Relationships

Over many years I have spoken about the importance of a relationship with Christ. That this relationship is the most important that we can develop in this lifetime: through this relationship we are able to draw closer to one another, find success in our lives, and receive exaltation with our families. However, in addressing this relationship I realise I have not fully explored what type of relationship this is to be. I think I have used the term, and thought I knew what I meant because we are all involved in relationships in every aspects of our lives, I envisaged it to mean the same or something similar to one of those. Each of the earthly relationships I have only hold a partial understanding of my, and our, relationship with the Saviour.

If I think of some of the relationships we have and how they are similar to the relationship we should have with the Saviour. The first is that between a husband and wife. In this we are told in the scriptures that they each leave their parents ‘to become one flesh’ and further in section 42 that a husband is to ‘cleave unto his wife, and none else.’ This unity and fidelity is replicated in our relationships with the Saviour. We seek to be unified in our thoughts and actions with what the Saviour would have us do as we strive to follow him. The common phrase ‘What would Jesus do’ becomes an integral part of our nature and character. In the Book of Mormon we read the result of embarking upon such a relationship with the Saviour:

And they all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually. (Mosiah 5: 2)

We think and act in complete accordance with the promises we make with our spouse, and by extension we are completely faithful to the covenants that we make our Saviour. The story of the prophet Hosea in the Old Testament, whether true or figurative, outlines how the marital relationship is symbolic of the Lord’s relationship with his people. Hosea’s wife’s head is turned and she is unfaithful to Hosea by developing relationships with others. The parallel to our lives is significant. If we are faithful to the Saviour we keep our covenants, he is the focus of our attention and worship. If we are unfaithful we allow other things to turn our heads or distract us from him. What could those be, and how are they manifest in our lives?

The outward expression of that we are in this covenant relationship would be found in our actions. They are the expression of the grace that we receive through the Saviour. Just as our actions in marriage are an expression of the reciprocal love that we find. In our covenant relationship we would: pray, study the scriptures, and obey the Lord’s commandments not least by serving the people around us and expressing love and charity to all. We would place the Saviour and his expectations of us front and centre in all we do as an expression of the love we have and the grace we have received. If we are not fully committed to that relationship this will be manifest, not just by failing to do these things but also by the placement of other things at the centre of our lives, or even in such a way that they obscure the Saviour and his influence. What do I mean by that? It does not necessarily mean that we are bad people who engage in inappropriate activities, rather that other considerations are preeminent in our lives. A person’s discipleship should underpin everything that they do, not be pushed to one side as an inconvenience. Consider a couple of examples that I have encountered over the last twenty years of my Church service.

  1. On beginning my studies at University a number of my ward were concerned I would lose my testimony as they felt that learning about theology was inappropriate. It could have been- but instead of allowing my studies to take centre stage I kept the Saviour as my focus and everything else revolved around him. I continued to serve and study and obey the commandments.
  2. At the age of 22 and newly married I was called to serve on the Bishopric here in the ward. I was just entering my final year of University and was also working part time. I remember sitting down with a member of the Stake Presidency a few months later and telling him that I could not imagine being any busier than I then was; I couldn’t possibly do any more. He smiled and nodded. I realise now the thoughts that were going through his head- ‘Are you kidding me?’ I had an option a couple of years later when I was called as Bishop with two children under 2, a new full time job and also part time study at University. I could have said ‘no’- I never considered this option, it’s just one I look back and think about. There were many reasons why the time to serve was inconvenient. However, Ruth and I decided when we joined the Church that we would ‘seek… first the kingdom of God’ and recognise the promise that if we did this ‘all these things shall be added unto you’ (3 Nephi 13: 33). A call to serve never comes at the convenient time, but it always comes at the right time.

We then have to consider how we magnify the calling we have been given. Do we give it lip service or do we do all we can to fulfil it to the best of our abilities and beyond with the Lord’s help. A scripture that has always resonated with me is the command to Newel K. Whitney to be a Bishop ‘not in name only, but in deed’.

Consider a further example, this one not from my own life but from an interview I carried out. I extended a call to serve- now bear in mind that we had spent a large amount of time discussing the person’s current circumstances with regard to family and other commitments. The response I received confounded me, though we may all often feel a similar way. It was something along the lines of ‘How could you extend this call? It cannot be inspired because the Lord would not ask me to do this now- he knows how busy I am.’ We talked at length about the promises the Lord makes to people who he calls, but the person would not accept the call because of the disruption it would cause in their life.

Was this person ‘wrong’? That is for the Lord to judge, and maybe the interview was what was needed rather than the call, but it raises important questions for us. Do we serve the Lord only in times of convenience? Maybe we allow other considerations in our lives to turn our heads and take all of our energies. If we do this then we are not serving the Lord with our whole souls.

Our relationship with the Saviour should, therefore, be wholly committed. We do not place other gods in the way, whatever that god may be. There, obviously, needs to be a balance in all that we do. Consider section 10 of the Doctrine and Covenants where Joseph Smith has the power to translate restored, but he is also told to not run faster than he is able in consideration to all of his other commitments. However, he is told to ‘pray always’. I think about my life and all the various pressures on my time that I have and try to put into place the instruction that Joseph Smith was given; if I’m honest I’m not very good at not running faster as I seem to say yes to more and more things. However, what are the things that I am saying yes to; and what are the things that I am saying no to. Am I saying no to Home Teaching but yes to a guest lecture or chapter of a book that I’m asked to deliver? Where does that suggest my heart is? Consider all of your activities and the balance in your lives. Are there things that take pre-eminence over service in the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Then consider for a moment the covenants you have made to serve God with all your heart, might, mind and strength.

Our discipleship is not something that is a part time occupation; it infuses every aspect of our life and service. Sometimes we might be tempted to pick and choose the aspects of discipleship we live. We might love attending the Temple but struggle to fulfil a calling. We might adore home and visiting teaching but see the Temple as an optional extra. We might live the letter of the law of chastity but fail to understand the much greater demands to watch our thoughts, words and deeds. If this is the case, if we pick and choose the aspects of discipleship we follow, we are not complete or true disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.

This leads me to another that might be emblematic of the relationship we have with the Saviour. This isn’t one that any of us have in our lives. It is suggested in Romans 1 verse 1 where Paul describes himself as a ‘servant of Jesus Christ’ and further that he is ‘separated unto the gospel of God’. If we explore the Greek meaning of two of these words we recognise that the word translated as separated means ‘set apart.’ We are all set apart to the gospel of God as we have accepted the message of Jesus Christ. However, it is the translation of ‘servant’ that is most interesting as it literally means ‘slave’ or ‘bondsman’. This is set against the background of Roman society where to be a slave can be looked down upon. Paul describing himself as a slave would have been surprising and also a very humble position to be found in. So why did Paul describe himself in this way? If we continue Paul’s use of the word slave Jim Faulconer describes how the slave system of the time can be related to the Gospel. He says that Paul uses three different categories of people:

(1) the nonslaves who are supposedly free, or in other words those who have not yet taken the name of Christ on themselves; (2) the slaves, namely those who have joined the church and become Christ’s slaves by covenant; and (3) the children, those who have been sanctified or adopted, brought back into the family of God to become children of God. Under Greco-Roman law, a valued slave could be adopted into the family rather than simply emancipated. In fact, there were definite advantages to being adopted rather than emancipated, chiefly the possible right of inheritance… Paul uses the similarities of children and slaves to make his point. His use of the word slave here and his discussion of becoming the children of God in Romans 8 seem to me to point to the very centre of Paul’s message: living in a fallen world, we are slaves either to God or to sin. If we are slaves to sin, we will reap only death. If we are faithful slaves to the Father, he will make us once again his children and give us an inheritance with his Son. 

Where are we in this slave relationship? God has bought us with a price- we become Christ’s slaves through covenant as we are baptised and take upon us his name. We recognise this as we read Moses 6:59 where we are literally born again through Christ’s blood:

…even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory

This relationship is only made possible through Christ’s blood and his grace. We are his. Sometimes we see the things that we do as ways to build this relationship further. Rather, the efforts we make are evidence that we are in this relationship and that we are receiving his grace in our lives. An interesting observation by Jim Faulconer is that:

There is a very real sense in which Paul did not choose to serve Christ but was required to do so by his experience on the road to Damascus. He owes that service; he must serve. His experience has given him no other real choice; Paul now has no more choices to make, for a slave is one who does the will of another rather than his own.

In essence, we sacrifice our will to the Saviour’s will when we enter the waters of baptism. It is our continued decision whether to live in this relationship, that is evidenced through the things that we do and the people that we are. 

While the position of a slave is one of total dependence; we are also able to harness the status and power of our Master.

For one thing, the use of the word slave reflects a parallel with the Old Testament use of slavery, where, as mentioned, the prophets are called slaves (for example, in Joshua 14: 7 and 24: 29). The prophets are slaves to God, but that slavery gives them a great deal of power, authority, and responsibility: precisely because they are slaves, what they do is accomplished by the authority of God. This transfer of power from the lord to the slave is paralleled in the practice of slavery among Greeks and Romans during Paul’s time. Greek and Roman slaves, especially the slaves of powerful persons, such as the emperor, often had power, wealth, and even social status of their own because they served a powerful person.

So, through our role as a slave we receive great power and authority. Indeed, we are promised in section 84 ‘all that the Father hath.’ President Uchtdorf recently described this in General Conference:

With the gift of God’s grace, the path of discipleship does not lead backward; it leads upward. It leads to heights we can scarcely comprehend! It leads to exaltation in the celestial kingdom of our Heavenly Father, where we, surrounded by our loved ones, receive “of his fulness, and of his glory.” All things are ours, and we are Christ’s. Indeed, all that the Father hath shall be given unto us. To inherit this glory, we need more than an unlocked gate; we must enter through this gate with a heart’s desire to be changed—a change so dramatic that the scriptures describe it as being “born again; yea, born of God, changed from [our worldly] and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters.”

Living in this relationship enables us to receive blessings and experiences that far surpass those that we would experience outside of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. President Uchtdorf continued: ‘Throughout our lives, God’s grace bestows temporal blessings and spiritual gifts that magnify our abilities and enrich our lives. His grace refines us. His grace helps us become our best selves.’ If we are in the process of becoming that it is incumbent upon us to claim all the blessings available to us through God’s grace. We don’t just rid ourselves of the bad, but we receive the good. We may lose impatience but we gain patience; we may lose pride but we gain humility; we may lose lust but we gain a true perspective of love.

This relationship is dependent on a complete reliance on the Saviour and a turning over of our lives to him. Sometimes we recognise that he has a role to play in our success and our righteousness but not that it is only because of him that we can even approach being righteous. President Uchtdorf eloquently describes this situation:

Are we like Simon? Are we confident and comfortable in our good deeds, trusting in our own righteousness? Are we perhaps a little impatient with those who are not living up to our standards? Are we on autopilot, going through the motions, attending our meetings, yawning through Gospel Doctrine class, and perhaps checking our cell phones during sacrament service? Or are we like this woman, who thought she was completely and hopelessly lost because of sin? Do we love much? Do we understand our indebtedness to Heavenly Father and plead with all our souls for the grace of God? When we kneel to pray, is it to replay the greatest hits of our own righteousness, or is it to confess our faults, plead for God’s mercy, and shed tears of gratitude for the amazing plan of redemption?

As we develop more of a relationship with our Saviour we recognise more and more our complete dependence on him and our own nothingness. I had a conversation with someone last week who was amazed that since becoming active in the Gospel he had begun to recognise more things that he needed to be doing. Before he felt there was only one or two things that needed putting right, but as we feel more of the Spirit we recognise everything else we need to address and place on the altar of sacrifice to our Saviour.

How do we evidence this relationship in our lives? We evidence our love through an obedience to his commandments; we evidence our dependence by relying wholly upon him to get us through each day. To some extent the relationship of a slave to Christ is similar to our relationship with him in a marriage. If we do not show our love, it will suggest that the relationship is counterfeit.

I am grateful for the love that each of you show. I am grateful for the reliance on Christ that you have in your lives. What have I learnt through the study for this talk and the type of relationship that I should have with him?

  1. I must rely wholly upon the merits of Christ who is mighty to save.
  2. Anything I do is evidence of the relationship I have an the grace that I have received
  3. If I place other considerations in front of the Saviour and his will for me I am breaking the covenants that bind this relationship together.
  4. The expression of my discipleship is a wholehearted living of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
  5. I must recognise my own nothingness, but also my divine potential through the Saviour’s love