Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Can you add to your height?

25 And which of you with taking thought can add to his stature one cubit?
26 If ye then be not able to do that thing which is least, why take ye thought for the rest? (Luke 12:25-26)
I always kind of wondered about this thing Jesus said. I thought, why would Jesus consider that adding a few feet to our height was easy to do? Why would he call it “that thing which is least”?

Today I was pondering it and the Spirit pointed something out. Read the following verses that come right after the verses above:
27 Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
28 If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he provide for you, if ye are not of little faith? (Luke 12: 27-28, Joseph Smith Translation)
It seems that Christ was thinking of plants and what they do. A plant can grow and make flowers. Of those things a plant does, growing is certainly the least a plant can do. A human with powers of intellect and reasoning, whether he or she wants to or not, can’t decide to grow taller and then do it, as a plant does.

So Christ was trying to show that if the lilies can grow and flower through the providence of God and without working hard for it, then if we have faith, God will provide for us too.

However, when we accept this message, we suddenly find ourselves in a difficulty. What about work? We know we are supposed to work to become self-sufficient so that we don’t burden anybody.

A few verses before this, we get a hint that Christ was not telling us this about lilies to give us an excuse to loll about all day waiting for God to provide.
22 And he said unto his disciples, Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on.
23 The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment. (Luke 12:23)
This seems to tell us that there are more important things to think about than what we will eat and what we will wear. Going back to the plant metaphor, we know that plants grow and flower. But plants also bear fruit. Here is another plant parable Christ gave that elaborates on this point:
6 He spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none.
7 Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?
8 And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it:
9 And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down. (Luke 13:6-9)
So it seems that the whole reason that God provides for us—represented by aerating the ground and fertilizing, according to this parable—is so that we can bear good fruit, which represents good works. These good works are something besides the work at our jobs, because jobs are a gift provided by God for meeting our needs. The context before the above parable shows that one particular type of work we should be doing is repentance:
4 …those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwell in Jerusalem?
5 I tell you, Nay: but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. (Luke 13:4-5)
This combined with the parable shows us plainly that the clock is ticking and that while God is merciful and longsuffering, putting in as much effort as He can to call us to repentance through His servants, waiting for us to decide to repent, giving us time to get our lives in order, if there is no progress in the time period that He gives us (and the length is longer than most of us would probably set for ourselves), if we don’t respond, He will root us up. Why should we spend time speculating on how much time we have? We need to repent now! (And what better way to spend New Year’s Eve than by thinking about what we have done, trying to figure out what we have done wrong, and then praying to our Heavenly Father to forgive us through the sufferings of Christ. Then we will be more ready to make our New Year’s Resolutions.)

Another type of work that Christ wanted us to do was the following:
Therefore seek ye to bring forth the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you. (Luke 12:31, Joseph Smith Translation)
Since the time of New Years Resolutions is very near, I challenge you to decide on at least one thing you can do to get closer to God or to help build the kingdom of God. Here are some ideas:

Read the word of God a little each day
Go to church
Pay tithing
Help at least one person each day
Teach a friend something about your beliefs

I want to work on my prayers this next year and make them more meaningful. I also want to be a little bit more frequent in my blog entries. (Of course, that means I will have to keep myself a fit temple for the Holy Spirit to dwell in to inspire me with ideas to write about.) I figure that improving my prayers will give me a means toward some of those other things on the list. Heavenly Father will answer my prayers to find people I can help and find opportunities to teach my friends something about my beliefs.

Happy New Year!

Image credit: "Orange Lilies", Gene Burch Photography,


Anonymous said...

I like how you made the connection that flowers are able to make themselves grow without any effort, yet we can't no matter how hard we try (well, maybe with some major surgery :). I know sometimes I spend too much time trying to fix things I really can't control. It's an especially good reminder at the new year to keep my goals focused on God instead of on things that don't really matter.

Theist Think Tank said...

Here’s a million dollar question – If you were to die right now, would you qualify for the celestial kingdom? If you’re like most Mormons, you’re not sure. You try hard to be as good as possible, but you still don’t know if you’ve done enough. If the Book of Mormon is really scripture, this hope will always elude you. Alma 11:37 says God cannot save you in your sins. Are all of your sins forgiven? Moroni 10:32 says you must be perfected in Christ, which can only be done by denying yourself of “all ungodliness”. Have you done that? Do you repent on a regular basis? If so, then it is clear that you sin on a regular basis, since only those who break the commandments need to repent. 1 Nephi 3:7 states that you are able to keep His commandments. In fact according to D&C 25:15, you are required to keep them continually! Since you haven’t done this so far, why assume you will in the future? Of course, we should all try to be holy; but if you think that sinning less will qualify you to live in God’s presence, you are mistaken (Gal 3:1-11). The assumption that good works are required for forgiveness only cheapens Christ’s atonement, making it nothing more than a partial payment. God chooses to justify us by faith. Jesus alone does the “perfecting” (Heb 10:14). God gives peace to those who trust in Him alone. If you don’t have this peace, it’s probably because at least a part of you trusts in yourself. Questions? Visit us at

Michaela Stephens said...

Further the Kingdom:

Thank you for your respectful tone; I welcome your input. It appears that you have read the Book of Mormon very carefully and have thought carefully about the doctrines in it. Not many people are so open-minded or so
thoughtful. You bring up some excellent points which I will do my best to discuss.

First, I can say right now in good conscience that if I died right now, I would qualify for the celestial kingdom.

What you state of the following is true:
We cannot be saved in our sins; we must be saved from our sins.
We must be perfected in Christ and deny ourselves of all ungodliness.
It is true that we must repent on a regular basis.
It is true that those who do not keep the commandments must repent.
It is true that we are able to keep the commandments and that we are required to keep them.

Now, you ask, “Since you haven’t done this so far, why assume you will in the future?”

Because God gives to us line upon line and precept upon precept and it requires spiritual preparation and planning to progress toward the stature of the fullness of Christ. To be a disciple of Christ is a discipline and learning to be disciplined does not happen all in a moment. Even with the grace of Christ, it takes practice. Disciples of Christ are tested and proved, and that testing does not come all at once, or we would be forever broken as old bottles when new wine is put in us. I have the faith that though I may not be able to do some good works now, someday, though Christ’s grace, I will have progressed to the point that I will be changed enough that I will be enabled to do those things.

Galations 3:12 And the law is not of faith: but The man that doeth them shall live in them.
Also, Christ said, “if ye love me, keep my commandments.” Therefore, we show our love for Christ and for God by keeping the commandments. And further, Christ said, “if any man will do his will he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God or whether I speak of myself.” Therefore, we keep the commandments in order to obtain a certain knowledge that they are from God.

Your assumption is that I never know if I’ve done enough and so the hope of the celestial kingdom always eludes me.

I want to share with you several principles that are easily confused.

There is the principle of pressing forward with a steadfastness in Christ and enduring to the end. (2 Nephi 31:16). Enduring to the end means following the example of Jesus Christ. (2 Nephi 31:16). This teaches us that no matter what good works we have done in the past, we must continue to do more of the same to the end of our lives. There is no resting on our laurels. But in the event that we are suddenly called home to God, we can say that we have a hope of the celestial kingdom.

Another principle is that doing the commandments to the best of our ability brings peace. Isaiah said, “Oh that thou hadst harkened unto my commandments; then had thy peace been as a river and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea.” Harkening is more than hearing; it is obeying too. Obeying the commandments of God causes peace to flow continually into our lives just like a river continually flows to the sea, which is why Isaiah used the metaphor of a river to describe peace here. I know this is true, because I experience it.

There is also the principle that we must become even as Christ is. Certainly this is something that no one can do except with the grace of Christ. And further, as no one becomes all good all at once, it is a perfecting process that continues over years. That beginning change of heart that we have whereby we lose the desire to sin and gain the desire to do good is continually tested in real life and each of us must choose to be true to it in the midst of trials and temptations. Christ was the only one who was perfectly sinless. All the rest of us fall short from time to time and so we must continually repent and recommit and have another change of heart and try again. By watching and praying always to be saved from temptation and by immediately repenting when we discover we have sinned, we can retain a remission of our sins through Christ’s Atonement and maintain a purity that gives us confidence of a good conscience before God.

There is also the principle of personal revelation, which we are entitled to receive for ourselves. If we find ourselves wondering whether the Lord has accepted our efforts, we can pray to know and He will answer us. If we are in doubt, He will not leave us in doubt for very long. Therefore, any state of wondering if we’ve done enough is temporary. (But again, the principle of pressing forward is still in force.)

So, to address your assumption, I know when I’ve done enough. It’s when I have done my best, no matter how large or small that may be. The Lord’s grace is sufficient for me. Without doing my best, I would not realize that I can’t save myself. Without doing my best I wouldn’t realize how inadequate I am by myself. Without doing my best, I wouldn’t realize how much I need Him. I continually have a hope of the celestial kingdom.

You say: if you think that sinning less will qualify you to live in God’s presence, you are mistaken.

Thankfully I do not subscribe to that belief. No unclean thing can enter the kingdom of God, therefore whether we sin more or less, we are lost. We must be cleansed from all of our sins.

It also seems that you think that I think that good works are required for forgiveness. I suppose I can understand how you got that impression from my post. However, I did not mean that. I was trying to point out that repentance is a work we must do. It is faith in Christ and repentance of our sins that is required for forgiveness. It is always hazardous to post anything about the need for good works, because many Christians will automatically jump to the conclusion that by saying so, one is denying the need for faith in Christ, which I do not. What I am trying to point out is that Christ himself was very clear about the importance of works.

You say: Jesus alone does the “perfecting” (Heb 10:14).

I agree. However, unless I am fully consenting to the perfecting process by asking for it and making my own best efforts to show I really want it, Christ’s gift is not at work in me. He will not force me or you or anyone else into heaven against their will.

I suppose one of the big debates is whether our own best efforts are required at all. I testify that they are, and that God gives us His grace and power to do what He requires of us. Of course, there is always the danger that afterward we will take the glory to ourselves and say that we have done it all, but those who are truly humble will realize that without that grace we could do nothing and our puny efforts would be ineffective.

I hope this clarifies to you what we believe. We are not a “works only” religion. But neither are we a “faith only” religion. We are a “faith and works”.