Doctrine and Covenants 93 teaches that “truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come” (verse 24). As we ponder this section, we learn some truths about ourselves that are astounding. Even mind-boggling.
Whatever limitations we may see in ourselves, Heavenly Father and His Son see something glorious in us, something godlike. Just as Jesus Christ “was in the beginning with the Father,” so “ye were also” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:21, 23). Just as He “continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness,” so also “you shall receive grace for grace” (verses 13, 20). The restored gospel teaches us about the true nature of God, and so it also teaches us about ourselves and what we can become. You are a literal child of God with the potential to “in due time receive of his fulness” (verse 19).
This is a foreign concept to the world, and some regard it as blasphemous and others as absurd. In fact, perhaps no philosophy has aroused such controversy as the idea that man may become a god, and that the very idea lowers God to the status of man and thus deprives God of both his dignity and divinity.
Rather than being the children of God, many in the world believe that we are the spirit creations of God, just as an invention is the creation of its inventor. However, the scriptures teach a much different doctrine—that we are more than creations of God, but that we are the literal spirit offspring or children of God our Father (See Acts 17:28-29; Romans 8:16-17; Hebrews 12:9). This doctrinal distinction is monumental in its consequence, because our identity determines our potential destiny.
Those who believe we are merely the creations of God, rather than children of God, have no reason to suppose that we could ever become like our creator. On the other hand, as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we believe that we are the offspring of God with inherited spiritual traits that give us the divine potential to become like our parent, God the Father. President Boyd k. Packer has written:
You are a child of God. He is the father of your spirits. Spiritually, you are of noble birth, the offspring of the King of Heaven. Fix that truth in your mind and hold to it. However many generations in your mortal ancestry, no matter what race or people you represent, the pedigree of your spirit can be written on a single line. You are a child of God!
(Boyd K. Packer, “To Young Women and Men,” Ensign, May 1989, 54.)
Understanding our divine identity is crucial to understanding our divine destiny. When Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden, God said, “Behold, the man is become as one of us [meaning like the gods]” (Genesis 3:22; emphasis added). This was possible because men now “know good and evil,” and possess the capacity to choose their actions. Before the Fall, mankind would have remained in a state of innocence—safe, but restricted in his progress. After the Fall, he could use his agency, and would have access to the powers of the Atonement of Jesus Christ to reverse the effects of the Fall, and also have unlimited opportunities to progress toward his destiny of godhood.
Speaking of the effect of the Atonement on fallen man, C. S. Lewis said:
For God is not merely mending, not simply restoring a status quo. Redeemed humanity is to be something more glorious than unfallen humanity would have been, more glorious than any unfallen race now is. . . . And this super-added glory will, with true vicariousness, exalt all creatures. (”The Grand Miracle,” Miracles: A Preliminary Study, 122-3; emphasis added)
Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, God can exalt all His children—meaning empower them to become like Him. And just why does God want us to become like Him? Like any father, He wants us to be happy. God wants us to acquire divine attributes so we can experience His quality of joy. That is why His plan for us is called “the plan of happiness” (see Alma 42:8, 16).
The Savior was persecuted for claiming to be the Son of God. At one point, he was about to be stoned by the Jews for blasphemy. He reminded them of His good works and then asked, “For which of those works do ye stone me?” They replied that they were not stoning him for good works “but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.” This Jesus readily acknowledged, and declared that they should be likewise: “Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?” (John 10:32–34; emphasis added). In other words, He said not only am I a god, but all of you are potential gods. He was referring to the familiar psalm: “Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High” (Psalm 82:6). He was reconfirming a basic gospel teaching that all men are children of God, and consequently all might become like God.
Paul understood this principle, and preached it in Athens, saying, “Certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring” (Acts 17:28). He reminded the Romans that “we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ. [Romans 8:16–17; emphasis added; see also 1 Corinthians 3:21–23]
When Jesus said to “be ye therefore perfect, he was inviting mankind to rise up to our full divine potential. C. S. Lewis wrote:
The command Be ye perfect is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. He said (in the Bible) that we were “gods” and He is going to make good His words. . . . The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said.
(Mere Christianity, 174-175)
Early Christian writers also wrote of our divine destiny. As early as the second century, Irenaeus (A.D. 115–202) noted: “We have not been made gods from the beginning, but at first merely men, then at length gods” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, book 4, chapter 38, in vol. 1, The Apostolic Fathers, 522. On another occasion, he clarified that exalted man would not become a type of glorified angel but literally become a god: “Passing beyond the angels, and be made after the image and likeness of God.” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies book 5, chapter 36, in vol. 1, The Apostolic Fathers, 567.
Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 160–200), a contemporary of Irenaeus, spoke of the reward of godhood that followed long preparation: “Being destined to sit on thrones with the other gods that have been first put in their places by the Saviour” (Clement of Alexandria,
Stromata (Miscellanies), book 7, chapter 10, in Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (Entire), vol. 2 of Ante-Nicene Fathers, 539.)
Origen (A.D. 185–255) wrote: “The true God [referring to the Father], then, is ‘The God,’ and those who are formed after Him are gods, images, as it were, of Him the prototype.” (Origen, Commentary on John, 2:2, in The Gospel of Peter, the Diatessaron of Tatian, vol. 9 of Ante-Nicene Fathers, 323.)
In the fourth century, St. Athanasius of Alexandria (A.D. 295–373) explained that “[God] was made flesh in order that we might be enabled to be made gods” (See Athanasius, Orationes Contra Arianus (Four Discourses Against the Arians), 1.39, 3.34, in St. Athanasius: Select Works and Letters, vol. 4 of A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church: Second Series, 329, 413).
Elder Tad Callister gave the devotional address at BYU in 2012 on the subject of the doctrine of deification. After citing the teachings of these early Christian father, he taught:
For several centuries this doctrinal truth survived, but eventually the Apostasy took its toll, and this doctrine in its purity and expansiveness was lost. The doctrine of man’s potential for godhood as taught by the Prophet Joseph Smith was not his invention—not his creation, not conjured up by some fertile mind. It was simply and solely a restoration of a glorious truth that had been taught in the scriptures and by many early Christian writers of the primitive Church.
Do not the laws of science teach us that like begets like, each after its kind? Science has taught us that a complex genetic code transferred from parent to child is responsible for the child attaining the physical attributes of his parents. If this be so, is it illogical to assume that spirit offspring receive a spiritual code giving to them the divine characteristics and potential of their parent—God—thus making them gods in embryo? No, it is but a fulfillment of the law that like begets like. (Tad A. Callister, “Our Identity and Our Destiny,” BYU Speeches, August 14, 2012).
The prophet Lorenzo Snow taught this same truth:
We were born in the image of God our Father; He begat us like unto Himself. There is the nature of Deity in the composition of our spiritual organization. In our spiritual birth, our Father transmitted to us the capabilities, powers and faculties which He possessed, as much so as the child on its mother’s bosom possesses, although in an undeveloped state, the faculties, powers and susceptibilities of its parent. (Lorenzo Snow, in Eliza R. Snow, Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow: One of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1884), 335
I love the logic of this statement from The Gospel of Philip, an apocryphal book: “A horse sires a horse, a man begets man, a god brings forth a god” (“The Gospel of Philip (II, 3),” in The Nag Hammadi Library: In English, 145.)
Tad Callister commented on this idea, saying, “The difference between man and God is significant—but it is one of degree, not kind. It is the difference between an acorn and an oak tree, a rosebud and a rose, a son and a father. In truth, every man is a potential god in embryo, in fulfillment of that eternal law that like begets like” (Tad A. Callister, “Our Identity and Our Destiny,” BYU Speeches, August 14, 2012).
We must have this correct vision of our divine destiny in order to fully understand our potential. I love how section 93 inspires and motivates us to achieve this destiny. As we better understand it, our level of self-worth, confidence, and motivation is greatly heightened. We can say, like Louis XVI, “I was born to be a king.” Bishop Vaughn J. Featherstone taught the importance of knowing your destiny by relating this story:
Many years ago I heard the story of the son of King Louis XVI of France. King Louis had been taken from his throne and imprisoned. His young son, the prince, was taken by those who dethroned the king. They thought that inasmuch as the king’s son was heir to the throne, if they could destroy him morally, he would never realize the great and grand destiny that life had bestowed upon him.
They took him to a community far away, and there they exposed the lad to every filthy and vile thing that life could offer. They exposed him to foods the richness of which would quickly make him a slave to appetite. They used vile language around him constantly. They exposed him to lewd and lusting women. They exposed him to dishonor and distrust. He was surrounded 24 hours a day by everything that could drag the soul of a man as low as one could slip. For over six months he had this treatment—but not once did the young lad buckle under pressure. Finally, after intensive temptation, they questioned him. Why had he not submitted himself to these things—why had he not partaken? These things would provide pleasure, satisfy his lusts, and were desirable; they were all his. The boy said, “I cannot do what you ask for I was born to be a king.”
The central theme of section 93 is found in verse 19. We are told HOW to worship, and WHAT we worship. Who is this being we worship? How can I become like Him? This information is given so that we may “come unto the Father in my name, and in due time receive of his fulness.”
Generally speaking, everything before this verse tells us what we worship, and everything after it tells us HOW to worship. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 40). In the third Lecture on Faith, Joseph Smith said that “a correct knowledge of God’s character and attributes as revealed in the scriptures is necessary for the exercise of faith leading to life and salvation.”
What can we learn about the nature of the being we worship from this section? As we have discussed, this revelation departs drastically from traditional Christian ideas about the nature of mankind, proposing startling truths about our premortal past, our future potential, and our relationship to God.
Since the fifth century, Christian orthodox beliefs imposed an almost impassable gulf between the Creator and his creations. Everything, they believe, was created out of nothing—ex nihilo. The Bible’s parent-child description of God’s relationship to us was largely understood as a metaphor instead as a literal kinship. To suggest otherwise was thought blasphemous, lessening the majesty of God and dangerously elevating mankind. Joseph’s revelation was bold and new, and yet was “ancient and familiar.” (See Revelations in Context) It recovered lost truths that were apparently known to biblical figures, in this case John the Baptist. Truths such as these:
We worship the true light (Doctrine and Covenants 93:2), and if we respond to that light, He will take us to the Father (Doctrine and Covenants 84:46-48).
We worship a being who is at one with the Father, and who received the fulness from the Father. Though he received the fullness of the Father, yet he is a being who understands.
In these three verses, the phrase “he received not of the fulness at first” is repeated three times. It is apparently very important to God that we understand that Jesus did not receive of the fulness at first. When the Lord wants to make a point, he repeats it over and over. So, what are we to learn from this? Remember that this is all in the context of learning how to worship.
What is worship? In one word, worship is imitation—like when a little boy wants to do everything exactly the way his father does it. I had a personal experience with this years ago when I was teaching my young daughter how to use watercolors. We were each painting a picture of a chicken. As we each worked on our separate paintings, I noticed that she tried to imitate every stroke that I made on her own painting.
In the 15th century Thomas a Kempis wrote a wonderful little devotional book entitled “Imitation of Christ” on how to pattern our lives after His. What is it that we’re going to do in imitation of the Savior? It’s the key idea in section 93. He grew from grace to grace until he got the fulness. So, if I’m going to worship him, what am I going to do? I’m going to grow from grace to grace until I get the fullness. That is worship.
In this verse, God tells us that this is what he wants us to do. We must progress from grace to grace until we receive the fullness. And how do we progress from grace to grace? What’s the key? I wondered about this for many years before I found a satisfying answer.
I vividly remember sitting in the Institute class where Michael Wilcox taught this principle. He drew a graph, showing an X and Y axis on the board. The X axis he labeled obedience and the Y axis he labeled light. As we obey the will of God, we are given a degree of light. He marked the intersection of these two points. Then as our obedience increases, so does the amount of light that we receive. He put another point on the graph. Each time our obedience increases, so does our light, and the result is that it grows “brighter and brighter until the perfect day.” (Doctrine and Covenants 50:24) Thus, we grow from grace to grace until we receive our exaltation. We do this by increasing in light and righteousness.
This is why I must keep God’s commandments, for “no man receiveth a fulness unless he keepeth the commandments.” And “he that keepeth his commandments receiveth light and truth until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things.” His grace to US is giving us more and more light. Our grace to HIM is obeying the light we are given, and as we do this, we are able to receive more and more light. If we obey the new light, then we comply with a higher level of obedience, and can receive even more light. The graph can also go the other way. As we disobey, we also can lose light. In outer darkness there is no light because there is no obedience. Alma describes the way we can lose light gradually until we know nothing! (See Alma 12:9-11)
In Hebrew, the word torah literally means “instruction.” The first five books of the Old Testament are known as the Torah, the law, because they contain the law of Moses. If we interpret divine laws or commandments as covenantal instructions, it becomes easy to see why the Lord shows His love for us by giving us, “commandments not a few.” (Doctrine and Covenants 59:4) Commandments, then, are just instructions on how to obtain blessings, because “when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated” (Doctrine and Covenants 130:21).
Joseph Smith taught:
We consider that God has created man with a mind capable of instruction, and a faculty which may be enlarged in proportion to the heed and diligence given to the light communicated from heaven to the intellect; and that the nearer man approaches perfection, the clearer are his views, and the greater his enjoyments, till he has overcome the evils of his life and lost every desire for sin; and like the ancients, arrives at that point of faith where he is wrapped in the power and glory of his Maker and is caught up to dwell with Him. But we consider that this is a station to which no man ever arrived in a moment: he must have been instructed in the government and laws of that kingdom by proper degrees, until his mind is capable in some measure of comprehending the propriety, justice, equality, and consistency of the same. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 51)
You have to grow grace for grace, just as the Savior did. In his last conference sermon in Nauvoo, Joseph Smith taught that men and women were co-eternal with God and could become like him by “going from a smaller capacity to a greater capacity,” until they eventually dwell “in everlasting burnings.”
This doctrine is so amazing that it is difficult to comprehend. We think, “But wasn’t the Savior a vastly different being than we are?” Yes, but not really. You too are eternal. You too are an eternal being of light, spirit, truth, and intelligence, possessing agency. (See Doctrine and Covenants 93:21-23, 29)
The big question for each person is whether or not they desire to become like God. God will honor our agency, so He has provided “many Mansions.” I like the wording in section 88 about the kind of resurrected body we are “willing to receive.” In the end, we will each be our own judge.
Even though this is a very philosophical section, we can learn basic doctrine from it. We can learn WHAT we worship, and we learn HOW to worship. We learn our eternal identity and our eternal destiny, to become like the Being we worship. Although it sounds incredible, we are told how to do it. It is vital that we understand that Jesus didn’t start out with the fulness—that he received grace for grace until he received the fulness of light and truth. As we are “trying to be like Jesus,” we should imitate the things he does. For imitation is the highest form of worship.
How blessed we are to have had the understanding of our true identity and destiny restored to us. What a tragedy that this truth was lost from the earth for so many centuries. There are no ordinary people in our midst—only potential gods and goddesses. May we, like Mother Theresa, look for the face of God in every person that we met.