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An Intro to Becoming

As my first venture into this forum as an actual column contributor, I am going to post something I wrote for my own blog recently. First, however, a little background on my basic philosophy of life as a process of becoming.

I believe in a very simple framework for eternal progression: Identify the ideal for which you want to strive, then identify where you are in relation to that ideal. Accept the fact that you are unable to live / meet that ideal (that there is a gap between the ideal and the real) and that the goal is to figure out where you are right now, identify what the gap is between where you are and where you want to get, and draw up a step-by-step plan that lays out what you need to do to continually move toward your ideal – not to reach it in any particular time frame. I believe in tackling one thing at a time for a set period of time – and in being willing to accept incremental growth and improvement as good enough. I believe in the concept and power of grace – that God knows I can’t do it all, that He has made allowances for my inability to do it all, and that His tears of both joy and sorrow fall more freely for his children who try to do it all than for for His children who ignore Him in more obvious ways. I believe in the real power of the Atonement – not just the suffering of Christ in Gethsemane, but the entire eternal process that constitutes the Atonement. I believe that if there is one great truth that is understandable to all, it is this: “I am child of God.”

I believe I am a son of God, with all that such a belief entails. I believe that the “Atonement” is the best name we have for Heavenly Father’s overarching plan to take me (and each of you) from a strictly spiritual state to my eventual end – becoming, in actual reality, at one with Him. It is not an event; it is a process – and that process is laid out for us in detail by Jesus Himself, in the scriptures available to all Christians (and all humanity). It is that process that will be the focus of my column here.

As the foundation, here is what I wrote for my personal blog recently. I will re-title it here as “Understanding Perfection”.

The great commandment “in the law” is, in summary, “Love God and everyone else.” (Matthew 22: 35-40) However, the great culmination of Christ’s penultimate sermon (The Sermon on the Mount) is a powerful commandment outside the law – and, in a very real way, is the practical application of the command to love. This foundational command is contained in Matthew 5:48: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect.”

Apostate Christianity has addressed this commandment in two ways: 1) by applying a legalistic (Law of Moses-like) meaning (“never make a mistake/commit a sin”) and, based on the impossibility of that definition, 2) turning it into a suggestion – something one cannot hope to achieve but a nice platitude regardless. (“Try not to make mistakes/sin, but realize it doesn’t really matter in the long run.”) While this sounds fine – and even laudable – to most people, it totally destroys the power and beauty of the command itself. It is my conviction that someone simply cannot understand the atonement (and the full grace that makes “atonement” possible) if they accept and internalize this apostate definition of perfection. Let me emphasize that “mistake-less” and “sin-less” are apostate definitions for perfection as it applies to us as a command.

If you have the scriptures available, either in book form or via the Church’s website, please open the Bible to Matthew and actually look at what I am about to describe. (Waiting for that to happen, so do that, if you can, before continuing to read. ————————— Giving you time and one more prod to do it.)

The footnotes to Matthew 5:48 make a critical definition distinction – one that changes the entire meaning and empowers the command in an amazing way. Footnote (b), which is attached to the word “perfect”, defines it from the Greek thus: “complete, finished, fully developed.” This means that the verse can be read as follows:

“Be ye therefore complete, finished, fully developed, even as your Father which is in heaven is complete, finished, fully developed.” What an amazing difference!

I am planning on delving further into the practical application of this principle in future posts, since I don’t want this one to be a novella all by itself, but suffice it to say here that this definition changes fundamentally how our quest for perfection should be understood and approached – and, at the most basic level, lies at the heart of nearly every aspect of the atonement (grace, repentance, faith, works/fruits and, perhaps most importantly for many – especially women – guilt, shame and spiritual/emotional freedom).

If you take nothing from this post but one message, take the fact that you do NOT need to feel ashamed and guilty and overwhelmed by your “incomplete, unfinished, partially developed” state. The world teaches that such a state is irreconcilable with God; Matthew 5:48 says otherwise – saying it can be done – and the practical way to do so is provided, as well.

That practical process is what I will address in upcoming posts.

{ 7 comments… add one }

  • davidson January 11, 2008, 10:47 am

    Hurray! This was great, Ray. I especially loved this:

    “I believe in tackling one thing at a time for a set period of time – and in being willing to accept incremental growth and improvement as good enough. I believe in the concept and power of grace – that God knows I can ?t do it all, that He has made allowances for my inability to do it all, and that His tears of both joy and sorrow fall more freely for HIS CHILDREN WHO TRY TO DO IT ALL than for for His CHILDREN WHO IGNORE HIM in more obvious ways.”

    I have been mildly surprised by the contempt found in the Church for people who want to try to “do it all,” at least in a gospel sense, who have the desire in their hearts to keep every commandment they can in the best way they know how. Somehow that has evolved into something to scoff at, joke about. It causes discomfort. I wonder why. At least in some instances, those who actively seek the step-by-step perfection or completion you’re speaking of have their motives questioned, or assumptions are made about their motivations such that they develop reputations for being intolerant and having “holier than thou” attitudes, merely by their trying! I have heard them accused of judging others, when in fact they may be looking inward instead of around. Even Wikipedia includes definitions for Molly Mormon and Peter Priesthood, some of which is favorable, but mostly not. (A house divided against itself? How must the world see the Molly Mormon and Peter Priesthood labels we have created within the framework of our own church? We scoff at our own?) I wonder–if Nephi were to come to our wards today and say, “Thus far, I and my father had kept the commandments wherewith the Lord had commanded us,” (1 Nephi 5:20), would he be slapped with the Peter Priesthood label? Accused of being intolerant and holier than thou? Would his statement of devotion be considered evidence that he was judging himself favorably and others unfavorably? Well, I guess he had it in his day; his own brothers felt that way about him. Joseph’s brothers felt that way about him. The Savior’s stepbrothers felt that way about Him.

    It probably boils down to what the Lord told Moroni when he was so concerned about how the readers of his writings would view him: “And it came to pass that the Lord said unto me, If they have not charity IT MATTERETH NOT UNTO THEE, thou hast been faithful; wherefore they garments shall be made clean. And because thou hast seen thy weakness, thou shalt be made strong.”

    My motto is “Fearlessly seek the ideal.” I delight in trying to live the gospel. I delight in seeing others try to live the gospel. I applaud those who are willing to try their very best. I love those who haven’t found that desire within them yet, and I trust the Lord loves them, too. Ray, I have never known anyone like you–you who are willing to plan the eating of your elephant into a daily menu. Thanks for sharing your meal plans with us.

  • Ray January 11, 2008, 11:47 am

    Thanks, Davidson, but I’m blushing. I don’t claim any special insight; I got my outlook from my father, from whom I learned far more than I realized growing up. I’ve been debating about what I should do as my next post, and I’ve been toying with posting a tribute I wrote a while ago to my dad. He really exemplifies what it means to focus on becoming from a Gospel standpoint. I know I will post it at some point.

    Those who crucified Jesus did so because they could not accept Him as the one who had paid (Jehovah) and would pay (Christ) for their sins. They said, in essence, “We don’t need you. We are children of Abraham. We are fine. We’ll do it on our own.

    In a very real way, not accepting what He paid so dearly to provide until we have exhausted ourselves is no different than not accepting that His offer was ever made in the first place, since they both tell Him to get lost until we get a handle on it on our own. That’s worth pondering all by itself – and ties in directly to having a broken heart and a contrite spirit.

  • mlinford January 11, 2008, 12:34 pm

    I love this, Ray. Thank you.

    This ties in a bit with a post on guilt I wrote recently.

    I’m glad you two are part of MM.

  • Ray January 11, 2008, 12:48 pm

    Great post, m. (Sorry, my wife is Michelle, so you’ll just have to be “m” to me.) Understanding “perfection” properly goes a long way toward alleviating the “natural (wo)man” guilt and understanding what grace really means.

  • mlinford January 12, 2008, 12:06 am

    Maybe I’ll have Alison use my nickname (Shelley) to reduce confusion. :) Until then, Ray, m is fine.

    Grace is really becoming one of my favorite gospel truths.

  • facethemusic January 13, 2008, 7:03 pm

    I’m a little behind at MormonMomma– haven’t really had time to check in. But I’m glad the Sabbath’s rest gave me time to check in and read your post Ray.
    I LOVED that you clarified the meaning of Matt. 5:48. I remember covering that in Institute– it was like a light coming on.
    And really– that’s the whole beauty of the Atonement. It’s the pefect equation.

    Christ’s atonement + our humility and sincere repentence = our completeness/perfection

  • missbrown January 15, 2008, 9:26 pm

    Be ye therefore complete, finished, fully developed, even as your Father which is in heaven is complete, finished, fully developed. ?

    This made me think about how my life is like a fun project… like making a quilt. The finished product is wonderful, a joy to look at and have, but the process is also wonderful! I enjoy the choosing the fabrics, deciding how they should fit together, how I should cut them out, and even the occasional unpicking is part of the process. I also learn as I go, that it doesn’t pay to take shortcuts, like skipping the ironing. Just like in life, there are so many good things to choose from, we have to decide how all those pieces will fit, and sometimes we make mistakes. I learn as I go, and learn what is important, and what is not.

    Thank you for explaining this scripture this way… it really helped me look at my life, and my goal of perfection in a very real way!

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