He Did Deliver Me from Bondage
by Colleen C. Harrison
O How Great Is The Nothingness Of The Children Of Men (Helaman 12:7)-Part 1
Read the Preface Here
Step One: Admitted that we of ourselves are powerless, nothing without God. (Mosiah 4:5; Alma 26:12)
Principle One: I of myself am powerless-nothing without God.
In October 1986, President Ezra T. Benson addressed the assembled body of the Church, making a solemn pronouncement concerning the importance of the Book of Mormon. Reading this great book was not enough; we were also admonished to live by its precepts. Citing D&C 84:54-58, he applied those words directly to us in our day, calling upon us to examine our own attitude towards this book which would bring us closer to God than any other book. (See Introduction to the Book of Mormon for the full statement from the Prophet Joseph Smith.) President Benson all but openly charged us with treating this sacred record lightly. He reminded us that such “vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation” (D&C 84:55).
I was deeply affected by President Benson’s words that day. It felt like a prophetic warning, if not an outright reprimand. The word “condemnation” held the same chilling connotation to me as the word “bondage.” I was riveted by the similarity. I sensed there was a connection between this “vanity and unbelief” and the state of heart and mind which lures people into addiction.
But what form of “vanity and unbelief” was President Benson referring to? I had to admit I knew a lot of church members, myself included, who would be delighted to have a bigger house, newer car, more clothes. Was that what this indictment of vanity meant? Somehow, the inclusion of the word “unbelief” with vanity seemed to imply something deeper than mere material wealth or appearances. How would the Prophet of the Lord-and the Lord through His Prophet-apply the concept of unbelief to the church as a whole, active members included? After all, there we all were, within reach of his spoken or written declaration, dutifully paying attention. I puzzled and pondered these things as I continued to search the Book of Mormon for validation of the principles of Twelve Step recovery.
THE DANGER IN EMPHASIZING SELF-RELIANCE OVER RELIANCE ON GOD
As I studied, the witness grew brighter and brighter to my mind and heart that this book-this amazing, wonderful Book of Mormon-was a clear and resolute testimony that there is no power in any of us-even the most righteous of us-that is not a gift of empowerment given through the grace and goodness of God, even the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. We are mistaken to think anything more of ourselves-to think our success or salvation in any area of life was coming because of our own “industry”(Alma 4:6), management, or genius (Alma 30:17).
Of course! This was it! This was the “vanity” and the “unbelief” that brings us into “condemnation” or bondage. It was the vanity of placing emphasis on self-reliance, self-sufficiency, self-anything above and before emphasis on the reality of seeking salvation in and through the Savior. One of the most damning fallacies Satan had so subtly twisted in my mind during all the years I had listened to church leaders stress self-reliance in temporal concerns, was that I also had to be self-reliant in my own salvation.
As I continued to study the Book of Mormon, I found no support for any of the ideas of self-reliance, self-mastery, or self-sufficiency. Instead, I found testimony everywhere that all my efforts at goal-setting, life planning or life-management were manifestations of vanity and unbelief, if they were not first based on prayerful counsel with the Lord (Alma 37:37) and then empowered by His grace (power to carry them out).
Insisting that all it takes to be successful in life is careful management sounds too similar to Korihor, one of the most adamant anti-Christ’s in history.
And many more such things did he say unto them [deemphasizing God’s power in their life], telling them.every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature. (Alma 30:17)
And not only did Korihor insist that management was a sure source of salvation and success, he echoed our modern tendency to almost revere intellectual giftedness, advanced degrees and certain professions as a sign of the Lord’s extraordinary favor.
Therefore every man prospered according to his genius. (Alma 30:17)
I was astounded as I honestly admitted how much like this anti-Christ my thinking had become. I had focused my attention and energy on management and genius as the “ways and means” to save myself. I shuddered to think how easily I was kept trying one “half-measure” after another-all to no avail. I had to confess I had kept myself distracted and busy looking “beyond the mark.” I began to inventory and assess myself. Had I been drawing near to Him with my lips, and even my actions, but doing so half-heartedly? Keeping my heart from Him? Was I professing Christ and then living as if He didn’t really matter in my life, all in the name of self-sufficiency, self-reliance and self-mastery?
Awakened by my Twelve Step study of the Book of Mormon, I finally realized, as I had once heard it said: True self-mastery comes from turning our “self” over to the Master. In the same spirit, I began to see that true reliance is reliance on the Master (D&C 3:20) and true sufficiency is found in turning to Him only who is sufficient (Moroni 10:32). I felt like I was seeing all these principles with new eyes-awakened eyes, and awakened ears and heart.
Church leaders were not promoting self-reliance before “God-reliance.” They were talking about the kind of sufficiency that comes from relying on the Lord above and beyond anyone or anything else.
If we increase our dependence on anything or anyone except the Lord, we will find an immediate decrease in our freedom to act. (L. Tom Perry, Ensign, Nov. 1991, p. 65)
We should put God ahead of everyone else in our lives. ( Ezra T. Benson, Ensign, May 1988, p. 4; original emphasis)
Yet no matter what the source of difficulty and no matter how you begin to obtain relief-through a qualified professional therapist, doctor, priesthood leader, friend, concerned parent, or loved one-no matter how you begin, those solutions will never provide a complete answer. The final healing comes through faith in Jesus Christ and His teachings, with a broken heart and a contrite spirit and obedience to His commandments. (Richard G. Scott, Ensign, May, 1994, p.7)
Instead, we as a people have turned to “self” first, putting the greatest emphasis on our own “industry,” bringing ourselves dangerously in line with the “people of the church” in Alma’s day:
And it came to pass. that the people of the church began to wax proud [of their appearance, possessions, and position],.which they had obtained [according to their definition] by their industry. (Alma 4:6)
THERE IS ONLY ONE WHO HAS ALL POWER
In my search of the Book of Mormon, I found a totally different perspective. I found testimony of the Savior’s preeminence as the only source of salvation. I also found some pretty strong statements concerning the state of my “self” when not surrendered to the mind and will of the Lord.
Wherefore, all mankind were in a lost and in a fallen state, and ever would be save they should rely on this Redeemer. (1 Nephi 10:6)
Here was all the “plainness” and truth that Nephi gloried in: All mankind must rely on the Savior, even those who chart and goal-set their way through life. None are exempt, and nothing we do will recover us from the mortal weaknesses and character defects we have developed in our “lost and fallen state”-unless it includes coming to Christ in a very personal and singular way.
Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered. (2 Nephi 2:7)
We are here on earth for the very purpose of either breaking or softening our hearts in order that they might be turned to God and godliness. We can either resist the laws of God, in which case our hearts will inevitably be broken, or we can try with all our hearts to live the law and gradually realize that no matter how hard we try, we can’t do it perfectly. Only after truly internalizing the fact of my own nothingness and powerlessness without God, can I hope to be endowed with the power of God. Meanwhile, whether we come to a broken heart by sinning, being sinned against or struggling futilely to perfect ourselves, we must all come to a place where we are humble enough to acknowledge that without Him we are nothing and can never answer the “ends of the law” ourselves. Jacob also testified of the need for total humility before God-even if it means looking like a fool:
And save they shall cast these things away, and consider themselves fools before God, and come down in the depths of humility, he will not open unto them. (2 Nephi 9:42)
What things must we cast away? Any pride we connect to what we think are our own accomplishments due to our own wisdom, learning, and smart management.
We must come to realize that no matter how rich or educated or talented we become in ways that impress other people, we are still totally upheld by the power of God, and God alone.
Brigham Young made it clear just where all accomplishments begin:
Men know how to construct railroads and all manner of machinery; they understand cunning workmanship, etc; but all that is revealed to them by the Spirit of the Lord though they know it not. (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 5:124 p. 125; emphasis added)
Quoting Isaiah, Jacob also teaches us the following:
And it shall come to pass that the lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day. (2 Nephi 12:11)
In what day shall the Lord alone be exalted? Generally, in the day of His glorious second coming. But this scripture applies in a far more personal way.
All of us must someday receive His coming into our own lives. We can either wait for that day when all will come to know His reality as He appears in the skies surrounded by legions of angels, or we can believe and study, search and hunger for a personal spiritual experience that would endow us with a sure knowledge of His living reality long before He comes to the world as a whole. The Prophet Joseph Smith stated it this way:
For the day must come when no man need say to his neighbor know ye the Lord for all shall know him [who remain] from the least to the greatest. (Andrew Ehat and Lyndon Cook, eds. The Words of Joseph Smith, p. 4)
Not only can the reality of Christ be personally revealed to us, but all that the greatest prophet in the world knew is waiting to be unveiled to us as soon as we are ready. Joseph Smith himself promised this:
God hath not revealed any thing to Joseph, but what he will make known unto the Twelve and even the least Saint may know all things as fast as he is able to bear them. (Ehat and Cook, ed. The Words of Joseph Smith, p. 4; emphasis added)
More recently Elder Bruce R. McConkie encouraged all members of the Church to seek this personal degree of revelation:
I say that every member of the Church, independent and irrespective of any position that he may hold, is entitled to get revelation from the Holy Ghost; he is entitled to entertain angels; he is entitled to view the visions of eternity; and if we would like to go the full measure, he is entitled to see God the same way that any prophet in literal and actual reality has seen the face of Deity. (Bruce R. McConkie, “How to Get Personal Revelation,” New Era, June 1980, 46)
However, before He can extend this degree of knowledge to us, He must be sure we are thoroughly convinced of our own powerlessness without Him. Thus we all must follow a path into the depths of humility.
GOD IS NO RESPECTER OF PERSONS-ONLY OF HUMILITY AND DESIRe
And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul. (Enos 1:4)
Enos is an example for those of us who have been active members of the Church all our lives and are still feeling empty and not really connected with God. Thus was Enos also. One day, as he was hunting, he began to recall the words his father had spoken concerning the joy of the Saints and eternal life. (If we’ve been raised by active parents who didn’t, despite all their church work, ever convey to us that being a member of the Church was joyful, and that eternal life was an attainable hope, we might have difficulty relating to Enos and to his being motivated by his father’s words.)
The point is still the same: Whether we come to this place of hunger, of intense need, of being at the end of our ability to go on as a result of rebelling against the law or being fervently obedient to the law, we all come to it eventually, without exception.
I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you one moment to another-I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants. (Mosiah 2:21)
There it is, in black and white-the truth that we cannot work our way to worthiness; the fact that the busiest Relief Society president must be just as reliant on the mercy and grace of Christ as the most inactive and skeptical “lost sheep.”
Facing this thought, some of you might ask, “Then why have I been doing all of this? If that’s true then why should I do any of this striving to be active in the Church?”
The answer to this question is actually pretty simple: love. This is another one of those places where we are looking past the mark (Jacob 4:14). Love is the only valid reason for all our work and devotion to the Church. However, love of others isn’t always sufficient to motivate us to good works. Often, it is only our love for the Savior which moves us to act when we are feeling less than charitable towards others (Alma 37:36). Sometimes we act out of duty, but duty is a poor substitute for genuine compassion and love. Duty can often deteriorate into a feeling of grudging participation. Such service may still bless those we serve, but according to the prophets, it will do the one giving it no good (Moroni 7:8).
As these concepts began to settle into my heart and mind, I began to realize how often I had given grudging gifts because of my focus on others and their weaknesses. Even after I began to understand the need to be motivated by love, I couldn’t make my heart change. Even as King Benjamin had solemnly pronounced, I could not keep up with all the ways that I, as a mortal in a fallen state of existence, could be enticed into sin.
And finally, I cannot tell you all the things whereby ye may commit sin; for there are divers ways and means, even so many that I cannot number them. (Mosiah 4:29)
The truth is that even “after all that [I] could do” (2 Nephi 25:23), I would always fall short of being worthy to enter into His glory. I must have His grace, or in other words, His enabling power, or I was lost. (See “Grace” in the Bible Dictionary.) As the scriptures testify, we can answer the beginnings of the law, but we cannot answer the “ends of the law.” We have the power to choose to begin the journey Homeward by desiring it more than anything in this world and by being willing to set our feet on the path, but only He has the power to enable us to finish that process or journey. Without Him we are powerless to maintain any good work.
And now I ask, can ye say aught of yourselves? I answer you, Nay, Ye cannot say that ye are even as much as the dust of the earth; yet ye were created of the dust of the earth; but behold, it belongeth to him who created you. (Mosiah 2:25)
And now I ask, Can you or I say anything different of ourselves? No, we cannot.
The second half of this chapter will be posted next week.
He Did Deliver Me from Bondage can be found at most LDS bookstores or purchased online at www.rosehavenpublishing.com
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