Here’s my Sunday thought. Much as been said of the gospel of Jesus Christ, but what, exactly, is it? One answer can be found in 2 Nephi 31:
“And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost …”
But what is the way? What is the doctrine? The answers are in the preceding verse, but I wanted to read it in reversed order to stress how important this preceding verse is. It contains three essential principles:
“Ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ [(one) faith], having a perfect brightness of [(two)] hope, and a love of God and of all men [(3) charity]. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.”
Nephi tells us that the “doctrine of Christ” is not an exhaustive work of rules and commandments but three simple principles. I’d heard before that faith, hope, and charity are good virtues to have, but not until reading the scripture yesterday did I make the connection that these three virtues ARE the gospel. Imagine with me a triangle, which we’ll endearingly call the gospel triforce. According to Nephi, it’s not enough to just exercise these virtues, we must “press forward with a steadfastness in Christ,” so in the center of this triangle we’ll put the face of Jesus Christ. And there we have it: the complete, encapsulated gospel.
It’s not hard to see why faith, hope, and charity are good things, but why must they center around the man Jesus of Nazareth? Have there not be many good prophets, wise men, rabbis, shamans, pundits, and imams who have taught these same principles? What makes Jesus so special? And is not the idea that he is the only name by which salvation comes narrow-minded, tribalistic, and old-fashioned? I will attempt to answer these questions.
First I’ll discuss the principle of faith, which, as Nephi describes, is not just faith in anything but faith in Jesus Christ. This immediately begs the question: why should we put our faith in Jesus, a Jewish carpenter, whom, as far as the secular world is concerned, lived on the other side of the planet and died nearly two-thousand years ago? Is putting faith in such a person not the definition of insanity? To anyone who would ask this question, I would respond, “Have you read Jesus?”
As far as we know, Jesus himself didn’t write anything, but his disciples recorded his life and teachings, and attempts to prove that Jesus never existed are no longer taken seriously by historians. What is fair to ask, however, is whether the gospel narratives contain Jesus’ true, unadulterated teachings, and whether or not the events described within them actually occurred. On these points, it does not appear that current science can confirm or deny their absolute veracity. For example, while there is overwhelming circumstantial evidence to suggest that Jesus was actually resurrected … the idea of resurrection is so far-fetched to the secular world that, understandably, they cannot accept it. However, this does mean that there is a better explanation for what happened. To me it seems like a divinely-instituted stalemate, where the burden of proof cannot be assigned to any one party but is placed on the individual reader, as if Jesus himself is saying to each and every one of us, “But whom say ye that I am?” (Matthew 16:15).
We could respond, “You’re a great spiritual teacher, who I may or may not be interested in following, because I’ve got my own spiritual teachers, thank you very much.” Or, like Peter, we could say, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Which camp are you in, and how can you discover which idea is correct? Jesus of Nazareth is either the Christ, the Son of God, the only way to salvation, as he himself said, or he was just another Jewish rabbi, and we’re a bunch of wackos for putting our trust in a dead guy. Hence my question, Have you read Jesus … seriously read Jesus? You are not only judge and jury, but your soul is on trial, and the stakes are eternal, and therefore you must consider the evidence.
I, of course, cannot read Jesus for you, though for what it’s worth, I can share my testimony. I love the words and stories Christ. Here is a man who single-handedly takes on the evils of the world. He’s bold, yet kind, powerful, yet merciful. He sees the good in lowly fishermen and looks right through the facades of kings and priests. His wisdom is profound if not otherworldly, and he practices what he teaches even while forgiving those who crucify him. Yet he’s the one in control, his sacrifice an unparalleled act of courage and love, not defeat. The bad guys cannot catch him. The doctors cannot out-think him. He inspired thousands, who inspired millions, and whatever he did, it so profoundly affected those who knew him, that they gladly walked into the jaws of death for his sake. These are facts. If Jesus, whose words depict the most honest man I have ever read of, is not who he says he was, then where did this unparallelled endowment of light and truth come from? There are no words that can inspire me like the words of Jesus.
Of course, not everyone perceives his words as truthful, as his gospel was not designed to be forced upon us. Each one of us must choose what we’ll do with this fruit. Some find it sweet and precious, others find it bitter and common. Though the question at hand is not only whether or not the fruit is sweet but what the long-term effects will be for those who make it a regular part of their diets versus those who do not. As demonstrated by the lives and examples of his disciples, I believe we can find further and quantifiable proof that it is good for us to put our faith in Jesus Christ. In other words, all hope of another world aside, look what faith in Jesus Christ could do for you now. And if you like what you see, what’s left to lose?
Jesus Christ is more than a man, he is a movement, a legacy, an ideology. And central to this ideology is the idea of the flesh submitting to the spirit, of putting off the natural man and becoming a saint. Jesus not only taught us but showed us how to do this through his many examples of will-power, which led to his divine power. From his humble birth to his even humbler death, marked by a forsaking of riches and constant service, he showed us that worldliness (i.e. wickedness) never was happiness. He showed us that no amount of outward ordinances, generous contributions, large phylacteries, or hems on our garments are of any value if the soul isn’t right before God. This is an idea worth sharing.
But Jesus is more than an idea. He’s a man. His physical birth, life, death, and resurrection showed the world that God is not some abstract idea rooted in Greek philosophy but is a literal being with body parts and passions. What more, Jesus taught that each one of us is a god in the making, and that, therefore, what we do with our time on this earth is of tremendous consequence. As if that weren’t enough, he commanded us to be perfect, even as he and his father in heaven are perfect (3 Nephi 12:48). Jesus Christ is the way because he was perfect, and any way that does not require perfection of us will ultimately fall short of our goal of exaltation, because “no unclean thing can dwell with God” (1 Nephi 10:21).
Of course, none of us are perfect, and that presents a problem. We are in need of mercy from one who can lift us beyond the broken rungs of our spiritual progression. And who could we trust to do this but one who has, himself, mastered this perilous ascent? At this critical point, no prophet, hero, or teacher – or anyone who has not gone the full distance to perfection – could be adequate. Through his conflict-ridden life and his ultimate trial in Gethsemane, Christ learned and demonstrated more than any man that evil, sin, death, and the destroying powers are real, but that we, like him, through him, can and must overcome. He commanded us to follow him and continue his works and promised us that divine witness and power would attend those who courageously did so.
I have felt this divine witness, and it is my testimony that if anyone is worthy of our faith, it is Jesus Christ. Some might argue that no one’s worthy of our faith, but unless we’re completely stagnant, we can’t help but put our faith in something or someone, whatever ideal we aspire to become. Personally, I don’t believe that the question of faith or no faith is an option, only where we’ll put our faith.
Once you believe, as I do, that it is not only good but essential to put faith in Christ, we naturally come to the second principle of the Gospel triforce: hope. Of all the major wise teachers who have come and gone, by their own traditions, Jesus is the only who is even rumored to still be breathing. With the doctrine of his triumphant rise from the tomb comes a bright universe of endless possibilities. We learn that good will, indeed, conquer evil, that life will conquer death, that love is eternal, and that joy is boundless. In Christ’s own words: “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). We have hope in Christ, because only he has conquered sin and death and opened the gate for us to follow. I do not know how this works any more than I can fully comprehend the miracle of how my wife and I created our children. But there they are in God’s own image, and similarly, I’m content to take it on faith that, somehow, Christ has made possible a second birth for all of us.
As King Benjamin put it, “… ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you” (Mosiah 5:7). When we put our faith in Jesus Christ as we would in a kind, protecting, and powerful father, we needn’t fear death. We needn’t fear opposition. We needn’t fear. Christ is hope.
And having found faith and hope, having tasted from the living waters, it becomes pretty hard to go back to regular water, which leaves us thirsty in the end. If we’re to “press forward with a steadfastness in Christ,” as Nephi puts it, we must not only have “a perfect brightness of hope” but “a love of God and of all men.” Charity, the third point of the gospel triforce. This charity comes naturally, because having found purpose in life, seeing light ahead of us, and comprehending the great plan, we can’t help but feel God’s love for us and love him back, and when we’ve found this love, we can’t help but feel joy, and when we feel this joy, we can’t help but want to share it. As Joseph Smith put it, “Love is one of the chief characteristics of Deity, and ought to be manifested by those who aspire to be the sons of God. A man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race.” (History of the Church, 4:227).
The Gospel of Jesus Christ isn’t about a mystical connection with deity, a checklist of ordinances, an elect membership, or a free pass to heaven. It’s about becoming like Christ, doing his works, and renewing the whole world through his goodness and love. It is our mission to not only save ourselves but to help build the kingdom of God and assist in the salvation of all of our brothers and sisters. When people have found faith, hope, and charity in Christ, they can find peace in lions’ dens. No opposition is too great. And only when we’ve found this faith, hope, and charity is Zion possible, because these virtues are the foundation for integrity, accountability, duty, service, and equanimity. No government program or police state could ever shape from the outside what can only come from within. The world is in desperate need of disciples of Christ. Without them, we are all ripe for destruction. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not just to prepare us for some elusive heaven. It is the way of eternal life, which has everything to do with right now.
As Jesus himself put it, to which I add my testimony, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).