I pictured the same thing every time.
Sitting in sacrament meeting as a child, whenever someone got confirmed, at the exact moment the words “receive the Holy Ghost” were said, I pictured a smiling, disembodied spirit in white robes, rushing in through the window like a ghost—to possess the person sitting in the chair. The whole idea thrilled me and gave me goosebumps. God just flew in through the window and climbed inside someone!
Of course, that was just a childish fantasy, right? (Because I also pictured “holding the priesthood” as my dad standing in front of the congregation, holding a mason jar of some strange substance at church, like it was his calling or something. I even used to tell my friends, “At our church, my dad holds the priesthood.”) Ah, the pictures we paint.
So then, who, or what, is the Holy Ghost? Is it just some sort of energy field that fills the universe? Is it a person? Is he male? Is it a calling? Is it a God? Is it actually a ghost?
Aside from some vague generalities taught in primary, as a people we generally know very little about this important topic. In fact, given the incredible importance of this topic, and our immense ignorance, I don’t believe it’s an exaggeration to state that this topic sits at the forefront of our damnation.
So let’s do something about it.
Today’s post is actually the conclusion to a post I wrote over three years ago, called Feeling, and Fooling, the Spirit. That particular post is still one of the most-read posts on this blog—but it was really just an introduction to the topic, designed to deconstruct the common unbelief that feelings equal revelation.
(As an aside, if you want to see just how prevalent the feelings-equals-revelation unbelief remains among Mormons, just Google “feeling the spirit.” Pretty much the entire first page will be LDS sources—despite the fact that Mormons make up only about 2% of the Christian population. I believe the LDS church would trademark the phrase, “feeling the spirit” if it could.)
In this present series about the process of receiving revelation, we’ve at last reached the other end of the discussion that began with that prior post. Just as at the beginning, we will have to deconstruct some unbelief to get to truth, and as at the beginning, the unbelief centers on the Holy Ghost.
One other note: to make this post accessible to as wide an audience as possible, all noted scripture references will come from the current LDS edition of the scriptures, rather than the Restoration Edition.
Let’s get our bearings with a quick discussion of how we got to the holy mess we’re in.
Though true teachings about the Holy Ghost go clear back to Adam, our current corrupt understanding harks back to early Christianity. Specifically, the idea of the trinity, as reflected in the early Christian creeds, made the Holy Ghost a person and part of the three-in-one god who manifests in different ways, different days, but is ultimately all the same being. But isn’t. But is.
Of course, that being is specifically described as being “incomprehensible,” so it’s no wonder that this three-in-one god idea only serves to confuse the issue, and stands in direct contrast to Joseph Smith’s revolutionary statement that, “If men do not comprehend the character of God they do not comprehend themselves.”
By the time Joseph Smith came on the scene, Christianity had labored over 1500 years with their still-incomprehensible god, who was universally accepted as the very god of the Bible. It was just a given that any Christian who believed the Bible, must de-facto believe in the trinity or be a heretic. As the Athanasian Creed put it after describing this mythical being: “This is the catholic [original] faith; which except a man believe truly and firmly, he cannot be saved.” The Protestant churches that sprang from the Catholic church kept firm belief in the trinity as the only possible way to properly interpret the Bible. Christianity and trinity were indivisible.
Hence, when Joseph Smith organized a church and began attracting exclusively Christian converts, they naturally brought their three-in-one god with them. Much of Joseph’s ministry, therefore, consisted of teaching truth and attempting, with little success, to replace millennia of false notions, or to, as he termed it, “break down superstition.” Said he:
But there has been a great difficulty in getting anything into the heads of this generation. It has been like splitting hemlock knots with a corn-dodger for a wedge, and a pumpkin for a beetle. Even the Saints are slow to understand. I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God; but we frequently see some of them, after suffering all they have for the work of God, will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions: they cannot stand the fire at all. (HC 6:184-185)The Lectures on Faith, edited by Joseph and comprising the “Doctrine” part of the Doctrine and Covenants was perhaps Joseph’s greatest attempt at setting matters straight concerning the God we worship and the makeup of the Godhead. It provides clear and direct information about these matters, though sadly, a later generation of church leaders, with inferior understanding, taught contrary ideas to Joseph’s.
By 1899, the view of the trinity, taught by James Talmage in A Study of the Articles of Faith, became the orthodox LDS view, published and copyrighted by the LDS church. It included the following language, which probably reflects what you’ve been taught if you’re LDS:
The Godhead: The Trinity—three personages composing the great presiding council of the universe have revealed themselves to man: (1) God the Eternal Father; (2) His Son, Jesus Christ; and (3) the Holy Ghost. That these three are separate individuals, physically distinct from each other, is demonstrated by the accepted records of the divine dealings with man. (Articles of Faith, p. 35)
The Holy Ghost, called also Spirit, and Spirit of the Lord, Spirit of God, Comforter, and Spirit of Truth, is not tabernacled in a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of spirit; yet we know that the Spirit has manifested Himself in the form of a man. Through the ministrations of the Spirit the Father and the Son may operate in their dealings with mankind; through Him knowledge is communicated, and by Him the purposes of the Godhead are achieved. The Holy Ghost is the witness of the Father and the Son, declaring to man their attributes, bearing record of the other personages of the Godhead. (Articles of Faith, p. 38)Unfortunately, Talmage’s views contradicted Joseph Smith’s views in several particulars. As a result, a committee that included Talmage and five others, arbitrarily removed the Lectures from our scriptural canon in 1921, without a vote of the church membership. Their explanation for their actions was essentially that Joseph simply got it wrong, being young and ignorant and all.
And so even today, the LDS church publishes and teaches fuzzy, incomplete, and inaccurate ideas about the Holy Ghost being a disembodied person in the Godhead, a “ghost” that travels around visiting people, leading primary kids to form silly pictures in their minds, where they remain forever. And thus, “feeling the spirit” is the LDS buzzword and focus of their emotion-based religion.
But wait—we’re adults, capable of reading, critical thinking, and analysis. We have the scriptures before us, as well as the direct statements of a man who stood in the presence of the Father and the Son. So let’s spend some time with those resources, analyzing what they actually say. The only preparation required for this journey is to let go of our crayon pictures and superstitions. Let’s start with a blank slate and let the scriptures inform us.
Filled with Light
In Part 4 of this series, we discussed repentance, which is most simply defined as turning to face God. This means, among other things, that God’s will becomes your focus of attention. To the degree that your focus is single to God, you receive God’s light:
The light of the body is the eye; if, therefore, thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If, therefore, the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! (3 Nephi 13:22-23)OK, so if your eye is single (focused only on the things of God) your whole body is filled with light. Good so far? Moving on:
The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth. (D&C 93:36)So there is some relationship between light, truth and intelligence. Therefore, being filled with light implies being filled with intelligence or truth, particularly because this light we’re discussing results from having an eye single to God, or more particularly, God’s glory, which definition we just read.
Here are a couple more items that help cement this relationship. Remember the glory of God is intelligence, or light and truth, as you consider these:
And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things. (D&C 88:67, emphasis mine)
He that keepeth his commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things. (D&C 93:28 emphasis mine)
And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come (D&C 93:24 emphasis mine)
Being filled with this intelligence and light gives you the power to comprehend or know all things, which is, in fact, the function of the Holy Ghost:
And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things. (Moroni 10:5 emphasis mine)Therefore, having an eye single to the glory of God fills you with light and gives you knowledge of truth, which is a function of the Holy Ghost. This is the point to remember as we move forward.
In the Feeling and Fooling post, I noted there is a difference between the Holy Spirit and Holy Ghost, though scripture sometimes is a bit loose with that distinction and doesn’t make it clear. Back then, I didn’t go into that distinction because I knew it would take a lot more explaining and background, which is now, finally, in place.
So let’s take a look at this passage, where Nephi notes a difference between the Holy Spirit and Holy Ghost:
And now I, Nephi, cannot write all the things which were taught among my people; neither am I mighty in writing, like unto speaking; for when a man speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of men. But behold, there are many that harden their hearts against the Holy Spirit, that it hath no place in them; wherefore, they cast many things away which are written and esteem them as things of naught. (2 Ne. 33:1-2 emphasis mine)Note that Holy Ghost refers to power animating both the speaker and willing listener; it is a shared connection between them and God. Holy Spirit, on the other hand, refers to the power rejected by those who harden their hearts. It never gets into their hearts. This distinction becomes important as we move ahead.
From the Lectures on Faith: (Lecture 5:2), shown here in purple:
There are two personages who constitute the great, matchless, governing and supreme power over all things—by whom all things were created and made, that are created and made, whether visible or invisible: whether in heaven, on earth, or in the earth, under the earth, or throughout the immensity of space—They are the Father and the Son:OK, got that? Two, and only two, personages: the Father and the Son. Moving on—
The Father being a personage of spirit, glory and power: possessing all perfection and fulness: The Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, a personage of tabernacle, made, or fashioned like unto man, or being in the form and likeness of man, or, rather, man was formed after his likeness, and in his image;—he is also the express image and likeness of the personage of the Father:OK, so the Father and Son are personages.
The Father is a personage of—
For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light, and whatsoever is light is Spirit, even the Spirit of Jesus Christ. And the Spirit giveth light to every man that cometh into the world; and the Spirit enlighteneth every man through the world, that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit. (D&C 84:45-46)
Ye were also in the beginning with the Father; that which is Spirit, even the Spirit of truth…The Spirit of truth is of God. I am the Spirit of truth, and John bore record of me, saying: He received a fulness of truth, yea, even of all truth (D&C 93:23, 26)Glory: intelligence, or light and truth, as we’ve already covered.
Power: See Part 1 of this series for a discussion of God’s power.
And the Son, a personage of tabernacle, which is to say, capable of taking up his abode here in a temporary, mortal body. But also—
…possessing all the fulness of the Father, or, the same fulness with the Father…And he being the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth, and having overcome, received a fulness of the glory of the Father—possessing the same mind with the Father, which mind is the Holy Spirit, that bears record of the Father and the Son...Now there’s a third entity mentioned: the Holy Spirit, here specifically defined as the “mind” of the Father.
Two personages, one mind. That makes three.
Now, back to the Lecture:
...and these three are one, or in other words, these three constitute the great, matchless, governing and supreme power over all things: by whom all things were created and made, that were created and made: and these three constitute the Godhead, and are one: The Father and the Son possessing the same mind, the same wisdom, glory, power and fulness: Filling all in all--the Son being filled with the fulness of the Mind, glory and power, or, in other words, the Spirit, glory and power of the Father—possessing all knowledge and glory, and the same kingdom: sitting at the right hand of power, in the express image and likeness of the Father—a Mediator for man—being filled with the fulness of the Mind of the Father, or, in other words, the Spirit of the Father: which Spirit is shed forth upon all who believe on his name and keep his commandments: and all those who keep his commandments shall grow up from grace to grace, and become heirs of the heavenly kingdom, and joint heirs with Jesus Christ; possessing the same mind, being transformed into the same image or likeness, even the express image of him who fills all in all: being filled with the fulness of his glory, and become one in him, even as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one.Ok, wow. So there are two personages in the Godhead, but three entities. The third entity, called the Holy Spirit, is defined as the mind of God. The Father and Son share this mind, and invite all of us to share it as well—to become filled with His glory, (intelligence, light, truth) which we discussed above. Back to Lecture 5:
Question 3: How many personages are there in the Godhead?The Holy Spirit is NOT a personage, but is defined as the mind of God. Those who keep His commandments will receive grace for grace and will obtain the same mind, which makes them one with the Father and the Son.
Answer: Two: the Father and the Son.
He that ascended up on high, as also he descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth; Which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ. As also he is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was made. As also he is in the moon, and is the light of the moon, and the power thereof by which it was made; As also the light of the stars, and the power thereof by which they were made; And the earth also, and the power thereof, even the earth upon which you stand. And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings; Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space—The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things. (D&C 88: 6-10.)This Spirit of God, or mind of God, or Light of Christ at its lowest level, is that same power, or force, or light, that is in all things, that gives life to all things, and that quickens (makes alive) our understandings. But it is a power, not a person. It is a communication connection by which Christ’s light (intelligence/truth) can be in all things, including us. It is our connection to God.
So thus far, we’ve delved into the Holy Spirit, but not the Holy Ghost. The Holy Spirit is the mind of God, providing a connection, through His light or power, to His truth. Now let’s consider the Holy Ghost.
The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us. (D&C 130:22)At first this statement may seem to contradict the Lectures on Faith by saying that the Holy Ghost is a personage. In fact, this is the supposed contradiction that ultimately caused church leadership to reject Joseph’s lectures and pull them out of the scriptures. But careful consideration will show there is no contradiction at all. Remember, the Lectures on Faith specifically speak of the mind of God, which is the Holy Spirit, and not a personage. The Holy Ghost is something more. Let’s look at some specific definitions dealing with the Holy Ghost:
Therefore it is given to abide in you; the record of heaven; the Comforter; the peaceable things of immortal glory; the truth of all things; that which quickeneth all things, which maketh alive all things; that which knoweth all things, and hath all power according to wisdom, mercy, truth, justice, and judgment. (Moses 6:61)
“The Holy Ghost is a personage, and is in the form of a personage.” (TPJS, p. 276.)Note: this says Holy Ghost and not Holy Spirit, which we’ve already established is not a person.
“No man can receive the Holy Ghost without receiving revelations. The Holy Ghost is a revelator.” (TPJS, p. 328.)Given the three quotations above, what can we glean? Let’s consider them in reverse order.
First, you cannot receive the Holy Ghost without receiving revelations. And how are revelations received? From God’s mind, through the Holy Sprit. You receive revelation when you access the mind of God. You cannot receive the Holy Ghost without accessing the mind of God.
Second, the Holy Ghost is a personage, in the form of a personage. But the Holy Spirit, or mind of God is not.
And now to address the third, let’s consider some questions.
Q: What is it that abides inside you, has the form of a personage, and makes you alive?
A: Your spirit.
Q: In that same verse, it calls this the Record of Heaven. How can your spirit be the Record of Heaven?
A: When your spirit is connected to the mind of God, with an eye single to His glory (intelligence, light and truth) then it has access to the record of heaven and the truth of all things. Such a connection, in its fullness, sanctifies you and makes your spirit, or “ghost,” holy, as your whole body is filled with light.
Q: Therefore, who, or what, is the Holy Ghost?
A: You Are!—when you are in a state of holiness, which is a connection to the mind of God, or Holy Spirit, your spirit becomes sanctified, or your “ghost” becomes holy. The Holy Ghost is therefore best understood as a state or condition of your own spirit. Or in other words, it is your spirit in a state of holiness. Thus, you can “receive” this state or condition, and also lose it. You have the Holy Ghost when your ghost is holy. The matter couldn’t be more plain.
Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day. (3 Ne 27:20)Such an understanding sheds a whole new light on this statement by Joseph Smith:
The “third member of the Godhead” is still in a probationary state. “The Holy Ghost is now in a state of probation which if he should perform in righteousness he may pass through the same or a similar course of things that the Son has.” (WJS, p. 245, 27 August 1843.)Are you still in a probationary state? Are you seeking to follow the Son? Are you seeking to become one with the Father and the Son, as they promised and Jesus prayed? Will that make you a “third member of the Godhead?”
When you learn to remain in that state of sanctifying connection to God, such that you have continual access to His mind, then you have the “gift” of the Holy Ghost. Through this medium, it is possible to always be in tune with the mind of God.
That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day. (D&C 50:24)So to summarize:
- Repentance is to turn and face God.
- If you turn and face God with an eye single to His glory (intelligence, light, truth), your whole body is filled with His light.
- This light is received from God by means of the Holy Spirit, or the connection to God’s mind.
- When your spirit is connected to, and in harmony with, God’s mind, it becomes holy. Or in other words, when your eye is single to the glory of God, your whole body is filled with light. Your spirit, or “ghost,” in the state or condition of holiness, is called the Holy Ghost. Receiving this connection is what constitutes receiving the Holy Ghost. Its first reception is often described as being filled with fire and the Holy Ghost, as your spirit is remodeled in God’s image and you are born again. The sanctification and filling with light is very much like fire.
- The continual presence of this connection with God and its resulting holiness, is called the gift of the Holy Ghost.
We should round out this discussion by considering what is called the Light of Christ.
He that ascended up on high, as also he descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth; Which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ.
As also he is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was made. As also he is in the moon, and is the light of the moon, and the power thereof by which it was made; As also the light of the stars, and the power thereof by which they were made; And the earth also, and the power thereof, even the earth upon which you stand.
And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings; Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space—The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things. (D&C 88:6-13 emphasis mine)This light of Christ is the organizing energy or power that governs, creates, and upholds all things. It keeps the planets in orbit, and molecules connected. It is the power by which you are able to think, breathe and act. (Mosiah 2:21) All have access to it, regardless of their righteousness, desires, or consciousness of it at all. It is the most basic level of light and truth that fills the immensity of space and all things. You are connected to, and filled with it right now.
It’s useful to think of these terms as a continuum of the glory of God (remember, that means intelligence, or light and truth. )
- The lowest level is the light of Christ. It is within everyone and everything.
- The next level is the Holy Spirit, which is the mind of God and gives access to truth and information.
- The next level is the Holy Ghost, which means your spirit is in harmony and unity with God’s spirit and mind. Through the Holy Ghost, you have access to all truth.
- The next level is the Gift of the Holy Ghost, which means you have the ability to abide in this unity of mind with God.
What it all Means
Now that we’ve studied what the scriptures and Joseph actually say about the Holy Ghost, I hope you have a very different picture than the one I had as a child. I hope you find this truth as astonishing and life-changing as I did when I first learned it.
YOU are meant to be holy. YOU are called to be one with the Father and the Son. You have the potential to be enlightened with light, truth, intelligence and glory to such a degree that you possess the glory of God within you! Even in this dark, cold, fallen place, you can walk in holiness—a god veiled in mortal flesh, connected to those higher beings who have overcome this world. You can be precisely as they are if you will exercise the faith required to turn and face them, obey their truth, and receive their light into yourself.
If the Savior gives this glory to any others, he must do it in the very way set forth in his prayer to his Father: by making them one with him, as he and the Father are one.—In so doing he would give them the glory which the Father has given him; and when his disciples are made one with the Father and the Son, as the Father and the Son are one, who cannot see the propriety of the Savior's saying, The works which I do, shall they do; and greater works than these shall they do, because I go to the Father?
These teachings of the Savior must clearly show unto us the nature of salvation; and what he proposed unto the human family when he proposed to save them—That he proposed to make them like unto himself; and he was like the Father, the great prototype of all saved beings: And for any portion of the human family to be assimilated into their likeness is to be saved; and to be unlike them is to be destroyed: and on this hinge turns the door of salvation. (Lectures on Faith 7:15-16 emphasis mine)
Who cannot see, then, that salvation is the effect of faith? for as we have previously observed, all the heavenly beings work by this principle; and it is because they are able so to do that they are saved: for nothing but this could save them. And this is the lesson which the God of heaven, by the mouth of all his holy prophets, has been endeavoring to teach to the world…These with a multitude of other scriptures, which might be quoted, plainly set forth the light, in which the Savior, as well as the Former Day Saints, viewed the plan of salvation: That it was a system of faith—it begins with faith, and continues by faith; and every blessing which is obtained, in relation to it, is the effect of faith, whether it pertains to this life or that which is to come.—To this all the revelations of God bear witness. If there were children of promise, they were the effects of faith: not even the Savior of the world excepted (Lectures on Faith 7:17 emphasis mine)Conclusion
This series started with ask, and ye shall receive; then we continued into a discussion of God’s holiness and power stemming from His knowledge. And now, we’ve come full circle to an understanding of His invitation to you to receive access to that same holiness and knowledge. I hope His invitation to become as He is, now makes more sense.
The invitation to ask, seek and knock is not merely designed to get you answers to prayers. In the end, God’s purpose is to give you eternal life by making you as he is. It begins with the connection—with receiving the Holy Ghost so you can be one with Him, by conversing with Him through the veil, prior to entering His presence.
“The veil” may mean a variety of things. At its most basic level, it refers to your own flesh, veiling the god within you from the Gods above. Piercing that veil and forming that connection is the beginning of your redemption. It is the beginning of the return. The entire purpose of the doctrine of Christ is to allow you to receive the Holy Ghost; to become connected again, through the veil.
To me, this knowledge has made more of a difference than anything else I’ve learned in my journey thus far. I pray it will be a blessing to you as well.
Jesus answered, In the name of Father Ahman I say to you, Except you receive the ordinance of baptism to join the new dispensation, and thereby forsake your sins and receive forgiveness and an outpouring of the Spirit, you will not ascend to God’s presence in this life or the life to come. All who are devoted to the ambitions of the flesh remain imprisoned by the flesh, and those who are born anew through the ordinances, receive the Spirit of Truth, and are able to know the record of heaven by the Spirit of Truth. Do not question if what I say is true because the Spirit of Truth confers light, knowledge, and understanding of the mysteries of heaven within every soul who receives it.
—Testimony of St. John 2:2