Worshiping the True and Living God

Elder Bruce R. McConkie gave many memorable and sharply worded talks in his time as a general authority. In so doing, he made a lot of enemies and was aware that his remarks were frequently greeted with controversy. Nevertheless, he began his talk during the final session of the October 1971 conference by emphasizing that he was going “to give some rather plain and affirmative counsel as to how to worship the Lord.” But Elder McConkie noted the high stakes, as “[t]here is probably more misinformation and error in this field than in any other area in the entire world” and “no other thing as important as knowing who and how we should worship.”

Elder McConkie notes that because we are “spirit children of the Eternal Father” we all have “planted in our hearts an instinctive desire to worship, to seek salvation, to love and serve a power or being greater than ourselves.” The question “is not whether men shall worship, but who or what is to be the object of their devotions . . . ” Indeed, “[w]orship is implicit in existence itself.”

As I read Elder McConkie’s remarks, I thought about my many friends and family members who do not believe in a God at all. In many ways, their lack of faith comes from a failure to truly understand who god is. Rather than coming to know the all powerful and all loving God, they have imagined a capricious and impotent God that is not worthy of worship. And so they have turned to worshiping the things of this world and their self. They have “their chosen Most High” to which they pay their devotions.

 

But only worship of “the true and living God” by “the power of the spirit  and in the way he has ordained” can lead to salvation. If we set up false gods “not founded on eternal truth” we cannot have assurances of salvation. For “[t]here is no salvation in worshiping a false god. It does not matter one particle how sincerely someone may believe that God is a golden calf, or that he is an immaterial, uncreated power that is in all things; the worship of such a being or concept has no saving power.”

And so there is nothing of greater significant than actually coming to know our father in heaven and his son Jesus Christ. We must know that God is “an exalted and perfected personage in whose image we are created.” We must know him intimately as our father. We must develop great and fervent testimony of “his Beloved Son” who was sent “into the world to redeem mankind.” All of these things are prerequisites to salvation. And when we do so, there is a promise that “God Almighty will pour out his Spirit upon [us]” and we will be able to perform great miracles. It is faith in the living God that leads to power unto salvation.

Knowing the nature of our God and our redeemer leads us to “true and perfect worship.” For “true and perfect worship consists in following in the steps of the Son of God.” True worship is expressed in “living and doing and obeying.” It is expressed in “emulating the life of the great Exemplar.” We must “walk in his paths” and “put first in our lives the things of his kingdom.” We must be ready “to live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God.” And many other things. For “[t]rue and perfect worship is in fact the supreme labor and purpose of man.”

But these things cannot be the object of our devotion. We cannot worship obedience or the commandments. We cannot put these things at the center of our faith. Instead, these actions are the natural outpouring of our love for and devotion of our heavenly father and our redeemer.

Moreover, just as obedience and “living the whole law of the whole gospel” follows naturally from correct understanding, so too does disobedience and rebellion follow from a lack of correct understanding. Those who are bitter and angry at the church for teaching a particular commandment or doctrine are ultimately angry because they do not truly understand the God that they worship and his plan of salvation. They have imagined a God that places carnal security over transformative grace. They have built altars to a false notion of God, and sacrifice their faith in “the true and living God” upon that altar.

If true worship follows from understanding the true and living God, then we know what we should focus on when teaching those who have drifted away and become disaffected. For nothing changes our attitudes, beliefs, and conduct more fully than truly coming to know God. And if we are are personally struggling with truly living a commandment, we should ask ourselves this question: In what way is our understanding of the true and living God and his son Jesus Christ lacking?

 

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Here are the other posts based on this session of conference

 

 

Journey through the Book of Mormon: 2 Nephi 28 (Stirred up unto Repentance)

19 For the kingdom of the devil must shake, and they which belong to it must needs be stirred up unto repentance, or the devil will grasp them with his everlasting chains, and they be stirred up to anger, and perish;
20 For behold, at that day shall he rage in the hearts of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good.
21 And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.
22 And behold, others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none—and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance.

Many today get angry or disaffected when they encounter teachings of the Church of Christ which they see as harsh or judgmental. They chaff at standards of morality that seem outdated or unnecessary. And tragically, so many people walk away because they do not believe these things can come of God.

But Nephi reveals the truth. Because we live in Satan’s world, there will come times when gospel teachings are upsetting and cut against what we hold dear. Indeed, as the world further moves away from God’s commandments this dissonance will only increase. When this happens, we have a choice: We can be stirred up to repentance or stirred up to anger. The discontent that we feel can push us to our knees and open our eyes to the dire state of the world, or it can push us to rise up in anger and see fault in God’s kingdom and his messengers. If we do the later, then we are will be kicking against the pricks and fighting against the Kingdom of God.

Satan leads people into that awful state in different ways. Anger, indifference, or denial are equally powerful tools. In our day, we see Satan employing these same tactics to lead people from his Church. Some he provokes to anger and outrage at the injustice that purportedly comes from the commandments. Others he lulls with carnal security and the praise and promises of the world. Increasingly, he pushes people towards moral relativism and the believe that it is judgmental to uphold rigorous standards. All those who fall for Satan’s lies will–gradually or quickly–fall away from the Savior and into the grasp of Satan.

Never has Nephi’s prophecy been more starkly fulfilled than in our day. Never has his warning been more needed. Never have the consequences been more dire.

When the world’s standards

Journey through the Book of Mormon: 2 Nephi 27 (Understanding of their Prudent shall be Hid

Nephi takes a chapter of Isaiah and transforms its meeting in a breathtaking fashion. With the addition of a couple of verses and the reorganization of others Nephi takes Isaiah’s prophecy primarily concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and turns it into a vision of the latter days.

Perhaps the most important addition to this chapter is thus the introductory verse which places this prophecy “in the last days, or in the days of the gentiles.” Now, rather than speaking of the decay of Israel, Nephi is speaking of the gentile nations. As such, his message of a restoration and a “glorious work” is far more poignant.

Nephi adds depth to Isaiah in other ways. For instance, in Verse 5, Nephi/Isaiah emphasize the cause of the deep sleep that is poured upon the people– namely the rejection of prophets and seers. In the original on the other hand, this causal relationship is not nearly as clear. Thus, we gain greater insight through the words of Nephi/Isaiah into the source of the apostasy that fills the land. The powerful description that “this people draw near unto me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their hearts far from me, and their fear towards me is taught by the precepts of men” is framed in light of the unwillingness to listen to God and his prophets. For failing to hearken to the living prophets also leads to apostasy and to decay.

Because Nephi more throughly describes the decayed condition of the people, the pathos that comes from the discovery of the book that comes as if from the dirt is also more profound. This book will confound the learned who believe they are wise and therefore do not learn from God. It will cry out from the dust and help bring people back to their maker. “[F]or the wisdom of their wise and learned shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent shall be hid.” The work of God will be marvelous and wonderful to those who listen, but for those who ignore it, it will become like a snare and a source of offense. God’s plan of restoration is perfectly calibrated to test the hearts of man and see who will truly listen and who will walk away.

 

Journey through the Book of Mormon: 2 Nephi 26 (Free for All Men)

Nephi speaks eloquently of God’s love for all mankind and his willingness to save and exalt all his children.

23 For behold, my beloved brethren, I say unto you that the Lord God worketh not in darkness.
24 He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation.

27 Hath he commanded any that they should not partake of his salvation? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but he hath given it free for all men; and he hath commanded his people that they should persuade all men to repentance.
28 Behold, hath the Lord commanded any that they should not partake of his goodness? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but all men are privileged the one like unto the other, and none are forbidden.

33 and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.

These words should instantly dispell any accusations of racism or bigotry against the Book of Mormon. Nephi the same author who described a curse of blackness coming upon his wicked brethren here definitively declared that God loves everyone without exception.

God doesn’t want the way back to him to be hidden and mysterious. He doesn’t require hidden wisdom or secret knowledge. He merely requires an obedient heart and a willingness to hearken unto him. He does not hide the way. Instead, he declares it openly through prophets and apostles. And he wants every soul to know the way for his or her self. He therefore sends his spirit to all who seek him.

All men are equally privileged to receive salvation. Temporary positions of status in his Church or kingdom are not eternal marks of salvation or damnation. Marital status is not a mark of salvation or damnation. All he requires is obedience and repentance. If we come unto him, we will eventually be transformed to be like him through the power of his atonement. And every blessing will eventually be ours thanks to his redemptive and infinite sacrifice.

Sometimes, we think of God as one playing favorites or seeking to exclude. But nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is that only we can exclude ourselves from the love of God through our willful disobedience and refusal to repent.

Journey through the Book of Mormon: 2 Nephi 26 (The Words Which He Shall Speak)

1 And after Christ shall have risen from the dead he shall show himself unto you, my children, and my beloved brethren; and the words which he shall speak unto you shall be the law which ye shall do.

On my mission, we had one investigator who got tripped up because he strongly believed in sabbath day worship and refused to accept why we worshiped on Sunday. He had other concerns such as the use of leavened bread in the sacrament. He simply could not accept the notion that God could give a different set of commandments for our day than had been given to ancient Israel.

I tried to teach him the principle that Nephi teaches to his people here. Christ is the lawgiver. He is the God of Israel. And so the words that he teaches are the law that we are to follow. While there is some conduct that is inherently wicked, much sin stems not from inherent evil, but from the act of wilful disobedience to the commands of God. If we want to be on the path back to him, one of the most important skills to develop is a willingness to actually listen to what he says to us today rather than cling to an ancient revelation which has been superceded.

Nephi had seen that the Jews would reject Christ and cling to dead law. He likely feared that at least some of his people would do the same. And he saw that many in our day would fall into that same trap

Journey through the Book of Mormon: 2 Nephi 25 (The Right Way)

28 And the words which I have spoken shall stand as a testimony against you; for they are sufficient to teach any man the right way; for the right way is to believe in Christ and deny him not; for by denying him ye also deny the prophets and the law.

29 And now behold, I say unto you that the right way is to believe in Christ, and deny him not; and Christ is the Holy One of Israel; wherefore ye must bow down before him, and worship him with all your might, mind, and strength, and your whole soul; and if ye do this ye shall in nowise be cast out.

I love Nephi’s repetition here of the refrain ” the right way is to believe in Christ and deny him.”  Nephi emphasizes that all of the things in his record testify of that truth. And then in order to ensure that we do cannot miss or ignore his point, he repeats again the same line. And then he goes on to emphasize our need to love Christ and worship him with all our heart might mind and strength. Nephi didn’t want anyone reading his words to miss the mark or lose sight of the savior.

Journey through the Book of Mormon: 2 Nephi 25 (No Other Messiah)

16 And after they have been scattered, and the Lord God hath scourged them by other nations for the space of many generations, yea, even down from generation to generation until they shall be persuaded to believe in Christ, the Son of God, and the atonement, which is infinite for all mankind—and when that day shall come that they shall believe in Christ, and worship the Father in his name, with pure hearts and clean hands, and look not forward any more for another Messiah, then, at that time, the day will come that it must needs be expedient that they should believe these things.
17 And the Lord will set his hand again the second time to restore his people from their lost and fallen state. Wherefore, he will proceed to do a marvelous work and a wonder among the children of men.
18 Wherefore, he shall bring forth his words unto them, which words shall judge them at the last day, for they shall be given them for the purpose of convincing them of the true Messiah, who was rejected by them; and unto the convincing of them that they need not look forward any more for a Messiah to come, for there should not any come, save it should be a false Messiah which should deceive the people; for there is save one Messiah spoken of by the prophets, and that Messiah is he who should be rejected of the Jews.

Nephi ends his long block of Isaiah scriptures by noting that many of his contemporaries and also many others would trip over the symbolism and hidden meaning of Isaiah and miss the mark. Accordingly, in this chapter he hoped to prophecy to his descendants so clearly that they could not misunderstand.

This implies that even among those who had followed Lehi out of Jerusalem, confusing and uncertainty regarding the identity of the savior remained. Nephi was ,with good reason, afraid that among his descendants would be many who would focus on the law of Moses rather than the savior, and who would not recognize the savior when he came–as would the Jews in Jerusalem. Jacob’s battle with Sherem confirms that Nephi had cause for concern. Nephi worried that teaching his sons the learning of the Jews would lead to the same narrow and legalistic thinking that he saw would lead the house of Israel to reject it

Even though Nephi knew that one day all of Israel would come to know Christ, he longed for his descendants to continually enjoy the choice blessings of following Christ. That is why he bore one of the most straightforward witnesses of the savior:

“19 For according to the words of the prophets, the Messiah cometh in six hundred years from the time that my father left Jerusalem; and according to the words of the prophets, and also the word of the angel of God, his name shall be Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
20 And now, my brethren, I have spoken plainly that ye cannot err. And as the Lord God liveth that brought Israel up out of the land of Egypt, and gave unto Moses power that he should heal the nations after they had been bitten by the poisonous serpents, if they would cast their eyes unto the serpent which he did raise up before them, and also gave him power that he should smite the rock and the water should come forth; yea, behold I say unto you, that as these things are true, and as the Lord God liveth, there is none other name given under heaven save it be this Jesus Christ, of which I have spoken, whereby man can be saved.”

Nephi knew that when it comes to knowledge of the Savior, he could not afford to obscure his testimony. Only words of plainness could make the coming of Christ clear to those who heard his words.

I imagine that Nephi must have gloried in the promise that his words and the words of his descendants would be an instrument in redeeming those of Israel that would lose sight of the Messiah. His words would help those before Christ know that he must come, but also help those who came after his coming know that he was the awaited one.

Today, Jews across the world still long for the coming of the Messiah. They sing of him and shout praises to him. But there can be no Messiah aside from Jesus Christ. He is the one anointed from the start of the world to come and redeem the world and particularly the house of Israel. How tragic that those who await him do not recognize their Lord and King. And yet, one day every knee shall bow and tongue confess. And Nephi’s testimony has been instrumental in helping many of the house of Israel come to know their savior. I am grateful to him for his witness.