For the last couple of decades of my life, I have had an uneasy relationship with the story of the young rich man spoken of in the gospels of the New Testament. (See Matthew 19, Mark 10) When the Savior tells him that in order to obtain eternal life he must keep the commandments, the young man replies, “All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?”
In his recent General Conference address, Elder Robert C. Gay recounts the story of another rich and worldly man from the Book of Mormon who posed a similar question. King Lamoni’s father, being stirred by the words of the Lord’s servant Aaron pleaded, “What shall I do that I may be born of God, having this wicked spirit rooted out of my breast, and receive his Spirit[?] … I will forsake my kingdom, that I may receive this great joy.”
Aaron answered him, “If thou will repent of all thy sins, and will bow down before God, and call on his name in faith, believing that ye shall receive, then shalt thou receive the hope which thou desirest.”
It was with this understanding that King Lamoni’s father prayed fervently to the Father, “O God… I will give away all my sins to know thee.”
As a teenager and young adult, I always admired this response from the Lamanite king and wished that I too had that same kind of resolve. But it always seemed too hard, too extreme. There was no way I could do it on my own.
And you know what?
I was right.
I couldn’t do it on my own.
But with the help of my Savior, well, that’s another story altogether.
I love these words from an apostle of the Lord, Elder David A. Bednar:
If I were to emphasize one overarching point this morning, it would be this: I suspect that you and I are much more familiar with the nature of the redeeming power of the Atonement than we are with the enabling power of the Atonement. It is one thing to know that Jesus Christ came to earth to die for us. That is fundamental and foundational to the doctrine of Christ. But we also need to appreciate that the Lord desires, through His Atonement and by the power of the Holy Ghost, to live in us—not only to direct us but also to empower us. I think most of us know that when we do things wrong, when we need help to overcome the effects of sin in our lives, the Savior has paid the price and made it possible for us to be made clean through His redeeming power. Most of us clearly understand that the Atonement is for sinners. I am not so sure, however, that we know and understand that the Atonement is also for saints—for good men and women who are obedient and worthy and conscientious and who are striving to become better and serve more faithfully. I frankly do not think many of us “get it” concerning this enabling and strengthening aspect of the Atonement, and I wonder if we mistakenly believe we must make the journey from good to better and become a saint all by ourselves through sheer grit, willpower, and discipline, and with our obviously limited capacities. (“In the Strength of the Lord,” Oct. 2001 BYU Devotional)
I have since learned that it is only when I lay everything I have, everything I am down on His altar and surrender all to His tender care, that I am transformed. Reborn.
And suddenly, those sticky sins that seem so very difficult to excise from our lives slip away without much struggle.
In the words of author John Pontius, “If we yield ourselves to His direction He will show us what to do first, and give us the power to do it. He will direct us, step by step, all along the way home. Additionally, as we obey Him, He will change and purify our hearts. As our hearts become single to His glory, we will find the changes we thought most impossible will just quietly, sweetly occur. The patience which previously eluded us, the gentleness we never knew, the love and brotherly kindness we thought unattainable, the powerful prayers and faith we yearned for, yet never attained– all these and many more precious gifts will simply distill upon our souls.” (Following the Light of Christ, Ch. 3)
I know this is true, because I have lived it.
Left to ourselves, we are weak, imperfect.
In Christ, we are made whole. Complete.
And all it takes to begin is that first step in His direction.
To quote Elder Gay once more:
Brothers and sisters, remember that this charge is more than just not doing bad things. With an engaged enemy we must also act and not sit in “thoughtless stupor.” Taking upon the countenance of God means serving each other. There are sins of commission and sins of omission, and we are to rise above both. (“What Shall a Man Give in Exchange for His Soul?” Oct. 2012 Conference Report)
In Christ, truly all things are possible.
He strengthens us, helps us, and causes us to stand. In the midst of it all, He upholds us by the enabling power of His infinite and eternal Atonement.
A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.
And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. (Ezekiel 36:26-27)
Where we are weak, He is strong. And if we so desire, He can make us new creatures in Him.
His promises are sure.