True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior. … That is why we stress so forcefully the study of the doctrines of the gospel.
That’s another way of saying something I emphasized in the 1st post: the word of God has power to change people (through the atonement) that far surpasses anything else. So like Alma, I think it is “expedient that [I] should try the virtue of the word of God” (Alma 31:5), before I get into the nuts and bolts of my personal system, which I’ll demonstrate in part 3.
The Key to Spiritual Survival
In Joseph Smith’s inspired translation of Matthew, Jesus’ closest followers come to him on the Mount of Olives and ask him to explain to them more about things he’s said about his 2nd coming and the end of the world. Jesus’ first words in his answer are “Take heed that no man deceive you” (JS-M 1:4–5). Then he starts telling them of all the horrible things that will happen before his 2nd coming. He lists false prophets and fake Christs who will trick many righteous people into following them by misleading means or Satan’s power. Jesus also tells of wickedness everywhere, people’s hearts no longer being capable of real love, wars and reports of violent conflict, battles between nations and kingdoms, famine, pestilence, and earthquakes. Christ even tells them that the sun will be darkened and the moon won’t shine; even the stars will fall from heaven. He mentions several times that these trials will be so great that even the chosen will be mislead and unable to handle the challenges given them (JS-M 1:6–36).
It sounds pretty frightening doesn’t it? Christ is consistent though, and doesn’t leave them, or us, without hope or without the knowledge of how to survive. He provides a simple key to spiritual survival in all times: “And whoso treasureth up my word, the same shall not be deceived,” (JS-M 1:37, emphasis added) and assures them that he’ll return and gather those who are not deceived to him.
Now think about that for a moment. Think about all he didn’t say. He didn’t say: whoever prays the longest, or whoever says the most prayers. He didn’t say whoever puts in the most service hours or goes the longest without missing church. He didn’t say whoever holds the most prestigious callings in the church, or who can quote the most scriptures from memory, or pays the most tithing, or gives the best talks. None of those things will ultimately have power to protect us from Satan’s deceptions, by themselves. What he said was “whoso treasureth up my word.” Those who study the scriptures and the doctrines, they are the only ones who will be able to withstand the attacks and temptations of the world and the devil. Don’t get me wrong: many of those things Christ did not say are good or even great things. And someone who’s treasuring up the word and thereby becoming fully converted and truly Christlike, will automatically do many of those things. But they won’t be taking a tally, or putting their score on a spiritual leaderboard, or comparing their own record to that of other people. They’ll simply do them, as Christ would.
I love that Christ gives such a plain truth here: the one key to spiritual survival in all times, is studying the scriptures and the doctrines taught in them. If we treasure up Christ’s teachings and doctrines, He will send spiritual protection and peace that will get us through even the worst of times.
…we have not been using the Book of Mormon as we should. Our homes are not as strong unless we are using it to bring our children to Christ. Our families may be corrupted by worldly trends and teachings unless we know how to use the book to expose and combat the falsehoods….
… Social, ethical, cultural, or educational converts will not survive under the heat of the day unless their taproots go down to the fulness of the gospel which the Book of Mormon contains. Our Church classes are not as spirit-filled unless we hold it up as a standard.
The Word Magnifies the Atonement
I referenced Elder Bednar’s talk “A Reservoir of Living Water.” In it, he broke down some important symbolism, and the lesson we learn from it, in Lehi’s dream.
In that vision (1 Ne. 8), there’s 3 groups of people who enter the straight and narrow path that leads to the Tree of Life, which is representative of Christ. This means they’ve joined the church, including being baptized and receiving the Holy Ghost.
Group 1: “what rod?”
The first group doesn’t grab the iron rod, and they get lost in the mists of darkness, which represent the temptations of Satan. Since we know the iron rod = the word of god, we know they might have joined the church (or were raised in it), but they never treasured up the word, and so never felt the changing power that comes through the study of the gospel. They never saw the value in scripture study, or realized just how much power was available to them through it.
Group 2: “thanks, but no thanks”
A 2nd group finds the iron rod and clings to it, until they make it to the tree and partake of it’s fruit. However, when they’re mocked by the people in “the great and spacious building” (the world), they’re ashamed to be associated with Christ (the tree) and wander off. So here’s a people who are members of the church, and they at least read the scriptures. They cling to the word of god just enough to feel the influence and power of the atonement in their lives. However, they don’t truly appreciate it and study it regularly. And so they only partially benefit from the power of the word. They’re easily “tossed to and fro, and carried about… by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness…” (Eph. 4:14). They once appreciated the doctrines, but when the world mocks them, it’s easy to see the scriptures as either a hoax played out on them, or maybe as just “a good book” that might have moral value, but is not the literal word of God.
Group 3: “I am not ashamed of … Christ“
The 3rd group finds the rod as well and progresses along it. The same language is used by Nephi to describe all parts of the process. He uses variations of “caught hold” of the rod and “press forward,” indicating they’re very similar to the 2nd group, in their outward actions. But once this group finds the iron rod, they treat it and the tree of life much differently. They are “continually holding fast” to the rod, rather than merely clinging. When they arrive at the tree, they “fell down.” Now think about that: they don’t merely cling to the word, they continually hold fast. They’re not just reading the scriptures, they’re studying, and studying daily. And it changes them. The doctrines change them to the point that when they arrive at the tree, they recognize it’s power and the blessing it is, and fall down as a sign of worship, gratitude, and humility. They have a relationship with Christ, and so recognize him as represented by the tree, and are not ashamed to be with him, continually partaking of the atonement. Nephi confirms this (1 Ne. 15:23–24, emphasis added):
23 And they said unto me: What meaneth the rod of iron which our father saw, that led to the tree?
24 And I said unto them that it was the word of God; and whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction.
Alma had been a warrior-general, fighting and bleeding alongside his people. He also suffered the famine that followed the war. Yet, after all that, and how it humbled and changed the people, he still felt the word was more powerful (Alma 31:5, emphasis added):
…the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God.
Over and over the scriptures and the prophets teach us that if we are worthy and keep our covenants, we have a right to personal revelation and the companionship of the Holy Ghost. They also teach that more “light and truth” are available to us, if we seek after them. The other day my little girl asked me “Daddy, why were part of the gold plates stuck together?” (Ether 4:4–5) I tried my best to explain that one of the reasons is that it’s a symbol that there is much more for us to learn. But since the rest of the Book of Mormon was sealed, we can only learn it through studying the scriptures we have, and then live worthy so the Lord can teach us more. He’s promised he will teach us the things that are in the sealed portion of the plates, if we do our part to be worthy of those revelations.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie said:
We are so wound up in programs and statistics and trends, in properties, lands and mammon, and in achieving goals that will highlight the excellence of our work, that we have ‘omitted the weightier matters of the law.’ … However talented men may be in administrative matters; however eloquent they may be in expressing their views; however learned they may be in the worldly things—they will be denied the sweet whisperings of the Spirit that might have been theirs unless they pay the price of studying, pondering, and praying about the scriptures.” (In Regional Representatives’ Seminar, 2 Apr. 1982, pp. 1–2.)
On another occasion, he said: “I sometimes think that one of the best-kept secrets of the kingdom is that the scriptures open the door to the receipt of revelation” (Doctrines of the Restoration, ed. Mark L. McConkie, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1989, p. 243).
It’s that simple: we covenant that we “may always have his Spirit to be with [us]”. The way to invite it into our lives and live up to that covenant, is through scripture study.
Study the Scriptures & Everything Else Falls Into Place
It’s getting quote-heavy here, but these are just awesome quotes that say it better than I could. President Ezra Taft Benson said it this way (emphasis added):
…one of the most important things you can do as priesthood leaders is to immerse yourselves in the scriptures. Search them diligently. Feast upon the words of Christ. Learn the doctrine. Master the principles that are found therein. There are few other efforts that will bring greater dividends to your calling. There are few other ways to gain greater inspiration as you serve.
But that alone, as valuable as it is, is not enough. You must also bend your efforts and your activities to stimulating meaningful scripture study among the members of the Church. Often we spend great effort in trying to increase the activity levels in our stakes. We work diligently to raise the percentages of those attending sacrament meetings. We labor to get a higher percentage of our young men on missions. We strive to improve the numbers of those marrying in the temple. All of these are commendable efforts and important to the growth of the kingdom. But when individual members and families immerse themselves in the scriptures regularly and consistently, these other areas of activity will automatically come. Testimonies will increase. Commitment will be strengthened. Families will be fortified. Personal revelation will flow.
…You must help the Saints see that studying and searching the scriptures is not a burden laid upon them by the Lord, but a marvelous blessing and opportunity.
This applies to fathers and mothers too. We want the best for our children, and we try to teach them to be good citizens, to do their best, and excel and serve. But are we teaching them the gospel from the scriptures? Are we helping them understand the importance of regular study of the word? It’s pretty simple: we teach and study the scriptures with our families, we treasure up the word together, and our children will learn to continually hold fast to the rod. That’s when the promise of Proverbs 22:6 becomes valid: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
Elder McConkie assured us that people of all ages and spiritual levels can benefit from the scriptures. “Each pronouncement in the holy scriptures … is so written as to reveal little or much, depending on the spiritual capacity of the student” (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, 1985, p. 71).
Regular Study = the Spirit + Atonement = Sanctification
The scriptures testify of Christ. Learning of Him brings us closer to Him through the Spirit and His atonement. Putting Christ first is the most important thing we can do. According to his own teachings, studying the scriptures is the #1 most powerful way we can put him first, and ensure that we’re partaking fully of His “grace that so fully he proffers [us].” I know from my own experience that this is true. This is how and why scripture study changed my life, when things were not going well spiritually. The really awesome part is that it’s not just a one time boost to get out of the spiritual pit I was in. As long as I keep treasuring up the word, I’ll continue to grow as Christ and his atonement work through the Spirit to change and bless me. I just have to continually hold fast to that rod of iron.