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Conference Counsel: Christ pleaded for oneness, and it’s our choice

By Ryan Comer - | Jun 22, 2024
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Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks during the afternoon session of general conference at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 6, 2024.
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Ryan Comer

One of my favorite scriptures is 2 Nephi 2:26 from the Book of Mormon. It reads:

"And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins."

Finding such a passage in the Book of Mormon shouldn't be surprising considering a purpose of the book, according to its own title page, is "to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations."

Indeed, the very cover of the Book of Mormon says: "Another Testament of Jesus Christ."

According to an article titled "Come to Know More about Jesus Christ in the Book of Mormon" on the website of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, "Jesus is mentioned 3,925 times throughout the book, which equates to a mention every 1.7 verses, on average."

With Jesus Christ being so central, one would expect his name to be predominant in addresses at general conference, the semiannual gathering of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is. I created a word cloud of the most common words used during the most recent general conference in April, which included 32 talks. Jesus and Christ were No. 1 and No. 2, respectively. Talks were given on a wide range of subjects, but the name Jesus Christ was ubiquitous, to say nothing of other references to him, like Lord and savior.

Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles focused his talk at general conference in April on the atonement of Jesus Christ and being one with him. Elder Cook said that his testimony of the atonement of Jesus Christ was strengthened by his grandfather. Speaking about a visit with his grandfather as he was dying, Elder Cook said:

"He told me my focus should be on the savior and the savior's atonement. He said we are all children of a loving Heavenly Father. Regardless of who our earthly ancestors are, each of us will report to the savior on how well we kept his commandments.

"Grandpa referred to the savior as the 'Keeper of the Gate,' a reference to 2 Nephi 9:41. He told me he hoped he had been sufficiently repentant to qualify for the savior's mercy. (Moroni 7:27-28)

"I was deeply touched. I knew he had been a righteous man. He was a patriarch and served several missions. He taught me that no one can return to God by good works alone without the benefit of the savior's atonement. I can remember to this day the great love and appreciation Grandpa had for the savior and his atonement."

I can appreciate the words of Elder Cook's grandfather. I think that whenever my time comes to pass on beyond the veil to the other side, I will also hope that I have "been sufficiently repentant to qualify for the savior's mercy." I know many others would say the same thing.

A critical question to ask ourselves as we ponder a question like that is, "What does Jesus Christ expect of us if we are to qualify for his mercy?"

Elder Cook discussed an assignment he had to Jerusalem in 2019. During that trip, he recalled Christ's intercessory prayer, as recorded in the Gospel of John. It was given in the waning hours of Christ's life, which to me is significant because what one prays for at the end of their life is probably something they have placed an extremely high value on.

"This prayer was directed to followers of Christ, including all of us (John 17:20)," Elder Cook said. "In the savior's petition to his father, he pleaded 'that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us.' The savior then continues, 'And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one.' (John 17:21-22) Oneness is what Christ prayed for prior to his betrayal and crucifixion. Oneness with Christ and our Heavenly Father can be obtained through the savior's atonement."

Just as Jesus Christ and God the Father are one in purpose, Jesus wanted all of us to be one. He wanted everyone to be one with him and God the Father in purpose.

Continued Elder Cook:

"The Lord's saving mercy is not dependent on lineage, education, economic status or race. It is based on being one with Christ and his commandments."

To qualify for Christ's mercy, we simply need to be "one with Christ and his commandments." Following the commandments is the evidence that we are united in purpose with Jesus Christ and God the Father.

In life, we see that qualifications for a position are determined by variables that people may have little or no control over. Racism is real. Bigotry is real. Discrimination is real. These things happen and we can't ignore them. But to Christ, there is only one factor to obtain his mercy: being one with him and keeping his commandments.

Elder Cook discussed Section 20 of the Doctrine and Covenants, which is a revelation given through Joseph Smith regarding the organization and government of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In his summary of the section, he once again highlighted that Christ denies no one from coming to him.

"The content of this revelation is truly remarkable," Elder Cook said. "It teaches us the significance and role of the savior and how to access his power and blessings through his atoning grace. The prophet Joseph was 24 years old and had already received numerous revelations and completed the translation of the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God. Both Joseph and Oliver are identified as ordained apostles, thus having authority to preside over the church.

"Verses 17 through 36 contain a summary of essential church doctrine, including the reality of God, the creation of mankind, the fall, and Heavenly Father's plan of salvation through the atonement of Jesus Christ. Verse 37 contains the essential requirements for baptism into the Lord's church. Verses 75 through 79 set forth the sacrament prayers we utilize every sabbath.

"The doctrine, principles, sacraments and practices that the Lord established through Joseph Smith, the prophet of the restoration, are truly seminal.

"The requirements for baptism, while profound, are uniquely simple. They primarily include humility before God, a broken heart and contrite spirit, (2 Nephi 2:7) repenting of all sins, taking upon us the name of Jesus Christ, enduring to the end, and showing by our works that we have received of the spirit of Christ. (Doctrine and Covenants 20:37)

"It is significant that all the qualifications for baptism are spiritual. No economic or social attainment is necessary. The poor and the rich have the same spiritual requirements.

"There are no race, gender or ethnicity requirements. The Book of Mormon makes it clear that all are invited to partake of the Lord's goodness, 'black and white, bond and free, male and female; ... all are alike unto God.' (2 Nephi 26:33) 'All men are privileged the one like unto the other, and none are forbidden.'" (2 Nephi 26:28)

In the gospel of Matthew, we learn of a centurion who demonstrated great faith in Jesus. According to the Latter-day Saint Bible Dictionary, a centurion was "an officer of the Roman army, in command of a century, or company of 100 men, forming one-sixtieth part of a Roman legion."

Matthew 8:5-10, 13 reads:

"And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him,

"And saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented.

"And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him.

"The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed.

"For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.

"When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.

"And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour."

Did Christ deny the centurion because of who he was? No. Furthermore, he praised him in front of his apostles. Why? Because faith is what was important. It didn't matter who it came from.

Because Christ doesn't care about our differences, why should we? Said Elder Cook:

"Given our 'likeness' before God, it makes little sense to emphasize our differences. Some have wrongly encouraged us 'to imagine people to be much more different from ourselves and from each other than they actually are. (Some) take real but small differences and magnify them into chasms.'"

I mentioned earlier that keeping the commandments is our evidence that we are one with Christ. At this point, it's important to mention agency because people come up with many reasons why they don't want to follow Christ and his commandments, but ultimately, we make the choice to follow or not follow. Said Elder Cook:

"The scriptures attest that all accountable persons are required to repent of sins and keep his commandments. (Doctrine and Covenants 29:49-50) The Lord makes it clear that all have moral agency and 'are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, ... and hearken unto his great commandments; and be faithful unto his words, and choose eternal life.' (2 Nephi 2:27-28) To receive the blessings of the savior's atonement, we must affirmatively exercise our moral agency to choose Christ and obey his commandments.

"During my life, the meaning of 'agency' and 'free will' has been dissected and debated. There have been and continue to be many intellectual arguments on these topics.

"On the recent cover of a major university alumni publication, a prominent biologist-professor asserts, 'There's no room for free will.' Not surprisingly, the professor is quoted in the article as saying, 'There's no such thing as God, ... and there's no free will, ... and this is a vast, indifferent, empty universe.' I could not disagree more strongly.

"A fundamental doctrine of our faith is that we do have moral agency, which includes free will. (Doctrine and Covenants 58:27) Agency is the ability to choose and act. It is essential to the plan of salvation. Without moral agency, we could not learn, progress or choose to be one with Christ. Because of moral agency, we 'are free to choose liberty and eternal life.' (2 Nephi 2:27) In the premortal council in heaven, the Father's plan included agency as an essential element. Lucifer rebelled and 'sought to destroy the agency of man.' (Moses 4:3) Accordingly, the privilege of having a mortal body was denied to Satan and those who followed him.

"Other premortal spirits exercised their agency in following Heavenly Father's plan. Spirits blessed by birth to this mortal life continue to have agency. We are free to choose and act, but we do not control the consequences. 'Choices of good and righteousness lead to happiness, peace and eternal life, while choices of sin and evil eventually lead to heartache and misery.' As Alma said, 'Wickedness never was happiness.' (Alma 41:10)

"In this extremely competitive world, there is a constant effort to excel. Striving to be the best we can be is a righteous and worthwhile endeavor. It is consistent with the Lord's doctrine. Efforts to diminish or deprecate others or create barriers to their success are contrary to the Lord's doctrine. We cannot blame circumstances or others for a decision to act contrary to God's commandments."

Choices are affected by priorities. The priorities that we have in our life play a large part in determining ultimately what choices we make. I have recently had it impressed upon me how vital it is for me to make temple worship a bigger part of my life. Because I desire to put a higher priority on temple worship, I will make choices in my life that allow me to be able to worship in the temple more frequently.

"In today's world, it is easy to focus on material and occupational success," Elder Cook said. "Some lose sight of eternal principles and choices that have eternal significance. We would be wise to follow President Russell M. Nelson's counsel to 'think celestial.'

"The most significant choices can be made by almost everyone regardless of talents, abilities, opportunities or economic circumstances. An emphasis on putting family choices first is essential. This is clear throughout the scriptures. Think of the account in 1 Nephi where Lehi 'departed into the wilderness. And he left his house, and the land of his inheritance, and his gold, and his silver, and his precious things, and took nothing with him, save it were his family.' (1 Nephi 2:4)

"As we face the vicissitudes of life, many events occur over which we have little or no control. Health challenges and accidents obviously can fit into this category. The recent COVID-19 pandemic has severely impacted people who did everything right. For the most important choices, we do have control. Going back to my missionary days, Elder Marion D. Hanks, our mission president, had all of us memorize part of a poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox:

"'There is no chance, no destiny, no fate,

'Can circumvent or hinder or control

'The firm resolve of a determined soul.'

"On matters of principle, conduct, religious observance and righteous living, we are in control. Our faith in and worship of God the Father and his son, Jesus Christ, is a choice that we make.

"Please understand I am not advocating less interest in education or occupation. What I am saying is that when efforts relating to education and occupation are elevated above the family or being one with Christ, the unintended consequences can be significantly adverse."

On the subject of priorities and choices, there's another great story from the life of Jesus. It's told in Luke 10:38-42:

"Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house.

"And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word.

"But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.

"And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:

"But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her."

Martha prioritized something important, but Mary prioritized something more important, and those priorities affected the choices they made. As we see, Mary was praised because she had chosen what was the most important.

Being one with Christ is not always easy. It requires a reevaluation of our priorities, which sometimes can be extremely difficult for a variety of reasons. Because of this, many people disregard completely or diminish keeping commandments. But I know from personal experience that I am happier when I choose to be one with Christ and following his commandments. I simply have more strength to handle my trials. I know that as I strive to be one with Christ, my life is simply better.

Contact Ryan Comer at rcomer@standard.net. Follow him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/rbcomer8388 and on X at @rbcomer8388.

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