29 May 2014

Redemption: I do not think it means what you think it means.

"25 Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.
27 Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself." ~2 Nephi 2:25, 27
Now, every LDS seminary student has heard these verses a thousand times. Most Mormons folk have heard them nearly that much. They're Scripture Mastery verses, intended for memorization, just two of the 25 passages from the Book of Mormon course.

Such a stellar job had been done of teaching these two verses that I had never paid much attention to what lay between them on the page: verse 26.
"26 And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given."
When I read that, I did a triple-take. Did that just say what I think it said?

I read it again. 

And again. 

I stared, then stared some more. And I saw this looking back at me from the page:
"And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day . . ."
There it was! The doctrine of grace, explained. In the Book of Mormon! The way my own baptism of fire taught me to understand it! I was seriously stoked for days about this discovery, and told at least a half dozen people. (And have continued to share it ever since. I'm still pretty stoked about it. lol)

You see, this verse is what informed my understanding of salvation for most of my life:
"23 For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do." 2 Nephi 25:23
Until the baptism of fire, I had understood the underlined words to mean we had to work our behinds off during our lives, and then, after it was all over and we left this life, THEN Jesus saved us, because we still weren't good enough. (Remember King Benjamin's "less than the dust of the earth"? Yeah. That.) 

We were saved by grace after we've done everything right we could possibly do right on earth. That's what "after all we can do" means, right?


All my life, I had ignored verse 20:
"20 And now, my brethren, I have spoken plainly that ye cannot err. And as the Lord God liveth that brought Israel up out of the land of Egypt, and gave unto Moses power that he should heal the nations after they had been bitten by the poisonous serpents, if they would cast their eyes unto the serpent which he did raise up before them, and also gave him power that he should smite the rock and the water should come forth; yea, behold I say unto you, that as these things are true, and as the Lord God liveth, there is none other name given under heaven save it be this Jesus Christ, of which I have spoken, whereby man can be saved." 2 Nephi 25:20
 This verse speaks in a context of grace. The story of the brass serpent is such a powerful example of this . . . they only had to believe enough to look! And the water springing from the rock: Moses only had to ask. And even then, when he messed up and hit the rock instead of speaking to it, the Lord still gave His people the water they needed.

Key elements of 2 Nephi 25:26 have different meaning for me now. Here they are:

1) Redeemed from the Fall.

The Fall sent Adam & Eve out of the Garden of Eden, and out of the presence of God. It was the introduction of sin into the world, of mankind's willful following after of his or her own nature. So what does "redeemed from the fall" mean?

It means we have been brought back into the presence of the Father & Son.

This doesn't mean that if we try really, REALLY hard, we'll be brought back into the presence of the Father & the Son. It means we already have been brought back into the presence of Ahman and Jehovah. Their presence is all around us. Always. 24/7/365. Never a minute that we're not literally swimming in their presence. We're just deaf & blind to it, utterly unaware because we haven't been taught it's there . . . or even that it's possible to be in God's presence.

I'm reminded of a phrase from the 80's movie "Better Off Dead" that I watched on TV in the 90's, (since I was only nine when it came out), when Lane & Charles are at the top of the insane ski run. Lane is psyching himself up to take off down the mountain, and crazy Charles is freaking out about the snow that's everywhere, all around him, throat tight with excitement and nearly guy-screaming: 

"This is pure snow! It's everywhere! Do you have any idea what the street value of this mountain is?"

We're all in that very same situation, surrounded by the presence of God . . . and we wander around, wondering when we'll ever get to experience these things we've heard so much about, possibly even shushing those who, in their excitement, are trying to tell us about it. We have so many barriers in our minds, so many "I'll be worthy when's"  that we don't open our hearts & minds to what's available to us right now.

There are different levels of the presence of God, from spiritual awareness, to hearing, feeling or seeing in the Spirit, and then on to hearing, seeing and feeling in the flesh. But no matter which of these different ways you experience being in the presence of God, you're in the presence of God! Isn't that awesome? Amazing? Wonderful?

As our hearts become more open and willing to accept Him, to submit to Him, we can experience the presence of God more fully. For some, like King Lamoni's father, Paul, and many others, it's nearly immediate. For some, it takes more time as we figure out how to soften our hearts and leave behind the unbelief and unforgiveness, the fear and anger that shuts Him out. (More on unbelief/fear and unforgiveness/anger later.)

But whether the wind-up is long or short, the forgiveness we are told to receive is instant, complete, and changes us fundamentally.

2) Knowledge from Fall + Jesus' Atoning Sacrifice = free forever
Knowing good from evil*  is where humankind was up until Jesus won. When He claimed the victory and was seated in heavenly places upon His Father's throne, He then claimed the right to forgive everyone.


Forgiveness isn't simply not wishing someone harm, or even saying you wish them well. It is opening your heart to God fully, not keeping in reserve any corners of anger or pain, so His love can flow through you totally and fully for others. Forgiveness is allowing that love to flow through you for the person you have forgiven, in fullness. Nothing hindering or redirecting that gift that God gives so freely to us, and that we must give freely to all if we are to receive it in any measure.

Jesus loves everyone, unconditionally. He forgives everyone, totally. The only unknown quantity here is who will turn to Him and totally let go of what they're holding in their hearts so they can receive what He has to offer. Receiving a remission of your sins is instant. The Baptism of Fire and the Holy Spirit comes and burns it all away. You really do receive not only a remission of your sins and become a new creature born from the ashes, but can receive visions and feel as though you're surrounded by warmth. Some feel surrounded by fire, but not burned, or even uncomfortable.

*(We come to know good from evil as we make wrong choices and mess up. how else do you actually know what wrong is, until you've done it? You can know about wrongdoing, as Adam & Eve did after being told by God to not eat the fruit of that tree, beause they would die. But they didn't know what all that really meant, didn't know what the sorrow or consequences really were until they experienced them.)

3) We will NOT be acted upon until "the great and last day" of judgement.
Up until Jesus' Victory, God was required by justice and according to the law to strike people down. A whole lot of them, if the Old Testament is any example.  But since the battle was finished and Christ was seated on His Father's throne, the mercy of God has held sway. Mercy is what sustains us in our current state, what allows us to have access to the Love of Jesus Christ despite our uncleanness before Him. 

People still bear many of the consequences of their actions according to natural law and the agency of others, but God no longer is required to actually mete out direct punishments, like the earth opening and swallowing hundreds of the camp of Israel. Yeeee-ahhh. I'm so glad Jesus won. Aren't you? ;o)

We are not saved by grace after we've done everything. We are saved by grace, despite all we can do.


What are we waiting for?

(We'll talk about that next . . . )