Becoming a Disciple of Christ

    “Becoming a Disciple of Christ,” Ensign, Apr. 2006, 16–23

    Becoming a Disciple of Christ

    Diligently seeking truth and living gospel principles with all one’s mind and heart open the door for the Holy Spirit to transform us.

    From an address given May 2, 1997, at the Brigham Young University women’s conference in Provo, Utah.

    Elder Merrill J. Bateman

    In Moroni 7:19, Mormon describes two steps along the path of life that, if taken, will transform a person into a spiritually begotten son or daughter of Christ. The first is to “search diligently in the light of Christ” so that good may be distinguished from evil. The second is to “lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not.” Earlier in the chapter, Mormon notes that every woman and man receives the Light of Christ as a gift to differentiate right from wrong. A more common name for this light is conscience, a discerning power by which individuals know good from evil (see Moro. 7:15–17).

    Mormon’s first step of searching diligently describes the quest for truth, for the good. His second step, to “lay hold upon every good thing,” means to live every good truth once it is found. In both the searching and the living, diligence is required. The Lord told the Prophet Joseph Smith that the process of learning truth or acquiring knowledge and intelligence comes through “diligence and obedience” (D&C 130:19). Laying hold upon or living truth also requires energy or effort, because the Lord expects us to serve with all our “heart, might, mind and strength” (D&C 4:2).

    In the Lord’s plan, diligent effort involves both the heart and the mind. Diligently seeking truth and living gospel principles with all one’s mind and heart open the door for the Holy Spirit to transform us. We put off the natural man or woman because of the truths we value. With a humble heart, we yield “to the enticings of the Holy Spirit,” partake of the Atonement, and become “the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters” as we are spiritually reborn (Mosiah 3:19; Mosiah 5:7).

    I wish to illustrate the process of acquiring truth with the mind and the heart and then suggest that living faithfully and serving with all one’s heart, might, mind, and strength are really functions of steadily enduring, of doing one’s best each day, in contrast to great bursts of energy that one tries to prolong.

    Searching with One’s Mind and Heart

    To illustrate the first step of searching for truth through both the mind and the heart, we turn to the story of Oliver Cowdery’s desiring the gift of translation. While acting as scribe to the Prophet Joseph Smith, Oliver expressed his desire to serve as translator. Joseph took the matter to the Lord, and Oliver was granted permission. Through revelation, Oliver was told the conditions under which he could translate and the process by which the meaning of the characters would come. If Oliver would “ask in faith, with an honest heart, believing that [he would] receive,” the Lord would confirm the thoughts of his mind and heart through the Holy Ghost (see D&C 8:1–2). The procedure for learning sacred truths outlined for Oliver is consistent with the procedures described by other prophets (see Luke 24:32; 1 Cor. 2:9–11). Oliver would learn the translation not only through the thought processes of his mind but also through the feelings of his heart. Oliver was to study out the meaning in his mind and then ask the Lord if his thoughts were right; if a confirming burning in his bosom occurred, he would feel and know the correctness of his thoughts.

    Having had little prior experience, Oliver misunderstood the process. After he failed to translate, the Lord explained that Oliver had not been diligent. He had not tried to work out in his mind the meaning before praying for help. Instead, he asked the Lord to give him the answers (see D&C 9:7–9). Oliver had not “search[ed] diligently in the light of Christ” (Moro. 7:19). He took no thought except to ask the Lord.

    Most of us are grateful that Oliver tried. The lesson he learned is now part of the record and benefits all of us. Contrast Oliver’s experience with Nephi’s preparation to understand his father’s dream of the tree of life. The preparatory process is outlined in 1 Nephi 11:1: “For it came to pass after I had desired to know the things that my father had seen, and believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto me, as I sat pondering in mine heart I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord, yea, into an exceedingly high mountain.”

    Both Oliver and Nephi desired to know truth. Both believed that the Lord was able to make truth known to them. The difference was that Nephi spent time pondering and searching the meaning of the tree “in the light of Christ” until he was caught away by the Spirit. The meaning of the word ponder, as defined by the dictionary, is to “weigh mentally, consider carefully, … to think deeply about something.”1 Nephi spent time thinking, weighing, and deliberating on the meaning of the dream and the tree before inquiring of the Lord. This is in contrast to Oliver, who “took no thought.” In the end, Nephi not only was shown the dream and its meaning but received much information regarding the destiny of his people.

    Another wonderful example of the power inherent in connecting the heart and mind while searching for truth is related by another Nephi, who lived at the time the resurrected Savior appeared to the people in the land Bountiful. Approximately 2,500 people were gathered near the temple, marveling at the changes associated with the three days of darkness. They were also discussing the sign given concerning the Redeemer of the world (see 3 Ne. 11:1–2; 3 Ne. 17:25). While conversing with each other, they heard the Father’s voice introduce His Son on three separate occasions. They did not understand the voice the first two times, but they did feel the power of the Spirit piercing their hearts to the center. The Spirit was so strong that it caused their frames to quake and their hearts to burn. They knew something special was about to take place, but their minds did not grasp the meaning of the Father’s words. Moreover, the feeling in their hearts registered the importance of the message but not its content (see 3 Ne. 11:3–6).

    On the third occasion, the scripture relates, the Nephites opened their ears and understood the voice, which said, “Behold my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, in whom I have glorified my name—hear ye him” (3 Ne. 11:7). The events that follow suggest that even though they understood the words spoken on the third occasion, they did not comprehend their full meaning. They looked into the heavens and saw a Man descending, clothed in white. Upon reaching the ground, He was encircled by the Nephites, who were speechless, believing they were in the presence of an angel (see 3 Ne. 11:8). The thought processes of the mind and the spiritual witness in the heart had not yet combined to help them understand in whose presence they were.

    The Savior then introduced Himself as Jesus Christ, “the light and the life of the world.” The Nephites learned He had “drunk out of that bitter cup” given to Him by the Father and had “glorified the Father in taking upon [Himself] the sins of the world” (3 Ne. 11:11). As the Savior’s words registered in their minds and hearts, awe and wonderment changed to worship as the “multitude fell to the earth” (3 Ne. 11:12). Prior to the Savior’s introduction, the thoughts and feelings of the people were disjointed. In spite of the Son being introduced by the Father, the people were confused as to the personage descending out of the heavens. Even though the spiritual communion to their souls suggested the importance of the personage, their thoughts were not clear. The power that comes with a clear message in the mind combined with the spiritual burning in the bosom is illustrated by the change in their demeanor as they lay prostrate, knowing they were in the presence of Deity.

    Searching diligently in the Light of Christ can have that same effect on each of us as we put off the natural man or woman, humble ourselves, yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, become submissive as a child, and receive the fruits of the Spirit. Like King Benjamin’s people, we too may have a mighty change of heart come to us, and we will “have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2). Spiritual rebirth requires us to “search diligently in the light of Christ” (Moro. 7:19), that we may know truth. Sacred truths come when both the heart and the mind are active participants in the process.

    One by One

    Before leaving the Savior’s visit to the Nephites, we may learn another important lesson by examining the next event. The lesson concerns the way in which the Lord works with us and His desire and ability to help each person. In the 14th verse of 3 Nephi 11, Jesus invited the multitude to arise and approach Him one by one, to thrust their hands into His side and feel the print of the nails in His hands and feet. Remember, there were 2,500 people. How long would it take for each person to approach the Savior, feel the print of the nails, touch His side, and perhaps receive a brief embrace? Suppose it took 15 seconds per person. The time required would exceed 10 hours for the multitude to fulfill the invitation.

    Why did Jesus do it one by one? Would it not have been just as effective for Him to show the multitude all at once? The answer is no! Salvation is an individual process. Ordinances are conducted one by one. Every individual’s faith counts.

    Can you imagine the extraordinary feelings you would have felt had you been there that day? Suppose you were invited to approach the Savior, feel the wounds in His hands and feet, touch His side, and hear Him quietly say how much He loves you. That would be a spiritually transforming experience.

    The invitation extended to the righteous Nephites was unusual in that the resurrected Christ was physically present. And yet each person today also has an invitation to “come unto Christ” (Moro. 10:32), to become His sons and daughters through a spiritual rebirth. In a different way, we may feel the print of the nails in His hands and feet and thrust our hand into His side by experiencing the cleansing and refining power of the Atonement. The Savior knows each of us intimately through His experience in the garden and on the cross. Alma states that He took upon Himself our pains, afflictions, temptations, sicknesses, and infirmities, that He might know how to succor us (see Alma 7:11–12). Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has pointed out that the word succor in old French means literally “to run to.” He suggested that “even as [Christ] calls us to come to him … , he is unfailingly running to help us.”2

    When you believe in Christ strongly enough to believe that He knows and cares about you and will respond to your prayers and needs, you will lay hold on the good.

    “Lay Hold upon Every Good Thing”

    The second step along Mormon’s path of discipleship is to “lay hold upon every good thing,” to incorporate sacred truths into our lives. This involves faith, repentance, participation in sacred covenants, companionship of the Holy Spirit, and enduring to the end. It does not mean laying hold on every good thing all at once. The principle is “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little” (2 Ne. 28:30). Also, the command to serve God “with all your heart, might, mind and strength” (D&C 4:2) should leave one exhausted at the end of life, not midway through the journey. The Lord expects us to pace ourselves, to “run and not be weary, and … walk and not faint” (D&C 89:20).

    The prophet Nephi explains what it means to serve God with all one’s heart. He states that the objective is to serve “with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception … , but with real intent, repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ, by baptism … , then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost” (2 Ne. 31:13).

    To serve with all one’s heart is to serve with full purpose of heart. The concern is with direction, not speed. The process allows for repentance. What counts is one’s desire and determination, not an extraordinary burst of energy. Although the Lord expects us to do our best, He is looking for steady candle power on a hill and not bright flashes in the sky that briefly illuminate but then fade.

    The woman who touched Christ’s garment and was healed is a wonderful example of faith, determination, and resoluteness. Her motives were pure. There was no hypocrisy or deception, as she hoped her actions would go unnoticed. She did not want to inconvenience the Master or disturb those listening to Him. The woman had spent all her income on physicians, expecting to be cured of a blood disease, but to no avail. With great faith, this sister disciple sought out Jesus and in the midst of a crowd “came behind him, and touched the border of his garment” and was healed. Jesus experienced the withdrawal of spiritual power. He inquired of His disciples, “Who touched me?” The disciples pointed to the multitude thronging about Him and suggested that it could be any number of persons. Jesus persisted, sensing the special person in His midst and the nature of the event. The woman then came forward. “Trembling, and falling down before him, she declared unto him before all the people for what cause she had touched him, and how she was healed immediately.

    “And he said unto her, Daughter, be of good comfort: thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace” (see Luke 8:43–48).

    The story teaches at least two lessons. One concerns Christ’s spiritual sensitivity to the individual. The other lesson concerns the depth of the woman’s faith. Because of her faith, she was healed both physically and spiritually. The phrase “thy faith hath made thee whole” often refers to a spiritual healing. It is the same phrase Christ used to bless the one leper who returned to express thanks. All 10 lepers were cleansed of leprosy, but only one was made whole—only one was cleansed from within (see Luke 17:11–19). It is also the phrase the Lord used in answering Enos’ question regarding forgiveness of sin. When the voice said, “Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed,” Enos inquired as to how it was possible. The answer was, “Thy faith hath made thee whole” (see Enos 1:5–8). Enos’ spiritual cleansing came through faith. His faith had the power to produce humility, repentance, and a baptism of water and fire. The woman’s faith brought the same power enjoyed by Enos and the leper. Her faith produced a spiritual rebirth in addition to solving her physical problem. Her faith and determination allowed her to lay hold on two good gifts.

    As mentioned earlier, the race is not necessarily to the swift but to those who endure—those who continue in the quest to lay hold on good things, those who are facing in the right direction, those still striving to eliminate a few discordant notes in their lives. In the 10th chapter of Moroni, the prophet states that Christ’s grace is sufficient, that we will “be perfected in him” if we deny ourselves of ungodliness (Moro. 10:32). The sufficiency of the Atonement is symbolized by the 12 baskets of broken bread that remained following Christ’s feeding of the 5,000 with five loaves and two fish. Jesus spoke of the infinite nature of the Atonement as He addressed the multitude on the hillside following the meal. He stated, “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). The capacity of the Atonement is more than sufficient to wash our garments white, though they be as scarlet; to lift and change us from mortality to immortality, from corruptible to incorruptible beings (see Isa. 1:18; 1 Cor. 15:42–44). For most of us, this spiritual rebirth process stretches across a lifetime and into the next, as we are refined one step and one principle at a time.

    The Blessing of Enduring

    Almost 30 years ago I met a wonderful sister who, in the intervening years, demonstrated the power of enduring to the end. Her name is Virginia Cutler. She is now deceased, having passed away some years ago. Virginia and I met in West Africa during the summer of 1969. At the time, she was serving as a Fulbright Fellow at the University of Ghana, developing a home economics department for the university. I was a member of a World Bank team advising the government on economic matters. The two of us plus one other were the only members of the Church in the country at the time. We met on occasion to discuss the gospel, our common interests, and our work. Anyone acquainted with Virginia will remember her infectious personality, her wonderful laugh, her quick mind, her acceptance of all people as brothers and sisters, and her generosity.

    During the summer we became good friends, and I learned the story of her life. She was born in humble circumstances in Park City, Utah. Her family later moved to Murray, Utah, where she completed high school. She entered the University of Utah on a four-year scholarship, graduating in 1926. She taught for a short time and then married Ralph Cutler. They settled in Salt Lake County, where he farmed. Within two years of the marriage, her husband came in from the farm one day deathly ill. Within a few hours he was gone. At the time, she had one little boy and another soon to be born. It was 1931, during the depths of the Great Depression. She returned to teaching in order to provide for herself and her young family. Within a short time, however, she had a strong desire to improve her circumstances. Not sure of the path to take, she visited with her bishop. He encouraged her in her desire to seek more education. She visited her former professors at the University of Utah. They encouraged her to apply for a scholarship at Stanford, where she was accepted and where, through a number of miracles and the help of many people, she completed her master’s degree. Then she went on to Cornell, where she received her PhD. It took 15 years from the time she entered Stanford until she finished at Cornell, but it was deliberate. She managed the programs so that the two boys were an integral part of her life.

    In 1946 she returned home to head the home economics department at the University of Utah. Within a few years the boys had matured, and she accepted an appointment with the U.S. State Department as an education adviser in southeast Asia, with assignments in Thailand and Indonesia. Seven years passed, and then she returned to Utah to become dean of the College of Family Living at Brigham Young University. Near the end of her career she was a Fulbright Scholar, establishing a program to train young women to become better mothers, teachers, and homemakers in West Africa.

    Toward the end of the summer, as both of us were preparing to return to the United States, she shared one regret that had occupied her thoughts for some time. For most of the years following her husband’s death, she had lived in places where Latter-day Saint populations were sparse and temples did not exist. Consequently, temple worship had not been a significant factor in her life. She believed there was one more good thing she should lay hold upon. She then told me of her plan. A new temple had been announced for Provo, Utah. She would return to her small Provo apartment, and when the temple opened she would begin serving. Her goal was to perform as many endowment ordinances as there had been weeks since receiving her first recommend as a young woman. It had been almost 50 years, and the goal was 2,500.

    After we returned to the United States, our paths did not cross for another 11 years. In 1980 I was called as president of the Provo Utah Sharon East Stake. One of the first members to seek renewal of a temple recommend was my friend Virginia, a member of the stake. Following the interview, as we were reminiscing about our African odyssey, she said, “President Bateman, do you remember our conversation in which I shared my temple goals with you?”

    I remembered! How could I forget?

    She then said, “I have almost completed my goal. May I share with you a special experience I had in the temple recently? During one of the sessions I was thinking about the sisters for whom I had performed vicarious ordinances. I began wondering if they were aware of the work I had done. Was someone on the other side helping them? I wondered if my husband was aware of my efforts and if he was preparing the sisters to receive their blessings.” She continued, “As those thoughts passed through my mind, I suddenly knew he was there. I knew that he knew of my work and that he was assisting sisters on the other side of the veil. I was so glad to be in the temple that day. I can hardly wait to greet him and the sisters he will introduce to me.”

    Sister Virginia Cutler was faithful to the end. By laying hold upon one more good thing, she became a partner with her husband in the work beyond the veil. One more good thing brought much happiness to her in her later life. Today she undoubtedly counts 2,500 women among her friends. From my association with her, I confirm that she has the capacity for many more friends.

    I am grateful for a Savior and Redeemer. I appreciate His teachings and the great plan of happiness. I am grateful to know that we are spirit sons and daughters of an Almighty Father and that we can become spiritually begotten sons and daughters of the resurrected Lord through diligently searching in His light and applying His truths in our lives. May each of us continue the quest for eternal life by laying “hold upon every good thing” (Moro. 7:19).

    Christ in the Land Bountiful, by Simon Dewey

    Far left: Oliver Cowdery, © Robert T. Barrett, may not be copied; left: Nephi Writes on the Gold Plates, © Paul Mann, may not be copied.

    Christ Appearing in the Western Hemisphere, © 1951 by Arnold Friberg

    Left: Oh My Father; right: Touch of Faith; both © Simon Dewey, Altus Fine Arts, may not be copied

    Christ Feeding the 5000, © Robert T. Barrett, may not be copied

    Illustrated by Paul Mann