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Our friend “Jacob” who shared thought-provoking thoughts in two former articles is at it again. (If you missed the previous articles or would like to refresh your mind, click on: What Does It Really Mean to Be “Saved”? and Lord, How Is It Done?) Jacob’s thoughts motivate me to think, ponder, pray, and find new and deeper perspectives on important gospel subjects.
Recently he surprised me by sending a Peanuts cartoon where Lucy is talking to Snoopy. Lucy says, “You dogs don’t know anything about scripture verses. You don’t know anything about grace or baptism or Moses or anything.” Snoopy’s thought bubbles say, “That’s right. Theologically, we’re off the hook.” This cartoon turned out to be Jacob’s introduction to a subject of vital importance to all of us. He said,
I don’t know where Charles Schulz got his motivation for this cartoon, but theologically he is exactly right. Not only dogs are off the hook, but also everyone who does not hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. Nothing is more plainly taught in the scriptures than that those who are not taught the law of the gospel are not judged by the same standard as those who do hear it. Paul simply said, “Where no law is, there is no transgression” (Romans 4:15). No one is accountable for not living or obeying a law they know nothing about.
The scriptures plainly teach that those ignorant of the gospel are considered innocent. Jacob explained this in 2 Nephi 9:25-26. King Benjamin taught the same principle in Mosiah 3:11. Moroni taught it in Moroni 8:22-24.
However, by hearing the gospel, we are immediately accountable, and with our first transgression, we immediately fall, just like Adam and Eve. Before hearing the gospel we were in a state of innocence just like them, but innocence is not the optimum condition. In 2 Nephi 23 we read, “they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin.” (See also Moses 5:10-11.)
What About Us?
As the angel told King Benjamin (See Mosiah 4:1) our “fall,” like that of Adam and Eve, happens immediately upon our hearing the gospel. But it’s a good thing! it puts us in a position to experience good and evil, call on the Lord for salvation, and access His power, to be made perfect and eventually be exalted. “Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fear relieved” (from the song “Amazing Grace”). Still, until we feel the full effects of the grace of Christ, that fall is sure to break our hearts.
As baptized Latter-day-Saints we have been taught. Therefore, we are not innocent. We have, for whatever reasons, been blessed to live at a time and place where we have heard the law of the gospel. We have heard about Heavenly Father and His son Jesus Christ. We know that by faith in Him, and obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel we can live with Him in unimaginable Celestial glory. We covenanted in the waters of baptism to take upon us His name and keep His commandments. But therein is contained both salvation and damnation. Yes, we have the blessing of the law, but we also have the curse of the law. In Moroni 8:24 we read, “for repentance is unto them that are under condemnation and under the curse of a broken law.”
In several places in scripture comforting verses about how those ignorant of the law are saved are immediately followed messages of warning and condemnation for those of us who have the law. For example, in 2 Nephi 9:27 we read, “But wo unto him that has the law given, yea, that has all the commandments of God, like unto us, and that transgresseth them, and that wasteth the days of his probation, for awful is his state! (See also Mosiah 3:12 and Mosiah 15:26-27).
No wonder Snoopy is blissful in his ignorance. The word “gospel” is supposed to mean good news! How can it be good news that we are held to an impossible standard? How can it be good news that we could lose what those who never hear the gospel automatically have? I know that living all the commandments would make me happy, but I just can’t do it all the time. Even worse, sometimes I willfully disobey. How discouraging! WAAAAA.
No one Is Exempt from this Discouragement
Notice what the great apostle Paul said in Romans 7:19, 22, “For the good that I would, I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. . . For I delight in the law of God after the inward man, But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
You can read where the great prophet Nephi says about the same thing in 2 Nephi 4. If people like the apostle Paul, and the prophet Nephi failed at perfection, if even they felt wretched over their shortcoming, should we be any different? No. All of us fail at keeping all the commandments all the time. That fact breaks our hearts! And that is a good thing! That is exactly what is supposed to happen.
So many times in the scriptures Jesus made it clear that he was there to save those who needed saving. He never turned away anyone who asked to be healed. He never said to those asking forgiveness, “come back when you are worthy.” Christ gives healing and forgiveness to those who broken heartedly kneel before him and admit, “I’m a lost cause, oh wretched man that I am. I’ve tried; I just can’t keep all of the commandments all of the time.”
The Aching Need for the Savior
At this point in Jacob’s musing, I (Darla) become aware of an important fact: There would have been no need for a Savior if God hadn’t known that no mortal, regardless of how well taught and how deeply committed, would have the capacity to keep all of the commandments all of the time. Only one perfect man would ever live on this earth: Jesus Christ. To one extent or another EVERYONE breaks God’s law. It took only one transgression for Adam and Eve to be cast out of God’s presence. It takes only one transgression for any one of us to be equally in need of the Atonement with the vilest sinner. James Ferrell’s book, The Holy Secret (a great favorite of mine) teaches this principle with great clarity.
While those without the law are innocent, by learning the gospel and committing to live it, everything changes and we are no longer “blameless.” Just this week, as I was pondering King Benjamin’s address, the following scripture jumped out at me: “And moreover, I say unto you, that the time shall come when the knowledge of a Savior shall spread throughout every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. And behold, when that time cometh, none shall be found blameless before God, except it be little children, only through repentance and faith on the name of the Lord God Omnipotent” (Mosiah 3: 20-22, emphasis mine). Now back to Jacob’s explanation:
Clarify! It’s Important!
The principle of the broken heart is so often misunderstood. We love to talk about the plan of happiness, and that with conquering every sin our happiness will increase. While that ultimately will be true, the gospel initially and immediately demands more than we are capable of, which results in a broken heart. And sadly, too many people dismay and give up when they feel the broken heart, forgetting the next step. In Ether 12: 27 we read, “And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”
We need to expect that as we come to the Lord, a fuller knowledge of our weakness and sins will break our heart. We need to understand that feeling worthless and fallen is normal, essential, a blessing and part of the process as long as that broken heart leads us to cry for mercy and thereby be given Christ’s forgiveness and His power to conquer our sins. When we take our broken hearts to Christ, and beg for mercy, we are forgiven and changed; that’s being born again, that’s becoming alive in Christ. Who would be motivated to take that step without a broken heart?
The story of King Benjamin’s people is the textbook illustration of all this. We see a righteous people go from innocence to accountability to feeling worthless and fallen (the broken heart) to asking for mercy, to being forgiven and changed. This is the process of salvation, the essential path we each must walk to receive exaltation! Benjamin then tells them in Mosiah 4:11 to repeat this process often, even daily!
C.S. Lewis clearly understood how it works. “I quite agree that the Christian religion is, in the long run, a thing of unspeakable comfort. But it does not begin in comfort; it begins in the dismay I have been describing, and it is no use at all trying to go on to that comfort without first going through that dismay” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity).
The Broken Heart Is Essential to Salvation
Our sacrifice of a broken heart is the beginning of being born again, of being forgiven and changed. Can I change my nature or my character simply by more willpower and determination? No! The scriptures plainly show us that the process is to take our broken heart to Christ and He changes us! Those who have not been born again are the “natural man.” “For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father” (Mosiah 3:19, emphasis mine).
Yes, we need to repent, but repentance does not mean perfecting ourselves. We are not capable of doing this on our own! Repentance means to change our minds, be willing to give away our sins, to ask God to forgive our sins and then change our hearts. He has counseled us over and over to take our broken hearts to the Lord, plead for mercy and He will heal us, He will change us! In Alma 5:7 we read, “Behold, he changed their hearts; yea, he awakened them out of a deep sleep, and they awoke unto God.”
In 3 Nephi 9:20 we find, “And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost.”
I’d like to end this article with the textbook example of the people of King Benjamin. Notice that despite their obedience, they became aware of their worthless and fallen state, and broke-heartedly appealed for the mercy of Christ.
And now, it came to pass that when king Benjamin had made an end of speaking the words which had been delivered unto him by the angel of the Lord, that he cast his eyes round about on the multitude, and behold they had fallen to the earth, for the fear of the Lord had come upon them. And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: 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, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men. And it came to pass that after they had spoken these words the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come, according to the words which king Benjamin had spoken unto them. (Mosiah 4:1-3, emphasis mine)
Gospel scholar Robert Millet said, “Truly the poor in spirit, those who recognize their own spiritual bankruptcy and who then come unto Christ, these are they who inherit the kingdom of heaven (3 Nephi 12:3). …. A transcendent paradox of the gospel plan is that the heartfelt recognition of weakness opens the channel for unspeakable strength and power, the Lord’s power.” (Robert L. Millet, Alive in Christ: The Miracle of Spiritual Rebirth.) May our broken hearts bring us to Christ that we may experience that unspeakable strength and power!