Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge

“Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge,” Doctrinal Mastery New Testament Teacher Material (2016)


Part 1 (40 minutes)

Note: Parts 1 and 2 can be taught over the course of two 40-minute class sessions, or they can be combined and taught in one 80-minute session.

The Search for Eternal Truth

Write the word Truth on the board, and ask the students the following question:

  • Why can discovering or learning what is true be challenging?

After a few students have responded, write the following question on the board: How can I learn and know what is true?

Explain that President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency addressed the challenge of learning truth by sharing an ancient parable entitled “The Blind Men and the Elephant.”

You may want to display the following statement by President Uchtdorf, or provide each student with a copy of it. Ask a student to read the statement aloud. Invite the class to follow along, looking for how this parable represents some of the challenges we face as we search for truth.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf

“Well over one hundred years ago, an American poet put to rhyme an ancient parable. The first verse of the poem speaks about:

Six men of Indostan

To learning much inclined,

Who went to see the Elephant

(Though all of them were blind),

That each by observation

Might satisfy his mind.

“In the poem each of the six travelers takes hold of a different part of the elephant and then describes to the others what he has discovered.

“One of the men finds the elephant’s leg and describes it as being round and rough like a tree. Another feels the tusk and describes the elephant as a spear. A third grabs the tail and insists that an elephant is like a rope. A fourth discovers the trunk and insists that the elephant is like a large snake.

“Each is describing truth.

“And because his truth comes from personal experience, each insists that he knows what he knows.

“The poem concludes:

And so these men of Indostan

Disputed loud and long,

Each in his own opinion

Exceeding stiff and strong,

Though each was partly in the right,

And all were in the wrong!

[John Godfrey Saxe, The Poems of John Godfrey Saxe (1873), 135–36, books.google.com].”

(“What Is Truth?” [Church Educational System devotional, Jan. 13, 2013], lds.org/broadcasts.)

  • How does this parable illustrate some of the challenges of discovering truth?

  • What are some of the other challenges of seeking to discover truth?

  • What would help the blind men come to a more accurate understanding of what an elephant is? (For example, receiving help from someone who can see the whole elephant.)

God Is the Source of Eternal Truth

Explain that during their experience in seminary, students will have many opportunities to increase their understanding of eternal truth. To help students effectively do this, an effort called Doctrinal Mastery is being introduced. This effort includes seeking to learn and apply principles of acquiring spiritual knowledge and developing a deeper understanding of key doctrines of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Provide students with copies of the Doctrinal Mastery Core Document, and ask them to open to the “Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge” section. Invite them to silently read the first paragraph, looking for the source of eternal truth.

Ask students to report what they find. You may want to suggest that they mark the following doctrine: God knows all things and is the source of all truth.

To help students further understand this doctrine, invite a student to read Mosiah 4:9 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for how this verse helps us understand why we can rely upon God as the source of all truth.

  • What words or phrases in this verse describe why God is the only reliable source of truth?

  • Why do you think it is important to rely upon God as the source of all truth? (Help students understand that knowing where to turn for truth is one of the first steps to obtaining it.)

How to Acquire Spiritual Knowledge

Invite a student to read aloud the last sentence of the first paragraph and the entire second paragraph of the “Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge” section of the Doctrinal Mastery Core Document. Ask students to follow along, looking for what we can do to invite God to reveal spiritual truth to us.

Invite students to report what they discover. To help students deepen their understanding of what we must do to acquire spiritual truth, divide the class into four groups and assign each group one of the following doctrinal mastery passages or sets of passages:

Explain that they will have five minutes to read their assigned verses as a group and discuss what they read by using the following questions. (You may want to display these questions on the board or provide them on a handout.)

  1. What principle of seeking spiritual truth is being taught in these verses?

  2. How can these verses help you better understand how you can seek spiritual truth?

  3. What experiences have you had with this part of the pattern of acquiring spiritual truth?

After sufficient time, invite a member of each group to share with the class what they discussed. Ensure that as each group reports their findings, they include which part of the process for acquiring spiritual learning their verses taught.

After each group has reported, you may want to ask the class for additional insights or experiences related to acquiring spiritual truth. Then consider asking the following question:

  • How do each of these ways of seeking truth relate to each other in helping us acquire spiritual knowledge?

Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Ask the class to listen for what Elder Scott taught is required to obtain spiritual knowledge.

Elder Richard G. Scott

“To gain knowledge of great worth requires extraordinary personal effort. This is particularly true when our desire is to obtain spiritual knowledge” (“Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge,” Ensign, Nov. 1993, 87).

  • Why do you think the Lord requires effort on our part before we can acquire spiritual knowledge?

  • In your experience, why is the effort you have put forth worth it to acquire spiritual` knowledge—such as a testimony of our Heavenly Father; His Son, Jesus Christ; and the truthfulness of Their teachings?

Testify that our best personal effort is needed to obtain spiritual knowledge. Heavenly Father is willing to teach us, but we must be willing to do our part.

Asking Questions and Seeking Answers Is a Vital Part of Our Effort to Learn Truth

Ask a student to read aloud the third paragraph of the “Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge” section in the Doctrinal Mastery Core Document. Invite students to follow along, looking for what this paragraph teaches about the importance of asking questions in our efforts to gain spiritual knowledge.

Ask students to report what they found. Then write the following summary statement of truth on the board: Asking questions and diligently seeking answers is a vital part of our effort to learn truth.

  • Why do you feel it is important to diligently seek for answers to questions that arise during your efforts to learn truth?

To help students understand the importance of this aspect of obtaining spiritual knowledge, invite a student to read aloud the following statement by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf. Ask the class to listen for what President Uchtdorf taught about asking the right questions. (You may want to provide students with a copy of this statement.)

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf

“When it comes to spiritual truth, how can we know that we are on the right path?

“One way is by asking the right questions—the kind that help us ponder our progress and evaluate how things are working for us. Questions like:

“‘Does my life have meaning?’

“‘Do I believe in God?’

“‘Do I believe that God knows and loves me?’

“‘Do I believe that God hears and answers my prayers?’

“‘Am I truly happy?’

“‘Are my efforts leading me to the highest spiritual goals and values in life?’

“Profound questions regarding the purpose of life have led many individuals and families throughout the world to search for truth. Often that search has led them to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and to the restored gospel” (“It Works Wonderfully!” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2015, 20–21).

  • How does this statement by President Uchtdorf help us further understand the importance of asking the right questions?

Ask students if they can think of any examples from the scriptures that illustrate how asking questions and diligently seeking answers led individuals to obtain spiritual knowledge. (Examples might include Joseph Smith—History 1:10–20; Enos 1:1–8; Doctrine and Covenants 138:1–11).

Point out the following principle from the end of the third paragraph of the “Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge” section: The attitude and intent with which we ask questions and seek answers will greatly affect our ability to learn through the Holy Ghost. You may want to suggest that students mark this principle in their copy of the Doctrinal Mastery Core Document.

To illustrate the difference between asking sincere questions and asking questions in order to justify one’s behavior or to criticize or entrap someone, invite students to work in pairs as they contrast questions Zeezrom first asked with questions he asked after hearing the testimonies of Alma and Amulek. Have one partner silently study Alma 10:31–32; 11:21 and the other partner silently study Alma 12:8. Invite students to explain to their partners what they learned about the sincerity of and possible motivation behind Zeezrom’s questions. After students have discussed their assigned verses with their partners, ask the class the following questions:

  • What is the difference in motivation and attitude between the first questions Zeezrom asked and the questions he asked after hearing the testimonies of Alma and Amulek?

  • According to Alma 12:8, what kind of truth was Zeezrom seeking after he heard the testimonies of Alma and Amulek? (Point out that after hearing Alma and Amulek’s testimonies, Zeezrom still had questions, but the nature of his questions had changed. Zeezrom “began to inquire … diligently, that he might know more concerning the kingdom of God.”)

Explain that much of the beautiful doctrine taught in Alma 12–13 came as a result of questions. These questions and answers ultimately helped Zeezrom to become converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ (see Alma 14:6; 15:3–12).

You may want to testify of the importance of asking sincere questions and diligently seeking answers. Consider sharing how you have come to know that the Lord will answer our sincere questions.

Part 2 (40 minutes)

Answering Doctrinal or Historical Questions

Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:

President Boyd K. Packer

“Young people wonder ‘why?’—Why are we commanded to do some things, and why we are commanded not to do other things?” (“The Great Plan of Happiness” [address to Church Educational System religious educators, Aug. 10, 1993], si.lds.org).

Ask students to consider if they have ever wondered why we are commanded to do some things and not to do other things. For example, some might wonder why God has commanded us to keep the Sabbath day holy or why He has commanded that sexual intimacy be expressed only between a man and a woman who are legally married. Point out that this portion of the lesson on acquiring spiritual knowledge is intended to help students learn principles that can guide them when they have questions or are presented with questions from others regarding the doctrine, practices, and history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Remind students about the doctrine that they learned about the source of truth and how to acquire spiritual knowledge: God knows all things and is the source of all truth. Explain that remembering this truth is helpful when we have questions about the Church that seem difficult to understand.

Display or write the following principles on the board:

  • Act in faith.

  • Examine concepts and questions with an eternal perspective.

  • Seek further understanding through divinely appointed sources.

Explain that these principles can guide us as we seek to learn and understand eternal truth and resolve questions or issues.

Act in Faith

Invite students to silently read principle 1, “Act in Faith,” from the “Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge” section in the Doctrinal Mastery Core Document. Ask them to look for and mark the principles that will help them to answer questions they and others have about the Church.

Ask students to report what they found. If they do not mention it, point out the following principle: As we seek to develop our understanding and to resolve concerns, it is important that we rely on the testimony that we already have of Jesus Christ, the Restoration of His gospel, and the teachings of His ordained prophets.

  • How do you think these principles can help us as we sincerely seek understanding and answers to difficult questions and issues?

Invite students to share examples of when any of these principles blessed them when they were confronted with an issue, concern, or question.

Invite a student to read aloud the following account shared by Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Ask the class to listen for how a young woman acted in faith when faced with a challenging situation.

Elder Neil L. Andersen

“Recently, I spoke with a Laurel from the United States. I quote from her email:

“‘This past year some of my friends on Facebook began posting their position on marriage. Many favored same-sex marriage, and several LDS youth indicated they “liked” the postings. I made no comment.

“‘I decided to declare my belief in traditional marriage in a thoughtful way.

“‘With my profile picture, I added the caption “I believe in marriage between a man and a woman.” Almost instantly I started receiving messages. “You are selfish.” “You are judgmental.” One compared me to a slave owner. And I received this post from a great friend who is a strong member of the Church: “You need to catch up with the times. Things are changing and so should you.”

“‘I did not fight back,’ she said, ‘but I did not take my statement down.’

“She concludes: ‘Sometimes, as President Monson said, “You have to stand alone.” Hopefully as youth, we will stand together in being true to God and to the teachings of His living prophets’” (“Spiritual Whirlwinds,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2014, 19–20).

  • In what ways did this young woman act in faith when faced with a difficult situation?

  • Have you ever faced similar criticism for standing up for what you believe? How did you respond?

Invite students to share with the class how holding fast to what they already know and standing strong when faced with challenges has blessed their lives and caused their testimonies to grow (see Jeffrey R. Holland, “Lord, I Believe,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2013, 94). Encourage students to determine to always be faithful to their testimony of the teachings of Jesus Christ and His prophets (see Joseph Smith Translation, Luke 14:28 [in Luke 14:27, footnote b]).

Examine Concepts and Questions with an Eternal Perspective

Explain that people during the time of the Apostle Paul faced many of the same questions and concerns that we may experience today. Invite students to read 1 Corinthians 2:5, 9–11 silently, looking for what Paul taught is necessary in order to understand spiritual truth. You may want to point out the inspired change the Prophet Joseph Smith made to verse 11 (see Joseph Smith Translation, 1 Corinthians 2:11 [in 1 Corinthians 2:11, footnote c]).

Ask students to summarize what these verses say about how we can understand spiritual truth. Help them understand that it is only by the Spirit of God that we can know “the deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10)—meaning the truths that can only be understood through revelation.

Invite a student to read aloud principle 2, “Examine Concepts and Questions with an Eternal Perspective,” in the “Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge” section in the Doctrinal Mastery Core Document. Ask the class to follow along, looking for how we can seek the help of the Spirit and examine concepts and questions with an eternal perspective.

Invite students to identify truths listed under principle 2 that help them understand how to best examine questions that come to them. Write their responses on the board. (Students’ answers might include principles like the following: Having an eternal perspective allows us to reframe questions and view ideas based on the Lord’s standard of truth rather than the world’s assumptions. As we stay anchored to our trust in our Heavenly Father and His plan of salvation, we are able to see issues more clearly.)

To help students further understand how these principles can help us as we consider our questions and the questions of others, invite a student to read aloud the following statement by Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Ask the class to listen for why it is important to consider the assumptions or beliefs on which a question is based. (You may want to give each student a copy of the statement.)

Elder Dallin H. Oaks

“Because of our knowledge of [the plan of salvation] and other truths that God has revealed, we start with different assumptions [or beliefs] than those who do not share our knowledge. As a result, we reach different conclusions on many important subjects that others judge only in terms of their opinions about mortal life. …

“… [We] will often be better off to respond by identifying the worldly premises or assumptions in the assertions [we] face [from others], and then by identifying the different assumptions or premises that guide the thinking of Latter-day Saints. This won’t elicit agreement from persons who don’t share our faith, but it can move the discussion away from arguing over conclusions to identifying the real source of disagreement” (“As He Thinketh in His Heart” [evening with Elder Dallin H. Oaks, Feb. 8, 2013], broadcasts.lds.org).

  • How might our beliefs or assumptions affect the questions we ask and the conclusions we arrive at? (Help students to understand that a person who begins with worldly assumptions is likely to arrive at worldly conclusions. However, because we desire to understand eternal truth, it is important to consider questions in context of what we already know about God and His plan of salvation.)

Point out that our knowledge of God and His plan of salvation helps us understand the purpose for the commandments He has given us. In contrast, those who do not share our knowledge of Heavenly Father’s plan of salvation will likely view the commandments differently from how we might view them.

To illustrate the relationship between a person’s assumptions and the questions and conclusions he or she may arrive at, write the following question on the board: Why would a loving God restrict us or take away our rights by giving us commandments rather than allow us the freedom to do whatever makes us happy?

  • What are the assumptions someone might make when asking this question?

  • What truths do we know about Heavenly Father and His plan for us that help us look at this question through His perspective?

  • How does this eternal perspective change our understanding of the concern?

Invite students to mention other questions or issues that are important to consider with an eternal perspective. Consider writing their responses on the board. Then ask students to explain how the principle of examining concepts and questions with an eternal perspective can help us understand more clearly the questions and issues they identified and evaluate them according to the Lord’s standard of truth. As part of your discussion, consider asking follow-up questions such as the following:

  • How does having a spiritual witness, through the power of the Holy Ghost, of the Restoration, the divine calling of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon help you when you are faced with a question regarding the Church?

  • How does knowing that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is a central part of His plan affect your views when societal opinions challenge the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman?

Invite students to share how they or someone they know was able to better understand an idea, a teaching, or a question when they considered it from an eternal perspective. You may also want to share an experience of your own.

Seek Further Understanding through Divinely Appointed Sources

Remind students of the poem based on an ancient parable entitled “The Blind Men and the Elephant” that was read in a statement by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf in part 1 of this “Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge” teaching material. Invite students to explain how this poem illustrates the challenge of discovering and understanding truth.

Invite a student to read aloud principle 3, “Seek Further Understanding through Divinely Appointed Sources,” in the “Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge” section in the Doctrinal Mastery Core Document. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what God has given us to help us discover and understand truth. You may want to suggest that students mark what they find.

  • What has God given us to help us discover and understand truth?

  • What blessings can we receive as we turn to the Lord’s divinely appointed sources of truth? (As part of this discussion, you may want to suggest that students mark the following principle: As we turn to the Lord’s divinely appointed sources for answers and direction, we can be blessed to discern between truth and error.)

  • How does the poem about the blind men and the elephant illustrate the need to turn to divinely appointed sources for answers and direction?

Point out the first sentence of the second paragraph under principle 3, “Seek Further Understanding through Divinely Appointed Sources,” which states, “We can also learn truth through other trustworthy sources.”

  • How can we recognize truth found in other trustworthy sources of information?

  • Why is it important to beware of unreliable sources of information?

Invite students to share examples of how they have been blessed as they have turned to divine sources for answers when they were confronted with a question or issue. You may want to be prepared to share an example of your own.

Consider telling students about (and if possible, showing them) the official Church website mormonnewsroom.org, where the Church clarifies information regarding various issues of public interest related to the Church and corrects partial or incorrect information being spread through the media. Also consider showing students the Church’s Gospel Topics page at topics.lds.org. The Gospel Topics essays contain valuable and forthright information on many difficult historical and doctrinal issues.

Explain that during the school year, in addition to studying the teachings of the New Testament sequentially, they also will be studying the nine doctrinal topics from the Doctrinal Mastery Core Document (which correspond to topics in the Sunday youth curriculum) and the New Testament doctrinal mastery passages associated with each topic. As each topic is studied, they will use the principles of acquiring spiritual knowledge discussed in this lesson to consider real questions, issues, and opportunities for personal application.

Share your testimony about the importance of applying these principles when we are faced with difficult concepts or questions. Assure students that the Lord wants to teach them through His Spirit. As we turn to Him in faith, He will give us answers and provide direction in our lives.

Doctrinal Mastery Review

Consider using the following activity during a separate class session to help students review the New Testament doctrinal mastery passages referred to in parts 1 and 2 of this learning experience on acquiring spiritual knowledge.

Before class, write the following doctrinal mastery passages on the board: John 7:17; 1 Corinthians 2:5, 9–11; 2 Timothy 3:15–17; James 1:5–6.

Have students work in groups of two or three. Assign each group one of the doctrinal mastery passages written on the board. Instruct them to read the passage together in their group and identify the doctrine taught in it.

Invite students to report what they found. (Consider referring to material found earlier in this learning experience or in the associated lessons in the New Testament Seminary Teacher Manual to see examples of how truths related to these scriptures could be stated.)

Next, ask students to work in their groups and select several words from the passage that can be used to best represent the doctrine taught. For example, for James 1:5–6, students might select the words lack, wisdom, ask, and God.

Beginning with the group assigned John 7:17, ask one student from the group to write the words they selected under the reference on the board and to explain why they selected those words. (If more than one group was assigned the same reference, have a student from each group write their words on the board. If the words differ, help the class agree on the words to use.) As a class, repeat the scripture reference and the words on the board. Repeat this for the remaining three scripture passages.

At the beginning of the next several class sessions, consider reviewing these doctrinal mastery passages and the words students selected for each.