I have spent 35 years of my life in military service. During a discussion with a Christian friend from the military, he made this figurative comment: “One day we will all hang our coats in the corner and stand and be judged by the Lord for what we really are.”
What we seem to be, or what we would like others to think we are, is often reflected by the clothing we wear, such as coats with their various emblems. This is especially true in the military, where one’s coat bears the insignia of rank, longevity, and special skills, plus medals and awards for various deeds of heroism and service. This is also true in many other segments of society. Athletes and fans are proud to wear their team’s jacket. Club members wear various logos on their jackets.
But who is the real person underneath these coats? The real person is the one who will stand before the all-knowing Lord on Judgment Day. The Lord will see quickly into our hearts and discern who we really are.
As we look forward to judgment, we must define and ponder what is it about ourselves that is going to be measured. What is the character “coinage” of the celestial realm? I have concluded that it is actually fairly easy to determine and describe what will have value in the celestial kingdom. The life of Jesus Christ stands as the sure standard by which we can know who we really are and measure the quality of our lives.
President David O. McKay (1873–1970) taught: “The highest of all ideals are the teachings and particularly the life of Jesus of Nazareth, and that man is most truly great who is most Christlike. What you sincerely in your heart think of Christ will determine what you are, will largely determine what your acts will be. … By choosing him as our ideal, we create within ourselves a desire to be like him, to have fellowship with him” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1951, 93, 98). The scriptures also give us examples of faithful Saints besides Christ that can broaden the picture of what our Father in Heaven expects us to really be. The life and character of Christ, however, with all of its glorious dimensions, regally stands as the fundamental standard. So, the two key questions to consider are: “Do I know my true character?” and “How does the real me measure up to Christ?”
The full life of Jesus Christ is complex and not totally revealed. What we do know of His character is quite simple, but grand and glorious, and provides us with many definable traits by which we should measure ourselves. There is not space here to present all His virtues and strengths, but a few can be useful and instructive when looking for a character yardstick.
Christ’s entire life was characterized by his total willingness to submit to the will of His Father. Despite His godly status, He acknowledged His Father with deference at every turn and obeyed His divine will and direction. At the beginning of His mortal ministry, He obediently sought baptism from John the Baptist “to fulfil all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15). Soon Christ was subjected to intense personal temptation by Satan. Christ’s unwavering commitment to His Father is reflected in His steadfast refusal to stray a single step from the straight and demanding course laid before Him by divine decree and eternal law. Satan’s will was rejected at every turn (see Matt. 4:3–11).
Christ’s ultimate submission to the will of the Father was as He drank the bitter cup of suffering in Gethsemane, at His scourging, and in His Crucifixion on Golgotha. His submissive attitude is reflected in His words, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matt. 26:39). His example of unhesitating, unswerving obedience sets a very high bar, but when we accept His admonition to “be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect” (3 Ne. 12:48) as a key element of the plan of eternal progression, we begin to understand what the Lord expects us to be. As we seek to determine what kind of Saints we really are, we must honestly grade ourselves on our willingness to obey God.
Another trait in Christ’s life that we are to emulate is the absolute discipline with which He conducted His life in accordance with the laws and standards of the gospel. He conformed His life to all of the precepts of the Old Testament prophets, the fulness of the New Testament gospel, and the latter-day restored gospel. His every act ties all the ages of Christianity together into a complete mosaic, letting us see the full beauty of mortal and eternal perfection. The most careful examination of His life reveals no act for which an apology or rationalization is required. He was, and is, perfect in disciplining His life. For example, when He admonishes us to “let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly” (D&C 121:45), we can be confident that He has lived this most difficult standard. And since we know He gives no commandment save He prepares a way for us to obey (see 1 Ne. 3:7), we can expect that virtuous thoughts will be one of the Christ-founded standards on our Day of Judgment.
The single word that is most often used to describe Christ and His life is love. In fact, the Apostle John wrote of the Son that “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8). Everything about the life of Christ radiates love in the broadest and warmest sense of the word. His life defines the meaning of charity and selflessness. Through His service and teaching, Jesus Christ has shown us that our lives are to be measured by our ability to lose ourselves in productive concern for others. In all of recorded scripture, there is no instance of Christ expending any energy or effort for selfish reasons. He asks only that we acknowledge His role as our Lord and Savior, that we might enjoy the fruits of repentance and forgiveness.
One of those fruits is His healing. It is one of the most obvious messages of His ministries as recorded in the New Testament and the Book of Mormon. He healed all who came or were brought to Him (see Luke 4:40; Luke 6:19; 3 Ne. 17:9; 3 Ne. 26:15). That the Savior spent so much time healing should be a powerful reminder for us to care for the afflicted. He attended to the needs of all people, including those who were physically disabled and those who were emotionally and spiritually crippled. The blind, the lame, the possessed, the proud, the adulterous, and even the dead were recipients of His healing love. He attended to their immediate and long-term needs. Such a love should be a high priority for those who desire to be favorably weighed on His scales at Judgment Day.
His teaching was another form of His healing love. He taught all who would listen, the humble and the haughty, the rich and the poor, the sinner and the Saint. He devoted much of His three-year ministry to teaching both His disciples and His unconverted multitudes. Through His teaching He laid the foundation for the spreading of His doctrines throughout the world. He freely gave to all the core teachings of the plan of salvation, such as the Atonement, faith, repentance, and forgiveness. His teachings healed spiritual wounds and are an exemplary legacy of His love for all.
His Forgiving Heart
Forgiveness can be a warm, pleasant word as we look forward with hope for heavenly mercy and generosity at our Judgment Day. But forgiveness also has some stern realities associated with it. For example:
“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. …
“For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
“But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:12, 14–15).
“Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven” (Luke 6:37).
“Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin” (D&C 64:9).
The Lord expects us to reach far beyond the natural man, even to godly heights in forgiving others. He expects us to be as forgiving with others as we would have Him be with us. This may initially seem fair, even generous, but as we focus on the challenges of forgiving others we realize that this may not be so simple or easy. It can be quite difficult to be forgiving all the time, even a majority of the time. Perhaps the ultimate example of Christ forgiving others is when He said as He hung on the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). With this sublime model in mind, such commonly heard words as “I will never forgive him for that” or “I’ll certainly get even with her” should cause the spiritually sensitive soul to shudder.
However, rather than despair at the difficulty of always being forgiving, let us ponder the beauty of the Lord’s promises. With the Lord’s help we are the masters of our destiny. We can draw from the infinite reserves of the Lord’s forgiveness in direct proportion to the forgiveness we extend to others. Because of His Atonement He can make such a promise, but its blessings are conditioned upon our faith in Him, repentance, and obedience. We have been given a clear view of the place of forgiveness in His character by His example and teachings. No personal growth toward a satisfying day of Final Judgment can be achieved without attention to the challenges of being truly forgiving.
The Judgment Bar
Obedience, discipline, love, and forgiveness are just a few of the divine characteristics of our Lord Jesus Christ. Each reminds us of where we need to look for the standards by which we will be measured as we prepare for the Lord’s judgment bar, the place where we will be judged for who we really are. As we reflect upon these traits, we will naturally be led to other traits of His character that can guide us through our mortal probation.
The admonition to be perfect will be daunting unless we realize that our Father in Heaven and His Son, Jesus Christ, love us immeasurably and will help us. They have designed a plan whereby we can return to Their presence if we will strive to obey Their laws and follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost.
Whether we will realize our longed-for return to God’s presence hinges on the outcome of our Day of Judgment before the Lord Jesus Christ. His careful, penetrating gaze will not be deflected by any “coats” we have donned over the course of our lives. Such coverings will have long since been cast aside. We will indeed stand and be judged for what we really are.
This life is our opportunity to sculpt a celestial soul sufficient to stand the scrutiny of the Son. I am certain He will want to be able to pronounce the words “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21). As we chisel our character day to day, we will find greater happiness if we will cast aside the distracting tapestries and garments we tend to collect on earth and work on the inner stone of our real selves. We have been given both a perfect pattern and the perfect tools to sculpt an eternal masterpiece. May we use them as we look to Christ and dedicate our lives to Him.