Sunday, December 6, 2009

A few thoughts on Hope as a principle of the Gospel

A friend of mine asked me for some insights on Hope and belief when she was asked to speak on the subject in church. I have posted my response here in the hope that you will find my thoughts on the subject instructive and perhaps even enlightening.

You might choose to focus on the fact that hope is not only an essential attribute of Christ that we ought to strive to emulate, but that it is also one of the 3 paramount spiritual gifts that any Christian might aspire to receive. Moreover it is one of the great principles of salvation and exaltation.
Have you heard the biblical phrase "faith, hope, and charity"? That phrase comes from Paul's great treatise on the nature of spiritual gifts. It stretches from 1 Corinthians 12 through 14, but 13 is all about faith, hope and charity (mainly charity, but as you read you'll see that they are all inextricably interconnected-you can't truly possess one of these attributes without possessing the others.) On this subject read Moroni 7 (yes, the whole chapter, especially verses 40-44, but you really need to read the whole chapter to appreciate the context). See also Ether 12:4-9.
You'll find a recurring theme in these scriptures that says that hope comes of faith, and you can't have hope without faith. But then, Moroni points out that you can't have faith without hope. He goes on to say that in order to gain these attributes (spiritual gifts) one must first become meek, and lowly of heart. Ultimately both Moroni and Paul agree that even after all this, if you don't have charity then you are nothing and it's all for nothing (1 Corinthians 13:2-3,13). This is presumably because you can't presume to aspire to be possessed of attributes of Christ if you don't also seek to be changed by and filled with the pure love of the one who loved us enough to suffer and die for each and every one of us. Moroni then instructs us to "pray with all the energy of heart, that ye might be filled with this love...that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure."
The point is that you are not automatically saved upon baptism, and the principle of enduring to the end is not about maintaining the status quo after baptism. In fact it is about having and developing unshaken faith in Christ, pressing forward with a steadfastness of hope, feasting on the word and enduring to the end, to the end of being granted Eternal life.(see 2 Nephi 31 19-21) That is to say that one of the great purposes that God set for us in this life is to learn and grow, or in other words to progress. Progress toward what, you ask? Our chief aim in this life is to progress in becoming more like our older brother Jesus Christ who set the ultimate example for us. (See 3 Nephi 27:27, 3 Nephi 12:48, see also Matthew 5:48). Our ultimate goal in life is as Paul put it in Ephesians 4:13... that we become "a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ".
2 Nephi 31:21 makes it clear that this is the only way that a man can be saved. That is why Paul observes in Romans 8:24 that "we are saved by hope". Hope therefore is one of the great principles of salvation. It is fitting that it is a spiritual gift, and like salvation and eternal life, it can only be given by God, and through God. We are therefore entirely dependent upon the grace of God in bestowing any spiritual gift, but especially faith, hope, and charity.
All we can do is follow the advice of Moroni to pray with all energy of heart and strive to be worthy enough to gain faith, which if we continue seeking diligently will lead eventually to God granting us the gift of hope, and as we continue in this progression we must hope that we are granted charity. We are not passive recipients however, and this process requires faith, obedience and diligence. (Which you'll note are included among Christ's own attributes). Fortunately we are not expected to develop all of Christ's attributes all at once, it is in fact a process of conversion, which will take a lifetime. This is the process in which each of us must participate if we hope to reach our full potential as God sees in us, and to realize the great promises that God has made to each of us. Peter understood this when he said (in 2 Peter 1: 3-8) that Christ through his divine power " hath given us all things that pertain unto life and godliness...Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption of the world through lust. And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.

These principles (faith, hope, charity, and the other attributes of Christ) are given to us in order that we might more fully develop our potential for exaltation, and as with all things that come from God, we will receive them precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little and there a little. (See Isaiah 28 :9-10). Without them we cannot be saved, and we could not have them without the divine grace of Christ in sacrificing himself so that we can each progress to become like him. Joseph Smith, when he wrote the 13th article of faith, was essentially saying that we seek to become more like Christ in every aspect of our lives. Don't believe me? Compare the 13th Article of Faith to Moroni’s description of Charity in Moroni 7: 45. If we do (and become) these things, God has made this incredible promise to each of us (in Moroni 10:32-33):

Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.
And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot.

There we see that ultimately the Gospel of Jesus Christ is as much (or more) about how to BE, as it is about what to DO. This is because “ what God cares about is not exactly our actions. What He cares about is that we should be creatures of a certain kind or quality—the kind of creatures He intended us to be—creatures related to Himself in a certain way.” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)

A thought:

What do you think 2 Peter 1:3-8 has to do with the blessings we receive in the temple?

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