Sunday, May 1, 2011
Accepting Jesus Christ as my Personal Savior
My Sacrament Meeting Talk: April 2011
When I first heard the topic “Accepting Jesus Christ as my Personal Savior” I was a little hesitant. Some of you may know that I consider myself a writer and write on gospel topics often. On my blog I call them “spiritual thoughts”. I often bare testimony of Christ, but I’ve never touched on the subject of Christ as my personal Savior and having to give a talk on this subject made me really nervous. It took me a minute to realize why this is such a hard topic for me. After some thought and discussion, I realized it wasn’t the topic itself, but the wording of the topic. Do I believe Christ is my Savior? Of course I do! But spending so much time in “blogland” as we like to call it that is a phrase thrown around so often and usually, but not always, by people who don’t seem to actually know what it means.
People who ask others if they’ve accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior are often the same people who have judged me quite openly, harshly and publicly online. You wouldn’t believe some of the things I’ve been thrown my way. Often these “Christians” are very extreme and not very quiet. So many people believe that they just have to say the words that they’ve accepted Jesus Christ and they are “saved”. To them that’s all there is to it; you believe in Christ and salvation is yours. I do have many non-LDS Christian friends who are not judgmental and try to live a Christ-like life the best they can, and I love them, but as you know, it’s always the negative ones that stick out in your mind the most. Once I realized why I didn’t like this topic it was much easier for me to move passed that and really ponder on what it means to me to accept Jesus Christ as my own personal Savior, not the Savior of the world, but as my very own Savior.
First off, I want to talk a little bit about salvation, because it can have many different meanings, even within the church. First off, there is salvation from physical death. We will all die and we will all experience salvation from physical death. Even those who have not accepted Christ or those who have never heard of Christ will be saved in this way. Our Savior gave us the gift of resurrection through his own Atonement and Resurrection. 1 Corinthians 15:22 says, “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive”.
Theodore M. Burton said in a BYU devotional in 1982, “When people of the world speak of being “saved,” they refer to being saved from death to rise in the resurrection. This is the first part of the atonement of Jesus Christ as he described it. It is a pure gift of grace which Jesus Christ gives to every person who has lived on the earth, and is independent of the works we do. But to be exalted to eternal life and to be able to live the kind of life that God the Eternal Father lives requires not only the gift of grace that Jesus gives to all mankind through his atonement, but that gift coupled with our own obedience and conformity to all the requirements of righteous living prescribed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Exaltation, or the eternal life Jesus spoke about, comes from a partnership with Jesus Christ, which begins in the ordinance of baptism, by which we are reborn, and is developed through a lifetime of righteous living.”
Salvation from sin is when we are cleansed and forgiven for our sins. Just as we will all die, we will all sin. Jesus Christ is the only perfect person to ever walk this earth. Big sins or small sins, we all have them. This salvation is also sometimes referred to as being “born again”. Being Born Again is another phrase I shy away from because it is used so much. Being born again or saved does not mean you simply declare your belief in Jesus Christ and forever your sins will be forgiven with no work on your part. Just as Jesus Christ was baptized and received the Holy Ghost, we must be too. But even baptism doesn’t guarantee our salvation from sin. This is something we have to work at daily, not only by living our lives in a Christ-like manner, but also by repenting continually. As Christ-like as we try to be, none of us can be sinless as Christ was. Being born again is a continual process as we try to live our lives daily as our Heavenly Father would want us to do. It’s not one change in our heart, it’s a process.
I like that Elder Burton mentions that baptism is only the beginning. When a baby is born that isn’t the end of their progression and likewise, when we are reborn through baptism or accepting Christ, that isn’t the end of ours. Being saved is developed through a lifetime of righteous living.
Salvation can also be a salvation from ignorance. Ignorance is not always bliss. There are many people who live their lives without a knowledge of who they are and what their purpose is here on this earth. Missionary work is an example of saving someone from ignorance.
The word Salvation is often used interchangeably with the word exaltation in the scriptures. Exaltation means not only being saved from physical death, but being able to dwell with our Heavenly Parents and Jesus Christ forever. Unlike the other usages of the word salvation, this gift comes only after the final judgment. I had someone ask me why we believe in temples in our church because they believe that as long as you take Christ into your heart, you are saved. I responded by writing an article about the differences between salvation and exaltation. I don’t think it made much sense to them though. Saved is saved to a lot of people.
So, now that we know a little more about what salvation means, I want to discuss what it means to me personally. When I think of accepting Jesus Christ as my personal Savior the first thing that comes to mind is Matthew 11: 28-30 “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
We all have heavy burdens and pain in our lives, some of us more than others. Some of these burdens we carry around come from our own sins and bad choices, some come from the bad choices of others who inflict hurt and burden on us and sometimes bad things just happen. Anyone who has known me for any amount of time knows that I have always had my share of frustrations, pain and sorrow. From growing up in a neglectful and abusive home, to spending a decade in a marriage laced with serious problems and feeling a huge responsibility for someone else to the point of letting my own spirituality and self esteem suffer, to being a single mom, raising three kids on my own for the last four years, my life has never had any real smooth points. I’m actually one of those people that just seems to be extremely unlucky. I think I’m the poster child for “if it can go wrong, it will”. I know what it feels like to be pulled down by burdens of many kinds. I also know how freeing it can be to let Jesus Christ take some of my load. Christ not only took on our sins, but also our pain and temptations and anger and frustrations and loneliness. He felt all those things so that we wouldn’t have to go through our trials alone.
I didn’t grow up in an LDS home. I was around 21 or 22 when I decided I wanted my kids to have a better life than I had growing up. I wanted my kids to have morals and standards. With Caleb as a newborn, Nina being four and Alyssa as a toddler I started attending church on a regular basis. Really all it took was a great home teacher and his wife to invite me and offer to sit by me. I had visiting teachers from the time I got married at 17, but I always felt like a number to them. They would call the last week of the month and if I couldn’t have them over by the 31st they weren’t interested and said they’d just call me next month instead of scheduling the appointment on the 1st or 2nd when I was free. I’d overhear things like, “Well I’ve been her visiting teacher for a few months and she hasn’t gone to church so someone else should take a turn.” They didn’t care about me or my family; it was all about being able to report back that they had been there and that they got me to come to church.
My very nice home teacher and his wife would come and visit me. They had no kids of their own yet and could see how overwhelmed I was with my little kids and a husband who worked two jobs and was never home, including at night. They would invite me to Sunday dinner or just stop by to visit and about the time Caleb was born they asked me to church and offered to sit by me and help me with the kids. Those early days were a nightmare. I’d attend church alone or if my husband did come he’d easily grow frustrated if one of the kids made a squawk, which of course they did.
Very soon after I started attending church I received two callings, three if you count visiting teaching. I was called to be on the activities committee and I was called into the nursery at the same time. Remember, I had a one month old, an 18 month old and a four year old, with no support when it came to things of a spiritual manner. I would wrangle the kids all alone through sacrament meeting and then deal with 20 kids in the nursery while trying to take care of my own newborn. I hated church. I would often put the two babies in my double stroller and walk to church just to give myself time to calm down after getting myself and three little people ready in the morning. I was frazzled and stressed and didn’t feel like I was getting anything out of church at all, but I was stubborn and determined. We went week after week. After a year and a half doing double duty with callings I was called as the Primary secretary. That was even more stressful than the nursery and took more time and caused more frustrations. I cried every single week when I got home from church.
Six months later we moved and three weeks after moving into our new ward I was called as the second counselor in Young Women’s. That was the first time I was even able to feel the Spirit at church. My kids were older, if you can call having a two year old and a three year old older and I actually attended Sunday School and Young Women’s. We had been trying to have Family Home Evening before this, but this was around the time we started to be more consistent. My relationship with my Savior grew like never before. As a Young Women’s leader I read the Book of Mormon all the way through for the first time and completed the full Personal Progress book in a year. Through other callings I held, prayer, the study of gospel topics and all those other typical Sunday School type answer items I grew closer and closer to my Savior. I gained a strong personal testimony of all aspects of the gospel and was able to eventually attend the temple.
I am actually grateful that I did not grow up in the church. Although it would have been easier to have the gospel standards and the Spirit in my life from the start, I can honestly say that every aspect of my testimony is my own. I earned it and usually earned it the hard way. It wasn’t easy and if I wasn’t so stubborn I would have given up on the church and on Jesus Christ a long time ago.
When I was going through my divorce four years ago, I felt the Spirit and the love of my Savior more than I ever had in my life. I knew I was making the right decision and I knew my Heavenly Father loved me and would take care of me and He did. As hard as it is to turn our burdens over to Jesus Christ, it is the only way to have peace in this life. There are times in my life where I have no peace and it feels like everything is going wrong and my life is falling apart around me and I’ll never accomplish anything I’m working towards, but when I turn my heart to Him and I remember that I have a Savior and a Father in Heaven who both love me very much I’m able to find my way back to peace.
Jesus Christ is there to save us from the full burden of our afflictions. It’s hard sometimes to pray and ask for help and then to accept that help when it comes if you’re stubborn and prideful like me, but if you do it, you will be blessed. Over the last year I’ve come to a realization about a lesson my Heavenly Father is trying to teach me. He wants me to humble myself and ask for help. I hate feeling like a burden on people and I’m very independent and like to think I can do everything on my own. Over and over I am seeing that as soon as I let go of my pride and ask someone for help I am blessed and most of the time not even by the person I’m asking. I will ask someone for help and then the thing I need comes in a different way. Often times the person I’m asking for help doesn’t end up burdened at all because Heavenly Father finds a different way to help me with what I need. I am very slowly learning that I don’t have to carry all my hardships alone. I do have a Savior who not only will save me from death and sin, but save me from feeling alone and lost.
If you are feeling like you have no hope and you are all alone, let the Savior be there for you. There are times I really feel like I will never get remarried and I’ll be alone forever. I get stressed with financial burdens, feeling overwhelmed with the kids, I’ve spent the last two months fixing up an entire house, and just life in general is often more than I can handle alone, but when I’m doing what’s right and I’m bringing the Savior into my life and coming until Him, I feel peace, even among all the turmoil. And peace is good! I don’t think I had ever felt real peace in my whole life until after my divorce. I thought something was wrong with me. I wondered if I should be getting on depression medications, I hated my life and I felt weighed down and burdened by things that were completely out of my control. For someone who lived the first 28 years of their life in turmoil, the peace the Savior offers is an amazing blessing in my life. I still get bogged down and frustrated, but when I get to that place where I’m so overwhelmed I’m ready to crack I am saved. Jesus Christ has never let me down yet and He never will. I know that you too can feel the blessings of Jesus Christ as your personal Savior if you’ll just open your heart, humble yourself and let him in. There is nothing quite like the peace He can bring.
I think for me, the key to accepting Christ as my personal Savior is to do more than just believe in him, but to actually accept His help and care. It is one thing for us to have a bishop or visiting teachers that we know would be there if we needed anything, it is quite another to actually humble ourselves enough to ask for their help and accept that help without feeling like we are a failure and these are just everyday people like us. Sometimes the thought of this huge infinite Being taking the time to hear us and listen to us and help us seems overwhelming. None of us are perfect; I know I’m sure not. None of us can overcome sin and pain and afflictions on our own.
We often hear the phrase a broken heart and a contrite spirit are the way to come closer to Jesus Christ, but have you ever wondered what it means, how it feels? This means having real sorrow when we do something wrong, recognizing our own weaknesses, feeling deep gratitude for the sacrifice the Savior made in our behalf, being willing to do whatever God asks of us and doing it with a happy heart, it means that we are humble and even more than that it means we are willing to let go of the crazy impulse we have of always wanting to be in charge of every aspect of our lives and turning it over to God. We need to let go of our pride and resistance and let Him be our life-long partner and Savior. Christ’s atonement isn’t something that benefits us only after we die. It is for here and now, every step of the way. Once we learn to accept Him into our hearts and minds we will truly be saved.
I’d like to bear my testimony to you that I know Jesus Christ is the Savior of us all. I know that He knows and cares about each of us personally. He has felt what we feel and He is willing to take on our burdens if only we will let Him. I am so grateful to be a member of Christ’s church on the earth today and that I am blessed to know Him.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen