Salvation: Where does one begin?
I have felt lost at various points in my life; for different reasons and in different ways. I would like to focus specifically on the question of “Where does one begin?” in the context of finding the point in which one begins to return to God and in what manner it is done.
When I began, my path was full of detours, looking beyond the mark and simply being confused in mists of darkness. If I had understood the scriptures properly I might have found what I was looking for earlier on, but fortunately, we have a very patient and intensely wise Father in Heaven who never gives up on us.
So here we go then; I hope the information provided here can be of help to others that are searching as I was.
It begins with Jesus Christ
Yes, that’s really the answer, but what I am going to attempt to do is explain why and add my voice and witness to this truth.
Jesus Christ himself identifies the starting point by virtue of the holy scriptures. The starting point is a “gate” and Christ is that “gate”.
“But the gate to life is very narrow. The road that leads there is so hard to follow that only a few people find it.” – Matt. 7:14 CEV“
I am the gate. All who come in through me will be saved…” – John 10:9 CEV
Jesus Christ “opened” the “gate” by bringing to pass an “atonement” that only he and he alone was capable, willing and ordained to achieve. How do we know that our journey should begin with Christ?
The prophet Alma once taught a powerful discourse on faith that we will return to throughout this article. In Alma chapter 32, Alma describes the process for obtaining saving knowledge. A more in-depth treatment of this discourse can be found in this article on oneClimbs: Belief, Faith, Hope, Perfect Knowledge and the Scientific Method.
After his initial introduction into how to obtain saving knowledge, Alma’s audience inquires of him wondering:
…how they should plant the seed, or the word of which he had spoken, which he said must be planted in their hearts; or in what manner they should begin to exercise their faith. – Alma 32:1
Alma proceeds into some important doctrine for these humble seekers of truth and then provides for them the answer to their inquiry:
…cast about your eyes and begin to believe in the Son of God, that he will come [in our day: that he has come and will come again] to redeem his people, and that he shall suffer and die [in our day: that he has suffered and died] to atone for their sins; and that he shall rise again from the dead [in our day: that he has risen], which shall bring to pass the resurrection, that all men shall stand before him, to be judged at the last and judgment day, according to their works. And now, my brethren, I desire that ye shall plant this word in your hearts, and as it beginneth to swell even so nourish it by your faith. And behold, it will become a tree, springing up in you unto everlasting life. And then may God grant unto you that your burdens may be light, through the joy of his Son. And even all this can ye do if ye will. Amen. – Alma 33:22-23
It begins with Christ and we will see that it ends with him as well. He is truly the beginning and the end in and through all things.
Entering the Gate
Do all you can to go in by the narrow door [gate]! A lot of people will try to get in, but will not be able to. – Luke 13:24 CEV
If the starting point is Christ and Christ is the gate, how does one “enter the gate” if the gate is Christ and why is it that some will try to get in but not be able to? Invoking the temple at this point may help us understand this principle further. Ponder the temple-oriented words of Paul to the Hebrews:
Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; – Heb. 10:19-20 KJV
Did Christ become the gate by his passing through to a place where none had yet entered? What does it mean that we enter by his “blood”?
There is another piece to the puzzle; in the King James Translation of the Bible the words of Paul to the Romans are translated this way:
…put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ… – Romans 13:14 – KJV
The Contemporary English Translation of the Bible translates the same verse this way:
Let the Lord Jesus Christ be as near to you as the clothes you wear… – Romans 13:14 CEV
To the Galatians, we have the Apostle Paul teaching a very similar doctrine but specifically connecting it with an ordinance:
And when you were baptized, it was as though you had put on Christ in the same way you put on new clothes. – Galatians 3:27 CEV
There is perhaps no other verse in all of scripture that sums up the doctrines mentioned so far than the words of the prophet Nephi:
Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter. For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost. And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son, unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made, that if ye entered in by the way ye should receive. And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save. Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life. – 2 Nephi 31:17-20
The gate is only the beginning of a journey and not the finality of our salvation; for once we enter the gate, we find a path. Salvation is found on the path but you must enter the gate to find it. Recalling Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life, one can observe that there is a path, but no gate mentioned. It is my opinion that the individuals depicted in this vision are those that have already entered the gate but are seeking for Christ along the path; it is the path, not the gate that the vision is centered upon. Ponder this possibility as you read on.
“Entering the gate” is a process and there are several key elements. First one must repent, second, one must be baptized by water and third, one must receive the Holy Ghost. It’s time to analyze each one of these steps individually.
The prophet Nephi, in the same chapter quoted from above stressed the importance of repentance:
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I know that if ye shall follow the Son, with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ, by baptism—yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, according to his word, behold, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel. – 2 Nephi 31:13
We learn that Christ is the gate, Christ is also the name, but one enters the gate and takes the name through baptism by water and by fire. Key to this verse is the understanding that the purpose of baptism is to receive the Holy Ghost. The Apostle Peter confirmed this doctrine on the day of Pentecost:
Peter said, “Turn back to God! Be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins will be forgiven. Then you will be given the Holy Spirit. – Acts 2:38 CEV
Repentance isn’t about time, it is not a checklist, it is fueled by desire. Nephi used words like “full purpose of heart”, “no hypocrisy”, “no deception” and “real intent”. Between God and ourselves, only that circle knows if those things reside in our heart, intentions and actions simultaneously. If we are still confused by this we only need to turn to the scriptures and read the accounts of those who had this desire and entered the gate themselves.
The following voluntary surrender of a previously unbelieving king to the atonement of Christ has always touched me deeply:
And it came to pass that after Aaron had expounded these things unto him, the king said: 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, yea, I will forsake my kingdom, that I may receive this great joy. But Aaron said unto him: If thou desirest this thing, if thou wilt bow down before God, yea, if thou wilt repent of all thy sins, and will bow down before God, and call on his name in faith, believing that ye shall receive, then shalt thou receive the hope which thou desirest. And it came to pass that when Aaron had said these words, the king did bow down before the Lord, upon his knees; yea, even he did prostrate himself upon the earth, and cried mightily, saying: O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee, and that I may be raised from the dead, and be saved at the last day. – Alma 22:15-18
Desire produced salvation in Christ. The king desired and accepted what was freely being offered to him, have we? The king held nothing back, he was willing to lay it all on the line and he meant it. If we have attempted this ourselves but have not been visited with the joy that comes from receiving Christ and his atonement, what part of our meager ‘kingdoms’ are we holding back? Or have we placed most of our kingdom’s wealth on the altar? Have we willingly placed all of the visible things we value on the altar but out of shame kept hidden those unseen deeds locked away in the dungeons of our souls?
It is all or nothing.
If you are holding something back, you know it – you are thinking about it right now. Whatever terror accompanies the idea of doing what is necessary to drag that which is hidden in darkness to perish in the light of day, let it be swallowed up in the desire for a soul filled with light.
Repentance is not an event, it is a state of being. If you have already been baptized, then that baptism must be followed by repentance as well. The people of King Benjamin were already under this covenant but rededicated themselves through repentance and received mighty blessings.
And they all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually. – Mosiah 5:2
No matter what one is disposed to do, that disposition may be altered or changed in a manner that salvation is made possible. These are the fruits of repentance.
We must “take upon” ourselves the name of Christ. “Christ” is a name and a title. It is the name by which we must be called in order to inherit salvation. In other words, we must be in his family. There are two ways of entering into a family, the first is by birth and the second is by adoption. Paul explained this to the Galatians:
All of you are God’s children because of your faith in Christ Jesus. And when you were baptized, it was as though you had put on Christ in the same way you put on new clothes. Faith in Christ Jesus is what makes each of you equal with each other, whether you are a Jew or a Greek, a slave or a free person, a man or a woman. So if you belong to Christ, you are now part of Abraham’s family, and you will be given what God has promised. – Galatians 3:26-29 CEV
God expounds upon this doctrine to Moses:
That by reason of transgression cometh the fall, which fall bringeth death, and inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I have made, and so became of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory; For by the water ye keep the commandment; by the Spirit ye are justified, and by the blood ye are sanctified; Therefore it is given to abide in you; the record of heaven; the Comforter; the peaceable things of immortal glory; the truth of all things; that which quickeneth all things, which maketh alive all things; that which knoweth all things, and hath all power according to wisdom, mercy, truth, justice, and judgment. And now, behold, I say unto you: This is the plan of salvation unto all men, through the blood of mine Only Begotten, who shall come in the meridian of time. – Moses 6:59-62
By entering the waters of baptism we show obedience and humility to the commandments of God, we are justified by the Spirit. The blood of Christ is what will ultimately sanctify us:
Listen to him who is the advocate with the Father, who is pleading your cause before him— Saying: Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified; Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life. – D&C 45:3-5
The Gift of the Holy Ghost
After we have made covenants with God, is it the Spirit that allows us to stand justified before God, or in other words, the Spirit of God seals us up unto the blessings that come with entering the gate.
The Spirit of God, or the Holy Ghost speaks the truth to all men and is in all truth wherever that truth may be found:
(For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;) – Ephesians 5:9
Jesus Christ taught that the Holy Ghost will teach us all things and testify of Christ:
But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things… – John 14:26
But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me: – John 15:26
Often I hear people speak of the Gift of the Holy Ghost as “having the constant companionship of the Spirit” which is certainly an effect, but this is not the gift. Even after baptism, does one always have the Spirit with them, truly? So then what is the gift?
The Gift of the Holy Ghost has to do with receiving the blessings of the atonement. The gift which the Holy Ghost brings is justification from sin or a remission of sins which places us in a state whereby we may receive forgiveness through the atonement of Christ. This experience is compared with fire.
Listen to how the Lord describes the gift of the Holy Ghost:
Therefore it is given to abide in you; the record of heaven; the Comforter; the peaceable things of immortal glory; the truth of all things; that which quickeneth all things, which maketh alive all things; that which knoweth all things, and hath all power according to wisdom, mercy, truth, justice, and judgment. – Moses 6:61
The words “constant companionship” hardly do the doctrine of this principle justice. We should seek to understand more by receiving this gift ourselves and perhaps the way we speak of such things will elevate to a higher level.
Are we still in Bountiful?
There is a space between the gate and Christ, between the planting of the seed and the tasting of the fruit, between Jesusalem and the Promised Land; there is the path, there is the plant and there is Bountiful. At each of these points, we stand in danger of the same assumption: that we have arrived.
Returning to the idea that I proposed earlier, that those struggling along the path toward the Tree of Life were those who had already entered the gate, we can see that many pitfalls stand in the way of the objective. In the dream, there were fiery darts, mists of darkness, a large building full of mockers and diverse temptations. The vision is depicted as a continual struggle, very much like life can be. The vision reveals the critical and continual role that agency plays in our salvation and that one must never stop along the path. The destination was clear, you were either at the tree or you were not, but if we are not careful, we can misjudge our destination.
Returning to Alma 32, we are taken deeper into the scenario of potentially misjudging our destination and how easy it can be. Alma describes the process of planting a seed which is representative of “the word” or the thing that you desire to know the truthfulness of. How many of us have tried this experiment? Have you planted the seed? Have you experienced it:
- swell within your breasts
- beginneth to enlarge [your] soul
- enlighten [your] understanding
- beginneth to be delicious to [you?] – Alma 32:28
You studied, prayed about and lived the teachings of Christ and you felt them grow, something happened within you and you felt it, you experienced it and it was profound. Is this a testimony? Did you then and do you know go up to the stand on fast Sunday or in other situations testify of these things? Is it knowledge or have you just experienced an increase in faith? Alma says:
Now behold, would not this increase your faith? I say unto you, Yea; nevertheless it hath not grown up to a perfect knowledge. – Alma 32:29
What is this perfect knowledge? How is what you have experienced up to this point different than perfect knowledge? Reading on, Alma explains:
Now behold, would not this increase your faith? I say unto you, Yea; nevertheless it hath not grown up to a perfect knowledge. But behold, as the seed swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, then you must needs say that the seed is good; for behold it swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow. And now, behold, will not this strengthen your faith? Yea, it will strengthen your faith: for ye will say I know that this is a good seed; for behold it sprouteth and beginneth to grow. And now, behold, are ye sure that this is a good seed? I say unto you, Yea; for every seed bringeth forth unto its own likeness. Therefore, if a seed groweth it is good, but if it groweth not, behold it is not good, therefore it is cast away. And now, behold, because ye have tried the experiment, and planted the seed, and it swelleth and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, ye must needs know that the seed is good. – Alma 32:29-33
This increase in faith is knowledge, but it is not a perfect knowledge of the object of your faith, it is only the knowledge that the word is good. To those new to such experiments, this initial knowledge can be so over-powering that they might feel it is enough. Just the realization that God communicated a truth of something to them, the assurance of goodness and the power of the Holy Ghost, even in a small degree can bring an immense sense of comfort and encouragement. But what about this perfect knowledge? Alma addresses this issue and explains it this way:
And now, behold, is your knowledge perfect? Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, and your faith is dormant; and this because you know, for ye know that the word hath swelled your souls, and ye also know that it hath sprouted up, that your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand. O then, is not this real? I say unto you, Yea, because it is light; and whatsoever is light, is good, because it is discernible, therefore ye must know that it is good; and now behold, after ye have tasted this lightis your knowledge perfect? Behold I say unto you, Nay; neither must ye lay aside your faith, for ye have only exercised your faith to plant the seed that ye might try the experiment to know if the seed was good. – Alma 32:34-36
I wonder if people forget the next part of the process and become so excited that their seed has sprouted that they forget the fruit that they so desperately desired when they first planted their seed. Alma warns us of this:
But if ye neglect the tree, and take no thought for its nourishment, behold it will not get any root; and when the heat of the sun cometh and scorcheth it, because it hath no root it withers away, and ye pluck it up and cast it out. Now, this is not because the seed was not good, neither is it because the fruit thereof would not be desirable; but it is because your ground is barren, and ye will not nourish the tree, therefore ye cannot have the fruit thereof. And thus, if ye will not nourish the word, looking forward with an eye of faith to the fruit thereof, ye can never pluck of the fruit of the tree of life. – Alma 32:38-40
I often wonder how many testimonies of members in the church are founded in that initial knowledge of the goodness of the seed. How many of us are engaged in the kingdom with a small garden of tiny seedlings, some small, some larger and some withered from lack of nourishment and care? How much fruit has that garden borne and is it enough to sustain a life? I realize that I am being quite presumptuous here and I do not wish to offend. However, I ask the question out of love.
These are meant to be searching questions so the reader can check themselves against the words of God and his doctrine. I ask myself the same questions because I do not yet know the meaning of all things myself.
If you nourish your tree, it will take root and those roots can go deep, those branches will extend and shield you from the heat of day and the sweet smell of flowers will delight your senses. Those flowers will bear fruit that will be bitter until ripe and when the time is right:
…because of your diligence and your faith and your patience with the word in nourishing it, that it may take root in you, behold, by and by [or in other words “immediately”] ye shall pluck the fruit thereof, which is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure; and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst. – Alma 32:42
Note that in this process, you may see the plant, you may feel it and hear the wind blow through its leaves and branches but when it comes time to partake of the fruit, it is a set of sensory perceptions that will have been dormant from the beginning that will suddenly come to life when used to taste the fruit. Expect something different to be involved when perfect knowledge is obtained.
Finally, we have a very key instance in the Book of Mormon that might often be overlooked because on the surface, it doesn’t seem that significant. The dangers of becoming complacent along the path have been detailed and the warnings of losing sight of your end goal because reaching a point of growth feels sufficient enough to not continue onward to greater things. After sojourning for eight years in the wilderness and after suffering many hardships and trials of faith, Lehi and his family reach the end of the desert where Nephi records:
And we did come to the land which we called Bountiful, because of its much fruit and also wild honey; and all these things were prepared of the Lord that we might not perish. And we beheld the sea, which we called Irreantum, which, being interpreted, is many waters. And it came to pass that we did pitch our tents by the seashore; and notwithstanding we had suffered many afflictions and much difficulty, yea, even so much that we cannot write them all, we were exceedingly rejoiced when we came to the seashore; and we called the place Bountiful, because of its much fruit. – 1 Nephi 17:5-6
Compared to what they had experienced in the past, this new land seemed like heaven. How disappointed many of that party must have been when it was revealed that Bountiful was only a halfway point. They had crossed a vast desert of sand only to look forward to crossing a desert of water. Bountiful provided rest, comfort, safety, security and peace, much like that initial knowledge that comes from knowing the plant is good or perhaps knowing that you entered that gate through baptism. But the end is not yet.
There is a promised land still waiting to be reached, there is still fruit to be tasted, there is still a tree to fall down at the foot of.
…behold, he saw other multitudes pressing forward; and they came and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press their way forward, continually holding fast to the rod of iron, until they came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree. – 1 Nephi 8:30
Then, my brethren, ye shall reap the rewards of your faith, and your diligence, and patience, and long-suffering, waiting for the tree to bring forth fruit unto you. – Alma 32:43
And it came to pass that after we had sailed for the space of many days we did arrive at the promised land; and we went forth upon the land, and did pitch our tents; and we did call it the promised land. And it came to pass that we did begin to till the earth, and we began to plant seeds; yea, we did put all our seeds into the earth, which we had brought from the land of Jerusalem. And it came to pass that they did grow exceedingly; wherefore, we were blessed in abundance. – 1 Nephi 18:23-24
If you have not yet entered the gate, you now know where to find it and how to enter. If you have entered the gate but have spent most of your time in Bountiful or are realizing that your fruitless garden could use the vibrant color and flavor of fruit, turn to the scriptures, turn to the Lord. You might find that there is yet a long stretch of path before you or some seasons of drought and hard winters ahead or a vast ocean full of both stormy seas and windless days.
Seek after Jesus Christ, enter in by his gate and take his name upon you; walk his path, withstand all attempts to divert you from your goal and let the power of desire lead you to his feet. You may know that he is and that you have salvation through his merits and even more.
I have tasted this fruit. I know my Savior, Jesus Christ, and I leave you with my simple witness of this truth and invite all to come and partake.