Sunday, June 6, 2010

Why Being a Child of God is Not Enough

“It is good to remember that you are always a child of God. This knowledge will carry you through the most difficult times in your life and will inspire you to accomplish remarkable things. However, it is also important to remember that being a [son or] daughter of eternal parents is not a distinction you earned or you will ever lose. You will always and forever remain a [son or] daughter of God. Your Heavenly Father has high aspirations for you, but your divine origin alone does not guarantee you a divine inheritance. God sent you here to prepare for a future greater than anything you can imagine.

The promised blessings of God to the faithful are glorious and inspiring. Among them are “thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths.” And it takes more than a spiritual birth certificate or a “Child of God Membership Card” to qualify for these incomprehensible blessings” (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Living the Gospel Joyful,” General Women’s Meeting Address, Sept. 27, 2014).

We are all born “naturally” as natural descendants of Adam, who was God’s son. We are also the spirit sons and daughters of God. It is in this general sense that all men can be called children of God. All men are children of God, and (all things being equal) all men have the same claim to the love of their Father in Heaven.  Therefore we gain no particular distinction nor can we derive any special status above our fellows simply due to the fact of our divine heritage.  Our divine origin is important, and vital to know about, but being born into this world as a child of God does not automatically confer any kind of righteousness, merit, or status upon us; nor does our divine pedigree, in and of itself, guarantee salvation for us in any way.

“But how do we attain [these blessings]? The Savior has answered this question in our time: “Except ye abide my law ye cannot attain to this glory.  “For strait is the gate, and narrow the way that leadeth unto the exaltation. “… Receive ye, therefore, my law.”

For this reason, we speak of walking the path of discipleship.  We speak of obedience to God’s commandments.  We speak of living the gospel joyfully, with all our heart, might, mind, and soul” (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Living the Gospel Joyful,” General Women’s Meeting Address, Sept. 27, 2014).

If we wish to inherit all that the Father has, then we must become bound to him through more than just the mere fact of our parentage.  We were placed on this Earth in order that we might have the opportunity, over time, to prove ourselves, and our loyalty, to God. We demonstrate this loyalty and love by steadfastly and valiantly keeping His commandments, and by binding ourselves to God through covenants made by means of ordinances such as baptism and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands.

Putting Off the Natural Man

Why must we do all of these things in order to inherit all of the blessings which the Father wishes to give His children?  As His children, should we not have some natural claim to our divine inheritance?

Unfortunately, we each make mistakes, and commit sins and transgressions. In our “natural” fallen state, which comes upon us as a consequence of the fall of Adam and Eve, we become “carnal, sensual, devilish, knowing evil from good” and thus, through sin, we become estranged from our Father in heaven. If we persist in our willful defiance of God’s laws (to say nothing of His love for us), we will become estranged from Him to the point that we may become “an enemy to God” even in this life (see Mosiah 16).

For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh 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. (Mosiah 3:19)

We Must Be Born Again

In other places, the scriptures describe the process of yielding to the spirit, putting off the natural man, and becoming as a little child as a spiritual rebirth.  The scriptures teach that all must be born again, as new creatures in Christ, if we wish to return to God's presence and partake of His glory.

John 3:3  Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

It falls to each of us to choose for ourselves to “yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit” which will direct us and help us to take the steps necessary to “put off the natural man” and become reborn “spiritually” as the sons and daughters of God.  This requires an active choice (and commitment to change ourselves) on our part, one so complete and so wholly transformative that the prophet Alma described it as a “mighty change in [our] hearts.” 

Alma 5:14  And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?

Mosiah 27:25-26  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.

2 Corinthians 5:17  Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

When a man is truly born of God he becomes a new man, wholly converted, and his nature is totally altered to become one that more closely resembles Christ’s nature. His old self, or his old life of sin, is crucified with Christ, so that he can become free to “walk in newness of life” (see Romans 6). He will no longer have any desire to sin (he retains the capacity to sin (along with his agency), but a man that is truly born again is sanctified by the blood of Christ, and in this state he is so filled with the love of God and a love for mankind (and an accompanying love for righteousness) that he “cannot look upon sin save it were with abhorrence”(see Alma 13:12)). In this state he righteously exercises his agency to elect not to sin, because he truly desires to love and serve God, and to sin would run counter to his heart’s desire). Both the apostle John and the apostle Paul taught this principle clearly in the following passages of scripture:

1 John 2:28-29  And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming. If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him.

Philippians 2:13-15  For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. Do all things without murmurings and disputings: That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;

1 John 3:1-3, 9-10  Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.

1 John 4:7-8  Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.

1 John 5:2-5, 18  By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous. For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.

Reconciliation and Redemption

It is only through the grace and sacrifice of Jesus Christ that we who are lost, and estranged from our Father in heaven through sin and transgression, can be reconciled to Him and so no longer be counted His enemies, as Paul explains in Romans 5:8-11:

But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.

Becoming Sons (and Daughters) of God

God, in his infinite love for us, has promised us more than mere reconciliation. Through the merits, and mercy, and grace of His son Jesus Christ, and the gift of His atonement, those who are born again can be adopted into the family of God, and so truly be counted as sons and daughters of the Most High God.  This spiritual rebirth requires that we exercise faith unto repentance, and also choose to be baptized for the remission of our sins, as a sign that we have received Christ with our whole heart.

John 3:5  Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

John 1:12-13  But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

Galatians 3:26-27, 29  For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.   And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

What is the difference between being a child of God and becoming the sons of God? Note that we are all the children of God by birth, and through no direct choice of our own.  In contrast, one must choose to become a son or daughter of God, and this is only possible through the power of God, to all those who have received Him of their own free will and allowed themselves to become born again and born of God.  In this sense being a "Son (or Daughter) of God" becomes a special designation by which those who have devoted themselves to a life of discipleship and service to God are known and called.  When we take upon ourselves the name of God, we are in effect vowing to devote ourselves to a life modeled after our God (and His son Jesus Christ).  When a group of people call themselves "The Sons of Liberty," they effectively pledge their loyalty and service to the cause and principles of liberty.  Moreover, they will strive to promote the cause and ideals of liberty in all of their words and actions, and in every place that they may be in. In much the same way, those that are called "The Sons of God" have pledged and dedicated their lives to loyalty and service to God and to promoting the cause of Christ.  When the sons of God pledge themselves to God, they do so by means of covenant. 

Mosiah 18:8-10  And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another's burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?

Heirs of God and Joint-Heirs with Christ

Christ has condescended to elevate those who become true sons of God to the status of “joint-heirs” with him, to be “glorified with Him” purely as an expression of His grace. If we accept and live the gospel through baptism, Christ has made it possible for us to inherit all that He stands to inherit (which is all that the Father has, according to Christ’s own words in John 16:15). The apostle Paul testifies of this in the following scriptural passages:

Philippians 2:5-6  Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:

Galatians 3:26-29  For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Galatians 4:1-7  Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.

Romans 8:14-17  For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.

“In the important doctrinal discourse known as the ‘King Follett Sermon’ the Prophet Joseph Smith, referring to those who ‘shall be heirs of God and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ,’ described joint-heirship as inheriting the same power, the same glory, and the same exaltation, until an individual ascends to the station of Godhood and rises to the throne of eternal power sharing the rewards with all the faithful who have preceded him. A joint-heir legally inherits and shares all equities and gifts in equal interest with all other heirs. Nothing is excluded nor adjusted in value between the participating joint-heirs. . . .

“If we are led by the Spirit of God in our lives, we are promised heirship with him and joint-heirship with Christ our Lord in the great estate of God’s kingdom and glory. We ‘suffer with Christ’ as we sacrifice the things of the world and yield complete obedience to every truth, principle, and ordinance of the gospel plan. Whatever we contribute in honest tithes and other contributions along with unselfish participation and service to our fellow men to build the kingdom of God on the earth, increases our personal joy and happiness in heirship with Christ the Lord.” (Delbert L. Stapley in Conference Report, Apr. 1961, p. 66.)

The choice and opportunity to change our nature and become a true son or daughter of God (and a joint-heir of glory with Christ) can only come to us through and as a result of the redemption of Jesus Christ and our willing obedience to the saving principles and ordinances of His gospel.

D&C 34:1-3  Hearken and hear and behold what I, the Lord God, shall say unto you, even Jesus Christ your Redeemer; The light and the life of the world, a light which shineth in darkness and the darkness comprehendeth it not; Who so loved the world that he gave his own life, that as many as would believe might become the sons of God.

D&C 25:1  Hearken unto the voice of the Lord your God, while I speak unto you, Emma Smith, my daughter; for verily I say unto you, all those who receive my gospel are sons and daughters in my kingdom.

This process of conversion and sanctification by which we become the sons (and daughters) and heirs of God begins at baptism, and is intended to continue throughout our entire mortal existence (if not beyond).

“An heir is one who is entitled to inherit from a progenitor or others, property, titles, or other benefits. But heirs in an eternal sense involve more than inheritance, and must be designated on the basis of righteousness and obedience to divine law. All mankind are God’s sons and daughters in the spirit, but only those who qualify themselves by baptism, priesthood, and faithfulness may become his heirs in the ultimate sense and inherit the fulness of that which he may bestow. (Compare Moses 6:64–68 ; D&C 84:31–34 .)” (The Life and Teachings of Jesus and His Apostles, 327)

Beyond living the basic principles and ordinances of the Gospel, a life of born-again discipleship requires us, as covenant sons and daughters of God and joint-heirs with Christ, to endure steadfastly to the end. This means that spiritual rebirth cannot be a finite or isolated event, or some sort of one-and-done deal, but instead it must entail a lifelong process of conversion, rebirth, and renewal.

Romans 12:2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

Through this process we can continue to grow and to progress and eventually we will be transformed, and made able to purify ourselves, “even as He is pure,” through the gospel (and grace) of Jesus Christ; until (or in anticipation of) that day in which “He shall appear.” Our hope will be that in that day, when we see Him as He is, we will find that, “we shall be like him.” If this is indeed the case, then Christ will grant that we might stand at His side as joint-heirs of the promises and glorious inheritance of eternal life which God has given to all those who become His sons and daughters.


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