Knowledge of Christ

Sooner or later, every person who has ever lived on earth will be given a knowledge about the divinity of Jesus Christ. The scriptures tell us that when he comes the second time, the signs of his divinity will be so overwhelming that “every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess” that Jesus is the Christ. (D&C 88:104.)

But knowledge about him is not enough. The knowledge that saves comes from our personal efforts to develop a close companionship with the Lord through prayer and meditation.

The Savior declared: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent.” (John 17:3.) Notice the wording. We gain eternal life by knowing God and Jesus Christ, not by knowing some things about them. It seems to me that there is a great difference between these two types of knowledge.

“The greatest and most important of all requirements of our Father in heaven and of his Son Jesus Christ,” said Brigham Young, “is … to believe in Jesus Christ, acknowledge that he is our Savior, seek to become close to him, cling to him, make friends with him. Do what is necessary to open and keep open a communication with … our Savior.” (Journal of Discourses 8:339.)

I find that I am interested in getting to know someone personally if what I have been told about him or observed in him indicates that our relationship will be a rewarding one. Four attributes of Jesus—inferred from his dealing with others—have indicated to me the Lord is someone whose close friendship I should earnestly seek and develop.

The first attribute is the Savior’s intimate knowledge of each one of us. Because he knew the desires of people’s hearts and their inner, spiritual qualities in his own day, he frequently befriended the outcast who was scorned by his fellowmen. In selecting those who would comprise the first Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Jesus did not go to the homes of royalty or to the imposing chambers of the Sanhedrin, but rather to simple fishing boats by the seashore and to the desk of a despised tax collector.

Listen to the Lord’s words to a congregation just 150 years ago, in 1831, as recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants:

“Behold and hearken, O ye elders of my church, who have assembled yourselves together, whose prayers I have heard, and whose hearts I know, and whose desires have come up before me.

“Behold and lo, mine eyes are upon you.” (D&C 67:1–2.)

Note also that in section 5 of the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord refers to “my servant Martin Harris.” (D&C 5:1.) He knew his name! He also knew the names of John Whitmer, as recorded in section 15 [D&C 15], and Frederick G. Williams in section 93 [D&C 93]. Indeed, the Lord gave specific instructions to more than sixty-five individuals in revelations recorded in that book of scripture.

I am personally convinced that the Lord is aware of each of us. I have felt his sustaining influence on many occasions during trials in my life. Whether experiencing fear after a painful knee injury in the mission field, loneliness during a traumatic separation from my family to serve in Vietnam, or an awful hollow numbness following the death of a beloved companion, I have found no balm so soothing as the sweet, peaceful, comforting assurance that comes from divine whisperings, “Be still,” “Be calm,” “I am here,” “I know.”

A second and related characteristic of the Savior is his ability, because of his own experiences, to empathize with all of our difficulties and trials. The Savior knows what it is like to be tempted, distraught, afraid, ridiculed, and abused; and consequently he has great compassion for others.

We know that he experienced what some have referred to as the most intense form of human suffering—loneliness. I am deeply affected by this statement from the Savior near the end of his life: “Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me.” (John 16:32.)

We know that the Savior experienced not only rejection and loneliness, but also temptation. Paul writes that the Savior “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb. 4:15.) How does this affect our relationship with the Savior? Paul answers, “For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.” (Heb. 2:18.)

Jesus’ life prepared him to have compassion for others.

On one occasion, after preaching a long sermon he said to his disciples, “I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way” (Matt. 15:32), and he proceeded to feed miraculously 4,000 people with seven loaves “and a few little fishes,” demonstrating his concern for their physical as well as their spiritual needs.

His great compassion for us can be a source of comfort when we are tempted and wonder if we are worthy of his great love and trust. I am reassured by his words to some early Church members.

“Behold and hearken, O ye elders of my church … [I know] the weakness of man and how to succor them who are tempted.

“For verily I say unto you, I will have compassion upon you.

“There are those among you who have sinned; but verily I say, I will be merciful unto you.” (D&C 62:1; D&C 64:2–4.)

The late Elder Hugh B. Brown, of the Council of the Twelve said: “Very frequently I have felt I could reach up and take hold of God’s hand. He has been so close, so gracious, so willing to respond to my request and to help me over the rough places.” (Church News, 6 December 1975, p. 3.) To Elder Brown’s testimony I add my own that, in the words of Isaiah’s great prophecy, a child was born who has become “wonderful” and “counselor.” (Isa. 9:6.)

A third characteristic that should motivate us to draw closer to the Savior is his deep, abiding, perfect love for us. The greatest evidence of his love was his willingness to die for us. Realizing the significance of one man’s volunteering to suffer great pain in order that his brothers and sisters would not have to suffer similar pain, Paul exclaimed:

“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,

“Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:38–39.)

What a powerful testimony of Christ’s willingness to pay any price to aid us in our quest for eternal happiness! Indeed, the essence of godhood is the willingness to sacrifice for the good of others. How fortunate we are that in a world governed by the philosophy of “an eye for an eye” Christ was willing to be crucified for us regardless of our personal appreciation for his sacrifice.

A fourth characteristic is one which separates him from all others; his divine power. Christ not only is deeply interested in our personal development, but also has the power to do something about it—he has the power to change lives. Undoubtedly, we have all read stories of how the Lord has literally transformed people almost overnight, like Paul and Alma. But often the small, unheralded, everyday examples of the miracle of conversion are easier to relate to.

One of my most memorable missionary experiences took place in a cold, damp basement apartment of a nonmember in Edmonton, Canada. My companion and I were trying to help a man who had smoked many cigarettes every day all his life to live the Word of Wisdom, and he had called us to his humble residence one night to admit defeat. He said, “I have made every effort humanly possible, and I just can’t quit smoking. I know the gospel is true and I want to be baptized, but I’ll never be able to overcome this habit.”

Our reply to this defeated man was, “Don’t give up. You can quit smoking because there is superhuman power that can give you the strength and courage you need.”

We asked him to read these comforting and reassuring words from Paul: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” (1 Cor. 10:13.)

Then we knelt with him and asked the Lord to give him the courage and the determination necessary to place his life in order so that he and his family could be baptized. What a testimony-building experience it was for a nineteen-year-old boy to witness the changes in this man’s life as the Spirit of the Lord magnified his strength, helping him resist temptation and live God’s commandments!

What a powerful friend—this man of Galilee! Who else knows us so intimately, has done so much to prove his love for us, has demonstrated his capacity for compassion and understanding, and also has the divine power to help us change our lives? Who, therefore, should be more sought after as our intimate companion and true friend?

Let us be sufficiently motivated by what we have heard about Christ that we desire to develop a personal, intimate relationship with him. As we spend time with him through mighty prayer and thoughtful meditation, we will gain a personal knowledge of the God we worship and realize that he is indeed our dearest friend.

As we do, we will begin to appreciate the insight of Paul, truly one of Christ’s friends, who declared: “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things … that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings!” (Philip. 3:8, 10.)

David A. Whetten, a professor of organizational behavior at the University of Illinois, serves as bishop of the Champaign Ward, Champaign Illinois Stake.