“Receiving and Applying Spiritual Truth,” Ensign, Feb. 1984, 3
I have always been impressed and instructed when I contemplate the interview the Master had with Nicodemus, the learned member of the Jewish Sanhedrin who came to Jesus with the purpose of learning more about him, his identity, and his message.
Nicodemus “came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.” (John 3:2.)
In his search for truth, Nicodemus was moved to question and pursue understanding from the Lord. Yet, at this moment, all he could see in the Son of God was a superior teacher. As his statement notes, he based this conclusion upon what he had both seen and heard of the Master’s miracles.
Jesus, however, immediately taught Nicodemus that the knowledge he sought was not to be had on such evidence alone, the evidence of seeing and hearing a miracle or seeing some great event. Jesus promptly pointed to the truth that without the aid of a superior learning process, a process sensitive to the infinite world of reality above and beyond the world of sensory perception, the kingdom of God could not be discovered, seen, or entered.
“Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3.)
Now, as learned and skilled and wise as was Nicodemus, he could not grasp the concept of that which the Master was presenting. In fact, Nicodemus was baffled by it, for he said: “How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” (John 3:4.)
Jesus persisted, seeking to enlighten the mind of Nicodemus. The Lord explained, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:6.)
Nicodemus, however, not having yet been born of the Spirit, lacked the perception that comes from the Spirit. He simply could not understand that Jesus was saying there are two sources of knowledge, two different processes of learning—one through the normal senses of the flesh, the other through the voice of the Spirit.
The Apostle Paul’s explanation to the Corinthians on this same matter focused on the same truth that the Master discussed with Nicodemus. To the Corinthians, Paul said: “My speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit …
“That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. …
“But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. [That is to say, the things of the Spirit, the verities of eternity, the meaning of great events and signs, and the ultimate truths are not to be had alone through the learning process of men.]
“But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. …
“But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Cor. 2:4–5, 9–10, 14.)
In Jesus’ interview with Nicodemus, the Master continued to instruct him regarding the spiritual source of knowledge. The Lord said, “Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.
“The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:7–8.)
As I have contemplated this text, I am persuaded that the Master was here affirming that the knowledge to be obtained through the gift of the Holy Ghost—the rebirth of which the Lord had spoken is just as sure and certain to us as the wind that blows, even though we cannot see it. The Lord was teaching Nicodemus that the process of learning about things from the Spirit is real, even though the Spirit’s workings cannot be understood by those who have not been born again.
In the latter days, the Lord reaffirmed these basic truths through the Prophet Joseph Smith. In the dedicatory prayer of the Kirtland Temple, a prayer given by revelation to Joseph Smith, the Prophet prayed: “And do thou grant, Holy Father, that all those who shall worship in this house may be taught words of wisdom … and that they may seek learning even by study, and also by faith, as thou has said …”
And for what purpose?
“… that they may grow up in thee, and receive a fulness of the Holy Ghost, and be organized according to thy laws, and be prepared to obtain every needful thing.” (D&C 109:14–15.)
This prayer makes it clear that the Lord views one’s learning as complete only when one is guided by the Holy Spirit. On another occasion the Lord said, “If ye continue in my word … ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31–32.) The truths that can free us from our sins, guilt, false concepts, erroneous understanding, and unproductive habits and behavior are to be had only through the Holy Spirit.
There has never been a day such as now in all of earthly history when secular learning was so far advanced and widespread as it is today. Yet so many of those around us do not enjoy the truths and the freedom those truths bring of which the Master taught. Rather, to so many people, it seems that truth and true freedom elude their grasp.
The central core of the Father’s plan of salvation is that to obtain these truths and the peace, happiness, security, and freedom these truths bring to their righteous adherents, we must draw upon a source of knowledge that lies above and beyond the reach of ordinary learning processes.
The road to this sure knowledge is a sincere and honest desire to obtain truth from God, seeking such truth through sustained prayer, through devoted study of God’s scriptures, and through righteous, charitable behavior in our daily lives.
The Lord knows, however, that not all persons will bring themselves to these standards, and thus he reminded us that “the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not.” (D&C 88:49.)
But if we Latter-day Saints will follow the steps outlined by the Lord and his prophets, we can and will obtain understanding regarding the great latter-day dispensation in which we live, and of the great preparatory events and tribulations prophesied for the last days.
Through the gift and power of the Holy Ghost, divine truth has been revealed to mankind from the beginning. To Father Adam, and continuing through all dispensations, heavenly truths have been communicated to prophets, who in turn have taught and recorded these truths for the benefit of those who will use them in their lives.
From this inexhaustible source of eternal truth has come true knowledge concerning the nature of God and our relationship to him, without which no one can comprehend the purpose of life and its significant events.
As Latter-day Saints, we know of God’s love for his children and of his desire that each of us learn and use in our daily lives the processes of spiritual sensitivity so that we may draw upon the limitless source of knowledge and guidance that is open to all of us.
We need such inspired knowledge as we live our lives, as we seek to find God and apply his teachings, as we seek to find marriage partners, as we perform our responsibilities of parenthood, as we help others around us learn gospel truth and find God for themselves, as we seek understanding from scripture, as we implement present-day prophets’ counsel, as we contemplate the signal time in this dispensation in which we live, and as we seek to endure faithfully to the end. In all these and many more matters—indeed, in all aspects of our lives—we need guidance and knowledge from the Sure Source.
As we seek to draw closer to God and taste the fruits of applying his teachings in our lives, we must ever be mindful that God expects us to apply our knowledge in our daily lives in service to others. We need to remember that “when the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
“And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
“And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
“Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
“For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
“Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
“Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
“When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
“Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
“And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
“Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
“For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
“I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
“Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
“Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
“And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.” (Matt. 25:31–46.)
We are to learn to obtain truth and understanding from the Holy Spirit—for such truth fundamentally affects every aspect of our lives; then, our test is to apply our knowledge, our lives, our actions and behavior with love and charity to all those who come within our circle of influence and daily living.
Some Points of Emphasis. You may wish to make these points in your home teaching discussion:
1. There are two sources of knowledge, two different processes of learning—one through the normal senses of the flesh, the other through the voice of the Spirit. The process of learning from the Spirit is real, even though it will likely not be understood by those who are insensitive to the workings of the Spirit.
2. Truths that can free us from our sins, guilt, false concepts and false understanding about God are to be had only through the Holy Spirit.
3. The road to obtaining knowledge through the Spirit is a sincere and honest desire to obtain truth from God, seeking such truth through sustained prayer, through devoted study of God’s scriptures, and through righteous, charitable behavior in our daily lives.
4. God expects us to apply our spiritual knowledge in our daily lives in service to others.
1. Relate your personal feelings and experiences about learning through the Spirit. Ask others to share their feelings.
2. Are there scriptural verses or quotations in this article that the family might read aloud and discuss?
3. Would this discussion be better after a pre-visit chat with the head of the house? Is there a message from the quorum leader or bishop to the household head concerning learning by the Spirit?