Making Daring Promises With Christ

An excerpt from "Perfected in Christ" by Thomas Holton

Truth has been restored to the earth. The most important truths in time and eternity are not hidden from view. They are given to us in plain and precious power. They are revealed in such a way that a little child can sense their validity. These truths are spoken to our souls. They are impressed upon our spirits. They are made manifest to us in ways that are comforting, consoling, and impressive.

Through my time on earth, I have come to sense with clarity how remarkable, distinctive, and special the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is. In this day and age where there is much said and written about Joseph Smith and other presidents of the Church, as well as about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is important to sift truth from error (see Joseph Smith—History 1). Joseph gives us a reliable pattern of how we may come to know divine truth—we must listen to those who have already found the truth and then seek from the divine fountainhead directly for ourselves.

It is vital for each one of us to know the source of truth—God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. We come to know through hearing the testimony of those who already know. We come to know through diligent study, fervent prayer, and sincere asking. We come to know by learning the doctrine, trying to keep the commandments, attending to our commitments and covenants, and pressing forward in a desire to believe. It is important to remember that this is a new gospel dispensation, a new commission. The heavens have been opened, priesthood has been conferred, keys have been bestowed, doctrine has been revealed, and ordinances have been made known. There have been prophets called, covenants made possible, spiritual gifts given, and directions received (see Doctrine and Covenants 1; 20).

As this is the most important quest of our lives, it is needful that we are aware of the potential pitfalls. We are wise to be wary of traps, obstacles, counterfeits, and deceptions. There are countless enticements along the way—everything from temptations to false doctrine to attacks on faith to distractions. This restored truth is the object of denigration, insult, misunderstanding, misrepresentation, and mockery. This should not surprise us. It has been that way since the beginning. Truth has always been under assault from the camps of both unbelieving hedonism and religious tradition. As we remember that restored truth always flies in the face of that which is pleasure seeking, popular, and transitory, we will have the fortitude to persist on the covenant path toward the destiny promised by modern-day prophets and the God who called them (see Doctrine and Covenants 76:1–10).

In this context, I note that the Lord has not called us to a life of comfort. Rather, He has invited us into the fellowship of His faith, the path of His designing, and the work of His heart. He beckons us to follow Him on the high road to triumph. Let us now examine three offerings we promise to make to God that will require much of us. These are the call to service, the invitation to evidence courage, and the need to show forth love.

The Promise to Serve

The opportunity to serve others is an honor. To give of ourselves in blessing someone else is a triumphant victory over the selfishness of our mortal flesh. To rise above self-interest and labor on behalf of another is a divine undertaking when approached in a spirit of helpfulness. It is rarely, if ever, easy or convenient to serve others. Service stretches the soul of the servant.

King Benjamin gave a great sermon on service that we can glean much rich insight from. Consider some of lessons he teaches us about godly leadership and service.
  • Godly words are both spoken and written that we might unite in righteous causes (see Mosiah 2:9).
  • Those called of God to lead conduct their ministry with the desire to share God’s words. They do this so that the hearers may listen carefully with the intent to receive the word, act in accordance with true teaching, be touched in their hearts, and have greater understanding of God’s secrets (see Mosiah 2:9).
  • Godly leaders are not interested in having people fear them, praise them, or put them on spiritual pedestals (see Mosiah 2:10).
  • Godly leaders are aware of their human limitations. They are also aware of their divine call and the great power of God in sustaining and preserving them. They know that they are in the hands of the Lord. They sense that they are called to devote themselves to the work with no reservation. They serve with a godly loyalty (see Mosiah 2:11).
  • Leaders called of God are empowered and safeguarded by God. Their ministry is one of devoted service, not of using their people to get gain (see Mosiah 2:12).
  • Spiritual leaders treat their people in accordance with the commandments of God. They promote righteousness in human relationships. They teach obedience to God so that men and women can know the blessings of how God interacts with us (see Mosiah 2:13).
  • Righteous leaders work hard to serve their people and to treat them with dignity, honor, and respect. They regard them justly and fairly. The people thus served can see that their leaders are living in transparently good ways. The same laws and standards apply to leaders and the people (see Mosiah 2:14).
  • Holy leaders are not boastful or self-seeking. They are not interested in castigating their people or in promoting their own elevation. They seek to live in such a way that God is pleased with them (see Mosiah 2:15).
  • Good leaders serve God, always keeping in mind that He is their benefactor and guide. They use their lives for service (see Mosiah 2:16).
  • God’s leaders want people to know that true wisdom is to be found only in serving God by serving others. They serve a noble cause, a greater good than just serving their own interests (see Mosiah 2:17).
  • Holy kings work to serve their subjects. Hence, it is right for citizens of God’s kingdom to serve other citizens (see Mosiah 2:18).
  • If it is right to thank mortal men for their faithful service, then it is so much more important to thank God for His everlasting righteous leadership (see Mosiah 2:19).
  • Even if we give every possible expression of thanks, praise, and worship that is optimally possible for us to give to God— such as showing gratitude to God for creating us, giving us life, giving us agency, protecting us, blessing us with joy, and granting us societal peace—we would still find that we are eternally indebted to Him. God has given us more than we could ever give to Him (see Mosiah 2:20–21). Giving service to Him with everything we have and are makes sense to those whose whole souls swell with understanding of the great kindness, generosity, and mercy of God.

I periodically reflect on this great discourse. I am always reminded that God is good. I have not always sensed His great love and His profound blessings. To think on God more deliberately, deeply, and regularly is to be moved and reminded that He is better than we give Him credit for. I have not served God with my whole soul throughout my life, though there are certainly times when I have done so. It is a source of awe to me that God serves me with due diligence. He is anxiously engaged in serving me. He is showing me that He is invested in my life. This awareness inspires me to be better at appreciating Him and others around me. I think pondering on what God and His servants do for us can motivate us to serve in more holy ways. Indeed, we are reminded, “For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?” (Mosiah 5:13). If we think on God daily and feel His love as manifest through His constant efforts, then we are changed by that reflective consideration. We come to see God as involved in our lives. We become much more thoughtful, appreciative, and humble. We become more willing to serve.

God wants us to serve Him. He has invited us to:

  • “Serve him with all diligence of mind” (Mosiah 7:33).
  • Serve, love, and hold to God” (3 Nephi 13:24).
  • “Serve the true and living God” (Mormon 9:28).
  • “Worship God, for him only shalt thou serve” (Moses 1:15).
  • “Choose ye this day, to serve the Lord God who made you” (Moses 6:33).
  • Have a determination to serve God to the end (see Doctrine and Covenants 20:37).
  • Devote all our service in Zion (see Doctrine and Covenants 24:7).
  • Love God, serve Him, and keep all His commandments (see Doctrine and Covenants 42:29).
  • “Love the Lord thy God . . . and in the name of Jesus Christ thou shalt serve him” (Doctrine and Covenants 59:5).

It is difficult to see how God could be any clearer with us. The command to serve Him is one that abounds with great love and rich promise. It is an invitation to a life of high adventure. Such a life is its own reward. Indeed, the Lord tells us, “I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:5). While a life of service may not seem very appealing, it is a life of great fulfillment. It is an education into the ways of the Almighty. It gives us an insider view to how God spends His time and on what causes He directs His energies. Embodied in the service we offer to God is the service we render to His children. To serve a soul is to bless a soul.

God is gathering souls to Him in these last days. Indeed, God is the great gatherer. This is the long-promised day when hunters and fishers would be commissioned anew to gather those who are scattered. The family of God is not to remain eternally fractured. Rather, the sheep that are lost are to be found. Our Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, have opened the heavens in our day through Joseph Smith so that the knowledge and authority to gather scattered Israel can be received. This gathering represents the effort of all efforts. It is the outpouring of God’s redemptive power throughout all the world—His vineyard. God’s love is drawing all who will hear to come to the covenants of salvation and exaltation. This holy unity is our great work.

I was thrilled in the April 2022 general conference to hear the President of the Church, two Apostles, and a Seventy repeat the divine charge for young men to serve a mission for the Lord, for sisters who desire to do so, and for couples to prepare where possible. My mission changed my life. My mission president taught me about priesthood power, pure revealed doctrine, and how to obtain confidence in the presence of God. My companions taught me brotherly love in a way I had never known before and can never forget. The sisters I served with had great enthusiasm in the work of the Lord. The couples I knew brought wisdom and maturity to the work.

I was grateful as a missionary to be taught by Elder M. Russell Ballard and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland in person on several occasions. I was tremendously grateful for so many members I worked with in Birmingham, England, and their profound impact for good on me. I was blessed to teach some fine people and see them progress to the waters of baptism and to the temple. I came to love Joseph Smith and Jesus Christ with profound depth as a young missionary. How thankful I am for the opportunity I had thirty-two years ago for my call to serve. I was far from perfect, but the Lord was merciful and kind to me in my immaturity and inexperience. He has brought me along and allowed me to learn of Him. I join my voice in saying that serving a mission is a marvelous blessing. It was extremely difficult and simultaneously wonderfully rewarding. I hope all young men will heed the prophetic call. They will not regret it!

Our offering of the restored gospel to our children and others is the greatest act of service we could ever perform. We are inviting souls to come to the covenants of salvation and exaltation. We are seeking to rescue others from sin and death. I think of the message of rescuing through the gospel covenant, and that makes a substantial difference in how I see sharing of the word—it makes a difference to my understanding, power, and spirit. We are, of course, seeking to rescue refugees from cold, war, famine, and so on. However, we also want to rescue them from the greater enemies of sin and death. We are seeking to save souls in every sense possible. We should never lose sight of that supreme goal, although obviously we can serve others without them ever accepting the invitation to be exalted. The gospel involves more than temporal or social benevolence—it includes revelation of the laws, commandments, ordinances, covenants, attributes, and powers necessary for each one of us to rise to eternal perfection. The deep truths are hidden from all those not yet ready to see them. The whole gospel is essential. I am grateful that God gives us eyes to see and ears to hear when we are ready and willing!

For example:

  • To clothe the naked is to give them physical clothing, but it can also mean to give temple clothing to the spiritually unclothed.
  • To feed the hungry can refer to both physical food and spiritual nourishment. Truly, sacrament bread is the food for the spiritually malnourished.
  • To give drink to the thirsty can mean both water and the truths of salvation. Indeed, the sacrament water is a quenching of the thirst of the spiritually thirsty.
  • To heal the sick can relate both to temporal support and spiritual blessings such as priesthood administrations.
  • To give shelter to the homeless is both to house them in temporal abodes and to give them a place in God’s kingdom.

Let us not only give of our temporal substance but also offer spiritual renewal and refreshment through the spiritual feast available only in the household of faith. Of course, we can administer resources to the tired, lonely, blind, deaf, and cast out. We can also give our unique spiritual resources to bring souls to the table of Jehovah, to the wedding feast of the Lamb, to the mountain of the Lord, and to the everlasting kingdom of our God.

The Promise of Bravery

I have come to believe that to become perfect in Christ, we must be made perfect in each Christlike attribute. One of these characteristics is bravery—the willingness to show courage when it is evidently difficult to do so. I honor, respect, and admire true prophets of God. They possess and evidence “courage under fire,” especially when it is difficult to do so. We are blessed to have prophets who speak the truth in love to us, particularly when it means they are confronting us to change our ways! For example, the prophet Jeremiah was ready to do difficult things for God. His love and spiritual conviction were such that he continually preached repentance to ancient Israel—even though he was rejected for doing so. He declared that God would gather scattered Israel in the latter days, that the promises of God will stand, that the loving kindness of God’s covenant will stand the test of time, that the Messiah will reign in the latter days, and that the covenant people of the Lord will flourish in the abundance, comfort, knowledge, and joy of the Lord. This was and is a message of mercy, hope, thanksgiving, and redemption for all the world. As we repent and come to God, we can know His bounteous blessings.

One of the ways we show bravery in defending the cause of the Lord is by showing loyalty to those He sends in His name. We need to be very discerning in these last days. For example, efforts abound to diminish the name, role, character, and testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith. We ought not to fall prey to this devious trap of our enemy. When Moroni said to Joseph that his name would be had for both good and evil among all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, it is evident that this prophecy would even apply to those inside the Church. I have found that those who are loyal to Joseph’s special call are sustained by the Lord in very significant ways. Joseph was—and is—a prophet’s Prophet. We can come to comprehend the greatness of the Restoration that came through him. It is an astonishing work. The spirit of prophecy and revelation attends those who come to know for themselves that Joseph is the choice seer—the Messiah ben Joseph prophesied of. I hope we will share this message in clear and undiluted ways. Our salvation depends upon us receiving the word through Joseph because this is how we demonstrate that we receive Christ in our day. The people in the time of Moses could not accept Jehovah while denouncing Moses. To accept the messenger is to accept the Master who sent Him. I love Joseph, and I love the Lord who commissioned him!

As prophets need to show bravery, tenacity, and spiritual resilience, so do all of us who wish to engage in the errand of the Lord. We need to have courage in accepting, acting upon, and defending the cause of prophets. Whom God has commissioned, let not man reject. I have that feeling about Joseph Smith. The revelations declare that His name would be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people. That has definitely come to pass. To some, Joseph is a fraud or a fallen prophet. To me, he is a true prophet. I believe and know that he was called of God. I accept his teachings as being the mind, will, voice, and word of God and the power of God unto salvation. I am a witness that his First Vision was the beginning of many great and glorious revelations. I have tasted the holy fruit that has come to me and my loved ones through the great latter-day work Joseph was appointed to restore. Our safety lies in having a Spirit-revealed witness that Joseph was on the Lord’s errand. There is tremendous safety, comfort, fortitude, and anchoring in this testimony. I honor our dear brother Joseph.

This is a message worth pondering over, a cause worth carefully considering. It is an idea to reflect upon in our day of division and consternation. God invites us to think about, feel toward, and act on His directives. By this means we are called to stand for something difficult, to raise our voice in sustaining a unique mission. Let us not be afraid of the world or of our distinctive doctrine. Let us not be ashamed of our unique claims to a fullness of truth and a bestowal of divine authority. Our God-assisted efforts to curb our tempers, control our tongues, and maintain our composure under hostile situations will bless us, our families, our friends, our neighbors, our enemies, and all the world.

I have pondered on those Saints of ancient and latter days who showed the courage of true conviction. Their example encourages me to know that I can do hard things for the Lord when needed. When we know we have truth on our side and when we are disposed by a spirit of true love, we can do things that move others in great ways. Our desire for goodness will sometimes be opposed. Our seeking after righteousness must be tested. It is wise to expect that opposition will confront us. As we aim to receive inspiration and make great plans, it is vital to note that it will not always be easy. However, as we trust in God, show determination, and move forward, we will accomplish marvelous things in our lives. God wants us to do good, and He will help us. As we are resisted, we can increase our efforts and gain the victory. It is my view that the greater the opposition against us, the more important it is that we go forward in faith. We need something of great spiritual fire within us. This fire of truth and testimony can help us to face extraordinary difficulties and surmount tremendous obstacles. We need a measure of passion for things divine if we are to persist in righteousness through treacherous dangers all around us. We can rise above! Then our example can light a powerful fire in others.

It is evident that courage is one of the requirements that a disciple needs to enter the celestial heaven. Indeed, those who inherit the terrestrial kingdom “are not valiant in the testimony of Jesus; wherefore, they obtain not the crown over the kingdom of our God” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:79). Although they have the testimony of Jesus, they are not valiant in it. They do not evidence the necessary valor when it comes to standing up for Christ and His cause. A valiant person is willing to put their reputation on the line. They know that standing up for Christ and His great latter-day work is fraught with the potential for trouble, but they do it anyway. Like a firefighter who enters a burning building to save a child, they show they are willing to suffer negative consequences for the Lord. The obtaining of a crown requires uncommon courage and resilience. Those who are not brave in the cause of Christ cannot fully overcome the world. Hence, they cannot be rewarded with the same victorious blessings in God’s kingdom that the fearless of heart can be.

Christ is hated by some and ignored by many. This is the reason Christ had to have valiant courage in the Father’s cause when He walked the earth. He was opposed and rejected—even by some of His own people—and it would have been easy to throw in the towel, to give up, to relinquish the heavy demands. His perfect love was fearless (see 1 John 4:18). This was not the absence of fear but the willingness to overcome fear with bravery. In His cause, we are to have the courage to change, care, and correct others when needed. We are to have the bravery to show our faith in public, to testify to unpopular truths, to try to resemble our Lord.

Hence, we are given the following examples of godly courage:

  • The sons of Mosiah “took courage to go forth unto the Lamanites to declare unto them the word of God” (Alma 17:12).
  • The sons of the Lamanites converted by Ammon were “exceedingly valiant for courage” (Alma 53: 20). Captain Helaman, in speaking of the attributes of these young men, said to Moroni that “never had I seen so great courage, nay, not amongst all the Nephites” (Alma 56:45). Even when outnumbered, they said, “We did take courage with our small force which we had received, and were fixed with a determination to conquer our enemies, and to maintain our lands, and our possessions, and our wives, and our children, and the cause of our liberty” (Alma 58:12).
  • When Captain Moroni was assured of the faithfulness of Pahoran against great odds, we are told that “his heart did take courage” (Alma 62:10).
  • The warring Lamanites knew that the Nephites had “exceedingly great courage” (Alma 62:19).
  • When Nephi and Lehi were under siege from antagonistic enemies, they were encircled by fire. It is reported that “when they saw that they were encircled about with a pillar of fire, and that it burned them not, their hearts did take courage” (Helaman 5:23–24).
  • Moroni, in speaking the correcting words of God, said, “Behold, I speak with boldness, having authority from God; and I fear not what man can do; for perfect love casteth out all fear” (Moroni 8:16).
  • The Prophet Joseph Smith, when facing dire persecution from relentless enemies (including betrayal from once loyal friends), shared this message with the beleaguered saints: “Brethren, shall we not go on in so great a cause? Go forward and not backward. Courage, brethren; and on, on to the victory!” (Doctrine and Covenants 128:22).

All these examples occurred within the context of great tribulation. These Saints showed their resolve by sticking with the message or errand given to them by God. As we cultivate such courage, we can do likewise. We will then inspire others to ignite the courage of God in their own lives.

I know I have sometimes found it hard to be a practicing Latter-day Saint when so many cultural values clash ostensibly and aggressively with the standards of the gospel. I was scared to try to engineer discussions in positive directions or influence people in righteous ways. I was either worried about the consequences or lacked faith in people. But there were times I stood up for my beliefs, and I found that to be very satisfying, even if they did not respond with great positivity.

I remember one act of spiritual courage in my own life that was a significant and defining moment for me. It was a moment that is etched in my memory. This experience was when I worked in a service station as a seventeen-year-old youth. A fellow worker picked up money from the ground that two customers had inadvertently dropped. I saw this happen. The customers came back and asked if anyone had found the money. The worker denied seeing it. He even tried to lay the blame on my brother, who was also working there at the time. I was frustrated and approached them all. I said I knew he had the money and that he better admit to it. It was a brave move (some would even say “foolish”), but I felt the fire of truth within me, and I would not yield. Rarely in my life have I felt the Spirit so strongly as at that moment. He gave back the money. I thought my fellow worker would hate me for what I did, but he did not. I even got to share with him about the Articles of Faith of our Church. I sensed that he respected me for standing up for my principles. I later bore testimony of this event at an Ireland youth conference and felt that same fire of faith indicating that honesty and courage are pleasing to God.

The Promise to Give Encouraging Love

When we have been encouraged by the gospel message, it is anticipated that we will go forth to encourage others. Our message to the world is the most sublime that can exist. It is the truth that encourages men and women to the highest possible extent. It is the vantage point of God, the message of the ages, the word that inspires people in marvelous ways. Let us fulfill our role of counseling others according to God’s perspective. Our glorious doctrine, our listening ear, our warm friendship, our sound advice, our Spirit-led invitations—these things will enable us to uplift, edify and empower the people of the world in the most divine ways possible. We are privileged to share this motivating truth with the world.

Christ can replace enmity with kindness, return friendship for hostility, overcome animosity with tenderness, banish resentment and instead cultivate forgiveness. He can transform our contempt and give us regard for others. He can help us to transcend hatred and foster true and deep love. He wants us to develop these attributes within our souls so that we might help others find the same transformative newness we have found. Christ saves both obedient Saint and repentant sinner. As Christ can change us, so we can be agents tasked with the desire and gifts to help others find change in Christ.

Our charge to show love often occurs in the context of inconvenience. We meet the lonely, scared, despairing, burdened, and hurt. Our efforts can strengthen them greatly. Our words to them do matter, our actions have a healing impact, and our prayers bless their lives. By stretching ourselves, we gain their trust and affection. There are those around us who sometimes are starved for a word of appreciation, for a moment of genuine attention, for a listening ear, for a guiding hand, for an expression of confidence, for a gentle gesture, for a mention of praise, for a loving hug, for a sincere smile. There are those who are downtrodden, fearful, alone, saddened, and dejected. Our voice can be raised in encouragement. Our expressions can be ones of concern. We can show interest in them, appreciate their strivings, notice their accomplishments, and commend their efforts.

Did the tired, hungry, and somewhat despondent Alma appreciate the food, shelter, and listening ear of Amulek (see Alma 8:21–27)? Of course! Did Joseph Smith appreciate the sweet companionship of Hyrum Smith, Willard Richards, and John Taylor in Carthage Jail (see Doctrine and Covenants 135)? Indeed! Showing love, empathy, and encouragement to others provides a balm of hopeful healing in all times and seasons, especially painful ones.

I hope we remember that difficult circumstances are often the seedbed for profound experiences. The tribulations of mortality can be used to spiritual advantage in our personal lives, our families, the Church, and indeed the entire earth. I hope others will see the hand of God in their lives in a way that will edify them and give them renewed hope. In every challenge we face, we can draw closer to God and learn how to effectively inspire others to draw close to the source of their salvation. Surely God is greatly pleased when we represent Him in bountiful ways to His other children. Service, bravery, and love are gifts of deep and eternal import.