Latter-day Saints Keep on Trying

Latter-day Saints Keep on Trying

My dear brothers and
sisters, in December 2013 the world mourned the
death of Nelson Mandela. After 27 years of
imprisonment for his role in the anti-apartheid
struggle, Mandela was the first democratically
elected president of South Africa. His forgiveness of those who had
imprisoned him was remarkable. He received widespread
acclaim and praise. Mandela frequently deflected
accolades by saying, “I’m no saint–that is, unless
you think a saint is a sinner who keeps on trying.” This statement–“A saint
is a sinner who keeps on trying”–should reassure
and encourage members of the Church. Although we’re referred
to as “Latter-day Saints,” we sometimes flinch
at this reference. The term saints is
commonly used to designate those who have achieved an
elevated state of holiness or even perfection. And we know perfectly well
that we are not perfect. Our theology does
teach us, though, that we may be
perfected by repeatedly and iteratively “relying wholly
upon” the doctrine of Christ: exercising faith
in Him, repenting, partaking of the sacrament
to renew the covenants and blessings of
baptism, and receiving the Holy Ghost as a constant
companion to a greater degree. As we do so, we become
more like Christ and are able to endure
to the end, with all that that entails. In less formal terms,
God cares a lot more about who we are and
about who we are becoming than about who we once were. He cares that we keep on trying. The comedy As You
Like It, written by the English playwright
William Shakespeare, depicts a dramatic change
in a character’s life. An older brother
attempts to have his younger brother killed. Even knowing this,
the younger brother saves his wicked brother
from certain death. When the older brother learns
of this undeserved compassion, he is totally and
forever changed and has what he
calls a “conversion.” Later, several women approach
the older brother and ask, “Was’t you that so oft contrived
to kill [your brother]?” The older brother answers:
“‘Twas I, but ’tis not I. I do not shame to tell you
what I was–since my conversion so sweetly tastes,
being the thing I am.” For us, because of God’s
mercy and the Atonement of Jesus Christ, such a change
is not just literary fiction. Through Ezekiel,
the Lord declared: “As for the wickedness
of the wicked, he shall not fall
thereby in the day that he turneth
from his wickedness. … If he turn from his sin and do
that which is lawful and right; … restore the pledge, give
again that he had robbed, walk in the statutes of life,
without committing iniquity; he shall surely live. … None of his sins that
he hath committed shall be mentioned to
him: he hath done that which is lawful and right.” In His mercy, God promises
forgiveness when we repent and turn from wickedness–so
much so that our sins will not even be mentioned to us. For us, because of the Atonement
of Christ and our repentance, we can look at our past
deeds and say, “‘Twas I, but ’tis not I.” No matter how wicked, we
can say, “That’s who I was, but that past wicked self
is no longer who I am.” President Thomas S.
Monson has taught, “One of God’s
greatest gifts to us is the joy of trying again, for
no failure ever need be final.” Even if we’ve been a
conscious, deliberate sinner or have repeatedly faced failure
and disappointment, the moment we decide to try again,
the Atonement of Christ can help us. And we need to
remember that it is not the Holy Ghost who tells
us we’re so far gone that we might as well give up. God’s desire that Latter-day
Saints keep on trying also extends beyond overcoming sin. Whether we suffer because
of troubled relationships, economic challenges, illnesses,
or as a consequence of someone else’s sins, the Savior’s
Atonement can heal, even–and perhaps
especially–those who have innocently suffered. He understands
perfectly what it is like to suffer innocently as
a consequence of another’s transgression. As prophesied, the Savior will
“bind up the brokenhearted, … give … beauty for ashes, … oil of joy for mourning,
[and] the garment of praise for the
spirit of heaviness.” No matter what, with His help,
God expects Latter-day Saints to keep on trying. Just as God rejoices
when we persevere, He is disappointed
if we don’t recognize that others are trying too. Our dear friend Thoba shared
how she learned this lesson from her mother, Julia. Julia and Thoba were among
the early black converts in South Africa. After the apartheid
regime ended, black and white
members of the Church were permitted to
attend church together. For many, the equality of
interaction between the races was new and challenging. One time as Julia and
Thoba attended church, they felt they were
treated less than kindly by some white members. As they left, Thoba complained
bitterly to her mother. Julia listened
calmly until Thoba had vented her frustration. Then Julia said, “Oh, Thoba, the
Church is like a big hospital, and we’re all sick
in our own way. We come to church to be helped.” Julia’s comment reflects
a valuable insight. We must not only be
tolerant while others work on their
individual illnesses; we must also be kind, patient,
supportive, and understanding. As God encourages us
to keep on trying, He expects us to
also allow others the space to do the
same at their own pace. The Atonement will come into our
lives in even greater measure. We will then recognize
that regardless of perceived
differences, all of us are in need of the same
infinite Atonement. Some years ago a wonderful
young man named Curtis was called to serve a mission. He was the kind of missionary
every mission president prays for. He was focused and worked hard. At one point he was assigned
a missionary companion who was immature, socially
awkward, and not particularly enthusiastic about
getting the work done. One day, while riding
their bicycles, Curtis looked back and
saw that his companion had inexplicably gotten off
his bike and was walking. Silently Curtis expressed
his frustration to God. What a chore it was to be
saddled with a companion he had to drag around in
order to accomplish anything. Moments later Curtis had
a profound impression, as if God were saying
to him, “You know, Curtis, compared to
me, the two of you aren’t all that different.” Curtis learned that
he needed to be patient with an imperfect
companion who nonetheless was trying in his own way. My invitation to all of us
is to evaluate our lives, repent, and keep on trying. If we don’t try, we’re
just latter-day sinners; if we don’t persevere,
we’re latter-day quitters; and if we don’t
allow others to try, we’re just latter-day
hypocrites. As we try, persevere, and
help others to do the same, we are true Latter-day Saints. As we change, we’ll
find that God indeed cares a lot more about
who we are and about who we are becoming than
about who we once were. I am deeply grateful
for the Savior, for His infinite Atonement,
and for latter-day prophets who encourage us
to be Latter-day Saints, to keep on trying. I witness of the
Savior’s living reality in the name of
Jesus Christ, amen.

2 Replies to “Latter-day Saints Keep on Trying”

  1. Continuance or growth in salvation also requires our effort. There is a popular teaching, known as the Keswick teaching (it was popularized at some Bible conferences held in Keswick, England), that we are not to exert any effort in the Christian life, that any striving proves that we are operating in the flesh, not in the Spirit. It is built on verses like Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.” That’s a blessed truth which we all must learn to apply!

    But there are also many verses in the New Testament which show that even the Spirit-filled life requires that I must strive against sin (Heb. 12:4); I must fight the good fight of faith (2 Tim. 4:7; Eph. 6:10-18); I must run the race so as to win (1 Cor. 9:24); I must be active in cleansing myself from defilement of flesh and spirit and perfecting holiness in the fear of God (2 Cor. 7:1). As our text says, because God is at work, I must work out my salvation. Doing it “with fear and trembling” implies both a reverent fear of God and an awareness of my own weakness and propensity toward sin that leads me to judge myself.

    So the point is, even though God sovereignly wills and works all things after the counsel of His will, at the same time each of us is responsible to exert effort to work out the implications of our salvation each day. Yes, we must rely on the Holy Spirit and His power, not on our flesh. But, yes again, we must work. As Paul says (1 Cor. 15:10), he labored more than all of the other apostles; then he adds, “yet not I, but the grace of God with me.” So we can’t excuse our laziness or lack of obedience by saying, “God didn’t move me to do it!” We must work with God.

    We’ve seen that we must possess salvation to be able to work it out; and that while salvation is completely God’s work, yet we must work out our salvation in dependence on God. In Philippians 2:12-13, Paul writes, “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his purpose.”

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