Atonement Application Program - Step Two: Hope

Step Two: Come to believe that the power of God can restore me to complete spiritual health.

Healing is associated with conversion or spiritual rebirth (among other terms) several times in the scriptures.  It appears that the first person to link the two ideas was Isaiah, quoting Jehovah:

"Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed" (Isaiah 6:10).

Jesus quoted or paraphrased this scripture Himself multiple times (see Matt. 13:15, 3 Ne. 9:13, 3 Ne. 18:32, D&C 112:13).  John wrote that the people refusing to believe Jesus despite all the miracles He performed was a fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy (John 12:40).  Paul also felt like Isaiah's prophecy was fulfilled during his own ministry (Acts 28:27).

I've read a lot about being spiritually reborn over the last year.  It's a topic Mike Stroud (podcasts #8 and #45) and John Pontius (both on his blog and in his books1) have taught about.  I was pretty surprised to learn that being converted (aka being spiritually reborn, being baptized by fire, and many other terms) was an event, not a process like I'd been taught much of my life.  I did some reading in the scriptures to determine the truth for myself, and learned the idea of conversion being a process is not scriptural!!!2  No wonder Jesus taught "Straight is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it" (Matt. 7:14, 3 Ne. 14:14, 3 Ne. 27:33), because most members of the church aren't actively seeking a remission of their sins through receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost.  They either think their sins were remitted at baptism (as if their sins were left behind in the water) or that they received the Holy Ghost when they were confirmed (which rarely is the case).  If you don't realize you don't actually have the gift of the Holy Ghost, you probably aren't seeking after it.

In my research online, I've read dozens of stories of normal, everyday members of the church being baptized by fire.  It's not just limited to prophets and GAs!  Those who have borne testimony of their own spiritual rebirth have given me so much hope that it can and will happen to me too!  I look forward to the day when I also can testify that it's possible for average church members to receive this great blessing; to testify that conversion truly is an event, not a process; and to give others hope that it's attainable for them too.

1 As usual, no kickbacks.
2 See Enos, Mosiah 4-5, Alma 36:10-24, Hel. 5:21-52, and 3 Ne. 19:9-14.  Frequently we quote 3 Ne. 9:20 to argue that you can be converted and not know it, but that verse is referring to the story found in Hel. 5.  The dissenters clearly knew something had happened to them, but didn't know what it was.  There is a footnote on Hel. 5:45 linking to 3 Ne. 9:20.  Before the 1981 edition of the Book of Mormon, there was a footnote on 3 Ne. 9:20 linking in the other direction back to Hel. 5:45.  Had that footnote remained, perhaps the idea of imperceptible conversion would never have taken hold in the church.

Atonement Application Program - Step One: Honesty

Step One: Admit that I am powerless to overcome my weaknesses, flaws and sins.

There seems to be an attitude in the church that we just need to try harder to perfect ourselves, that we can discipline ourselves into perfection.  We make lists and goals with the intent of becoming better people.  We feel like when Nephi said that "it is by grace we are saved, after all we can do," he meant we have to DO EVERYTHING.... and then hopefully grace will kick in afterwards.

I am a classic example of this.  I have been a goal-setting, New Year's resolution-making,  checkbox-checking Latter-day Saint my whole life.  I like thinking of myself as being a self-reliant, capable person. Unfortunately, that desire to be self-reliant has led to the belief that I could conquer any behavior or sin if I just had enough willpower and self-discipline.

For instance, I’ve tried to discipline myself to be more patient and less easily annoyed. I've never been that successful.  I fail over and over. I get frustrated that I keep making the same mistakes over and over again. These failures have helped me see that I can't improve myself through discipline, determination and willpower. I need divine help to overcome the natural man. My own efforts can only get me so far.

Frequently we are guilty of trying to make the natural man into a saint instead of crucifying the natural man ("And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts," Galatians 5:24).  We're guilty of relying on the arm of flesh to perfect ourselves instead of the Lord.  We don't want to see, admit, or recognize just how powerless we are.

It's hard for me to admit I'm powerless.  But it's pretty obvious that all my goals, resolutions and checkboxes have yet to turn me into a saint.  Self-discipline and willpower have not worked.  I've become bound with "flaxen cords" of sin that have become chains I'm unable to break on my own (2 Ne. 26:22).

It takes humility to admit we're powerless.  In today's day and age where we worship the "god of self," nobody wants to admit they can't do something.  The proud want to rationalize, minimize and cover up their sins.  They don't see a reason to repent.  Like Moses, I need to be humble and truly understand that I. am. nothing.

"It came to pass that it was for the space of many hours before Moses did again receive his natural strength like unto man; and he said unto himself: Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed" (Moses 1:10).

Ammon knew the same thing.

"I do not boast in my own strength, nor in my own wisdom; but behold, my joy is full, yea, my heart is brim with joy, and I will rejoice in my God. Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things" (Alma 26:11–12).

I need to understand:

My own capabilities and wisdom are NOTHING compared to God's.

I can't perfect myself through my own efforts.  I can never save myself through "industry" (Alma 4:6), "management" (Alma 30:17), or "genius" (Alma 30:17).

I can’t force myself or exert enough self-discipline to become spiritually-minded instead of carnally-minded.

I can only yield to the Spirit and do what it tells me to do in order to truly change. Only through the Spirit can I become regenerate, and strip off the natural man to become a saint.

I MUST rely "wholly" on Christ. I can't rely on myself or any other mortal. Relying on anyone other than Him, including myself, is damnation.

I can't save myself.  Only Christ can.

My works don't merit any type of compensation.  Only His do.

I am not worthy of esteem.  Only He is.

I am nothing. He is everything.

Atonement Application Program - Introduction

I've mentioned before that I love attending Addiction Recovery Program meetings.  I've heard them referred to as "the best-kept secret in the church" and "the best meetings in the church," and I couldn't agree more.

As I've attended these meetings, I've thought that the twelve principles of the program shouldn't be limited just to the context of addiction.  They are principles for everyone.  I think the reason why these meetings are so spiritual is because they are all about learning to apply the Savior's atonement in your life.  They're about casting off the natural man and becoming a saint.  In a sense, you could call it the Atonement Application Program.  (Alas, I couldn't think of a better phrase that would give it the same initials of ARP.)

I thought it would be interesting to cover the twelve steps of the Addiction Recovery Program, but framing them in the context of casting off the natural man.  Here are the twelve steps:

Step One: Admit that you, of yourself, are powerless to overcome your addictions and that your life has become unmanageable.

Step Two: Come to believe that the power of God can restore you to complete spiritual health.

Step Three: Decide to turn your will and your life over to the care of God the Eternal Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.

Step Four: Make a searching and fearless written moral inventory of yourself.

Step Five: Admit to yourself, to your Heavenly Father in the name of Jesus Christ, to proper priesthood authority, and to another person the exact nature of your wrongs.

Step Six: Become entirely ready to have God remove all your character weaknesses.

Step Seven: Humbly ask Heavenly Father to remove your shortcomings.

Step Eight: Make a written list of all persons you have harmed and become willing to make restitution to them.

Step Nine: Wherever possible, make direct restitution to all persons you have harmed.

Step Ten: Continue to take personal inventory, and when you are wrong, promptly admit it.

Step Eleven: Seek through prayer and meditation to know the Lord’s will and to have the power to carry it out.

Step Twelve: Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, share this message with others and practice these principles in all you do.

I'm Trying to be Like Jesus

I found myself thinking about the Primary song "I'm Trying to be Like Jesus" a few weeks ago.  In the past, when I've thought what it mean to be like Jesus, I thought in terms of serving others, keeping the commandments, that sort of stuff.  But then I realized some new ways of being like Him that put the idea in a completely different perspective.

How about being like Him when your friends betray you?

How about being like Him when you're falsely accused of something?

How about being like Him when you're punished for someone else's mistake?

I decided to read through one of the gospels (Matthew - just because it was the first one) to make a list of what Jesus did and what people did to Jesus.

Things Jesus Did:
  • Was baptized by water and the Holy Ghost
  • Fasted
  • Preached repentance
  • Taught others
  • Healed others, even an enemy
  • Cast out devils and unclean spirits
  • Rebuked the winds and sea
  • Forgave sins
  • Discerned others’ thoughts
  • Raised the dead
  • Had compassion for others
  • Endured
  • Lost His life in service to others
  • Refused to defend Himself
  • Fed others physically and spiritually
  • Prayed in solitude
  • Comforted others
  • Encouraged others
  • Corrected false doctrine
  • Quoted scripture
  • Offended others
  • Performed miracles
  • Forgave others
  • Showed generosity to others
  • Praised Father
  • Spoke against the wicked
  • Prophesied
  • Expressed grief
  • Set His mind on things of God
  • Suffered injustice
  • Paid for others' sins
Things Others Did to Jesus:
  • Begged Him for help
  • Touched Him
  • Defended him
  • Worshiped Him
  • Testified of Him
  • Praised Him
  • Anointed Him
  • Expressed gratitude to Him
  • Falsely accused Him
  • Tried to use the law to entrap Him
  • Called Him the devil
  • Questioned His divinity/identity
  • Took offense because of Him
  • Did not believe in Him
  • Betrayed Him
  • Abandoned Him
  • Denied knowing Him
  • Illegally put Him on trial
  • Spit on Him
  • Punched Him
  • Hit Him
  • Whipped Him
  • Rejected Him
  • Laughed at Him
  • Jeered at Him
  • Hated Him
  • Persecuted Him
  • Stripped Him
  • Ridiculed Him
  • Jeered at Him
  • Scorned Him
  • Taunted Him
  • Mocked Him
  • Tempted Him
  • Insulted Him
  • Killed Him
After studying Isaiah, I know that persecution is coming.  We will be tested to see whether we will stand up for our beliefs, for our God, on a level we've probably never imagined.  Being like Jesus will involve persecution, suffering and perhaps even dying as He did.  I'm trying to prepare for this by meekly accepting the small trials and injustices I have in life, knowing that I'm being like Him when I do so.  Suffering injustice is one thing that we will most definitely have to experience in the upcoming tribulations - just as He did when He atoned for our sins.  There is no greater injustice than the pure, holy Son of God suffering the consequences of the sins of the populations of worlds.