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Lately I’ve been pondering again what Jesus did for us, searching for and reviewing answers to eternally significant questions. For instance, what does salvation really mean and how does it apply to me personally?
The gospel is often called, “The Plan of Salvation.” Yet how many committed Christians express concern that their Mormon friends haven’t been “saved?” Accusations abound that Mormons believe they can earn salvation and don’t need the grace of Christ.
What does it mean to be “saved,” anyway? What do we need to be saved from and what part of salvation is free? In the chapter summary of 2 Nephi 9 we read, “Atonement saves from death, hell, the devil, and endless torment—The righteous to be saved in the kingdom of God.”
A Spirit-filled Deseret Book publication, LDS Beliefs, researched and compiled by some of BYU religion department’s most solid people, offers even more clarity, and in consequence, more reason to rejoice.
In LDS Beliefs, defining salvation, we read:
To be saved is to be delivered. It is to be healed, to be made well . . . Salvation is ‘the greatest of all the gifts of God’ (D&C6:13). Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote: ‘What salvation is free? What salvation comes by the grace of God? With all the emphasis of the rolling thunders of Sinai, we answer: All salvation is free; all comes by the merits and mercy and grace of the Holy Messiah; there is no salvation of any kind, nature, or degree that is not bound to Christ and his atonement’ (pages 346-47).
A Story of Salvation
I want to share a real-life story that powerfully illustrates what “being saved” can mean here and now, not just in the hereafter. My husband and I have a friend who shared this story with us and gave permission to use it as long as it was anonymous, so I will call the writer of the story “Jacob.”
Early in 2013 I was, I think, a typical Mormon. I was 58, active, always had a calling, had enough spiritual experiences and gospel knowledge that I knew the Book of Mormon was from God, and that Joseph Smith was a prophet.
I was also typical, I think, in my understanding of how salvation worked. I “knew” from teachings and scripture, that we would be judged by our works, but ultimately our works would be inadequate, so at some future point we would need to be saved via the atonement. Despite my human weakness, I figured I had enough boxes checked that I merited a pretty good degree of glory. We need to be baptized, check, given the Holy Ghost, check, born again, (well that’s kind of covered by the previous two. Isn’t it?) check? And keep the commandments, mostly a check, certainly compared to the rest of the world I was better than average. So I was hopeful that with some scale tipping grace and forgiveness, I would be ok. But at the same time I was bothered that in the scriptures the line between righteous and wicked was so starkly defined. I wasn’t wicked, but neither was I “righteous” YET. OH well, hopefully I would be by judgment day, which seemed a LONG way off.
I wasn’t completely a box checker. I understood that the atonement made possible a resurrection for all, and that it did indeed help us with all our needs, that the atonement makes up for our unfair treatment by others, and eases our pains from life’s trials. I had experienced many blessings from Heavenly Father, and I was pretty consistent about giving prayers of gratitude. Soon, however, most of these understandings would change.
I had been in a construction-related business all my life. My father owned the company from the time I was two. I had grown up in it, and had bought it from my dad nearly 30 years ago. I had invested 40 years of my life, and considerable money, in the company. It was all I knew, and I worked hard. With God’s blessings it had provided a good living for us.
In 2013 the great recession, combined with other factors that coincidentally came into play, created a perfect storm of problems that threatened the survival of the company. In managing the business for 30 years I had gone through hard times before. During a very difficult time in 1988 I remembered fasting and praying for guidance to save the business then. I had been given the thought that if I kept the commandments we would be ok. I made a promise to God that if he would help us, I would repent. Things had turned around, and we had some great years after that. But sad to say, I had not always kept my part of the bargain.
For some reason this present crisis felt different. Maybe because if worse came to worse, and my company failed, I was now too old to start over with finding a new job. In the current economic downturn, good jobs were hard to find for young people, let alone someone pushing 60. Over the course of about a week I prayed much and did have some faith and hope, but mostly I had stress and fear.
One evening at my office I was sitting at my desk when the stress and fear suddenly got very bad. I remember thinking, wow, for the first time in my life I am “depressed.” A fleeting thought came that, “now I see why people need to take anti-depressants and maybe I will need them.” This was not normal sadness or discouragement. This was the kind of mental anguish that makes you feel physically sick. I knew I would have to do something because a certainty came to my mind that this much stress could kill me.
Those thoughts were followed very quickly by another unmistakable certain knowledge, not from my mind, but from God. “This is not just about your business problems; this is also about your sins.” And I knew what He was talking about. In abject desperation I immediately dropped to the floor. I had been praying every day asking God to bless me with inspiration, but this prayer was different. I don’t recall being particularly aware of the wording of Alma’s prayer or even of the details of his experience. But for some reason as I was kneeling on the floor I said, “Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me.” I don’t remember whatever other words I may have said, but my prayer wasn’t lengthy or wordy or flowery or negotiating. It wasn’t even proper in the sense that I addressed the Father, gave thanks, and closed in the name of Jesus Christ. I was just begging to be saved. I need to be saved in every way, emotionally, physically, financially, and most important, spiritually.
I immediately felt some relief but was still feeling substantial fear and darkness. For about three more days I prayed almost constantly, and harder than I ever had before. I know what it means to “cry” unto the Lord, to pour out your soul, and to plead for mercy. I begged, pleaded, and even again bargained with God, again making another promise to do anything if He would save me and my business.
One morning shortly after another anguished plea to Heavenly Father, I went outside. As quickly as it takes to open a door and walk through it, everything changed. The symbolism isn’t lost on me, but as I walked through the door into the outside light I immediately went from feeling fear and darkness to feeling completely at peace. All of my previous feelings of anxiety, fear, guilt, were suddenly and completely gone, and replaced by peace and optimism.
Tears flowed. I stared up at the sky with overwhelming gratitude at being saved from the depressing fear. Again certain knowledge came to me, and I knew two things: First (and it was somehow both feeling and knowing) I knew I was clean! I also knew that financially I would be ok. I didn’t immediately understand that I had been forgiven, although I quickly came to that realization. I just felt and knew that I was clean! I had the thought that I would be so happy, so confident to meet the Savior right then, feeling like that. Some words came to mind, “then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God.”
I was saved! Saved in every sense of the word, saved emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and I knew I would be ok financially. I wasn’t given to know right then whether or not my business would survive, but given the complete peace that I felt, that didn’t even matter; I just knew that everything would be ok. The awareness that everything, not just in my life, but everything in the world was in God’s complete control, is hard to explain, but it is so comforting!
I’d had answers to prayers before, and had felt peace about certain concerns, or a sin repented of, but this was complete and indescribable peace, indescribable joy. I still knew that of course problems would arise, but I knew at the same time that ultimately EVERYTHING would be good. That difference of understanding means so much! All guilt and worry had been replaced by peace and optimism.
Of course telling about it takes much longer than the few seconds where these thoughts came quickly to me. I honestly don’t remember if I dropped to my knees in thanksgiving just then, but as you can imagine I was filled with gratitude. More than filled…overflowing. It had to come out, and spontaneously, almost an involuntary reaction, I found myself saying the words, “Oh praise Him, hallelujah.” I wasn’t sure where those words came from, except that they were words to a Hymn that I looked up later: “All creatures of Our God and King.” I now sing that song every day, usually every morning while driving to work and I can’t hear it without crying. Now I understand when Alma talks about “the song of redeeming love.”
I had experienced a profound miracle. Jesus Christ had turned my exquisite fear to exquisite peace, saved me, healed me, forgave me, snatched me from hell, and all in one POWERFUL moment. I remember thinking, “no wonder people talk about knowing the exact day they were saved.” It’s true! THIS IS THE GREATEST THING EVER! PEOPLE NEED TO KNOW THAT THIS IS POSSIBLE!
Along with the peace, joy, and forgiveness, I also felt a profound love for others. I knew of course that all of these things came from Christ. And now I felt a small part of how He sees me, and others. Not only was I feeling His unconditional love, mercy, and forgiveness for me, but I was also feeling all those things for others. This increased love for others and knowing that, despite problems, ultimately everything will be ok, makes us react so differently in all our relationships. Our perspective is eternal, instead of momentary. Problems and disagreements seem trivial and not worth our anger. Forgiving others their faults becomes much easier. I had known these truths before, but hadn’t experienced them on nearly the level that I did now. This was not me trying to love, trying to keep things in perspective, with limited success. But, like Paul said, this was having Christ giving to me the love that He has for others, “having Christ in me,” loving others through me. Part of this love included empathy for those suffering the same things I had. My prayers immediately included pleading for Christ to save others who were suffering as I had been. “Please, God, give peace, hope, and optimism to those in desperate circumstances.” It was indeed a mighty change.
Ask for Mercy, Not Just for Help
One of the most important things we can learn from “Jacob’s” story: It is vital for us to ask for mercy and to ask to be saved, and not just ask for help. “Help” infers that with a little added strength we can do the job ourselves. But just as we will not be able to resurrect ourselves, we cannot save ourselves.
Scriptural characters that pray to be “saved” from death, hell, the devil, and endless torment, don’t ask for “help” but for the mercy and grace of Christ. In none of the scriptural accounts of accessing Christ’s power do you find the word “help.”
Will power and abundance of good works do not of themselves give us the power of the Spirit, the pure love of Christ, or freedom from our sins. In 3 Nephi 9: 20 we read, “And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost.” We pray for a lot of things that we think will help us save ourselves, but until we admit our helplessness and simply, broken heartedly ask Christ to save us, we are not asking the important thing.
There is power in simply asking for mercy. Remember the powerful words in Matthew 7:8, “For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.”
Let’s conclude by reviewing a few scriptural examples of asking for mercy (emphasis mine):
- Alma the Younger:
“O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness” (Alma 36:18).
- The people of King Benjamin:
“O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mosiah 4:2).
“And after I had traveled for the space of many hours in darkness, I began to pray unto the Lord that he would have mercy on me, according to the multitude of his tender mercies” (1 Nephi 8:8).
“And he began to cry unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, have mercy; according to thy abundant mercy which thou hast had upon the people of Nephi, have upon me, and my people” (Alma 18:41).
- The blind man:
“And it came to pass, that as he was come nigh unto Jericho, a certain blind man sat by the way side begging: And hearing the multitude pass by, he asked what it meant. And they told him, that Jesus of Nazareth passeth by. And he cried, saying, Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me. And they which went before rebuked him, that he should hold his peace: but he cried so much the more, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me. And Jesus stood, and commanded him to be brought unto him: and when he was come near, he asked him, Saying, What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee? And he said, Lord, that I may receive my sight. And Jesus said unto him, Receive thy sight: thy faith hath saved thee” (Luke 18:35-42).
The Mercy of Christ is Grace unto Salvation
I’m brought back time and again to the principle that obedience alone is not sufficient. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf”: “Salvation cannot be bought with the currency of obedience; it is purchased by the blood of the Son of God (Acts 20:28).” (“The Gift of Grace,” April 2015 General Conference). Those who believe in salvation by obedience alone believe in self-sufficiency. “It has been truly said that the greatest of all Christian sins is the sin of self-sufficiency,” said George Reynolds and Janne M. Sjodahl in Commentary on the Book of Mormon, (edited and arranged by Philip C. Reynolds, 7 vols. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1955-1961], 4). Of course he is speaking of trying to be spiritually self-sufficient, not about being responsibly self-sufficient temporally. We simply can’t spiritually save ourselves.
The reality is that each of us has or will hit a wall we cannot get over, around, under or through, where we find the weight of sin crushing us, where we know that we must rely solely on the mercy and grace of Christ. It is here that the Savior demonstrates to us personally and intimately how much He loves us individually. We can feel our exquisite damnation and pain turn to exquisite deliverance and salvation, even as Alma did. We can say with Alma, “My soul hath been redeemed from the gall of bitterness and bonds of iniquity. I was in the darkest abyss: but now I behold the marvelous light of God. My soul was racked with eternal torment; but I am snatched, and my soul is pained no more” (Mosiah 27:29).
How to stay “snatched” will be the topic of future conversation. Later I will explore what happened in “Jacob’s” life as he came down from that mighty mountain top experience to deal with his real life problems. We will see how that experience continued to bless his life and how the principles he learned can bless ours.