Brothers and sisters, it is difficult to express what a surreal experience it is for me to stand at this pulpit and speak at a BYU devotional. For many years I have been somewhat of a BYU devotional junkie. When I was a student here, I discovered that you could purchase cassette tapes of selected devotional talks, and I bought several. I remember well Stephen R. Covey’s talk “An Educated Conscience.”1 Listening to Truman G. Madsen’s talk “House of Glory” was perhaps the best temple preparation I received.2 Nowadays I have the BYU Speeches podcast and listen regularly.
In all my years of listening to these devotionals, it never occurred to me that I would be speaking in one. Since receiving this assignment a few months ago, I have pondered and prayed earnestly to know what the Lord would have me share. As I pondered, I was reminded of these words from President Dieter F. Uchtdorf:
Strength comes . . . from being settled on a firm foundation of truth and light. It comes from placing our attention and efforts on the basics of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. It comes from paying attention to the divine things that matter most.
Let us simplify our lives a little. Let us make the changes necessary to refocus our lives on the sublime beauty of the simple, humble path of Christian discipleship—the path that leads always toward a life of meaning, gladness, and peace.3
We live in days in which the mists of darkness are “exceedingly great.”4 Satan is “the father of lies,”5 and his lies “blindeth the eyes, and hardeneth the hearts of the children of men.”6 One of Satan’s subtle but more pervasive strategies is to distract us from the things that matter most with a never-ending array of mind-numbing trivialities.
With President Uchtdorf’s counsel burning in my heart, I will focus today “on the basics of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ”—“the sublime . . . path of Christian discipleship.” My great desire is for each of us to “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him.”7 My message is centered in that quest and how we can be more diligent, joyful, and successful in that journey.
As you begin a new year and a new semester, I hope that some of what I say will help you focus your goals on “the divine things that matter most.” I invite you to pay close attention to what the Holy Ghost whispers to your heart during our time together. More important than the words I speak, I pray that your hearts and minds will be open to receive light and truth from the Holy Ghost. The light and truth that the Restoration of the fulness of the gospel has brought about can push away all darkness from our minds and lives. We need to remember that the Lord has also described our day as “noon-day.”8
A foundational truth we need to clearly understand is our divine identity. Since you were a child, many of you have been taught and have sung, “I am a child of God, And he has sent me here,”9 and as you have sung and listened, you have felt the Spirit witness this truth to you.
Unfortunately, as with any basic truth that is repeated often, there is a danger that it may become trite. In other words, we say it, hear it, and sing it so frequently that we may not give much thought to what it actually means to be a child of God.
Knowing what it means to be a child of God requires us to come to know God. Only as God is revealed to us through the Holy Ghost can we comprehend the inheritance that can be ours as His children. As God’s glory, attributes, and perfections are revealed to us, the reality of being “sons and daughters, children of a King”10 pierces our hearts and fills us with hope and joy.
However, coming to know God is not for the spiritually lazy. He can only be known through revelation, and powerful personal revelation from the Holy Ghost requires diligent seeking and righteous living.
Joseph Smith said, “It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God.”11 Joseph also gave us insights into the effort required to understand who God is. He said: “The things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out.”12 If we want to know God and His Son, we would do well to turn off our devices, remove other distractions, and spend meaningful time in “careful and ponderous and solemn” thought.
I invite you to be serious about your study of God and your pursuit to truly know Him. He is revealed by His prophets and through the power of the Holy Ghost as we seek Him. “No message appears in scripture more times, and in more ways than, ‘Ask, and ye shall receive.’”13 When I hear this invitation, I hear a loving Father pleading with His children to learn of Him and commune with Him.14
As we come to know God, we begin to really know ourselves and our potential. These two things cannot be separated. Joseph Smith taught, “If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves.”15 As we come to know God—and consequently ourselves—better, we will see more clearly and understand more deeply what it means to be His sons and daughters. We will start to glimpse the profound fact that we have divine DNA within us as well as God’s transcendent promise that we can receive and possess all that He has and is.16
But there is another critical dimension in coming to know God. Just as a shallow understanding of God leads to a shallow understanding of our true identity, a naïve understanding of being God’s children can blind us to the reality of our present state. What will strike you as you come to know God more fully is your current, relative nothingness. That is what happened to Moses when he came to understand His true identity as a son of God. He declared: “Now . . . I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.”17
This confrontation with the reality of our fallen state is also illustrated in King Benjamin’s message to his people. It is important to remember that King Benjamin described his people as being diligent “in keeping the commandments of the Lord.”18 These people were what we might call covenant-keeping Latter-day Saints. As King Benjamin delivered his angelic message, his people saw God and the Son more clearly than they ever had before. This greater understanding of God caused them to view “themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth.”19 The knowledge of God’s goodness, His matchless power, His wisdom, His patience, His long-suffering, and, most significantly, the sacrifice of His Son awakened them to a sense of their “worthless and fallen state.”20
That may not sound like much of a reward for coming to know God better. Don’t we want a God who makes us feel good and builds us up? Yes, but we also want and worship a God of truth, a God who deals not in illusion but in reality, not in niceties but in power and glory. We don’t simply want to know God, we want to become like Him, and until we see ourselves as we really are, we can’t become what He really is.
Thus, to understand our identity, we need to understand the Fall—the reality that King Benjamin’s people finally confronted. President Ezra Taft Benson taught:
Just as a man does not really desire food until he is hungry, so he does not desire the salvation of Christ until he knows why he needs Christ. No one adequately and properly knows why he needs Christ until he understands and accepts the doctrine of the Fall and its effect upon all mankind.21
“The Fall” is how we commonly refer to those events that led to our current condition and the consequent opportunity for our exaltation.22 But to understand the individual nature of the Fall, we need to see it at a personal level. Latter-day revelation teaches that because of Christ’s Atonement, each of us is born into this world pure and innocent.23 But we disobey God, lose our innocence, and become natural or fallen men and women.24 We have each made an independent choice to sin—to hearken to the voice of Satan. We become, in the language of the scriptures, “subject to the will of the devil,”25 which, tragically, becomes our own will.26 In effect, we sell our birthright for a mess of pottage,27 or, like the prodigal son, spend our inheritance in riotous living.28
When we understand that we are children of “the Most High God”29 but also realize that we have made choices that prevent us from returning home, we understand how desperately we need Christ to regain what we have lost. We understand that we need another chance, a way to be born again.
Alma the Younger declared this clearly:
Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters;
And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.30
To our great joy, God has provided a Savior who performed a perfect Atonement and provided a path for us to return home and receive all that He has. His covenant to us, His children, is that despite our inevitable fall, we can be transformed from beings whose impure hearts, desires, and wills cannot abide His presence into sanctified beings who can abide His glory. We can indeed be born again to a glorious inheritance. The robe, the ring, and the fatted calf can be ours again.31
The Doctrine of Christ
But how are we born again? How do we grow in light and truth “until the perfect day”?32 We walk the path God has prepared for us. That path is called “the doctrine of Christ.”33 It is the path that, for you returned missionaries, was the core of your purpose: “faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end.”34
The path is both beautifully simple and yet profoundly deep. The very simplicity of the path and our assumed sophistication can lead us to look beyond the mark, as Nephi’s people did when he masterfully taught this doctrine.35 Our desire for more intricate solutions may be one reason Christ strongly cautioned us with these words:
This is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.
And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock; but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation.36
I hope you will stay with me as we try to see the profound nature of this simple path, for it is through the doctrine of Christ that we access the power of Christ’s Atonement in our lives. It is how we receive the enabling power of grace. It is how we are changed and become “partakers of [His] divine nature.”37
Rather than view the doctrine of Christ as a few items on a lengthy gospel checklist of things to do, I have found it helpful to see the doctrine of Christ as the daily path I walk to come unto Christ.
Faith in Jesus Christ
Faith in Jesus Christ is the first principle of the gospel. Faith in Jesus Christ is the source of every good gift. It is faith that motivates and inspires us to take all the other steps. Why repent or be baptized if we don’t truly believe that Christ, by virtue of His Atonement, can save us from the hopelessness of our fallen state?
You may remember these words from King Benjamin’s people when they confronted the reality of their fallen state: “O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”38 Their “exceeding faith” in Jesus Christ delivered them from their hopeless state and filled their souls with joy.39
We sometimes criticize our evangelical friends for their sole focus on believing in Christ to be saved, but it is through true faith in Christ—and Him alone—that we are saved. The Book of Mormon is a very clear witness of this.40 We must recognize that faith in Christ is not static but that it can grow into exceeding and even perfect faith. Brothers and sisters, we must believe in Christ, and we must believe more than we do now.41
Repent and Obey
A critical and powerful element of the doctrine of Christ is that each step is connected to and motivates the next. Faith always leads to repentance. Samuel the Lamanite taught, “If ye believe on his name ye will repent.”42 And, I would add, the more you believe, the more you will repent. This is simple celestial calculus: true faith in Christ is always “unto repentance.”43
Faith in Christ always leads to repentance because the more we learn of Christ and His character, perfections, and attributes, the more we trust Him and the more willing we are to give up our own agenda for His. We offer a broken heart to receive a new heart. Turning to Christ and following Him more diligently—or obedience—is the essence of repentance.
Sometimes I think we don’t understand repentance. We tend to picture a tearful confession to the bishop regarding a violation of the law of chastity or some other serious transgression. Repentance is certainly needed in such cases. But more often repentance deals with the small and simple things in our lives that need to change. The Lord calls them “things which are not pleasing in my sight.”44 If we want to be holy as He is holy, we need to yield our hearts to Him.45
God knows the next step you need to take in your journey to Him, and if you will ask and listen, He will tell you. As Elder Larry R. Lawrence said in a recent conference talk, the Spirit may surprise you with messages such as clean up your room, stop interrupting,46 or manage distraction in your life and focus more on those around you. All of these are individual invitations to repent. The Holy Ghost will show us all things we should do,47 and my experience is that He always invites me to turn and follow the Savior more closely. That is repentance.
Hugh Nibley shared this gem on repentance:
Who is righteous? Anyone who is repenting. No matter how bad he has been, if he is repenting, he is a righteous man. There is hope for him. And no matter how good he has been all his life, if he is not repenting, he is a wicked man.48
The Lord has said, “Say nothing but repentance.”49 Maybe we should pay more attention to that.
Our repentance leads to and is completed as we make covenants with God in ordinances. In the ordinances of baptism and the sacrament we witness our repentance and commitment to follow God in a physical sign—a “deed for word.”50 Elder D. Todd Christofferson taught, “The renunciation of sin, coupled with our covenant of obedience, completes our repentance; indeed, repentance remains unfinished without that covenant.”51
Significantly, the ordinance of the sacrament confirms our repentance and renews all covenants we have entered into with the Lord, thus becoming a vital conduit for us to receive the power of godliness into our lives.52 Our weekly physical witness of our commitment to remember and obey and of our willingness, even anxiousness, to take Christ’s name upon us is a vital and empowering part of this journey. Through the sacrament we are also reminded that becoming like Christ is a step-by-step process: little by little, week by week, we are transformed.
Receiving the Holy Ghost
Ordinances unlock greater access to the Holy Ghost in our lives. When we understand the doctrine of Christ, our greatest desire is to receive the Holy Ghost.53 Elder David A. Bednar declared:
The commandments from God we obey and the inspired counsel from Church leaders we follow principally focus upon obtaining the companionship of the Spirit. Fundamentally, all gospel teachings and activities are centered on coming unto Christ by receiving the Holy Ghost in our lives.54
In my continuing quest to walk this path, I have been inspired by these words of Elder Bruce R. McConkie:
As starving men crave a crust of bread, as choking men thirst for water, so do the righteous yearn for the Holy Ghost.55
Elder McConkie also said:
There is no price too high . . . , no sacrifice too great, if out of it all we . . . enjoy the gift of the Holy Ghost.56
It is in receiving the Holy Ghost that we receive “the baptism of fire.”57 This baptism removes the effects and the bondage of our sins and sanctifies us.58
The Holy Ghost also imparts to us the fruits and gifts of the Spirit—the attributes and powers of God. Chief among those attributes is His perfect love—charity. “Charity is not an emotion or an action. It is not something we [simply] feel or do. Charity is who the Savior is. It is His most defining and dominant attribute.”59 God’s promise is that the Holy Ghost will fill us with this perfect love.60
C. S. Lewis observed, “After the first few steps in the Christian life we realise that everything which really needs to be done in our souls can be done only by God.”61 It is through the Holy Ghost that God does this marvelous work within us. He gives us a new heart.62
Paul criticized the Saints of his day for their zeal in going about to establish their own righteousness instead of submitting themselves to the righteousness of God.63 At times we may be guilty of this same sin. We need to remember that Christ is “the fountain of all righteousness”64 and that He will impart that righteousness to us through the Holy Ghost. It will then be in us as “a reservoir of living water.”65
With Joseph Smith I testify that “as the Son partakes of the fullness of the Father through the Spirit, so the saints are, by the same Spirit, to be partakers of the same fullness, to enjoy the same glory.”66 Brothers and sisters, I invite you to make receiving the Holy Ghost your “overarching spiritual quest.”67
Enduring to the End
This leads us to the little understood doctrine of enduring to the end. Enduring to the end simply implies that we engage in this cycle “repeatedly and iteratively.”68 We know that we are not transformed into Christlike beings overnight. As Joseph Smith said, “No man ever arrived in a moment.”69 We are changed degree by degree in the process of time as we grow in faith, repent, participate in ordinances, and receive ever-greater endowments of the Spirit in our lives.70 Receiving greater endowments of the Spirit always increases our faith, and the cycle continues.
The Lord describes His course as “one eternal round,”71 but I don’t think He intends for us to just go around in circles. I have found it helpful to visualize this journey not as a linear path but as a continuing upward cycle—a spiral staircase, if you will. This image came to me most clearly when I first saw the spiral staircase in the Nauvoo Temple. This image gives me hope and perspective that I can make the journey to come unto Christ by diligently and repeatedly applying His doctrine in my life. Step by step and degree by degree I can continue in the course of the Lord—His eternal round—and His grace can carry me upward.
I love the perspective and wisdom President Benson provided relative to this journey:
We must be careful, as we seek to become more and more godlike, that we do not become discouraged and lose hope. Becoming Christlike is a lifetime pursuit and very often involves growth and change that is slow, almost imperceptible. The scriptures record remarkable accounts of men whose lives changed dramatically, in an instant, as it were. . . . Such astonishing examples of the power to change even those steeped in sin give confidence that the Atonement can reach even those deepest in despair.
But we must be cautious as we discuss these remarkable examples. Though they are real and powerful, they are the exception more than the rule. For every Paul . . . and for every King Lamoni, there are hundreds and thousands of people who find the process of repentance much more subtle, much more imperceptible. Day by day they move closer to the Lord, little realizing they are building a godlike life. They live quiet lives of goodness, service, and commitment. They are like the Lamanites, who the Lord said “were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.”72
President Benson understood this journey.
Can you see how viewing the doctrine of Christ as a continuing upward cycle can deepen His influence in our lives and bring focus and hope to our journey to be with Him and be like Him? This is the doctrine of Christ and the only way we come unto Him and are perfected in Him.73
There is a final critical aspect of the doctrine of Christ that I must mention. Every process needs fuel to keep it going, and this one is no different. In this case, the word of God provides the fuel. The light of the word ignites our faith and then continues to increase our faith as we feast on and obey it. Speaking of our journey on this path, Nephi testified, “Ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ”; we need to “press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ” if we are to endure to the end.74 Like fuel in our vehicles or carbohydrates in our bodies, we need constant nourishment by the word of God—the iron rod—to move us along the path. Thus the word becomes the center post of our spiral staircase that we hold to as we progress upward.
Because the word brings faith75 and because we need ever-increasing faith for this journey, daily feasting on the words of the scriptures and the living prophets as well as following the personal whisperings of the Holy Ghost are essential to successfully navigating this path. Elder Richard G. Scott understood this when he said, “Feasting on the word of God each day is more important than sleep, school, work, television shows, video games, or social media.”76
Things That Matter Most
Brothers and sisters, I testify that this is the way we are born again and receive the glorious inheritance that is ours as children of the living God. As you begin this new year, I invite you to reevaluate your goals to ensure that you focus on the “simple, humble path of Christian discipleship.”77
I promise that as you do, you will receive grace—the strength that comes from being built on a sure foundation. You will find joy and peace in a journey that increasingly reveals God and His glory. You will see more clearly your divine identity, and you will be filled with hope that you, in fact, can receive all that He has.
I testify with all my heart that Jesus Christ is God’s Almighty Son. This is His doctrine and the only and sure way to come unto Him. In the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.
1. See Stephen R. Covey, “An Educated Conscience,” BYU devotional address, 27 May 1975.
2. See Truman G. Madsen, “House of Glory,” BYU fireside address, 5 March 1972.
3. Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Of Things That Matter Most,” Ensign, November 2010.
4. 1 Nephi 8:23.
5. 2 Nephi 9:9.
6. 1 Nephi 12:17.
7. Moroni 10:32.
8. D&C 95:6.
9. “I Am a Child of God,” Songbook, 2–3.
10. “Called to Serve,” Hymns, 2002, no. 249.
11. Joseph Smith, Teachings, 345; see John 17:3.
12. HC 3:295.
13. Boyd K. Packer, “Reverence Invites Revelation,” Ensign, November 1991.
14. I recommend that in your search to know God you include Professor Andrew C. Skinner’s masterful BYU devotional address “The Nature and Character of God,” 11 April 2006.
15. Joseph Smith, Teachings, 343.
17. Moses 1:10.
18. Mosiah 1:11.
19. Mosiah 4:2.
21. TETB, 28.
25. D&C 29:40.
26. See Mosiah 3:19; 16:2–5, 11–12; Alma 42:7; D&C 29:40–42; 93:39. Joseph Smith taught: “The moment we revolt at anything which comes from God, the Devil takes power” (Teachings, 181; “Account of Meeting and Discourse, 5 January 1841, as Reported by William Clayton,” 8, josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/account-of-meeting-and-discourse-5-january-1841-as-reported-by-william-clayton/5).
27. See Genesis 25:30–34.
28. See Luke 15:11–19.
30. Mosiah 27:25–26. Elder David A. Bednar said:
The ultimate purpose of the gospel [is] to have our hearts changed by the Holy Spirit such that “we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2). . . . This mighty change is not simply the result of working harder or developing greater individual discipline. Rather, it is the consequence of a fundamental change in our desires, our motives, and our natures made possible through the Atonement of Christ the Lord. [“Clean Hands and a Pure Heart,” Ensign, November 2007]
31. See Luke 15:22–24.
32. D&C 50:24.
33. The Book of Mormon teaches this doctrine with great clarity. See 2 Nephi 31–32; 3 Nephi 11:31–41; 27:13–21. It is instructive to note that Christ began and ended His recorded ministry to the Nephites declaring the doctrine of Christ.
34. PMG, 1.
35. See 2 Nephi 31:21–32:7.
36. 3 Nephi 11:39–40; emphasis added.
37. 2 Peter 1:4.
38. Mosiah 4:2; emphasis added.
39. Mosiah 4:3.
41. See John 6:28–29.
42. Helaman 14:13.
43. Alma 34:15–17.
44. D&C 66:3.
45. See Helaman 3:35.
46. See Larry R. Lawrence, “What Lack I Yet?” Ensign, November 2015.
47. See 2 Nephi 32:5.
48. Hugh Nibley, Approaching Zion, vol. 9 of The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley (Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book Company and Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1989), 301.
49. D&C 6:9.
50. “God Loved Us, So He Sent His Son,” Hymns, 2002, no. 187; see also 2 Nephi 31:13–14; Mosiah 18:10; Alma 7:15; also Joseph Smith, Teachings, 198.
52. See D&C 84:20; see also “Understanding Our Covenants with God: An Overview of Our Most Important Promises,” Ensign, July 2012.
53. See 3 Nephi 19:9.
54. David A. Bednar, “Receive the Holy Ghost,” Ensign, November 2010.
55. Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, vol. 2 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1979–81), 122.
56. Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985), 253.
58. See 3 Nephi 27:20.
59. Sheri L. Dew, If Life Were Easy, It Wouldn’t Be Hard and Other Reassuring Truths (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2005), 57; emphasis in original.
60. See Moroni 8:25–26.
61. C. S. Lewis, “Let’s Pretend,” Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1952), 165, book 4, chapter 7.
62. See Ezekiel 36:26–27.
63. See Romans 10:1–4.
67. Bednar, “Receive the Holy Ghost.”
68. Dale G. Renlund, “Latter-day Saints Keep on Trying,” Ensign, May 2015.
69. Joseph Smith, Teachings, 51.
70. See PMG, 6.
72. Ezra Taft Benson, “First Presidency Message: A Mighty Change of Heart,” Ensign, October 1989; quoting 3 Nephi 9:20.
73. See 2 Nephi 31:21.
76. Richard G. Scott, “Make the Exercise of Faith Your First Priority,” Ensign, November 2014.
77. Uchtdorf, “Things That Matter Most.”
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Douglas D. Holmes, first counselor in the Young Men general presidency, delivered this devotional address on January 17, 2017.