Many thoughts go through my mind as I contemplate the words of the Church song “I Am a Child of God”:
I am a child of God,
And he has sent me here,
Has given me an earthly home
With parents kind and dear.
I am a child of God,
And so my needs are great;
Help me to understand his words
Before it grows too late.
I am a child of God,
Rich blessings are in store;
If I but learn to do his will
I’ll live with him once more.
Lead me, guide me, walk beside me,
Help me find the way.
Teach me all that I must do
To live with him someday.
(Sing with Me, B-76.)
When Naomi Randall wrote the words to that lovely song, the last sentence read, “Teach me all that I must know.” When President Spencer W. Kimball read it, he suggested a word change from know to do. Sister Randall was happy to make the change. It is the doing that counts, not just the knowing. Therefore, “Teach me all that I must do to live with him someday.”
The concept of this song, that “I am a child of God,” is not a new concept. In his famous speech on Mars Hill, Paul declared to the Athenians that we are the “offspring” of God. (Acts 17:28.) In modern times, in the revelation recorded in the seventy-sixth section of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Prophet Joseph Smith said that the “inhabitants [of the worlds] are begotten sons and daughters unto God.” (Acts 17:24.)
I have often wondered what we are thinking when we say that plain, simple, true statement, “I am a child of God.” We know the statement does not mean that God is the father of our tangible, physical bodies, because we know that they are the offspring of our earthly fathers and mothers.
Therefore, what do we really mean when we sing or say, “I am a child of God”? To answer this question, we must first understand that the Lord revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith that we human beings are souls; that is, we are dual beings, and dual means two. A dual object means an object made up of two parts. A human soul, each of us, is composed of two parts, or two bodies—a spirit body and a physical body. It is the Lord himself who said that “the spirit and the body are the soul of man.” (D&C 88:15.) Thus, it is our spirits, not our physical bodies, that were “begotten” of God.
In the Book of Mormon, we find a description of the form and nature of a spirit who had not yet received a physical body. This account, found in Ether 2:25, Ether 3:1–16 is to me one of the most dramatic stories or truths in all scripture.
We recall that the brother of Jared and his associates were led by the Lord from the tower of Babel. When they came to the ocean, the Lord told them to cross it. So they built eight barges. They were ready to put forth to sea; but the barges were tight, and, therefore, they would be dark. Consequently, the brother of Jared, a man with as much faith as any person who ever lived, pleaded with the Lord to give them some light. The Lord said, in effect, “What do you want me to do about it?”
So the brother of Jared went and melted sixteen stones out of some rocks. He brought them to the mountain—and I am always moved as I think of this lone man up on a mountain with sixteen stones—and he asked the Lord to touch them and make them give light. These stones would then be placed in the barges.
The brother of Jared had such faith that the Lord “stretched forth his hand and touched the stones one by one with his finger. And the veil was taken from off the eyes of the brother of Jared, and he saw the finger of the Lord; and it was as the finger of a man, like unto flesh and blood; and the brother of Jared fell down before the Lord, for he was struck with fear.
“And the Lord saw that the brother of Jared had fallen to the earth; and the Lord said unto him: Arise, why hast thou fallen?
“And [the brother of Jared] saith unto the Lord: I saw the finger of the Lord, and I feared lest he should smite me; for I knew not that the Lord had flesh and blood.”
The brother of Jared thought he was looking at a finger like yours or mine—flesh and blood.
“And the Lord said unto him: Because of thy faith thou hast seen that I shall take upon me flesh and blood; and never has man come before me with such exceeding faith as thou hast; for were it not so ye could not have seen my finger. Sawest thou more than this?
“And he answered: Nay; Lord,”—Now the brother of Jared exhibited more courage—“Show thyself unto me.
“And the Lord said unto him: Believest thou the words which I shall speak?
“And he answered: Yea, Lord, I know that thou speakest the truth, for thou art a God of truth, and canst not lie.
“And when he had said these words, behold, the Lord showed himself unto him, and said: Because thou knowest these things ye are redeemed from the fall; therefore ye are brought back into my presence; therefore I show myself unto you.
“Behold, I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people.”
Now this event took place about 2200 years before Christ was born to Mary in Bethlehem. But the Lord stood there on that mountain with the brother of Jared, and He said, “Behold, I am Jesus Christ. … In me shall all mankind have life, and that eternally, even they who shall believe on my name; and they shall become my sons and my daughters.
“And never have I showed myself unto man whom I have created, for never has man believed in me as thou hast.”
Here we get a word picture of what a spirit looks like: “Seest thou that ye are created after mine own image?”
The Lord was calling this great prophet’s attention to the fact that His spirit—the unembodied spirit of Jesus Christ—was in the same image as the body of this man, Jared’s brother: “Seest thou that ye are created after mine own image? Yea, even all men were created in the beginning after mine own image.
“Behold, this body, which ye now behold, is the body of my spirit; and man have I created after the body of my spirit; and even as I appear unto thee to be in the spirit will I appear unto my people in the flesh.” (Ether 2:25; Ether 3:1–16.)
One of the great truths of this account is the clear understanding we receive about who we were as pre-mortal spirit children of God. We were individual, separate persons, with agency, being, and names prior to our entry on earth.
Abraham, in his account of a vision he had received (Abr. 3:22–26), gave some wonderful additional information concerning our existence as children of God.
“Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones;
“And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits.”
You and I were there and so were all the rest of the spirit children of God our Father who were designated for life upon this earth.
“And there stood one among them [one among those spirits] that was like unto God [and that, of course, was the Savior], and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there.” They looked off into space where this earth now is, and the Lord Jesus said: “We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these [spirit children of God] may dwell;
“And [we will do something with them:] we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;
“And they who keep their first estate [the spirit estate in which we then were] shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate [this estate where we are, this mortal period] shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever.”
From this scripture we learn that we were to come to earth for a purpose, and the purpose was to be proved, to be tested, to see if we would do what the Lord instructs us to do.
In being born into this world as human souls, our spirits—which are the offspring of God—enter into our bodies, which are the offspring of our mortal parents; at death the spirit and the body are separated. That’s all death is, a separation of the spirit and the body. The body returns in time to the dust or earth matter, and the spirit goes to the spirit world.
When we are resurrected, the spirit reenters the body, and each of us will become a soul again, our spirit and body never again to be separated. “And the resurrection from the dead is the redemption of the soul.” (D&C 88:16.)
Thus, from these scriptures, we also learn of three phases of our existence as children of God. Abraham calls these phases “estates”: we had the premortal state when we lived as spirit children of God; we have our “second estate,” which is the mortality we are now experiencing and our sojourn in the spirit world following death; and in the future we will have a reuniting of the soul into a state of immortality through the Resurrection.
You will recall Abraham’s saying that in the spirit world the Lord promised that “they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; … and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever.”
We know that we kept our first estate because we are here in mortality, and by receiving our bodies we have been added upon. We further know that the gospel teaches us how we must keep this, our second estate, in order that in the next life, the third estate, we may “have glory added upon [our] heads for ever and ever.”
Only those of us who are members of the Church know of these great eternal truths relating to who we are. We are fortunate to know who we are, where we came from, why we are here, and where we may go. And of great significance, we know how to get where we desire to go. How fortunate we are to know while in mortality the importance of our earthlife conduct.
Happily, we also have received many other truths relating to what we may become. We know that the Lord revealed the gospel to Adam in the very beginning, and that he also revealed it in every subsequent dispensation.
We know that Satan came among Adam’s posterity after Adam had told them about the gospel which had been revealed to him. Satan said, “Believe it not; and [for the most part] they believed it not.” (Moses 5:13.)
We know that between Adam’s time and the flood, Enoch built a city of people who came to know and accept what we know. These people so lived that the city of Enoch was taken from the earth while the apostate nations were engaged in wickedness, war, and bloodshed.
We know that Noah knew the gospel, and that other prophets between Enoch and Noah taught the gospel. We know that the people rejected the gospel until the Lord sent a flood to clean wickedness off the earth, to give the spirits waiting to come a new start.
We know about Abraham and the righteous people since then. We know about the ministry of Jesus Christ—how he came in the meridian of time, taught the gospel, and made the great sacrifice which brings about the Resurrection and the means whereby we can be cleansed from our own sins, on condition of repentance and righteous living.
We know about the Jaredites and the Nephites.
We know that we are living in the last dispensation. We know that Savior will come and again cleanse the earth from unrighteousness.
We also know about the three degrees of glory: three types of immortal souls will rise in the Resurrection—the celestial, the terrestrial, and the telestial.
About the Resurrection, the Lord said to the Prophet Joseph Smith, as recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 88:14–31 [D&C 88:14–31]:
“Now, verily I say unto you, that through the redemption which is made for you [that is speaking about the atonement of Christ] is brought to pass the resurrection from the dead. …
“And the resurrection from the dead is the redemption of the soul.
“And the redemption of the soul is through him that quickeneth all things [Jesus Christ], in whose bosom it is decreed that the poor and the meek of the earth shall inherit it.
“Therefore, it [the earth] must needs be sanctified from all unrighteousness, that it may be prepared for the celestial glory.”
That is the destination of this earth. This earth was made not only for our habitation during our mortal lives, but also for the eternal, everlasting habitation for those who merit the celestial glory.
“For after it hath filled the measure of its creation [speaking of the earth as the habitation for mortal man], it shall be crowned with glory, even with the presence of God the Father;
“That bodies who are of the celestial kingdom may possess it forever and ever; for, for this intent was it made and created, and for this intent are they sanctified.
“And they who are not sanctified through the law which I have given unto you, even the law of Christ, must inherit another kingdom, even that of a terrestrial kingdom, or that of a telestial kingdom.
“For he who is not able to abide the law of [the] celestial kingdom [and that’s the gospel of Jesus Christ] cannot abide a celestial glory.
“And he who cannot abide the law of a terrestrial kingdom cannot abide a terrestrial glory.
“And he who cannot abide the law of a telestial kingdom cannot abide a telestial glory; therefore he is not meet for a kingdom of glory. Therefore he must abide a kingdom which is not a kingdom of glory.”
Now, concerning who we are and what we desire to become, the Lord taught the Prophet Joseph Smith the following:
“They who are of a celestial spirit shall receive the same body which was a natural body; even ye shall receive your bodies, and your glory [there is no question about the resurrection; everybody who received a mortal body will be resurrected—but your glory] shall be that glory by which your bodies are quickened.
“Ye who are quickened by a portion of the celestial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness.
“And they who are quickened by a portion of the terrestrial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness.
“And also they who are quickened by a portion of the telestial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness.”
As Latter-day Saints, we know that to obtain exaltation and eternal life in the celestial kingdom, where our Father and our Savior and the righteous of all ages dwell, we must comply with the principles and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This requires honesty, integrity, purity, and righteousness. It requires us to avoid filth of every kind in thought and action.
We must earnestly pray that we may receive our Father in Heaven’s help in our daily lives.
If we are really interested in the fact that we are children of God, we will live in ways that befit a child of God, in ways that befit one who seeks to be an heir to all that his Father has in store for those who keep their second estate.
I hope we catch more of the spirit of what it means to be a child of God, of what our potential is, and of how we need to live on earth to earn that great blessing.
May we live up to our knowledge of who we are and what it really means to be a child of God.
Some Points of Emphasis. You may wish to make these points in your home teaching discussion:
1. Our mortal bodies are the offspring of our earthly fathers and mothers, and our spirits are the offspring of our Heavenly Father. “The spirit and the body are the soul of man.”
2. As premortal spirit children of God, we were individuals, with agency and names.
3. We came to the earth to be proved, to be tested, to see if we would do what the Lord instructs us to do.
4. At death the spirit and the body are separated. The body in time goes to the dust, or earthly matter, and the spirit returns to the spirit world.
5. When we are resurrected, the spirit reenters the body, and each of us becomes a soul again, our spirit and body never again to be separated.
6. We should live in ways that befit a child of God, that befit one who seeks to be an heir to all that our Father has for us.
1. Relate your personal feelings or experiences about being a child of God. Ask family members to share their feelings.
2. Are there scriptural verses or quotations in this article that the family might read aloud and discuss?
3. Would this discussion be better after a pre-visit chat with the head of the house? Is there a message from the quorum leader or bishop?