The Gospel of Jesus Christ
What do Mormons mean when the say “the Gospel?” You might say that the gospel is the “good news,” the word of God, or the teachings of Jesus Christ. You might say the “living the Gospel” means to keep all of God’s commandments. Mormons believe that “the first four principles of the Gospel are: 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” (Articles of Faith: 4). These things are all true.
If you ask any Mormon missionary for a chapter in the Book of Mormon that deals with the Gospel, they are likely to point you to Second Nephi 31. This chapter talks about why Christ was baptized and the importance of following Him. I will leave out most of it, only highlighting certain verses that stuck out from this chapter in a way that prompted deeper reflection of what the Gospel, or doctrine, of Christ means.
“…I must speak to concerning the doctrine of Christ (v. 2)…
“ Know ye not that [Christ] was holy? But notwithstanding he being holy, he showeth unto the Children of men (v. 7)…
“And again, it showeth unto the children of men the straightness of the path, and the narrowness of the gate, by which they should enter, he having set the example before them. And he said unto the children of men: Follow thou me. Wherefore…can we follow Jesus save we shall be willing to keep the commandments of the Father (v. 9-10)?
“And also, the voice of the Son came unto me, saying:…wherefore Follow me, and do the things which ye have seen me do (v. 12).
“And now…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. Wherefore, do the things…that your Lord and your Redeemer should do (v. 16-17)…”
Christ is the word (John 1). Christ did not say “I am the way, the truth, and the life” idly (John 14:6). Not only do we achieve salvation through Him and His grace, but the way that He lived His life is the way that we should seek to live ours. If we are going to claim to live his gospel, we must seek to follow his example in all things. Yes, Christ was perfect and we are not. But he asks us to set our eyes on perfection and be his disciples when he commanded us to “Be ye therefore perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
However, how can Christ’s gospel be his example if Faith and Repentance are the first two principles of that gospel? If Christ was perfect then he had no need of repentance.
As I pondered this question, I thought about Christ’s life. For me, if Christ’s life had an overarching theme, or if Christ had one single mantra by which he lived, it was “not my will, but thine be done” (Luke 22:14). Even as a young child, he left his parents to teach the elders at the temple because, he told them, “I must be about my Father’s business” (Luke 2:49). In the Lord’s prayer, “thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” is preceded only by “hallowed by Thy name” and “Thy kingdom come” (Matthew 6:9-10). He said “of mine own self I can do nothing: as I hear, my judgement is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me” (John 5:30). Christ at times received his very sustenance from doing God’s will: “I have meat to eat that ye know not of…My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work” (John 4:32 & 34). After Christ completed the Atonement by suffering for our sins in Gethsemane and on the cross, he prayed “it is finished,” “it” arguably meaning his life’s mission, which in all things had pointed to fulfilling the will of His Father (John 19:30). Christ was perfect and without sin because he was always in tune with the Father’s will.
I believe that in this way, Christ showed us the purest form of repentance, and the core of his life and example, the gospel. Under “Repentance,” the LDS Bible Dictionary states: “Since we are born into conditions of mortality (a fallen world), repentance comes to mean a turning of the heart and will to God.” Real repentance can’t be faked; it’s not enough to just stop doing something or apologize to God and our fellows. True repentance comes through sincere effort to give up our desires that conflict with the will of God, and to rely on Christ to experience “a mighty change of heart” (Alma 5).
For me, this idea of seeking God’s will has become shortened to mi-kokoro (御心), the Japanese word for divine heart or will. I have found a lot of peace from the scriptures and the words of modern prophets as I have found supporting evidence for this theme in my study. As I have sought to do God’s will, I have been strengthened and changed by Christ’s grace. It has often involved admitting to God that I am not desiring the things that I know I should, and asking for Christ’s grace to help change my desires. I have been strengthened and found new meaning in both present and past events. I truly believe that all it is that any of us needs to do is to try and do God’s will. None of us can fail if we make that our goal. God’s purpose is our “immortality and eternal life,” and that includes our happiness (Moses 1:39). It includes a way to progress as individuals and to become “Heirs of God and joint-heirs in Christ” (Romans 8:17). If so, then even if we fail in our own endeavors, we can be confident and have hope that our Heavenly Father still has a plan for us to be successful. But that success will never be according to our will, or on our timetable. God has better things for us than that.
Check out part two here!