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Fullness of the Gospel
The word Gospel is a contraction of “Good” and “Spell” and means literally the good story or good news. The Good News of Jesus Christ is that He suffered for our sins, died, and was resurrected from the dead. This constitutes the Atonement of Jesus Christ through which all mankind can be saved in the Kingdom of Heaven through faith, repentance, baptism, the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end in righteousness. The Book of Mormon usually refers to this as the Doctrine of Christ.
The Fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ
Mormons teach that the fullness of the Gospel, or the complete teachings of the Gospel necessary for salvation and exaltation, as well as the authority to perform baptism and the covenants God makes with man, were lost from the earth in the centuries following Christ’s death and resurrection, and that these teachings and this authority were restored through modern day prophets beginning with Joseph Smith . Part of the restoration was the calling of prophets who receive direct revelation from God and impart truths to their followers, preach repentance to the world, and pass on authority to perform ordinances which can be sealed on earth and in heaven. Part of the restoration was the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, which the Lord gave to clarify and expound more fully this essential doctrine. In a revelation given to Joseph Smith, Jesus Christ said, “the elders, priests and teachers of this church shall teach the principles of my gospel, which are in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, in the which is the fullness of the gospel” (Doctrine &Covenants 42:12).
The Book of Mormon explains what this fullness means. Shortly after his resurrection, Jesus Christ appeared to some of the ancient inhabitants in the Americas and said this:
- Behold I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you--that I came into the world to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me. And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil--And for this cause have I been lifted up; therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works. And it shall come to pass, that whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name shall be filled; and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world. And he that endureth not unto the end, the same is he that is also hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence they can no more return, because of the justice of the Father [ … ] And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end (3 Nephi 27:13-17, 19; pg 459).
This describes the basic elements of the Gospel:
- Jesus came into the world to do the will of the Father
- The Father’s will was that he die on the cross and draw men unto him through the Atonement and Resurrection
- Men will return to Father to be judged of their works
- Those who have faith, repent, are baptized, and endure to the end will be able to lay hold upon the atonement wrought for them and receive exaltation.
The Apostle Paul said something very similar about the basic nature and emphasis of the Gospel. He said to the Corinthians, “[W]e preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:23). To the Romans he said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). Through the power of the Gospel, the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ becomes active in a person's life, and he becomes clean from all sin. This is the good news that lifts up mourning hearts, brings hope to those in despair, comforts and restores lost souls, and makes possible every good thing. This is the foundation of the teachings of the Mormon Church. The Prophet Joseph Smith said,
- The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it. But in connection with these, we believe in the gift of the Holy Ghost, the power of faith, the enjoyment of the spiritual gifts according to the will of God, the restoration of the house of Israel, and the final triumph of truth (Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 vols. 3:30).
- We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
This represents the basic foundation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as taught by the Mormon Church. These steps are what a person must do to enter a covenant with Christ and enter the path that leads to Eternal life.
Faith is more than believing Jesus exists, it means believing Him when He says that you will be forgiven of your sins and saved in His Kingdom. This faith includes two parts:
- The belief that all who live on Earth are granted salvation from physical death (physical resurrection) through the Atonement
- That salvation from sin (or spiritual death) is obtained through sincere repentance, resulting in forgiveness for sin through His grace, and by following the teachings and commandments of Jesus Christ.
Mormons are encouraged to develop their faith through study, prayer, service, and obedience to God's commandments. Faith is a form of spiritual work and is character-shaping, in conjunction with the miracle of Christ's Atonement.
The Book of Mormon discusses how to develop faith (Alma 32:18-43). One begins by being humble and teachable. If one is arrogant, the Spirit of God cannot work within him. Second, one desires to believe. The Book of Mormon compares this to planting a seed and watering it. A person plants the seed by desiring to believe in Jesus Christ and in the Book of Mormon, which teaches of Him. The seed is nurtured through prayer, scripture study, service to others, and keeping the commandments. As one does this, the Holy Sprit will enter into his heart and he will know that what he is studying and doing is true.
Once a person begins to develop faith, the next step is repentance. Repentance is a wonderful gift from a loving Father in Heaven. Through repentance one can overcome weaknesses and move beyond mistakes he has made in the past.
To repent one must acknowledge his mistakes and weaknesses. He must take responsibility for his own actions and recognize that what he has done has hurt others and offended God. Second, he must forsake the sin. This means he must stop doing it and never return to it again. He must, if possible, make restitution. This means that if one steals something, he should return it or pay the person for what he took. If a person lied or hurt someone’s feelings, he must apologize. Restitution is not always possible, but one must always apologize and ask for forgiveness from those he offended or hurt. God is able to heal all wounds, and when one trusts in Him, he can be forgiven. Finally, one must ask for forgiveness from God through prayer.
When a person has done this, he has this promise from God:
- Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more. By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins--behold, he will confess them and forsake them (Doctrine and Covenants 58:42-43, pg 106).
When one has sincerely repented, he has God’s promise, and God cannot lie, that he is forgiven. To become clean from all sins and become a new creature in Christ, one must follow repentance with baptism. However, as everyone continues to make mistakes, they must repent throughout their lives and continually turn towards God for strength and forgiveness. Through the sacrament, which Mormons partake every Sunday, members renew the covenants made at baptism and thus renew the cleansing of the Holy Spirit. The Doctrine and Covenants of the Mormon Church says:
- Yea, repent and be baptized, every one of you, for a remission of your sins; yea, be baptized even by water, and then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost. Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and remember that they shall have faith in me or they can in nowise be saved And upon this rock I will build my church; yea, upon this rock ye are built, and if ye continue, the gates of hell shall not prevail against you (Doctrine and Covenants 33:11-13).
Since this Gospel is the rock upon which the Mormon Church is built, it follows that these are the first steps taken by converts to the Mormon faith. After faith and repentance, a person is baptized by immersion for the remission of sins.
Baptism by immersion is a symbol of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul said, “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection” (Romans 6:3-5)
Baptism also serves a sign of one’s covenant with Jesus Christ to take His name upon him and serve Him and keep His commandments until death. Mormons call this the baptismal covenant. It includes:
- Taking the name of Jesus Christ upon oneself and becoming one of His people
- Bearing one another’s burdens
- Mourning with those who are suffering and comforting them
- Standing as a witness of God at all times and in all places
- Serving God and keeping His commandments
(See Mosiah 18:8-10, pg 181)
God in turn promises that those who keep their baptismal covenants will
- Receive a greater portion of His Holy Spirit
- Be redeemed (or saved)
- Rise in the first resurrection, the resurrection of the just
- Inherit Eternal Life
Since a person must exercise faith by following the commandments and repenting of his sins, Mormons do not baptize children until they reach the age of accountability, which is understood to be around eight years old.
Baptism by water for the remission of Sins
When a person is baptized, he or she commits to follow Jesus Christ. Those who are to be baptized dress in plain white clothes to symbolize humility and purity. The person baptizing must hold the priesthood, which is authority from God to perform ordinances in the Church. All worthy adult male members of the Mormon Church can be ordained to the priesthood. The prayer for baptism is simple and straightforward. The officiator holds his right arm up, bows his head and says:
- Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, amen.
The officiator then immerses the person completely under the water to symbolize the death of the old self, burial, and the promised resurrection through Jesus Christ.
Baptism by Fire and the Holy Ghost
Baptism is actually composed of two parts: baptism by water and baptism by fire. John the Baptist said, “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire” (Matthew 3:11). It is through this baptism of the Holy Ghost that a person will be cleansed of his or her sins. In the Mormon Church, this ordinance is called confirmation, and it typically occurs in the Sunday services in the week following baptism, or at the "water's edge" (directly following baptism).
In confirmation, also called the laying on of hands, a priesthood holder lays his hands upon the new member's head and gives him or her a blessing. He will call the person by name and through the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, confirm the person a member of the Church. Then the priesthood holder acts as a vehicle to bestow the Gift of the Holy Ghost, which means the right to have the Holy Spirit as a constant companion. Finally, he pronounces blessings and promises as the Spirit inspires him, and then closes in the name of Jesus Christ.
Enduring to the End
Jesus Christ said to his disciples, “strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:14). Baptism in the name of Jesus Christ is the gate that leads to the Way. The Book of Mormon teaches this more clearly:
- For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost. And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son, unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made, that if ye entered in by the way ye should receive (2 Nephi 31:17-18; pg 114).
Once one has entered the path, he must continue on the path that leads to Eternal Life. Mormons call this enduring to the end. Again, the Book of Mormon gives a good explanation of what this means. It says:
- Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life (2 Nephi 31:20; pg 114).
One must endure with steadiness in obedience to Jesus Christ’s commands, being filled with hope and love. One must feast on Christ’s words, which means he must continue to study His words in the scriptures and as given by revelation through living prophets. This corresponds to what the Apostle Paul said as he discussed faith, hope, and charity (see 1 Corinthians 13).
Enduring to the end does not means that Mormons expect to be perfect. Part of enduring is continuing to improve oneself through repentance, whenever something is out of harmony with God’s will. Because people continue to make mistakes, the Lord has provided a way to renew these covenants. Every Sunday Mormons partake of the Sacrament, usually called the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper in other churches. The Sacrament consists of broken bread and water to symbolize the body and blood of Jesus Christ. For faithful Mormons, this represents a renewal of the covenants and commitments made at baptism and an opportunity to meditate upon the atoning mission of Jesus Christ.
Enduring to the end also requires service to others. The Book of Mormon teaches that “when ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17). A person endures by growing in Godly attributes. Elder Dallin H. Oaks, an Apostle in the Mormon Church said:
- The Apostle Paul taught that the Lord's teachings and teachers were given that we may all attain "the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13). This process requires far more than acquiring knowledge. It is not even enough for us to be convinced of the gospel; we must act and think so that we are converted by it. In contrast to the institutions of the world, which teach us to know something, the gospel of Jesus Christ challenges us to become something ("The Challenge to Become," Conference Report, October 2000).
He says further,
- From such teachings we conclude that the Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts--what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts--what we have become. It is not enough for anyone just to go through the motions. The commandments, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel are not a list of deposits required to be made in some heavenly account. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a plan that shows us how to become what our Heavenly Father desires us to become.
Peter said something similar in his general epistle. He counseled the righteous followers of Christ in his day to become “partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Peter 1:4). To do these, he says, we must “add to [our] faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity” (2 Peter 1:5-7).
The Book of Mormon described one individual who endured righteously. His name was Ether and he was a prophet to a wicked people. Of him the Book of Mormon says:
- For he did cry from the morning, even until the going down of the sun, exhorting the people to believe in God unto repentance lest they should be destroyed, saying unto them that by faith all things are fulfilled---Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, be led to glorify God (Ether 12:3-4, pg 509).
This path of hope and faith in God which brings men to do good is the narrow path that Jesus spoke of that leads us toward Eternal Life, which is to know Jesus Christ and God (see John 17:3) because we have become like them (see 1 John 3:2). Then, through power of the atonement and resurrection of Jesus Christ, those who have followed this path will be cleansed from their sins and taken at last to heaven to dwell with Christ and God forever.