Valiant K. Jones is the author of The Covenant Path: Finding the Temple in the Book of Mormon. The following article includes excerpts from that book. For more information, see www.valiantjones.com.
With temples temporarily closed because of the global pandemic caused by COVID-19, President Russell M. Nelson instructed us during the April 2020 general conference: “Talk about the temple with your family and friends. Because Jesus Christ is at the center of everything we do in the temple, as you think more about the temple you will be thinking more about Him. Study and pray to learn more about the power and knowledge with which you have been endowed—or with which you will yet be endowed.”[i]
One year earlier, Elder David A. Bednar encouraged us to “discuss the basic purposes of and the doctrine and principles associated with temple ordinances and covenants,” and he specified these covenants: “the law of obedience, the law of sacrifice, the law of the gospel, the law of chastity, and the law of consecration.[ii] This two-part series of articles will help us study and learn about the least understood of these covenants, the law of the gospel.
In the early days of this dispensation, the Lord told His Saints, “Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand” (D&C 88:78; emphasis added). If we are to be instructed in the law of the gospel, we need to understand what it means.
First, let us look at how the Lord defines the gospel. Many scriptures give insights on the meaning of the gospel, but a few are especially noteworthy, because they include succinct, dictionary-like declarations of “this is my gospel” or similar wording. Consider the following such passages. (Within these passages, some principles are highlighted in bold or underlined text, and references to the gospel or similar terms are emphasized in italics. These will be explained later.)
|Scriptures Defining the Gospel|
|D&C 33:11–12 Yea, repent and be baptized, every one of you, for a remission of your sins; yea, be baptized even by water, and then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost. Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and remember that they shall have faith in me or they can in nowise be saved.|
|D&C 39:5–6 And verily, verily, I say unto you, he that receiveth my gospel receiveth me; and he that receiveth not my gospel receiveth not me. And this is my gospel—repentance and baptism by water, and then cometh the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, even the Comforter, which showeth all things, and teacheth the peaceable things of the kingdom.|
|D&C 84:26–27 And the lesser priesthood continued, which priesthood holdeth the key of the ministering of angels and the preparatory gospel; which gospel is the gospel of repentance and of baptism, and the remission of sins, and the law of carnal commandments, which the Lord in his wrath caused to continue with the house of Aaron among the children of Israel until John, whom God raised up, being filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother’s womb.|
|D&C 76:40–42, 50–53, 70 And this is the gospel, the glad tidings, which the voice out of the heavens bore record unto us—that he came into the world, even Jesus, to be crucified for the world, and to bear the sins of the world, and to sanctify the world, and to cleanse it from all unrighteousness; that through him all might be saved whom the Father had put into his power and made by him; . . . And again we bear record—for we saw and heard, and this is the testimony of the gospel of Christ concerning them who shall come forth in the resurrection of the just—they are they who received thetestimony ofJesus, and believed on his name and were baptized after the manner of his burial, being buried in the water in his name, and this according to the commandment which he has given—that by keeping the commandments they might be washed and cleansed from all their sins, and receive the Holy Spirit by the laying on of the hands of him who is ordained and sealed unto this power; and who overcome by faith. . . . These are they whose bodies are celestial.|
|3 Nephi 27:13–16, 19–21 Behold I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you—that I came into the world to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me. And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil—and for this cause have I been lifted up; therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works. And it shall come to pass, that whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name shall be filled; and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world. . . . And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end. Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day. Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel.|
In addition, the following scriptures define “the doctrine of Christ,” or “my doctrine.” The doctrine of Christ and the gospel of Jesus Christ are equivalent terms—a fact that becomes clear when we recognize that they are defined in the scriptures by the same principles. Indeed, Sherem said to Jacob, “I have heard and also know that thou goest about much, preaching that which ye call the gospel, or the doctrine of Christ” (Jacob 7:6; emphasis added).[iii]
|Scriptures Defining the Doctrine of Christ|
|Hebrew 6:1–2 . . . the principles of the doctrine of Christ . . . of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.|
|2 Nephi 31:10–12, 16, 21 And he said unto the children of men: Follow thou me. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, can we follow Jesus save we shall be willing to keep the commandments of the Father? And the Father said: Repent ye, repent ye, and be baptized in the name of my Beloved Son. And also, the voice of the Son came unto me, saying: He that is baptized in my name, to him will the Father give the Holy Ghost, like unto me; wherefore, follow me, and do the things which ye have seen me do. . . . And now, my beloved brethren, I know by this that unless a man shall endure to the end, in following the example of the Son of the living God, he cannot be saved. . . . And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ.|
|3 Nephi 11:32–35, 38–39 Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, I will declare unto you my doctrine. And this is my doctrine, and it is the doctrine which the Father hath given unto me; and . . . the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me. And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God. And whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned. Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and I bear record of it from the Father; and whoso believeth in me believeth in the Father also; and unto him will the Father bear record of me, for he will visit him with fire and with the Holy Ghost. . . . And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine.|
One striking characteristic in all of the scriptures above is that they consistently refer to the first four principles of the gospel (bolded above); namely, faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism, and the Holy Ghost. Not all passages include all four principles, and some refer to belief in Christ or receiving or following Christ rather than having faith in Christ, but the points we have come to know as the first principles of the gospel are consistently present in these scriptures that define the gospel. Additionally, some of the references also includes what has sometimes been called the fifth principle of the gospel—enduring to the end.
A second characteristic is that many of the passages above refer to the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ and His atoning role in the Final Judgment and eternal reward (underlined above). The importance of these principles is further strengthened when we recognize that the two passages from 3 Nephi were spoken by Christ shortly after His Atonement and Resurrection.
The passage from Hebrews 6 is, perhaps, the most succinct definition, citing not only the first four principles of the gospel but also specifying resurrection and judgment. Echoing this passage, the Prophet Joseph Smith said, “The Doctrines of the Resurrection of the Dead and the Eternal Judgment are necessary to preach among the first principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”[iv] An examination of all the scriptures above shows why this is so: By breaking the bands of death, Jesus provided for the resurrection of the dead, and by atoning for our sins, Jesus qualified Himself to administer eternal judgment for all mankind. These two doctrines point to the redemptive powers of Jesus Christ. Without them, the other principles of the gospel would have no effect.
In many passages of scripture, the redemptive power of Christ’s Atonement is characterized by what will occur at the Final Judgment. We usually think of judgment in a negative light, but if we have followed the gospel path, the Final Judgment will be a glorious and joyful occasion, for Christ will intercede and declare that His Atonement has paid the price of our sins. We will rejoice during that Day of Judgment, knowing that Jesus Christ, our Friend and Redeemer, will be our ultimate judge and that He will pronounce us guiltless because of His Atonement (see D&C 45:3–5). Both Jacob and Moroni referred to the judgment bar as “the pleasing bar” of God for the repentant (see Jacob 6:13 and Moroni 10:34). As Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf has said, “That Day of Judgment will be a day of mercy and love—a day when broken hearts are healed, when tears of grief are replaced with tears of gratitude, when all will be made right.”[v]
When we examine all the scriptures that describe the gospel or the doctrine of Christ, it is clear why Joseph Smith said that the doctrines of resurrection and eternal judgment should be taught alongside the first principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ: These additional two principles point to the purpose for the other four or five—to bring us unto Christ so we can partake of the powers of His redemption. It is by following the steps we know as the first principles and ordinances of the gospel that we have the potential to be declared guiltless and saved in the kingdom of God when we stand before Him in our resurrected bodies at the Day of Judgment. Following the path defined by the first five principles and ordinances of the gospel qualifies us to be full beneficiaries of the other two.
I call resurrection and eternal judgment the redemption principles of the gospel (those carried out by Jesus Christ) to distinguish them from what have become known as the first principles of the gospel—faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end (principles which must be carried out by us). The redemption principles refer to the two main gifts from Jesus Christ: salvation from physical death and salvation from spiritual death, or, stated another way, salvation from death and sin. Salvation from physical death is a free gift given by Jesus Christ to all, but salvation from spiritual death and sin is given only to those who follow the first principles of the gospel. In the scriptures, the first of these two gifts is called the Resurrection, and the second is called either the Judgment or the Atonement. The gospel encompasses these two redemption principles along with the other principles.
All of these principles of the gospel are beautifully integrated in Mormon’s farewell appeal to the latter-day remnant of Israel recorded in chapter 7 of his own book. His exhortation is centered on a plea to “lay hold upon the gospel of Christ” (Mormon 7:8). Mormon describes the role of both the Resurrection and the Judgment in fulfilling the purposes of the Redemption of Jesus Christ while also calling upon gathered Israel to follow the first principles of the gospel so that “it shall be well with you in the day of judgment” (Mormon 7:10). The short yet seminal chapter, Moroni 7, is recommended for further study on the meaning of the gospel.
What Is the Gospel?
The scriptures discussed above suggest the following two-part definition of the gospel:
- The gospel is the good news that through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, all mankind may be redeemed from both death and sin, allowing us to stand before the Lord in resurrected bodies at the Day of Judgment and receive an eternal reward.
- If we abide by the first principles and ordinances of the gospel, we will be declared guiltless and saved in the kingdom of God: Have faith in Jesus Christ, repent of all sin, be baptized by water for the remission of sins, be sanctified through the reception of the Holy Ghost, and endure to the end.
This definition is consistent with other descriptions of the gospel published by the Church.[vi], [vii] If we condense this definition into its most essential parts and then convert it into statements of belief, we get the following equivalent declarations:
- We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.
- We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
These, of course, are the third and fourth articles of faith of the Church, which are part of our canonized scripture, and they confirm that the definition of the gospel given above is on track. Since my childhood days in Primary when I first memorized them, I have always seen these two articles of faith as connected—the end of the third seems to parallel the beginning of the fourth. No other articles of faith are so connected. The third says that salvation comes though Christ by obeying “the laws and ordinances of the Gospel,” and the fourth delineates the essential laws or principles and ordinances we must follow to qualify for that salvation. Combined, these two articles of faith provide an additional, succinct definition of the gospel or the doctrine of Christ. What a testimony this provides to the internal consistency of the scriptures and doctrines revealed through the prophet Joseph Smith!
The Lord has also described the gospel as a covenant:
I have prepared thee for a greater work. Thou shalt preach the fullness of my gospel, which I have sent forth in these last days, the covenant which I have sent forth to recover my people, which are of the house of Israel. (D&C 39:11; emphasis added)
Verily I say unto you, blessed are you for receiving mine everlasting covenant, even the fulness of my gospel, sent forth unto the children of men, that they might have life and be made partakers of the glories which are to be revealed in the last days, as it was written by the prophets and apostles in days of old. (D&C 66:2; emphasis added)
The gospel is a covenant whose purpose is to recover the scattered house of Israel. It is a covenant sent forth to everyone on the earth so they can partake of the glories of the last days. This covenant is called the law of the gospel.
The Law of the Gospel: Pathway to Salvation
Speaking from heaven before His appearance in Ancient America, Jesus declared that the law of Moses was fulfilled, and He outlined a different law that must be followed in order to be saved:
Behold, I am Jesus Christ the Son of God. . . . And as many as have received me, to them have I given to become the sons of God; and even so will I to as many as shall believe on my name, for behold, by me redemption cometh, and in me is the law of Moses fulfilled. . . . And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings. 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 . . . . Behold, I have come unto the world to bring redemption unto the world, to save the world from sin. Therefore, whoso repenteth and cometh unto me as a little child, him will I receive, for of such is the kingdom of God. Behold, for such I have laid down my life, and have taken it up again; therefore repent, and come unto me ye ends of the earth, and be saved. (3 Nephi 9:15–22)
This is the law of the gospel. It is a higher law than the law of Moses. During His ensuing visits to these righteous Nephites and Lamanites, Christ reiterated the principles of this higher law several more times. Two of these were cited earlier as definitions of what Christ called “my doctrine” (see 3 Nephi 11:32–39) or “my gospel” (see 3 Nephi 27:13–21). All of these teachings by Jesus Christ focus on redemption through Him and specify that we must follow the first principles and ordinances of the gospel in order to be saved.
In his sermon on the Atonement in chapter 9 of 2 Nephi, Jacob declared that Christ “suffereth the pains of all men . . . that the resurrection might pass upon all men, that all might stand before him at the great and judgment day” (2 Nephi 9:21–22; emphasis added). He then described specific steps we must follow to be saved:
And he commandeth all men that they must repent, and be baptized in his name, having perfect faith in the Holy One of Israel, or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God. And if they will not repent and believe in his name, and be baptized in his name, and endure to the end, they must be damned; for the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, has spoken it. Wherefore, he has given a law. . . . (2 Nephi 9:23–25; emphasis added)
In these verses, Jacob taught the need to follow the principles of the gospel in order to be saved, and immediately thereafter he declared, “Wherefore, he has given a law.” In modern editions of the Book of Mormon, this phrase is the start of a new verse, and it is followed by a series of sequential logic statements attesting to the connection between law, punishment, condemnation, and mercy—linking these all to the Atonement of “the Holy One of Israel.” (See 2 Nephi 9:25.) So the reference to law in this verse is most commonly connected with these subsequent statements and, thus, to all the laws of God. However, Jacob’s use of the conjunction “wherefore” suggests that the phrase, “he has given a law” also applies to the verses that proceed it. Remember that when the Book of Mormon was originally translated, it had no verses or punctuation. Those were added later.
The law referred to by Jacob is the law of the gospel. It is a law that says that those who sincerely follow the path of faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism, receiving the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end will inherit eternal life in the celestial kingdom, and these are made possible because of the redemption principles provided by Jesus Christ: resurrection and judgment.
Other scriptures support this same conclusion on the meaning of the law of the gospel. Doctrine and Covenants 88:18–21 makes it clear that those who inherit the celestial kingdom are “sanctified through the law which I have given unto you, even the law of Christ.” Just as the doctrine of Christ and the gospel are synonyms, so also the law of Christ and the law of the gospel are synonyms. The requirements of this law that we must follow in order to be sanctified in the celestial kingdom are described in the Doctrine and Covenants, section 76, verses 40–42, 50–53, and 70, which were quoted earlier in this article. They say that salvation in the celestial kingdom comes through Jesus Christ by following the first principles and ordinances of the gospel. Taken together, these two passages in the Doctrine and Covenants provide an additional confirmation of the meaning of the law of the gospel.
With these insights from the scriptures, we can conclude that the definition of the law of the gospel is essentially the same as the gospel that was defined earlier. This should not surprise us, for the same is true with other laws in the covenant path, such as obedience and the law of obedience, which mean the same thing. Likewise do sacrifice and the law of sacrifice, chastity and the law of chastity, and consecration and the law of consecration.
President Ezra Taft Benson also found the meaning of the law of gospel in the words that Jesus Christ used to describe the gospel. He said,
The law of the gospel embraces all laws, principles, and ordinances necessary for our exaltation. We agree to exercise faith in Jesus Christ and sincere repentance borne out of a broken heart and a contrite spirit. As we comply with the ordinances of baptism and confirmation, and continue in faith and prayer, the power of the Savior’s atoning sacrifice covers our sins and we are cleansed from all unrighteousness.
Now this is the commandment: “Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day. Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel” (3 Nephi 27:20–21).
The law of the gospel is more than understanding the plan of salvation. It consists of partaking of the ordinances and the sealing powers culminating in a man being sealed up unto eternal life. “Being born again,” said the Prophet Joseph Smith, “comes by the spirit of God through ordinances” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 162).[viii]
President Benson’s statement emphasizes that the law of the gospel includes the need to follow the first principles and ordinances of the gospel. Furthermore, his description interprets the law to include not only the ordinances of salvation but also the temple ordinances of exaltation—a clear objective of the full covenant path.
To be continued…
[Valiant K. Jones is the author of The Covenant Path: Finding the Temple in the Book of Mormon. This article includes excerpts from that book. For more information, see www.valiantjones.com.]
[i] Russell M. Nelson, “Go Forward With Faith,” Ensign, May 2020, emphasis added, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/2020/05/57nelson?lang=eng.
[ii] David A. Bednar, “Prepared to Obtain Every Needful Thing,” Ensign, May 2019, churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/2019/05/prepared–to–obtain–every–needful–thing?lang=eng. Formatting modified.
[iii] Sherem was an anti-Christ, so not everything he said can be believed; however, his statement equating the gospel with the doctrine of Christ was not refuted by Jacob and is confirmed by comparing the principles used to describe these doctrines.
[iv] Joseph Smith Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, ed. Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976), 149. Quoted by Robert J. Matthews, “Resurrection,” Ensign, Apr. 1994, churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/1991/04/resurrection?lang=eng.
[v] Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “O How Great the Plan of Our God!” Ensign, Nov. 2016, churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/2016/11/saturday–morning–session/o–how–great–the–plan–of–our–god?lang=eng.
[vi] Preach My Gospel states, “According to the Book of Mormon the gospel of Jesus Christ includes (1) faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; (2) repentance through the Atonement of Christ; (3) baptism by immersion in Christ’s name; (4) the gift of the Holy Ghost; and (5) enduring to the end (see 2 Nephi 31; 3 Nephi 11; and 3 Nephi 27). It also teaches us what we need to believe about Christ if we are to have faith in Him. . . . A purpose of the gospel of Jesus Christ is to cleanse people of their sins so they can receive His mercy at the day of judgment.” [“What Is My Purpose as a Missionary?” Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service, 2019, online version. See churchofjesuschrist.org/manual/preach–my–gospel–a–guide–to–missionary–service/what–is–my–purpose–as–a–missionary?lang=eng.]
[vii] The Bible Dictionary states, “The word gospel means ‘good news.’ The good news is that Jesus Christ has made a perfect atonement for mankind that will redeem all mankind from the grave and reward each individual according to his or her works.” [“Gospels” Bible Dictionary, 2013, churchofjesuschrist.org/scriptures/bd/gospels?lang=eng.[
[viii] Ezra Taft Benson, Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft,1988), 337.