“I grieve for those who leave the Church because they feel membership requires too much of them. They have not yet discovered that making and keeping covenants actually makes life easier! Each person who makes covenants…and keeps them—has increased access to the power of Jesus Christ.”
Living in accordance with the commandments of God can seem like something that is hard to do on a regular basis. This can be especially hard when you weigh all of the things that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are required to do. Such things as living the Ten Commandments and then adding on church callings while raising a family and having a full-time job, ministering and serving neighbors, living the Word of Wisdom, paying 10% of all increase in tithing, and then fast offerings, mission funds, and other possible donations, two-hour church, temple service, family history, personal daily study, and on top of all of that living a law that requires them to consecrate all of their time, talents, and energies to the work of the Lord. But with all of this, discipleship is not all that hard.
This can seem like a lot, so how is discipleship not hard, and why does President Russell M. Nelson make the bold declaration that “making and keeping covenants actually makes life easier”?
I posted the first part of that quote, through the exclamation, on my Instagram stories a while back. I had a friend respond directly to me to ask me how it is easier for me. My response was simple and probably too safe and generic.
“Good question. I find that when I am working hard and engaged then things are easier. Plus, proper perspective makes anything easier to accomplish and stick with. Life with an eternal perspective becomes something that is more clearly pursuable and endurable.”
This article is to approach this question in greater detail.
The Powers of Jesus Christ
What is the prophet really saying? I will not try to read too much into what the prophet is saying in this quote, but I will highlight the part that was left off of what I quoted. The last part of the quote gives the key to why discipleship is easy. I use the term discipleship as a synonymous term with one who makes and keeps covenants for hopefully obvious reasons. Discipleship is easier because of the “increased access to the power of Jesus Christ.”
Within Christianity, we look at the grace of Jesus Christ in a variety of ways. I want to point out four aspects of Christ’s atoning grace.
- Salvation from spiritual death
- Resurrection or salvation from physical death
- Exalting grace
- Enabling Power
Let’s break each of these down and see what we can learn about how Christ gives us power in this life.
1. Salvation from Spiritual Death
Through Christ, we have the power to overcome the two deaths brought about by the Fall of Adam and Eve. The first of those is spiritual death. Because of the transgression of Adam, there was a direct separation from God. Much of the Christian world sees this as a step back, but as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we see this as a part of the progress. It is not an original sin that needed to be overcome but an original grace that was at play to provide us all salvation from our missteps and misdeeds.
2. Salvation from Physical Death
To progress to become like our Heavenly Parents, we needed to have bodies like theirs. As beings with bodies of flesh and bone, they desired us to receive that, and the experience of mortality was the stepping stone. First, we needed corruptible to become incorruptible. To accomplish this, there must be death of the mortal body and One who could break the bands of death. This breaking of the bands of death was accomplished as the Messiah rose from the tomb on the third day.
Again, the Fall brought about death as well as life, and the Atonement brought about immortality and the opportunity for Eternal Life. Because of Jesus Christ, our decayed bodies will be renewed and revived, and glorified. We will rise up to meet Him and the Father.
3. Exalting Grace
The prophet Joseph Smith received a revelation that teaches us that Christ “continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness” and that we “shall receive grace for grace” (D&C 93:13,20). The LDS Bible Dictionary explains that “The main idea of grace is divine means of help or strength” and then continues on by tying it to the Atonement by stating that it is “given through the bounteous mercy and love of Jesus Christ.” It is His grace that lifts us. It is His grace that exalts us. The scriptures teach that salvation is free, but then what am I required to do if that is the case?
If I desire to be exalted, then I am to have faith, exercise that faith unto repentance on a regular basis, enter into sacred covenants and keep the covenants that I have made. This is easily said but not always easily done. Overcoming addiction, sin, and trial is not always easy. There are times when it cannot be done alone. I believe that when we look back at our lives, we will realize that much of what we did was through the grace of Jesus Christ, whether we had faith at the time or not. He is directly in our lives each and every day.
As we learn to keep the commandments and remain on the covenant path, this grace works within us to bring us unto an exalted glory. Christ uses grace to give us divine help to overcome the world and become His children. Exaltation only comes through the grace of Jesus Christ. There is nothing that I could do of myself to receive it. At the end of the day, I am saved by grace. I am exalted by grace. It is this level of grace to grace as I learn to become like Him through His divine power.
4. Enabling Power
Alma taught that Jesus knows how to succor us because of the flesh. He suffered and experienced all pains of the flesh. These pains are inclusive of the pain of loss, disease, heartaches, sorrow from sin, struggles from addiction, loneliness, fatigue, and all manner of infirmities. Because he descended below all things, he has the power to strengthen us through all manner of struggles.
We grow through His grace. This grace to grace comes in the form of physical help to grow and enjoy each and every day. It comes in intellectual learning to be able to understand the things needed to perform our labors in education, work, relationships, and all aspects of life. It also comes in spiritual strength to help us to overcome the evil one and find rejoicing in the eternities.
When the woman that was suffering with an issue of blood touched the hem of his garment, he proclaimed that virtue had gone out of Him. That very virtue, or power, was used to heal this woman. It caught Him off guard because the miracle was performed by her faith and not by his direct action. If His power could heal her physical infirmity, then how much more can His exalted power give us the strength to be healed and overcome every form of affliction? It is when we begin to understand this level of enabling power that we learn to more fully appreciate the daily power gained from the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
The Atonement is a Daily Power
As we have summarized four key aspects of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we can hopefully better understand the power that Jesus Christ has and the role that He is able to play in our daily lives. If we give ourselves to continual study and prayer, we are able to rely more fully on this enabling power. Whether we suffer like Job or just need the strength to endure a rough patch in life, we have this level of enabling grace that Jesus offers to us.
As we learn to remain on the covenant path, we are privileged to have this daily power of Jesus Christ in our lives. We may not always notice it, but life’s challenges become easier to handle. We learn to endure more fully. I think that we will be surprised when we look back at this life and notice all of the times that we had been sustained by Christ’s enabling power, even when we were not always faithful to Him. This is the power of grace.
The greatest way to experience this daily enabling power is to be continually seeking revelation. As we learn to seek and receive revelation, we are more fully sustained by God’s divine power. This is what I believe President Nelson is getting at with the ease of life when making and keeping covenants. As we keep our covenants that we have made with God, we find this power through direct access to the heavens. There are two crucial promises that we could cite here.
First, the Law of Tithing gives us direct access to heaven. The prophet Malachi records a test that the Lord requests of us by saying, “prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” (Malachi 3:10). Often, we look at this blessing as a temporal pouring out of blessings but if we look to the “windows of heaven” that causes me to think revelation and wisdom from the heavens. What strength we can find through these direct blessings?
The second promise would be from Joseph Smith’s revelation on the Word of Wisdom, where the Lord promises that we will find health, energy, and ability but also ye “shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures” (D&C 89:19). These hidden treasures come through revelation from heaven, and they also come from the blessings of the temple. There are many more promises associated with wisdom, knowledge, strength, and eternal power that can be directly linked to both revelation as well as the temple.
Each of the two commandments cited above speaks of the destroying angel passing by as well. This is in direct correlation with the night of Passover, which was a power given to those who obeyed with exactness and were preserved by the grace of the Anointed One. The Passover is in the direct similitude of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. By living these laws, we are doing the seemingly hard thing in becoming true disciples of Jesus Christ and thus gaining access to this eternal power that He provides us.
Discipleship is Supposed to Be Hard
If we step back and look at our lives as a whole, then we ought to be able to see that some of the best things that we have been those things that we have worked the hardest for. Our educational degrees, children, careers, marriages, and a myriad of other things are among those that cost us the most and required the most work. Hopefully, we find joy in each of these things and what we were able to accomplish. When we were in the moment of it, it may seem like a lot that we are required to do that is not leading to the end goal. We can get caught up in the mire of the task that is before us, but if we stay on course then we will be able to achieve what is required to obtain the hard thing.
I am reliving my high school and college years a bit more now that I have children that are each in those disciplines. As I look through their eyes as best I can, I see the struggles of figuring out how to balance school hours, homework, extracurricular activities, dating, friends, family, chores, and the gospel. It is a lot to juggle as a teenager. It is challenging. However, as they find where their passions lie, they are willing to put in extra effort to bring about the best that they can produce. They are willing to put in late nights and sacrifice more fun activities because of what they are doing. This is how I look at our progress through mortality. There are a lot of fun things that are good, but sometimes we need to learn to sacrifice them for the better and especially the best, and that can be hard. As we learn to choose the better part, then we find more strength through Christ and more meaning to our existence.
This world is filled with good. There are a lot of good ways that we can spend our time. A few years ago, Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught us the important principle of choosing between good, better, and best.
“We should begin by recognizing the reality that just because something is good is not a sufficient reason for doing it. The number of good things we can do far exceeds the time available to accomplish them. Some things are better than good, and these are the things that should command priority attention in our lives…We should begin by recognizing the reality that just because something is good is not a sufficient reason for doing it. The number of good things we can do far exceeds the time available to accomplish them. Some things are better than good, and these are the things that should command priority attention in our lives.” (Good, Better, Best. CR Oct 2007)
It is this concept of paying a higher price for something that is of the best value that we have been speaking about. As we learn to make the sacrifice and pay the higher price, we will be rewarded with an increase of light and truth. If we continue in that light, it will grow brighter and brighter until that perfect day when we “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.” (Moroni 7:48). This is the defining trait of one who desires discipleship. A disciple seeks to not only do good but to do the best. They cleave to every aspect of truth.
Learn Truth & Be Free
Jesus taught us an ultimate truth about freedom when He proclaimed that “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32). As we begin to unpack this scripture from our Lord, there are a few words that stand out to me; word, free, truth, and disciples. Let us look a little more at each of these.
Jesus tells us to “continue in my word”. Nephi declared to us that the rod of iron that his father had seen in vision was the word of God. We learn from the gospel of John that Christ is the Word (see John 1:1-18). He is the Word. He is the one that we are to hold fast to as we continue on this course. By learning to hold fast to Him who is mighty to save, we are strengthened each day to choose the better part.
It is through the word of Christ that we find ultimate freedom. It is His word that was declared before the foundations of the world. It is His word that is an express image of the Father. He has given us the course to follow, and we need to make the daily choice to covenant with Him and remain on that covenant path.
Truth is eternal. In today’s day and age, we are hearing a lot about truth and how it is relative to the individual. Sure, there are aspects of our experiences that are unique to us, and no one can take that away, but then there are truths that are eternal. These eternal truths are not relative. The Lord tells us that “truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come” (D&C 93:24). He further explains that “All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence.” (D&C 93:30)
By learning truth, we are coming to more fully understand the purpose of our existence. We are beginning to see things as they really are, not just as the world would have us see them. We are finding freedom in fact.
How beautiful it is to know freedom! In this country, we are blessed to walk about and go about our lives making our own choices. Yes, it is true that all choices have their consequences, but we are free to make those choices and learn for ourselves. This was the great gift given to us in the pre-mortal world and retained by Adam and Eve in the Garden and thus retained by each of us through our births into this world. By learning to choose according to truth, we experience an increase of freedom.
Satan always wanted to destroy the agency of man. He wanted to take away the choice and claim the glory for himself. There would have been no exaltation under a plan such as that. It is choice that brings ultimate freedom. Yes, we must make the right choices to experience this type of freedom. Many choices can easily bind us. We see this in addiction and natural laws.
I am always free to choose to abide by the laws of gravity or to attempt to break them. If I attempt to break them, then I am going to be punished. This punishment might come in the simple form of not being able to dunk a basketball because I cannot jump high enough against the gravitational pull or something more severe as trying to fly off of a cliff without the proper equipment to catch the wind. I am free to choose, and by learning to make choices that align with eternal law, I will find greater freedom in the long run, and that brings joy.
We have spent a good amount of this discussion on this word already, but to highlight one last point is the aspect of worship as a disciple. In the course of discipleship, we must come to know him who we worship. This brings us back to Doctrine and Covenants 93, where the Lord teaches us about growing grace to grace and how Jesus did it. But the reason that He revealed this is so that we “may understand and know how to worship, and know what you worship, that you may come unto the Father in my name, and in due time receive of his fulness.” (D&C 93:19).
The greatest form of worship is emulation. God has commanded us to worship him and to have no other gods before Him because he desires us to emulate Him. Not because He is some dictatorial God that needs all of the attention but because He knows what is best for us and desires us to have what He has. He knows that the only way to receive what He has is to follow Him. It is to continue in His word and to become His disciples.
It Is Easy While It Is Hard
Hopefully, this has illustrated to you as well as it has to me that life is easier through aligning ourselves with Jesus Christ and keeping sacred covenants. Living in this world requires a lot of work. It requires us to make hard decisions. At times it is costly and exhausting. As we learn to rely upon the merits and mercy of Jesus Christ, we are able to find it becomes easier. We grow grace to grace. Our sacrifices become something sacred, not something that we have to painfully give up. We move from childlike hope to a more valiant faith. This faith becomes powerful.
I acknowledge that it is hard. Life is not a breeze, but it can be something that has more meaning, more truth, more light, more joy, and more fulfilling moments because of the grace of our Messiah. As President Nelson so boldly declared to all of us, “making and keeping covenants actually makes life easier!” I have found that as I remain on the covenant path the things that are required of me have become more meaningful by giving them on the altar of the Lord because I am yoked with Him. If you have not experienced this, then I invite you to get on your knees and find how you can feel this enabling power of your friend and brother, our Savior Jesus Christ. He desires to nurture and strengthen us.
Make the hard become easier. Just as we become stronger through persistent exercise, we become stronger, because of Christ, by putting in the work of daily study, pondering, prayer, service, and sacrifice. Willingly give, and you will find.
I hope that we can all find more meaning to this life. I pray that we feel the joys of eternity today. As we pray unto our Father for charity, we will receive it. It will become easier amidst its seemingly endless difficulty.