Cover image: Christ Teaching His Disciples, by Justin Kunz.
If you enter the Museo Galileo in Florence, Italy, you’ll find a human finger on display. And not just any finger, it’s the actual skeletal finger of Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei. There, upright in a glass case, Galileo’s finger points skyward to the heavens.
The finger likely helped Galileo to pen his theories of heliocentrism or the notion that the earth revolves around the sun. In the catholic world of 1610, theologians and philosophers believed the earth was the center of the universe and all heavenly bodies revolved around it. Why this belief? Psalms 104:5, which says, “the Lord set the earth on its foundations; and it can never be moved.” As a result, for centuries the papacy insisted the earth was the center of the universe.
But to Galileo this made little sense. He had a newly invented telescope–a new window to the solar system. Through it, he discovered the moons of Jupiter, now called the Galilean moons. These were heavenly bodies that did not orbit the earth. He saw the phases of Venus proving that Venus traveled to the far side of the sun, and didn’t rotate around the earth between the earth and sun. His observations of stars, comets and the relative movement of planets around the sun led to his writings published in his Sidereus Nunclus (Starry Messenger). However, his writings led to his imprisonment.
In 1633, Galileo was brought before the Roman inquisition and found guilty of heresy. His crime? “Having held the opinion that the Sun lies motionless at the center of the universe, that the Earth is not at its center and moves, and that one may hold and defend an opinion as probable after it has been declared contrary to Holy Scripture.”[i]
He was sentenced to prison, later commuted to house arrest, and there he would remain for the rest of his life. Today, Galileo is called the father of modern physics. His theories in astronomy, engineering, and physics form the basis for much of modern science. Yet in his day, he was imprisoned for holding such beliefs.
As the story goes, while being moved from prison to his home, Galileo exited the dark dungeon looked up to the sky and then down to the ground. Then, stamping the earth with his foot and with a defiant tone, he said, “Eppur si muove” meaning “Albeit it doth move” (and yet the earth moves.) They could imprison him, force him to publicly recant, or even keep him from publishing his theories. But none of that changed the fact that the earth still moved around the sun. And Galileo knew it.
So, here is the question: some people seem to be clear about their beliefs and have an ability to live true to their testimony. How do they get such understanding?
The answer is they have what Galileo had: a telescope–a lens to see things as they really are, not as we suppose them to be. 2 Nephi 31:3 says, “For the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding….” 2 Nephi 32:5 says, “For behold again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do.”
Speaking of understanding, Elder Bednar said, “Understanding grows out of knowledge that is certified as true by the Holy Ghost and produces an illumination, a comprehension, a perspective and a depth of desire and commitment not obtainable through reason alone.”[ii]
By enlightening our understanding, the Holy Ghost deepens our commitment. Like Galileo, it gives us strength to stand strong regardless of circumstances.
To carry the metaphor a bit further, it seems in life that we get to thinking that all things should revolve around us and our priorities. When in fact, the doctrine of Christ is that the Son is in fact the center of our lives. 2 Nephi 31:19 says we are to live, “…relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.” Not part way, not half-hearted, but whole-hearted in our Christ-centered living.
The definition of heliocentrism is “having or representing the sun as the center; measured from or considered in relations to the sun.”[iii] Likewise, the doctrine of Christ places the Son of God at the center, measuring our lives from or considered in relation to the Son.
With that being said, let’s look at a few scriptures that give perspective to the doctrine of Christ.
2 Nephi 31:3—How do you increase spiritual understanding?
Elder Bednar taught that spiritual understanding is a gift to be received and not a trait or characteristic to be developed.
“May I suggest that understanding is not a characteristic or virtue we can jot down on our goal sheet or ‘to do’ list, to be accomplished by the end of the month. Rather, understanding, in the scriptural sense that we have discussed this morning, is a gift from God. Please note the source of understanding in each of the following verses.
But there is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding. (Job 32:8)
For the Lord giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding. (Proverbs 2:6)
I perceive that ye are weak, that ye cannot understand all my words which I am commanded of the Father to speak unto you at this time. Therefore, go ye unto your homes, and ponder the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand . . . . (3 Nephi 17:2-3)
Therefore, whoso readeth it, let him understand, for the Spirit manifesteth truth. (D&C 91:4)
Therefore, why is it that ye cannot understand and know, that he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit of truth? Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified, and rejoice together. (D&C 50:21-22)”[iv]
So the Spirit is the source of the gift of understanding. Is it possible that we sometimes “miss” the gifts of understanding that are sent our way? If so why?
Perhaps our hearts are hard. Maybe we have not repented as we should. But undoubtedly, there are more gifts of understanding given than we are able to lay hold of in our lives.
I believe that Heavenly Father loves to bless us with understanding through his word. I suspect we only lay hold of a fraction of the word that He sends to bless our life. I imagine he prepares the word of understanding, like wrapped gifts for us, places them within our reach and waits for us to lay hold upon them. Sometimes we do and sometimes we don’t. Perhaps this is why Moroni beckons us to “Come unto Christ and lay hold upon every good gift….”[v] And perhaps this is why Alma says the word of God is “liberal unto all.”[vi]
If Heavenly Father sends his understanding to us liberally, then why don’t we lay hold upon it more frequently?
In addition to fear, doubt and sin, I’d like to add one additional reason we don’t lay hold upon understanding often: we’re distracted. I believe that one of the most significant obstacles to our laying hold upon understanding is our inability to fully place Christ at the center of our life, to fully focus on Him.
The concept of centering extends to many areas of life. Centering means you center your attention and effort on what is currently before you. It means you do that thing with all of your:
- heart (your feeling and passion),
- might (your energy),
- mind (your focus and attention),
- and strength (your physical will).
If you are reading scripture, give it all your heart and mind. If you are in class, give it all your mind and strength. It means to be wholehearted, totally invested and engaged.
When I taught business strategy at the BYU Marriott School, I was amazed to see that wholehearted students got so much from my class and halfhearted students took away so little. Both types of students attended class for the same amount of time and both were present for the same discussion, but some left enriched and others indifferent.
Centering helps us concentrate our power. Imagine you had several important tasks to complete today and during the time you set aside to do each task, you did it with all your heart, might, mind and strength. No distractions. No text messages. No Instagram. You gave each task your whole heart. Would you get more out of your day? Would you lay hold upon more truth? Would you learn more? Yes, of course.
Many of you have served missions. As a missionary you tried to share the word with other people hoping they would lay hold on it. Why did some people lay hold and others did not? You knew if they would give you their attention and begin to center on your message, the likelihood of understanding was significantly higher. How did you feel when they would not lay hold?
Could it be that Heavenly Father feels the same about us? He knows if we would just give his word our wholehearted attention, we would likely lay hold of understanding and it would bless our life. The amazing thing is this: when we lay hold upon the word, we actually open ourselves up to understand more of His word and to lay hold of it in greater ways.
Alma taught, “And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.”[vii]
Hardness of heart hinders understanding. Alma 10:6 says, “Nevertheless, I did harden my heart, for I was called many times and I would not hear; therefore I knew concerning these things, yet I would not know.”
Conversely a willing heart brings understanding. 1 Nephi 2:16 shows how a wiling heart leads to understanding: “Having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did … soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father.”
As you read 2 Nephi 31, think of this chapter as an outline of the Doctrine of Christ. What is the doctrine of Christ? Create your own outline, highlight excerpts from these versus that inspire your best thinking.
Here is a possible outline from the concepts taught in chapter 31:
- Willing to keep the commandments (v. 10)
- Repent (v. 11)
- Follow the Son with full purpose of heart (v. 13)
- No hypocrisy and no deception before God (v. 13)
- Real intent (v. 13)
- Witness that you are willing to take upon you that name of Christ (v. 13)
- Endure to the end in following the example of the Son (v. 16)
- Do the things you’ve seen your Redeemer do (v. 17)
- Rely wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save (v. 19)
- Press forward with steadfastness in Christ (v. 20)
- Have a perfect brightness of hope and love of God and of men (v. 20)
- Feast upon the word of Christ (v. 20)
1.Willing to keep the commandments
Elder Maxwell said that when we become willing, “We then spend much less time deciding, and much more time serving; otherwise the more hesitation the less inspiration.”[viii]
“Repentance is much more than just acknowledging wrongdoings. It is a change of mind and heart that gives us a fresh view about God, about ourselves, and about the world. It includes turning away from sin and turning to God for forgiveness. It is motivated by love for God and the sincere desire to obey His commandments.”[ix]
3. Follow the Son with full purpose of heart
Purpose is an incredible alarm clock. When I raised my teenage children I noticed that for them getting up early to work was impossible. Getting up early to go water skiing was easy. Purpose changes everything. When you follow the Son with full purpose of heart, that following becomes easier.
4. No hypocrisy and no deception before God
President Marion G. Romney observed that there are too many of us “who try to serve the Lord without offending the devil.”[x] Are there areas of your life where you would be embarrassed to have your thoughts or deeds fully disclosed to those around you? For all of us, this question causes some hesitation, but this is the doctrine of Christ.
Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin said, “The Lord has made it clear that He will not be fooled by appearances, and He has warned us not to be false to Him or to others. He has cautioned us to be wary of those who project a false front, who put on a bright pretense that hides a darker reality. We know that the Lord looketh on the heart and not on the outward appearance.”[xi]
5. Real Intent
“Too often we passively follow patterns and habits that have been developed through the years—we just go through the motions without carefully considering where those motions are taking us. Living with real intent adds focus and purpose to our lives and can make all the difference. Living with real intent means understanding the “why”—the motives behind our actions.” [xii]
6. Witness that you are willing to take upon you that name of Christ
Elder Oaks points out that when we partake of the sacrament we do not witness that we take upon us the name of Jesus Christ. We only witness that we are willing to do so. “The fact that we only witness to our willingness suggests that something else must happen before we actually take that sacred name upon us in the most important sense.”[xiii]
He goes on to teach that two possible subsequent events are when we might take upon us the name of Christ. The first is in the temple. “In the inspired dedicatory prayer of the Kirtland Temple, the Prophet Joseph Smith asked the Lord for a blessing upon “thy people upon whom thy name shall be put in this house.” (D&C 109:26)
Elder Oaks continues, “by partaking of the sacrament we witness our willingness to participate in the sacred ordinances of the temple and to receive the highest blessings available through the name and by the authority of the Savior when he chooses to confer them upon us.”[xiv]
The second: “…Our willingness to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ affirms our commitment to do all that we can to be counted among those whom he will choose to stand at his right hand and be called by his name at the last day. In this sacred sense, our witness that we are willing to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ constitutes our declaration of candidacy for exaltation in the celestial kingdom. Exaltation is eternal life, “the greatest of all the gifts of God.” (D&C 14:7).[xv]
7. Endure to the end in following the example of the Son
In my opinion, there is a difference between enduring to the end and enduring to the end in following the example of the son.
President Joseph Fielding Smith suggested that enduring to the end involves the acquisition of those attributes that bring happiness. “We must endure to the end,” he said; … “We must so live as to acquire the attributes of godliness and become the kind of people who can enjoy the glory and wonders of the celestial kingdom.” (Ensign, Nov. 1971, p. 5.)[xvi]
8. Do the things that you’ve seen your redeemer do
In my opinion, this phrase contains the secret to changing any habit, to repenting, to becoming more of the person you know you should become. When we “do the things that you’ve seen your redeemer do,” your nature changes and you gain power.
Elder Holland said, “There can and will be plenty of difficulties in life. Nevertheless, the soul that comes unto Christ, who knows His voice and strives to do as He did, finds a strength, as the hymn says, “beyond [his] own.” [xvii]
9. Rely wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save
The definition of merit is: The quality of being particularly good or worthy. When we rely upon the qualities of Christ namely: faith, righteousness, long-suffering, mercy, kindness, just, forgiving, helpful, holy and charitable; we can place great faith in his strength and ability to heal and guide us. If it were not for these merits, how could be place such confidence in him?
Alma 22:14 says, “And since man had fallen he could not merit anything of himself; but the sufferings and death of Christ atone for their sins, through faith and repentance, and so forth. This is the reason we must rely wholly upon the merits of Christ because we cannot merit anything of ourselves.
One question to ask yourself when you don’t feel close to the Lord or when you don’t know if you have repented fully might be: “Do I rely ‘wholly’ upon the merits of Christ?”
10. Press forward with steadfastness in Christ
Elaine Dalton said, “You can press forward with vision. The Holy Ghost will help you remain steadfast, and your testimony of the Savior will help you proceed with a perfect brightness of hope. There may be some steep hills ahead, but our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, has promised to climb with you every step of the way. There has never been a more important time to press forward and be steadfast.” [xviii]
11. Have a perfect brightness of hope and love of God and of men
Elder Maxwell said, “While weak hope leaves us at the mercy of our moods and events, ‘brightness of hope’ produces illuminated individuals. Their luminosity is seen, and things are also seen by it! Such hope permits us to “press forward” even when dark clouds oppress (see 2 Ne. 31:16, 20; Heb. 6:19; Ether 12:4; Col. 1:23). Sometimes in the deepest darkness there is no external light—only an inner light to guide and to reassure.” [xix]
12. Feast upon the word of Christ
What does it mean to feast upon the word of Christ? The obvious answers include reading scriptures, memorizing scripture, reading the words of modern day prophets and more. But one answer that is often overlooked is what we do with our Sunday worship. We worship him through prayer, giving the affections of our heart to him, gathering together in prayer, partaking of the sacrament, participating in priesthood ordinances, and pondering on his word.
I can’t help but think that when you fully worship on the Sabbath and give your full heart and self to the ordinance of the sacrament and words spoken in Sunday meetings that you will feast upon the word of Christ.
In closing, Nephi and Jacob teach us that those who have the receive the Holy Ghost can then speak with the tongue of angels. The question that arises is “What does it mean to speak with the tongue of angels?
Nephi 32:3 says, “Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they
speak the words of Christ.” It seems to
me that the more we understand and the more we live the words of Christ, the
more his words become ours. And by doing
so we speak with the tongue of angels.
Like Galileo, our understanding of the Son grows until we talk like he
talks and see as he sees. Then, the Holy Ghost will “show unto you all things
what ye should do.” (2 Nephi 32:5)
[ii] Elder David A Bednar, Understanding is a Wellspring of Life, Ricks College Campus Education Week Devotional, 3 June 1999.
[iii] Oxford dictionary online.
[iv] Elder David A Bednar, Understanding is a Wellspring of Life, Ricks College Campus Education Week Devotional, 3 June 1999.
8 Moroni 10:30.
9 Alma 6:5
14 Alma 12:10
[viii] Neal A. Maxwell, Willing to Submit, General Conference, April 1985.
[x] Marion G. Romney, “The Price of Peace,” Ensign, Oct. 1983, 6.
[xi] Joseph B. Wirthlin, True to the Truth, April 1997.
[xii] Randall L. Ridd, Living with Real Intent, Worldwide Devotional, January 11, 2015.
[xiii] Dallan H. Oaks, Taking Upon Us the Name of Jesus Christ, Ensign, May, 1985.
[xvi] Gordon M Thomas, How do we endure to the end? Ensign, July 1986.
[xvii] Jeffrey R. Holland, Broken Things to Mend, April Conference, 2006.
[xviii] Elaine S. Dalton, Press Forward and Be Steadfast, General Conference, April 2003.
[xix] Neal A. Maxwell, Brightness of Hope, General Conference, October 1994.