It is difficult to conceive of a true disciple of the Savior who has not come to a personal confrontation with the Master. A true disciple must, in deep earnest, search to fathom the meaning of Christ for himself. Have you experienced such a confrontation? Are you willing to examine Jesus’ words and claims and then honestly ask yourself what meaning for your life lies hidden in these teachings? Jesus’ message, after all, was a universal proclamation. He spoke not only to his contemporaries but to men throughout all time and space. His manner of address was to say, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden” (Matt. 11:28), or “Whosoever heareth these sayings of mine and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man” (Matt. 7:24). Jesus is, therefore, in reality, speaking across the centuries to each of us, inviting those who will hear to “believe on me,” “receive me,” “come unto me,” “keep my commandments.” His words are a ceaseless warning to our complacency.
Two immense challenges face a person who comes to Christ. He sees, practically on every page of scripture, an indictment of his present way of life. In a word, he hears a call to a new and higher way of living. Secondly, he learns that the person making the call is no ordinary man. Jesus announced that he was the long-awaited Jewish Messiah; he stated that the scriptures bore witness of him; he accepted Peter’s identification of him as “the Christ, the son of the living God.” (Matt. 16:16.) He did not regard his message as simply good advice or interesting ethical speculation but as God’s absolute truth! “The words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself,” declared Jesus, “but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.” (John 14:10.) His ringing statement to Pilate was: “For this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth.” (John 18:37.) He characterized as wise those who lived his teachings and as foolish anyone who only listened. (see Matt. 7:24–27.)
Many men have spoken with authority, many have propounded interesting ethical theories, but none has stirred our hearts and minds quite like Jesus. We are compelled to admit that “never has man spoken like this man.” (John 7:46.)
An awareness of Christ’s amazing claims places the would-be disciple at the crossroads. It is imperative that he make some kind of response. Can he accept Christ for what he claims to be? To do so means that his life can never be the same again. Christ, if his divinity is accepted, becomes the most important personality of history. The way of life he taught and exemplified is the way God would have us live. If, on the other hand, a person is to reject Jesus, he should be certain that he has valid reasons for so doing, for Christ taught that rejecting him was equivalent to rejecting the Father! (see John 14:6; Luke 10:16.)
To accept Jesus as the Christ brings one face to face with the demands of his teachings, demands that constitute a new way of living. The great apostle Paul put it this way: “Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Cor. 5:17.) What is this new life? It can be condensed into three basic personal challenges: (1) First, Jesus’ followers are asked to transform their own character; (2) The second step is to develop a meaningful relationship with God; (3) The third is to devote oneself to a life of loving service to God and man. Let’s examine each of these in some detail.
The bulk of Jesus’ teachings is concerned with a new standard of behavior best summarized in his incomparable Sermon on the Mount. This new law is far superior to the terrestrial law of Moses. Under the old code murder was prohibited; Jesus forbids anger and name-calling. (See Matt. 5:21–22.) Even worship of God is improper unless accompanied with harmonious relationships with one’s fellowmen. (See Matt. 5:23–24.) Instead of seeking revenge for every evil done to him, a true disciple will “turn the other cheek” in the spirit of forbearance and forgiveness. (See Matt. 5:38–42.) The attitude of love is the most important principle governing man’s relationship to man. The love Jesus asked for was far above that normally practiced. It was to extend beyond the limits of one’s own crowd, religion, race, or social group. (See Matt. 5:43–48.) Even one’s enemies were to be treated with loving consideration!
This celestial law requires that one respect the opposite sex so that even lustful thoughts are foreign to the mind. (See Matt. 5:27–30.) Marriage should be an indissoluble and sacred union. (See Matt. 5:31–32.) A disciple should be rigorously honest (see Matt. 5:33–37), an example to nonbelievers (see Matt. 5:14–16), and sincere in all his religious acts. Just performing the right act is insufficient; he must also possess the proper motive. (See Matt. 6:1–18.)
A disciple should “seek first things first,” have proper goals and priorities. The kingdom of God should be sought before material possessions. Jesus said that an inordinate desire for riches can bring numerous sins in its wake. “Take heed and beware of covetousness,” Jesus advised, “for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” (Luke 12:15.)
Christian living also requires a whole-souled commitment of one’s energies to the kingdom. Jesus taught that we must seek first the kingdom of God, that we should love God with all our hearts, mights, minds, and strengths, and that loyalty to Christ comes before loyalty to family, parents, and even self. (See Luke 14:26–33.)
As the Savior’s teachings are studied, one cannot help but feel a little overwhelmed at the enormity of the task of renovating one’s character to conform with this new standard. It is a great comfort to realize at this point God’s patience and love for sinners. The beautiful parable of the Prodigal Son informs us of our Heavenly Father’s willingness to forgive those who take the initiative to return to him. Another consideration is the thought that the Christian life is as much a process as a final goal; it is an ongoing process of the soul. Consistent progress toward total perfection rather than total perfection itself is probably what is expected of us, at least in this life.
The potential disciple is also heartened to learn that the scriptures not only set up a new standard for him to follow but outline a technique, or method, by which he can bring about this transformation of self. This method is what we designate as the first principles and ordinances of the gospel. When one responds affirmatively to this call to live a new life, he will first desire to learn of Christ. His learning, if done thoroughly and properly, will lead him to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. If faith is genuine, the person will begin to change his behavior to conform with Jesus’ teachings; in other words, he begins the process of repentance. He will make a covenant through baptism (and repeat it weekly in the sacrament) to follow Christ and keep his commandments. Inevitably, he will find himself needing the assistance of a superior power. He lacks the motivation, the will, the strength to do the job himself. The gift of the Holy Ghost is therefore an absolute necessity in bringing to pass his character reformation. If one will receive the Holy Ghost, he can experience a “mighty change of heart,” he can tap a source of divine energy that will increase his powers to live the celestial law.
These basic principles, if diligently applied, will make us new persons. The learning and faith steps will remodel our personal philosophy of life, our beliefs. Repentance, baptism of the water, and the gift of the Spirit will change our inner attitudes and behavior patterns. We will discover that we have become, in a very real sense, “new creatures.”
At this juncture a disciple will find himself well on the way to fulfilling the second great challenge of Christian living—that of establishing a loving relationship with God. The single most important commandment is to love our Heavenly Father. (See Mark 12:28–30.) Jesus was certainly a worthy example of this attitude. From his first recorded words—“wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business” (Luke 2:49)—to his last—“Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46)—he manifested a complete loyalty to his Father’s work. Despite his personal ability and intelligence, he had no spirit of independent self-sufficiency. He constantly sought out the will of his Father in all undertakings. His relationship with his Father was very real, intimate, and a constant source of inspiration and guidance. Surely when we begin to sense our Heavenly Father’s love for us, when we realize it is his “work and his glory to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39), prayer will cease to be a duty and become a sacred privilege. Our hearts will overflow with gratitude for that holy being whose utmost concern is for our welfare and eternal happiness. We will begin to realize the meaning of real worship and communion. We will desire above all else to unite our efforts with his purposes—his will will become our will.
A disciple is now well equipped to accomplish the third great challenge, namely, to devote himself to a life of useful service. He now has strong convictions and goals; he possesses a warm, caring personality; and he feels a deep love for God and for people. These emotions and convictions will naturally find concrete expression in service. The final, and possibly most important, measure of a true Latter-day Saint is whether he lives selfishly for his own needs or whether he lives for others. Jesus informed us that greatness in the kingdom of God is determined by one’s service. The mother of James and John once made a selfish request of the Lord. “When the kingdom is finally established in its power,” she asked, “allow my sons to rule at your side.” Here was an opportunity to teach an important lesson. Jesus gathered the disciples around him and said that in the world of the gentiles those are considered great who sit in positions of power and prestige, “but it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you,” he continued, “let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.” Jesus then gave himself as an example by saying that he had not come into the world “to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:20–28.) What a lesson! It should also be stressed that service, as Jesus meant it, included concern for one’s temporal and emotional needs as well as spiritual needs. (See Matt. 25:31–46; Luke 15:11–32; and Mosiah 4:26.) He was conscious of the total man, of his every need.
There are so many ways to serve—in one’s ward or community, as parents, missionaries, neighbors, etc. Indeed, the problem for most good Latter-day Saints is not that of finding service to render but of finding the time to serve in ways that would be of most value to the kingdom and to others. It is not an easy thing to decide what are the most beneficial ways to use one’s time. Those who embark in the service of God may need to experiment a bit; they will need to be strong in the face of discouragements, frustrations, fatigue, and difficulties. And yet, if they continue to pursue selfless lives of service, it will soon be clear to them what the Savior meant when he declared, “Whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.” (Mark 8:35.)
Let it be concluded that this article and others like it are only a preliminary to the Christian life, only a preface to moral action. Theories and convictions must be translated into concrete activity. We must ask ourselves, seriously and honestly, what these teachings mean to us now in terms of the great needs of the Church and society today.