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By Lisa Meadows Garfield

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: https://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?

About Lisa Meadows Garfield

Lisa Meadows Garfield is an award-winning poet and author of “For Love of a Child: Stories of Adoption.“ An avid traveler, she is generally away from her homebase in Vancouver, Washington 9 months of the year, exploring the wide, wonderful world. Mother of 6 and Nonnie to 11, Lisa loves sunshine, words, good friends, and especially, Jesus.

12 thoughts on “CHOOSING JESUS”

  1. Thanks for this. I always cringe when someone in Sunday School vaunts the LDS approach to Jesus as somehow inherently better than other Christian faiths–the truth is, we can learn a lot from them.

    Your suggestions remind me of something my stake president shared recently. He cited the scripture "If ye love me, keep my commandments." We (Latter-day Saints) tend to read it as "If ye love me, then you better keep my commandments." But he suggested that we can better read it as "If ye love me, then of course–naturally–you will keep my commandments."

    I love your distinction between the outside-in and inside-out approaches. The outside-in approach is valid and is certainly doctrinally based but could be part of our cultural challenges of being judgmental or superficial. I will try to take to heart your inside-out approach–what a wonderful way to yield faith and a love of Jesus Christ.

  2. I love this post and agree with everything you have written. However, I want to note that general authorities have lately been powerfully emphasizing the power of the atonement in a way that I believe will really help members further come to Christ. Elder Bednar's focus on the enabling power has especially been powerful.

  3. I don't know how I found your blog, but I am grateful. I first read the one about the CS Lewis book – and then this one. I just want to thank you. I've been a member my entire life, served a mission, always been active. But I'm finding myself falling away, and losing desire to keep trying. Reading these 2 posts are giving me hope that I can rekindle the love for church, and a desire to really engage in coming to Jesus. Thank you for your time and testimony.

  4. I love the way you explained this. I have recently started attending a protestant church. After a lifetime of Mormonism, I finally feel like my heart has been opened to Him. Oh dear, that sounds super over the top to me and un-Mormony. But it is oddly true. Each Sunday, the "outside in" approach had me feeling inadequate and spiritually starving . The "inside out" approach now has me leaving church feeling uplifted and full of hope. I am not sure how to integrate the two but I am glad you have found the way!

  5. My relationship with Jesus has taken me quite a while to develop, just like any deep, wonderful relationship should.

    I grew up Catholic and was taught Jesus was some great unknowable paragon of virtue, and that was confusing (though I was fascinated with all the different artistic statues and paintings around the churches and convents…)

    My Mum and step-dad became very Pentecostal baptist around the time I was baptised into the LDS church, which made for some really unpleasant conversations and silences, but we've all matured and settled more deeply and comfortably into our faith. For some time they seemed way too out there and un-reverent, when I was still trying to wrap my head around the fact that I was worth dying for and even more amazingly worth resurrecting for.

    Now, I see Jesus as hanging out with me through the day. I think I make him laugh, and facepalm, and wince, and He likes me singing songs that remind me of faith, of Him, of eternity. I remember an interview I heard with Chieko Okazaki, where she said she invited Jesus everywhere, and she said "So I say, "C'mon, Jesus, we're going to the store" and I loved that, to have Christ as a presence in our lives, who goes to the shop and washes the dishes and paints toenails with us – with me – and is also deep in my bones and decision making processes. So for me, it's both an outside in and inside out kind of messy wonderful.

  6. Thanks for these inspiring thoughts. I have found myself coming to the same conclusions and trying to change my actions. As other "commenters" have noted, it can be a maturation process. For me it has come as a result of being "slowed down" in my outside-in approach by aging and knee replacement. The outside-in approach requires, or we think it requires, that we run faster than we are able. We try so hard to "show our love and earn Christ's love". When we shift to the inside-out approach everything changes. We allow ourselves to feel his love and it truly motivates and when our "knees" give out we can still know him without killing ourselves in service. Don't get me wrong, service is a vital way to obey and to grow. But it is so much more joyous when it is motivated from the inside-out. You expressed your thoughts beautifully and I second them whole-heartedly! For those who are young, don't wait till you are worn down to switch your approach.

  7. I LOVED this post. One of the best parts of belonging to the LDS church is that it's Christ centered, but it's a fact that I often feel is overlooked. My kids attended a vacation bible camp over the summer, and I loved going to their ending worship because it was 100% celebrating Christ. Not how long your shorts were, or whether or not you drink Diet Coke, or to what extent you actually keep the sabbath holy, just Christ. There was singing and dancing and praising and it was one of the most uplifting religious experiences I'd had in a while. Sometimes I do wonder if we're missing something.

  8. My kids just did VBS too! This was their second year and I am end up in tears during the end worship each day. I think I just love seeing them find such joy in the gospel message.

  9. I loved everything about this post, Lisa. I have a nice stack of Prostestant books on my shelf that have helped me deepen my relationship with Christ. And my kids have attended Catholic VBS– they loved it. We can certainly learn from other faiths.

  10. I found the view of coming to Jesus from the inside or outside very thought provoking. I'm a convert from a born-again background. I love the gospel with all of its knowledge and growth. However, I've been shocked at the way some of the members think about Christ and just felt that they weren't as spiritual as the way I was brought up. I finally rationalized it that they were going to have to answer for themselves and I just needed to work on my own self. Your explanation helps me understand where many Saints are coming from and I feel you are spot on.


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