Make no mistake about the Apostle Paul’s understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He knew about the era in which we live, that is, the dispensation of the fulness of times. He understood that Jesus Christ is the head of the Church and that His Church included apostles and prophets. He understood the true nature of the atonement. He comprehended the true relationship between a man and a woman and the typology of Jesus Christ and his relationship with the Church. He understood what it means to put on the whole armor of God.
All of these things are included in his letter to the Saints who were living at Ephesus at the extreme western end of Asia Minor (present day Turkey).
Dispensation of the Fulness of Times
The Prophet Joseph taught:
It is in the order of heavenly things that God should always send a new dispensation into the world when men have apostatized from the truth and lost the priesthood, but when men come out and build upon other men’s foundations, they do it on their own responsibility, without authority from God; and when the floods come and the winds blow, their foundations will be found to be sand, and their whole fabric will crumble to dust.
Did I build on any other man’s foundation? I have got all the truth which the Christian world possessed, and an independent revelation in the bargain, and God will bear me off triumphant.(1)
Paul the Apostle knew that there would soon be an apostasy, so he set the minds of the Ephesians towards that distant day when the Gospel would be restored again:
That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him (Ephesians 1:10).
“The everlasting gospel is revealed or dispensed from heaven in various ages, periods, or dispensations,” Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught. “In each of these God speaks, angels minister among men, and the gift of the Holy Ghost is poured out upon the faithful. (Moses 5: 58, 59)
In each dispensation, there are legal administrators who hold the higher priesthood, who preach the gospel, work miracles, and perform the ordinances of salvation so they will be binding on earth and in heaven. And in each there are special commissions and endowments that pertain to the age and period involved.
Elder McConkie continued:
The dispensation of the fulness of times is the dispensation of the fulness of dispensations, it is the time or age of the fulness of times or ages. In other words, it is the dispensation of restoration, the one in which all things possessed and enjoyed in any past age have or shall be given again. This final great dispensation commenced in the Spring of 1820 with the appearance of the Father and the Son to Joseph Smith to whom also the subsequent revelations came pursuant to which the Church and kingdom of God on earth was once again established.(2)
Every dispensation ended in apostasy. This dispensation we are currently in, the dispensation of the fulness of times, will, however, not end in apostasy, but will culminate in the return of the Son of God to earth and usher in the great Millennium, those 1000 years of peace.
The city of Jerusalem was built upon ancient Mount Moriah. At the northern end of Mount Moriah, was once a quarry of stone during the Roman era. Just outside the current walls east of the Damascus Gate remnants of the old limestone quarry can be seen to this day.
The Romans, however, decided the stone was not of a quality they wanted and they rejected the quarry and the stone. At this very site, in the midst of this quarry, the Lord Jesus Christ was crucified. “The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner,” the Psalmist wrote, “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” (Psalms 118:22,23)
Christ himself quoted this scripture and then added: “And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.” (Matt. 21:44)
We must build our testimonies and our faith upon this Stone. Hereby will we be able to withstand the wiles and shafts in the whirlwind from Satan. “Wherefore, I am in your midst,” the Savior said in our day, “and I am the good shepherd, and the stone of Israel. He that buildeth upon this rock shall never fall.” (D&C 50:44)
Helaman also taught his sons this same lesson:
And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall (Helaman 5:12).
Paul teaches us that the gospel brings us to a new place in the mortal sphere:
Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit (Ephesians 2:19-22).
Salvation versus Exaltation
The teachings about grace in the second chapter of Ephesians are perhaps the most quoted by evangelical, Nicean, and protestant Christians. “For by grace are ye saved,” Paul taught the Ephesians, “through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2: 8, 9)
With a quick reading of these two verses, or hearing them from a non-member friend as supposed proof that the Church leans too heavily upon works, the student of the scriptures must be keenly aware of the meaning of “saved” here versus the meaning of “exalted.”
Elder McConkie wrote:
Salvation in all its forms, kinds, and degrees comes by the grace of God. That is, because of his love, mercy, and condescension, God our Father ordained the plan and system of salvation, which would “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39) Pursuant to this plan he sent his Only Begotten Son into the world to work out the infinite and eternal atoning sacrifice.
Then Our Lord, in turn, also because of his love, mercy, and condescension, performed the appointed labor so that all men are “raised in immortality,” and those who believe and obey the gospel law inherit “eternal life.” (D&C 29: 43, 44) The faithful gain a forgiveness of their sins and are reconciled to God because they believe and obey his laws.
Men are thus saved by grace alone, in the sense of being resurrected; they are saved by grace coupled with obedience, in the sense of gaining eternal life.
The gospel plan is to save men in the celestial kingdom, and hence Paul teaches salvation by grace through faith, through obedience, through accepting Christ, through keeping the commandments.(3)
Thus, again, all will be resurrected, saved in that sense, by grace, by this gift of Christ through his death on the cross and resurrection. And all who desire to be exalted, to live again in the very presence of God the Father, must be obedient to the laws of the Gospel as given by Jesus Christ, and through his atonement, his suffering in Gethsemane and on the cross.
Whole Armor of God
God has iterated in our day as Paul did in his day, the importance of putting on the whole armor of God. Careful study and pondering of these exhortations in Ephesians 6:10-20 and D&C 27: 15-18 will reveal that the process of carefully dressing ourselves in the armor of God is the symbolic representation of taking upon ourselves the name of Christ and accepting fully His marvelous atonement. How else can we possibly stand before the “fiery darts of the wicked?”
We must be able to some day ‘stand’ in the presence of God. “Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore…” (Ephesians 6:13, 14)
We are taught in the 107th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants this same principle. “Wherefore, now let every man learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence. He that is slothful shall not be counted worthy to stand, and he that learns not his duty and shows himself not approved shall not be counted worthy to stand.” (D&C 107:99,100)
1. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 375-76.
2. McConkie, Bruce R. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, Volume II, Acts – Philippians. Bookcraft, Salt Lake City, 1971, pp. 492-93.
3. Ibid, p. 498.