the Attributes of Christ

Excerpt from Choosing to Know Christ

The scriptures define eternal life as knowing God the Eternal Father and Jesus Christ whom He hast sent.[1] So the choice of question two is the choice to try to know Christ—or not. According to Peter,[2] Joseph Smith,[3] Lehi,[4] Alma,[5] Moses,[6] and, in fact, many modern prophets, it is our desire to have the attributes of godliness that will determine that knowledge of Christ. Or, in other words, how we have made the choice that is the purpose of this life.[7]

Joseph Smith said that it is necessary to have a correct idea of the character of God before eternal life becomes possible.[8] If we don’t understand godly attributes, it’s easy to make mistakes about what is right in their eyes and what is not. Obedience is, of course, the primary evidence of our desire to live again with God, who cannot look at sin with the least degree of allowance.[9] We are not being honest with ourselves if we think we want to live again with God but don’t want to live in His way. So what all of this means is that seeking eternal life is to reach toward knowledge of Christ, which is also seeking knowledge of God the Father. (They are one in character after all.)[10] The knowledge necessary to make the choice requires a desire to know the law for the purpose of knowing Christ. The law is a means, not an end.[11]

Therefore, if we are to choose to seek eternal life, we must follow the advice of the Prophet Joseph Smith[12] and correctly understand godly character for the purpose of working toward ultimately having that same character ourselves.[13] Because that’s what eternal life is. It is to be given a perfection of love, charity, and pure white fruit forever. And that is what we came here to decide: Do we want it or not?

The character of Christ is not easy to develop. Maybe we’ll want to choose otherwise. Christ’s character, after all, led Him to be crucified for sins that others committed. And He did it because it was the will of His Father[14] and His own divine loving desire as well.[15] WOW! No wonder the path is narrow, and no wonder few there be that find it.[16] We came here to an opposition-filled, fallen world to have the opportunity to prove that we want to be like Him. Unlike Christ, we can’t atone for the sins of others, but we can show our trust that Christ will do it and work at loving our enemies.[17] Unlike Christ, we cannot be perfect in mortality, but we can, through submission to Him, make ourselves perfectible by Him.[18] That’s the possibility for us. He only awaits our firm decision to choose Him.

A variety of decisions happen on our way through a fallen world. Many of them can stand as barriers to knowing and emulating the character of Christ and our Father in Heaven. Our inadequate knowledge doesn’t always see our choices for what they are. Remember it is rarely one big choice but a series of little ones that show our preference. Our small decisions to act can still constitute a negative choice whether we think so or not.[19]

Change of path can happen to anyone along the way. Even people whose early choices are for a celestial goal do sometimes change. Those seekers can end up not enduring. Enduring in love, it turns out, is a sizable challenge. In the face of opposition, it can be so much more pleasing to seek one’s own. It’s not unusual to choose to turn away from following the simple, but sacrificing, method of gaining godly knowledge. At every stage of life, enticements come. Fortunately, just as we can change to leave the path, we can change to get onto it.[20] The gracious Atonement of Christ is the enabling ordinance.

Many dip their toe into the lake of knowledge (myself among them). They may even wade a bit. No mortal can swim in it eternally without the perfection offered by Christ through His Atonement. What we are free to choose is whether or not to become perfectible by going deeper and deeper into the living water of love.[21] More often than not, I fear, if we stay in the shallow water, some choice comes along that makes us at least consider turning back to seek the dry land of worldly self-fulfillment. We stay in the shallow water when we live the gospel as a checklist instead of the love list. We stay in the shallow water whenever we focus on a sense of entitlement instead of on sharing the Lord’s mission of sacrifice. At some point in the shallow water, we shiver with cold, because only by going into the deeper water of love is there warmth. Standing there shivering, the self-focused comfort of dry land is indeed tempting, even if we know it is not eternal. That may be what we want to choose. We came here to make that decision.

Going to church, having the fellowship of the Saints, and daily scripture reading will help in the decision process, but those righteous activities are not the big decision itself. The choice is made by the aggregate of our behavior that shows reaching to fulfill our roles to love in the Lord’s way and on the Lord’s mission.[22] It’s a matter of what comes first to us, a matter of trusting the Lord, who gives us our roles in the plan of salvation. Trusting with fulness of heart or not. Only love and desire will lead us to obedient discipleship.[23]

We don’t have Christ’s role. There is only one “Only Begotten.” But we do have a role, a sacrificing role. If we want it, it will be revealed to us. Almost always the revelation will come through scriptures and/or modern prophets.[24] Always it will require our working at the godly attributes that are the character of Christ, and always it will include our being willing to do it because it is the will of our Father and our own loving desire. It was true for Christ and it must be true for us. Perhaps one of the important things we must remember here on earth is this: Our role is not to play God but to obey God. That obedience defines love. Only in that love can we hope to know God. And true depth of obedience comes from understanding the godly attributes. Our faith is as fragile as our understanding.

We may not think of our wanting things our way as playing God, but if we think we know better what is best for us than He does, well, it’s a kind of replacing His knowledge with our own, ergo, so many passages of scripture warning us about trusting in the arm of flesh.[25]

One of our problems of trust shows itself in wanting our own definitions of godly language. We are willing to accept that love is the core, all right, but we have a very different definition for love. We want God’s love for us to be a denial of our sins instead of a deep sorrow about them. We want Him to “love me for what I am” instead of loving us enough to help us be something more. We want to declare what God’s love is instead of seeing the reality of it. We want to love a permissive God instead of a lifting one. We need to share the conviction of Enos and the brother of Jared, that He is “a God of truth and canst not lie,”[26] so we accept His definition of love instead of clinging to our own. Wanting it, choosing it, and sacrificing for it will not only enable us to know Christ ourselves but will make it easier for others to gain that desire and make that choice. It is therefore, our part of the plan of salvation to exercise these attributes in the roles the Lord provides for us. It is the yoke that He sweetly made possible for us to share with Him.[27] We can actually participate in both the giving and receiving of the plan. Isn’t that amazing? And perhaps the most amazing part of all is the seeming paradox of peace that will come into our lives when we cease seeking our own.[28]

Our desire for a permissive God instead of one whose wisdom knows better what our joy can be has led us to a place where, as Isaiah described it, we call evil good and good evil.[29] I’m reminded of a joke that made the rounds when it was still considered ridiculous. A “hippie” saw a man lying in the street, the victim of a hit and run driver. He approached the man with his version of love: “I love you, man,” he said. The man struggled out the words, “Call me an ambulance.” The hippie responded, “Sure, man. You’re an ambulance!” That joke would probably be politically incorrect today, but in terms of thinking that we can declare what love really is, it’s still funny. God’s love is not permissive, but with repentance, it is forgiving. God’s love is not ours to define, but it is ours to reach toward.

In a Gospel Doctrine class a few years ago, we were studying Lehi’s vision of the tree of life. Our wise instructor said this: “The iron rod is the word of God. The word of God is love.” Later, in my individual study, I came to a deeper understanding of that truth. For me, now, the vision uses three different symbols of love: the iron rod, the fruit of the tree of life, and the river of water. The iron rod is the love that manifests as His word to us. This includes the commandments and covenants. The Tree of (eternal) Life yields pure, delicious, perfect love, which we can be eternally given.

The third symbol, I believe, is of the dangerous polluted love of the worldly definition. Frequently in the scriptures, I see water as a symbol of love. Love, like water, after all, is life sustaining and cleansing. I believe that the filthy river of water[30] is the perverted pollution of love that is the worldly definition of it. Filthy water is no longer cleansing and ironically can be the poison that takes life. Hanging on to the loving word of God, that is to say obeying the commandments and keeping our covenants, will stop us from falling into the worldly self-indulgent version of love. Hanging on requires focused, consecrated hearts. When Nephi was treated to an interpretation of his father’s vision, it revealed to him something about his father: “So much was his mind swallowed up in other things that he beheld not the filthiness of the water.”[31] Like Lehi, we can be oblivious to the worldliness going on around us. The goal of tasting the pure, white fruit will absolutely possess and direct us.

Those of us who are given the most ideal opportunities to practice God’s definition of love and therefore to know Christ (that is to say, the ideal of having the opportunities to teach a family how to love) must give those teaching and loving roles grateful focus by the effort to live the attributes of godliness. It must be something we seize with all of our desire. Those roles, those ideal opportunities are outlined for us in the family proclamation.[32][33] We need to deeply desire those opportunities to reach toward a perfectible portion of the pure love of Christ in our lives. And when we are not given here the ideal, we must still govern our lives with the list. It’s harder without the ideal, but it can yield the same knowledge, that is to say, the knowledge of Christ—the fount of all knowledge—and the atoning conduit to the perfect love of our Father in Heaven.

It is no accident that long-suffering and patience are part of the list. They will be required—as will leaving off seeking our own and vaunting ourselves. They are part of the submission about which King Benjamin speaks,[34] the sacrifice that choosing to know Christ will call on us to make. As the favorite hymn[35] reminds us: they are the sacrifices that will bring forth the blessings of Heaven. They are what we must choose . . . or not choose as our resolution of the answer to that all-important middle question: “Why am I here?

For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.[36]

And last, but not less important to the exercise of faith in God, is the idea that He is love. All the other excellencies in His character, without this one to influence them, couldn’t have such powerful dominion over the minds of men. But when the idea is planted in the mind that He is love, who cannot see the just ground that men of every nation, kindred, and tongue have to exercise faith in God so as to obtain eternal life?

Choosing to Know Christ

[1] . John 17:3.

[2] . Ibid.; 2 Peter 1:8.

[3] . Lectures on Faith (1985), 3.

[4] . 2 Nephi 2:16.

[5] . Alma 38:2–3.

[6] . Moses 1:20.

[7] .  2 Chronicles 15:15. (“And all Judah rejoiced at the oath: for they had sworn with all their heart, and sought him with their whole desire; and he was found of them: and the LORD gave them rest round about.”)

[8] .  Ibid., Lectures on Faith.

[9] .  Alma 45:16.

[10] .  John 10:30.

[11] . 2 Chronicles 25:2.

[12] . Ibid.

[13] . 3 Nephi 27:27.

[14] .  John 6:38.

[15] .  D&C 34:3.

[16] .  Matthew 7:14.

[17] .  3 Nephi 12.

[18] .  Moroni 10:32; D&C 88:29–31.

[19] . Alma 37:6.

[20] . Alma 5:7.

[21] . John 7:38.

[22] .  John 21:16–17.

[23] . John 14:15.

[24] . Russell M. Nelson, “Opening Remarks,” Ensign, Nov. 2018.

[25] . 2 Nephi 4:34.

[26] .  Ether 3:12; Enos 1:6.

[27] .  Matthew 11:29.

[28] . 1 Corinthians 13:5.

[29] . Isaiah 5:20–21.

[30] .  1 Nephi 15:25–28.

[31] .  1 Nephi 15:27.

[32] . “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1995), Ensign or Liahona, Nov.

[33] , 129.

[34] .  Mosiah 3:19.

[35] .  “Praise to the Man,” Hymns, no. 27, verse 4.

[36] .  Romans 10:3.