Monday, July 11, 2016

Can I Just Try to Be Good?

by Nicky Smith

In Alma 40, it says:
But behold, an awful death cometh upon the wicked; for they die as to things pertaining to things of righteousness; for they are unclean, and no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of God; but they are cast out, and consigned to partake of the fruits of their labors or their works, which have been evil; and they drink the dregs of a bitter cup. (Alma 40:26)
But, then in Alma 41, it says:
And it is requisite with the justice of God that men should be judged according to their works; and if their works were good in this life, and the desires of their hearts were good, that they should also, at the last day, be restored unto that which is good. (Alma 41:3)
So on the one hand, Alma says no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of God, but on the other hand he says that if the desires of your heart are good, you will be restored to that which is good. Is it enough just to have good desires? What about good desires with some good works? And is it enough if you just try to be good? 

Consider your desires. Do you desire to see the Lord in this life? Do you desire to receive eternal life? What if the Lord told you that you would have to have a lot of trials in order to receive either? What if you had to make a huge Abrahamic sacrifice to receive those things? Would you still desire those blessings if the price demanded was really high? Would you be willing to do anything the Lord asks in order to receive these things? If not, then your desires might not be what you think they are.

When Alma speaks of being restored to that which is good, I propose that Alma means something more than what is commonly understood as just desiring good and more than just trying to be good. As he previously stated, "no unclean thing can enter the kingdom of God." These good desires and being completely clean must coexist. 

Alma then says,
And so it is on the other hand. If he hath repented of his sins, and desired righteousness until the end of his days, even so he shall be rewarded unto righteousness. (Alma 41:6)
Now Alma says if you have repented of your sins and desired righteousness, you will be rewarded with righteousness or eternal life. In the next verses he says these are those who are redeemed of the Lord. Ether 3:13 says that being redeemed from the Fall means coming back into the presence of the Lord. So if repenting of your sins and desiring righteousness brings you back into the presence of the Lord, why are most people who consider themselves repentant and desirous of righteousness not being visited by the Lord? Maybe these things mean something more than we are doing? 

Next Alma says that one cannot be restored from sin to happiness. So what about if you commit some sin, but you're still trying? Is that enough to be given eternal life? 
Do not suppose, because it has been spoken concerning restoration, that ye shall be restored from sin to happiness. Behold, I say unto you, wickedness never was happiness. (Alma 41:10)
This sounds a lot like: no unclean thing can be saved in the kingdom of God. But, couldn't the atonement just cover the rest if you are simply trying? Well, the atonement does cover our sins as we are repentant, but we still have to live the law pertaining to the kingdom we hope to achieve. The atonement won't make us something we are not. You can't get to heaven based on good intentions. More on that in a moment.

Next in Alma's sermon he states that we all seek after carnal things and we've gone contrary to the nature of God. That sounds pretty extreme and I think most would say: That's not me! I'm seeking Jesus! But, if we don't yet have a pure heart and if we're still giving into temptation, we're giving into our carnal natures and we're unlike God. 
11 And now, my son, all men that are in a state of nature, or I would say, in a carnal state, are in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; they are without God in the world, and they have gone contrary to the nature of God; therefore, they are in a state contrary to the nature of happiness. 12 And now behold, is the meaning of the word restoration to take a thing of a natural state and place it in an unnatural state, or to place it in a state opposite to its nature? 13 O, my son, this is not the case; but the meaning of the word restoration is to bring back again evil for evil, or carnal for carnal, or devilish for devilish—good for that which is good; righteous for that which is righteous; just for that which is just; merciful for that which is merciful. (Alma 41:11-13)
If there is any sin found in us or any impurity in our heart, we cannot be given eternal life. It would be the equivalent to restoring something carnal to something good and that isn't possible. This is Alma's whole argument. If we are carnal, we cannot obtain what we are seeking, which is eternal life. 

In the following verses he then gives encouragement to become righteous so that we can obtain those things we seek (Alma 41:14). Alma was teaching his son these things and his son understood what he meant and began to feel worry, seeing himself in his sins and knowing he would not receive eternal life while still in his current state (Alma 42:1). 

In this next chapter Alma explains himself more. After discussing the Fall of Adam and Eve and how this life is given as a time to overcome our carnal natures, he states that this is why we need the atonement and repentance (Alma 42:11-13). 

Here Alma clarifies it all by saying none but the truly penitent or repentant are saved. 
For behold, justice exerciseth all his demands, and also mercy claimeth all which is her own; and thus, none but the truly penitent are saved. (Alma 42:24)
So reading in context it seems clear that it is not enough simply to desire righteousness. But, what if you aren't perfect, but you're trying to be? What does it mean to be truly penitent? Can you be truly penitent, while still just trying to be good? I like what he says in verse 30. 
O my son, I desire that ye should deny the justice of God no more. Do not endeavor to excuse yourself in the least point because of your sins, by denying the justice of God; but do you let the justice of God, and his mercy, and his long-suffering have full sway in your heart; and let it bring you down to the dust in humility. (Ama 42:30)
You cannot excuse yourself in even the smallest of sins. Even the smallest sin will keep you out of the kingdom of God. Alma is saying you can't stand before God and say, "Well, I tried, even though I still did X and Y."

The Doctrine and Covenants makes it clear that we can only be sanctified by the law we are living. So, if we aren't living a Celestial law, we cannot be sanctified by that law (D&C 88:21-24). We need to repent and not excuse ourselves in the least. 
That which breaketh a law, and abideth not by law, but seeketh to become a law unto itself, and willeth to abide in sin, and altogether abideth in sin, cannot be sanctified by law, neither by mercy, justice, nor judgment. Therefore, they must remain filthy still. (D&C 88:35)
When we break a law and sin we will remain filthy, which is exactly what Alma was saying when he spoke about being restored to good or evil depending on what we chose. 

We have to repent! Repentance means never repeating that sin again. I may have a jealous heart at times, but I can't repent until I know I am not going to be jealous again. Otherwise, I am not truly penitent and I am excusing myself in my sin, even if it doesn't seem big and even if I am trying to overcome it. We cannot obtain eternal life until we have overcome all things (see D&C 76:60). 

Joseph Smith explains what it means to be saved in his final lecture on faith: 
In order to have this subject clearly set before the mind, let us ask what situation must a person be in, in order to be saved? or what is the difference between a saved man and one who is not saved? We answer from what we have before seen of the heavenly worlds, they must be persons who can work by faith, and who are able, by faith to be ministering spirits to them who shall be heirs of salvation. And they must have faith to enable them to act in the presence of the Lord, otherwise they cannot be saved. And what constitutes the real difference between a saved person and one not saved, is the difference in the degree of their faith: one's faith has become perfect enough to lay hold upon eternal life, and the other's has not. But to be a little more particular, let us ask, where shall we find a prototype into whose likeness we may be assimilated, in order that we may be made partakers of life and salvation? or in other words, where shall we find a saved being? for if we can find a saved being, we may ascertain, without much difficulty, what all others must be, in order to be saved—they must be like that individual or they cannot be saved: we think, that it will not be a matter of dispute, that two beings, who are unlike each other, cannot both be saved; for whatever constitutes the salvation of one, will constitute the salvation of every creature which will be saved: and if we find one saved being in all existence, we may see what all others must be, or else not be saved. We ask, then, where is the prototype? or where is the saved being? We conclude as to the answer of this question there will be no dispute among those who believe the bible, that it is Christ: all will agree in this that he is the prototype or standard of salvation, or in other words, that he is a saved being. And if we should continue our interrogation, and ask how it is that he is saved, the answer would be, because he is a just and holy being; and if he were any thing different from what he is he would not be saved; for his salvation depends on his being precisely what he is and nothing else; for if it were possible for him to change in the least degree, so sure he would fail of salvation and lose all his dominion, power, authority and glory, which constitutes salvation; for salvation consists in the glory, authority, majesty, power and dominion which Jehovah possesses, and in nothing else; and no being can possess it but himself or one like him: Thus says John, in his first epistle, 3:2 and 3: Behold, now we are the sons of God, and it doth not appear what we shall be; but we know, that when he shall appear we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And any man that has this hope in him purifies himself, even as he is pure.—Why purify himself as he is pure? because, if they do not they cannot be like him.
If Christ were anything different from what he were, he could not be saved. Joseph is suggesting that we need to be free from sin and pure as he is pure in order to obtain the same inheritance. It may seem like an impossible dream, but I do know that it is possible. The process involves obtaining a connection with heaven and being taught by the Lord how to get to that point. It is about learning higher laws and keeping them. Doing so brings various blessings to show you are on the right path, such as miracles, gifts of the spirit, the baptism by fire, the Second Comforter, making one's calling and election sure, and so on. Without these experiences one would need to assume one is not progressing on the right path or one is not doing exactly the things God wants them to do. In other words, we are deviating from him in some way.

This might seem overwhelming to get to the point where we are like Jesus, but there is no other way. Doctrine and Covenants 130 explains that if we don't see Christ here, we won't just automatically see him when we die. Same with the Father. Things won't magically change just because we've died. 
1 When the Savior shall appear we shall see him as he is. We shall see that he is a man like ourselves. 2 And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy. 3 John 14:23—The appearing of the Father and the Son, in that verse, is a personal appearance; and the idea that the Father and the Son dwell in a man’s heart is an old sectarian notion, and is false.
Verse 1 is referring to an interaction with Christ. Verse 3 refers to an interaction with the Father and Christ. Commonly verse 2 is believed to be about our connections with the people around us which will continue beyond the veil. But, that is not the case. It doesn't make sense, given the context of verses 1 and 3. It is referring to our interactions with Christ and the Father and if we don't have a relationship with them here, we won't when we die.

Begin today to plead with God to reveal to you the things you need to do to progress and change. Apply the truth you learn and then never give up. This is the essence of enduring to the end. 

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