Mormons use the Book of Mormon as a companion book to the Bible. It contains more references to Jesus Christ and His mission even than the Bible does. We’ve been exploring a few of my favorite references to the Lord Jesus Christ found in the Book of Mormon. This small number doesn’t even come close to covering all of them. In this article, we’re exploring four principles that explain how to become a Christian.
The Book of Mormon, of course, does not actually use the word Christian in this section, which occurred in Old Testament times. The term developed in New Testament times and was initially used by outsiders to describe the followers of Jesus Christ. In 2 Nephi 31, we are continuing to follow Nephi’s sermon. Nephi was a prophet who came from Jerusalem just before the fall and is now living in what is today known as the Americas. He talks to his followers about the “doctrine of Christ.” This is a singular term, so it is not referring to everything Jesus taught. Jeffrey R. Holland, a Mormon apostle, said,
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” (Christ and the New Covenant , 49–50, 56).
The first principles and ordinances of the gospel are, to Mormons, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, and the laying on of hands for the Gift of the Holy Ghost. These are listed in the Articles of Faith, a summary of thirteen Mormon beliefs. It is these four principles that are the subject of this portion of Nephi’s sermon.
Nephi reminded his listeners that the purpose of baptism is to wash away our sins. However, Jesus Christ was perfect and had no sins. Despite this, He insisted his cousin John baptize Him. Why bother if He didn’t need to have sins washed away?
And now, I would ask of you, my beloved brethren, wherein the Lamb of God did fulfil all righteousness in being baptized by water? Know ye not that he was holy? But notwithstanding he being holy, he showeth unto the children of men that, according to the flesh he humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments (verses 6-7).
Jesus, then chose to be baptized to demonstrate to His Father that He had humbled Himself before God and would keep all the commandments. Besides washing away our sins, baptism is also a time to make covenants with God. A religious covenant is one in which we promise to do certain things. If we do them, God promises to do specific things for us. Mormons who are baptized promise to take on themselves the name of Christ and to keep the commandments. Jesus, being the Christ, committed Himself to do God’s will, and that included being baptized. Nephi reminded his listeners that if Jesus Christ needed to be baptized, they definitely needed to be baptized. It is not an optional stage of
Jesus asked us to follow Him. Nephi asks how it can be possible to follow Jesus Christ if we don’t keep the commandments. One of those commandments was to repent and be baptized, and so it is important that we do this.
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, behold, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel (verse 13).
As we’ve mentioned in earlier articles, and as Nephi says here, we have to keep the commandments with full purpose of heart and no hypocrisy. What does that mean? It means that we aren’t saved by keeping the commandments. We are saved through the atonement of Jesus Christ. However, keeping the commandments is a sign of our faith in and commitment to Jesus Christ—but only if it is done for the right reason. If we are keeping them for show or to save ourselves, they have no value. If we keep the commandments because we love God and Jesus Christ, they do have value because they are the outward demonstration of an inward faith. Would you really believe someone is a Christian if he made no effort to live a Christ-like life? Is it easier to be Christ-like as your faith grows stronger? It is and that is what Nephi means when he says to follow the Son with full purpose of heart. We must not be like those described by former Mormon leader Marion G. Romney who “try to serve the Lord without offending the devil.” (“The Price of Peace,” Ensign, Oct. 1983, 6)
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).
What does it mean to endure to the end? The answer can be found in the Bible, when Paul says, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).
Paul is telling Timothy that it is not enough to accept Jesus Christ as our Savior and then wander back to our former life. We have to finish the course—continue living a Christian life until we die, keeping the faith until the very end. Paul had done just that.
Nephi explains, “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 (verse 20).
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.