To have faith in Jesus Christ, we must learn to believe his promise of eternal life.
One of the most terrifying dilemmas in the universe consists of two facts. The first is expressed in Doctrine and Covenants 1:31: “I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance.” [D&C 1:31] That means he can’t tolerate it. He can’t blink or look the other way. The other fact is very simply put: We all sin. If the equation consisted of only those two facts, the conclusion would be inescapable: As sinful beings, we can never enter God’s presence.
But that is not all there is. There is the atonement of Jesus Christ—that glorious plan by which this dilemma can be resolved.
And the amazing thing is that the Atonement works in practical ways.
When my son Michael was six or seven, he did something I thought was wrong. He is my only son, and I want him to be better than his dad was. So when he slipped up, I sent him to his room with the instructions, “Don’t you dare come out until I come and get you!”
And then I forgot. Some hours later, as I was watching television, I heard his door open and tentative footsteps coming down the hall. I slapped my forehead and ran to meet him. There he was with swollen eyes and tears on his cheeks. He looked up at me—not quite sure he should have come out—and said, “Dad, can’t we ever be friends again?” I melted and pulled him to me. He’s my boy, and I love him.
We all do things that disappoint our Father in Heaven, that separate us from his presence, his Spirit. There are times when we get sent to our rooms, spiritually though not physically. When that happens, we sometimes lift up our eyes and say, “O Father, can’t we ever be friends again?” The answer, found in all the scriptures, is a resounding “Yes—through the atonement of Christ.” I particularly like the way it is put in Isaiah 1:18: “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” [Isa. 1:18]
To have faith in Jesus Christ is not merely to believe that he is who he says he is. It is not merely to believe in Christ; we must also believe Christ. Both as a bishop and as a teacher, I have heard several variations on a theme of doubt. Some have said, “Bishop, I’ve sinned too horribly. I’ll be active in the Church, and I hope for some reward. But I couldn’t ever hope to be exalted after what I’ve done.” Others have said, “I’m weak and imperfect. I don’t have all the talents that Brother Jones (or Sister Smith) does. I’ll never be the bishop (or the Relief Society president). I’m just average. I expect my reward in eternity will be a little lower than theirs.”
All of these are variations on the same theme: “I do not believe Christ can do what he claims. I have no faith in his ability to exalt me.”
I once counseled a man who said, “Bishop, I’m just not celestial material.” Well, I’d heard those words once too often, so I said, “You’re not celestial material? Welcome to the club. Not one of us is! Not one of us qualifies on our own for the presence of God. So why don’t you admit your real problem? Why don’t you admit that you don’t believe Christ can do what he says he can do?”
He got angry. “I have a testimony of Jesus!”
I said, “Yes, you believe in Christ. You simply do not believe Christ. He says that even though you are not celestial, he can make you celestial—but you don’t believe it.”
Why He Is Called the Savior
Sometimes the demand for perfection drives us to despair. More than a decade ago, my wife and I were living in Pennsylvania. Things seemed to be going well. I’d been promoted in my work and was also serving in the bishopric. Janet had given birth to our fourth child, had graduated from college, had passed the CPA exam, and had been called to serve as Relief Society president. We were busy but happy, and I thought we were doing the right things.
Then my wife began to feel an overpowering sense of discouragement. She asked to be released from her callings, and try as I might, I could not get her to tell me what was wrong.
One night, after two weeks of being prodded by a sometimes insensitive but worried husband, she finally said, “All right. You want to know what’s wrong? I can’t do it anymore. I can’t get up at 5:30 in the morning to bake bread and help my kids with their homework and do my own homework. I can’t do my Relief Society stuff and get my genealogy done and sew and go to the PTA meetings and write the missionaries. …”
She added, “I don’t have the talent that Sister Morrell has. I can’t do what Sister Childs does. I try not to yell at the kids, but I do. I’m not perfect, and I’m never going to be perfect. I’m afraid I’m not going to make it to the celestial kingdom.”
I said, “Janet, I know you have a testimony. …”
“Of course I do! That’s what’s so terrible. I know the gospel’s true. I just can’t do it. I’ve tried and I’ve tried, but I can’t do it all, all of the time.”
It was a long night. At last we came to understand what was wrong. We realized, after talking together, that Janet was trying to save herself. She knew that Jesus is an adviser and a teacher. She knew that he is an example, the head of the Church, our Elder Brother, and even God. She knew all that, but she did not understand His role as the Savior.
We all fail at living the full celestial level. That’s why we need a Savior. The Lord says, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” (Matt. 5:6.) We frequently misinterpret that verse. We think it means “Blessed are the righteous.” It does not. When are you hungry? When are you thirsty? When you don’t have the object of your desire. It is those who don’t have the righteousness that God has—but who hunger and thirst after it—who are blessed, for if that is the desire of their hearts, the Lord will help them achieve it.
Becoming One with Christ
Perfection comes through the atonement of Jesus Christ. That happens as we become one with him, a perfect being. It is like a merger. If you take a small, bankrupt firm that is about to go under and merge it with a corporate giant, what happens? Their assets and liabilities flow together, and the new entity that is created is solvent.
This is similar to what happens spiritually when we enter into a covenant with the Savior. We have liabilities; he has assets. So he proposes a covenant relationship. Jesus is sometimes called the Bridegroom and the Church the Bride, because of their close association under the covenant. After the covenant is made, I become one with Christ, and as partners we work together toward my exaltation. My liabilities and his assets flow into each other. I do all that I can do, and he does what I cannot yet do. For now, in partnership we are perfect, through His perfection.
What heavier burden is there than the demand we sometimes place on ourselves to be perfect now, in this life? But Jesus proposes: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
“For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28–30.)