This conference so far has been an absolute delight. So many sermons have stood out to me with clarity and power. One of my absolute favorites was delivered by Elder Dale G. Renlund at the conclusion of the Saturday Morning Session.
There are three themes from Elder Renlund’s talk that stood out to me and that I want to write about briefly. First, the relationship between distance and spiritual entitlement. Second, how our desire to sin is reduced as we draw closer to the Savior. And third, the role that sacred ordinances play in the process of drawing closer to God.
Distance and Entitlement
Elder Renlund spoke about the relationship between our distance from our father in heaven and our sense of spiritual entitlement. He noted, that the more distant we are from our Father in Heaven, the more likely we are to voice grievances and to see unfairness in our circumstances in life. At first glance, this seems wholly contradictory. Surely, those who are closer to God would be those who feel entitled to blessings for their obedience.
But when we consider examples in the scriptures and in our own lives, Elder Renlund’s teaching ring’s true. He used the story of Nephi and Laman and Lemuel, but we can find many other instances in the scriptures where those who were unfaithful also felt particularly entitled to blessing and protection from Heavenly Father. For instance, the people in the days of Isaiah and Lehi felt that because they were “chosen” they were entitled to God’s protection. They felt this was the case irrespective of their spiritual standing or willingness to live righteously. Christ also strongly condemned those hypocritical Pharisees who made long prayers as a sign of righteousness, but devoured the widows mite and were distant from God. In our day, Joseph Smith was warned of those in the world who “draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”
In contrast, there are many examples of the righteous bearing indignity with long-suffering. From Job to Joseph Smith, the scriptures are replete with such exemplars who understood and did not murmur. And of course, we can consider as Elder Renlund did, the matchless example of the Savior who suffered without cause and yet bore his suffering for our sake. Self-righteousness and entitlement truly are inversely correlated with our relationship to God.
Our Desire to Sin
Just as entitlement and Self-righteousness dissipate as we draw closer to God, so too does our desire and disposition to Sin. When we are distant from God, we are likely to expect him to excuse us in our sins. For after all, we think we deserve mercy and grace. And we see our selves as righteous and deserving of salvation. But as we realize the price that our redeemer paid to redeem us of our sins, we cease to think of grace as cheap or cost free. We realize that when we sin, we add to the burden borne by the Savior in Gethsemane. We realize also that we are hopelessly in need of redeeming grace. Without God’s mercy, we are truly reprobate and the worst of sinners. This recognition pushes us to repentance and true change. We no longer take for granted the many drops of blood which were shed for us.
The Role of Ordinances
Elder Renlund spoke of ordinances, particularly the sacrament, as the vehicles by which we can draw closer to the savior and gain a greater appreciation for his redemptive sacrifice.
I loved his example of the sacrament being administered personally for a woman who the deacons had accidentally forgotten. One of the most tender experiences on my mission came as we would weekly go to the home of an elderly sister in her 90’s and administer the sacrament to her. She was one of the most humble and faithful individuals I have ever met. And each week, she would radiate such joy and gratitude as we brought her the emblems of the Lord’s supper. From her, I learned so much about the sacred importance of the sacrament. Each week, that ordinance is an opportunity to remember our savior and to improve ourselves through his grace and through the power of the Holy Ghost.
The other ordinances of the Gospel are likewise essential. I have especially felt the healing and sanctifying power of the holy temple. Every time I go to the temple, I feel my nature incrementally improved and feel myself drawing nearer to God. I am grateful for the ability to go frequently to the temple and to again and again participate in those sacred ordinances. And I am grateful to weekly partake of the sacrament and reflect on the atonement of the savior. These ordinances point me to Christ and draw me closer to God.