Christlike life: Quest is to become like Him
It's easy. Send a link to the story you were just reading to a friend. Just fill out the form on this page and we'll send it along.
President David O. McKay taught: "No man can sincerely resolve to apply to his daily life the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth without sensing a change in his own nature." To choose Christ is to choose to be changed. Indeed, the glorious message of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that we can be better than we are, that we can change.
The quest to become more like our Lord and Savior — to be more spiritually attentive, more personally sensitive, more tender and gracious — ought to be the righteous desire of every Latter-day Saint. What, then, can I do?
1. Self-Denial. If I find myself particularly drawn to certain addictive patterns, then I can choose to avoid questionable locations, potentially compromising situations, and perhaps even people who prove more a temptation than a strength. If it becomes clear that my repeated insistence on being right is becoming a major obstacle to my relationship with friends and family, then maybe I can struggle to remain quiet, keep my comments to myself, allow the conversation to go forward without my contribution. Or, if I notice that time after time my speech and behavior at athletic contests are less than Christian, it just may be necessary to absent myself occasionally.
During His mortal ministry, Jesus called upon those who followed Him to deny themselves, to use personal restraint and moral discipline, to take up their cross daily (Luke 9:23). "And now for a man to take up his cross," the Master clarified, "is to deny himself all ungodliness, and every worldly lust, and keep my commandments" (JST, Matthew 16:26; see also 3 Nephi 12:29-30).
Discipleship is always a result of spiritual conditioning. We can never enjoy the blessings of self-mastery if we are slaves to our passions and appetites. As President McKay explained, "Spirituality is the consciousness of victory over self, and of communion with the Infinite." There is something infinitely sublime about the quiet confidence, the peaceful assurance of God's pleasure, that comes into our hearts and minds through enjoying victory over the flesh.
2. Emulation. By searching the holy scriptures we discover God's constitution for goodness and a happy life. The principles, precepts and parameters found therein can provide a lifelong course of instruction on such matters as how to become and remain a covenant person; how to keep God first in our lives; how to avoid the perils of the prosperity cycle; how to attend to the needs and ease the burdens of the less fortunate; how to repent of our sins and enjoy the cleansing power of the blood of Christ; how to live a sane and balanced life; and how to prepare for what lies ahead. The scriptures also teach us what God is like: how He extends to each of us His ongoing and everlasting tender mercies; what He commends and what He condemns; His infinite patience and long suffering with finite and struggling mortals; and His special oversight of and individual care for the outcast and the excluded. If I decide that I want to be a more Godly person, it only makes sense that I should search the scriptures, search the revelations to discover those attributes and qualities of our Lord that seem so very desirable.
We can ask the question regularly, "What would Jesus do?" when we find ourselves in circumstances that require an answer or an action. And in many cases we will discover in the Testaments (the Bible and Book of Mormon) specific deeds or determinations of Jehovah or Jesus Christ that point the way. Further, we can meditate on the principles being taught, principles that can be applied to myriad situations. Such a course in life will gradually help us comprehend why the imitation of Christ, the emulation of Him who never took a backward step, who did all things wisely and well, is one of the highest forms of worship. "'What would Jesus do?' or 'What would He have me do?' are the paramount personal questions of this life," President Ezra Taft Benson observed. "Walking in His way is the greatest achievement of life. That man or woman is most truly successful whose life most closely parallels that of the Master."
3. Transformation. No doubt we can pursue the path of Christ-likeness for much of the way through persistence. But it becomes painfully apparent after a while that sheer grit and will power can only do so much; that dogged determination has its limits; and that doubling and tripling our efforts may well prove in the long run to be both physically exhausting and spiritually counterproductive. Our Lord and Redeemer has called upon us to come unto Him, to become yoked to Him, and to experience the refreshing respite that derives from surrender to Him (Matthew 11:28-30). He has, through Simon Peter, invited us to "Cast all your care upon him; for he careth for you" (1 Peter 5:7). Well, of course He cares for us; He loves us, perfectly. More poignantly, however, is the sweet promise that if we lay our burdens at His feet He will care for us; that is, if we can learn to trust Him, rely upon Him, and have complete confidence in Him (we call this state of being faith), He will do the worrying, the fretting, and the caring for us. In the words of the great defender of the Christian faith, C. S. Lewis, we keep trying but we are "trying in a new way, a less worried way."
As we strive to cultivate the gift of the Holy Ghost, to enjoy the cleansing and empowering presence of the third member of the Godhead, not only will our hearts be renewed but our desires will be educated, our energies will be extended, and our capacity to do will be expanded. The apostle Paul cautioned the early Saints not to be "conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Romans 12:2). This comes about through that grace of which holy writ attests, the sustaining influence and enabling power of the Almighty that equips us to do what we could never do on our own. It is a gift of God, a gift that must be sought for, pleaded for, and received.
Paul taught that the "works of the flesh," the works of the natural man, the by-products of an unredeemed and unchanged heart, are in fact the deeds that lead to decay and destruction. On the other hand, the "fruit of the Spirit" are those divine qualities, those Christlike attributes that in course of time automatically flow from a transformed heart and a life centered in Christ — love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance or self-control (Galatians 5:19-24).
And so, in summary, we strive to deny ourselves of ungodliness. We yearn to have our walk and talk be like unto our Exemplar, the Prototype of all saved beings. And we seek for and obtain a nature, a disposition that no longer finds worldliness attractive, that no longer takes its cues from a fickle society, that no longer feels comfortable in Babylon.
And thus when Jesus Christ returns in glory He will be welcomed by those called the children of God, those who see Him as He is, for they will be like Him (1 John 3:1-2).
Robert L. Millet is the Abraham O. Smoot University Professor and a Professor of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University.