Lesson Helps: Spiritual Independence--A Bill of Rights (Teachings for Our Time Lesson 10)

by | Nov. 20, 2003

Sunday School

The power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves.
(D&C 58:28.)
A few years ago a student of mine in a high school seminary class informed me that he was dropping out of school to join the Marines. In response to my question as to why, he said, "Because I am sick and tired of people telling me what to do."
It is rather doubtful that this young man found the independence he was seeking. Like so many others, he was searching elsewhere for that which could come only from within himself. In his vain search he could be likened to an old man hunting for his hat while wearing it on his head.
All spiritual achievement is rooted within the soul. It matters not how long and arduous the journey, the things of the Spirit remain "hidden treasures" until the pilgrimage is directed within. A young woman came to my office ostensibly seeking counsel to save a failing marriage. Asked if she had sought counsel from her bishop and others with whom she should properly seek direction, she said, "Yes, but they all want me to change." She continues to search and her marriage continues to fail.
We were not created to be the toys of circumstances or the puppets of fate. Though we may not control our destiny, we can control ourselves. Within our souls rest both the ability and the power to think our own thoughts, speak our own words, choose our own friends, determine our own attitudes, and do our own works. No one else can save us in the kingdom of God, nor can any other force or influence combine to prevent our salvation without our consent.
In the early history of the Church, many converts who joined with the body of the Saints expected to find a spiritual utopia. Frustrated at finding that the communities of the Saints were populated with people who in many instances were no better than themselves, some of these immigrants voiced their disillusionment and left the Church. These people had anticipated a Zion in which they could bask in spiritual light day and night. Longing to be nurtured by revelations, miracles, and manifestations of divine power, they sought heaven on earth. They did not realize that spiritual maturity often comes slowly and that many, like themselves, had gathered with the Saints in the hope that there they too might find the courage and strength necessary to overcome their own weaknesses.
Of such people, Brigham Young would inquire, "What hinders you from enjoying all that you anticipated?" If you are not as you desire to be, if you do not feel the promptings or influence of the Holy Ghost to the extent that you think you should, where is the fault to be found? Responding to his own question, President Young explained that it was a mistake to suppose that others could prevent you from enjoying the light of God in your soul. "All hell," he said, "cannot hinder me from enjoying Zion in my own heart, if my individual will yields obedience to the requirements and mandates of my heavenly Master." (JD 1:311.)
Brigham Young declared himself to be the only man in heaven, on earth, or in hell responsible for Brigham Young. Further, he held that the same doctrine applied equally to every Latter-day Saint. Salvation is an individual matter. "I am the only person that can possibly save myself," said Brigham. We cannot pin our faith on someone else's sleeve. No one can accept or reject salvation in behalf of another. It is not the object or design of the gospel to create spiritual dependence.
...Salvation is not granted on the basis of what others are doing or have done. The scriptural injunction is that we "work out [our] own salvation" (Philippians 2:12) simply because no one else can do it for us.
We do not determine eternal principles nor can we modify them in any way. It becomes our responsibility to take these eternal principles and apply them. Thus, as we personalize gospel verities, we create our own plan of salvation, a plan that honestly recognizes where we are and challenges us to systematically proceed from that point forward, advancing in scriptural language from "grace to grace." The first step in such advancement could appropriately be a personal declaration of independence, one that recognizes that the works that lead to spiritual independence must be our own works; one that recognizes the special rights that are ours as children of God and members of his earthly kingdom. To that end, the following declaration of independence and bill of rights is given.
A Declaration of Independence
As Latter-day Saints we hold these truths to be self-evident: that salvation is available to all men by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel, and that all men are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights; that among them are eternal life, spiritual liberty, and the endless pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, the kingdom of God has again been established among men, deriving its powers upon principles of righteousness. That whenever any power or influence becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the Saints to alter or abolish that influence through faith and repentance and to institute anew their covenant with God, laying its foundation on such principles as to them shall seem most likely to affect their eternal best interest.
A Bill of Rights
Obedience to gospel principles produces the same blessings in all ages. Thus we of the latter days are entitled to every blessing enjoyed by the saints in Bible times. The faith that saved men anciently is the faith that saves men today. The faith with which they raised the dead, gave sight to the blind, healed the sick, and cast out devils in the meridian of time is the same faith required to accomplish the same works in our time. The effects of faith are the same for all men in all ages. We have the same claim on that faith and its effects as any other people in any other time, past, present, or future. (1 Nephi 10:17-19.)
Having exercised faith, we can, through repentance and baptism, obtain a remission of sins. "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool." (Isaiah 1:18.) Through the divinely appointed process of faith, repentance, and baptism, it is the right of all men to obtain the Lord's promise that he remembers their sins "no more." (D&C 58:42.)
Having thus obtained a remission of sins and the attendant peace of conscience, it now becomes our right to associate with the Holy Ghost. By the laying on of hands, the gift of the Holy Ghost is granted. Through this gift comes the right to receive revelation, guidance, light, and truth from the Spirit. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, "No man can receive the Holy Ghost without receiving revelations. The Holy Ghost is a revelator." (HC 6:58.)
The Holy Ghost himself is the giver of gifts and grants to all the faithful special spiritual talents. "All have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts," but "to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God," and all are encouraged to seek earnestly the best gifts, "always remembering for what they are given." (D&C 46:8-11.)
All spiritual blessings are predicated upon obedience to laws. (D&C 130:20- 21.) Anyone who abides the law receives the blessing. Thus the Lord has said that he is bound when we do what he says, but when we fail to do so we have no promise. (D&C 82:10.)
Bounds and limits in the realm of spiritual things are individually determined. This principle holds true for all attributes of godliness. Spirituality is not an office. Faith is not an office. Knowledge is not an office. Wisdom is not an office. The attributes of godliness are not dependent upon calls to serve; they are not necessarily associated with age; nor are they the province of men or the exclusive inheritance of women. Spiritual strength comes from works of righteousness.
The ability to do good and bring to pass much righteousness has been granted to all men. Inasmuch as they do this, "they shall in nowise lose their reward." (D&C 58:27-28.)
As members of the Church we are "no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone." (Ephesians 2:19-20.) Our citizenship in God's earthly kingdom entitles us to the inspired direction of leaders who have drunk deeply of the waters of inspiration and who invite us to partake of the same. At their hands we receive blessings of comfort and counsel, blessings foreshadowing the future, administrations when sick, and special blessings of protection. By faithfully following their counsel, we have been granted the promise that the gates of hell will not prevail against us and that the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before us and cause the heavens to shake for our good and his name's glory. (D&C 21:6.)
Through worthiness we are entitled to enter into the house of the Lord and there be endowed with knowledge, power, and blessings from on high. In the temple, a husband and wife are sealed together for time and eternity, thus preserving the family unit throughout the worlds to come.
All faithful Saints are entitled to the assurance that the course they are pursuing is approved by God. To this end, the Holy Ghost grants the promise that "all covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations" will be of "efficacy, virtue, or force" in the world to come. (D&C 132:7.)
The testimony of the angel heralding the birth of Christ was that the good tidings and great joy of the gospel were for all people. (Luke 2:10.) In like manner, Peter testified of a God who was "no respecter of persons." (Acts 10:34.) The promises are ours; they span the ages! "God is not the God of the dead, but of the living." (Matthew 22:32.) The powers of the heavens are not bowed with age and constrained in movement. As men were blessed anciently, they can be blessed today.
Nor do we speak of blessings reserved for apostles and prophets, for there are none such. Joseph Smith taught that "the Lord will not reveal anything to Joseph that he will not reveal to the Twelve or to the least and last member of the Church as soon as he is able to bear it." (Bruce R. McConkie, "Are General Authorities Human?") "Blessings come because of obedience and personal righteousness, not because of administrative positions." (Bruce R. McConkie, CR, October 1977, p. 49.)
(Joseph Fielding McConkie, Seeking the Spirit [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1978], 97.)
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