What God’s Grace and Christ’s Atonement can teach us about our worth.
In Church this Sunday, we talked about Brother Brad Wilcox’s talk given last October in General Conference called, ‘Worthiness is not Flawlessness’- an absolutely incredible talk that I love to go back to again and again. In this talk, Brother Wilcox starts with a quick analogy:
I once sent a message to my daughter and son-in-law using the voice-to-text feature on my phone. I said, “Hey, you two. Sure love you.” They received, “Hate you two. Should love you.” Isn’t it amazing how easily a positive and well-intentioned message can be misunderstood? This is what sometimes happens with God’s messages of repentance and worthiness.
Though a light-hearted and funny story, it brings with it a powerful message. So often in the gospel, we hear the words of God and, instead of hearing the mercy within the message, we hear judgment. The Bible speaks of repentance so often and with such urgency that it makes us feel like we are always falling short or are completely hopeless. Yet, what is at the core of our ability to repent? The Atonement of Jesus Christ. And as it says in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Love, not judgment. With such a powerful sacrifice behind the process, how could we ever even fall into the trap of seeing repentance as a punishment or degradation of our efforts? One of my favorite childhood movies is Disney’s ‘Pollyanna’. In that movie, there is a scene where the town pastor is preparing his sermon in a field when Pollyanna delivers a letter to him and gives a message that completely changes the pastor’s perspective on the gospel.
The pastor had spent years trying to get through to his congregation, begging them to repent or they would face the wrath of God. Yet, this sweet young girl, with her innocent questions and simple answers, completely broke his previous ideas. In this scene, she quotes Abraham Lincoln by saying, “When you look for the bad in mankind, expecting to find it, you surely will.” She then mentions the Bible’s glad passages and says, “If God took the trouble to tell us 800 times to be glad and rejoice, He must have wanted us to do it.” I think all of us often fall into the mindset that the pastor in this movie carried. We get so caught up in the calls to repent and the need for it, that we forget the intention behind the messages and the reason why we must repent. In one of my favorite General Conference talks ‘Be Ye Therefore Perfect-Eventually’, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland references a story which states:
“Leo Tolstoy wrote once of a priest who was criticized by one of his congregants for not living as resolutely as he should, the critic concluding that the principles the erring preacher taught must therefore also be erroneous.
In response to that criticism, the priest says: “Look at my life now and compare it to my former life. You will see that I am trying to live out the truth I proclaim.” Unable to live up to the high ideals he taught, the priest admits he has failed. But he cries:
“Attack me, [if you wish,] I do this myself, but [don’t] attack … the path I follow. … If I know the way home [but] am walking along it drunkenly, is it any less the right way simply because I am staggering from side to side?
“… Do not gleefully shout, ‘Look at him! … There he is crawling into a bog!’ No, do not gloat, but give … your help [to anyone trying to walk the road back to God.]“”
I think, so often in the gospel, we are so busy focusing on the negatives of our lives- the missteps and mistakes that we make, that we ignore the the fact that we are still making our way down the path back to God, not seeing the progress we are making. Brother Wilcox in his talk references the intention behind the Atonement and Repentance by saying, “God loves us as we are, but He also loves us too much to leave us this way.” That is why He speaks so intently and urgently about repentance; because He loves us so deeply and perfectly as a Father should, knows us better than we know ourselves and wants us to awaken the potential that lies within all of us. As Elder Holland says in his talk, “Jesus did not intend His sermon on this subject to be a verbal hammer for battering us about our shortcomings. No, I believe He intended it to be a tribute to who and what God the Eternal Father is and what we can achieve with Him in eternity.” Another analogy Elder Wilcox makes is that he compares the Repentance Process to a cross-country road trip:
“We can’t reach our destination on one tank of gas. We must refill the tank over and over. Taking the sacrament is like pulling into the gas station. As we repent and renew our covenants, we pledge our willingness to keep the commandments, and God and Christ bless us with the Holy Spirit. In short, we promise to press forward on our journey, and God and Christ promise to refill the tank.”
When speaking of this analogy, one sister in my congregation made the comment that ‘fueling up’ was a part of the plan from the beginning. That Satan pokes and prods at us by saying that we should only need to refuel once or twice, but to do it more than that would be ‘too much’ or ‘selfish’ of us. As if Christ’s Atonement had a limit to it; no, it is infinite and complete and is meant to be used whenever we need it. Elder Wilcox quotes Elder Richard G. Scott in his talk by saying, “The Lord sees weaknesses differently than He does rebellion… When the Lord speaks of weaknesses, it is always with mercy.” Examples of this are seen in 1 Corinthians 2:3 “And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling”, 2 Corinthians 12:9 “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me”, and Hebrews 11:34 “Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.”
This seems to be a favorite topic of sorts of Elder Wilcox’s because he has another talk(a devotional) entitled ‘His Grace is Sufficient’. In it, he shares a conversation he once had with a sister who said she didn’t understand Grace. She stated:
“I know that I have to do my part and then Jesus makes up the difference and fills the gap that stands between my part and perfection. But who fills the gap that stands between where I am now and my part?”
“Jesus doesn’t make up the difference. Jesus makes all the difference. Grace is not about filling gaps. It is about filling us.”
…“No. The truth is, there is no line. Jesus filled the whole space. He paid our debt in full. He didn’t pay it all except for a few coins. He paid it all. It is finished.”
…“you have plenty to do, but it is not to fill that gap. We will all be resurrected. We will all go back to God’s presence. What is left to be determined by our obedience is what kind of body we plan on being resurrected with and how comfortable we plan to be in God’s presence and how long we plan to stay there.” …
In reference to the importance of Grace, Elder Wilcox says:
“I have born-again Christian friends who say to me, “You Mormons are trying to earn your way to heaven.”
I say, “No, we are not earning heaven. We are learning heaven. We are preparing for it (see D&C 78:7). We are practicing for it.”
They ask me, “Have you been saved by grace?”
I answer, “Yes. Absolutely, totally, completely, thankfully—yes!”
Then I ask them a question that perhaps they have not fully considered: “Have you been changed by grace?” They are so excited about being saved that maybe they are not thinking enough about what comes next. They are so happy the debt is paid that they may not have considered why the debt existed in the first place. Latter-day Saints know not only what Jesus has saved us from but also what He has saved us for. As my friend Brett Sanders puts it, “A life impacted by grace eventually begins to look like Christ’s life.” As my friend Omar Canals puts it, “While many Christians view Christ’s suffering as only a huge favor He did for us, Latter-day Saints also recognize it as a huge investment He made in us.” As Moroni puts it, grace isn’t just about being saved. It is also about becoming like the Savior(see Moroni 7:48).”
“The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can go home but that—miraculously—we can feel at home there. If Christ did not require faith and repentance, then there would be no desire to change…If Jesus did not require covenants and bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost, then there would be no way to change. We would be left forever with only willpower, with no access to His power. If Jesus did not require endurance to the end, then there would be no internalization of those changes over time. They would forever be surface and cosmetic rather than sinking inside us and becoming part of us—part of who we are.” Brother Wilcox explains within his talk.
That is the key to the Atonement and the Repentance Process. The gospel is not there for us to prove ourselves to God. He already knows what we are capable of; He knows us better than we know ourselves, sees our faults and flaws completely, yet He accepts and loves us anyway. We are not the ones begging Him for help, begging Him for a second chance. His love and Grace are completely perfect. He is ready to pour out so many blessings for us, waiting for us to call upon Him. The Lord is standing at that door, waiting for us to knock, his hand is outstretched still for us to take. And yet, we do not act and are often ignorant to this fact. He offers us so much that we feel unworthy of it all, wondering how we can ever deserve so much love and praise. How can we even begin to accept all that He wishes to bestow on us? No, we are not trying to prove ourselves to God, we are trying to prove ourselves to ourselves. This life is here for us to realize our own Divine Worth and potential; for us to realize that we are worth it. We are the ones we need to convince, not God and not anyone else. We are good enough for Him, we have always been good enough for Him- we just need to realize that ourselves so that we can finally begin to grow and change, finally begin to accept His Grace and Christ’s Atonement and take it into ourselves. We need to learn to love ourselves, to look on our efforts with the same mercy and love that He does every single time. It is only then that we will truly begin to become Christ-like.
Additional Talks to Read on this Topic
‘Jesus Christ, Our Great Deliverer’ BYU-Idaho Devotional by Brother Shawn Jensen
‘It Is Better to Look Up’ General Conference talk by Elder Carl B. Cook