King Lamoni’s father asked Aaron, his teacher:
“What shall I do that I may have this eternal life of which thou hast spoken? Yea, what shall I do that I may be born of God, having this wicked spirit rooted out of my breast, and receive his Spirit, that I may be filled with joy, that I may not be cast off at the last day? Behold, said he, I will give up all that I possess […] that I may receive this great joy” (Alma 22:15)
To which Aaron replied:
“If thou wilt bow down before God, yea, if thou wilt repent of all thy sins, and […] call on his name in faith, believing that ye shall receive, then shalt thou receive the hope which thou desirest” (v. 16)
Latter-day Saints sometimes tend towards a certain provincialism, and talk of people of other faiths as though they were utterly confused, lost, and hopeless. They often refer to the Gospel incorrectly, equating it with the church. For example, I often hear:
“I’m grateful I belong to this Gospel”
“I’ve been so happy since I’ve been in the Gospel”
The Gospel is a message, not a group, a status or an organisation. You can’t belong to it, you can’t be in it, and you can’t own it. It is a grave mistake to believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the sole property and monopoly of our church. The principles of faith and repentance are available to everyone, members and non-members alike. When Lamoni and his father knelt and prayed for forgiveness, they received it, before their baptism and confirmation.
However, they needed to be baptised, and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, to retain a remission of their sins from day to day (Mosiah 4:12,26; Alma 4:14), and begin the process of lifetime conversion. Their desire to sin would have inevitably returned, no matter how hard to tried to fight it, unless they entered into a covenant with God to follow the Saviour, and receive the companionship of the Holy Ghost as a constant guide, purifier and testifier of truth.
As the Saviour taught the Nephites:
“Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptised in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day” (3 Nephi 27:20)
Jesus Christ single-handedly overcame all sins, weaknesses and even death. Although we can’t do that ourselves, the purpose of our mortal existence is to enable us to achieve the same purity, the same holiness, as that achieved by the Saviour. This can only be done through the atonement of Christ, and we can only receive the full blessings of the atonement by exercising our faith in Christ, repenting of our sins, being baptised and confirmed, and enduring to the end (2 Nephi 31:17-21).
The Gospel of Jesus Christ, then, is the glorious message that, through His atonement, we may overcome the natural man, become the receptacle of pure and virtuous principles, and become one with the Father and the Son. “Those who reject this glad message” are aptly designated as “damned”:
“And if they will not repent and believe in his name, and be baptised in his name, and endure to the end, they must be damned; for the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, has spoken it.” (2 Nephi 9:24)
They are not called “damned” because they go to an endless hell of fire and brimstone, but because they stop progressing, as water is stopped by a dam. This doesn’t just apply to people who refuse to join our Church. It happens to us on a regular basis.
We refuse to let go of the ungodliness and impurities in our hearts, we cling to the natural man, we want the mansion in heaven and the holiday home in Babylon. Unlike Lamoni and his father, we are unwilling to give up all our sins. Why is that? Because we lack faith in Christ and in his promise:
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and you shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30)
I used to think of the words “labour” and “heavy laden” in this scripture as our earthly trials and tribulations, and thought that the teaching was that we could turn to the Saviour for comfort. Recently, I’ve started to see this scripture differently. These heavy burdens we carry may actually be our sins, bad habits, addictions, vain ambitions, or our worldly idols. Although it may appear easier to obtain happiness through pleasurable activities, the accumulation of wealth or the cultivation of popularity, these do not give “rest” to our souls. By doing these things we “labour for that which does not satisfy” (2 Nephi 9:51), and they are a heavy burden that just keeps on getting heavier, the more we seek happiness through them.
The yoke of Christ is easy, not because it requires little effort, but because it is simple. It is as simple as Moses’ staff raised for the healing of the poisoned Israelites who would merely look at it (Numbers 21:6-9; Alma 33: 19-22; 1 Nephi 17:41); as simple as Naaman’s washing seven times in the Jordan river to be healed of leprosy (2 Kings 5:8-15); as simple as following the directions on the Liahona to find food or the way to the promised land (Alma 37:38-46).
The hard part of the Gospel isn’t doing the Lord’s work. It is letting go of the feeling that we are entitled to our share of worldly distractions from doing His work. We can’t give away “all our sins” if we refuse to acknowledge them. We can’t let our hearts become the receptacle of pure and virtuous principles unless we first cleanse the inner vessel (Alma 60:23-24) through daily living the first principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.