaining eternal life?

William O. Nelson, Director of college-age curriculum, Department of Seminaries and Institutes

We read in the scriptures, “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.” (D&C 14:7.)

Fundamental of all God’s commandments are the first principles and ordinances of the gospel. Adam was taught by the Lord: “If thou wilt turn unto me … believe, and repent of all thy transgressions, and be baptized … in the name of mine Only Begotten Son, who is … Jesus Christ, the only name which shall be given under heaven, whereby salvation shall come unto the children of men, ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. …” (Moses 6:52.)

These commandments were necessary because of the “fall, which … bringeth death, and inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit … 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 … 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.” (Moses 6:59; italics added.) These requirements have been the same from the days of Adam down to our present dispensation (see D&C 39:6), and are “the plan of salvation unto all men” (Moses 6:62). This “plan” consists of five basic parts:

First, we must respond to the Savior’s plea to “come unto me,” which means that we place in him and his atoning sacrifice our confidence and trust for eternal life. In the words of Nephi, we rely “wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.” (2 Ne. 31:19.)

Second, we must repent of our sins; that is, we must “confess them and forsake them.” (D&C 58:43.) President Joseph F. Smith said that true repentance is “a discontinuance of all evil practices and deeds, a thorough reformation of life, a vital change from evil to good, from vice to virtue, from darkness to light.” (Gospel Doctrine, 13th ed., p. 100. Italics added.)

Third, we must be baptized for the remission of our sins. Our baptism becomes our personal witness that we have entered into a covenant with Christ that we will “serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly” upon us. (Mosiah 18:10.)

Fourth, we must receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. As Jesus told Nicodemus, “ye must be born again.” (See John 3:3–5.) To be born again is to have the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ applied to our sins, and then to receive the witness of the Holy Ghost that we have been forgiven of our sins, thus receiving a “peace of conscience.” (See Mosiah 4:2, 3.) Jesus likened this purifying process to a “baptism by fire.” (See 3 Ne. 9:20; 3 Ne. 11:35.) The central purpose of all these principles is to create within each man a new heart, a new life, a spiritual mindedness, for “to be spiritually-minded is life eternal.” (2 Ne. 9:39.)

Last, and significantly, in the words of President Joseph Fielding Smith:

“We must endure to the end; we must keep the commandments after baptism; we must work out our salvation with fear and trembling before the Lord; we must so live as to acquire the attributes of godliness and become the kind of people who can enjoy the glory and wonders of the celestial kingdom.” (Manchester Conference Report, Aug. 1971, p. 54.)

The phrase “we must work out our salvation with fear and trembling before the Lord” should give us cause to ponder. Certainly this implies that we are: living the Word of Wisdom, keeping the Sabbath day holy, living virtuous and clean lives, having personal and family prayers, paying a full tithing, providing a generous fast offering to assist the poor and needy, holding regular family home evenings, preparing our sons for faithful missionary service, attending all Church meetings, studying the scriptures regularly, showing tender concern for our spouses and family members, engaging in genealogical work, serving others, practicing honesty and integrity in our occupations, attending the temple regularly, and living by “every word of God” that comes to us through quorum, ward, and stake leaders and General Authorities.

As in the case of the rich young ruler, there may be other specific requirements which are customized for our exaltation. These we learn by prayer and personal revelations.

Our motive for doing these and other things should be that we love the Lord with all our heart, might, mind, and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves.

Is there any other way by which eternal life may be gained? “There is no other way,” said the Prophet Joseph Smith. Indeed, “any other course is in vain.” (History of the Church 4:555.)

I know that the members of the Church are counseled to be financially prepared to face “hard times,” the same way we are told to have a year’s supply of basic foods on hand. Does this counsel mean that all debt is categorically bad?

Robert F. Bohn, Instructor of Family Economics, Brigham Young University

Debt is intrinsically neither good nor bad; it is amoral (neutral) because, by definition, it is only a financial “tool.” How a Latter-day Saint uses the “tool” determines whether the effects on his life are “good” or “bad.”

One evening while an active Church member was having dinner with me, he asked me what I thought about credit cards. Before responding, I asked him about his own experience with charge cards. He answered quickly, explaining that he recently tore up and threw away all of his credit cards because he and his wife had repeatedly purchased impulsively too many items on credit due to its convenience. Accordingly, they found themselves continually burdened with monthly payments and paying a great deal in finance charges. When I was asked again for my opinion, I agreed that if having the cards was too much of a temptation to over-extend themselves, then perhaps they should not have the credit cards. However, does this mean that all Latter-day Saints should avoid the use of debt instruments like credit cards?

As was the case in the above illustration, a financial “tool” like debt can become a cruel taskmaster when used improperly. However, if a “tool” is used appropriately, it can also be beneficial to the user. For example, when traveling, many people minimize the amount of cash and travelers’ checks carried by having a widely accepted credit card. Likewise, in many situations a personal check (and sometimes even cash) is not acceptable; a common example of this is the rental of a car, where a credit card is typically most acceptable. A credit card can also be very helpful in accounting for and paying business expenses; then, when the monthly statement comes, the employee can easily receive reimbursement from the company without previously having to use his own money. Some people use credit cards for their personal bills and expenses to minimize the use of checks by writing only one check for the entire amount at the end of the month. If one understands how to use this “tool” effectively, he can enjoy the positive aspects and, in many cases, completely avoid the negative.

Other kinds of debt instruments also have their good and bad sides. On the one hand, obtaining excessive loans for unnecessary purchases often causes marital discord because of the resulting financial burden. On the other hand, the wise use of a loan enables thousands of Latter-day Saints to purchase homes and assists many students in obtaining an education. Speaking at Brigham Young University in 1962, Elder Ezra Taft Benson summarized what the Church has been teaching:

“Our inspired Church leaders have always urged Latter-day Saints to get out of debt, live within our means, and pay as we go. …

“Now I do not mean to say that all debt is bad. Of course not. Sound business debt and reasonable debt for education is one of the elements of growth. Sound mortgage credit is a real help to a family that must borrow for a home.” (Church News, March 17, 1962, p. 13.)

The creation of debt also provides income for many prudent Latter-day Saints. For example, every time we open a savings account to earn deposit interest, we create a debt (liability) for the savings institution. When we purchase bonds to earn interest income, we become creditors to the company from whom we purchased the bonds; the company is willing to go into debt to the bondholders in order to increase business and profits. Each time we save our money by purchasing government savings bonds we cause the government to increase its debt. Debt is a basic financial tool of our economy and needs to be understood so that we can enjoy its positive aspects while avoiding the misery associated with the negative.

Almost any practice or principle taken to an extreme can have “bad” effects. For example, saving is typically considered a good practice; but is also basically an amoral financial tool—neither good nor bad. The following is an example of how even saving, utilized to an extreme, can have bad effects:

If everybody in the country stopped spending and only saved their money, then goods and services would not be purchased. If goods and services are not purchased, then businesses stop producing. If companies stop producing, then workers are laid off. If workers are laid off, they have no money to spend or to save. This cycle would continue until a severe depression would destroy the economy. The cause? The extreme use of a seemingly “good” financial tool—savings!

In summary, debt can be likened to a saw in that the saw is neither good nor bad—it is a tool. If properly used, the tool can be used to construct beautiful homes; if foolishly played with, the tool can cut off arms and hurt lives. The challenge to us as Latter-day Saints is to learn the appropriate use of a wide variety of financial “tools” so that we are properly prepared when seeking the Lord’s counsel in confirming our financial decisions.

I am a 21-year-old girl. The present call for missionaries interests me, but l am confused about the Church’s desire for sister missionaries. What is the real position and desire of the Church concerning girls going on missions?

Elder Paul H. Dunn of the First Council of the Seventy

Missionary work is primarily a priesthood responsibility and hence it devolves upon bearers of the priesthood to accept full-time or even stake mission calls. For that reason, whenever mention is made of missionary calls, we speak of young men.

The finest mission a young woman can perform is in the role of wife and mother. We counsel young women to prepare for this role carefully, to marry young men in the house of the Lord, and to create homes where the principles and teachings of the gospel prevail.

Young women can be missionaries right at home, as indeed every member of the Church should be. They should seek opportunities to discuss the gospel with their friends and associates, invite them to Church-sponsored activities, and in other ways stimulate interest in the Church.

Young women can be a real help and sustaining influence to encourage every young man to serve a full-time mission. Give encouragement to your brothers and to the young men whom you date. Let them know that missionary service is important to you and that you want the young man you marry to fulfill an honorable full-time mission.

We recognize, of course, that many fine sisters have served and are currently serving full-time missions, and are performing an outstanding labor. We might also add that there is a need for a limited number of sisters in the missions of the Church.

If a sister is (1) at least 21 years of age, (2) has good physical health, (3) is emotionally stable and secure, (4) has no immediate prospects for marriage, and (5) meets the other requirements for missionary service, she may be recommended for a mission. Bishops should be certain that each of these five prerequisites has been met before submitting recommendations for sisters to serve full-time missions.

We are happy to accept sisters who meet these qualifications and afford them the opportunity to serve in the marvelous missionary cause. However, this is not their prime calling, and we don’t send out an appeal to young women generally to prepare for and serve full-time missions.