Once I came to the realization that the Book of Mormon was everything that the Prophet Joseph said it was, that is, a second witness for Christ, my eyes seemed to open more, each time I read those scriptures.
Now that we know the importance that Christ plays in the eternal scheme of things, we can appreciate more the principle that the Prophet Joseph espoused. That is: The fundamental principles of our religion are those things that are incorporated in the atonement, and everything else is an appendage to it.
The principles now become more clear whether we read the Old Testament and the principles surrounding the altar etc., or the New Testament where the Saviour iterates over and over again in John how He came to do the will of His Father, to say those things that the Father would say, and to do the things the Father would do.
His statements regarding His sheep are made more clear. The things we must do to be saved are made more clear.
Now I would like to share some thoughts that to some may seem quite radical, and to others more reassuring.
In 3Ne:11:32-40 the Saviour lays out His doctrine. Somehow in the Church we have become so focused on works that we miss the principle. (I often wonder if the reason so many saints don’t do missionary work is because they feel the Gospel is so onerous that they will never make it to the Celestial Kingdom, so why should they share this heavy burden with others if it will only make them miserable as well. As a people, we get very depressed very easily.)
The principle is this, as taught by the Saviour in John 6:29. After being asked what they must do to work the works of God, He answered: “…This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.”
Think about that scripture for a minute, and then reflect on what the Saviour said in 3Ne. But wait a minute. Aren’t we supposed to demonstrate that we are following the Saviour by the works we do. Absolutely. But the way we arrive at that point is perfectly illustrated in Lehi’s dream of the Tree of Life.
Notice that the Tree of Life and the Fountain of Living Waters both represent the love of God. If John 3:16 is taken into account here, then we know that the love of God is tied up in the atonement. Alma5:34 says that if we partake “of the fruit of the tree of life; yea, ye shall eat and drink of the bread and the waters of life freely;” .
The whole purpose of Lehi’s dream was to illustrate the coming to Christ and accepting Him.
Alma 32 is a favourite in terms of trying to explain how one gets faith. Notice, though, that the seed we are to plant is not given to us until Alma 33:22 where it states: “…begin to believe in the Son of God, that He will come to redeem His people, and that he shall suffer and die to atone for their sins; and that he shall rise again from the dead, which shall bring to pass the resurrection, that all men shall stand before him, to be judged at the last and judgment day, according to their works.”
If you remember John 6, then look at verses 14-21 in Alma 33.
The way is easy and it is clearly marked. Then what about works?
In Lehi’s dream, his arrival at the tree was a process, but the focus was always on the tree, or in other words, the atonement. Alma 32 and 33 illustrate for us what we need to focus on and the need to stay focused as the children of Israel did when the fiery serpents came among them.
What does this have to do with works? An interesting thing happened to Lehi after he partook of the fruit, or in other words, after he accepted the atonement and internalized it. He wanted to share it.
Once we understand the power that the atonement has in our lives, and the need we have for a Saviour, there is a remarkable transformation that takes place in our lives. We want to live Christ-like lives, not just as duty, but out of the pure love of Christ and what He did for us. Then responsibilities in the Church are not onerous, but rather acts of love. In this way we partake of the joy that Lehi talks about in 2Ne.2:25, where he tells us that “man is that he might have joy.” The fall is illustrated in the first half of that scripture, while the atonement is illustrated in the second half. (It is worth noting that virtually every reference to joy, in the scriptures, is tied to the atonement.)
Once we trust in the Saviour, then His promises become real. Then we have the certitude that our hope is not in vain, but anchored firmly in His love, which is the atonement. Then we become filled with charity, which is the pure love of Christ. Notice in Moroni 8 that faith, hope and charity cannot be separated. Alma 32:35 calls it” light” which ties us back into D&C50:24; D&C84:45; D&C88:13 etc. It’s all atonement stuff.
Now, when we preach the gospel, it becomes a sharing of a great love and blessing that is real_ not the burden so many of us view it as.
Our willingness to do the work of the Lord increases (line upon line etc.) and our willingness to accept the Lord’s plan, and to seek His counsel and guidance in all that we do (without surrendering our agency) increases as well.
So, what is the principle. Not on lecturing each other how to be better home teachers, or mothers, or fathers, and letting everyone feel totally inadequate, but rather on looking to the Saviour and the atonement that He wrought on our behalf. By doing this we invite the Spirit into our lives and He assists in our growth and development. The important point though, as taught by the Saviour in the Parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard, in Matthew 20, is, that all who turn to Him, and accept Him, receive the same reward – eternal life – regardless of where they are on the ladder leading to His kingdom. So, if you’ve been baptized etc., and are doing the best you know how, in spite of your failings and weaknesses, you are going to the Celestial Kingdom_so get over it, and get on with it….and smile.
We can go further in the scriptures to show how each of us is different and not of equal intelligence, but will inherit the same blessings.