This week I learned – or relearned – many wonderful principles in studying the Book of Mormon – Another Testament of Jesus Christ, and I had a difficult time deciding what I would share with you. I considered numerous ideas but never felt good about them until I pondered and prayed about “the doctrine of Christ.”
As Nephi, an ancient American prophet, was nearing the end of his life, he apparently felt the need to emphasize his most important teachings in his record. He wrote an entire chapter on “the doctrine of Christ” and did so in a clear and concise manner. Nephi’s desire was to emphasize the importance of knowing “the doctrine of Christ,” and he taught with “plainness” and directness in order that no one would misunderstand his teachings. He wrote that he “must speak concerning the doctrine of Christ; wherefore, I shall speak unto you plainly, according to the plainness of my prophesying” (1 Nephi 31:2).
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke about Nephi and his writings. “In the Book of Mormon, `the doctrine of Christ’ is simple and direct. It focuses on the first principles of the gospel exclusively, including an expression of encouragement to endure, to persist, to press on. Indeed, it is in the clarity and simplicity of `the doctrine of Christ’ that its impact is found….
“… The doctrine of Christ is not complicated. It is profoundly, beautifully, single-mindedly clear and complete.”
Elder Holland further explained this subject: “Although a phrase like `the doctrine of Christ’ could appropriately be used to describe any or all of the Master’s teachings, nevertheless those magnificently broad and beautiful expressions spread throughout the Book of Mormon, New Testament, and latter-day scriptures might more properly be called `the doctrines of Christ.’ Note that the phrase Nephi used is distinctly singular. In Nephi’s concluding testimony, and later in the Savior’s own declaration to the Nephites at His appearance to them, the emphasis is on a precise, focused, singular sense of Christ’s doctrine, specifically that which the Prophet Joseph Smith declared to be `the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel’” ” (Christ and the New Covenant , 49-50, 56; as quoted in Book of Mormon Student Manual, Religion 121-122 , p. 107).
Some of my readers may be asking: “What is this doctrine of Christ’? What are these `first principles and ordinances'?" To be as plain in my writing as Nephi was in his book, I will simply state this doctrine and these principles form the foundation for eternal life. They are principles and ordinances that all of us who have reached the age of eight years physically and mentally must complete in order to enter God’s kingdom and live with Heavenly Father for eternity.
When the Prophet Joseph Smith wrote his “Articles of Faith,” he included this statement: “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” (Articles of Faith 1:4).
Nephi wrote more on the subject than this simple statement by Joseph Smith. Nephi first wrote about the Savior and how He needed to “be baptized by water, to fulfil all righteousness” (1 Nephi 31:5). Then Nephi explained that Jesus Christ “humbled himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments” (verse 7). The Savior was sinless, but He was baptized to fulfill the requirement for baptism and to show us the importance of baptism. We can show our faith in Jesus Christ by following His example and keeping the commandments of God.
The second step in Christ’s doctrine is repentance. We must confess our sins to God as well as to others, including those we have hurt as well as proper priesthood authority for serious sins. Repentance means to stop committing the act, but it also includes attempting to make restitution to our victims as far as we possibly can. If we have stolen something, we should return it if possible or pay the value of it. Repentance is a very important part of “the doctrine of Christ” because it prepares us to make the covenant of baptism.
The third step is baptism, which means to be immersed in water. We are baptized for several reasons, which include: (1) to show obedience to Heavenly Father, (2) to fulfill the requirement for entrance into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, (3) to covenant with the Father that we will keep His commandments, and (4) to enter the path leading to eternal life in the kingdom of God. Baptism must be performed under proper priesthood authority.
“And also, the voice of the Son came unto me, saying: He that is baptized in my name, to him will the Father give the Holy Ghost, like unto me; wherefore, follow me, and do the things which ye have seen me do.
“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I know that if ye shall follow the Son, with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ, by baptism – yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, according to his word, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost…” (verses 12-13)
The fourth step is receiving the Holy Ghost. After a person is baptized, elders of the Church lay their hands upon the head of the newly-baptized person; the person is then confirmed to be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and given the gift of the Holy Ghost. The elders add these words: “receive the Holy Ghost.” That is a commandment to the newly-baptized person; the Holy Ghost will not come to them automatically but will come when He is invited. We invite the Holy Ghost into our lives by obedience to the commandments of God and by our worthiness to receive His presence.
Nephi taught, “…then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; …” (verse 13). It is the fire of the Holy Ghost that remits sins, not the water of baptism. My instructor shared the following quote from Elder Bruce R. McConkie, “Sins are not remitted in the waters of baptism, as we say in speaking figuratively, but when we receive the Holy Ghost. It is the Holy Spirit of God that erases carnality and brings us into a state of righteousness. We become clean when we actually receive the fellowship and companionship of the Holy Ghost. It is then that sin and dross and evil are burned out of our souls as though by fire” (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith).
So, the first principles and ordinances of the gospel are: (1) Faith in Jesus Christ, (2) Repentance, (3) Baptism by immersion in water, and (4) receiving the Holy Ghost. Nephi then adds a fifth step, endure to the end. “And I heard a voice from the Father, saying: Yea, the words of my Beloved are true and faithful. He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved.
“And now, my beloved brethren, I know by this that unless a man shall endure to the end, in following the example of the Son of the living God, he cannot be saved” (verses 15-16).
Nephi does not leave us wondering how to “endure to the end.” After reminding his readers of the “gate” one enters by faith in Christ “repentance,” “baptism by water,” and the “remission of sins by fire and the Holy Ghost,” he tells us that we have entered “a strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life” (verses 17-18). He then explains enduring to the end.
“And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save
“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.
“And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen” (verses 19-21; italics added).
Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin further explained what enduring to the end means: “Enduring to the end is the doctrine of continuing on the path leading to eternal life after one has entered into the path through faith, repentance, baptism, and receiving the Holy Ghost. Enduring to the end requires our whole heart – or, as the Book of Mormon prophet Amaleki taught, we must `come unto him, and offer [our] whole souls as an offering unto him, and continue in fasting and praying, and endure to the end; and as the Lord liveth [we] will be saved.’ [Omni 1:26].
“Enduring to the end means that we have planted our lives firmly on gospel soil, staying in the mainstream of the Church, humbly serving our fellowmen, living Christlike lives, and keeping our covenants. Those who endure are balanced, consistent, humble, constantly improving, and without guile. Their testimonies are not based on worldly reasons – they are based on truth, knowledge, experience, and the Spirit” (Ensign, November 2004, p. 101; as quoted in Institute manual, p. 109).