What Does It Mean to “Come Unto Christ?”

Near the beginning of the Book of Mormon, the prophet Nephi tells us that his only purpose in writing is to persuade people to “come unto the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and be saved” (1 Nephi 6:4).

Nephi later explains to his brothers that the purpose of the gospel is to help us “come to the knowledge of [our] Redeemer” and to understand His doctrine, so that we “may know how to come unto him and be saved” (1 Nephi 15:14).

Over the next few days, I’m going to explore the concept of coming to the Savior.

  • What does it mean to come unto Christ?
  • How do we do it?
  • What blessings do we receive as we come to Him?
  • What obstacles prevent us from doing so?

The phrase “come unto Christ” only appears five times in the scriptures (four times in the Book of Mormon and once in the Doctrine and Covenants), although equivalent phrases, like “come unto me” or “come unto him,” appear more frequently. On two occasions in the Book of Mormon, prophets speak directly to us, urging us to come unto Christ. These two occasions are the end of the small plates of Nephi (a self-contained volume included by Mormon without abridgment) and the end of the Book of Mormon.

Here are the two passages, side by side:

Amaleki (the last author of the small plates of Nephi) Moroni (the last author in the Book of Mormon)
And now, my beloved brethren,
I would that ye should come unto Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel,
and partake of his salvation, and the power of his redemption.
Yea, come unto him,
and offer your whole souls as an offering unto him,
and continue in fasting and praying,
and endure to the end;
and as the Lord liveth ye will be saved
(Omni 1:26).
Yea, come unto Christ,
and be perfected in him,
and deny yourselves of all ungodliness;
and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness,
and love God with all your might, mind and strength,
then is his grace sufficient for you,
that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ;
and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.
And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power,
then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God,
through the shedding of the blood of Christ,
which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins,
that ye become holy, without spot.
(Moroni 10:32-33)

The two passages have a lot in common:

  1. The first step of the process is to come to Christ. We don’t fix ourselves first, and then come to Him. We come to Him so that He can fix us. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has said, “Come as you are…[but] don’t plan to stay as you are” (“Songs Sung and Unsung,” General Conference, April 2017).
  2. By choosing to come to Him, we begin to receive His redemptive power. We “partake of his salvation.” We are “perfected in Him.”
  3. Thereafter, a total commitment is required. We must “offer [our] whole souls as an offering to him” and “deny [ourselves] of all ungodliness.”
  4. As we continue to follow Him over time, we have the promise that we will be saved: sanctified and made holy by the grace of God.

Today, I will remember both the immediacy and the sustaining power of this process. Christ’s power begins to flow into our lives the moment we turn to Him. And it continues to bless us and to change us as we continue to follow Him. I will be grateful for the redeeming and sanctifying power of the Savior which can heal us and prepare us to return to the presence of our Father in Heaven.

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Why Did God Prevent Adam and Eve from Partaking of the Tree of Life?

After Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden, God placed “cherubim and a flaming sword” on the east side of the Garden of Eden. These heavenly sentinels ensured that Adam and Eve could not approach the tree of life and partake of its fruit (Moses 4:31, Genesis 3:24). Why was that necessary?

As we discussed earlier this week, the tree of life represents the love of God. On one level, this action simply represented one of the effects of the Fall: Adam and Eve were now subject to spiritual death. They were “cut off both temporally and spiritually from the presence of the Lord: (Alma 42:7, 9). They were going to have to act for themselves and be more independent. God still loved them perfectly, but just as they would now have to work hard to eat, they would also need to struggle to communicate with Him. As Job would later exclaim, “Oh that I knew where I might find him! that I might come even to his seat!” (Job 23:3)

The prophet Alma gave two other reasons why this constraint was necessary. In the city of Ammonihah, after he and his missionary companion Amulek testified of the resurrection, they were challenged by one of the “chief rulers” of the city. He asked the following question (which sounds more like an accusation than a sincere inquiry):

What is this that thou hast said, that man should rise from the dead and be changed from this mortal to an immortal state, that the soul can never die?
What does the scripture mean, which saith that God placed cherubim and a flaming sword on the east of the garden of Eden, lest our first parents should enter and partake of the fruit of the tree of life, and live forever? And thus we see that there was no possible chance that they should live forever (Alma 12:20-21)

Ignoring the hostile tone of the question, Alma provided two straightforward answers:

  1. God had told Adam and Eve that, if they ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they would die. He is always truthful, and so He couldn’t allow them to take an action which would nullify the promised consequence of their action (Alma 12:23-24).
  2. More broadly, if they had partaken of the fruit of the tree of life immediately, they would have been miserable forever, and God’s plan for them would have been thwarted (Alma 12:26-27). They were not ready to come back into His presence. As Amulek taught, God’s purpose is not to save us in our sins but from our sins (Alma 11:34, Helaman 5:10). And as Alma would later explain to his son Corianton, returning to God’s presence without overcoming our sins would not make us happy (Alma 42:5-8). Adam and Eve needed time to repent. They needed time to prepare themselves before becoming immortal and returning to God’s presence. So, what seemed like a restriction was actually a great blessing.

Brad Wilcox, who teaches ancient scripture at Brigham Young University, made the following statement about this event:

The cherubim and flaming sword were not evidence of God’s anger and rejection. Rather, they were evidence of his benevolence and love. This “closed door” existed not to bar Adam and Eve from God but to point them toward the open window of Christ’s atonement, which would enable them to return to God and live with him forever (“Closed Doors and Open Windows,” Ensign, December 1993).

Today, I will be grateful for a loving Heavenly Father who gives me experiences which are designed to lead me to eternal happiness. I will remember that the frustrations and challenges I face can help me to achieve success and happiness.

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Which Fruit in the Garden of Eden Was Bitter, and Which Was Sweet?

Lehi had a clear message for his son Jacob: The adversity and the afflictions we experience in life don’t have to drag us down. They can lift us up.

Lehi acknowledged that Jacob had faced many trials but assured him that God would “consecrate [those] afflictions to [his] gain” (2 Nephi 2:1-2). He described a dilemma we all face: we are governed by law, but we have all run afoul of the law. “By the law no flesh is justified; or, by the law men are cut off.” But he explained that, through the redemption offered by the Holy Messiah, we could be saved ( (2 Nephi 2:5-6).

Then, he turned his attention to our first parents: Adam and Eve. They faced a difficult decision in the Garden of Eden which was represented by two trees:

  1. The tree of knowledge of good and evil
  2. The tree of life

“It must needs be there was an opposition,” said Lehi; “even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter” (2 Nephi 2:15).

The two trees were, in fact, in opposition to each other. The main consequence of eating the fruit of the first tree was death. And after Adam and Eve partook of that fruit, the tree of life was no longer available to them (Genesis 2:17, Genesis 3:22-24).

But what did Lehi mean with his two opposing adjectives? Which of the two trees produced fruit that was sweet, and which was bitter?

Based on the order of the adjectives, it looks like he is saying that the fruit of the tree of life was bitter and that the forbidden fruit was sweet. But Lehi had previously described to his sons a dream in which he ate a fruit which was “most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted” (1 Nephi 8:11). His son Nephi later identified that tree as “a representation of the tree of life” (1 Nephi 15:21-22). Later in the Book of Mormon, the prophet Alma also described the fruit of the tree of life as “sweet above all that is sweet” (Alma 32:40-42).

And what about the forbidden fruit? In the biblical account, Eve saw that it was “good for food,” “pleasant to the eyes,” and “to be desired to make one wise” (Genesis 3:6). But just because it was tempting and desirable doesn’t mean it wasn’t bitter. As Lehi explained, both options had some appeal: “Man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other” (2 Nephi 2:16). So, in Lehi’s account, the devil explains the attraction of this fruit to Eve: “Partake of the forbidden fruit, and ye shall not die, but ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil” (2 Nephi 2:17). Eve, and then Adam, chose the fruit which gave them knowledge but which also introduced pain, suffering, and ultimately death into the world—a bitter fruit indeed!

But perhaps the bitterness was tempered somewhat by their recognition that these unpleasant consequences were giving them the very knowledge they had sought. As Eve later explained, “Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient” (Moses 5:11). As Lehi explained—and this seems to be his central message—without misery there can be no happiness; without the possibility of sin, there can be no righteousness (2 Nephi 2:11, 23).

Yes, our first parents chose the bitter fruit. Yes, they introduced unpleasant outcomes which affect us all. But all of this is part of our Heavenly Father’s plan for His children:

All things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.
Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy (2 Nephi 2:24-25).

Today, I will remember that adversity and afflictions are an important part of our mortal experience, and that they can be beneficial. I will remember that the choice of a bitter fruit in the Garden of Eden led to our current mortal experience—an experience which includes pain, afflictions, and sorrow, but which, with the assistance of our Savior, can lead us ultimately to the joy and the sweetness of eternal life.

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What Is a “Probationary State?”

When Adam and Eve partook of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they became mortal. As the prophet Lehi explained to his sons, everything was static before that time: “If Adam had not transgressed…he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created” (2 Nephi 2:22). So by eating that fruit, Adam and Eve initiated life as we know it, with change, decay, illness, and suffering, and therefore with opportunities to develop our character, to overcome obstacles, to prove ourselves, and ultimately to find true happiness.

In order to achieve those goals, God gave Adam and Eve the gift of time. The consequence of eating the fruit was certain death, and the fact that they would eventually die was now a constant reality for them, as it is for all of us. But they didn’t die immediately. “The days of the children of men were prolonged,” Lehi said, “that they might repent while in the flesh; wherefore, their state became a state of probation” (2 Nephi 2:21).

The word probation comes from the Latin word probare, which means “to test” (Online Etymology Dictionary). When a person is on probation, they are given privileges for a period of time, and they are observed to see if they can be trusted with those privileges on a permanent basis. Criminals are placed on probation to allow them to demonstrate that their behavior has improved. A person taking on a new responsibility may have a period of probation to verify that they can fulfill their new duties effectively. (See “probation,” Oxford English Dictionary.)

But as the prophet Alma pointed out in the city of Ammonihah, and again in a private interview with his son Corianton, our time of probation is more than a time to be tested; it is also a time of preparation:

And we see that death comes upon mankind…; nevertheless there was a space granted unto man in which he might repent; therefore this life became a probationary state; a time to prepare to meet God; a time to prepare for that endless state which has been spoken of by us, which is after the resurrection of the dead (Alma 12:24).

There was a time granted unto man to repent, yea, a probationary time, a time to repent and serve God…. Therefore, as they had become carnal, sensual, and devilish, by nature, this probationary state became a state for them to prepare; it became a preparatory state (Alma 42:4, 10).

Therefore, every day in mortality is precious. It represents an opportunity to prove ourselves and to improve ourselves. Nephi warned us that if we seek after wickedness during this probationary time, we will not fare well in the final judgment (1 Nephi 10:21). Samuel the Lamanite reminded the Nephites in Zarahemla that the time of their probation was finite, and that they should therefore not procrastinate their repentance (Helaman 13:38). And the prophet Jacob warned us not to waste the days of our probation (2 Nephi 9:27).

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin said, “The days of our probation are numbered, but none of us knows the number of those days. Each day of preparation is precious” (“Time to Prepare,” General Conference, April 1998).

Today, I will be grateful for the time I have been given to prove myself and to prepare. I will remember that every day is valuable, and I will strive to use the time I have been given wisely.

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What Is the Tree of Life?

lehi-dream-1132729-wallpaper

Near the beginning of the Book of Mormon, the prophet Lehi described to his family a spiritual dream he had experienced. The central object in this dream was a tree “whose fruit was desirable to make one happy” (1 Nephi 8:10). Throughout the rest of the dream, groups of people were defined by their actions with respect to this tree and its fruit: some people sought it out, others wandered away, and still others made fun of the people who were enjoying the fruit.

Lehi’s son Nephi subsequently prayed to see the things his father saw. In answer to his prayer, he experienced a vision and was taught by an angel. Nephi learned that the tree represents “the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things…and the most joyous to the soul” (1 Nephi 11:22-23).

Shortly after, Nephi’s brothers asked him the meaning of the tree which their father had seen. Nephi answered, “It was a representation of the tree of life” (1 Nephi 15:22).

According to the Bible, the tree of life was in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:9). After Adam and Eve ate the fruit of another named tree—the tree of knowledge of good and evil—they were cast out of the garden and no longer had access to the tree of life (Genesis 3:22-24). (See also 2 Nephi 2:15, Moses 3:9, Moses 4:28, 31, and Abraham 5:9). Perhaps this represented one of the consequences of the Fall: they were cut off from the presence of God (Alma 42:7). Fortunately for us, the Atonement of Jesus Christ overcame the effects of the Fall, placing the tree of life again within our reach.

The prophet Alma invited the people in the city of Zarahemla to come to the Savior in order to “partake of the fruit of the tree of life” (Alma 5:34, 62). He later promised the poor among the Zoramites that, if they would plant the word of God in their hearts and nourish it with diligence and patience, it would take root and eventually become “a tree springing up unto everlasting life.” He called this “the tree of life,” and told them that its fruit is “sweet above all that is sweet,” “white above all that is white,”  and “pure above all that is pure” (Alma 32:40-42).

In the book of Revelation, the apostle John teaches us that those who “overcome” will be given the privilege “to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7). And in the very last chapter of the Bible, John describes the tree of life straddling a pure river in the celestial kingdom of God. “Blessed are they that do his commandments,” he says, “that they may have right to the tree of life” (Revelation 22:2, 14).

Today, I will remember that the love of God will bring us more joy than anything else we might ever experience. I will be grateful that the Savior has overcome the effects of the Fall, enabling us to receive the blessings represented by the fruit of the tree of life, if we have faith, repent of our sins, and follow Him.

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What Does the Book of Mormon Teach About the Fall of Adam and Eve?

The Bible tells the story of the Fall of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2-4. Job mentions it once (Job 31:33), and the Apostle Paul discusses it four times in his epistles (Romans 5:12-21, 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, 2 Corinthians 11:3, 1 Timothy 2:11-15). But the Bible never refers to it as “the Fall,” and it’s implications are never explained in detail.

The Book of Mormon adds substantially to our understanding of this doctrine. It is discussed at least 14 times, with three detailed explanations (2 Nephi 2:15-27, Alma 12:20-27, Alma 42:2-14). Here are some of the principles the Book of Mormon teaches us about the Fall:

Today, I will be grateful for the role of the Fall of Adam and Eve. I will remember that all things work toward our salvation, and that even events which appear to be in opposition to God’s will may be part of His plan for our happiness. I will be grateful that, through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we can overcome the effects of the Fall, be reconciled with God, and return to His presence.

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What Is the Significance of the Phrase “a Tabernacle of Clay?”

Before casting Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden, God explained to them how their lives would change. Eve would bring forth children in sorrow. (As Lehi explained to his sons, Adam and Eve were not capable of bearing children before this time: 2 Nephi 2:22-23.) Adam and Eve would now have to labor for their sustenance. And one day, the ultimate consequence of partaking the forbidden fruit would happen: they would die. As God declared to Adam: “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Genesis 3:19).

In our daily lives, it’s easy to forget how fragile we really are. Occasional experiences remind us of our mortality, but for some reason, our brains are programmed to forget our vulnerability most of the time.

But remembering our limitations can help us to be humble. Isaiah pleaded for mercy by acknowledging the dependence of his people on the Lord: “O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand” (Isaiah 64:8). And the prophet Jeremiah spoke to the children of Israel on behalf of the Lord using the same metaphor: “Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel” (Jeremiah 18:6). (See also Isaiah 29:16, Isaiah 45:9, Job 13:12, Job 33:6).

The angel who delivered good news to King Benjamin described the Savior both in terms of His immortality and in terms of His mortality as the son of Mary:

  • Immortality – “The Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity…”
  • Mortality – “…shall come down from heaven among the children of men, and shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay” (Mosiah 3:5).

Why did He have to take on a mortal body? I don’t know the answer, but it seems clear from the record that it was necessary. “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world,” He said to Pilate (John 18:37). He felt a sense of mission connected with His mortal ministry. He knew that there were certain activities which He could only perform when clothed in a mortal body: a “tabernacle of flesh.”

And what of us? Elder Neal A. Maxwell testified that mortality is also essential for us:

We too, brothers and sisters, came “into the world” to pass through our particularized portions of the mortal experience. Even though our experiences do not even begin to approach our Master’s, nevertheless, to undergo this mortal experience is why we too are here! Purposefully pursuing this “cause” brings ultimate meaning to our mortal lives (“Apply the Atoning Blood of Christ,” General Conference, October 1997).

So it’s fitting that Mormon would use the same phrase as he encouraged his son to keep working hard, even as their society crumbled around them:

And now, my beloved son, notwithstanding their hardness, let us labor diligently; for if we should cease to labor, we should be brought under condemnation; for we have a labor to perform whilst in this tabernacle of clay, that we may conquer the enemy of all righteousness, and rest our souls in the kingdom of God (Moroni 9:6).

Mortal life is hard. It was designed to be so. We are subject to pain, illness, fatigue, mental and emotional strain, loneliness, and other challenges. Our bodies are fragile and easily injured, our minds also. But there are things that we can only accomplish by passing through this mortal experience. Just as the Savior could only fulfill His mission by taking on a “tabernacle of clay,” we also have tasks that we can only complete while we are mortal.

Today, I will remember the Savior’s commitment to fulfilling the purposes of His mortal life. I will remember that I am also on this earth for a reason. I will look for my missions, and I will strive to fulfill them. I will remember, as Mormon told his son, that we all have “a labor to perform whilst in this tabernacle of clay.”

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