I'm back! February was a crazy month. So, yes, I completed most of the reading but could never get to writing anything down. So, here are my thoughts on this week's study: 2 Nephi 31-33...
Here we find the Doctrine of Christ. Most of us can quote the Article of Faith:
We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the gospel are first, faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ; second, repentance; third, baptism by emersion for the remission of sins; fourth, the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
And many of us have probably been taught these principles and ordinances in a step by step fashion. I've even drawn the steps myself, one following the other as we make our way to heaven. Therefore, I find it very interesting that in laying out the Doctrine of Christ, Nephi doesn't go through the "steps," nor are they even in the same order.
Nephi first talks about baptism. He talks about Jesus being baptized and then declares, "And now, if the Lamb of God, he being holy, should have need to be baptized by water...O then, how much more need have we, being unholy, to be baptized, yea, even by water (2 Ne. 31:5)!" Interestingly, when Jesus visits the Nephites after his crucifixion, the first thing He teaches them is about baptism. Something about that ordinance is crucial to following our Savior.
When asked, "Why did Jesus have to get baptized if He was perfect?" our typical answer is, "To show us the example." Yes, in verse 9 over chapter 31, we see just that, "...it showeth unto the children of men the straitness of the path, and the narrowness of the gate, by which they should enter, he having set the example before them (italics added)." When I read these verses this time, however, I was struck by another phrase. Verse 7 states, "...But notwithstanding he being holy, he showeth unto the children of men that, according to the flesh he humbleth himself before the Father... (italics added)." And this is what I think is crucial about baptism coming first when teaching about the doctrine of Christ. Baptism is our first ordinance in which we declare to God that we will follow Him. This decision is a humbling experience as we bury ourselves and come up again as new creatures. We renew this covenant, offering our humble hearts to God, every Sunday when we partake of the sacrament. Humility is necessary in following our Savior, Jesus Christ.
As part of that sacramental renewal, we then have the opportunity to repent. Repentance is not required of young children before the age of eight. Repentance, in my viewpoint, is not required of those who do not know the law. Repentance is a blessing we partake in after we have made a commitment to follow Jesus Christ. I guess you can read 2 Nephi 31:11-13 and come to the conclusion that repentance is required before baptism, but again, I don't see these principles and ordinances as steps, I see them interlocking as we choose to follow our Savior.
"Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I know that if ye shall follow the Son, with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the the name of Christ, by baptism...then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost, and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel (2 Ne. 31:13)."
With the Holy Ghost we can then speak with the tongue of angels. What does that look like? What does it feel like and sound like? I find this a fascinating phrase. In chapter 32, Nephi clarifies, "Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, tehy speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, I said unto you, feas upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do (v.3)." In other words, having been baptized, with a humble and repentant heart we can receive personal revelation!
And then comes faith! Faith was already present when we made the initial choice to be baptized (see 2 Ne. 31:19), but that faith only continues to grow and build and strengthen as we continue along the path.
"And then ye are in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son, unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made, that if ye entered in by the way ye should receive....Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold...ye shall have eternal life (31:18, 20)."
We are taught that faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ is first, and I don't think I dispute that. But we need to remember that once we act in faith, it is not a one-time action. Faith is a growing, learning, active, and living principle. It is only through continuing on the path that our faith becomes stronger and our understanding of Jesus Christ and His love for us can grow.
Nephi's final words testify of this. He declares, "I have charity for my people and great faith in Christ that I shall meet many souls spotless at his judgment-seat (2 Nephi 33:7)." How does He have such faith? "...for thus has the Lord commanded me, and I must obey (v.15)." Nephi made the decision to follow Jesus Christ, he chose to obey, he chose to stay on the path. Of these first four principles and ordinances, only baptism happens once; and yet, even then, the covenant is renewed with the sacrament. Nephi did not follow a step by step plan to heaven, Nephi chose every day to hold to the Doctrine of Jesus Christ!
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"And now, my beloved brethren, and also Jew, and all ye ends of the earth, hearken unto these words and believe in Christ; and if ye believe not in these words believe in Christ. And if ye shall believe in Christ, ye will believe in these words, for they are the words of Christ, and he hath given them unto me; and they teach all men that they should do good."
2 Nephi 33:10