Who is Jesus Christ? This question concerning the identity of the Savior has intrigued me for some time because of my association with so many nonbelievers. As a professor at a state university where there are very few Latter-day Saints, I frequently have opportunities for discussions concerning religion in general and our Church in particular. Having encountered a great deal of skepticism among my students and my faculty colleagues, I have often found myself defending the spiritual nature of Jesus Christ. Thus the question—Who is Jesus Christ?—has assumed an important role in my life.
Jesus himself recognized the importance of this question when he asked his apostles: “Whom say ye that I am?” The Savior knew full well that how one answers that question helps to determine one’s position not only in mortality but throughout eternity.
Basically, the question has been answered in two ways:
1. Jesus was merely a man, a great teacher and social philosopher, but nevertheless a man.
2. Jesus is the Son of God, the Only Begotten in the flesh.
Let us consider these two basic answers in a more comprehensive fashion. First, let us examine the answer that asserts that Jesus was a man, a philosopher and a teacher. A current example of this point of view, and one that I personally find quite shocking, has been presented in a book by Hugh J. Schonfield. In his book, The Passover Plot, Schonfield maintains that Jesus’ supposed crucifixion and resurrection was a clever, deliberate hoax. Thus, in his attempt to depict Jesus as a mere mortal, Schonfield chooses to belittle the Christ and to make him not only a man, but a man capable of evil and deceit.
Mr. Schonfield, of course, is not alone in maintaining this point of view. The entertainment world has added its voices to the chorus proclaiming that Jesus is a man, not the Son of God.
Sadly enough, theologians and many so-called Christian ministers have adopted similar philosophies. Far too many ministers devote their time and talent to explaining their doubts about Jesus rather than preaching concerning their faith in him.
This point came forcibly to mind when I was serving as a bishop. A bishop in a small town in Arizona called me and explained that one of his ward members was coming to my area to attend her brother’s funeral. Desiring her to have the strength of the Church in this time of need, he asked if I would accompany her to the funeral. I agreed and attended the service, held in a funeral home and conducted by a local Protestant minister. Expecting to hear words of comfort, I was shocked to hear expressions of doubt and confusion about the role and mission of Jesus Christ. Clearly this man lined up on the side of the proposition that Jesus was a mere man.
And what of the other response to the question? Those who recognize that Jesus is above the stature of mortal man have employed many terms to describe him. Surely one of the most beautiful statements concerning his identity is found in the book of Isaiah. In Isaiah 9:6 [Isa. 9:6] we read that he shall be called “Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”
But how may one know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God? How can mortal man with all of his frailties and limitations know of a surety that Jesus is the Son of God?
On the basis of my experience it seems to me that there are several steps in coming to know for a certainty that Jesus is the Son of God. These steps include:
1. Studying the scriptures.
2. Heeding the advice and counsel of modern-day prophets and Church leaders.
3. Applying the teachings of Jesus.
4. Praying and fasting.
5. Being influenced by the Holy Ghost.
6. Giving willing service to others.
Concerning point one, studying the scriptures, I refer, of course, to the standard works: the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. It is interesting to note that each of these books of scripture contains an admonition to study its pages in order to find spiritual truth concerning the divine nature of Jesus Christ and all other matters of spiritual importance. For example, in the Bible we read in John 5:39, “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.”
My patriarchal blessing admonishes me to “never cease studying the gospel.” In my experience, when I have followed that advice, I have been much closer to our Father in heaven and much closer to a true knowledge of Jesus Christ than I have been when that advice has been ignored.
Another step in learning that Jesus is the Son of God is to heed the advice and counsel of modern-day prophets and Church leaders. Here we as Mormons have a distinct advantage. We do not need to rely totally upon the words of ancient prophets. Men in our own time who understand our particular needs have also testified of the divine nature of Jesus Christ. Beginning with Joseph Smith and continuing with each of the prophets in this dispensation, even to the present prophet, Spencer W. Kimball, we have been given convincing testimony concerning the divinity of Jesus Christ. We have on the earth today special witnesses for Christ, and their counsel and advice will help us to have a correct understanding of him and his mission.
Another step in coming to know that Jesus is the Son of God is one suggested by the Savior in John 7:16–17:
“Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me.
“If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”
What Jesus is saying is, don’t take my word for it. You go and live the gospel. Put it to the test. Then and only then, will you know if these things are true. The Savior challenges us to test the gospel—to live it.
Again, drawing upon my own experience, I would suggest to you that those who truly live the principles of the gospel are those who know of a surety that Jesus is the Son of God. And, furthermore, with this knowledge they are happier and more fulfilled than people without this knowledge.
Another step in obtaining a knowledge of Christ’s divinity is through prayer and fasting. Prayer and fasting are keys that unlock the heavens, and yet all too frequently they are keys we put aside or fail to use. Elder Bruce R. McConkie has written: “There is nothing in the gospel that is better designed to keep the attention of men centered on God, on righteousness, and on their duties than is prayer.” If this be true, then what better way is there to obtain or renew the knowledge that Jesus is the Son of God?
But prayer alone will not suffice. To prayer we must add fasting. The scriptures are replete with reasons for fasting. First of all, as we learn in the Doctrine and Covenants 59:13–14 [D&C 59:13–14], fasting is an obligation—a commandment, if you will.
And we read in the Book of Mormon, Alma 5:46, that fasting is a source of testimony. Ponder Alma’s account of his experience with prayer and fasting:
“I have fasted and prayed many days that I might know these things of myself. And now I do know of myself that they are true; for the Lord God hath made them manifest unto me by his Holy Spirit.”
This fact was brought forcibly to mind in August of 1958 when I was in Hamburg, Germany, attending a district missionary conference. Presiding at the conference was Elder Henry D. Moyle, then of the Council of the Twelve. We had a question-and-answer session, and one of the missionaries asked a question in which he referred to President David O. McKay as the head of the Church. Elder Moyle interrupted him and in a very forceful manner stated that Jesus Christ was the head of the Church, not David O. McKay. The significant point here is that Elder Moyle knew that Jesus is the Son of God, that he lives, even today, and that he stands at the head of this church.
Fasting is not only a source of knowledge, but a means of attaining other spiritual goals as well. The great power of fasting was demonstrated to our family when I was only 16 years old. Mother had become seriously ill. Medical diagnosis revealed that she had cancer. Furthermore, if the malignant cells were not removed she would die. The only chance was an operation that had been performed only rarely before. My father called the family together and asked if my brothers and sisters and I would be willing to pray and fast for mother. Of course we agreed and began an extended period of fasting. During the fast mother was administered to and in the blessing was promised that she would live to raise her children. The operation was a success. When my mother died in 1969, my youngest sister was 20 years old. Truly the power of fasting is remarkable.
Another important point in obtaining a knowledge that Jesus is the Son of God is to be willing to be subject to the influence of the Holy Ghost. The point is, it depends upon us. The Holy Ghost is ready at all times to assist us but can only do so when we are worthy to receive such assistance. President Joseph Fielding Smith in his book Seek Ye Earnestly admonished us to keep the commandments to be worthy to receive the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
And what may we learn from the influence of the Holy Spirit? In Moroni 10:5 [Moro. 10:5], we read: “And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.” Certainly “all things” would include the truth concerning Jesus Christ—a knowledge and testimony of his divinity.