In the course of some research I was completing for my new book I came across an analogy that I really liked. As humans we are created by God, in his image. As such we have a divinity within us. When we are born we receive the light of Christ; we are called to be his light to the world. The Doctrine and Covenants teaches:
And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things (D&C 88:67).
To receive of God’s light within us we need to be open to him, and receive his grace in all that we do, and all that we are. The analogy that I found surrounded a mirror and its relationship to God’s light:
…the human spirit, unless assisted by the spirit of faith, does not become acquainted with the divine secrets and the heavenly realities. It is like a mirror which, although clear, polished and brilliant, is still in need of light. Until a ray of the sun reflects upon it, it cannot discover the heavenly secrets.
The analogy suggests that we are unique among all of creation in reflecting the attributes of God. Each one of us can reflect the attributes in a way that they are able to clean the mirrors that are within their hearts. This cleansing, or development of attributes takes place through prayer, through study of the scriptures, and through a living of Gospel principles. As we transform ourselves we are able to transform society. This gives us a greater responsibility to love; to love God and to love others. There is also the possibility that if we do bad things, or fail to do good things, we can tarnish the mirror and God finds it harder to reflect his attributes through us. This reminds me of the passage in Alma, where he asks:
And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts? (Alma 5:14).
How do we ensure that the mirror remains clear, polished and brilliant to properly reflect our divine identity and the attributes of the God whom we worship? If we switch to another analogy that is used within the scriptures; the Prophet Isaiah teaches us:
Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool (Isaiah 1:16-18).
Again, linking with passages in the Book of Mormon:
I say unto you, ye will know at that day that ye cannot be saved; for there can no man be saved except his garments are washed white; yea, his garments must be purified until they are cleansed from all stain, through the blood of him of whom it has been spoken by our fathers, who should come to redeem his people from their sins (Alma 5:21).
And, behold, they are righteous forever; for because of their faith in the Lamb of God their garments are made white in his blood (1 Nephi 12:10-11).
Here, our garments, which should be pure white, are scarlet. Sister Eubank, at the April 2019 General Conference, explained why this analogy is so impactful:
The scarlet dye of the Old Testament was not only colourful but also colourfast, meaning that its vivid colour stuck to the wool and would not fade no matter how many times it was washed.14 Satan wields this reasoning like a club: white wool stained scarlet can never go back to being white. But Jesus Christ declares, “My ways [are] higher than your ways,” and the miracle of His grace is that when we repent of our sins, His scarlet blood returns us to purity. It isn’t logical, but it is nevertheless true.
“Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” The Lord says emphatically: he or she “who has repented of … sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.” In essence: Come, let us reason together. You made mistakes; all come short. Come unto me and repent. I will remember the sin no more. You can be whole again. I have a work for you to do. Christ makes wool white.
By ourselves, we cannot polish our mirror, or wash the scarlet stain of our sins away. We have to rely on the grace of our Saviour, found in his atonement.
In a further aspect of my research I found the idea of sin as being something that weighs our soul down. Our soul is constantly seeking to be free, but that our sins are things that weigh it down, and keep us anchored to the ground. In this idea, there are two actions that need to be taken when we recognise that this is happening:
- We need to stop the accumulation of more sins, that will weigh our soul down.
- We need to remove the sins/weight that is already attached.
Within the Gospel of Jesus Christ this happens only in, and through, the atonement of the Saviour Jesus Christ. If I take them in reverse order; we have our sins removed, or washed white as we realise the depth of our sin, and the necessity of repentance. The Prophet, Russell M Nelson addressed just this issue at April’s Conference:
“Does everyone need to repent?” The answer is yes.
Too many people consider repentance as punishment—something to be avoided except in the most serious circumstances. But this feeling of being penalized is engendered by Satan. He tries to block us from looking to Jesus Christ, who stands with open arms, hoping and willing to heal, forgive, cleanse, strengthen, purify, and sanctify us….
Thus, when Jesus asks you and me to “repent,” He is inviting us to change our mind, our knowledge, our spirit—even the way we breathe. He is asking us to change the way we love, think, serve, spend our time, treat our wives, teach our children, and even care for our bodies.
Nothing is more liberating, more ennobling, or more crucial to our individual progression than is a regular, daily focus on repentance. Repentance is not an event; it is a process. It is the key to happiness and peace of mind. When coupled with faith, repentance opens our access to the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
This is most clearly shown in the example of Alma the Younger in the scriptures:
But I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins…. And now, for three days and for three nights was I racked, even with the pains of a damned soul. And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world. Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death. And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more. And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain! (Alma 36:12, 16-20).
Perhaps Alma’s experience was so stark because he had extremes to undergo. He had sinned to the nth degree, requiring equally miraculous cleansing. I’m not so sure about this; for sure we all have different sins, but the cleansing is just as miraculous and effective. As I pondered about the woman caught in adultery this week found in John 8, which will form some of our Come Follow Me study this week, I was led to some impressions about what isn’t found in the scriptural account. This lady is brought to the Saviour because she “was taken in adultery, in the very act” (John 1:4). We know the rest of story, and that the Saviour invites those without sin to cast the first stone. The only words that the woman speaks is in response to the Saviour’s question: “where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord” (John 8:10-11). Nothing is said of her thoughts or feelings. As I pondered this, I got the distinct impression, and these are only my thoughts, that being in the presence of Christ she felt not only of his love, but also a contrition for her actions. For that reason he could say “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” (john 8:11). We know this is possible because as Elder Kyle S. McKay taught at Conference:
Above all, God’s love is immediate. With Paul, I testify that nothing can “separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus.” Even our sins, though they may separate us from His Spirit for a time, cannot separate us from the constancy and immediacy of His divine paternal love.
Repentance should not be easy, it is harrowing- we are purified through the blood of the Saviour by fire. By not easy- I mean it should not be done thoughtlessly. On occasion I have been known in my night time prayers, to utter the words: “Please forgive me for anything that I may have done wrong today”. I’m kind of going for a catch all, and repentance almost became a throwaway line with little thought. Although, I may still use this line on occasion it is always in addition to a thought process that tries to identify any specific things that I have done during the day, and did not immediately repent of. Only through taking effort to repent, do I feel that the Lord will forgive me of my sins.
The second part of the liberation of our soul from sins is to stop the accumulation of new sins. Unfortunately, this is difficult, and why we must truly repent every day of our lives. We strive to bring our lives into alignment with the will of the Father and the Son. We do this by following the promptings of the Holy Ghost; twice in the last General Conference, the following quote was shared from President Nelson:
…in coming days, it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting, and constant influence of the Holy Ghost.
Let me speak very clearly as your Bishop at this time. I think, in this area, we can all do better, and be better. I have sat with many people over the last four years who are content to live below their privileges. As I think about my own relationship with God, I may also be one of those people. We have perhaps found a plateau in our lives where things are going fairly well, we’re not guilty of any heinous sins and nothing particularly bad is happening. But we have become ‘at ease in Zion”; we have become fairly content and see no need to exert ourselves any further. In our lives, we are doing much good, but we’re not allowing ourselves to be transformed through the blood of the Saviour. Using an analogy from General Conference that I wasn’t too keen on, we have become used to going through life with one eye closed. Let me amend the analogy, so that it actually works for me. Many of you will remember the 3D images that were all the rage in the 1990s- if you looked closely you could see dolphins, and other images rise from the page in front of you. This never happened for me, all I could ever see was the squiggly coloured lines. Why? I only have sight in one eye and as such can’t see 3D images such as these pictures, or Avengers films. I think sometimes, we get comfortable with just having the squiggly lines as a pretty decoration, rather than making the effort to see the images that can emerge from the picture. I once sat through a Thor film, where all I could see was a fuzzy image, but it’s like becoming content with that. We have become comfortable with the way things are and don’t see an urgency to rise up with the grace of Jesus Christ to the potential that is within us.
How can we do this? Let me suggest some very specific things that I think will help us as individuals, and collectively as the ward strengthen and grow.
First of all, and in tandem with the discussion of repentance earlier, we must partake of the sacrament each week to enable us to transform. President Nelson has said:
When we choose to repent, we choose to change! We allow the Saviour to transform us into the best version of ourselves. We choose to grow spiritually and receive joy—the joy of redemption in Him. When we choose to repent, we choose to become more like Jesus Christ!
The sacrament is a crucial part of the repentance process. Elder Holland spoke passionately about the importance of partaking of the sacrament in Conference:
Brothers and sisters, this hour ordained of the Lord is the most sacred hour of our week. By commandment, we gather for the most universally received ordinance in the Church. It is in memory of Him who asked if the cup He was about to drink could pass, only to press on because He knew that for our sake it could not pass. It will help us if we remember that a symbol of that cup is slowly making its way down the row toward us at the hand of an 11- or 12-year-old deacon… Beloved friends, as we unite across the globe each week in what we hope is an increasingly sacred acknowledgment of Christ’s majestic atoning gift to all humankind, may we bring to the sacramental altar “more tears for his sorrows [and] more pain at his grief.” And then, as we reflect, pray, and covenant anew, may we take from that sacred moment “more patience in suff’ring, … more praise for relief.”
I think, sometimes we don’t realise the power that the sacrament brings to our lives. It is a way for the blood of Christ and the Holy Ghost to become active in our lives. It is an outward symbol of Christ’s love for us, and the love we have for him in return. Let me speak candidly, each week I make a list of people who are here, and those who are not. Over the last three months we have fluctuated between 55 and 90- with over one hundred members of the ward having attended on at least one occasion. Sometimes there are good reasons for this- we are ill; or perhaps attending a baby blessing at another ward. I think, sometimes, however, that there isn’t always a good reason. We need to recognise the centrality of the sacrament to our lives, and make every effort to be here to partake of it. Elder Holland reminded us: “if the ox is in the mire every Sunday, then we strongly recommend that you sell the ox or fill the mire.” For a day or so after Conference, Ruth quoted this as ‘kill the ox, or fill the mire’- it’s not quite that extreme.
The second thing that we can do is our ministering. It is a year now since this changed, and if I’m right we are actually doing less than we did before the change. Yes, it is an integral part of our identity as disciples of Jesus Christ. As James tells us in the New Testament:
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world (James 1:27).
Maybe it is because it is just part of who we are and what we do that when we try and formalise it we struggle. Let me suggest some very easy ways to fulfil our roles as ministering brothers and sisters:
- Find out who we are ministering brothers or sister for.
- Pray for them by name each day
- Contact them in some way to see how they’re doing at least once a week. This can be by text, social media, phone call, or possibly even face to face.
- Send a special note/ make a phone call on important occasions.
- Invite them to Church and to Church activities
Let me emphasise that this is the bare minimum of our ministering efforts. If we are to ‘mourn with those that mourn’ we are to help them apply the atoning blood of Christ to their lives. Let us go forward determined to be better in our ministering efforts. These efforts will then have an impact on our relationship with others as we seek to be more Christlike in our service.
In doing these things we take responsibility for ourselves and our own progress. I have now served as Bishop of the ward for a total of nine years (with a ten-year break in the middle). During that time, I have sat with various people who have tearfully expressed their hope that their spouse would share the burden for leading the living of the Gospel in the home. This is even more crucial now that we have a home centred, Church supported approach to the Gospel. Every member of the home should take responsibility for family prayer, family scripture study, viewing habits, and Come Follow Me. If it always falls to one person, then that is not an equally yoked home. We need to rise up and live according to our privileges; live in the light of the Saviour and reflect that light in our lives.
In becoming happy with our plateau, this may also affect our Temple attendance. Sometimes we make great efforts to become worthy of attending the Temple, but then once we have a Temple recommend, or a Temple sealing that is enough for us. It is as though our destination has been reached. It reminds me of a conversation I had with my Bishop just prior to getting married- he invited me to complete an Institute course called “Achieving a Celestial marriage”. My response? You’re ok Bishop, I get one of those in a couple of months. He very seriously said to me: ‘No Jimmy, you will have a Temple marriage, A Celestial is not yours until judgement day”. Every covenant we make is not an end, but a part of our journey. We must attend the Temple to feel of his love, to ‘grow up in the Holy Ghost’, and receive all of the Lord’s choicest blessings. President Hunter said:
Let us be a temple-attending and a temple-loving people. Let us hasten to the temple as frequently as time and means and personal circumstances allow. Let us go not only for our kindred dead, but let us also go for the personal blessing of temple worship, for the sanctity and safety which is provided within those hallowed and consecrated walls. The temple is a place of beauty, it is a place of revelation, it is a place of peace. It is the house of the Lord. It is holy unto the Lord. It should be holy unto us.
For those of us who are full Temple recommend holders I would suggest that the minimum attendance, bearing in mind our proximity, is once a month. For those who don’t currently hold a recommend please make every effort to be ‘worthy of, and carry, a current Temple recommend’.
Ours is a religion that is not a part time occupation; it is an integral part of who we are. As we seek to apply the atoning blood of the Saviour we can allow him to polish our mirror so he can more fully influence our lives. We can allow him to wash our scarlet sins in his blood, so that they become white as snow. We can live every day under his influence.