On December 17, 2017, I had a deep realization that I did not like the person I had become. This day marked the end of my first semester at Brigham Young University after transferring from the College of the Holy Cross. The entire semester, I struggled and wrestled with my faith while simultaneously destroying my soul through my own agency.
At a moment where I was unsure of what my religious faith was, I knew one thing: I had character flaws that needed to change regardless of the status of my religion.
I think sometimes we sugarcoat sin and purport an arbitrary hierarchy of sins without seeing how distance from God results from every sin. We tend to have the fundamental assumption that the only sins that destroy our soul are carnal, but that is not true. At this precise moment, I fell to my knees and prayed to a God who I had ceased to know, begged for forgiveness, and recognized that my journey of change would extend for a long time.
All sin originates from deception. Deception of ourselves, deception from insecurity, from longing, from Satan, and thus, the remedy to sin is truth. Mirroring the events in the garden of Eden, Satan deceives Adam and Eve and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, truth, embodied saved and saves them.
I needed to seek truth, become true, live truth, speak true, represent truth, and align myself with truth.
But I found myself asking: what is truth?
I had not wanted to practice in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because the stigma around it bothered me and I found Catholicism more logically consistent at the time. But on that day, I felt there was one decision that I needed to make. And I could make to use the atonement of Christ to be cleansed from my sins. And my change needed to begin with a sincere, honest, and genuine declaration of faith in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
My change required a deeply personal relationship with God to direct me towards actions and resources that would enable me to change. This deeply personal relationship became reality as I began shedding who I was in favor of who I could be.
My experience of coming unto Christ directly contrasted with my quest for religious faith. I had spent the year previous trying to understand which Church I wanted to be a member of for my life and the conclusions I reached did not suffice to change me to become better. My intellectual experience with faith failed me because I did not see faith as a relationship between my mind, spirit, and heart.
For the year previous, I wrote a long treatise on faith. I began from the premise that nothing existed and worked through various philosophical and religious theories to determine the composition of the universe.
Before this revelatory experience, here’s what I knew: God is real, the universe has order and purpose, Jesus is the Christ, and religion is necessary for discerning who Jesus is. My conclusion that the Church of Jesus Christ was true came in an instant, contrary to my desires and thoughts on the subject, but I still needed to grapple with the very real questions of faith that I had regarding the Church.
My defense of the Church of Jesus Christ is based on the premise that Christianity is true; I’ll write a defense of why Christianity is true later on.
That’s how I became a fully active member, here’s how and why I stayed (topic by topic):
- Joseph Smith is a prophet of God AND the Book of Mormon is the word of God and true. If Joseph Smith is not who he says he is, the Church of Jesus Christ falls apart without repair. Emma Smith, his wife, attests to Joseph’s lack of education and despite this, people still seem to consider him at least a mastermind in their assertion that he constructed the Book of Mormon. Many offer criticisms of Joseph Smith for source appropriation or his polygamy and sexual relations with multiple wives. With respect to source appropriation within the JST or in the Book of Mormon (as critics have claimed both), beyond the construction of the narrative: how does someone with the education of a twelve year old construct sentences with vast literary merit. Furthermore, word print studies have concluded that multiple authors do in fact exist and they do not correspond to the household name that critics claim Joseph Smith appropriated from (Solomon Spaulding). If we claim that Joseph Smith could write adequately enough to mirror multiple different voices, follow a complex narrative, also employ deliberate poetic devices, and do this in 65 days that also involved other activities, we give him far more credit than any other literary figure. Even those who write consistency do not write THAT much per day every single day. As for claims regarding polygamy, this is not an extrabiblical concern; 2 Samuel 12:8–12 and Deuteronomy 21:10–17 indicate permissive polygamy. Permissive polygamy involves the will of God directing polygamy as we see with great prophets such as Moses. Given the consensual nature of the relationships, the Biblical precedent, the importance of marriage for fiscal and societal survival at the time, and discontinuation of polygamy, it seems clear that polygamy alone cannot undermine Joseph Smith’s prophetic authority since precedent for it exists. It does not make sense to condemn Joseph Smith for this practice while at the same time revering Moses as a true prophet of God. Now for a closer treatment of the Book of Mormon, I will not engage historicity personally because 1) I do not feel educated enough to do so, 2) historicity arguments always get my goat when we are talking about thousands of years ago because I feel it disingenuous to assert that we can refute a text based on our relatively minimal evidence for what happened during those times, and 3) I think they do a better job than I could. Beyond accepting the invitation to pray about the Book of Mormon, I discovered the truthfulness of it when because it literally just teaches pretty much everything that exists in Christianity from the Greek Bible (colloquially referred to as the Greek New Testament). It does not seem outlandish to me that a universal Messiah would also go to other people besides the people of Israel. The earth shattering impact of the Book of Mormon is felt in the power of its words not through the mere words themselves because what it teaches is well normal. Since it seems unlikely (read: impossible) that Joseph Smith could have written the book in the first place, that should begin to suggest its truthfulness. But in the same way that we need a spiritual witness of the Bible, we need one for the Book of Mormon.
- The theology on the Atonement of Christ seems most indicative of both a just and merciful God. Many argue that Christ’s Atonement only covers (salvifically) Christians who profess a particular kind of faith (Calvinists and many Protestant sects) or that it only covers Catholics, Trinitarians, and Jewish people (Catholics), but these seem antithetical to both justice and mercy. How is it just to consider all men equal, but not give everyone the same opportunity to accept Him? Can someone truly be accountable to a law if they do not know it and can someone disobey a law if they do not know what they are disobeying? While you can disobey a law if you know not the law, you do not sin because there is not willful nature in the act, rendering it a transgression or a venial sin. If that is just the way of the world, how is God omnipotent and able to allow occurrences against the human construct of nature? Jesus Christ clearly gave His life for the sins of the world and is the universal Savior. To say that there exists an action on our part to put the Atonement into effect completely denies the nature of grace. The doctrine of the Atonement of Christ encompasses an infinite atonement. The Atonement functions to satisfy the demands of the law, which saves everyone from their sins, but we are not saved in our sins. By everyone effectively being saved (except those who are Sons of Perdition), this shows the complete justice and mercy of God. The degrees of glory also demonstrate this because they give everyone an opportunity to live up to the amount of glory that they use their agency to attain, but still shows how Jesus Christ’s Atonement works in every circumstance. Limiting the power of the Atonement of Christ limits the power to save and limits God and His love. If we restrict the justice, mercy, and love of God, He cannot be omnipotent. The omnipotence of God is manifest through the perfect Atonement of Christ, which can only be complete (i.e. perfect) if it truly redeems everyone from their sins. His Atonement cannot be complete if there exists a condition for it to impact an individual.
- Prophetic authority and ongoing revelation have to be a thing. When people cite the Hebrews 1:1–4 scripture as the end all be all moment in time where prophetic authority ends, I get very confused. Here’s why. Prophets have literally always existed before Jesus Christ. And within the Greek Bible, it talks about how prophets still exist after Jesus Christ and how some have the gift of prophecy and consider themselves to have that gift. We can easily read Hebrews 1:1–4 scripture as probably not-Paul saying that when Jesus was here, there was not a prophet because He was what we had. But there is nothing in the Greek Bible about how after Jesus Christ, we do not need prophets considering the qualifications made in that Hebrews scripture about how when they are not prophets, there is Jesus and Jesus left. It seems really illogical to assume that God would stop revealing His mysteries when Jesus left considering we believe that Jesus is coming back and someone needs to warn us of what to do and when to do it. Not only is it illogical, but it is contrary to scripture. ;) Ongoing revelation seems necessary because we have always had prophets and we see a development in Judaism from tabernacles to temples. Why do we allow for progression as people increase their faith in the Hebrew Bible, but not in our own days? The priesthood restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints acts as the single most important event save it be the Atonement of Christ because it shows how infinite the Atonement of Christ it is; the veil torn in the temple enables communication with the Father being open through Christ’s act.
- The doctrine regarding nature of God and divine potential of mankind corroborates more with the love of God. To avoid the wrath of other Christians, I will provide a definition of the Trinity. The Trinity is the belief that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit are co-eternal persons that compose one God. The Father is not the Son is not the Spirit, but they are all one God. The Trinity is best understood through the Athanasian creed. Too often members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints engage in modalist and partialist heresies when expressing the Trinity. The Trinity is best understood as three persons in one God; these persons are distinct, but are one God. Here’s why I do not believe that. It is clear that God is corporeal in a human form in scripture in a few instances and compared to the form of man. He has a face and a body (as shown earlier). God the Father and the Son sit in separate locations, indicating that they are separate beings. For more information about how God has a body, visit here. But beyond this, it seems logical that in order for God to create mankind in image, that there would have to exist both Heavenly Father and Mother, so that mankind could reflect the image of God, which has a physical element to it. The doctrine of Heavenly Mother exists as unique to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This doctrine allows us to see ourselves as children of God and shows the connection between heaven and earth clearly. If we truly are “partakers of the divine nature”, it would make sense that we would have the potential to become like God. I do not understand how a loving God would not want His children to be like Him and Her in every sense of what that means. When we parent our children, we want them to be better than we are and learn from our mistakes. Why would we think that Christ’s Atonement cannot make us divine beings through the gift of grace when we have a divine origin and creation? God as a divine being could not create something different than what He and She are because God cannot make a square circle. The belief in the exaltation of mankind shows the fullness of the creation clearly.
- Here’s my testimony: I believe and know that Jesus is the Christ. He suffered for me and you in the garden of Gethsemane and on the cross at Calvary. I know that He took upon Himself the sins, griefs, pains, and afflictions of the world and that His Atonement covered every single inhabitant of the many worlds that do exist. I know that He lives currently in order to comfort us. I believe and know that God lives as our Heavenly Parents who love and care for us deeply. They want us to inherit the same glory that They have because Their love and desire for our progression is infinite. I know that Jesus Christ is Jehovah. I believe and know that the Bible is true and that the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great are also true and the word of God. I have learned the truthfulness of them as I have felt the Holy Spirit testify to me in a witness that I cannot nor will I deny: these works are true. I know that God sent Joseph Smith to restore the Church of Jesus Christ to the earth. I know and believe that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true and I sustain all prophets and apostles and general Church leaders that exist or have ever existed. These things I know and believe because of my own witness to them from God. I know and believe everything that the Church of Jesus Christ teaches as doctrine and commandments and have promised to offer my life to Jesus Christ and His Church. There is no greater gift to me from Jesus Christ than eternal life with Him and my future eternal family. For this and every aspect of His divinity, I cannot repay, but I can defend. The Church of Jesus Christ is the truest institution on the face of the planet and I know and believe in it, second only to, but yet still inseparable from my belief in Jesus Christ.