21 April 2015

Grace - a gift born of the atonement

Despite our imperfections, are we experiencing grace? We often hear people explain that they do not quite understand the atonement in all of its grandeur. And perhaps the most difficult part of all is to understand the supernal gift of grace that springs forth out of the atonement. 

“… for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23). What does this scripture mean? Certainly we could reflect a lifetime on it and continue to learn from it. We often hear that grace requires repentance. Yet the scriptures teach us that true repentance means forsaking of our sins (Mosiah 4:10; Alma 39:9; Ether 11:1; D&C 93:48) and of course, the well knows scripture: “By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them” (D&C 58:43). Although the Savior has already suffered for all our sins, if we do not repent we will have to suffer also: “Therefore I command you to repent—repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not. For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I; Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men. Wherefore, I command you again to repent, lest I humble you with my almighty power; and that you confess your sins, lest you suffer these punishments of which I have spoken, of which in the smallest, yea, even in the least degree you have tasted at the time I withdrew my Spirit” (D&C 19:15-20).

I am such an imperfect man. I can only say that I am in the process of forsaking, but have not forsaken. I am not perfect nor do I expect to be on this side of the veil. Even the Savior, who indeed was perfect, while in His mortal ministry said, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Note that it was only after He had overcome the world that He said: “Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect” (3 Nephi 12:48). I infer from this that “be ye perfect” is an invitation to be true disciples of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ with all that this entails. Through the process of justification and sanctification we can become disciples of Jesus Christ.

Sometime around 1991, I was feeling very depressed and despondent because of all of my weaknesses. One day I was reading a newspaper report about someone who had been dishonest. At least, I thought to myself, this is one good quality I have, I am honest. After having these thoughts I had an open vision in which I saw the many times in my life when I had been dishonest—from both before and after my baptism. One of these scenes particularly stands out in my mind. I was a young lad and was near the door of our large home in Santiago. A poor old woman asked to see my mother. My mother is a very generous person and always gave to the poor—although a few times complained about this duty. I thought I would be doing my mother a favor so she would not have to be bothered by the poor old woman and explained that my mother was not home. The beggar’s words still ring in my ears, “¡mentiroso! (liar!).” I could see this and many other distinct scenes pass by me. It was by no means a short list of scenes.

I believe I am slowly beginning to understand the purpose of this revelation. For years I did not understand the purpose of what I had seen. Now I know that God was trying to teach me something about grace. Even in those areas where I thought I may have been “doing well” I would need the grace offered to us through Christ’s atonement. Note that the Spirit only showed me the one area I felt I had done well. I shudder to think of all that I might have to see in my areas of even more imperfection if indeed the Lord would have to show them to me.

A little more than ten years later I experienced a related revelation of a completely different nature, one that I also did not understand for years. After my second Sabbatical leave in Chile was coming to a close (2002), the Spirit of God manifested to me that my sins had been forgiven. What should have been a moment of great joy was not, because I did not understand the meaning of what was being said to me. I had gone out with the missionaries once a week during my Sabbatical and through God’s grace the Spirit of God was manifesting to me that the Lord had accepted my offering. But all I could think about was the uselessness of it all. I knew my imperfection. Instead, I should have dropped to my knees in thankfulness. The Lord was saying, in effect, yes, I know your weaknesses, but I also can see the desire of your heart and your effort.

I can now see the Lord saying: “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” (Ether 12:27). We also have: “Nevertheless, the Lord God showeth us our weakness that we may know that it is by his grace, and his great condescensions unto the children of men, that we have power to do these things” (Jacob 4:7). So perhaps we can speak of a repentant attitude along with repentance. We may also well speak of the fruits of repentance, such as joy and peace and the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. These also are part of the gift of grace. If we have a great desire to study the word, share the gospel with others, do temple work for our deceased ancestors, improve, do good, choose the right, serve in our callings and answer affirmatively the question that Alma poses: “And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?” (Alma 5:26), perhaps these are indicators that the grace of God is working within us now despite our imperfections. We have no reason to believe that the grace required for exaltation is something different than the grace we receive in this mortal existence to help us here and now in our efforts to become men and women of God.

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