Believers and Knowers
The topic of this sermon comes from the New Testament. We will find it in the epistle of Paul to Timothy:
“Be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.”1 Timothy 4:12
Two thoughts came to mind when I first read that scripture.
The first one was the focus on the word, “believer.” Paul, when writing to Timothy, didn’t say, “be thou an example of the knowers.”
Let’s define belief as something we feel with our spirits, and knowledge as something that we have reasoned or experienced with our physical senses. Using those definitions, if we knew for sure that things were true, we wouldn’t need any faith, would we? And faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, is one of the first principles or fundamental doctrines of our religion.
That’s why we shouldn’t feel bad if we don’t know spiritual things with absolute certainty, or if we have questions, or if we have doubts. That’s okay. It is what God intended. It is part of the plan. We are here to exercise faith.
To exercise faith, we need to use our strength and might to follow both our heart and our mind. We don’t favor one over the other, but we try to find our balance and believe and act with our spiritual senses and our physical senses combined–our soul.
In fact, the scriptures teach that we can even have faith that the Lord will help our unbelief. Remember the story of the man who brought his son, who had been sorely vexed by evil spirits for years, to be healed of Jesus?
Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.Mark 9:23-24
And the Lord immediately healed his son. But what was the greater miracle that took place here? It may not have been the casting out of the unembodied spirit, but the gift of faith to the man, since, as Moroni taught several times, faith precedes the miracle.
“by faith all things are fulfilled.”Ether 12:3
“faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.”Ether 12:6
“if there be no faith among the children of men God can do no miracle among them.”Ether 12:12
“neither at any time hath any wrought miracles until after their faith.”Ether 12:18
Then, at some point in the future, when God feels the time is right for us, we will receive the promise made in John 17:
“And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”John 17:3
So that’s the first thought. Be a believer. And by extension, believe that someday you will also become knowers.
I’m A Believer
The second thought that came into mind was the song written by Neil Diamond but sung by The Monkees and, later, by Smashmouth for the movie, Shrek. The song is “I’m a Believer.”
For the past few weeks that song has been resonating in my brain, so I took the liberty to rework the lyrics to represent the things I believe. Here is my rendition of “I’m a believer.”
Some say God is nothing but a fairy tale.
Good for someone else but not for me.
Jesus cannot save me,
I've got too much guilt.
I deserve the life that I have built.
Then I felt his grace, now I'm a believer,
Not a trace of fear in my mind.
I am loved.
I'm a believer, and I can make it if I try.
Here’s the second verse.
I thought life was mine just for the taking.
But the more I took, the less I got.
Not a slave to sin now,
Jesus broke the chains.
Now the more I give the more I gain.
I have not seen his face, so I'm a believer.
Not a trace of doubt in my mind.
I feel loved.
I'm a believer, and he is walking by my side.
I didn’t write any more verses. Just like our lives, this song is yet to be finished. Maybe you could write your own lyrics and explain why you are a believer.
As you and I try to believe in Jesus Christ and focus on him, we start to feel his love in our individual lives with increased frequency. We begin to have personal, one-on-one experiences, where we feel like he is wrapping his arms around us—healing, forgiving, empowering, and transforming. If we seek those faith-promoting, testimony-building experiences, then we will find them.
So those were my first two thoughts on this topic. But that wasn’t enough to fill up the allotted time, so I pondered some more.
When I think about being a light to the world or being an example of the believers, I often think about behaviors. If I think this way or that way, and then do this thing or that thing, or avoid doing this action or that action, then people can observe these outward behaviors and infer that I’m a good person.
Unfortunately, solely focusing on behaviors leads us into the checklist mentality-where we perceive we have a plethora of things to do and not do. If we don’t cross off absolutely everything on the list for whatever reason, then we feel guilty or unworthy. Feeling compelled or obligated to do something- just so we can cross it off a list-is a mistake. In fact, it is a sin.
Why do I say that? The English word sin comes from the Greek word hamartia, which is an archery term used to describe a shooter who misses the target. It means our aim is off, or we don’t aim at all, or we have aimed at too many targets, or we didn’t give it enough effort. Our direction was not focused on the most important goals and so we sinned. To correct that, we repent by facing the correct target, and aim again. With enough tutelage and practice, we eventually get it right.
But how do we know which target is correct? Which goal do we want to achieve? Which behaviors are right? Which are good? After all, in these morally-relative latter-days a behavior which may seem good to us may be despised by someone else. When good is called “evil” and evil is called “good.”
Here’s what I believe. I believe for a behavior to be good-authentically good-it needs to be based on eternal, fixed truths. Good behaviors are driven by true principles. In other words, it is principled behavior that matters most. It is principled behavior that provides light to an ever-darkening world.
According to the apostle Boyd Packer:
“The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior.”Boyd K. Packer, “Little Children,” Ensign, November 1986
I interpret that to mean that learning how to change our attitudes and behavior is still on the table, but the speed in which we do that can be increased if we understand the principles that underlie these actions.
Understanding true principles and true doctrine will explain why we are doing those things, and which target we are trying to hit with our behaviors. After all, different situations require different responses, and understanding the why-keeping the goal in sight-helps us choose the correct or best behavior.
Therefore, before we focus on behaviors, let’s first focus on the eternal principles behind those behaviors. This will make our lives easier.
I’m going to focus on only two right now: two principles that set us apart as Christians; two principles that will help us shine his light into our darkening world and fulfill the commandment given to us by Jesus:
“Therefore, hold up your light that it may shine unto the world. Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up…”3 Nephi 18:24
Am I Worthy?
If asked you if you were a worthy member of the church, could you give me a one-sentence definition of what that means? And could you give me a scriptural reference that supports your definition?
I’ll give one to you in just a moment, but we tend, in the church, to make worthiness this mysterious state that is reserved for those who have nearly perfected their obedience to celestial laws-and certainly not those of us who are struggling with obeying the lesser telestial or terrestrial laws, like “thou shalt not get angry at the driver who is driving too slow.” I violate too many of those laws almost every day. That makes me a very competent sinner. No wonder Jesus said:
“None is good, save one-that is God.”Luke 18:19
Now that doesn’t mean we should cross the goodness goal off our to-do lists. That is still our prime directive. We should aim to be gooder today than we were yesterday.
By the way, the word, gooder is in the current dictionary, just like fluffernutter and dadbod, which is what I have when I eat too many fluffernutter sandwiches.
Trying to be gooder is precisely what it means to be a worthy member of the church. According to Jesus, in Doctrine & Covenants, section 10, verse 67, he defines what it takes to be a worthy member of his church or a good, fruit-bearing branch of his tree-the tree of life.
That section talks about the role of Jesus as the light of the world, and our role in reflecting that light, which we do when we try to behave as the Savior behaved. While that whole section is illuminating, including the verse that gives us the definition of the purpose of Lucifer, which was his original name when he was a light-bearer, but now, he chose to become a devil, someone who hides from the light and embraces darkness, lies, and error. But for right now, I want to focus on verse 67. It’s a good one.
Here it is:
Behold, this is my doctrine-whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church.D&C 10:67
That’s it. In fact, the very next verse warns us that if we declare more or less than that, then we can’t belong to his church. That seems like a hard statement from one who is the epitome of love, but if we actually followed that counsel, our meetings would be a whole lot shorter. Now that’s a lovely thought.
As we can see, this principle is extremely clear and extremely simple. And if we believe it, truly believe it, then the only thing we need to focus on is to try to constantly fix our aim when we miss our targets. Not just our behavioral targets, but our thoughts, feelings, expectations, desires-the forces that drive our behaviors, the things that motivate us to act-or to be acted upon. All these things need to be aligned if we want to hit our targets.
Once again, if we truly believe this scripture, we will “repent, and come unto Christ.” That’s it. That’s the principle of worthiness. Five simple words. “Repent and come unto Christ.” That’s what makes us worthy to be a member of the church.
That’s what pays the bill that gives us admission into the hospital for the spiritually sick, the place that is reserved for those who are willing to try to repent and rehab, to try to change, to try to improve, to try to sacrifice our animalistic nature and place our sins on the alter, and watch them burn up and turn into ashes.
Notice all the effort we must exert to become spiritually healthy, as well as all the effort from those who have been called upon to treat us. Our spiritual leaders are our spiritual doctors and nurses and technicians and orderlies. They are trying their best to help us become better. So we need to carefully consider their counsel, pray for individual confirmation that this is the right thing to do, and then adopt their recommended attitudes and behaviors.
This is an exercise of faith—both on their part and on our part. As we act in faith, and do the necessary work, before you know it, the spiritual sickness will be flushed out of our bodies and we will feel better faster than we had hoped.
Now, let me give you a quick little example about what it means to “Repent and come unto Christ.”
For example, I need to regularly repent of getting angry when I try to enter or exit 8th North and find my progress impeded by bicyclers and their attitude of “I’m clearly healthier and more eco-friendly than you and so you better not break my momentum.”
So rather than getting angry, I need to repent and try to be more like Jesus in every way that pops into mind. And that includes fixing my attitude towards those who pop into my field of vision wearing spandex. As I do that, then I become worthy.
By the way, if I’ve offended any cyclers out there, please forgive me. Many times, I too, have been nearly hit by a car on a bicycle. Fortunately, no one has ever seen me in spandex. And that’s a good thing, trust me.
So that’s the first principle: “Repent, and come unto Christ.”
The Doctrine of Christ
Which brings us to the second principle, the last one for today. This one is called the Doctrine of Christ. It is an idea we mention from time-to-time in our conferences and meetings but is an idea that is simpler that we might think. It isn’t a new notion at all. The scripture canon is filled with this doctrine–especially the Book of Mormon.
The doctrine is this: that Jesus, a God in every sense of that term, the creator of the heavens and earth, condescended and came to an earth to obtain a physical body and experience morality and its ups and downs just like you and me and the innumerable other entities throughout the universe that were spiritually created by the Father and physically created by the Son.
Then, to fulfill all righteousness and restore the true priesthood order, while on our earth, the mortal Messiah defined the principles and clarified the ordinances and then participated in them himself. Including the ordinance of birth, the ordinance of baptism by water, the ordinance of receiving the baptism of fire, the ordinance of the endowment, the ordinance of sealing, the ordinance of atonement, the ordinance of death, and the ordinance of resurrection-to name a few.
For funsies, let me take just one of those ordinances and dig a little deeper. The word “baptism” is a transliteration of the Greek word “baptizo” which is a translation of the Hebrew word “mikveh” which means to “be immersed.” When we are baptized, we promise to bury our old life and our old sins by immersing ourselves into a new and everlasting order for the rest of our lives. Not sprinkled or dipped from time-to-time, but completely immersed so we can become genuine Christians.
All other ordinances also deal with our decision to immerse ourselves in this better, higher, holier order which includes bathing ourselves in the light that comes from God and his prophets. If we do that, like Moses on Mount Sinai, we come out shining and reflecting that light-a light that can be sensed by those looking for more light.
Throughout history, an order refers to a group of people who are in training to be better than they are right now. For example, think of an order of Buddhist monks—they are trying to be as good and as set-apart from the world as they know how to be. That is admirable. Many orders in the world were created to rise above themselves and do good things for those around them. The United Order, the order of Franciscans, the order of nuns, the order of Elks or Moose or Kiwanis or Masons, and if you’re a Harry Potter fan, the order of the Phoenix.
As we join the order established by the Son of God and participate in these priesthood ordinances, not only will they help us become gooder, they will also help us become godlier.
While on earth, we are initiated into this holy order of the priesthood through baptism, and continue progressing in it by taking upon ourselves covenants and ordinances, and then keeping them sacred and holy throughout our lives, until we realize our heart’s desires and fulfill the measure of our creation.
For some that will mean becoming angelic ministering servants. For others, a holy priest or priestess. For others, a king or queen in an eternal family with eternal increase. In all cases, the objective of the holy order is to train us to become as much like Christ as we desire.
You see, the doctrine of Christ teaches that as we enter into a covenant relationship with Him, where we reach up to Him and He reaches down to us- covenants are always made hand-to-hand-we then become attached to him, as well as our fellow children of the covenant-like cows that are yoked together to pull a heavy burden.
Yoked to Christ, we begin to act more like Him. We try to do what he did, and condescend and humble ourselves, and bear one another’s burdens, and lift where we are at, and move that heavy piano or 50 buckets of 20-year old wheat into a new neighbor’s house.
In essence we become professional movers. Not just moving stuff and things, but moving each other forward along the path of righteousness, sometimes even carrying the weak and the weary, and the sick and lame, and the poor and the needy.
Together, that connection between God and between our fellow believers, gives us the power to miraculously move mountains-mountains of sin or mountains of grief, or mountains of pain, or mountains of obstacles and barriers. Because if Jesus is by our side and holding our hand, we can, and will, accomplish anything.
If we truly believe this principle, this doctrine of Christ, we will be actively looking for a kajillion different ways to become better and holier people. It is no longer a “to do” list but a “to be” list. Our character changes and because our character changes, our behaviors do too. We act better, because we are better.
And guess what, the inverse is true too! If we simply behave better, we will become better.
What will that look like? Well, as the literal children of God, our Christ-centered and Spirit-directed lives will be filled with life, and light, and intelligence, and joy, and peace, and humility, and service, and charity, and compassion, and friendliness, and sincerity, and discipline, and orderliness, and prudence, and stability, and accuracy, and composure, and foresight, and wisdom, and courage, and impact, and optimism, and vitality-and the list goes on and on and on.
In fact, if there is anything virtuous, lovely, of good-report, or praiseworthy-as disciples of Christ we will intentionally seek after those things while we are living and after our mortal death. It will be our eternal pursuit.
So that’s it. If we want to be an example of the believers, in order, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity, if we want to reflect the light of Christ into the world by reflecting his image in our countenances, then we have no other choice then to believe in and embrace these two principles.
To recap. Number one, truly believe that as a child of God you are worthy of the Holy Spirit as you repent and come unto the Son. And number two, as we believe in the Doctrine of Christ and enter into a covenant relationship to become like him, and are immersed and surrounded with the things that matter most, we will take personal responsibility to improve our own goodness by humbly blessing the lives of those around us.
If we truly believe in the Doctrine of Christ, because we are constantly holding his hand, we will find ourselves walking with him wherever he goes, and he will take us to places and circumstance we could never go on our own, where we would never dare to go, where we could never hope to go, where we could never deserve to go.
As we walk with Him, the Holy Spirit will sanctify us, and we will eventually become worthy to return to our heavenly family-if we have faith, and repent, and repent some more, and embrace our covenant relationships so that he can empower and save us now and save us in the future.
I believe in Jesus Christ. He has been and will be my only hope for salvation. If I don’t believe in him or trust him, and instead focus on me, my ways, my dreams, and my ambitions, and fail to try to become closer to him, and fail to think, feel, and act the way he would, and stop allowing either him or his servants to help me and heal me, then I will have failed indeed.
But brothers and sisters, when I fail, which I’m pretty sure I will when driving home today, he will still pick me up, dust me off, and hold my hand with his scarred and literally holy hands.
Because of his love for us, because of his never-ending grace, he will never, ever, let go of me or you. We may let go of him, that is true, but he won’t break the grip first. That’s who he is. He reaches out to everyone who needs help. Which is all of us. And that’s what he wants us to do too.
I believe in the Holy Father, his Holy Son, and the Holy Spirit. They are truly worthy of our praise because of their eternal efforts to help us find genuine joy and everlasting life. We can feel their love and peace as we repent and come unto Christ. They are as involved in our lives as much we want them to be.
I further testify that Joseph Smith restored the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and that Lord has appointed an unbroken line of prophets, seers, and revelators to be his representatives and priesthood key holders.
And those leaders have called our stake president and our bishops and given keys to them to bless our lives. In turn they have called each of us, under inspiration, to labor with them in blessing all the people of the earth, starting with ourselves, and then moving outwards to our families and into our neighborhoods.
So those are some of the reason why why I’m a believer, brothers and sisters. That’s why I am a part of the restored Church of Jesus Christ. And I truly believe it is all true, even the things I don’t understand or the things I don’t yet know.