I grew up Protestant and was taught a somewhat different view of Jesus than the one most Mormons hold. Though I eventually decided Protestant doctrine was too full of holes to feed my spirit adequately, on this point about Jesus, I think they have it right. We talk a lot in the LDS church about “coming to Christ” and fully recognize His role as our Savior, but it has always puzzled me that many Mormons seem wary of phrases like “born again” or “baptized by fire” or “having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ” even though our scriptures are full of such phrases and it is clear Mormon doctrine that we must be born again to truly belong to Christ.
When I joined the LDS church at age 16, I was already a born-again Christian. I wrote about it here in a Christmas blogpost a few years ago: http://segullah.org/?s=Jesus+is+Here Because the missionaries were clear that Jesus is the heart of the gospel and because my Mormon boyfriend had a personal relationship with Jesus similar to mine, I came to Mormonism with the presumption that every saint was a Christian. Now, in Protestant parlance, being “a Christian” means that you have “accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior.” You have committed your life to Him, not just in word or deed, but in spirit. The choice to become a disciple of Jesus Christ is personal and sacred. It is generally manifested in some public act, like “coming forward to the altar” or baptism. Once you’ve given your heart and life to Jesus, there is no turning back, at least not without eternal consequence. This is the paradigm I brought to my own baptism and to my life as a Mormon.
It took me several years to realize that not every Latter-Day Saint is a Christian, in the sense that many don’t know Him personally. Most know a lot about Him and worship Him from a distance. It seems that they count on the Atonement to save and exalt them, but never really come to Christ to accept His great gifts for themselves on a heart-deep level. I don’t mean this as judgment. But I do mean it as invitation to explore your own relationship with Jesus.
We spend so much of our church time teaching the rules of righteous behavior (and judging each other’s “righteousness” based on these “rules”) that perhaps we too often neglect the central tenet of the gospel: Jesus is our Savior. If we would find our way Home, we must come to Christ, learn to know him personally, walk with Him in meekness and love until we see Him face to face, a gift and promise open to each of us, here and now.
I try to live the gospel from the inside out. That is, I need to know it to do it. So I spend a lot of time in personal prayer and contemplation, listening, learning, feeling, absorbing. All with the intent to obey. This approach makes instinctive sense to me. But it seems that many saints approach gospel living from the outside in. They do their best to obey the rules they’re taught, hoping to feel the Spirit touch and transform their hearts. We teach our children this approach to discipleship – an outside in process. Good works lead to real faith.
Both ways can work, I’m sure. I know many devoted Christians in the church who came to a deep relationship with Jesus by working the gospel from the outside in. Their hearts were changed by obedience and pure intent. The inside out approach begins with an overwhelming love for Jesus which leads to obedience and transformation. So of course, it’s not an either/or sort of thing. It doesn’t matter where we start, as long as we end up with Jesus.
I do believe, however, that we could do a much better job clarifying and envisioning the end we hope for: a deep, personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Life eternal is defined by scripture as knowing God the Father and Jesus Christ, His Son. This can only happen in real relationship. Real relationship can only happen when we move beyond rote worship and into heart-to-heart communion. It is a private, sacred thing, to know God. The journey is intensely personal and utterly transforming.
Jesus is real. His arms are ever open to us. His heart yearns for us, each one of us, individually, personally. He has paid a great price to pave our way Home. And really, all we have to do is accept for ourselves, individually, personally, His great gift of Love. It can be done in one sacred moment, one clear and intentional personal declaration of our commitment to love and serve Him all the days of our lives. Come to the altar. Be born again. Accept the Lord Jesus as your personal Savior. Don’t worry about the rest, because after this moment of surrender, you will walk with Jesus and be guided step by step until you see Him face to face.
What kind of relationship do you have with Jesus? How did you get there?