In the first part of this series on spiritual development, we talked about the many opportunities the Lord’s Church provides us to serve each other. In the second part of the series, we talked about what doctrine is and why learning God’s doctrine is important to understanding God’s plan and purpose for us. In this third part of the series, we will explore some ways to balance doctrine and service to create a wholesome life filled with purpose.
The Need for Balance
The gospel of Christ is simple in many ways, yet includes all of creation within its borders. Trying to take it all in can be daunting. That is why we are told to learn of God’s plan for us line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little.
For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have. (2 Nephi 28:30)
The Lord expects us to keep learning and never stop. The day we say we are no longer interested in learning any more, we are told the Lord will begin to remove even what we have already learned. We will revert back to a state of ignorance. In Doctrine and Covenants 131:6, we are told that “It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance.” Once we start down the path of learning, the Lord expects us to follow through and never look back.
The gospel of Christ is not all doctrine, nor is it all service. Doctrine teaches us why we do what we do and how to do it better. Service is where we practice the virtues and directives in the doctrine. Both are required to produce the kinds of internal changes that will make us holy. Both the doctrine and the service aspects of Christ’s gospel teach us about the personality of God. They demonstrate to us just how great His love is, how far-reaching His Atonement is, how forgiving He can be, and how true love one for another is practiced.
Humans are notorious for shying away from those things we are either weak in or are afraid of. The gospel of Christ is no different. In Christ’s imperfect people are classic examples of those of us who are afraid to do something, so we capitalize on another part of the gospel thinking that will make up for the deficit in our character. It doesn’t work that way.
I can only speak for myself, so I will admit here that even though I love to serve others, I am somewhat shy, so I focus more on the doctrines of the gospel. It wasn’t until recently that someone pointed out to me that we cannot be saved as a lopsided Saint. We have to learn to master both sides of the gospel coin. I have been trying of late to force myself to get outside of myself to serve others more directly. It has been both terrifying and thrilling. Each experience has been rewarding beyond my expectations.
Whereas I prefer the book learning over the practical part of the gospel of serving, I know plenty of people in my ward who have learned to serve others so well it has become second nature to them. They don’t even have to think about it. They see a need and go to work planning on how to help solve the problem. But get them into a classroom, and they don’t have even the simplest of explanations for why we do certain things as Latter-day Saints. They have done almost no studying. In fact, many of the members of the Church have never learned how to study the scriptures or to ponder the principles of the gospel. Their thinking is all on the surface.
This causes our lives to be thrown out of balance. We need to have a closer connection between the doctrines we learn and the lives we live. I think this is what the Lord wants of us. He wants our service to be propelled by our testimonies of His doctrine, and the doctrine to come alive in our hearts through our service to others.
Salvation, or exaltation, as we members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints refer to it, is not an accident. We don’t just wake up one day and find that our personalities have been altered, our hearts have expanded and are now filled with the love of God, and that we understand all things of a spiritual nature. That just does not happen, ever, to anyone. To be exalted requires deliberate action that is thought out and planned, prayed over, and influenced by the Holy Spirit. It takes years of learning the will of God, then putting that will into practice through a million and one instances of service to others where we learn to put our own wants and needs behind the wants and needs of others, and to be happy we did it.
Balanced growth in the gospel requires year in and year out study of the scriptures so we learn how the Lord thinks and what his expectations always have been and always will be, for he is the same yesterday, today, and forever. We need to take what we learn and practice living it. That is the pure doctrine of caring for the poor and the needy, the orphans and the widows.
It is in the process of learning the Lord’s will, then doing it, that our hearts are changed by the Lord. We start to shed our old disposition to do evil, or to be lazy, or to focus on other things, and we begin to find that living a Christlike life is indeed a joyful experience.
The good news about living any part of the gospel of Christ is that all it brings blessings into our lives. Whether we are serving, studying, practicing a new principle or exercising faith in one of God’s promises, they all bring us joy. Learning to be aware of where we are weakest and seeking the Lord’s help to turn our weaknesses into strengths is where we will find the greatest joy. Our lives will become well-balanced, the perfect mixture of knowledge and performance, the place where true wisdom is born.
Kelly P. Merrill
Kelly Merrill is semi retired and writes for https://gospelstudy.us. He lives with his wife in Idaho. His strength is being able to take difficult to understand subjects and break them down into understandable parts. He delights in writing about the gospel of Christ. Writing about the gospel is his personal missionary work to the members of the Church and to those of other faiths who are wanting to know more about Christ's gospel and His Church.