Sunday, July 2, 2017

GOD'S IMAGE: The Full Measure of Our Creation - Chapter 3

“And thus they become new creatures”

You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.'
– John 3:7

The fall brought about the need for redemption. The Book of Mormon teaches that Jesus brings mankind back into the presence of God.[1] Adam and Eve lived with God in the garden, so why would God be interested in providing them with a chance to eat forbidden fruit and thereby giving way for their fall, just to sacrifice his son in order to get them back?
After being driven out from the garden, Adam and Eve received the word of God and were obedient to it.[2] As a consequence of this, they were given further light and knowledge by an angel. They were baptized by water and subsequently “with fire, and with the Holy Ghost.” To Adam, God said, “Behold, thou art one in me, a son of God; and thus may all become my sons.”[3] Here, Adam and Eve were born again. Because of the addition of light and knowledge and their increased ability to comprehend the things of God, they could prophecy and rejoice in their fall and God’s redemption.[4]
                      God created us without the characteristics of the fall and a desire for the acts of the flesh: “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.”[5] All of this, or anything that is beneath or outside of the image of God, wasn’t put in us by him. It has to be put off if we are to fulfill our purpose and fill the measure of our creation. This is repentance. An essential part of repentance is to understand who and what we are and what parts of us that we shouldn’t identify with and definitely must not value or prefer above the characteristics of God, which are our inheritance. Being born again, like Adam and Eve were, means that we give up what we, deep down, are not. We were created in his image, fell and now need to be reborn into what we initially were designed to be.
Why, then, didn’t God just let Adam and Eve stay in the garden? They were right there, and now we have to get back there? The gain, after having experienced this dark and dreary world, is that we will have a clearer view of what we are saved from and who and whose we are saved to be. This knowledge changes everything. Without it, God’s glory wouldn’t be so great, for what can be greater than raising a fallen, dead and lost mankind unto light, love and life eternal? For God, the fall was a chance for glory and an increase in love, and for mankind, a chance to anew become one with God, but this time with the experience, wisdom and humility gained by tasting both sweet and bitter, spirituality and carnality and highs and lows.
As a response to the pharisaical objection to the fact that Jesus “welcomed sinners and ate with them,”[6] Jesus shared the parable of the prodigal son. The son who came to his senses and chose to return learned that nothing, except his own pride and attachment to his sins, could keep him away from the arms of his father. From his own experience, he knew of his father’s love, and that no matter what he had done to sin against heaven or his father he would receive the honor of feeding on the fatted calf and being clothed in a robe and a ring. This is a story about the benefits of falling and returning. It’s also another witness to the fact that
that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.[7]
Spiritual rebirth is the process by which we move from our fallen state to a state of redemption. “Entering the kingdom of God” is the image used in scripture for expressing the end of this initial ascension from the fall. Jesus said that, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless “they are born of water and the Spirit”[8] or “be converted, and become as little children.”[9] In another instance, again employing the imagery of a child-parent-relationship, Jesus cautioned that, “Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.”[10] Whatever imagery used to describe the need for repentance and interaction with the Spirit of God, the scriptures are adamant that it happens. Mankind must be born again.
                      Even though God is the father of our spirits, he wants to give us new birth so that we, like Adam, can be called a son or daughter of God. Children rarely carry their own agenda. They follow their parents wherever they go. They do ask, “are we there yet?” but they seldom propose a different route than the one chosen by their parents. This is one of the characteristics of those who are born again.
                      The reason to be born again is the rebirth itself. We sometimes set our sight on heaven and the return to God’s presence in the eternal world. To once again become “good”[11] in the sight of God, however, we need to be created anew by him and, metaphorically, be brought back to paradise, or have the paradise within us restored. Another way to express this same idea is that when we are born again, God takes up his residence with us and we become a part of heaven here on earth. Only those who during this life are made partakers of heaven will be allowed to enter therein.
                      In the Book of Mormon we read of Alma the younger. He was brought to an awakening of his awful situation by an angel of the Lord and fell to the earth as if dead. In this state, he repented and was taught by the Lord.
And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters; And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.[12]
The wording is strong and unequivocal–we must be born again! In the spiritual rebirth, our carnal and fallen state, the natural man, is lifted off of us and we are changed to a state of righteousness. God lets his spirit change us and make us into new, righteous and redeemed creatures. This rebirth is not of our doing, but a gift from God. We must be born of God, becoming new creatures!

[1] Helaman 14:17
[2] Moses 5:1-8
[3] Moses 6:64-67
[4] Moses 5:9-12
[5] Galatians 5:19-20
[6] Luke 15:1
[7] Romans 8:38-39
[8] John 3:5
[9] Matthew 18:3
[10] Mark 10:15
[11] After the creation of man, God called his creation “very good.” Since then, God has invited us to again come into his good graces.
[12] Mosiah 27:24-27

Sunday, June 25, 2017

GOD'S IMAGE: The Full Measure of Our Creation - Chapter 2

“Carnal, sensual and devilish”

Because of the fall our natures have become evil continually. 
– Ether 3:2

As reported, Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They did this, coaxed into it by the serpent who urged them to seek to know good from evil, thereby becoming like the gods, Consequently, God sent them out of his presence to till the ground and bring forth children, putting in force the warning he had given them. They also became mortal, all according the word of God. This incident is called the fall.
In scripture, the fall is said to be the cause of much evil and depravity. For example, the fall brought upon mankind a spiritual and temporal death[1] and caused mankind to become carnal, sensual, devilish.[2] On the other hand, “because of the fall of man came Jesus Christ, even the Father and the Son; and because of Jesus Christ came the redemption of man and because of the redemption of man, which came by Jesus Christ, they are brought back into the presence of the Lord.”[3] Because of the fall, we need redemption. Knowing this from before the foundation of the world, God sent Jesus Christ to work it out on the behalf of mankind.
After Adam and Eve were driven out of the garden, they “called upon the name of the Lord” and heard his voice, but having been shut out from his presence, they saw him not. As an answer to their petition, the Lord “gave unto them commandments, that they should worship the Lord their God, and should offer the firstlings of their flocks, for an offering unto the Lord.” They obeyed and, after many days, Adam and Eve were visited by an angel of the Lord. The angel commended them for their obedience to the Lord’s commandments and explained that the commandments they had received were “a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth.” Adam and Eve was also charged to do all things in the name of the Son, and to “repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore. And in that day the Holy Ghost fell upon Adam.”[4]
Technically, in this instance, Adam and Eve were fallen. It is hard, however, to accuse them of being carnal, sensual and devilish. After all, they did call upon the name of the Lord who spoke to them and gave them commandments to which they were obedient. This resulted in an angelic visitation and a subsequent baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost. Through this, they were born of the Spirit and became quickened in the inner man–they became reconciled with God, a born-again son and daughter of God.[5] Once born again, Adam and Eve had their eyes opened.
Adam blessed God and was filled, and began to prophesy concerning all the families of the earth, saying: Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God. And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient.
From this moment on, “Adam and Eve blessed the name of God, and they made all things known unto their sons and their daughters.”[6]
One would imagine that the field was white already to harvest[7] as they began proselytizing among their own children. Satan, however, came among them and provided the needed opposition. Juxtaposing himself to Adam and Eve, and maybe even Jesus himself, Satan said that he also was a son of God and commanded their children, saying: “Believe it not.” We are not given a full-scale report of their respective success, but the scriptures inform us that the sons and daughters of Adam didn’t believe their parents “and they loved Satan more than God. And men began from that time forth to be carnal, sensual, and devilish.”[8]
When God warned Adam and Eve of eating the fruit, he never mentioned a carnal, sensual and devilish nature as one of its consequences. Here, after Satan won the hearts of the children of Adam and Eve, we see the appearance of the consequences normally attributed to the fall. God did forgive Adam and Eve’s transgression in the garden of Eden[9] but still had to let their children be affected by and experience its consequences. God said that,
thy children are conceived in sin, even so when they begin to grow up, sin conceiveth in their hearts, and they taste the bitter, that they may know to prize the good. And it is given unto them to know good from evil; wherefore they are agents unto themselves.[10]
Being agents unto ourselves, we either choose “liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or … captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil.”[11] In a revelation to Joseph Smith, Jesus explained that,
Every spirit of man was innocent in the beginning; and God having redeemed man from the fall, men became again, in their infant state, innocent before God. And that wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth, through disobedience, from the children of men, and because of the tradition of their fathers.[12]
A carnal, sensual and devilish nature is the indirect result of the fall and a direct result of yielding to the temptations of the devil and living in unbelief, “in a carnal state, in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity”, thereby living without God in the world.[13]
The choice of Satan over God isn’t always intentional. Through our own disobedience, and through traditions[14] handed to us from our fathers, we lose light and truth. The choice to love Satan isn’t always based on a clear understanding of what he is and wants, nor is a corresponding desire to see all men as miserable as he is necessary.[15] It requires, however, a desire for the things of the flesh. If Satan can keep us occupied with the things of this world, he has won our hearts, the only thing we really had to give to God and the thing God actually wants.  We don't need to behave satanically, or even be evil (as it is normally understood), nor do we have to desire evil to keep ourselves from God's presence. Ironically and paradoxically, religious overzealousness is enough to effectively keep us out of heaven.[16]
False traditions are truly dangerous and will surely claim its victims. When we, for any reason, believe false traditions instead of the truth, we run the risk of not believing in the redemption of God. This unbelief will put us outside of its embrace. It will be like it didn’t happen. The Book of Mormon teaches that,
It is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain. For no man can be saved, according to the words of Christ, save they shall have faith in his name; wherefore, if these things have ceased, then has faith ceased also; and awful is the state of man, for they are as though there had been no redemption made.[17]
False beliefs lead to unbelief and a lack of faith. The consequence of this is mankind’s non-redemptiveness. This means that, “the wicked remain as though there had been no redemption made, except it be the loosing of the bands of death.”[18] Everyone will be resurrected and brought “back into the presence of the Lord,”[19] thus overcoming the physical death caused by the fall of Adam and Eve. The Book of Mormon teaches that,
he that persists in his own carnal nature, and goes on in the ways of sin and rebellion against God, remaineth in his fallen state and the devil hath all power over him. Therefore he is as though there was no redemption made, being an enemy to God.[20]
In general, mankind labors in sin. We are constantly under the influence of the temptations if the devil. If we don’t get out of its grip, we will die in our sins and “shrink from the presence of the Lord into a state of misery and endless torment” from which we cannot return.[21] Sin makes us unclean, and when that fact is presented to our minds in an unmistakable way, we “would be more miserable to swell with a holy and just God, under a consciousness of [our] filthiness before him, than [we] would to dwell with the damned souls in hell.”[22]
We can either persist in our sin-prone and carnal nature[23] or give way for repentance and belief. In the words of an angel of the Lord, “men drink damnation to their own souls except they humble themselves and become … 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.”[24]
Being weighed down by sin, standing without the redemption of God, we will be unaffected by the enlightening and ennobling power of God and continually move to a higher state of spiritual disorder.[25] If we don’t believe that God can and that we desperately need him to, God cannot change our lives and characters. We can still walk about and do good[26] for all kinds of reasons, but we won’t have the gift of charity and our motives won’t be pure. To God, a good deed isn’t better than the motive behind it.[27]
Through the fall, Adam and Eve not only lost their existence in paradise and the presence of God, but also opened up for the risk to neglect and lose the paradise, light and truth God put within them when he created them in his own image. The measure of our creation, “the image and likeness of God,” was lost as man fell and yielded to the enticings of the devil,[28] chose unbelief and love of evil and thereby became carnal, sensual and devilish. The fall has put us in a place where we are lost[29] from the arms and presence of God, forced to experience good and bad and taste sweet as well as bitter.[30] We live amidst constant opposition.[31] We are free to choose to believe or not to believe.
And they that believe not [will be raised in immortality] unto eternal damnation, for they cannot be redeemed from their spiritual fall, because they repent not, for they love darkness rather than light, and their deeds are evil, and they receive their wages of whom they list to obey.[32]
The message of the Lord hasn’t changed. Today, just as in the times of Adam and Eve, the Lord calls “upon men by the Holy Ghost everywhere and commands them that they should repent.” The promises tied to this must be fulfilled:
As many as believed in the Son, and repented of their sins, should be saved; and as many as believed not and repented not, should be damned.[33]
Being born again is how we are lifted from the fall and the means whereby we stop identifying with our fallen nature. Those who are born again belong to Jesus and they “have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”[34] If we believe and repent, God will redeem us and make us into new creatures,[35] created anew by God into what we were intended to be in the first place. Together with Paul, we can testify that
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.[36]

[1] Alma 42:9-10; Helaman 14:16: Moses 6:48
[2] Mosiah 16:3; Alma 22:13; Moses 5:13, 6:49; D&C 20:20
[3] Mormon 9:12-13
[4] Moses 5:4-9
[5] Moses 6:64-68
[6] Moses 5:10-12
[7] D&C 4:4
[8] Moses 5:13
[9] Moses 6:53
[10] Moses 6:56
[11] 2 Nephi 2:27
[12] D&C 93:38-39
[13] Alma 41:11
[14] These traditions include religious rituals, ideas, beliefs and such things.
[15] 2 Nephi 2:27
[16] Jesus said: “I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20)
[17] Moroni 7:37-38
[18] Alma 11:41
[19] Helaman 14:17
[20] Mosiah 16:5
[21] Mosiah 3:25
[22] Mormon 9:4
[23] The prophets Nephi and Alma both expressed that “sin easily beset us” (2 Nephi 2:18 and Alma 7:15).
[24] Mosiah 3:18-19
[25] In other words, we will be in the grip of entropy.
[26] Acts 10:38
[27] Moroni 7:5-11
[28] Mosiah 3:19
[29] Alma 12:22, 42:6
[30] 2 Nephi 2:11, 15; D&C 29:39
[31] Alma 36:21; Moses 6:55
[32] D&C 93:44-45
[33] Moses 5:14-15
[34] Galatians. 5:24
[35] Mosiah 27:25-26
[36] Galatians. 2:20