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.
—2 Nephi 31:21
Before we can move on with the Name of Jesus Christ series, we need to get clear on something, which is best conveyed through allegory. Therefore I’ll liken the plan of salvation to the process of learning to drive a car.
Becoming a Driver
Before you can learn to drive, you must reach a certain age. The idea is that your cognitive ability, decision making, self-control, understanding and maturity must all reach a certain level before you can become a responsible driver. This growth process takes many years.
Next, you must be trained by those who already know how to drive. You will study in a classroom setting, becoming versed in the laws that govern driving. You will learn from the experiences of others and analyze the decisions made in various situations. And you will study a manual of laws and procedures that apply to driving.
But it’s not just about study. At some point you must receive not only knowledge, but also skill. You will need to practice in various settings, with increasing levels of autonomy and responsibility until you've mastered the nuances of driving in any situation that may arise. You won’t just need to know how to operate the car, but you must internalize the “big picture” of how the laws of driving, the laws of physics, the feel of the vehicle, the actions of other drivers, road and weather conditions, safety measures, and routes and obstacles all unify in the driving experience.
Ultimately, you must not merely learn about driving; rather you must become a driver yourself, mastering all that driving entails.
At a certain point, you will reach a level of mastery at which you are ready to be tested. You will be tested for your knowledge of the laws, mastery of the skills, and competence in various driving situations. During your testing, a qualified tester will observe you closely and give you direction. Having passed the tests, you will be awarded a license—which also serves as your new identity—and you will join the ranks of the drivers who have gone before you.
This process is important, of course, and proven to produce qualified drivers. It has been refined over many years, and improved by experience with many millions of drivers. Though some take longer than others to succeed, the process can be trusted to eventually produce the correct results.
Putting someone behind the wheel of a car without first requiring this process would only produce imitation drivers, with all the power of an automobile, but none of the knowledge and skills in place to make them safe. Such imitation drivers, with power but no knowledge, would be dangerous to themselves and others.
None of the above surprises any of us. It’s completely familiar and expected. We’re all comfortable with the process, and don’t even question it. Becoming a driver is a normal goal and nearly all achieve it.
But what if it weren’t so familiar? What if the whole idea of driving was perceived very differently?
The Religions of Automotivism
Imagine for a moment, a world in which people don’t drive, or even understand much about driving, though many claim to “believe” in it. What if driving were considered some imaginary, magical mode of transportation with various legends, myths, folk tales and fables surrounding it. What power! What magic! What a mystical experience it must be to move about with such speed, freedom and power!
Perhaps some would believe they might one day qualify to be passengers in a car, though they could never be drivers themselves.
Others may deny the existence of drivers or cars altogether.
Some might say that people used to drive in the old days, but nobody can drive today because those days are over, and anyone who claims to drive is a liar.
Others might teach that you already are a driver and that you’re already driving—if you just believe it sincerely enough. There’s no need to learn, study or practice, and certainly no need to become anything other than what you already are. (Try not to notice you’re still walking, not driving.)
Yet others might form a driving club and say they have the only true path to one day become a driver. They will require you to study road maps and gas prices, read fanciful stories about legendary drivers, and keep a variety of rules that aren't related to driving. They will seek to control all the following (as recently stated by one of the club leaders):
Where you go, where you don't go.Further, you must attend all your club meetings, where you’ll learn approved lessons about driver-ish things like pumping gas and installing wiper blades. And you must pay your dues, and believe the club president is a driver, though you’ve never seen him drive. If you do these things faithfully, they say, you’ll one day become a driver yourself and have your own car—though most of what they teach has little to do with driving, and their rules are made up.
What you think, what you don't think.
What you speak, what you don't speak.
What you eat, what you drink, what you wear.
Their club president, they say, has keys you’ll need to start the car you’ll one day receive. Without his keys, nobody will ever drive—or that’s how the story goes. Then, oddly, they’ll insist that to learn to drive, you must stay in a boat and wear a life jacket while somebody else does the sailing.
Driven to Distraction
Suppose that in this imaginary world, all the various driving clubs and interest groups have different driver’s manuals from which they hope to learn something about driving. Though the manuals were written by those who have, indeed, become drivers, you might notice that some pages are missing and others are changed, with whole sections crossed out, and extra explanations written in the margins. And even then, few actually study the manuals or take them seriously at all, preferring instead to talk about how to better keep the club rules and recruit more club members.
Occasionally, though, someone might quote a sentence from the manual, just to lend some authority to what they say.
Eventually, you’ll find that many driving clubs become so busy with other pursuits, interests, and businesses that driving is almost never even mentioned.
Would such a society produce any actual drivers? No, quite the opposite. It would tend to prevent people from ever learning to drive or becoming drivers themselves.
In fact, if your goals are to attract loyalty, money, and power, you might use the idea of driving to obtain these things from others. You could sell them on the freedom, speed, and power of driving, while ensuring nobody would ever actually drive. They merely must believe in the idea, you see, and they can be controlled by means of fear, guilt, shame, or threats. You could become wealthy and powerful with such tools.
You Mean You’re Actually Supposed to Become a Driver?
And now we reach the point of the allegory.
There is a real, actual plan of salvation, and it involves gaining knowledge and ability, and eventually becoming something quite different than you are. Unfortunately, that plan has been ignored, distorted, altered and rejected to the point that what is taught bears little resemblance to anything that will save you.
This fact becomes readily apparent when you study scripture. Our understanding has become so distorted and superficial that we fail to comprehend what is written in God’s word. There are many, many examples but I’ll just use a single one to illustrate this point.
After Alma the younger was born again, he taught the following, which he received directly from the Lord:
And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters; And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. (Mosiah 27:25-26)Let’s take a moment to digest this incredible statement.
And the Lord said unto me: This is the word of the Lord—not merely Alma’s opinion. He is quoting God. Therefore, what follows is both true and vitally important. We gainsay it at our peril.
Marvel not: Don’t be surprised by what I’m about to say, though you may find it surprising. “Marvel” also means to wonder. Don’t wonder about what follows. It is definite, and I’m stating it as clearly as possible.
that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people: What follows applies to everyone. There are absolutely no exceptions. It applies to YOU.
must be born again; yea, born of God: A birth is a definite event, at which a separate existence begins, born of a mother’s womb. But this passage speaks of a new event that MUST happen in which one is born not of a mortal woman, but of God. One thus born becomes not merely the offspring of a mother, but the offspring of God. More on this in a moment.
changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness: All of us are born into this Telestial world in a carnal and fallen state, separated from God, sinful in our natures, and subject to death. This must change. Something fundamental must take place to rescue us from the fall and change our natures into what the Lord can pronounce “righteous.” We cannot change this ourselves, but rather must BE changed.
being redeemed of God: Note that this also refers to a new state of being. To be redeemed is to be returned to the literal, actual presence of God. This is the definition Jesus Christ gave to the brother of Jared on the mountain, as follows:
And when he had said these words, behold, the Lord showed himself unto him, and said: Because thou knowest these things ye are redeemed from the fall; therefore ye are brought back into my presence; therefore I show myself unto you. (Ether 3:13)Christ, as the Redeemer, is the one qualified to define redemption. You are not redeemed until you are returned to God’s presence. The gospel is the path to redemption, or the road map back to God’s presence while in the flesh.
becoming his sons and daughters: As I mentioned above, to be born of God is to literally become His child—part of His family. Therefore, according to the Lord, you are NOT a child of God in the fullest sense, until this event takes place—regardless of what the Primary song says. This is a new identity for you, because it is something you “become.”
And thus they become new creatures: You literally become a new creation through this process. You have a new identity, a new relationship with God, a new nature, a new status, and a new family. This is between you and God—not between you and an organization. Only God can make you a new creature.
and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. There is no other way. If you do not participate in this process and event, if you do not BECOME what is described here, you CANNOT inherit the kingdom of God. What is an inheritance? That which is bequeathed to a son or daughter by a parent. What is the kingdom of God? That which is owned and governed by the King. Ultimately, it is His family members who will inherit what he offers.
Now, with that understanding, please bear with me as I try to put these same ideas in new language for purposes of discussion.
You were born into a dangerous, sinful state of separation from God, which will end in death and permanent separation. The only escape from this outcome requires following a path that leads to an event best termed a “second birth.” This second birth involves returning to the presence of God, being pronounced righteous, being formally accepted as His son or daughter, and therefore His heir, and becoming a member of His family in heaven. If you don’t do this, you will remain in the fallen, Telestial state of your first birth. You will be damned.
But if you do follow this path, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, and return to the presence of God, you will be redeemed. This event is designed to happen during mortality. And there is no other way.
The plan of salvation, the Gospel, the good news, is that there is a path back. A way for our escape is prepared! But much like my driving allegory above, almost nobody believes it, or even knows anything about it. The world is filled with religions claiming to offer salvation on some other terms, while insisting the idea that we must literally speak with God, face to face, is heresy. Most of these religions are really about money, power, and control—universally using religion as the tool to achieve these ends.
So we’ve looked at just two verses from the Book of Mormon, examining the required results of effective religion. Having done so, here are some important questions to ask yourself:
- Were you surprised by any of what was taught in those two verses? Or were you already fully aware of all these things?
- Since you must be born again or be damned, how much does your religion focus on helping you become born again? Do they teach you what it means to be born again? Is it the primary focus of everything in your church?
- Do they teach you a definite path that leads to this event?
- Does being “born again” entail something more than merely accepting Christ as your personal Savior?
- Does it entail something more than just getting baptized and receiving confirmation? Or another list of ordinances?
- How, exactly, do the required changes in your state of being come about?
- What else is required? Do you have a definite idea of exactly what you must do?
- Will keeping a list of rules lead you to this event? In other words will perfect home teaching, tithing, word of wisdom observance, meeting attendance, temple work, or any other rule keeping cause you to entertain angels or be caught up to meet Christ in the flesh?
- How many people do you know who have had this experience? Are there many in your church? Is it a common result of following your chosen religion? Is your driving club producing actual drivers? Do they teach from experience?
- How many religions and ministers will absolutely deny what is laid out in Jesus’s own words in these verses? Will yours? And will they ask for your money and obedience while they deny Christ’s own words?
I hope these questions were instructive. I hope they led you to see that what you’ve been told all your life is the “gospel” has almost nothing to do with the Gospel. I hope you realize we’re not here to talk about cars; we’re here to become drivers. There’s a definite, proven process to do this. There are specific skills and knowledge to gain. There must be growth and change. There are specific tests to pass. There is a new identity to receive. Power and freedom await at the end of the process.
And yet, even the most religious tend to deny that cars exist or that you can ever become a driver. Some religions will cast you out for even suggesting as much.
So here’s my point: The gospel likely isn’t what you think it is. It may not even be close. The plan of salvation isn’t circles on a chalkboard and a list of rules to keep. You cannot passively sit in a boat and expect others to sail it there. The Lord Himself has informed you of that in His own words above.
How desperately do you want to to escape from Hell? How relentlessly will you search for what He offers? How carefully will you consider His words? What price is too high to pay? At what point will you humble yourself as a little child—realizing your complete and utter ignorance when it comes to the things of God?
When will you start the ascent?
O then, my beloved brethren, come unto the Lord, the Holy One. Remember that his paths are righteous. Behold, the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him, and the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name.
—2 Nephi 9:41