Adam Ellsworth is currently loving his service as a Teachers Quorum Advisor in Alpine, Utah. He and his wife, Maricel, are enjoying the challenges that come with raising three boys, ages 14, 10, and 10. Professionally, Adam has been practicing law as a patent attorney since 2006. After receiving his Bachelor’s degree at BYU, Adam graduated law school from Pepperdine University, after which he took a job in Washington D.C. Adam and his family recently moved to Alpine after living in Washington, D.C. for 13 years.
Years ago, I was in a meeting full of youth and their parents. The speaker asked everyone to stand up. Then he invited everyone to sit down who felt like they were prepared to meet their Savior.
No one in the room sat down!
In their book, Perfect In Christ, Mitchell and Cameron Taylor recorded a similar phenomenon in a survey Cameron conducted. When asked,
“If you were to die today, at the resurrection would you go to the celestial kingdom?”
Only 30% of Latter-Day Saints responded that they would. Another 48% said, “I don’t know.”
If our youth see that parents and leaders (“old people”) who spend hours and hours serving, teaching, and testifying of Christ, don’t have confidence that they are worthy of Christ’s grace, today, how can our youth possibly feel confidence that they are worthy of Christ’s grace themselves?
The youth theme for 2022 is a scripture in the book of Proverbs exhorting us to trust in Jesus Christ:
“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”
Empowered by Heavenly Strength
We can trust in the Lord with all our hearts by trusting that by his grace – embodied in His atonement – we are worthy, today, of His presence. If we lead by Christ’s grace, we will be able to help those we serve believe they are accepted as they are. We will help them understand that turning to Christ with our sins is not failure. It is how God intends for us to grow. We can help them understand that by turning to Christ in our striving, Christ’s grace empowers them with heavenly strength.
The doctrine of Christ’s grace is rich, deep, and wide as eternity. However, it can be simplified with a few key principles. Christ’s grace includes the power to save us and the power to strengthen us on our journey. We qualify for Christ’s grace by:
- Agreeing to be subject to God’s laws
- Making a sincere effort to follow those laws
- Calling on Christ when we fall short, and
- Repeating 1-3 – don’t give up!
As we lead by grace, it’s vital that we understand we are worthy of God’s presence, or “justified” as it is often referred to in the scriptures, if we are willing to be subject to God’s laws, we are making sincere efforts to follow those laws, and we are willing to accept Christ’s grace when we fall short. God does not expect our perfection today. As we repeat items one through three above throughout our mortal and post-mortal lives, the Spirit of God works within us to change our desires, to align our will with His will, to cleanse us of sinful desires. This process is referred to in the scriptures as “sanctification.”
These doctrines were so important to the early members of our Church, they recorded them in the first scripture to be unanimously accepted by the Church. They declared:
“We know that justification through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true…” (D&C 20:30)
“And we know also, that sanctification through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true, to all those who love and serve God with all their mights, minds, and strength.” (D&C 20:31)
Christ’s atoning sacrifice is an expression – the ultimate expression – of Christ’s grace. His atoning sacrifice justifies us – makes us worthy of eternal life. Christ’s atoning sacrifice sanctifies us as we strive to follow Him – it purifies our desires so that we want to live by celestial laws.
The Role of Grace In Life’s Race
I’d like to illustrate the power of Christ’s grace with an analogy.
Our reliance on God’s grace in our mortal journey can be compared to a cross-country race. In this race, the destination is God’s presence and God’s eternal glory. God is not concerned with our race time – all finishers qualify for His presence. However, the only way to finish the race is to run a perfect race – keep all the rules, practice right, eat right, maintain perfect form.
Knowing that running the perfect race is not possible for His mortal children, God provided a way for all of us to finish the race and grow into strong runners. God allows us to join a team. And by the rules of the race, only one member of the team must finish the race to allow everyone on the team to qualify for the finish. Jesus Christ finished the perfect race. If we are willing to take upon ourselves His name and join His team, we can trust Him – that by his merits and his grace, not our own – we, too, qualify for the finish. But we do not just qualify some day in the future after we die. We qualify each day and each moment we are willing to run under Christ’s banner.
And so, each day, we run the race. We run as far and as fast as we can. And each day, we fall short of the finish. But that’s okay. We have not failed. This was part of God’s plan. Since we are on Christ’s team, we call out to Him for mercy and strength. We are filled with hope and trust that by his merits, we qualify – each day – for the finish.
And in the process of running, we have gotten a little stronger. We have built up a little more endurance to run a little farther. Because God does not just want us to finish the race. He wants us to be fit and strong runners who have learned to love the rules of the race. He wants us to become like Him.
Christ finished the race with perfect form. In the process, he not only qualified every person who will join his team for the finish, but he showed us – and continues to show us through living prophets – the rules of the race we need to follow, and the form we need to emulate, to finish the race. As we run the race each day, we fall short of perfection. Our form is off. We haven’t practiced like we should. We lose mental focus. We stray from the narrow path. But if we just stay in the race, stay on Christ’s team, and continually call out to Christ when we fall short, we are worthy of celestial life each day, and over time we become the runners who love the run.
Salvation, through Christ’s grace, is not just a future event. Christ’s grace is powerful to save today, tomorrow, and every tomorrow in the future. Christ’s grace qualifies us, today, to live with our Heavenly Parents.
Christ’s grace does not just qualify us for eternal life, but it also purifies us and strengthens us along the way. Not only does the atonement cleanse us of sin, qualifying us for salvation, but the Holy Spirit changes our hearts so we will be a person who wants to stay with our Heavenly Parents. Not only do we qualify for celestial life, but we will also desire to live a celestial law.
Everyone’s Race is Different
As we run our individual races, each of us is traversing different terrain and focusing on different rules to improve as runners. A person who suffered from severe depression once shared with me that they struggled to feel the Spirit of God. Some days, all they felt like they could do was lay in bed and say a prayer. This person’s offering is accepted the same as that of an Apostle – consecrating a lifetime to diligent service. The person struggling to get by day-to-day is as worthy of God’s presence as the person energetically seeking to follow the Spirit as they fill their day with spiritual nourishment and loving service.
Understanding Christ’s grace means understanding that the offering of one step up a steep, boulder-strewn hillside in the sweltering sun is as acceptable an offering as the strong pace of a confident runner on level grass on a cool day.
In addition, as we run our individual races, each of us is focusing on different ways to improve as runners. I may need to improve my pre-race diet. You may need to adjust your form. Another may need to increase their interval training to strengthen their capacity to run.
Understanding Christ’s grace means allowing others the opportunity to be imperfect in different ways than us. It means being merciful to others with their faults, knowing we, too, rely on Christ’s mercy for our own faults.
What are “God’s Laws”?
Running in the race means accepting God’s laws. God’s laws are amazing. But for many, God’s laws are intimidating. In addition to a multitude of scriptural admonitions, we receive invitations from church leaders, we receive instructions for serving in callings, we accept commandments by covenants in holy temples, and we receive very personal direction from the Spirit. When we try to think of all the things that we feel like the Lord wants us to do, it can definitely feel overwhelming!
The purpose of the laws is not to get us to do certain things. It is to become a certain type of person. When my cross-country coach taught me to swing my arms front-to-back and not side-to-side, it wasn’t because he thought a certain arm swing was better looking. He wanted me to develop a running form that allowed me to run farther and faster while conserving more energy. Similarly, the purpose of specific commandments is not to get us to “do certain things,” but rather, to become certain people – people with celestial attributes who want to dwell with Heavenly Parents in a celestial glory.
Because it can be overwhelming to try to think of all the things, we may need to do to become the people who want to live with God, it can be helpful to remember that all of God’s laws may be summed up in three:
- Love God.
- Love yourself as God loves you.
- Love your neighbor as yourself.
Every commandment we covenant to keep points to these three celestial principles.
Understanding Christ’s grace means allowing ourselves to make incremental improvements, however long it takes. It means understanding God does not expect our perfection today. We are worthy of God’s presence along the journey, not just at the end of the journey.
Returning to the meeting in which the speaker invited anyone to sit down who felt like they were worthy to meet their Savior today: If we do not have the confidence to “sit down” as a physical witness of our inward confidence in Christ’s grace, how can we inspire those we serve to trust in Christ’s grace?
As we come to understand Christ’s grace and help those we serve to understand Christ’s grace, His mercy, and his patience with us, we can foster trust and confidence in Christ in those we serve. We can help them understand that, through Christ’s grace, the offering they feel is so meager is accepted. It is sufficient to qualify them for eternal life today.
We can reduce the negative stigma associated with repentance. Those we serve will understand that Christ is pleased when we come to him for help with our shortcomings – as often as it takes. This is part of God’s plan for our happiness and our salvation.
We can reduce constant negative comparisons, amplified by social media, of our own merits with those around us. Those we serve will understand that we are all running across different terrain and struggling with different challenges. God knows the terrain they are struggling to cross. They don’t need to worry if someone else seems to be running farther or faster.
We can reduce a tendency for “toxic perfectionism,” where those we serve try to be perfectly obedient all by themselves – hoping that perhaps they will qualify for Christ’s mercy some day when they die. They will understand that we are worthy of exaltation, today, by relying on Christ’s merits and by staying in the race. They will understand that Christ’s grace allows us time and power to learn celestial attributes throughout our mortal and post-mortal life.
Those we serve will come to understand that we are worthy of God’s presence today and every day by relying on Christ’s merits. We are worthy of God’s presence whether we are children, teens, young adults, or old adults. Christ finished the perfect race. God does not expect us to finish a perfect race. God invites us to accept Christ’s gift of grace, strive to learn and follow His will, and inspire those we serve to do likewise.